When Elle reached out about being featured a few weeks ago, she had some simple requests. Elle is in the middle of a complicated and painful divorce and wanted to keep certain parts of her life (like her last name) private. She also spoke beautifully about how her garden, both working in it and walking around it, has been a key part in her ongoing healing process. Elle’s home and garden are both beautiful, the former full of striking mid-century pieces and cool mod patterns. But what is especially beautiful is Elle’s thoughtful and vulnerable words about going through something immensely difficult. Welcome, Elle!
I live with my three kids and our two cats. I have full custody. I’m being purposefully vague as our situation is very unique. I also have only done this with my kid’s permission as this is ultimately more important than me showing off my house. I love design and I want to share my story but their opinions matter more.
If someone had told me a few years ago I’d be raising my kids full time without their dad I would’ve said, “never in a million years,” but here I am doing the previously unimagined. This story is about me though and not him. I am grateful more than anything to have my kids. They are hands down the best decision I’ve ever made. They’re why I’m here and get up every day. They’re why I keep going and even when it hurt so bad my chest literally burned and I could barely breathe, I realized I was going to always be here for them.
The years I gave to my ex were a waste. I won’t change my mind on that. I absolutely wasted that time on him. This is heart wrenching and raw, but let’s be real here. Being with someone from age 15-39 makes it seem like forever. That was my plan too, but when he told me, ” monogamy is a myth,” I finally realized I was worth more. I could handle living with an alcoholic but when I knew there was someone else the scales fell from my eyes and I finally ended my marriage.
I changed my name. All my names. Middle last and first. My last is a new one as well. I needed to be me for the first time in my life. I was no longer his muse. I grew back my hair that he wanted short and I dyed it red even though he wanted it black. I got my bank card back and I got a cell phone again. I slowly started telling people my story.
I work full time at a tropical greenhouse. I used to run the tree department outside and then I was promoted to tropicals supervisor. Both promotions came after I became a single mum. I worked my ass off and was rewarded and recognized. I love working with plants and the people there are a second family to me. My work has been an incredibly safe place for me and I am truly grateful.
My kids are all unique and creative but to respect their privacy I will leave it at that.
I desperately tried to sell my house at the beginning. I needed to live somewhere I could afford on my own and I needed to feel safe. I had the locks changed right away to begin with and that helped somewhat, but it was so hard staying in the environment I had shared with the person I’m afraid of more than anyone. After 33 house showings and three pathetic offers I renewed my mortgage and got such cheap rates (1.79% to renew) that it’s actually more affordable to stay here than rent. I decided that for my kids it was best to stay. They walk to school and are close to their friends. We can walk to the library, grocery store and numerous restaurants. We live across the street from an amazing park too. It was just too good to give up.
As a trained interior decorator I am constantly changing things up and do a lot of diy so there have been many changes around here for the better. I also have a good friend who’s married to a contractor (he’s the one who changed my locks when I was in too much shock to even barely eat), so that’s been an extreme help in our lives. Even things like hiring him to fix the basement have been a huge weight off my shoulders. It cost just over $1000 and gone are the days I had to mop up after the rain. I can do a lot on my own but that was above what I’ve learned so far in life. I have changed loads of things in the house though and it’s been super cheap. I do a lot myself and I also buy things regularly on kijiji so it’s second hand and affordable. For me though the most important thing I had to get rid of was my old bed. Anyone who’s been in a similar situation will understand how traumatizing it is to keep something like that.
My kids are used to the house constantly evolving. I display a lot of their art and also a lovely collection from local artists, and I decorate with plants which are always changing too. Living art. I’m also obsessed with vintage and again that’s why kijiji is the best. (I do etransfers and porch pick ups so it’s safe. The pandemic has taught us that we can do things without contact. When needed, I’ve had someone pick things up for me or come with me.)
Our home now feels really peaceful. I’ve been told on more than one occasion how light everything feels now that he’s gone. It’s like he took the darkness with him.
Our house is a hub for people in our lives. It’s the place everyone gathers. The pandemic has been hard that way because where we live it was illegal to have visitors for a while and it was really difficult. I miss the spontaneous drop-ins and when I’d come home from work and there would be 8 people in the house. I also love feeding people. I will always feed you.
I am looking forward to not wearing my mask. Almost there!!!
We are incredibly fortunate to have someone in our lives who shares their cabin with us. We get away there, when things are too much here, and it’s great to go somewhere that’s free and where no one knows our story.
My kids and I are closer than most parents and teenagers. Right now are favorite things to do are travel around the city, finding giant and fun outdoor art installations or random weirdness, go to the cabin, and a couple nights a week we watch supernatural. To us, TV is an event, so we like to pick a show to watch together. One of the best has been Pushing Daisies. We also talk a lot. Like, a lot!!! It’s hard sometimes because they are old enough to know about their dad. We have a lot of conversations most kids will never have with their parents. We also have a lot of good talks and we laugh a lot too. We love being around each other. This is true, I’m not making it up.
My favourite thing in life is being a mum so I can’t say what I like best about living with them. My heart almost explodes with happiness though when I hear my oldest laugh, or when I hear my youngest playing ukulele, or when my middle child (by 5 minutes) sends a random, “love you mum,” text. It keeps me going.
There have been a few things to help with my healing although 24 years takes a lifetime to fully recover from. Before I left him I was afraid of everything. One of my absolutely biggest fears was flying. When he was gone I realized I was afraid of him and not everything else as well.
I was 11 years old and I saw a Cessna fly above me. I used to lie in the field by my house and stare at the sky. I asked my parents if I could take flying lessons. Obviously they said no because that was somewhat of a ridiculous request. I mean, come on, I was 11!!
When I left him one of the first friends I reconnected with was a pilot. I had to find her on instagram because I didn’t have my own phone for so long and we had lost touch. She came to see me right away when I told her what happened and I said, ” I want to fly.”
She took me for the first time on March 31, 2019. I sat in the front, she sat in the back and when we took off it was the first time I remember a feeling of absolutely peace. The pilot told me when we leveled off to take the wheel and I flew a Cessna 172. It was absolute joy. I can’t describe the feeling of pure heaven but that’s the closest to it I’ve ever felt. I went from flying being my biggest fear to the ultimate safety and comfort. I have continued to fly here and there but lessons are not exactly practical for a full time single mum (I flew last on October 4, 2020), and for now I’m putting my kids first. Luckily I live near the cheapest flying school in Canada and it’s something I hope to do one day.
I have a beat up old violin that was given to me for Christmas 2018 and my teacher and friend helped me paint it pink. When I was in so much emotional pain it was crushing and I was in shock and I didn’t know what to do or how I’d make it, I’d pick up my violin and play. It’s so challenging for me that all I could do was focus on the playing and to me that’s an amazing source of healing. And yeah I totally suck at it, but life is about learning and trying over and over and over.
I don’t make much but I took a course on finances and was able to save for my kids school when they were born. I stopped doing that when things got rough with there dad living here, but setting aside that $50 a month for each of them has provided them with enough money for at least a couple of years post secondary (on the cheap of course) and that’s pretty rad. I’m proud of myself for that.
Another part of my healing is my garden. I had my entire front lawn ripped out and made walkways and raised beds. When I was married I would work full time and he helped with the garden. When I became single I was faced with a huge task and it was overwhelming at first. I decided to plant flowers only this year. My kids and I planted over 200 pots of flowers. (I do work at a plant shop). MY garden is a sea of pink and orange and it’s so wonderful. I don’t sleep a lot and it gets light out here around 4:30am, so I wander through the paths and make flower bouquets. I’ve turned pain into flowers, literally, and it’s absolutely beautiful.
I wish someone had told me…..I didn’t need a man to determine my worth.
“You alone are enough…” Maya Angelou
Thank you, Elle! I always appreciate stories of when life doesn’t turn out the way we expect it. Even though the challenges and pain and struggle of Elle’s divorce is so real, it’s good to hear the way she is making her life her own. Redecorating, taking a finance class, learning to fly, and even learning to play the violin, just because she wants to. It’s always so inspiring to see someone reshape their life in a new positive way.
There is something so charming, too, about getting to know your kids as people as they get older. When they require less of you in terms of physical demands and you can connect with their individual personalities as young adults, it is very special. I’m so glad for Elle as she goes through this tricky transition, that she has her kids around her to support her and walk through the garden with her.
You can follow Elle on Instagram here. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham. You can find him on Instagram too.
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.