Living With Kids: Elle

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 features@designmom.com.

46 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Elle”

  1. It is such a meaningful and generous gesture to share the story of your life, Elle. I am touched and impressed by the way you have created a beautiful and loving space for yourself and your children and wish you all the best as your life goes on.

  2. Dear Elle, I am so sorry to read between the lines of what you have gone through these last 24 years, it was not OK. I’m also so inspired to see your beautiful spirit bouncing out through your words, your love of your children and your beautiful home. I wish you so much love for your joyful future.

    1. Thank you Sarah. I appreciate that.
      Yeah, 24 years that I’ll never get back. I’ll never get over losing that time, but grateful af that I have my kids from it. And they’re worth every second.

  3. So happy that you are gloriously free, Elle. Your home and your words are a beautiful reflection of who you are and who you are becoming. I wish you all of the very best :)

  4. Your marigolds, your flying, your violin playing, your love of your children and the way you weave colour and hope and strength throughout your home are beautiful. Onwards and upwards.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Elle. I am cheering for the kids and for your freedom! Your home is cheery and beautiful.

  6. Left a similar marriage three years ago, and my life is finally light, sane, and calm after decades of tears and drama. I had entered therapy to work on social anxiety: after he left, the social anxiety did as well, and I realized that I had taken his constantly-critical voice into my own heart while I was with him. Fixed the holes he left in the drywall, sold the bed, and my sons get to see their mother living happily and independently without a man. Wishing you the light at the end of the tunnel, Elle, once you get through the worst of the pain.

    1. Thank you Andrea. Glad you’re out now. That takes incredible strength. Proud of you for showing your kids you can do it on your own:

  7. This story is unbelievably powerful (and your design is spectacular). I have a friend who is going through a situation that sounds exactly like what you went through/are going through. Her ex is truly a monster and I worry constantly that he will hurt her or her children. If you have any advice… I would love to pass it on to her. Of course, you may want to keep your anonymity for your own safety and I completely understand.

    1. You can get my email from Josh or if you put your email here I’ll contact you.

      Thank you for your kindness.

      1. Isabelle Stephenson

        Elle, your designs are mesmerizing.
        Your love for your kids shines through. And thank you for the beautiful tour.
        Yes, you alone are enough and you will fly.

  8. SO Lovely — everything: words and photos. Lovely! This statement resonated with me so much: “life is about learning and trying over and over and over.” That’s so true for all of us, right?, whatever our situation or circumstances may be. Word. I’m drooling over some of your vintage furniture and all of those fantastic flowers in your garden! Does the antique phone chair work?? (well, the phone part — LOL!)

    Sending you ALLLLL the good vibes and best wishes, Elle. Carry on and CONQUER!

  9. I really don’t have words. You are so strong and positive, and I wish you and your children (and cats!) all the best!

  10. Very inspiring story! Its beautiful to see how you deal with everything and its really heartwarming to read that you feel at peace in your lovely home

  11. Elle, you’re an incredible and thoughtful mother and your children will appreciate the gift of a happy mother you gave to them if they don’t already (though it sounds like they do). I went through something similar about 5 years ago. It was unbelievably difficult and there were times when I wished I was not alive, but I made it through with lots of therapy and wonderful family and friend support. I’m remarried now to the most incredible man and it just feels really good to be with someone who truly appreciates me for all the things I found I loved about myself after my divorce. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you cut out the people who make you feel that you’re not worthy. Women definitely don’t need to be tied to a man to find happiness, but we do need people in our lives who are honest and kind and lift us up and make us believe that we’re capable of anything!

    1. So glad you found someone amazing to add to your life. I get that with finding people who are kind and loving and supportive. I have incredible kids and other people in my life who’ve kept me going . It’s amazing the people who’ve come into my life during this time. I’ve actually never felt so loved.

      It’s definitely still moment by moment, but I’m definitely stronger than when I was with him. Life is hard because I’m the only parent now, but it’s so much better than him being here.
      Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you thank you thank you

  12. Elle, your story and your strength are truly an inspiration to me. I love your front yard filled with flowers!!

  13. Aliesha Fullerman

    To anyone who this speaks to – Rebecca Woolf (@rebeccawooolf on Insta) has been doing a spontaneous series on her Instagram stories this week with the hashtag #howileft – so many incredible stories. I’ve found a lot of them inspiring, healing, sad…anyway, the timing lines up perfectly, so I thought I’d share for anyone who wanted to check it out. I believe she’s saving them as a highlight too if you want to catch up.

  14. Oh sweetie. I’m so proud of you. You are brave and strong and have a whole life ahead of you. You have created a beautiful home and family. I’m so impressed with your relationship with your teenagers – the foundation of that relationship created when they were young and you were under so much stress. Truly amazing. Some of us late bloomers bring much to the world and I think you are and will continue to. Keep writing. Keep sharing your story. You will inspire many.

    1. Thank you Kelly! This is so true. I had my 40th birthday after I left him. It was the first one. I always hated birthdays and it was the best one of my life . I flew that day and I’ll always have that.

      My kids are easy to get along with. They’re way better than me than I was there age.

  15. This is the most touching house tour I’ve ever read. I like that the house is definitely stylish but it also looks real and lived-in, not like a magazine spread. Thank you, Elle, for sharing your story of strength and healing.

    1. Thanks Kelley !That’s exactly what I think when I see magazines . I don’t have time for perfection and I love embracing the stories that come with the chips and scratches around my house . Like the space when my youngest left a purple handprint on the exterior of our house or where there’s paint chipped off the back door and the old paint shows through. I also don’t own a lot and that helps.

  16. This was just the most beautiful story. Thank you for sharing your life, your pain and your wisdom, Elle. Every kid should have a parent as wonderful as you are. I wish all of life’s best to your whole family!

  17. Dear Elle,
    Thank you for sharing your home and speaking frankly about your experience in life. I’m also a mother of 3, and am truly amazed at how neat and uncluttered your home is. Every photo of your home sends a message of cool and calm. Congratulations on the job promotion, and on figuring out how to save money for the kids. May your healing continue to empower you and help you fly. ( Oh yeah, my kids highly recommend a flight simulator for now if you can’t afford flying lessons)…..from way down south where the Saguaros grow.

  18. First of all I love your name. Marigolds are my favourite flower. I actually find too much stuff stressful so I was very influenced by Marie Kondo and the minimalists. I actually really enjoy playing the min game.

    My friend also taught me chair flying.

    Thanks again for your kind words

  19. Truly hope your healing continues, and it sounds like you are an incredibly strong, resilient human, and your children clearly love you and recognize this! When you spoke of flying, and conquering all the things you never knew possible it made my heart swell – keep looking up to the sky and growing deep roots of beauty.

    1. I love this comment because I think it’s such an amazing gift to be able to look up at the sky let alone soar in it, but also because I picked a new last name that’s a type of tree and your growing roots comment was a lovely coincidence. Thanks Annie

  20. First of all, you have incredible style. Second, I wish you all the healing in the world from your trauma.

    Finally, I just want to say that you’re amazing. You may not feel like that, but you are…you really, really, are. What a force of will. <3

    1. Aww Meggles
      Thank you for your kindness. I never thought I’d ever go through so much pain, but the alternative was to give up and that’s not an option.

  21. Dear Elle, When I first saw the picture I was drawn to read and then I realised your story is about coming home…we want to run away look outside…but brick by brick you compose with it. The picture drew my attention because of its uniqueness and simplicity and there lies the process of fully being. from who we truly are ( what resonates with us you your children, greenery, light..)..I have the challenge to build my own home and I know I will get there, it is a naturally process, signs emerged but I have got to do the work, and it needs to be rooted in the felt daily life routine. I need to connect with it differently, making it joyful. I am divorcing after 18 years, I left the family home because my ex got really unwell, he was manipulative, master mind tricks ( negotiator) , finance and I needed to focus on recharge my life force and healing then I can be ready to build better, thank you for sharing your story, and mostly building this ecosystem of home nurturing you and your children because life will throw things so we learn the preciousness of life & value of pain to learn lessons and chose better

    1. Thank you Lynda for your lovely comment. I was married 20 years and I know it’s hard af to start over but the alternative is so scary. You got this !!

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