Living With Kids: Jennifer Bangoura

Jennifer and her family live in Maryland, just outside of DC. Like many of us, she and her husband have been juggling home care, child care, jobs, etc.; working from home with two small kids, including a kindergartener who started online school this fall. Jennifer’s solution to this challenging time has been to get help when she can safely do so, give herself a lot of grace, and not to stress too much about screen time. You’ll love peeking around her warm and charming home.

Hey y’all! I’m Jennifer and I live here with my exceedingly cute family: husband Abdoulaye and kiddos Lillie Foulé (6) and Alseny (2). Abdoulaye and I met in 2010 when I started my third year as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa. I had just moved to Bamako, Mali’s capital, after living in a village for two years, and I wanted to do a third year to gain professional office experience before going back to the United States and starting graduate school. I met Abdoulaye a few weeks later and I ended up staying in Mali for almost a year longer than planned! We moved to Washington, D.C. in 2012 after I was evacuated following a coup d’etat in Mali. We navigated the K-1 fiancé visa process and have been living in the DC area ever since, and for the past eight years in Hyattsville, Maryland. 

I worked in international development for a while, most recently with workforce development programs in Morocco and Iraq. I loved that work, but wanted to connect with students more directly and so I transitioned to work for a global education technology company as a senior career coach, where I work with students pursuing graduate degrees. I help them navigate career pivots and I also identify industry partners who want to hire them, or provide their expertise across all industries — from social work to data science and physician’s assistants.

Abdoulaye is a veterinarian (he was working on his doctoral thesis in Mali, though he’s from Guinea), and transitioned to a career in public health. He now works on a malaria project with programming throughout sub-Saharan Africa. He’s worked so hard since coming here — he didn’t speak English and he did another Master’s degree to gain an American credential even though he already had his doctorate. It was hard there for a bit to establish ourselves, as a couple and as individuals, when we moved here, but also so much fun. I said we could start trying for kids once I finished my Master’s degree in 2014 and I think I got pregnant the next weekend — hah! 

We now have two kids and it’s an exhausting adventure that I’m always working on appreciating more. One of my greatest joys has been our commitment to raise our children bilingual. We speak French at home and it’s been such a delight to see our children learn to express themselves in multiple languages, all with the goal of them learning Susu, Abdoulaye’s native language, so they can communicate with more family back in Guinea. 

We live in a 1,200 sq. foot yellow bungalow in Hyattsville, Maryland, just over the Washington, D.C. border. I call it the Mary Poppins house because it’s deceptively large with lots of nooks and crannies where people can stay or we can make space for an air mattress. On the weekends it takes 20 minutes to drive to the Capitol building and to visit museums and the US Botanic Gardens, which is my favorite place to go in the capital (of course, in non-pandemic times).

On our street we have immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean, yuppies who moved out of the city to have more space, older people who have been here for 30+ years and young couples who have just bought their first home and go on daily walks with their first dog. It’s dynamic, and you can hear so many languages if you sit outside and listen to people walking by (mostly Spanish).

I learned about the city we live in, because I mentioned to an acquaintance at a work meeting, back in 2012 right when we moved to Washington, D.C., that we hoped to buy a house, but didn’t think it would be possible in the D.C. area. She said we had to check out Hyattsville (where she lived) because it was one of the last remaining pockets of affordable housing.

She was right. When I put our mortgage limit in Redfin it carved out all of DC and Northern Virginia and Montgomery County and left a little slice where we are. We bought our home in the low 200s right at the end of the housing bubble. Prices and market value have only gone up since we moved here. 

We just re-appraised our house so we can do a second story renovation and it appraised at almost double the value! Since the pandemic, housing has gotten even wilder ,with prices back to what it was in the bubble of ‘08 with offers coming in at $20k over asking. I’ve been happy for friends who have sold their homes to make so much money, but it’s also a real shame that it’s no longer what I would consider an affordable place to live, and we wouldn’t be able to buy a home like ours right now if we were house hunting today (hence the renovation). 

Everything about Hyattsville is something I could only have dreamed about having if I’d made a list of where I could hope to raise my family. Hyperbolic? Maybe, but I don’t actually think so. One of our council members also happens to be from Guinea where my husband is from (how cool!!), and until recently, our city was run by three Black women. There are a number of other American/West African families so my Francophone kids think it’s normal to speak another language at home, and I overheard my daughter explaining to her cousins why she’s learning Spanish (she’s in kindergarten at a local dual language immersion school, because she wants to be able to communicate with other people in their native language, something I don’t remember having spoken about with her explicitly.

We have a suburban Burning Man (hah!) who lives on our street and we can walk to the East Coast’s first deaf-owned brewery — we’re just a 15 minute drive from Gallaudet so there’s a large deaf community in our area. There’s a darling little downtown area less than a mile from our house where we can take sewing classes (and get really cute fabric), get coffee from a local shop, and order burgers or Indian food. I find the city to be filled with interesting, kind people who are constantly questioning the status quo, though of course we can fall into it just as easily.

One of my proudest moments as a parent and resident was seeing my friend Sage organize a Black Lives Matter family march this past summer. She put in so much work to organize our local elected officials who spoke at the event and had Black business owners at the end of the march selling their merchandise including homemade ice cream, popcorn and science kits. My daughter still talks about the march over six months later and it made me so grateful to live in a community with people like Sage who don’t just talk about making things happen, they make them happen. 

I’d been looking online for houses in the area for six months prior to making an offer on ours, with a goal of leaving our (expensive!) apartment in DC by the end of our lease that summer. We didn’t have a car so we couldn’t go to a bunch of open houses and there weren’t as many car rental services at the time like you can get now so it just wasn’t as easy to get around. We had a tight schedule around my graduate school and planning our ‘second’ wedding following our legal ceremony at the end of 2012. We ended up looking at five houses on a Saturday in April, we made an offer on our home the day after we saw it and it was accepted.

I’d say as far as house hunting goes in the DC area it was pretty effortless, especially compared with some of the stories I hear now about people writing letters, baking bread, and making offers over the asking price and still not getting the house. I think the trick now is to keep a pulse on what’s coming on the market and have a solid idea of what you want.

We also weren’t too fussy about the state of the house. It was in good condition, but it’s like when you watch those home improvement shows and people complain about the paint color or other cosmetics — all changeable! We lived with a super tiny galley kitchen for the first two years, but eventually had the wall taken down and I can’t imagine it being any other way now. 

In January 2019 I went back to school to pursue my Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership, from the University of Southern California, just one week after going back to work following my maternity leave.

One of the amazing benefits at my company is that we can pursue one of our educational offerings for free. Even though the timing wasn’t the best, with a four year old and a newborn, I didn’t want to wait to get started. It’s an almost three year program, and I also knew my mother in law would be able to come over from Guinea for four to six months at a time to help with our baby and older child.

The first year, it worked out great! And then of course this year. I was not only working full-time from home with two kids, I was smack dab in the middle of my doctoral program without the full-time grandparent help I’d been counting on when I started. Like everyone, we made a lot of pivots and spent more on childcare than we had planned, with another Returned Peace Corps Volunteer coming to live with us and watch the youngest, while our daughter still went to daycare. My mom has helped a lot, too.

All in all, we can’t complain because the biggest change is that we work from home full-time instead of commuting (no one likes a DC commute anyways!), so we count ourselves as lucky.

Our daughter started virtual kindergarten in the fall and we’re still trying to figure out daycare for our youngest, while juggling our work and my school. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot. But I stay up late here and there and it’s actually a good time to hunker down and focus on writing since we can’t make plans on the weekends, really. 

I started 2020 feeling fired up to get our house looking like I knew it could. I painted and redecorated our living room in January and then the pandemic pushed me to paint our dining room and wallpaper our little entryway. I’m paying attention to all the little spaces and trying to keep clutter at bay (a lifelong journey it feels like) so I can breathe deeply and easily. It’s a daily struggle though, and I look forward to having a little more space and getting rid of more items so we can spread out a little more once we do our renovation. 

I’ve learned that I need to give myself a lot of grace (and I’m trying to extend the same to others!). I couldn’t have made it this far and maintained my mental health, without having such a supportive employer who encourages us to take the time we need to take care of ourselves and our families. That has been critical.

We keep the kids entertained with a lot of television (as much as possible in French for at least some second-language exposure, but that’s definitely not always the case), and playing in the front and back yard with our mud kitchen and trampoline. I love the family time because my husband travels a lot for work so it’s been wonderful to be together, but I can’t say that I love being together all hours of the day with the demands of work and school. I’ve lost my temper more times than I care to admit when I’ve had a particularly stressful day or am just bone tired.

I hate that feeling and have been working on being more patient. This isn’t going away tomorrow (though I hope we’ll be able to get vaccinated soon!), and I can tell how much the kids are picking up from us by being around them so much, so I know it’s important to know better and do better. I guess I wish I knew how long this was going to last, but would I really have wanted to know that? Maybe not. 

I certainly hope our society will change as a result of this pandemic. It’s obvious that hustle workstyles are not sustainable and that we aren’t meant to raise families alone. We’ve had roommates or friends living with us for maybe 90% of the time that we’ve been in our home and I love it. It seems like a much more natural way to live (of course, there has to be a connection/harmony), with another pair of hands for the kids and someone else to take turns with cooking dinner.

We’re about to launch a major renovation so we can have an actual bedroom rather than live in a finished attic, and I hope it makes it possible for even more friends and family to visit. I’m happiest when we have a full house and friends over for a meal together, or to sit around the firepit.

I’m going to continue to advocate for more genuine community building and reaching out to people I meet to have more than a passing conversation. I want to invite people I meet at the park over for dinner and really get to know them. It’s something I’m prone to doing even before the pandemic, so maybe it will just escalate afterwards? I hope people come out of this with more compassion, more awareness about the inherent inequality in our country, and more of a desire to make a difference and do something about it. 

I don’t feel too surprised about anything with my kids after spending so much time with them. But then again, maybe it’s because they’re so young so they’re still pretty dependent on us. I knew our daughter was independent and social, but she’s also pretty good hanging out by herself — though the electronics might play a role — oy! She’s thrilled to hang out with other kids when we meet up for a socially distant park date, but she’s also pretty content to hang out at home and cut out paper dolls or watch another movie with me. My son is still so young that he’s just beginning to have a little personality, and I’m trying to soak up his chubby stomach while he still has one :) 

Please let them forget the tantrums (mine and theirs) and let them remember the love Abdoulaye and I have for them. We have had so many lovely outdoor excursions and picnic dinners on the living room floor, and storytelling while cooking s’mores, and watching movies while eating popcorn. What a gift to be able to have and enjoy these moments together!

I adore seeing my kids manifest the lessons we’ve been trying to teach them. That all are welcome at our home and to greet people as we see them. Seeing our youngest, who is just two, shout ‘hello!!’ to neighbors walking their dog, or when our daughter makes sure someone feels included at the park, fills my heart. I love feeling like we’re raising good humans — all the rest will fall into place as long as they treat people well. 

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) how much therapy would help. I started therapy for the first time in 2018 and it transformed some difficult patterns of thought I’ve been struggling with most of my life. I’m so grateful to all the people, mostly women in the circles I follow, who share pieces of their life on social media that have helped me process my own life and give myself the grace I need and deserve

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Thank you, Jennifer! I know home size is relative and 1200 square feet might seem like plenty of space in some parts of the world, and not a lot of space in others, but this home feels livable and warm and comfy. And you can tell that they are really using each part of the space to the maximum, like using those low corners in the attic bedroom.

And I really appreciated the discussion of child care. I know when child care centers shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, it really left people scrambling. I think most people have probably had to use a combination of family, professional care, hourly “sitters” and more, to make it all work. I know that has been a huge challenge for so many families.

Have you had to make changes to your child care plan over the last several months to keep you and your spouse working and the kids cared for? Are you leaning more on family members, like Grandma and Grandpa, or have you had to outsource to different sitters, daycares, etc? Or are you trying to just keep the kids home?

SOURCES

Kitchen island (and Little Free Library)

Pink living room chair

Daughter’s wallpaper

Entry wallpaper

Outdoor “mud kitchen”


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.

9 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Jennifer Bangoura”

  1. What a lovely, vibrant home! I loved the paint colors and am really hoping Jennifer will offer another glimpse into her family’s home when the 2nd floor addition is finished.

  2. Ahhh! Jennifer is my neighbor and it’s so surprising and cool to see her home here! My daughter is her son’s age and pre-pandemic, we met through the age based parent group in the neighborhood. I have such a huge friend crush on her – she’s so warm and welcoming and fun.

  3. Jennifer,
    Thank you for your home tour! It looks so warm and inviting. You feel like a kindred spirit as I spent my early adulthood overseas and love other cultures & languages & having people in my home. I wish I could be your friend!

  4. I really envy that you found this community near dc. We lived in northern VA when we moved to the dc area, and I loved my community, but it is affluent, and not incredibly diverse. We moved to the west coast after 4 years, but I miss dc, and if we were ever to move back, I would want to seek a more diverse area.

    Thank you for sharing your home and how open and welcoming you are to so many! Hope to see the renovated space, too.

  5. What a bright and lovely home! Kudos to you for taking the time to redecorate while we’re all cooped up at home. It looks great.

  6. This is one of my favorite “Living with Kids” home tours, with its warm focus on kids and family and community. I love this modest, cheerful house that reflects this family’s values so well.

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