Living With Kids: Julie Schumacher

I met Julie way back in 2015. You know how some people just fill the room with light and energy? That’s Julie. She’s a brilliant mom and brilliant writer. Julie and her family are in Oak Park, Illinois and I was fascinated to hear how she and her husband formed a mini school and pod at their house to make it through the last year. And the way they’ve added a school and a gym to their home is just wonderful. Welcome, Julie!

Hello, hello. I’m Julie. I am an independent copywriter working on everything from websites to print pieces to interpretive content (the signs you read at museums and nature centers). In my past life, I was a middle school teacher and taught history and civics. I also help with Girl Scouts, wound up the PTO Secretary, and volunteer as a Sister District local leader, which pairs progressive activists in blue areas with candidates for state legislative seats in other states. 

My husband Brett is an independent web developer. He is such an intrinsically good human and partner. He will do nearly anything without complaint and with joy — from most of the cooking to getting up with the kid to dealing with taxes to tackling gross homeowner stuff without complaint. He is an endurance athlete at his core, willing to do the hard work and continually challenge himself, and I see that manifest in his professional life, his commitment to parenting and partnerhood, and as a school volunteer and OWL facilitator (a lifespan sexuality program that helps kids develop healthy relationships with themselves and partners).

We met on the internet when it was still something you kept kinda quiet about. Thanks, Match! I don’t really understand how someone else hadn’t snatched him up but am grateful the universe conspired in my favor. We met in our late 20s and had both done a lot of work on ourselves in order to be ready when the right person showed up. We both kinda knew we were stepping in to the big one from the moment we met.

Brett and I align on the intentionality and intensity with which we do most everything from financial planning to parenting to researching throw pillows, our goal to see as much of the world as possible, a desire to not have professional ambition drive our decisions, and a belief in the power and importance of hard conversations on the couch. We butt heads most over our relationships with time (his is more fluid, I need more margin).

Loie (rhymes with Joey) is our copper-topped exclamation point of a 10 year old. She got a whole lot of all of Brett’s awesomeness, they even bounce up the stairs the same. She’s earnest in an overnight summer camp counselor kind of way. Need someone for a singalong or to read aloud in class? She plays soccer year round, loves a good youth mile race, plays the ukulele and picked up the violin this year. She’s fiercely competitive, has a quick wit, and is a fantastic writer (see, there’s me in there, too!). She’s a great traveler and adventure buddy. I can’t think of a time she’s said she’s bored in the ten years I’ve known her. Loie does everything at an 11, even when a 6 would suffice, so sometimes we encourage her to chill, make some space for other voices, and generally not expect perfection when progress will do. She is a delight to parent, a joy to know, and her energy could easily power a small town.

Over our decade plus together, Brett and I came to realize how our world views reflect our different upbringings. His childhood was grounded, with calm and stability at the core. I moved around a ton and couldn’t imagine living in the same state, let alone the same house. His family saved and carefully considered, my family took advantage of opportunities and figured out how to pay for it later.

We reconciled some of his need to root and my need to scoot by living in a phenomenal community and then relocating 4-6 weeks each summer for a working sabbatical. It’s become a core component of our family mission statement, with Lo deeply identifying as a global citizen. We’ve lived in Reykjavik, a small town in Normandy (thanks to many generous recommendations from Gabby way back in 2012!), San Francisco, Christchurch, New Zealand, D.C., Vienna, Cape Town, and Vancouver (and a postponed trip to Singapore in our next up bucket!). Sometimes we house swap, sometimes we rent, sometimes we rent our own place out. For those curious, we put 10% of our income from any project directly into a trip fund to set a budget since our income can vary pretty significantly year to year. Money conversations with a trusted financial planner to set this all up was our version of couples therapy. 

Beyond budgeting, to pull these sabbaticals off we needed flexible approaches to work, a house that can absorb us both working from home, and an ability to spend inordinate amounts of time just the three of us. Little did we know this would all come so wildly in handy during a global pandemic. This year, we’ve been hosting an eLearning pod with two other fourth graders while both working. Phew, it’s been wild!

We live in the northeast corner of Oak Park, Illinois on a block with rows of mainly bungalows and a soccer field and playground across the street. 

Oak Park prides itself on being — and hopefully continues to strive to be as there is much work to be done — a progressive and diverse community. Families and folks without kids, people who identify in all kinds of ways and with all kinds of backgrounds choose Oak Park. 

We value having a wide age range of people including empty nesters, childless folks, rainbow families, people from a number of different national, religious, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, big families, small families, adoptive families and multi-generational households all in a handful of homes. We are so glad we live on this block, as nearly every family on every block in Oak Park will say. It’s kind of a running joke that we all live on the best block.

Oak Park is the first village west of Chicago, our house is closer to the city border than to downtown Oak Park. Many who choose Oak Park for its diversity will also quickly say “Don’t live east of Ridgeland…” because of proximity to a consistently under-resourced neighborhood of the city. We do live east of Ridgeland. We love that the playground across the street is a place kids from all around come to play, and we have never felt unsafe in our house. There are scary things like burglaries and carjackings and not just our area, but mainly Oak Park has crimes of convenience, like package theft and bikes stolen off lawns. Conversely, if cops pull up to see what teens are doing across the street, I absolutely want us all to step out on the porch to be visible for our Black neighbors’ safety. I’d say implicit bias is a greater threat to what we all say we value than our closeness to any neighborhood.

But you asked about housing. There are a good number of rentals including multi-family units and homes with 1+ bedrooms all around. To buy, homes range from condos and 2 bedroom/1 bath bungalows in the high 200s/low 300s to Frank Lloyd Wright beauties closing in on a million to multi-million dollar mansions. I appreciate that variety, and kids generally notice your snack offerings more than your square footage.

Our 3 bedroom, 2 bath bungalow was $350K when we purchased it in 2010. I think today it would be up over 400, and there are newer constructions and gut remodels in the 500+ range. Newer constructions were rarer here when we first moved in but are becoming more common. Most try to at least flirt with the architectural heritage of the area rather than a McMansion-y walls-to-the-curb approach. There is tension over new hig hrises going up in the village center and whether they conflict with Oak Park’s aesthetic or create new housing options or both.

Beyond price, Oak Park is known for high property taxes. The schools, park district, and libraries help mitigate some tax frustrations, and we’re happy to pay higher taxes. We genuinely love living in a mini-socialist democratic state (and loved Reykjavik, New Zealand, and Vienna in part because of the way the societies take care of their own). It’s really a special place to live in terms of walkable elementary schools, incredible parks and camps and services, and a library (and two extensions) that feel like both public gathering spaces and palaces of information. We pay about $10,500 per year and our house is about 1500 square feet. Having taxes up past $20,000 per year is not unheard of, and not just for homes in the estate area. It’s a competitive sport to appeal each year and creates tense discussions about affordability, priorities and spending in local Facebook groups. 

From my friends looking either to move here or move within Oak Park, it is bananapants right now. Stock is low and homes are flying off the market with multiple offers above asking price. I try to be helpful, but it’s just not how we experienced things. We bought at the tail end of the housing crash in June of 2010. Then, it felt like there were endless options to choose from. I feel like my best advice is time travel?

I will say, being in our local mom Facebook group is a fast pass to insider information…those 6,300 moms know what’s up. Many choose to share they’re going to list in there first, and I’ve had friends join before they move in not to pick a preschool but to score an early listing. 

Most houses are close to one of the gazillion parks or the two community pools, and we have a smattering of grocery stores and coffee shops and the like in a few areas, so it’s more about how much house and yard you want and can afford. Houses to the center of the village or northwest corner tend to have larger lots and more living space. Proximity to the CTA Blue or Green line may matter for commutes to the city, or you may want to be able to walk to the couple main commercial and community areas on Lake Street or the Arts District a bit further south. Like I said, you’ll hear every elementary school is the best and there’s not a bad block in the bunch.

Our Oak Park homeowner journey is really unlike us, considering how much we tend to overthink and overplan. A friend from college and her husband at the time moved a few blocks from where we’d eventually land. In 2010, as non-kid-having newlyweds, we decided to “just look” knowing we’d eventually want to land in Oak Park. We were under contract within months, ha!

We met with their realtor and pointed to their house and said “walkable to this.” Brett was already working from home and I had plans to, so we needed space to work (this was before coworking was really a thing, too). We wanted a place with a terrible kitchen so we could make it our own because we love to cook and host. So many kitchens had minor upgrades to be what we dubbed “the Tuscan browns” at the time and we didn’t want to demolish a newly done kitchen, even an ugly one, both as a cost and on principle. 

We had seen a dozen or so homes, and we almost skipped the winner because the listing photos were so color corrected I thought the porch, which is cedar, was a garish orange. It was not (but we’ve painted it anyway!). Neither of us like a full open concept, we wanted distinct zones of living and entertaining. Our house is a traditional bungalow (bedroom / bathroom / bedroom on one side, living room / dining room / kitchen on the other but it also has a second story addition with two bedrooms, a bathroom, laundry and a linen closet). We loved that it has two first floor zones. People can be in the front half of the house watching a movie, and other people can be in the back half chatting while we cook. We liked that it had a crappy kitchen and already partially knocked down to open to what had been a bedroom. My mom always says you want a circuit for kids to be able to run—and we have that around the central enclosed staircases up and down. Many, many circuits have been run since.

It also has a bizarrely large closet with a window off one bedroom upstairs. We walled half off with IKEA closet doors for our clothes, and then added an IKEA butcher block desktop to create Brett’s office. My office was in the step-down in our room with another butcher block desk, but we’ve since reimagined the guest bedroom downstairs as an office because what’s a guest in 2021? 

We absolutely picked what might be a starter home for other couples/families but this house fits like a perfect pair of jeans, even after the last year, and we don’t think we’ll ever move. It feels like every inch is enjoyed and purposeful. Now…that doesn’t mean I don’t want to redo the two bathrooms with every fiber of my being, but a decade in this home has meant making peace with it being a potential never-ending project. In some ways, I feel the same way about our house as I do my own mid-40-something self. I can be mad at every imperfection, spend all my time and money trying to change it, or maintain and enjoy working to make it the best it can be. We do have dreams of reconfiguring the upstairs a bit but if it never happened? Eh, whatever.

Our parents and my sister live out of state, so we’re lucky several of the families around us are also our family now. There is no fence between our house and our neighbors to the south, who treat Loie with such kindness, always have a tool to lend, and enjoy a backyard happy hour with yard games aplenty. Other neighbors, some of whom have moved around Oak Park to other “best blocks” are home bases for Christmas Eve dinners, trick-or-treating, New Year’s Eve, and more. I love that Loie knows adults who do all kinds of cool, creative, world-changing stuff. I wasn’t close to my parents’ friends growing up so it feels special to catch Loie chatting with someone down the street. Knowing she feels known and seen and is surrounded by support and love is just magic.

Over the summer, we podded with a beloved neighbor family. The kids spent days roaming back and forth, we had big family dinners every Saturday night, and traveled together for a few days to a lake house. We happily trashed our backyard (we had plans to landscape in the works) with a pandemic pool and swapped all-day outdoor playdates with a few kids to give parents time to work. We got Lo a Relay, which is like a cute walkie talkie with geolocation, and definitely expanded her orbit of freedom to counter balance all the no / not now / can’t do it happening. She biked to get ice cream, walked to get bagels, and had freedoms we might have waited a year or two for (all with masks, distancing, and lots of hand sanitizer!) 

As ridiculous as this sounds, nine and ten seem like good ages to live through this. She’s old enough to follow the rules and understand why they’re important but not yet old enough to rebel in the ways middle school or high schoolers might. I am grateful she can learn fairly independently but still enjoy seemingly endless time with her parents. I cannot imagine doing this with preschoolers or kids stuck at home instead of at college. My heart breaks for every missed ritual and milestone, minor and major. 

All my full-catastrophe thinking fired up by the start of July about how the 2020-21 school year was going to be impacted. We began to consider how we could manage without in-person learning by shifting learnings from our sabbaticals to the school year. We decided the best course of action was to host an eLearning pod.

First, we talked work. Brett’s development work requires a different level of blocked time and consistent hours. My work can toggle up/back more. I talked to the teams I work with and leaned into the built up trust that I’ll get the work done. (Hip hip to all of them!) They’ve all graciously supported me this year as I’ve had kids running in with a tech question, blocked times during math lessons, had violin and trumpet lessons going on in the background. I do think revealing some of our often-hidden humanity is a small gift in all of this. May we all be more human at work from now on.

My teaching background, flexible work schedule, and our house set up meant we felt like we could support a couple kids while allowing their parents to work full time. We thought about which kids might learn here successfully who had parents we’d trust to take health and safety as seriously as we were. 

We reached out to two of Loie’s classmates whose folks were excited to give it a go. We met over the summer and have met regularly since (along with a group chat) to talk protocols, logistics, snacks, schedules. In normal times, Brett and I are in a babysitting co-op of 25 local families, and we’ve learned that families working together need rules and structure to take emotion out of decisions and reduce resentment and frustration. So while at times it seems fussy, having structures and agreements help a ton.

I know folks will say three is a challenging number, but I really wanted three kids to be learning here. It provides enough variety that one-on-one dynamics can lack, demands some conflict resolution and peacemaking practice without letting it break into two groups of two. The girls have had their moments of sniping and disagreement, but my goodness they have also held each other up all year. I really respect and appreciate the way they show up day after day. It is weird to have a friend’s mom in this bizarre supervisory role, but I have loved learning about each of them as learners, friends, and people. I hope I can be a person they know has their back long after we wrap the school year.

It has taken a tremendous amount of trust, accountability, and transparency to pull off. We have eight adults counting on one another to act in good faith, check in with questions, continually build consensus, and think collectively even on individual family choices. We’ve spent holidays together, mourned and celebrated together, worked on house projects together, and generally helped each other mop up the mess of one heckuva year.

This is some of the best and hardest work I’ve ever done. I love facilitating, I love working with kids, I love creative problem solving. I don’t always love it all every day and sometimes I am frustrated with myself, with Brett, with other people, with the kids, with everything. But, as we round out the year, I would do it all over and choose the exact same people in a heartbeat. We’ve survived and the girls have thrived as best as I could hope in this fox hole. I’d maybe do a few things differently, ask a few more questions earlier on, establish a few more routines. But all in all, this has been a tremendous thing to have pulled off. I’m really proud of us all.

To create a sense of separation from school / home, we named the playroom the Penny Lane School (Lo’s uke teacher is one of our pod co-parents and she was learning Penny Lane as this all unfolded!). A few years back, papa and dad reimagined the grody basement into a playroom. With the subtraction of an old play kitchen and the addition of three desks, we had a workable school room. This is also when we moved my office downstairs, so I could be closer to the chaos.

The only thing missing was a play space, a place to burn energy especially during long, dark winters. We took our first stimulus money and invested it into building out the garage in secret. We brought in a local parkour space owner to install monkey bars and a climbing wall. Then we spent late nights putting up insulation and walls. We added some yoga swings (they can hold adults!) hula hoops, and turned a table extension we made for a past Thanksgiving into a chalkboard. I kick the kids out for an hour every day while I exercise and they exercise and I think we’re all saner for it. 

We recognize the outsized privilege we have to be set up to ride this all out, to have the flexibility and space and time to build play spaces, for me to be able to help with long division, and for other families to host crafternoons and sleepovers. At times, I feel awful when I have a “bad” day because, all things considered, we’re just fine. So I’ve tried to step up by helping people schedule vaccine appointments, help organize things for teachers at school, and generally help my face off wherever I can. 

Our main goal for the pandemic, aside from staying as safe and healthy as we can, was to preserve whatever elements of the magic of childhood that we could. Having playdates with her two podmates, doing Outschool classes, turning our fridge into a message board with outrageous spring break to-do lists, watching Master Chef Junior and more movies than normal, family game nights…we’re trying to jazz hands our way through some of the inertia and ennui of it all. Lo has learned to cook with Brett and bake with me. She plays Battleship with her grandparents over Zoom. We turned an unused closet into an American Girl apartment. We took one weekend trip within Illinois to ski. We stockpiled a lot of LEGO Friends and Harry Potter kits, too. Lots and lots of jazz hands.

We didn’t succumb to a pandemic pooch but there is definitely now a betta fish named Garlic and a golden mystery snail named Monsieur Speedy.. Oh…and we’re getting chickens this summer. Chickens! We’re thinking they’ll be named Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy.

Looking back while still in it, I’m unsurprised but still grateful for our rock-solid partnership and the foundations we’ve put into place for Loie to navigate this year. We genuinely enjoy time as a family and still have lists of things we hope to do together. Our 2021 summer trip is a road trip around national parks. So, it’s even more time together in a smaller space which I think is a testament to how we’ve handled things.

I wish I had known, don’t we all!, that we were closer to vaccines than we could have dreamed. I mentally prepared for it to be a multi-year journey. I am so grateful and thrilled that all our pod parents, all Lo’s grandparents and aunt and uncles, and most of our friends have already had access. I choked up at the first photos posted and still get really emotional thinking about it. We have a ways to go till we’re in the light but at least we now know it’s a tunnel, not a cave. 

We try to encourage a can-do attitude in general, but have had to make sure we create space to mourn and moan. This is all hard. Soccer got shut down for a while in the winter, it rained on picture day. It sucks to cancel a roller skating birthday party and a summer sabbatical. Missed field trips and school crushes. While it’s fantastic to have two friends here, it sucks to not see other friends. It all really sucks. Lo continues to be a lil’ flower that bends toward the sun. Even on down moments, she digs deep to say what could go right or that could improve. I am not wired this way, and she’s been a ray of light when I’m reading the news and just feeling all the feelings.

Over winter break, she had spikes of pretty acute anxiety, so to balance how sunny she is we also need to let her be totally complicated and multidimensional as every other human. She’s had moments of worry before but this was our first foray into an extended stretch of what she called Big Worries. Due to my own wiring, I get panicky that anything we see hints at major long term challenges, and had to remain calm and cool with Brett’s steady presence as we worked through it. Meditation, making lots of time for movement (it coincided with soccer stopping, and this kid needs at least an hour of movement to feel her best), and balancing active listening with offering gentle perspective have all been parts of our days since. We offered the opportunity to talk with a therapist now or at any time. Lo has lots of friends who talk to therapists, and I’m genuinely hopeful this generation treats mental health as something to tend to proactively their whole lives. It was also a gut-check reminder that even those with sunny dispositions are struggling. Continue to check in on all your friends, even the usually sunny ones.

I was always proud of Loie and thought she was a great kid, but watching her stretch toward the light, shake off epic disappointments, be eager and engaged day after day over Zoom has been remarkable. I admire and respect her tremendously.

Our home. Gosh, it feels like that ambient perfect water where you can glide right in and it feels the same temperature as the air. It feels like a second skin and a safe space. We’re always so happy to head out on our long trips, and then coming home is always a “Oh! Here we are” moment of an emotion right in between relief and joy. I love being home, even now!

We try to fill our home with meaningful objects and plenty of snacks for kids and adults. From our front porch to the backyard, we love being a place a kid will pop in to use the bathroom or play or parents gather for a movie night or book club. Folks seem to feel at ease here. We have a “below the shoulder” rule — nothing below shoulder height is brought in that feels overly precious or untouchable. A farmhouse dining room table, brushed quartzite counters, vintage-y looking industrial elements like the media console and kitchen shelving—kids can climb on them or color on them (hopefully by accident) and we won’t gasp. We like weird things and old things so broken alarm clocks, random musical instruments, Etch-a-Sketches, old postcards, and View Masters are lying around. I like to think our home has curiosities and comforts in equal parts.

My generalist super powers are chopping *just* the exact right amount of herbs for a recipe and word searches, I’m very good at word searches. I’m also a great bet for trivia teams, hit me up. 

I felt weird brushing my own shoulder off so visibly, so asked Brett to name my superpower. He says I have a supercharged understanding of people and what drives the interactions and dynamics between them. Maybe it comes from, or explains why I loved, the decade I spent teaching middle school. The thing I most loved was sitting with students and working through social and emotional messes. As a family, we spend a lot of time talking friendship, communication, owning one’s challenges, allowing others to be their own whole selves and understanding them instead of trying to change them. We workshop situations, role play, explore why someone may be responding to things in a certain way. What’s happening in their lives that may be showing up in interactions? How can she, our competitive kid, work to win the peace instead of win the fight? 

Beyond friendships, Brett and I talk about our work, are open about the frustrations we feel at each other, talk about dating, marriage, and intimacy (in appropriate ways). We call out the ways her teachers are rocking the hardest years of their professional (and personal) lives with flexibility, creativity, and grace and what that means about how they care for her and her classmates and what she owes them in return. 

We take a lot of cues from things like sitting in traffic jams or dealing with soccer team dynamics. Why do people show up with anger when they feel shame? Why do people not try so they don’t fail? We both love digging into how people move through the world and love digging into things with her. I hope our home is always a social/emotional lab for Loie.

One other silly super power is naming stuff, which can help make things more fun or even just barely palatable. Working in branding has definitely powered some of my parenting wins like dubbing the after school clean up the “Two Minute Tidy” or the need to hike parent-kid-parent “The Safety Sandwich.” I try not to abuse that super power because false marketing serves no one…but it’s good to have in my back pocket when we need it.

I hope Loie remembers that we will always, always, always show up for her. We are conscientiously not yellers or punishers (I have worked for a tamed temper). We’re fortunate that she isn’t keen on doing much troublemaking but I see so much of how we respond to mistakes and missteps now in how she imagines we’ll handle a future crisis. 

I want her to know we will help her out of any bind, even one of her own creation. Someday she will be at a party that gets out of hand, or really mess up something with a friend or at school, or god forbid get pregnant when she’s not ready to be a parent or be stuck in an abusive relationship. I never, ever want her to not come to us or call home for help because she’s afraid of getting in trouble. 

I also hope she remembers we’re just two of the people who are on her team. When I was teaching we talked about the charismatic adult. It’s the hope that each kid at our school had one adult who knew them well, saw them, heard them, was an ally and an advocate. Lo has a list of folks she can go to for advice if she ever felt like she couldn’t come to us. 

I may be an outlier, but I hope she doesn’t forget the times we screwed up or failed, because we do, since we try really hard to circle back, apologize, and try again. It was Josh’s post that gave us one of our parenting maxims: You don’t have to stick the landing. We try to own our flops and forgetfulness. There are no perfect parents or heroes, we’re all just people muddling through.  

Loie nudges me into being a better and better version of myself, and I’m incredibly grateful to her. I think more about what I say, what I model, how I move through the world, how I show up for people because I know she’s a witness to my life. 

I adore the trips we take together. Seeing her navigate a new country, jump into a circus camp in Cape Town or an art camp in Vienna, hearing what she is processing and learning about history, cultures, religions, and world views, it’s just the best. 

I also love how parenting together has given me all new ways to love and appreciate my husband. Dude is just the best dad, and I love their relationship.  

We are a one-family kid by choice. I know for so many it’s a fraught decision, one that can be rooted in disagreement, disappointment, and loss. I am grateful we knew as it made all the hard moments feel more momentary and rooted us in a sense of “we should enjoy this” around the good moments because we know we won’t have first steps or potty training (thank god) again. A friend once told us to be mindful of how Lo’s orbit would shift from around us to around others. I know we’re there in normal times — she’s at school and practice and playdates more than she’s with us. Even though we spend all our time together now, I know I’ll miss her constant presence as life rights itself in coming months. I am looking forward to it and sad, too.

This is a house where people know they can show up as themselves and we’ll show up for them. We celebrate, support, love hard and try to keep a hand on the back and lighten the load of our community members. I don’t know what she’ll wind up doing or the path she’ll take but I do hope she takes those values and principles with her.

I wish someone had told me not to just gut it out and try to prove I was ok in the earliest months. I like being high achieving and successful and fully planned to continue that as a mom. I was all set to be the chill parent who strapped her newborn on her back and hiked Machu Picchu. I thought I would parent in the same way I taught, on instinct and with ease, right from the get-go. I had tons of support and we were very excited to be parents. 

After getting pregnant easily, a complication free pregnancy, and a routine delivery, I struggled mightily in the first months. It all just went wrong. I had left my whole identity as a teacher behind and hadn’t realized how much my confidence was rooted in that. We’d also lost Brett’s mom while I was pregnant and were navigating a handful of other family challenges. Add in my own complicated wiring and postpartum depression/anxiety rocked our little house. 

It went from me worrying about naps a little to me not sleeping at all to me being in the hospital for two days. I can’t tell you all the levers that started getting pulled while I was there, but I know everyone rallied round our little family. My mom took a leave from work, moved in with us for the summer and hired us a postpartum doula. Friends showed up to get me out of the house or sit with me in the house. I went into intensive therapy (where we landed on writing as a next career!). Loie was surrounded by a world of love and cuddles. Looking back, that horrible summer wound up setting us up for this incredible life we have now…but I wouldn’t have been able to see it at the time even if you told me what to look for. 

And bonus, in the aftermath, I suddenly had a “preexisting condition” and struggled to get health insurance. Had I ignored the PPD/A and gotten worse, I could’ve gotten insurance. By actively treating it, I was a liability. As a now two self employed people household with a baby, we had to put me on a separate policy. It was *so* expensive at a time we were just squeaking by. I am forever grateful that Brett gutted it out as I built a new career, never once making me feel bad about not earning enough or giving up a tenured job. I think in those early months I sometimes made $500 and he was nothing but proud (or at least hid his worry well!).

We try to be advocates for maternal mental health to all our expectant friends, and Brett’s available as a resource for partners supporting new moms in a way only someone who lived through it can.

To all the moms in the dark right now, you will and can get better. I was convinced I’d never feel ok again. I almost didn’t want to start meds because *what if they didn’t work.* 

Get help of any and all kinds. There is no shame in handing the baby over to go to therapy or in taking medication to help your brain chemistry. It is far more common to experience PPA or PPD than we think, and we’re told the Baby Blues are to be expected. They may be, but more than 10-15% of women experience a postpartum mood disorder, and we’re often underdiagnosed or undertreated. One of the most important things a mother can do is take care of her whole self so she can be fully herself in her own life and fully present in her kid’s life. If you’re struggling, get help. Email me, I’ll help you find it.


Thank you, Julie! I am so in love with the converted school and climbing gym in the garage. I think we have all had to make so many adjustments to the way we use our houses in the last year, and I am so glad Julie was lucky enough to have the space to make something like this happen. I’m sure having a space where kids (and parents) could burn some excess energy during the winter months made a huge difference in everyone’s mental health.

And I love this so much: “I want her to know we will help her out of any bind, even one of her own creation… I never, ever want her to not come to us or call home for help because she’s afraid of getting in trouble.” For me, it’s the trickiest part of parenting. I always want my kids to know that I am on their side. But sometimes it is really hard to walk that fine line — being a parent and holding kids accountable, but also helping them know they are safe with you and that no mistake is too big. I think Julie said it so well.

How do you walk the line between being your kids supporters and safe space but also disciplining when necessary? Was it harder when they were younger? Or when they were older and the problems got bigger?


Front door sign

Lo’s play cushions (Nugget)

Julie’s Desk

Kitchen Built In Shelving

Back patio chairs

Photo squares

Family photo credit to Jamilla Yip. You can follow Julie on Instagram or check out her studio. Her husband’s studio is 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

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14 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Julie Schumacher”

  1. This house feels like anyone could walk in and automatically feel at home. Love all the detail shots and the thoughtful parenting Julie describes – definitely going to steal the “two minute tidy” and “safety sandwich” with my boys while they are young!

  2. This was a most enjoyable read! Not only a thoughtful parent and neighbor, but a talented writer who described her home so beautifully. I want to join this block! Would love to know the source for the blue velvet headboard

  3. Julie, Your house is awesome, thanks for sharing. I noticed the “Let your freak flag fly” sign, that is my best friend’s favorite quote. Can you tel me where to find it? I’d love to order it for her. Thanks, Mea

  4. Absolutely wonderful read! Thank you for sharing such a incredible soul of a mom and community leader. What a beautiful light she is.

  5. So inspired by Julie’s amazing community and the support systems they’ve built <3 What an amazing garage!!!! And I truly appreciate Julie's candor in addressing mental health challenges. Thank you for sharing your home!

  6. Melissa! Yes! I grew up in Berwyn so went there frequently. But here’s the wild part. My husband has that poster from his time in the graphic design department at Univ of Illinois, the designer went there as well Then, years later I wound up working with him on a project totally by chance!

  7. Mary, Thank you for the kind words…come hang out any time! The bed is the Devyn Tufted Wing Bed. It’s from Restoration Hardware (but the Baby&Child collections, ha!)

  8. Wow, I think any family would be delighted to have another family host their kid’s remote schooling for a whole year! And if I were doing that, I feel like I’d be in contortions patting myself on the back, rather than looking for even more opportunities to assist others. I’ve felt so much anxiety and guilt about my third grader’s pandemic homeschooling, which has been fractious and frustrating amidst scattered moments of delight and accomplishment. I bet those two kids in your mini-school will carry fond memories of their year in your home for the rest of their lives.

  9. This is my all time favorite “Living with Kids” post! There are so many great ideas that I wish I had read it 20 years ago when I was just beginning the parenting journey.

  10. Mary,

    The “Things That Make You Weird” posted is from James Victore. I don’t see it on his site currently…dang it…but I think it’s always worth reaching out to the maker to see if one is tucked away :)

  11. Julie– clearly your marriage was meant to be! How else could two people living in two completely different place manage to have a Kabuki Othello connection? Love People’s Light and their graphic design has always been fabulous.

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