Living With Kids: Karey Mackin

[ This home tour was originally published on April 23, 2013. I’m republishing it today because I’m craving Karey’s smart and interesting and compassionate voice. ]

I’ve known Karey Mackin for ages in Internet years. She was one of our original Kirtsy editors back in the day, a speaker at the first Alt Summit the year after that, and someone I simply enjoy reading. Her blog, Mackin Ink,  has always been a place to marvel at her family’s experiences living in the Middle East and now Southeast Asia, and a nice assurance that yes, it is a good idea to take your kids on adventures around the world! In short, she’s a friend. Whenever I see corners of her home like this one on Instagram, I ask if she will take us on a tour. I’m so happy she said yes! Enjoy this one, Friends!

Q: Please tell us all about the family who lives in this Jakarta home!

A: Hi everyone. I’m Karey. I’m a writer (and a horrible photographer!) living for at least another year and a half-ish in Jakarta. Indonesia is made up of about 17,000 islands – seriously, some are just dots on the map – which might not be the best place to live for someone like me who is deathly afraid of water and all things drowning. Surprisingly, I love the steamy climate of this place. I had heard nightmare stories about the interminable rainy season, but even the rainstorms are pretty lovely. It feels like the thunder and lightning are smack on top of us, and it always makes me think “Oh, man. We are just floating in the sea in a little canoe!”

I’m married to a guy named Patrick. I like him very much. He works for the government, and is an amazing cook; the kind of person who can taste a dish and then try his darnedest to recreate it at home. He is a good dad who teaches our girls things like how to wrestle, how to throw a football, how to make risotto, and all the dangerous things a dad should teach his daughters. Since two of our girls are now teenagers, he has added how to not let a boy rest his head on your chest while slow dancing to the girls’ bag of tricks. He tells funny stories, too.

Lillie Kate is our oldest at 14. She is the nicest person in the world, unless she is not. When she is not, stay away. She is that girl who always says yes if you ask her to go on an errand with you just so you won’t be lonely. She has a chandelier smile and killer eyelashes, and lately I’ve been telling her she doesn’t need to go away to college. My heart won’t let her leave, I’m afraid.

Grae-Rose is 13. She is perfect and stunning and the best athlete ever. Just ask her. If, God forbid, something happened to you tomorrow and you needed someone to take care of your family, she’s the one. To describe her as responsible doesn’t even begin to cover it. I remember thinking when Lillie was born that “Wow. We are awesome parents. Look at what we made!” But then Grae came, and we realized that babies come who they are. There’s no way I could’ve made someone that principled and strong.

Last is our Esme Dahlia. She is seven. She is hard for me to describe in a sentence or two. If you’d like, you can read about her here. Or here. But basically, we didn’t know how much our family needed her. As Grae said once, she makes us…us.

Q: Jakarta! Tell us a little about how you’re living there with kids.

A: It usually takes a year somewhere, in my experience, to feel at home. I can’t really imagine that ever happening here in Jakarta, though. I think we’ll always feel like we’re far away from home. I’m not sure why; we never felt that way in Oman or Jordan. Indonesia is just funny like that.

But. It’s super safe here. The positive things are our house, the girls’ schools, and our little neighborhood. The girls are kept active every day with some sporty activity and they can run around freely after school, which keeps our older ones young, I think. We’re within walking distance to a grocery, flower stalls, a coffee shop, a bookstore, a Mexican restaurant, and a French pastry shop with a cranky owner. Those are a lot of positives!

One of the harder aspects of Jakarta is the traffic; if my girls need me in an emergency, there’s no way I could ever get to them fast enough. Add to that third-world medical care and ambulances that could never get to you fast enough. Only two negatives. Yet those, to me, are things that make a country difficult and more stressful with kids no matter how much of an adventurer you may be.

Q: How did you find your house, and how did you make it your own?

A: Well, we’re assigned housing at every posting. We arrive at an airport, feel a slap of culture shock, and then take a car to our new address. It’s usually full of government-issue couches and tables and chairs and beds, which are always sturdy and in odd colors that somehow go with anything else we bring. It takes a few months to get our things, so I always try to carry-on pack a lot of little decorative items that will make our houses feel like homes. Garlands, decals, and anything else colorful that can stick to the walls and make it all less sterile.

You’re going to think I’m a self-centered jerk when you see all the photos of our girls on the walls, but it’s part of my how-to-deal philosophy. I think anytime you see photos of yourself having a blast, smiling huge, and experiencing something new and cool, it changes your mood. Helps your head and heart adjust to the new and cool that’s in front of you. Helps you smile back.

I guess I’ve found that it’s not the monumental moments that make it easy to live someplace completely foreign. It’s all the little moments when you smiled and said yes.

Plus, I’m a big fan of each of us seeing ourselves as pieces of art. Masterpieces, really. I think it makes us take better care of each other.

I for sure bring too much. Every moving person hates the armoire we bought in Jordan; it weighs a million pounds. Same with our bed. And I can’t think about storing the drafting table my dad refinished before he died. I just can’t. And there’s a trunk in our front room that Pat’s grandfather used to carry all of his family’s belongings from Italy to Ellis Island. Humbling. I guess these are our comfort items. Whatever it takes to feel home.

Q: What’s your daily life like in Jakarta? How different is it from your life in the States?

A: The biggest thing is that we have cleaning help here. It’s a good thing when you’re living in another country to support local workers. But seriously, it’s not that altruistic! It’s really a major perk, affordable even with the overpaying and gratitude-tips we all seem to give, and completely happy-making for me.

I remember when we moved back to the US after six years in the Middle East. I was standing in our master bath, completely befuddled. I knew the cleaning of it required bleach and probably those rubber gloves and a stick-like apparatus with a sponge on the end of it, but other than that I was lost. Do you even know the cleaning supply inventions that had been dreamed up while I was away? It was like magic.

Otherwise, life here is the same as anywhere. Get your kids off to school, exercise, work, see your friends, maybe get a pedicure every so often, and then shuttle everyone to after-school activities and weekend events. Jakarta is the first place where I don’t drive. Seriously, the traffic is nasty. Plus there are too many distractions. I would kill myself trying to drive AND look at monkeys dressed up as tiny people on the side of the road. We have a driver who speaks zero English, so I rely heavily on Google translate and hand gestures.

I can’t say it enough: traffic here is crazy. People are routinely stuck in it for hours, so it’s hard to schedule more than one or two errands while the girls are at school. I was super impatient at first, but then my friend who has been here for years advised “Stop acting like a monkey in a cage! Quit crying about the traffic! It’s there. Read a book. Take a nap. Forget about it.” Easier said than done. I’m finally getting it, but I think my newfound calm has more to do with me not scheduling a lot where I have to be in traffic and also leaving much earlier than I think is necessary to arrive on time. It is necessary. I’m lucky I can work from home.

Q: Do you ever feel guilty when you compare how you’re living to the poverty in Jakarta?

A: Yes. There’s no way around that.

The poverty is awful. As it is in a lot of places in the world. Awful. The first few months, I swear I gave away all my money to the kids in the street and the old people being led around car to car to beg for change. But it’s overwhelmingly bad and never-ending, so at some point you settle for helping those closest to you. All I can do is as much as I can do.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Did it change when you added kids to the mix?

A: If our girls had never happened, Pat and I would live in a sleek contemporary with zero clutter. All white. If you came over to our house, you’d gasp at all the cutting-edge gadgets we’d have. We would both drive shiny cars to and from our shiny jobs. We would have all the time in the world to do everything we wanted to do after work and on weekends, and would plan romantic getaways at least twice a month. Our conversations! Oh, they would be epic and uninterrupted. And it would be the emptiest life and I wouldn’t even know the joy I was missing, which makes it all the more tragic.

There’s a lot of pink and sequins and mini-drama in our lives. There’s a lot of noise and stuff and bins of plastic stuff and more plastic stuff in storage. There is red nail polish on our Persian rug, more chips than you could ever count in our china, glitter in the grout, nothing matches, a lot is rushed and haphazard, and I would not trade it for anything.

I couldn’t even begin to tell you my style. I know I love one-of-a-kind. I know I don’t enjoy seeing lots of unorganized clutter, so I make sure I have enough bins to settle my OCD brain. Even though my entire wardrobe seems to be a shade of black, I like color. Can’t stand darkness. Lamps are on all the time, especially if it’s a dark, rainy day.

And I know I’m not a fan of rules. Like, I hated that the dining room table was in the dining room. Why? It’s the darkest room in the house! So I put it in the main hall, and now it’s brighter and we can see the whole first floor when we’re sitting there. It’s the happiest place to work on projects or eat a pineapple or polish your nails.

Q: What do you hope the decor is teaching your daughters?

A: I’m not sure I’m so intentional. But maybe by moving and editing our belongings every few years, they’re getting a sense of how to make a house – any house, anywhere in the world – a home. That may end up being a pretty valuable life skill.

This might be silly, but I also wanted to make sure there are lots of places for them to cozy up in the house. I want them to stick around. Understand how it feels when someone wants them to stick around. Feel their place. Get used to feeling their place.

It’s funny, but the girls never hang out upstairs in the bedrooms unless we’re headed to bed. I don’t know if they’re chickens or if it’s just cozier on the first level, but we all stick together either in my office or in the sunroom or in the garage. Otherwise known as the art studio! This is a wonderful layout in which to be a family, and I like it that way.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What do you already miss?

A: I like my girls. I just do. In between all the yelling I seem to do, I look at them and mist up. How did I win this lottery? I certainly don’t deserve them, and there are many days they don’t deserve me; they deserve better! I’m sure we all feel this routinely, yes?

But my favorite part of the day is when it’s ending. There are nights every so often when we’re all in the same spot and in the same mood and willing to listen to each other. Not just willing. Wanting. The listening, to me, is the easiest and most enjoyable part about living with my kids. They are story-tellers who understand the power of a beginning and a middle and an ending. I hope they live their lives with the same kind attention to all those parts of their own stories, too.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: …how heartbreaking it would be to have a family. It’s not even these years that are the heartbreaking ones. Everyone said the teenage years would be gut-wrenchers, but they’re not. They’re actually pretty wonderful.

It’s the ones coming. I can feel it. I am going to have to let these girls go someday and hope they want to come back and see me sometime.

I mean, imagine it. Someone gives you the best gifts you could ever dream up. Three of them. And every day is like Christmas, with the waking up and seeing those same happy gifts every single day. Over and over and over again. Except if they’re at a sleepover. And then one day, it all turns into Casimir Pulaski Day. Which could be a very fine day, but I don’t think you get the same sort of presents. If any. I’m going to have to figure out how to celebrate it. And no matter how awesome a day it may be, I know I’ll always miss the never-ending Christmas.


Oh, Karey! I loved this. Thank you for the tour around your Jakarta life. I’ll miss the never-ending Christmas, too.

Friends, I’m curious about one thing she mentioned: How do you feel about family photos on the wall? Karey’s home seem like a huge photo album that they can look at every day, and I like that! How about you? What’s your philosophy on gallery walls?

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

97 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Karey Mackin”

  1. This is a great post!! Karey, your words struck me especially about having a family. Oh my. I recognize your home and I think you should give yourself a lot of credit for great photos! There are a few pieces that we keep with us when we move and in my case, they change as we move. I acquired a few pieces in Jakarta right before our move and I didn’t get to enjoy them there. I cannot wait to decorate our new apartment with them. Keeping my fingers crossed that they arrive in one piece… Missing you very much!

  2. I have read Karey for years and am always floored by her way with words. I knew her home would be wonderful and personal and full of love as well. Thank you for this! I am an expat too (on our 3rd country which happens to be the US) and have always struggled with missing home and now nowhere feels like home except for the spot wherever we currently find ourselves. Karey’s ability to embrace the beauty of where she is always encourages me to look for it too somehow.

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  4. I’ve spent the last three days slowly reading pieces of Karey’s mackin ink blog here and there, and laughing and crying. I’ve also got three girls, and they’re around the same ages as Karey’s were when she stopped writing. I can’t pinpoint it yet, but it feels like something that was gifted to me to read. Kind of like when I read a Tessa Kiros cookbook and it feels familiar and nostalgic and like home even though it isn’t. I think I’m going to throw out my previous plans for the day and pick out pink paint for my front hall instead. And print more pictures.

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