Maureen Vazquez’s London home was a treasure. There was an entire floor-to-ceiling window full of taped-up kid creations, a doodle-able staircase Plexiglas barrier, and a giant craft table smack in the middle of the kitchen. All that plus space for scooter races? I’d surely never leave!
But leave is exactly what the Vazquez family did! They traded in their 4,000 square feet for around 1,400 or so, and lost a few amenities in the process. Like the scooter racing space. And that craft table. Sigh. Do you think she misses them? (Spoiler alert: Not nearly as much as you might think! Hooray!)
I’ll let Maureen tell you all about their adventures since the last time we toured their gorgeous home while we peek into their latest gorgeous home. She’s a fantastic tour guide, you know.
Whenever people find out that my nickname is Mo, they go right for it, so we’ll cut the formality here; you guys can call me Mo. I live with my husband Nathan (not Nate) and our kids Atticus, Eleanor, Ike, and Indiana. I grew up mostly in Seattle as the youngest of four kids. I’ve always loved making things, having good conversation over a leisurely dinner, and I tend to be very right-brained when it comes to most things.
Nathan grew up in the backwoods of Neillsville, Wisconsin as an only child. He is an avid fantasy and sci-fi reader, a computer geek in the most loving sense of the word, and has an incredible design eye. He is totally unflappable and super goofy. He’s also a great dancer, which is what made me look way back when.
We met at my brother’s wedding right after I graduated from college and had an amazing connection right away, but we lived in different states and I had a boyfriend. Nathan was 25 — which seemed so OLD! Ha! — and I had grand plans to grow into adulthood before settling down.
We lost touch, and I spent the next four years in San Francisco. Eventually, I heard through the grapevine that Nathan was moving from Minneapolis to London for work. I freaked out, realizing that I’d always hoped we’d have the chance at a relationship, and was afraid I’d screwed it up.
I got back in touch and, long story short, we were married and both living in London soon after! A few years later, Atticus arrived.
Atticus is amazingly thoughtful and deliberate like his dad. He’s super into Legos and can spend hours building and rebuilding things according to the instructions. He’s a wonderful big brother, and sometimes I think that he could raise himself without too much trouble if aliens abducted the rest of us.
I’ve found that having kids is pretty addictive in the sense that each time you expect him or her to be like a previous kid, and each time you end up with someone who’s totally different.
Eleanor is quick, fiery, and extremely socially precocious and sensitive. She has eagle ears and regularly infers the circumstances and emotions of people on the other end of my phone just by overhearing my side of the conversation. She is unbelievably creative and always making something.
Ike is universally loved by all creatures on earth. Kids love him, adults love him, and animals love him. And he loves them back. He wakes up smiley every morning and smiles in his sleep as I take him to the bathroom before I go to bed. His catchphrase is “Will you be my best friend?” to which everyone eagerly responds “YES!”
Indiana is hyper coordinated which is good because she’s a total monkey. She was still kicking me in the ribs as she was crowning during her delivery and she hasn’t stopped moving since. She is happy-go-lucky and always in the middle of the action. We are all desperate for her to start talking and like to guess what she’ll say!
We moved from London to San Luis Obispo (SLO), California a year ago after Nathan’s project at work was shut down. We had moved to London from NYC with his company the previous year, and were faced with the prospect of moving back to Manhattan where he would find another trading position with the bank.
At the time, Indiana was four months old and I had recently launched Pipsticks, a subscription sticker club. It was doing really well but I was exhausted, and the idea of finding socks for six people every day literally put me over the edge.
Having gone to Cal Poly, I had always thought SLO would be a great place to end up. It was also a place where socks and shoes are optional. So, we took a massive leap of faith and moved to California where Nathan joined me working for Pipsticks!
It’s. So. Different. When we moved here, I hadn’t owned a car in 15 years. In an attempt to offset the minivan life, we moved a few blocks from town so that we could walk as much as possible.
The neighborhoods in downtown SLO are lovely. The houses are all built on long narrow lots so they look like little cottages in a line from the street. Most houses around us were built in the early 1900s. Compared to NYC and London, things are more affordable, but it’s still a very expensive place to live. A 1200 square foot, two bedroom house in town starts around $700,000.
What struck us when we first moved here are how many fruit trees there are! They are everywhere, and just blend right into the city’s landscape. We’ll be walking to the park and look up to see a massive avocado tree above the sidewalk.
One of my favorite things to do is pick the Asian pears from our yard and walk around delivering them to our neighbors. We inevitably return home with oranges, lemons, avocados, and apples. Free avocados? It’s a dream.
Our neighbors are awesome, and the kids can run down the street to play with their besties. I don’t have to worry about them getting hit by a car as soon as we walk out the front door, which is fantastic.
After a year, they are only now starting to let go of the stroller when we’re all out — they used to have to be within grabbing distance!
Everything is so much easier here. Having a car, Costco, good public schools, perfect sunshine every day. The beach is a 10-minute drive away. We go every weekend after naps and eat smoked fish tacos on the beach.
It’s pitch black at night and I can actually HEAR CRICKETS! When I can’t fall asleep, I use an app that plays the background noise of a sushi bar to offset the silence. It was the closest thing I could find to a traffic jam!
Things here close early — the tattoo parlor isn’t open past 6! — and there aren’t many delivery options. I miss the small-scale intimacy of restaurants and bars and the readiness of people to connect quickly and share details of their lives during casual conversations on the street.
I miss the action of the city and the sense of community that comes with living on top of one another.
We really lucked out. We arrived four days before Atticus started kindergarten and found our rental house through someone at Ella’s preschool. When it comes to housing around here, every good find comes word-of-mouth. You will rarely see great properties actually listed. People go around leaving notes in the mailboxes of houses they want to buy that aren’t even on the market!
SLO has been declared the happiest place on earth by major publications for years, and people want to be here. It’s also a college town, which makes the rental market scarce and competitive.
Our house was head and shoulders above any other rentals we saw. We downsized significantly, but this place allows us to be in the city and was relatively affordable, especially considering the separate cottage behind the house, which we use as the Pipsticks HQ.
When we moved out here, our dream was to rent for a few years, look for property, and eventually build a house — something Nathan and I have dreamed of for ages.
I’ve never really cared about owning a home. The paint colors aren’t what I’d choose and we’d love to do something with the front yard, but overall, I love the flexibility we have as renters. It leaves room for so much potential ahead.
We went from 4000 square feet to 1400, and lost about 73 windows! Ha! Luckily, our nine foot dining table just fit and our massive sofa was a sectional so we split it between the house and the back cottage. We have one small storage unit, but managed to get the things we loved most into our home.
We cannot accommodate indoor scooter races any longer and I had to say goodbye to my beloved craft table — still bummed about that one — but you know what? We’re just as happy, which I guess shouldn’t be much of a surprise. That said, I do avoid looking at pics of our place in London for the time being!
As I’ve said before, the great thing about a big family is that you bring the party with you. The kids’ young ages make these moves pretty straightforward in terms of socialization, and we stay true to the family’s schedule wherever we are in order to make the transitions smooth.
Atticus and Ella will say they want to move every now and then, but I think it’s more out of the desire for another adventure versus disliking it where we are. It makes me happy that they remember London and New York.
Nathan has fallen into his life as entrepreneur whole-heartedly and we wonder why we didn’t do our own thing sooner. Maybe it was that having four kids thing?! He hasn’t shaved, worn socks, or cut his hair since we moved here and he loves it — though I wouldn’t mind a little trim now and then! He used to work crazy hours and barely see the kids during the week, and now we totally co-parent.
Being here has absolutely confirmed what I always suspected: I’M A CITY GIRL.
I miss the energy of the city, the diversity of the people, and the assumption that everyone has got something going on. San Luis Obispo prides itself on being SLO — as in slow. It takes 15 minutes for a barista to make your coffee. You have to budget an hour to pick up some light bulbs at the hardware store. And everyone here loves it, which is great…but it makes me feel like kind of a crazy person!
I’ve realized that when my busy, busy life is mirrored by a busy, busy city, things feel balanced and normal. I recharge in crowded restaurants and buzzy subways. I love to people watch and connect with strangers who want to chat. Now, I regularly feel like I’m a nutcase with WAY too much on my plate!
Date night — a term which kind of drives me crazy in itself — is a big deal here instead of being part of the weekly routine. The lack of restaurant options and need to drive everywhere makes nightlife less accessible, and people rarely have dinner parties. People can’t believe that we used to go out three or four nights a week together or separately with our friends, and seem to socialize exclusively with their kids around.
Though we keep saying we’ll be more organized, most mornings are a mad dash between 7:30 when we all get up and 8:05 when the kids walk out the door. Nathan drops off the older two at school with the younger kids in tow, and I head out our back door to work.
I launched Pipsticks two years ago. I have a background in graphic design and manage all things related to product development, customer interaction, and brand/marketing. Nathan handles the operations and analysis of the business. We’re super lucky to have such complementary skills, and it turns out we dig hanging out together 24/7.
We spent most of our first year here setting up the backend systems and processes for the business so that we could grow, and grow it has! We now have thousands of subscribers (both kids and adults) in over 53 countries!
Right now, our two-level cottage is perfect for Pipsticks. The upstairs is where we work and do photo shoots, and downstairs is set up for fulfillment. Think: millions of stickers!
I usually start the day answering emails while it’s quiet, then do photo shoots or design work before lunch. Depending on whether we need to pow-wow, we’ll either take a lunch break in our back yard, or gobble down Trader Joes chicken tikka masala at our desks.
Nathan usually picks the kids up and they come in to help out around the studio for a half hour until the younger kids wake up from naps. Our amazing nanny leaves at 6:00 and I go in and do baths (when their feet are visibly dirty) and bedtime while Nathan works.
He says goodnight to the kids and I crack a cold beer and silently curse the lack of delivery options in SLO. We usually end up throwing something on the BBQ, frying up some shredded potatoes, and cutting up a tomato (they’re SO good here) for dinner. My time for cooking has taken a backseat to stickers I’m afraid.
Usually after dinner we’ll either go back to work or watch an episode of whichever series we’re into. The Americans now.
In the last couple years my role in the family has changed significantly and because it happened suddenly, it took some time to reconcile this shift in my identity. Going from being a stay-at-home mom, which I loved, to a business owner, which I also love, has been an adjustment.
It seemed to happen overnight and for a while I really grappled with whether it was the right thing. I always thought it was best for our family if I was at home full-time, but I now see how lucky we are to have the chance to co-parent. It’s was a strange dynamic at first though as Nathan felt like he got so much more time with the kids and I felt like I got less.
I try to go easy on myself when it comes to household expectations because something’s gotta give. Dinners are basic, teeth go unbrushed, and I encourage the kids to rely on each other if I can’t do something with or for them.
The tradeoff is that we feel like we’re in charge of our own destiny, which is great! We can have a schedule that allows us to be with the kids when we want to be, or to take the day off in a pinch.
Now that I’m two years into Pipsticks, I am amazed by how much I’ve learned. I just returned from NYC where I was meeting with business owners that I’ve admired for ages and I felt like a peer which was amazing.
Pipsticks also lets me indulge my inner child. Boxes and boxes of stickers led to pink everything, painting my nails cool colors, and wearing bright lipstick. The nature of the business is so fun that the underlying mission to have a good time balances whatever maturity I’m gaining with experience!
My favorite part of our new life, and the stuff I hope we all remember fondly forever? Tacos on the beach, delivering fruit to neighbors, and Nathan’s beard.
We’ve recently decided that we’re not having any more kids — you can breathe easy now, Mom and Dad! — and though I’m fully on board with the decision, I always expected to feel done when I made the decision to be done.
I’ve grown up hearing stories about that second, third, or fourth child that was the last planned addition to a family or perhaps that one that was, indeed, an accident but obviously beloved nonetheless.
As soon as you start having kids everyone’s question as soon as the latest baby is hot out of the oven is “Are you done?” Most of us respond with an exhausted nod of the head, the inquirer nudging us understandingly.
At dinner parties, people are vocal about being done and speak about it with a tone of absolute certainty, as the men elbow each other and roll their eyes at the possibility of another baby. And that’s all fine and great.
But nobody talks about the difference between being done and feeling done. And the problem with that is those of us who still feel like they’d be up for another baby don’t have any emotional reference for making the decision not to.
I expected the end of my baby-making career to be marked by the feeling of total contentment in my state of motherhood and the size of our family. In this state, I’d feel no urge to create another little personality for our brood, and any desire to have another would be directly related to hormonal impulses after 1. Holding someone’s newborn baby; 2. Being on my period; or 3. Watching my youngest kid go to school.
When these feelings didn’t come amidst the exhaustion of four kids under seven, a growing business, and two international moves in 12 months, my obvious conclusion was that I wasn’t done. Of course even though I felt that way I nodded my head emphatically when people asked if I was, because I’ve found that saying otherwise when you already have four kids tends to make people incredulous at best, uncomfortable at worst.
But then Nathan and I really started talking about it.
Life is nuts. Totally nuts. Kids are expensive. I want to grow Pipsticks and have the energy to be creative. We want to travel. We might want to live in a city again. All of the things we want for now and later are complicated significantly by having more kids. My Cons list far surpassed my Pros list, which was just “I don’t feel done.” And that left me feeling like I didn’t know what to do.
Except I did: I knew I shouldn’t have more kids. And then the light bulb went off! What if I took control of my emotional desire for children and didn’t expect it to make the determination for me? I could totally do that and when I thought about it that way it made me so much happier.
It’s totally okay to want more babies. And it’s totally okay to not feel done. And it’s totally okay to separate that feeling from the decision of whether you should have another baby.
Each woman’s decision to have another baby is obviously totally unique and personal. That said, we’re all dealing with various iterations of the same feelings, ideas, and realities, so let’s talk about them. All of them, openly, so we can be happiest with the decisions we make.
Now when people ask if we’re done, my response is: Though I feel like I would always love another baby, we are decidedly done.
Maureen, I love your new home. I love that you leaped into a completely new life and completely adore it. And I love how you crave conversation about the ideas and worries floating around in our heads. Keep up the fine work! And please tell us when you move again so we can tour your next amazing space.
Any thoughts or reactions to Maureen’s “I just don’t feel done” dilemma? For those of you with children, have you resolved yourself to the babes you have…or do you still feel like there’s room for just one more? Also, for those co-parenting out there, what about Maureen’s initial thoughts of their new dynamic: “Nathan felt like he got so much more time with the kids and I felt like I got less.” I’d love to hear how your own conversations are going!
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.