Living With Kids: Mia Galison

By Gabrielle. Photos by Andrea Reisfeld and Saxton Freymann.

Mia owns a super cute boutique toy company on the Upper West Side of New York. It began in the basement of the building where she still lives, but now is found just down the street. Once a renovated ballroom that at one point was a Japanese tea room full of flea market finds, Chinese art deco, rugs, sky lights, and school house lighting, it’s pretty magnificent. (Especially the bathroom converted to become her son’s room! See if you can spot the tiling and leftover soap bed!)

The photographs she submitted were a jumble of old memories and current – how her home looked in the thick of of having three kids under four years old, and how lovely and quiet and clean it looks today, and every stage in between – and I wasn’t sure which ones to share. You see, her kids are older, off to college and other adventures, so sharing the older images might not make contextual sense. But then I thought, “Hey. This is what it’s all about! Learning from each other how to live as well as we possibly can with our children!” Mia has a goldmine of experience on this topic, and most of the important stuff happened years ago.

I went with the shots that inspired me: crafts at the kitchen table, stuffed sleepovers, working in the basement from 9:00 pm until 2:00 am, and room for one more. So if you see a shot of a young one climbing on a chair in front of a grand window, know that he is at University now, and know that probably every single detail in that photo is missed terribly today.

Yes, it took a lot of hard work and sleepless nights and sacrifice – you will smile when you hear how they communicated before mobile phones and FaceTime! – but she has zero regrets about how she lived with her kids. That is a result I wish for us all! Welcome, Mia!

Hello! I’m Mia Galison. I’ve been married to artist Saxton Freymann for 25 years. Sax wrote and illustrated the Play with Your Food book series, and he currently works on his artwork when he isn’t developing games or illustrating for eeBoo.

We had Eyck, (named for the Flemish artist) in 1994, and less than two years later we had twins, Elodie and Finn.

Sax and I share an enormous and glorious studio space that used to be a Japanese Tea House on Manhattan’s Upper West side. I work upstairs with the eeBoo staff and he works downstairs, in what used to be a beautifully tiled kitchen. He is a great husband who is always happy to spend the day at a flea market with me and talk over projects even in the middle of the night.

Our son Eyck loves history and politics and is an intrepid adventurer. Last year, he took a year off from college to work and then traveled alone across Europe and China. He is currently studying East Asian History and is about to spend his summer at the Carnegie Institute for World Peace in Beijing.

Finn loves reading and performing Shakespeare and circus and card tricks. His specialty is word-smithing and he likes to write songs and play music. He’s also very funny and is usually surrounded by lots of friends.

Elodie is an artist and scientist. She cuts elaborate silhouettes, draws, paints, makes crazy things out of felt, and generally engages everyone around her in a project of one kind or another. She also has had a long-standing love of medicinal plants. As a child, she made balms and teas and pressed or dried everything she got her hands on. She’s thinking of majoring in Environmental science or traditional medicine, and she throws Javelin for her University’s Track and Field team.

We began looking for an apartment in New York City in 1990 soon after a significant real estate crash. When we saw our apartment, it had been on the market for a long time and it was a stinky mess. The herringbone wood floors had been covered by linoleum or wall-to-wall carpeting, there was five times more furniture squished in to every room then there should have been, and a gigantic sectional sofa filled the entire living room. The apartment seemed very dark because of the heavy floor-to-ceiling drapes that were hung over the French-door windows, but when we pulled the curtains aside, we saw the view of a small park, beyond which you could see the faintest bit of the Hudson River.

Sax and I loved the space immediately. When I looked around the rooms I could imagine it spare, with the opulent curves and glorious proportions. We felt that it had to be ours, and miraculously no one else wanted it.

Over the years we have done a lot to the apartment. When we had three kids in less than two years, we needed to be very creative. Sax boxed in the bathtub in the extra bathroom and that became Eyck’s bedroom. He had a soap dish over his head and a medicine cabinet in his room. The walls are covered with crackily 100 year old tiles – which are perfect for taping up posters.

Right after Eyck was born we started eeBoo in the basement apartment directly under ours, but they were not connected. Ten years later we were able to buy that space, and we joined the apartments with a staircase and replaced our puny little kitchen with a huge warm gathering space. Finn also moved downstairs since his former bedroom was so small that his bed couldn’t be any bigger than 6 feet – and he got to be 6’3”. Best of all we finally had a place to put all our books on shelves and get a huge long table for the dinners with family and friends that has been among the greatest joys of my life – and the center of our life as a family.

At night I often walk in to the living room to look at the windows and I cannot believe how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful peaceful place.

I live in the neighborhood where I grew up in – New York City’s Upper West Side. We live a short walk to where my mother lived as a child and where my grandmother and grandfather lived as children; it’s where my great grandparents settled when they arrived from Romania in 1904, so I have an obvious bias for the neighborhood!

It’s quiet and leafy and it’s still the ethnically diverse area it was when I was growing up in the 1960s. There are restaurants of every imaginable kind and great New York pizza. Riverside Park hugs the Hudson River, and is cool in the summer even when the rest of the city is not. You can walk along the banks on a small path that runs along with the water with the river sweeping by only feet away. Most of the buildings that line the winding and irregular Riverside Drive were built around the turn of the century, and are no taller than 12 stories with large elegant apartments with high ceilings and walls loaded with chunky mouldings. The tree lined side streets are filled with formal stone townhouses, and almost everyone has abundantly filled window boxes. Our apartment is on a tiny spur of the drive that makes a small loop around a little park and shelters us from almost all traffic. In the evenings, it is easy to imagine the sounds of horse hooves – if it wasn’t illuminated by electric lights, everything you see is as it was 100 years ago.

I was working as a creative director and product development person when I got pregnant with my first child. I wanted to find a way to be able to spend time with him, and thought I could contribute something unique to the children’s specialty market. My first products were Garden Bug cookie cutters (packaged in a jar with decorating instructions) that I had manufactured in a tiny factory in Pennsylvania, and a crazy hand-made alpaca cap with points that I called a satellite hat. They had nothing to do with one another but I only had the money to make one thing in a factory at a time and I figured I could fill my line up with things I could make myself as I sold them.

Right around the time that the Bug Cookie Cutters were ready to ship, I found out I was pregnant with twins. Going back to work for other people was now a logistical impossibility. I couldn’t afford a babysitter for that many infants, and my husband who was painting at the time could not care for three children under the age of three on his own – no way. I knew I had to work like a maniac and be really smart and frugal, so we worked out a complex revolving system of child care that included parents, friends, and babysitters, and which allowed me to be integral to the rotation and spend lots of times with my kids.

A revolving rotation of husband, friends, babysitters, relatives, and me – that’s how we spent the first few years. I was able to rent a crude apartment in the basement of our building, and Sax and I would take turns working there for a few hours at a time – weekends as well – running up and down the stairs.

Brenda, the designer I’ve worked with for 30 years, would drive in and we’d work from 9:00 pm after putting the kids to bed until 2:00 am. Then I’d wake Sax up and he’d walk her to her car. Efficiency, organization, and totally forgoing any trace of a social life other than time spent with family or close friends optimized the time I was able to work. Being careful about money was also key because really being able to spend time with my family meant that eeBoo had to grow enough to the point that it paid our bills.

Sax and I did as many things ourselves as we possibly could. Having eeBoo in the basement allowed me to conserve time not having to commute. We only had one phone line for the apartment and the office so when the kids were upstairs (supervised of course) and they needed me for something, they would go to a specific part of the ceiling and stomp – then I could pick up the phone and talk to them over the dial-tone.

I never worried about what the business looked like to other people, and I created my own paradigm for a modern mother in business. I never tried to conceal that we had kids and dogs running and barking in the background, nor tried to stop my mother walking into the office during a meeting. I embraced this early as my brand, and I was proud of it. I refused to embrace the compromise of work versus family – I was determined to have it all in one place, one self-perpetuating organism.

We encouraged our children to participate in activities together so that we could spend weekends as a family, not breaking up with one parent taking one kid somewhere and the others somewhere else. I felt this allowed for the more important development of us as a family unit. All for one, and one for all.

As a special time for each child, we had a babysitter come once a week in the evening and we took one child out alone for dinner. It was a great strategy because we got so much more meaningful communication with them when there was no competition for our attention. This tradition began when they were tiny and continued until they went to college. I never had as much time as I really wanted with my kids when they were growing up, so I made it my priority to make sure that it was as plentiful as I could humanly manage, and tried my hardest to be really present for it…and never take it for granted.

My toy philosophy is fairly simple. I love useful things made of paper, cloth, wood, or other natural material and old things that were designed beautifully for children. I like games that kids play around the house or outside just using their imagination and props – like taping leaves to themselves or sitting in an empty box in the middle of the living room floor. My kids played with wooden blocks, hats and scarves from flea markets, vintage costumes, loads of art supplies and books – and empty boxes. For over a year, we had an empty refrigerator box in the middle of our living room with control panels drawn on the inside walls.

Sax and I supplied the miscellany and technical support, but the play was all theirs. As far as games I’ve purchased for my home, I like toys that can be played across generations, that encourage individual and cooperative creative thinking, and that are beautiful enough to stay in a child’s mind for their lifetime. In that spirit, we have tried to create simple, wholesome games and activities that will be meaningful for children and their families.

I’ve always loved being a mom. I loved simple things like lying next to them when they’d fall asleep after a story and the way they smelled and how warm they were in their pajamas. But, the part I love the most about my life with children is also the part that made me go crazy sometimes: the constant hum of emotion, action, and affection. Family dinners with my kids, my parents, and their friends. Loud, messy dinners with arguing or singing and a house filled with people. Running the business out of our home while having plenty of family nearby, brought in lots of people…including Mr. Ross the piano teacher, a constant flow of visiting friends and relations from all over the world, all happy to have a place to stay in New York City.

I always strove to make our home inviting, comfortable and beautiful and always tried to have delicious things to eat. Seeing the kitchen filled with loud conversation, a floor filled with sleeping bodies, a group of kids playing a game around the table – made me so happy and gave me endless energy. Now that the kids are away, we still have plenty of house-guests (and our two dogs) but I really miss the clamor at the dinner table. Occasionally we are lucky enough to have one of their friends come over for dinner, and we don’t miss an opportunity to gather everyone together when they come home from school.

What surprised me was that our children still listened to what I said even after they got so much taller than me – which happened when they were still in elementary school!

Someone once told me that it all goes by so fast, and I understood it straight away. I knew that the time when my kids were young was very likely to be the best years of our life, and Sax and I really dug into making the most of it. Not having time for ourselves without the kids was not a sacrifice. Now that my kids are recently off to college, I don’t feel bad about how I spent the brief time I had with them home. Of course, I wish I had had more.

People tell you, but I didn’t know how true it was, that children internalize who you are as a parent: the good things and the bad. And it’s easy to forget when they are little, but then you see yourself in them so clearly when they get to be teenagers and by the time you see it – it’s kind of too late to change it! It can be positive things like a strong work ethic, or bad things like getting too stressed out.

It’s hard to believe how tired you’ll be. How much you’ll worry about them. That it takes planning and a lot of thought to help your kids build a good relationship with one another. It doesn’t always just happen. We gave a ton of thought toward trying to reduce competition, encourage each of them to try the things that their siblings were better at than they were, and helped them to appreciate one another’s accomplishments.

I hope they remember all the talking we did and the time we spent together reading, traveling, making dinners and eating together with so many friends and relations around the table. I hope they take away from their childhood home the desire to be generous and how to be a good host, and that they have learned the value of not just opening up your home but doing it with an abundance and graciousness that shows your guests that you care about them. Most importantly, I want them to know how to make their own home not just a place others want to be, but a place that they love to return to.

I hope they remember me as a mother as one who encouraged them to pursue their interests and did my best to provide the best opportunities for them to explore and engage themselves.

–-

Mia, thank you so much! I’m so glad I decided to use your memoried photos. Yes, they made my eyes water, but I couldn’t imagine your story without them. Also, I absolutely love the back story of eeBoo. Especially: “I refused to embrace the compromise of work versus family – I was determined to have it all in one place, one self-perpetuating organism.” It’s beyond inspiring, and I know there are some entrepreneurs out there right now who just got that extra burst of “I can do it!” (Tell us if you’re one of them, will you?)

Do you make one-on-one time for your kids? I think it’s an awesome tradition. I respect how important it was to Mia and Sax, so much so that they made time for it at the expense of their own one-on-one time. Family traditions sometimes involve a little sacrifice and sometimes a lot of “Are we really doing this again?” and “Yes, it will live in their memories – and ours – forever.” Family life…I never get tired of these stories.

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 knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

43 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Mia Galison”

  1. What a beautiful story- beautiful parenting and beautiful time together. I love the togetherness; it is an inspiration! Also, the built-ins are wonderful!

  2. The combination of recent and old photos, showing where children were and then the same room empty makes it one of my favorite posts. It just shows how time flies, your home can be fluttering with activity one moment and quiet because the children have flown off, the next.

  3. Wow-loved this so much. I love the space, her philosophy of work/family, her “open home”. My kids span the ages from almost out of high school to kindergarten so I totally get where she’s coming from with making the most of all of it. Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. Oh this is just glorious. My eyes are watering too. I love everything about this, the house, the rugs, the windows, but most importantly the sense of love and warmth that permeates every single photo and story. This is inspiring, and now I know why I love everything that comes from eeboo, because it comes from this very special place of “abundance and graciousness.” Thank you!

  5. Pingback: eeBoo Studio » Blog Archive » Living with kids: Mia Galison

  6. I absolutely LOVE eeBoo! Thanks for sharing! This was a great reminder to stock up on some of their fun creations for our upcoming US road trip. I loved hearing about their family, their home, and their parenting philosophies. Very inspirational.
    Thank you!
    Kathy

  7. HANDS DOWN my favorite Living with Kids you’ve ever had here. So so much to take away from this one, both in look and feel.

  8. Oh my gosh I love this! I’m a new mama and huge fan. I’m an illustrator and eeBoo is a dream client of mine! This means so much.

  9. This might be my favorite “Living with Kids” of all time. The home feels so warm and lived in, and Mia’s whole perspective on life is refreshing. As a mom who’s been working from home for almost nine years, I so appreciate hearing from another who’s done it and done it well, fostering her family relationships all the way. Thanks for sharing your story, Mia!

  10. This is my favorite featured Life with Kids. So often, women in this phase of life have their wisdom and experiences marginalized. There is a lot of hard earned knowledge here. I’d love to hear even more from mothers who have raised children — their successes, things that were hard and what life is like now. Thank you for sharing your life. I’m in the middle of the whirlwind right now and always try to keep in mind how quickly our house will go from stuffed with teenagers to quiet and still. Will I miss the messes? The craziness? The long days and long night waiting for curfew time? It will be an interesting transition.

    1. I was terrified when the twins left for college but honestly–it’s really been ok. Good tip–never make a college on the opposite coast sound appealing AT ALL. Luckily, none of the three children are very far away and we do get to see them a bunch. I try not to call them a lot but sometimes a simple text back and forth for them to know you love them and for you to know they are ok–goes a long way. The last few years of a high schoolers life can be very stressful for kids and parents and it’s hard to concentrate on almost anything else besides what they are going through. Having some time to focus on work or NOT focus on making dinner can actually feel nice. I’m saying this knowing that my kids will all be home for the summer by the end of the day tomorrow–but seriously I’ve had sort a good year. That being said–I’d LOVE to have little kids running around here! Best wishes, Mia

  11. I love Tuesdays, and this Living with Kids has made it to the top of my favorites list. First, this space is drop dead gorgeous. I love the books, the built-ins, the rugs. It’s just magnificent and homey all at once. Second, I am at Mia’s stage of life, and as I read this I had tears streaming down my cheeks. My three children are all grown up, and I simply can’t believe how fast the years flew by. (And it just goes by faster and faster as they get older.) To those of you frustrated today with sticky fingers, messy kitchens, cluttered hallways, and tantrums, pause and try to internalize the fact that those chubby toddlers will be young men and women before you know it.

  12. I love seeing the results of a great apartment meeting a great couple! Beautiful, creative, unfussy and unpretentious place, home to kids who are a product of that sensibility.

  13. I just love the richness of this post and all the wonderful thoughts on sacrifices worth making — thank you, Gabrielle and Mia.

    And l love anyone with the courage to paint over old woodwork! I can’t bring myself to do it, but I love how bright and open it makes everything.

    1. Dear Kirsten:
      Thanks for your comments. I wanted to tell you that I am NOT courageous AT ALL–I would never be able to paint over old woodwork. All the white woodwork you see we had built to resemble the original style of our building. We used inexpensive paint ready wood and we copied the moldings from our apartment and our neighbors. The basement apartment that we had been working in was totally bare with tons of pipes running everywhere. Everything you see in the dining area, kitchen and bedroom with the lilac blanket we designed ourselves and had built new–including the staircase we made to connect our first floor apartment to the basement. I wanted the kitchen to look like it had been put in a formal room with paneling–it was a really fun project. Best wishes, Mia

  14. I loved everything about this interview. A few years ago, I met Mia at a toy trade show. The tone of this interview was identical to our lengthy conversation. She is amazing and a true inspiration to me as a specialty toy store owner. I’m encouraged by her unapologetic approach to seamlessly combining her business and her family. This is seldom easy. Based on her description of her children and what I know about her company (one of my favorites), I’d say she has accomplished what she set out to do!

  15. Oh man, did I ever need to hear this! Thanks, Mia. I am constantly thinking about how to be the mom I want my kids to have, while giving everything I want to our business. And I’m just so darn tired! Your words helped me with perspective, so thanks :). & big thanks to you, Gabby for sharing this lovely story with the evolving pics!

  16. Kate the Great

    I loved the entire thing, but especially the photo of the sleepover. What glorious chaos of togetherness.

  17. Love, love, love this! And, YES! I am one of those entrepreneurs:) I often have to remind myself how quickly the time has already gone, and therefore will continue to go. While I am so happy to see my kids come home from school everyday, I never feel like I had enough time to do the work I wanted to do. I often have to remind myself to be present with my kids and try not to think of business ideas or where I wish my business could be. Because when I am really, fully, 100% present, those are the best moments with my babes. And that of course rejuvenates me and gives me the extra energy I need. That’s when I am the mama I want to be. My business will be there. It will grow. Maybe not by leaps and bounds in the next few months. But when the time is right. That way, in 20 years, I can look back and be proud of the mama and the businesswoman. Now I’ll wipe my tears away:)

    1. Dear Meghann:
      You can’t look back and feel bad about anything. If you missed something make something else to do with your kids. Working and raising kids is very hard to do well –it’s hard to do at all! Your tired all the time and stressed–I hear you. I always had to remind myself to slow down, to turn away opportunities, to shut off the t.v–get off the phone. It’s hard to know when your business is doing well enough to let it coast for a few days because you are always afraid of sliding backwards–so really try to identify those times when being away from the office won’t kill anything–and seize the hours. That’s all any of us can do. Good luck with your business and your family–I’m sure you are doing great! Mia

  18. What an absolutely heartwarming tour. I love so many things about this one. The photos, old and new, are those kinds of family photos you’d find in a basket on a friend’s coffee table. And, as a mom of both grown children and younger children, I was so touched by Mia’s words. It really does go by too fast. This tour? Dreamy. In the most real life kind of way.

  19. I LOVE the eeboo products! And this was definitely one of my favorite Living with Kids stories. What great reflections and insights on parenting and family togetherness!

  20. My favorite so far, which is saying a lot because all of the Living With Kids stories are so great. Mia’s words and thoughts express exactly what I want for my children. I have 4 teenagers and I hope they grow up with even a small smattering of the traits and viewpoints Mia has discussed. Thank you for this beautiful glimpse into your life! Lovely sentiments and expressions, and of course, the house is gorgeous beyond words. :)

  21. It’s always so nice to hear from our peers who are also right in the trenches with us but there was something really wonderful about being able to appreciate Mia’s perspective as a mother of grown children. I loved that. Please keep including more of these. It’s nice to see the motherhood box from lots of directions. I was especially touched by Mia’s words about finding the way for things to work as it worked for her and her family. It’s so easy to compare or to feel that there are only a few ways to do things right. More than ever I am beginning to see that there is probably a right way for everyone that is totally unique to them with a few wise guiding principals to look to & our own hearts to listen to. Mia’s words inspired me to look at how I am doing things now with fresh eyes and to make sure that I am comfortable with how things are going with our family, despite challenges or unexpected shifts, – to make sure that it all still feels right & comfortable to me. Lastly, Mia’s words about how quickly it goes struck me powerfully, likely because I am feeling that so intensely right now. It seems like our kiddo & all our friends kiddos are growing up at the speed of light and I realize looking back that I am so glad I cherished the toddler, pre-school, etc. etc. ages as much as I did but still wish I’d cherished them more because they go quickly and they don’t come back. Thanks for a wonderful Living with Kids, Gabby & Mia!

  22. Oh. This home! In my years on the UWS (which I also dearly love for the reasons she mentioned) I don’t think I ever saw a home like this one! You just don’t see these anymore! So many things about this make me love it, and not just the windows, high ceilings, bookshelves and gorgeous rooms, but the reminiscing and stories of filling it with noise over the course of their childrens’ lives. Mia’s story is nothing short of inspiring. To think they’re the designers behind Eeboo is just fantastic, as it’s a brand I love and am always drawn too for my children. Thank you for sharing this, Mia. Yours is by far my favorite.

  23. This is my very favorite Living with Kids. I’m not familiar with eeBoo (going to Google right now), but all of my children have loved Saxton Freymann’s books!

    The part of the interview that really hit home to me was the discussion about not concealing your life as a mother when you’re working professionally. I work out of my home, and I often worry about keeping myself competitive with others who are working from dedicated office spaces–am I turning projects around quickly enough or am I too slow because I had a recital to attend; will my client be offended that a toddler called out in the background during a conference call? Thanks for the reminder that this is nothing of which I should be ashamed and that I can do my part to make it the new normal!

  24. I have read many of these profiles over the years but this one is perfect. This hit all the key points, loved the perspective, seasoned advice from a great role model. Thank you!

  25. I just loved reading this. Getting the perspective of a mother who has been through it all and can offer the view from the “other side” is so wonderful.

  26. My all-time favorite ‘Living With Kids’ story – maybe because I am in a similar life -moment with a daughter working in New York, a son at university, and another son in high school. So good to hear from someone who has raised their kids and has good insight for those in the process. Beautiful.

  27. This is my absolute favorite “Living with Kids” story — beautiful home, rich in story and love, and a truly inspiring philosophy on life, creative work, and parenthood. As an artist/illustrator with a home studio, I never feel like I have enough time to work! Sometimes the only “creative” thing I do in a day is cook a delicious meal and set a beautiful table for my family, but I’m conscious of how precious this time is, right now. As my daughters grow up (12 and almost 15), I realize how quickly this time is going. A life/work balance is elusive on many days, but I’m certain I will never look back and wish I had more studio time. I’ll have plenty of time for more studio time in the future, and sooner than I would like to believe! Thank you so much, Gabrielle and Mia!

  28. One of my favourites. I love the history and the knowledge that you do the best you can with what you have.

  29. what a gorgeous space! I love that their kids got to spend their lives here and can return to this space. It’s not as common today for kids to grow up in one place, and I really hope I can settle in somewhere soon that my kids could return to as adults. loved her amazing words of wisdom throughout!

  30. Aw, this is gorgeous, real, tender, inspirational. Def one of my favs of this series. Thanks for the uplift and reminders–my babes are 9, 7, and 2.

  31. Thank you Mia for sharing your story. You are quite amazing! I admire how you could raise a family and work towards your own goals at the same time! Very inspirational!

    Thank you Gabrielle too!

  32. This was my very favorite home tour of all. I love how beautiful, but unpretentious it is. It looks so warm and inviting. I adore it. And I cried as I read her thoughts on how fast it all went by. I’m in the very thick of it, with my oldest of six kids being twelve, and being in that weird space of feeling so weary and worn down, but also feeling like its all going by so fast and just trying to hold on to it all. I am sending the link of this tour to my other mama friends, and saving it to reread. Thank you, Mia!

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