Living With Kids: Sara Laurel

By Gabrielle.

While I devoured Sara’s words, I underlined a few poignant lines to remember forever. She’s a psychologist! Of course! Of course she would possess all the answers to life’s — and parenting’s — burning questions.

But here’s what I enjoyed so much about Sara: She’s not afraid to admit she doesn’t have all the answers. She watches people she thinks are wise. She asks questions. And she says things like “I don’t know the answer to that; I’ve never been the parent of a six year old before.” I love it all.

So please come share in this goodness, will you? It’s so lovely to have Sara — and her fabulous hot pink dining room chairs! — here with us today. Welcome, Sara.

We live in a historic neighborhood in Wooster Ohio, two blocks over from the College of Wooster. Our street is lined with hundred year-old trees and joined by a red brick road. Growing up, I lived on a brick road in another town and have fond memories of hot sticky summers that began with bare feet on warm pavement and ended enjoying fireflies and crickets through the screens. I wanted the same for my future kids.

When we moved here for my job as a psychologist, I spent my lunch break canvasing this neighborhood for a For Sale sign. I loved that all of the houses were unique and when I spotted a sign in the yard, I made an appointment for a viewing that day.

At the time, my husband Jason was finishing up his duty as a Captain in the Air Force. He was still in North Dakota and I moved here six months ahead of his out-processing to start my job. My dad went with me to the showing and afterwards asked, “You’re buying it, right?” He said the house was just so very me. His assurance gave me the confidence to draw up the initial paperwork without Jason seeing the property. Truly, they had me at the pink bathroom. I asked if the owners would consent to rent the house to me until my husband would be home to see it and they agreed.

I’m always amazed at what historic homes cost in contrast with new construction. Most of the houses in our neighborhood cost in the mid to upper $100,000 range, ours included. In the next county over or with newer homes, the price doubles or triples. But properties in our area have always been a steal.

This is surprising to me because of the diversity and offerings of the town. We have three colleges locally and the loveliest town square. Smucker’s Headquarters is just a drive from us and in the summer, we host the Ohio Light Opera. There are a handful of really cool Bed and Breakfasts to support all of the parents who come for college visitation and we have some really quirky stores and restaurants. Our Downtown is booming with new businesses lately including a favorite new dress shop that is Anthropologie meets Magnolia Market and a CSA-supported Green Market.

When Jason and I would take long late night walks in North Dakota we would make lists of what kind of place we wanted to live next. He wanted rural, I wanted urban, and somehow Wooster ticks off amenities for both. My dream was to live somewhere that I could paint outdoors, get to a big city in an hour, and walk from my house to buy bread, all of which we now do weekly.

What is funny is that, as a high schooler, I dreamed of attending the College of Wooster. I loved the architecture of the school and was so excited when I was accepted. My heart broke when I couldn’t afford the tuition. I went to another college instead, where I met Jason. I didn’t give Wooster much thought after that. All of these years later, when we were moving back to Ohio, I was about to accept a position in Southern Ohio, further from our families, when I got a call out of the blue from an agency in Wooster. It’s funny how things work out sometimes!

We lived in this house for four years prior to having our babies. When our son was born, we quarantined ourselves for several months while we found our sea legs. It was during that period of pacing the walls, clad in my husband’s bathrobe, with squeezy peanut butter as my sustenance, that I hit my decorating stride.

Our decorating formula includes a lot of graphic black and white as well as punches of color. Our mainstays are hidden nooks like personal mailboxes outside the kids’ bedrooms, a dog kennel out of kitchen cabinets, and a secret super hero lair. We recently renovated the pink bathroom, which gives me the happy screams.

Being closer to our families made raising kids so much easier. Jason and I are fortunate to have my mom (a retired teacher) and his mom (a retired nanny) split childcare for us during the week. We are really utilizing that “It takes a village” mentality. I am so grateful that each grandparent brings their own lovely way with our children.

My mom is constantly taking them on nature walks and creating recycled art. My mother-in-law plays with the kids at their pace with consummate patience. All of us together give them so much more than I could alone. Without support, I don’t know how people survive.

It was unexpected to me to I feel that I need my mom more now than I did at any other time. Her opinion and advice on what our kids are up to is a lifeline to me. Realistically, I’ve needed her all along, but I appreciate it more now that I can empathize with her sacrifice. One night when I was complaining about the drudgery of my life and the strangling affect that motherhood was having on me, she reminded me of our bond and about how I was laying the foundation for that same intimacy with my own children.

“Would you want it to be anyone else?” she asked. “To put them to sleep each night, and to assuage their fears, and to listen to their chatter?”

Although the weight of parenthood is sometimes stifling, I try to remember that this is the season for my children. That I will someday have time to read, and paint, and travel, and be silent, but that this is the season for them.

In the early days, I wish someone would have told me, “Calm down, sister.” As a new mom, I tried really hard to nail parenting. I may or may not have created a Power Point of masterpiece art with developmentally appropriate talking points for my infant. At the time I thought, “I’m not good at small talk. And you are supposed to constantly talk to infants to stimulate their vocabulary, right?” I didn’t want to miss opportunities for enrichment or growth.

If I were parenting anew, I would know to lean in. Be brave in the silence, love is enough. Just light up when they enter the room. That is all.

I tell new mom friends that having kids feels like Groundhog’s Day. You do the same chores, tell the same stories, and make never ending meals repetitively, but each day something changes in a granular way. And then, one day you look up to find the scenery completely changed. You have drifted out to sea to a view beyond potty-training or 3:00 am feedings.

And the journey in the new place you are is equally rigorous, but you notice progress. Then sometimes, you see a sunset or a cluster of clouds that stop your breath. And at that moment you are grateful for the voyage, and for the difficulty, and for all of the things that raising another human entails.

When my best friend had her daughter, we were on sabbatical from conversing on the phone since all calls resulted in a cacophony of screams from our littles. Instead, I started a blog to her intending to map out life formulas for busy bags to save her time and five ingredient dinners to ease her burden. What I found instead was a way to organize my own thoughts about how I wanted to parent and the means to be intentional with the process.

I find motherhood to be especially difficult for achievement-oriented women. There is no trophy for the most crisply folded laundry or for the longest marathon without sleep. People parent so differently that there isn’t even a mutually agreed upon pinnacle of best practice.

Perhaps here is how being a psychologist and a mother is challenging as well. You know the research related to developmental psychology and you know the pitfalls for poor attachment, but there is no perfect formula for child rearing that considers the variables of each child. How can I possibly weave all of this social science into a tapestry of confident parenting practice?

Of course, it’s impossible.

And so I watch and model after people I think are wise. I ask a lot of questions of my kids. I say things like, “I’ll have to think about that, I’ve never been the parent of a six year-old before.”

One of the things that we try to do in our family now that the kids are older is to create a sense of team mindedness. We have work chores (for pay) and family chores (without pay), family meetings, and group reinforcers that we all work towards.

Recently, to reduce sibling rivalry, I instituted a game called Best Friend Challenge. This is a task or problem that I give to them both to work out. If they can solve it together diplomatically, they both earn a privilege or treat. The other day Gabriel made a Best Friend Challenge for my husband and I. I love that he saw the challenges as communal and worthy of grown-ups, too.

Gabriel is my kind-hearted and creative six year old. He loves people with every atom he possesses. Once in preschool, he accidentally popped a button off of the teacher’s puppet during class. After school, I found him in my sewing basket looking for thread and he sobbed out the story to me. He was so grieved that he had damaged the property of someone he loved so dearly. He wanted to go back to the school immediately to mend it. I hope that he never loses his sweetness or desire to help others.

Ella is four years old and a total spitfire. Sometimes when she thinks Gabriel is being too shy at the playground, she marches up to a group of older kids and points Gabriel out to them, regaling them with why he would be a good friend to them and why they should initiate play with him. Ella knows exactly what she wants and is tough as nails. She runs faster than all of the boys in her class and has the best sense of humor ever. Parenting her makes me want to figure this whole girl boss thing out. I’ve got to make sure that she has a compass to channel her strength.

I hope that my kids remember that we had fun here. That we worked together on the garden, that we ate summer breakfasts in the playhouse, and had Monster Hat parties on a Tuesday night.

We have been trying lately not to just live for the weekend. To participate in experiences throughout the week that make life feel rich and anticipated. I try really hard to be a good steward of our memories. We have a family time capsule made out of a library card catalog that we open each New Year’s Eve to recall the year. Traditions and celebrations are pretty much where it is at for us.

Through it all, my favorite thing so far about living with kids is the community that we have created with each other, our extended family, and with others. I relish having another family over to watch an outdoor movie with us or to walk down to the farmer’s market together on Saturdays. I also appreciate the reminder to enjoy things: a bug, dandelions, a puddle. The impetus to be slow and to notice my surroundings is not innate in me, but rather is something that my children inspire.

What is more, I appreciate that parenting makes you a part of kind of a club. Albeit one that ends up being more of a dark humor cult. I, myself, never before enjoyed club membership.

But I find that I now appreciate the shared experience of another inmate: the nod that I get from another knowing parental veteran when my child is melting down in the check out line. That nod tells me that I am not crazy and that someone else recognizes that this small person I have raised is being both unreasonable and unproductive. That nod tells me that were my child and I in a platonic relationship rather than one of genetics, I would be justified in terminating this hellish grocery experience. And just knowing that, from a nod, I feel better.


Oh, Sara. I melted at this: “If I were parenting anew, I would know to lean in. Be brave in the silence, love is enough. Just light up when they enter the room. That is all.” Thank you.

Also, this is a genius reminder: “We have been trying lately not to just live for the weekend. To participate in experiences throughout the week that make life feel rich and anticipated.” I know this is the trap, isn’t it? The whole Thank God It’s Friday thing makes it hard to recognize the great potential of a Tuesday! Do you think we are all still affected by the “It’s a school night” curfew way of thinking? Who’s in for making Wednesday and Thursday just as awesome as Friday and Saturday? Tell me your plans and let’s do this, shall we?

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! 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.

23 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Sara Laurel”

  1. When I looked at the picture of the outside of your house, I thought, that looks like Ohio. And I was thrilled to see that I was right! I live in Akron with my family, and we love the affordable old homes in this area.

      1. When you said there are very few pink bathrooms, I thought, but wait, I had one! Then I realized it was when I rented an apartment in Ashland! Your home is so beautiful and reminds me of some of those classic Ohio traits. Love it. Also, what is the green paint on your hallway? Ahhh! So awesome!

  2. Wow. There are so many things in this post that are spot on for me. The concept having kids is like “Groundhog Day” is very real. “Leaning in” to parenting by simply smiling and watching (why do I feel like I need to program every minute of my time with my child and fill all the silences?). But what really got me is the parenting challenge for high-achieving women: there’s no prize. My husband recently commented to me that my desire for perfection is ruining perfectly good days (he did not say it exactly like that, more like “you seem to expect every day to go perfectly”). I did not disagree. It’s a struggle.

    Oh, and I’d love to know more about the “Best Friend Challenge” game you created.

    1. You are dead on Miss Molly! My friend Mabel told me the other day that she sees herself as a guide instead of a keeper of her children. She knows she’ll have them for a short time and it is her responsibility to provide opportunities for them. However, she is not culpable for their actions. I’ve thought a lot about that and it really takes the pressure off. If I don’t have to worry about whether they always respond how I expect, everyone rests easier. Kind of like their autonomy in “Best Friend Challenge.” Here’s for you:

  3. I’ve had my eyes on those pink dining room chairs from World Market for a while before finding out they had lead in them :-/

    1. No00o! Lead paint is my secret parenting anxiety! I religiously test all antiques that enter the house. How did you discover they have lead? Must head out to buy a tiny lead test kit tomorrow. Hopefully I don’t run into that same cashier who interrogated me about my last bulk purchase of them. She is on to my paranoia.

  4. What a lovely post- your house is lovely and your life with your kids seems build on very sold ground. I love the idea of living for the now and a being a real part of each minute of the day. Your community sounds perfect for you and your family. I too live in a wonderful place, hover where we live (just outside of Boston) starter houses cost 700,00 and up and are under contract within days of being on the market, making it a real challenge to get started as a homeowner. I am continually amazed at how different life can be in different parts of this wonderfully large and diverse country!!!

    1. You’re absolutely right Mary! We have family in Boston and have often talked of moving there in our golden years. The cost might be prohibitive. I sometimes wonder if I’ll be able to leave anyway. I’m always impressed with the bravery of others who pick up and move after living somewhere for a long time. Starting a new life sometimes seems so appealing except that it means saying goodbye to the old one! Cheers to you and to making home wherever you are!

  5. What a lovely home! I agree with leaning in, being present, and lighting up when your children come into the room. I can’t remember who told me that last tip – but it brings me joy every time I shrug off the weariness from a long day at work and just spend time with my kids.

    And, oh Gabriel! When I read that about him wanting to fix his preschool teacher’s puppet, I just wanted to hug him! I have a 9-year-old boy with similar sweetness. He’s teary when he feels he has hurt someone, and can’t even watch unkind events in children’s movies. When he was little, he would carry around a little first aid kit and fun stickers in his backpack, just so he could help out with band-aids and a little love when someone got hurt. I also hope he holds onto that sweetness throughout his life.

  6. Sara, your home is my home’s hero. Excepting pink, we use the same colors to decorate. I loved your photos and I love your writing. You rock.

  7. Great home tour! I, too, would like to know more about the Best Friend Challenge… can you share some ideas, please?

  8. I admire your bravery with colours Sara. Your home is truly lovely and unique. I try not to be too envious of others, as I have many blessings, but a home in that price range sounds remarkable. Around here, a starter home is over $600,000. I think my children will be living with us for quite a while. ;)

  9. I’d love to know more about the time capsule and how it works. We’re all about ritual and memorabilia and organization. This looks like it might the Venn diagram that brings all of them together! Thanks for sharing.

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