Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

I think you’ll love getting to know Jennifer. She was living in the big city, working in publishing, never thinking she’d go back to the small home town she grew up in. But when she had kids, she started to feel that urge to return “home.” Her parents are still young and vibrant and love their grandkids, and because of the distance, Jennifer didn’t get to see them as often as she liked.

So Jennifer found a lovely 70s rambler in her home town, moved her family, and began to tackle updates to make it feel just right for their family. The house is so lovely, you’re not going to want to miss one bit.

Welcome, Jennifer!

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

Hi! I’m Jenn, a freelance writer and bibliophile who loves organizing anything, bingeing British television, sharks, and vintage treasure-hunting. I live with my wonderful husband Nick, a career middle school English teacher, who abhors crowds and waiting in lines, but loves the Boston Red Sox, zombie movies, gardening, and his family. We live with our two little boys, Taber (7) and MacIntyre (3).

Taber is exacting, curious, and very, very smart. His little light is always on, and it’s like a blinding megawatt bulb. Taber has always had a vision for what he wants and a plan to make it happen. He is exactly like me in that way. He’s a lovely big brother. MacIntyre, or Mac, as we all call him, is sweetness personified — cuddly, affectionate and so empathetic. He rounded out our family dynamic in the most perfect way. His default setting is joyful and it takes a lot to move that needle southward. Both boys love 80s era Michael Jackson, dinosaurs, Legos and sneaking into the same bed to sleep every night.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

We live in Ballston Lake, NY, which is a small town upstate in Saratoga County. People will know Saratoga Springs for the world famous horse racing that takes place here every summer and its storied history as a health retreat where people have come for more than two hundred years to “take the waters.” We have mineral-rich natural springs here which are believed to be beneficial to one’s health.

We don’t live in the city proper, but take great advantage of all it has to offer, like a true downtown with great shops and restaurants, a fabulous state park with a well-known concert venue (SPAC), the New York City Ballet in the summer, and Victorian era pools and spas. Saratoga is called “the summer place to be” because of the huge draw of the horse racing, but it’s a pretty great place to live any time of the year. 

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

Ballston Lake itself is a nice mix of suburban and rural. We live in a developed neighborhood but there’s a horse farm right down the road. We chose to settle here because we knew we could enjoy Saratoga from the periphery, without having to pay downtown prices or settle for a smaller yard.

I love our neighborhood. It was established in the late 70s, and many original buyers are still here, though we are part of a new wave of younger families buying into it. It’s the kind of place where the doorbell rings and next thing you know there’s a gaggle of kids on the lawn playing soccer or hunting for toads. The volunteer fire department tows Santa in on his sleigh every winter to deliver candy canes to the kids. People seem to look out for one another, and I appreciate the relative safety and tranquility of life here.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

We had quite a journey to making this place home. I am originally from Upstate New York. I grew up in a small village about 20 minutes from where we live now. But then I left for college at age 18, and pretty much never came back. I met my husband at the end of my freshman year at the University of Rochester where we were both students. I ended up spending several college summers working for his family’s businesses in Rockport, MA.

Nick graduated a year ahead of me and began his tenure with Teach for America in the Bronx. That worked out perfectly for me as I knew I wanted to go into book publishing, and New York was the place to be. We lived and worked in our separate fields in New York City until we decided we’d had enough of the Big Apple. We both loved coastal Massachusetts and I knew I could stay in book publishing by commuting to Boston, so we made the move to Salem, MA.

Yes, that Salem — witches, Hawthorne, and Halloween. We loved Salem. That’s where I became a wife and a mother and a homeowner and a children’s book publicist and then a stay at home mom. Salem is funky and fun — incredibly liberal and inclusive, beautiful and historic, and the most fun place to live in October. But after I had my second son, the little voice in my head that had always whispered “home” to me became a persistent and ever-louder call. 

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

I’m an only child and not only do I love my parents, but I really like them too. They are young and full of energy and spirit, and so very dedicated to me and my husband and our kids. We all made a tremendous effort in the ten years we lived in Salem to stay in close contact. We rarely went longer than a month without seeing them, and we put a ton of miles on our respective cars during those years.

As my little boys grew, the drive east away from m parents became harder and harder. I’d start to well up when our car would hit the Berkshires and could no longer pick up the Albany radio stations. I longed for the ability to call my Mom on a hard day and have her swing by for a cup of tea. I wanted my Dad to go to my son’s soccer games. I wanted to be able to pop over with soup when they got the flu.

It wasn’t so much the prospect of future years, and my parents’ genuine old age, and how I would care for them, that kept me up at night — it was all these golden years now spent far away from them. The prime time of my sons’ lives when they want to be with their family members more than their friends. These years in the weeds of parenting when my husband and I are overworked and underslept and in desperate need of date nights. I had the two most willing and trustworthy babysitters in the world at the ready — just three and a half hours west.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

There were other undeniable practical factors at play as well. I had become a stay at home mom after Taber was born and no longer need proximity to a major city. The housing market in coastal MA is, in a word, bananas, and we were desperate to get out of our condo and into a single family house.

Where we were living, a fixer-upper in need of serious TLC would have been hard to find for less than $400,000.00. And that did not guarantee you a good school district or a yard. My husband and I are not fancy car people or luxurious vacation people or expensive jewelry people, but we are house people. It was important to us both to raise our kids in a nice home in a nice area where we could relax and entertain and watch our family grow.

After a lot of conversation and compromising, my husband began to understand what was at play for me, and generously agreed to move to Upstate NY.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

It was a whirlwind of him applying for new teaching jobs, and weekends of speed-round house hunting, but he secured a new position and our wonderful realtor found us our current home. It was one of those cliché real estate experiences. We walked in and we just knew. I am to this day amazed that we could see passed the wallpaper and paneling and carpets, but it was like we both had X-Ray vision. We could only see potential — good bones and lots of space. We immediately knew we could love this house back to life.

Prices here in Ballston Lake are (at least to us!) great. We bought our current home for only a fraction more than what we sold our 1400 square ft. condo for in Salem. A house like ours would have been simply out of our reach back in coastal Massachusetts.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

It was not easy to leave the wonderful life we had in Salem. We had beloved family and friends there. I had an amazing “village” of mom friends and a book club and a weekly yoga class. My husband loved his school and students. And I miss the ocean like a long, lost friend. But this was the right move for us.

We take full advantage of everything that I daydreamed about before: the lower cost of living, the excellent public school system, and the ability to share our family life with my parents and extended family. My husband and I get more breaks and dates than since before having kids, and my parents’ lives are richer and more joyful for their proximity to their grandchildren. And my kids are the ultimate beneficiaries.

We’ve really settled into life here now, two years post-move. My husband found the teaching job we hope he’ll have until retirement. I have a wonderful group of girlfriends and more time for and momentum in my career as a writer than ever before. The boys are just blossoming.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

It’s also been amazing to discover what a vibrant, creative, interesting part of the world Upstate New York is now. When we moved, I started a public Instagram account called @wecangohomeagain, to get myself in-the-know about cool businesses and places and people, since I had been away so long. There are so many brilliant creatives living and working here, from the Hudson Valley to the Adirondacks. I feel very fortunate to have had this rare opportunity to rediscover my roots.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

After living in a 100+ year old antique house in Salem, my circa 1978 house does not seem old, though it needed a lot of cosmetic love and updating. But as my Dad who has always worked in remodeling and home building said, you know what’s behind the walls in a home built after 1975. No horse hair plaster here. I have always loved the charm of an older home and I adore historic details — intricate mouldings, marble fireplaces, claw-foot tubs — but I don’t adore lead paint and old plumbing and drafty roofs that cause ice dams.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

I never would have pictured myself in a split-level ranch, but our house is just so livable. It was planned really well — it kind of sprawls. There is ample room for all of us to disperse to separate corners or gather together, depending on our mood. We have a living room and a den. A formal dining room and a breakfast room. Enough bedrooms for me to have an office/guest room for my writing work. There’s a big playroom for the boys.

I love the many bay windows and generous light in the house. I love that we have central air and a fireplace (my first time ever having either!). And the books. Oh how I love having room for all my books. When a publishing professional and an English teacher get married, books just kind of… happen. They are so important to me so having space for them throughout the house is fantastic.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

We still have many plans for this house. Our upstairs bathroom needs a complete rehaul. I hate our kitchen floors. We need to landscape our backyard and hope to put in a big deck. But I’m ok with it. I like the idea of slowly going through the rooms and working our way to better. I find a lot of satisfaction in each project we undertake here because we are doing it ourselves, with my Dad’s guiding hand. My husband’s skills grow all the time and I’m so proud of every renovation.

I feel like we’re in a relationship with our home — we take care of her and she takes care of us. It’s a symbiotic and loving arrangement.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

One of the cruxes of my motherhood experience is that I don’t embrace the chaos, unless absolutely forced to. I like order and organization. I struggle mightily with letting go of having a perfectly picked up, decorated, always clean home. I’ve learned that I cannot live without neatness and organization, but also that I don’t want to be a stressed-out harpy yelling at my kids for not putting their dinosaurs in the correctly labelled, perfectly coordinated rugby-striped bin.

I’m not trying to have any “Mommy Dearest” wire hanger moments over here. For me it’s all about walking that delicate line of not ceding my home to the primary-colored plastic mayhem of kid-dom, while avoiding setting completely unrealistic expectations of the people I love most in the world.

My boys are not destructive kids — they’ve never colored on the walls or broken the furniture. They care about their bedroom and having a cool lamp or special pillows. But they would much rather take out ten toys at a time than pick up as they go. I have to remind them a million times a day to put up their art projects or place their shoes in the shoe basket. My hope and goal is that they feel comfortable and happy in their house and that I’m fostering in them a respect for their environment and belongings. And maybe even a passion for expressing themselves in their personal space.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

I think my best strength as a mom comes from the effusive and unabashed expression of my love for my children. I love my boys very loudly and proudly. I use every love language at my disposal to show it. I tell it with my words and with my body. I show it with my interest in who they are and what they have to say. I write it in their special birthday letters and in the essays I publish. I give it with my time.

My love for those kids is the truest part of me. I feel like it’s in the marrow of my bones. I know that they know how abundantly they are loved by my and their father. I am very fortunate that I was raised by parents who were so emotionally intelligent and generous with their love. I believe it’s a skill they taught me. 

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design MomLiving With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

I hope Taber and Mac will remember all the carefully curated birthday parties (I’m looking at you Taber’s “Eastern Coral Snake 6th Birthday Party” complete with homemade snake cake). I hope they will remember our Friday night tradition of making homemade pizzas and popcorn and cuddling up with a movie. I hope they will remember how they begged to share a bedroom when they didn’t have to, and how they inevitably ended up cuddled together like puppies in the same bed.

I hope they will remember planning our vegetable garden every year and the thrill of hauling up the first cucumber or carrot. I hope they will remember all the books we surrounded them with and the music we danced to and the way we hung their art like it was more beautiful than anything in the Louvre. Because it was. I hope they will remember that this home was their sanctuary from the world, and that to cross the threshold of our front door was to return to the place where they were always wanted and seen and understood. 

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom  Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

I hope they will forget every time I lost my cool about Lego pieces on the floor and markers with missing tops and the time I screamed until my lungs burned when I found a baby flying squirrel burrowing in their play tent. (That was today, reader. Today, as I sit here writing this.)

I love everything about living with my kids. I love the laughter and the silliness and how you are simply not allowed to take yourself that seriously in the presence of a child. They are little agents of unstudied joy with fantastic innate B.S. radar. I love rediscovering the simple pleasures of life through the experiences of my kids. I love the way children marvel at things. I wish adults experienced a fraction of the wonder life holds for kids. There is so much magic in the world, and they light it all up for me — from music to books to the wonder of an extra scoop of whipped cream on your sundae. Little miracles, each one.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

I wish I had believed that truly, everything is a phase. Sleepless nights, potty training, picky eating, an aversion to dogs, clinginess, back-talk… It’s just for now. It won’t be forever. I wish I had better understood and practiced the importance of balance. Go out with your girlfriends, go on date nights with your husband, go to yoga, write that article. Be a whole human.

You’ll be a better mother for servicing all the “non-mom” parts of your psyche. Worry less, write it all down, hold that baby as long as you damn well want to, and listen to your instincts. Rarely will they steer you wrong. They might even take you home.

Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken featured on top design blog, Design Mom

—-

Thank you, Jennifer

What a beautiful home. Jennifer has really infused it with an East Coast sensibility that feels lived in and collected. There are so many great and lovely details that caught my eye.

I think so many of us can relate to the idea of coming home. I was convinced as a young adult that I was leaving my home town and never coming back. And now I am happily settled about 30 minutes north of where I grew up. There is something about having kids of your own that makes you want to be close to family and things that are familiar.

Do you live close to the place you grew up? Or have you created your own home in a different part of the country or the world? How do you stay connected to friends and family when there is great distance between you? How do you give your kids a sense of home wherever you are?

SOURCES

The Upstate New York Navy Blue print

Rugby Striped bins in the playroom

Bookshelves

Salem print

 


You can follow Jenn on IG here. // Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram.

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 features@designmom.com.

30 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Jennifer VanDerwerken”

  1. Hey Jen! Small world! I grew up in Ballston Spa NY and graduated from Ballston Spa high school! I love small world coincidence like this, especially in the blogging world where it feels like Upstate NY is a widely under represented population! Loved getting to know you and your family in today’s post! Your home and family are beautiful!

  2. Hi Paige! Thank you so much for your kind words! I think you’re so right—we are under-repped. But I shout from the rooftops whenever possible. Upstate NY is fantastic!

  3. Truly one of my all time favorite ‘Living with kids.’ I just adore the way she talks about loving her kids – it made me appreciate mine even more! And I will need this reminder when there is a squirrel in the house! :)

  4. Thank you for your words on being brave and taking the plunge and going home. I live across the country from my family and struggle with it often. My husband’s family lives here, but they often cause more stress than help, and we just don’t connect like we do with my family. However, I have no desire to live in Phoenix as a climate (I love my Midwest seasons) and the thought of finding two new jobs, finding a home and moving across the country with 2 small children is daunting! But I am encouraged by your experience and will give my situation some further thought and exploration. Thank you!

    1. Oh Kristin—I totally get it. It’s no small feat moving an entire life somewhere new and starting over. I was up many nights trying to figure out what the right thing to do would be for everyone involved. I hope you get exactly what you want.

  5. Hi,
    I am moving “back home” after ten years across half of Europe in about two months. Our kids are 4 and 1 and we are definitely hoping for more “date nights” ;).
    I am crossing my fingers for our move to go as smoothly as yours.
    And I also hope that back home, I will be less stressed out and able to express more the deep love I have for my kids and that’s difficult to share when a million things make your life with kids here difficult (we currently live in Paris).
    Thank you for writing this. It was delightful to read it.

    1. Lucie, I hope your move goes as smoothly as possible. I know so many people do the parenting thing with no help at all and thrive, but I wanted and needed as much support as I could get and there’s no shame in that. Good luck with everything!

  6. Flori Christensen

    I too have recently moved back “home” and am really enjoying this golden time with my parents and siblings. So many things in this post resonated with me. I loved the phrase “emotionally intelligent”…what a lovely way to describe your parents.

  7. My husband and I just bought the house I grew up from my mom. Just as in we just closed today! And we live about 10 minutes from Ballston Lake sooo yeah, this home tour hit close to home. Literally. Thanks for sharing your lovely home and letting everybody know how great Upstate NY is.

    1. Molly, that’s so cool! Lots of people in my neighborhood have bought the house they grew up in from their parents. I think that must be such a unique experience—to raise your own family in a place where you have so many of your own childhood memories. And Upstate NY Forever!

  8. I have to say this may have been my favorite in the series! The home decor is so inviting and the way Jennifer talks about motherhood was so thoughtful and relatable and such a great reminder to me (mother to a 3 yr old and 4 week old) of what is important. I love the northeast, and this made me want to move immediately to upstate New York!

  9. I laughed at the “Upstate New York” print. I grew up fairly close to Ballston Spa (outside of Schenectady) but have lived in the southwest for my whole adult life. My parents moved here right after I started college and I eventually joined them. Whenever I meet someone who says they are from “upstate New York” it makes me smile because, of course, that’s almost the whole state! It’s been a long time since I’ve been back since my extended family is here now but it will always hold a special place in my heart. I have so many wonderful memories of going to see the NYC Ballet at SPAC in the summers, hiking in the Adirondacks, swimming in Lake George, and walking around in downtown Saratoga Springs (I remember distinctly buying my first pair of Birkenstocks there in 1994 or so). :) Thanks for a lovely home tour – it really did have a lot of touches I associate with the northeast (my mom had one of those Singer sewing machines just like in the photo when I was growing up).

    1. Kathleen, people get into such heated debates about what constitutes “Upstate”! I don’t have strong feelings about it—I just know I consider myself an Upstater for sure. I’m glad you have such nice memories of the area. It’s lovely!

  10. Jenn, loved your post and know the Ballston Spa area well (I live in Rochester and have written travel guides for Buffalo and Rochester). Your home is warm, beautiful and welcoming, well done on creating such a lovely environment for your family. The Upstate NY poster is wonderful–is that something that’s available to buy? It’s a great visual for our misunderstood “upstate” area!

    1. That’s so cool, Connie! I love Rochester too. Yes, the poster is available and there might even be a Western NY one…It’s linked right at the end of the post: MW Neighborhoods.

  11. Love the ‘back to a small town life’ story. This surprised me with all the parallels – I grew up in Ballston Lake, went to RIT, moved to Boston and married a native, and I have two boys! We now live in VT, but it’s very similar in feel to the community I grew up in. My mom is still there, as are 3 of my siblings. It was a lovely environment to grow in, and we wanted the same for our boys. To know what crickets sound like en masse on a summer evening, to see fireflies and starry skies – buying food from a local farm and having nature at your doorstep, I love it all. So much has changed, but there are also pockets of places frozen in time. Lakeside Farm is my favorite gem down the road, and I never leave without cider donuts. There is so much to appreciate in the region, thank you for sharing it!

    1. Karen, we must have been practically neighbors because Lakeside Farms in two miles from my house. And one of our favorite places! The things you wanted for your boys are just what I dreamed of as well…Enjoy VT. That’s one of my favorite places in the world.

  12. Hello Jenn !!! I almost fell off my chair when I saw you were from B.L. I live in Ballston Lake as well since 2001 after moving from France!! We might even be neighbors ha!!. Your house is beautiful and loved reading you.

  13. Hi Jenn,

    As someone who grew up in Rochester, I really appreciated your home tour and also loved the Upstate New York poster in your kitchen.

    I was wondering where you got the wonderful pom pom decoration over the bed?

    Thanks!

    Amanda

    1. Hi Amanda!

      The garland is from Target—the Opalhouse collection. And I recently scored an amazing pink velvet vintage chair that perfectly picks up that peachy pink pom. After I took these photos, of course.
      Hope you can score it!

      Best,
      Jenn

  14. I am just catching up on home tours here and absolutely love love this home and story! As a life-long Californian married to a Saratoga Springs guy, we dream a lot about what it would look like to move “home” to ‘Toga. We were just out there last week visiting family, strolling down the main drag drinking Uncommon Grounds coffee. With my parents and brother in the LA-area with us and his parents and family in the Saratoga area it’s a tough call, but for now we are settled. I do dream about Saratoga/Ballston Spa home prices and 4 seasons, though. Maybe someday!

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