Living With Kids: Audrey Whiteley
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “The Gathering Place?” Doesn’t it feel cozy and welcoming and interesting and exciting all at once? Well that is exactly what you will get on today’s home tour. Meet Audrey, her husband Colby and their three adorable kids. Audrey has managed to create a home that is perfectly kid friendly and kid centric, but that feels grown up and pulled together at the same time.
Plus, Audrey home schools her kids and she has created possibly the most charming classroom ever. You’re definitely going to want to see it. Here’s Audrey.
Good morning, afternoon, evening or nightshift baby feeding session, depending on when you read this. My name is Audrey and I’m excited to introduce you to my little world. My world consists of my husband, Colby, a structural engineer, my oldest, Stone who is 8, then Pippa who is 6 and Locke who is 2. Colby and I have been married for 12 years. I’m not sure when we got old, but it seems to be happening.
We met our freshman year in college as friends. Two weeks before he left on a two year mission for our church, headed to Brazil, we decided it was an opportune time to fall in love. So for two years we sent letters to each other. This was the prehistoric time when email was still a new concept and not completely trusted. We were married 9 months after he got home. I have to mention our story because it’s the start of this world of mine.
Before I jump in and tell you about my family and who I live with, I want to start off by getting my skeletons out of the closet! I’m a mom who loves her kids but I’m also a recovering yeller! I say recovering because every night I claim that I will be better and not yell at my kids tomorrow but then I do, and then I have to remind myself not to do it the next day, and we just repeat.
In my defense though, it has been scientifically proven (by my own home study) that my kids don’t hear things the first time or when I speak in a normal tone.
Stone is my intellectual, sweet, measily-to-his sister, loves-a-good-joke kind of kid. He’s a great big brother and respectful. Pippa is my imaginative, creative, pretending-all-day, gets-emotional-when-she’s-tired, joyful kind of kid. Locke is my red-haired, red-tempered, baby of the family, drives his siblings crazy (and me), a baby-we-longed for-anxiously kind of kid. All 3 are so different and drive me crazy in 3 different ways but that also means I have found 3 different ways to love!
As for me, I’ve worn a few hats over the years. Before I had kids, I taught 1st grade. I quit so I could stay at home and wear that hat. While at home I found that I had a passion for making a house a home so my decorating skills started to develop and over the years I’ve had opportunities to decorate other homes besides my own.
I’m a decorator and home stager for a business (Balance and Harmony 360² ) and work for a wonderful lady named, Melinda. She’s incredible because she respects my decision to stay at home and homeschool, so she works clients around my schedule. That way, Colby can be home on kid duty. It was really an answer to prayers. I love showing people how to make their home theirs and turn it into something that inspires them, not just provides shelter.
We live in Charlotte, NC in your standard neighborhood. I have to be honest and say that I hate neighborhood living, or at least used to hate it, I’ve come around to being able to tolerate it. We’ve always had amazing neighbors so that’s not the issue. But I’ve always wanted to buy an old house on lots of land and renovate it.
Maybe one day that will play out, but until then, our neighborhood is great for our kids and since our property backs up to woods with an abandoned old house, I can go explore it anytime I get the itch for space.
We do love living in Charlotte because the housing is extremely affordable — especially being so close to a major city and those amazing amenities that come with that! Since I started homeschooling, I’ve realized even more how supportive the city is to homeschool families, with discounts offered to museums, recreation, and events put on for the homeschool community. I really could not ask for better.
The home we currently live in is what took my hate for neighborhood living to the tolerable level. Before we bought this home, we actually lived in the same neighborhood but on the other side. We wanted more land, possibly of farming proportions so we started the house and land search. We looked for a solid year. We found land we wanted to purchase but kept running into issues. It was very frustrating.
Then one day, some people we knew put their house on the market and it sat on a half-acre. We had been in the home before for parties and I liked it, so I figured it was worth looking at through buyers eyes. At this point my idea of enough land to farm on had dwindled down to being thrilled with a half-acre! We walked through it and fell in love. It gave us room to run around the yard and woods to go exploring. I also envisioned what it could become once we made some changes. After a year of searching, we ended up in the same neighborhood and couldn’t be happier! Life is fun that way.
Like with every home we have purchased, we want to put our stamp on it. We renovated the kitchen, master bath (vanity built entirely by Colby), painted every room and have tried to add a unique feature to each room (mantle in master, wall of pages in classroom, antique pantry door, etc), put up a fence, and awesome-ized our deck.
With the exception of a few kitchen items, we have done every inch of it ourselves. It has saved us tons of money and home renovations are something we enjoy doing together. However, there was a point during recessed lighting installation when we were both on ladders and all 3 kids were covered in sheetrock dust that I questioned if our marriage would last! It has, and the lights were installed. Colby is great to humor my design dreams and make them happen.
My number one goal for my home is literally written on wood in my family room, The Gathering Place. That phrase sums up my ambition for this home and for my kids. I want this to be a place they want to be. A place they want to bring friends, dates, fiancés, spouses and ultimately their own children! With that in mind, it is tricky to mesh my goals as a homemaker and my kids’ goals.
As homemakers, we want our homes clean, fresh and magazine worthy. Kids seem to want the antithesis of that! No matter how hard we try, they are determined to magically place black fingerprints everywhere, color red crayon in obvious places and snack while sitting on our favorite chairs!
For my sanity, I have to constantly find that balance. I function better as a wife and mother with an orderly house and because I recognize that, I have had to find ways to make that possible while still giving my kids a kid zone. If you spend 2 minutes in my home you will realize that I have nooks for toys, everywhere.
They are all hidden, with the exception of a basketball hoop for Locke. This works for us because the kids can have their toys out and when it’s time to clean up, I do my Mary Poppins snap, and they put all the toys back to their hidden spots. (Ok, let’s be honest, it takes some yelling, bribing, pleading, hours later, and the toys are back to their hidden spots.)
Also, my house is not untouchable! I want every room, surface and item to be enjoyed by my kids. We try to teach them to respect items in our house, meaning we don’t eat in the family room or play full tackle football in my kitchen, but the house is theirs to love and live in. I have learned though that any “mishaps” to walls or furniture do happen because of an interesting incident, and those are memories to be treasured too.
Another way I try to make this home kid friendly is encouraging play. Pippa has a swing in her room and Stone has an official size backboard in his room, both made by Colby. Part of making this home one they want to come back to is giving them something unique that sets their rooms apart. Something they remember enjoying and stand out to them when they are 80 years old! I want those lasting memories.
One of our favorite, easier projects we did together are the signs in our family and dining rooms. We literally took boards, free handed the writing and slapped those suckers on the wall. I’m too impatient to stencil. I find I need to be reminded daily and with words, my goals as a mom. I have little signs everywhere for that purpose.
I want my kids to remember our home as The Gathering Place and that Tomorrow Matters. The latter can mean different things at different times. Sometimes it means that we need to be careful with choices we make today so that we can have positive consequences tomorrow. And sometimes it means that even though we messed up today, we still have tomorrow to do better.
I mentioned earlier that I homeschool. This was definitely not an anticipated choice! In fact, as a former public school teacher, it was a choice I felt I would NEVER make. I worked with incredible people who loved their students. In fact, Stone went to kindergarten and had a great experience with an angel teacher.
However, towards the end of his year, I kept getting promptings that I needed to homeschool. My former public school self fought it but I’ve also learned that when the Lord is pushing me one way, I need to listen. So I did. I don’t homeschool because I hate schools or feel we have been wronged in any way. I homeschool because I felt prompted to and I have come to absolutely love it!
Please don’t think the phrase “absolutely love it” means we are over here in this continual blissful state. My kids have heard on numerous occasions me grumble under my breath like a troll, “what in the world was I thinking when I took this on?” They’ve learned to let me throw my homeschool fit and move on. The most stressful part is making sure each one, including the toddler, feels like they get the attention they need.
Some days are better than others. I have days when the only way to get through the major components of the education is to turn on PBS kids for Locke and hope he sits and watches. If he’s not, he’s terrorizing us. But there have been a handful of days that he sits by us and is cooperative. I constantly have to remind myself, “it’s just this season of life so don’t stress and enjoy.”
Our average day is just that, average. We get going at 8am (perk of homeschooling is no mad rush out the door. I’m the queen of making the rush to school not a very fond memory for all involved) and try to get started with school by 9. We work for a 2-3 hours, go the gym where the kids do their independent work in the childcare place, come back for lunch and quiet time.
Quiet time is magical. Locke naps while Stone and Pippa play in their own rooms. I can sleep, work, sleep or nap. After about an hour, I take the oldest 2 outside to play until the sun goes down. Locke will sleep great for naps, so he joins us outside a couple of hours later. Depending on the day, each kid has a class (PE, art, science, piano, golf, soccer) they take outside of home. I call it outsourcing the subjects I can’t or don’t want to teach.
We don’t have any electronics other than mine and Colby’s phone and a classroom computer my kids use for math and typing practice. I decided a while ago that we wouldn’t have electronics because I’m too lazy to have that fight with my kids and I’m not interested in being nagged about wanting to use them.
My favorite part about living with my kids is having a front row seat to how we grow and evolve as a family. Watching our story play out. I love making memories with them. I enjoy seeing what used to be newborns turn into these little people that I am developing friendships with.
There have been so many surprises to me as a mom, both thrilling and frustrating. A thrilling surprise has been just how much they have enriched my life. The day after Stone was born, my Dr. came to check on me and said, “there’s so much more to wake up for now”. He was exactly right.
A frustrating surprise has been how much sleep I have lost over worrying about my kids.
What will I miss about them getting older? That’s a tricky question. I actually already miss the season I’m currently in. Sounds weird, right? I feel like these ages are a sweet spot. We’re out of newborn chaos, but before teen life. Right now, my kids concerns and fears are if they lose a lego or if they have to suffer through broccoli tonight. I’m well aware that the older they get, the more complex and challenging their fears and concerns will become.
Although I do anticipate enjoying a few things as they age. Like showering without an audience and eating a meal outside of the pantry rather than hiding to avoid sharing what little nourishment I get in a day!
For this short time that I have them at home with me, I want them to take from this home and family what they were supposed to take from us. I want them to remember our trials and how we handled them. I hope they learn that life does get hard but there can be joy. I want them to remember that love was seen, heard and felt, especially when they made mistakes.
What do I want them to totally forget? I’m not sure I want them to forget anything. I want them to remember we were a real family! Remembering that I wasn’t a perfect mom, that our family had arguments, and that sometimes overreactions were experienced is part of our family story. They need to remember that forgiveness was extended, laughter was vital and that support and love were never ceasing. I hope they remember the good and bad because it will only help them with their future families.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened) that there is no perfect way to parent. This is my first time being a mother and I’m learning as I go. Mistakes will be made, but being a mother is such a divine role that the title itself empowers us to be more than we thought possible. If you are a mother and you are trying, give yourself a pat on the back! We are all learning as we go.
Thank you, Audrey. Such a charming home with fun surprises. Who doesn’t want a swing in their bedroom? And that vintage book wallpaper is so lovely and perfect for a homeschool classroom.
So much great parenting advice in here too. I love that Audrey talks a lot about how it is OK not to be perfect. How sometimes kids (and parents) fight and drive each other crazy and make mistakes. But at the end of the day we are all just trying our best. I think I could stand to remember “it’s just this season of life so don’t stress and enjoy” more often.
And I love the idea of having mottos and “words to live by” hanging from the walls in your home where everyone can see. And “The Gathering Place” and “Tomorrow Matters” are both such great things to think about. Does your family have a motto like this? What have you done to make your home “The Gathering Place?” Is yours the home that always has neighborhood kids running in and out at all hours of the day? Can you embrace the chaos and have your kids and their friends feel welcome?