Living With Kids: Maya Babiszewska-Boyle
When Maya reached out to me, one of the things she told me that felt totally charming was that because she is a painter and an artist, she is always using the walls of her home as mini galleries and is always changing out the prints that are hanging on the walls. I love that. And she’s lived a really exciting life to boot — born in communist Poland and now living in sunny California where she is raising her daughter. I’m so excited for you to get to know Maya. Welcome!
Welcome to the Boyle Family’s home. Our family consists of four of us: my husband Bryan, my daughter Karolina, our cat Lulu and me, Maya. Our house is full of arts and crafts with contributions made by every member of the family.
Karolina is almost 6 years old and she is a “fireball.” Very expressive, she sings, whistles, or talks constantly, draws, dances and makes projects. There are notes, pictures and “forts” made of pillows literally everywhere, including bathrooms.
Bryan used to be a cancer scientist and now works as an intellectual property lawyer for a biotech company in the Bay Area. His latest passion is woodworking and his secret talents (among many) are acting and singing (but only in front of us!). In spite of being color blind he loves living with artists and adored my paintings from the start.
I am a professional artist who started a new life in the United States at age 28. I grew up in Poland during the Communist era and my creativity and art degrees started there. I grew up in in the Southwest part of Poland, which is called Silesia. Silesia is known for both its coal mining and universities. Unfortunately, this meant that most of the buildings were grey, covered with fine coal dust. When I visited Pennsylvania once, I noted how similar the coal mining communities appeared physically to Silesia.
When I came to California, I marveled at how distinct and vibrant the colors are here. And it inspired much of my landscape work. Some of my most popular paintings have been of the cows on the Stanford hills, the goat farms of Half Moon Bay, and of California beaches and swimming pools. We have a theory of our ‘perfect’ marriage: I design, Bryan builds, and everyone enjoys the final projects.
Bryan and I met online. To me it was love at first site and I remember the feeling I had at our first date — I already imagined growing old with him. He is my first husband and with my broken English I keep telling him he is the best husband I have ever had . . . so far. As his second wife he teasingly replies that I am definitely in the top two. We live in Mountain View, California, a typical suburb of Silicon Valley. Specifically, we live in the community of Monta Loma — literally around the corner from where lived an elementary school-aged Steve Jobs.
My daughter now goes to school where he used to attend (and even then, was noted for his pranks!) . It has changed since then, but this 1950s neighborhood still looks quite vintage. I think it reminds me of streets in the ‘Wonder Years’ television show: same houses, same yards. Now, there is a Google X building around the corner which was probably one of the factors in growing home prices here. There isn’t anything I would change in my neighborhood. We have a school, a train station, and a grocery store close by, and short driving distance to downtown restaurants.
Ready for some sticker shock? Let me tell you about real estate prices in the Bay Area. We bought this 1400 square foot house for $865,000 in 2012. Back then, it seemed outrageous to pay that amount, but I really thought it was worth it, and assured my husband it was a good, long-term move. The plan was to sell our condo but I convinced my husband to keep it and rent it out. Both investments paid off. The condo cost $500,000 in 2008 and now is valued just short of $1 million. Our house? Real estate estimates put it at $2 million.
At this point, I admit, we are not shocked anymore by the rising prices, even though I grew up of very modest means in Poland, and my husband grew up in rural California. Real estate in the Bay Area is unbelievable.
Our house is similar to an Eichler, but it’s called a Mackay. Mackay was a contemporary of Eichler. It was built in 1955 and has all the mid-century modern features from that period, such as a vaulted ceiling and floor to ceiling windows. The backyard pool was added in 1987. The house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and that is all that we need. The whole house has glass walls (windows) and sometimes seems like a fish bowl, which necessitates blinds, which are Hunter Douglas.
Glass walls means there isn’t enough wall space for bookshelves and art. Also, we can see inside the homes across the street in fine detail. I can almost look into my neighbor’s eyes while sitting on my couch. But our home is still heaven to us!
Growing up in Poland for 28 years made me appreciate small, but efficient (and beautiful) European spaces. After my parents divorced, we lived with my mom and sister in a tiny one-bedroom condo. It was only 430 square feet! And we weren’t the only ones who lived like that — that’s the way it was back then for most of us. I was lucky that I only shared a room with my sister and not a bed too. My mom, a scientist and a University professor, still lives in a one-bedroom condo, but fortunately it’s more modern, stylish, and comfortable than the condo we grew up in.
Living in a house now that is about 1400 square feet is pure luxury for me. From my perspective, it is simply a “mansion” and I appreciate it every day. I do not need more. I am content with small spaces. When I moved to America at age 28, with one small suitcase, I rented a bedroom. It was my first very own bedroom ever. Now my daughter has her own room and ironically, she wishes she shared it with a brother or sister and comes to our bed every night (along with the cat).
The pool is small (13,000 gallons) but it heats fast. I like to do my laps in it daily when the weather is warm. My daughter started swimming in this pool at 5 months, and since then she has become a “mermaid,” swimming just like her mommy. The pool is our backyard playground. Being able to spend time outdoors almost every day is a privilege.
There are two great decks. We often hang out on the front porch where friends and neighbors stop by and the kids can play. The back yard is more private, quiet, and safe. This is where we grill, dine, and throw parties. My father-in-law thinks I would like more land. He owns five acres near Redding, California. But I don’t need more land. I have my own ‘acres.’
My neighborhood turned out to be what many call a dying breed — a wonderful tight-knit community. While going for walks with my daughter in a stroller I got to know my friends and neighbors. They were mostly new moms just like me. I started a new life and we survived motherhood together. Our kids have been growing up like siblings and they go to the same schools. Since the yards are small (from an American standard) we often play on the streets and have outdoor parties. One party we throw is an annual Egg hunt in springtime. Others include a Fall outdoor movie night and a pool party in July. Our home is just big enough to host visitors, including our families. We can fit grandparents and aunts and uncles into the guest bedroom/office, on couches, and on air mattresses.
I have been a swimmer my whole life. When I decided to move to California I knew I had to live in a house with a pool. And I did. First, I shared a house with 4 roommates. The pool was big, deep and cold but we, mostly European roommates, appreciated it more than the Americans roommates. To us it was a part of the California dream.
When Bryan and I were looking for a house to buy we couldn’t afford a big place. My dream came true when my daughter was 3 weeks old. I still remember the gut feeling when we came to the open house. It was THE ONE. Just like I felt about Bryan. It wasn’t just the pool, the house was open, sunny, colorful and optimistic. I could see ourselves making pancakes on Sunday morning with my still toothless baby daughter in her high chair. It had great ‘bones’ and it didn’t need any major remodeling, only a few cosmetic changes and decorating.
Between nursing and changing diapers, we made a lot of progress in decorating. Pinterest became my Bible.
Over time, we’ve added our own personal touches. Bryan built a doll house for Karolina, a shoe cabinet from wine boxes, added wheels to wine boxes that holds LEGOs and he also framed my paintings.
Our wooden cactus sculpture idea was inspired by one we saw in the Palo Alto West Elm store. Neither of us is a gardener and after killing our first set of plants, we replaced one of them with a wooden cactus. This one will survive our lack of a green thumb. I stained it green and we love it.
For Karolina, Bryan made a huge outdoor chalkboard and built a tree house. His next project is a dining table. We also reupholstered my desk chair, I knitted a cover for a piano bench, added doilies to a lamp shade and found a place for several quilts that my mother-in-law made.
All the walls in the house are decorated by my paintings. I grew up in a home with lots books and paintings. To me, the home is completed when it has an art, family photos and books. It is complete now.
Naturally, living in Poland was very different than living in California. The weather there is more like the East Coast here, there are four seasons, with long and cold winters and short and humid summers. I never liked cold weather and short days, so I don’t miss that at all. With a mild California climate there is just much more to do around here.
I never realized how much I would miss the food in Poland until I lived here. I especially miss Polish bread, freshly baked. Never sliced and in plastic bags. All my European friends admit to being quite snooty about it. And then there are warm, comfort food dishes that I have to make myself, like soups and stews. There isn’t a Polish restaurant around Mountain View, but maybe one day there will be. Although Poland is much different now than it was when I was growing up — I still remember standing in long lines in hopes of getting fresh produce or other necessities. I don’t miss that at all, and California has such abundance!
Growing up in Poland was very different than here in the Bay Area. We lived in a big city and I was never taken to any school by car like many of the kids here are. We didn’t even own a car. I either walked or took public transportation. I went to the high school of fine arts which was two hours away, in a different city. It was quite prestigious, and every student was commuting from different places, like me. Nobody was taken to school by their parents, we were on our own. I had to take a bus first to the train station, then a train for 40 minutes and 5 stops by tramway. The Polish winter is very brutal and on top of that I had to carry my painting canvasses and my bag of paints.
Now, when my daughter walks 10 minutes in the rain I worry she will get soaked and spend the whole day in wet clothes. What a contrast!
Most of my friends in Poland live in condos or apartments, not houses, and having only one child is commonplace. I was quite shocked to see a family of 5 or 6 here. The salaries are definitely lower in Poland. Going out to restaurants regularly and having a cleaning service like I do now, seems like such a luxury! When I moved to California I worked part time as a baby-sitter for kids who were mostly school aged. I remember how shocked I was that I had to make their beds. Children have a higher social status in America than in Poland, and American kids seem to be much more confident. Another surprise was when American kids don’t greet me, and adults were always the first to say hello.
The Bay Area is very competitive and obviously different than both Poland and the rest of the country. Going to the best schools, scoring high on tests and doing lots of sports is so important where I live. This is also important to me but in addition to that, I would like my daughter to be more domestic, the way I was in Poland. Sewing on a button, hemming pants, cooking, ironing and cleaning is high on my list for her. Fortunately, she already enjoys cooking, baking and decorating.
Spending time with my family and having family gatherings are much more celebrated in Poland. We don’t have it here as much, but we do celebrate with friends. I remember that every weekend in Poland, we cleaned, did laundry, and often visited family. Here in California, weekends are only for fun, I don’t miss Polish weekends at all. Polish Christmas Eve traditions are very dear to me, and I hope my daughter will always celebrate this. My husband’s family appreciates my Polish dishes that day. I make a herring salad for lunch, fish and cabbage for dinner, always a cake for dessert.
The meals are very elaborate in Poland and I need to start making them well before Christmas, but it also makes them more special. American ice-cream for dessert would not happen in Poland during Christmas. But I learned that things in California are much more casual and I have to get used to it.
Despite dedicating most of my time to my daughter, I still paint several times a month. My current focus in on portraits of children and sometimes adults. Most of my commissions are from word-of-mouth. Since it’s impossible for the kids to sit still, nowadays I paint only from photos. I’ve found that California’s vast diversity has been my most recent inspiration. I’m inspired by new faces, and all the different types of features you encounter in California and the Bay Area.
I used to exhibit in galleries throughout the Peninsula and San Francisco, but I don’t anymore, and only work through commissions, which keeps me busy. I did join a Google “Paint the Town” exhibit where I got to work with other California artists to provide works to Google that symbolized California communities. These works were put on mock-ups of Google’s self-driving cars. My painting was of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge during a rainstorm.
We both always wanted to have a daughter. In fact, I even wanted to have three daughters. We ended up with one (and a cat) and we count our blessings. Compared to families with more than one kid I feel less overwhelmed. I do not miss kids’ fights. Since Bryan works long hours and we don’t have any child care, I am on my own with Karolina all the time. We have a lot of freedom. All of my attention is on her which is good and bad. She goes to activities and has me to herself a lot. I love being with her, our bond is extremely strong, and we are kind of best friends. She doesn’t seem lonely at all. There are so many friends around in the neighborhood that there is always a playdate at our house, someone else’s house, at the park, or on the street.
Whenever we are home she makes art, or we play games. My favorite game is sitting in a chair and watching her perform a dance show. Karolina is a born performer and sometimes it is so hilarious I have a hard time not to laugh. and God forbid if I interrupt and clap too early!
I do worry occasionally if she will become a stereotypical spoiled only child, so I do everything I can to keep her socially adjusted. She is also learning a little Polish, so she can always be in touch with her two (only) Polish cousins. One day when my daughter grows up I hope she will have a family and kids on her own. I would love to help her raise my grandchildren! So far, she is planning to be a mom.
I cook all the time and the homemade meals are very special to me. It’s not just healthy, it’s the way I show how I care about my daughter and my husband. I hope that she remembers the smell of good, Polish cooking, and sitting down as family to dinner. Cooking is creative, and I hope that she remembers that our home was a creative place. Chalkboards, music, painting, have found a home in our beautiful little home. Creating a home like this is fun and fulfilling and I hope she will value and continue it. I think she will.
I hope that she forgets the arguments we had over her many “forts” and just remembers all of the fun. After all, it’s difficult to enjoy a beautiful home when you can’t sit down because all of the chair and couch cushions are in use as “forts.” Living with kids is absolutely wonderful. These have been the best years of my life and I already worry about my daughter growing up too fast and moving to college. We joke that I would rent a house and live with my daughter when she’s in college, and my husband jokes that he will gladly pay the rent so can have some peace and quiet to woodwork and watch sports.
A house filled with kids is a house filled with love. I feel loved and adored. My daughter makes me laugh and I am in awe of her every day. It’s a happy home. It’s loud and entertaining, and sometimes I do miss her as a baby, before she became a chatterbox. Decorating the house with Karolina’s artwork makes my house friendly, charming and warmly casual. I am a big fan of kids’ artwork: pure, spontaneous and unique. I am proud to show we have a kid living here.
Thank you so much, Maya! I love a home filled with art, and being an artist is a wonderful way to make that happen. Art gives a home such personality. I love that cute shot of Karolina’s room with all of the pairings and drawings she’s done climbing the walls. What an amazing, creative space to grow up in.
And I loved hearing her perspective on the difference between growing up in Poland and raising a child here. It is interesting how so many of us who grew up with so much more independence, like Maya describes, now find ourselves hovering a bit as parents and being perhaps a too over protective.
How do you find the balance as a parent of giving your kids freedom to be themselves and explore vs keeping an eye on them and “keeping them safe?” Did you have more freedom as a child yourself, than you allow your kids? Do you think our kids are missing out on anything by being so sheltered?
IKEA armchair in the living room
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, gay parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.