This season, we partnered with some of our favorite mothers who happen to be multi-talented artists, photographers, and designers. We asked them to capture their littles in their natural elements. The result has been a series of beautiful images from around the globe.
We loved talking motherhood with Danielle Chassin, a Policy Strategist for the Canadian government by day, and the creative behind blog Hippie In Disguise by night. This thoughtful mama of two shares what it means to have 'minimalist fun,' and how to balance two very juxtaposing jobs with family life.
B+G: You stress simple living and 'minimalist fun' in your blog posts. What does this concept mean to you? How do you implement this day to day?
Danielle: Minimalist fun is a term I started using about a year ago. There are two meanings to it. The first, is about having fun, pursuing adventures with minimal stuff in tow. I like to leave my house in the morning with the children and not return until the end of the day. My children have learned that food will be eaten and naps taken along our day’s route. We are pedestrians, so this means I have to carry all of our snacks and supplies we will need for the day. This led me to want to minimize the gadgets, toys, and random stuff that came with us out the door. Over the years I have also heard complaints from parents about all the stuff they lugged around to parks and play spots: towels, swim suits, goggles, buckets, shovels, sunscreen, balls, spare clothes, and on and on. All this gear was getting in the way of them being able to be spontaneous or change plans, because they couldn’t walk very far with all of it, or because they felt compelled to go swimming because they had swim stuff with them, even though a cool event had sprung up somewhere on the way. There were even times when they had driven to a park a few blocks away because they had so much stuff to bring. It all seemed kind of crazy to me. Their stuff was dictating their fun, which didn’t necessarily seem very fun. At the same time, I noticed that when I forgot things at home we just made do, we never had less fun because of it. The kids swam in their clothes or dug with sticks or made friends with someone who had a ball. All of this seemed positive to me. The kids were learning to be spontaneous, innovative and more outgoing. In fact, I started to notice the children had more fun when the fun or the activity wasn’t prescribed to them. They felt more self-directed and creative and were more connected to space they were in. So, over time, I just started shedding things from the list of things to bring on outings, no more transporting toys, no more spare this and spare that. This was very liberating for me and for the children, both in terms of physical encumbrance but also in terms of freeing the imagination. Nowadays I only take the essentials: a bottle of water, sunscreen, snacks, and a blanket, which can double as a towel.
The second meaning goes more to your second question, which asks about minimalist fun in a day-to-day sense. Minimalist fun applies to me as much as to the children. It is about connecting with the moment, with the small and significant things around you and enjoying them. For example, this could be walking barefoot on grass. I’m not being pretentious when I say that. Think of the joy a child has when they remove their shoes and run barefoot on the grass, it is a simple pleasure, requiring no toys or gadgets to curate the enjoyment, it is minimalist fun. Seeing my children’s joy in the simple pleasures of connecting with the natural elements has reinvigorated my own joy in these. So, minimalist fun, is also about those simple, fun, things you can do that aren’t curated activities like play groups and lessons, or facilitated by stuff, like digging with a bucket and shovel.
B+G: What are the biggest gifts and challenges of motherhood?
Danielle: The gifts are the same as the challenges. Feeling in a deep and embodied way what unconditional love means: it is a gift. The challenge that comes with that is the vulnerability you feel knowing that unconditional love ultimately means loss. But this realization of loss is also a gift and a reminder to live each day, each moment we have together fully and lovingly. Motherhood has given me the gift and reason to live life fully.
B+G: What motto do you live by or try to instill in your children?
Danielle: There are three concepts that set the foundation for my parenting and that I wish to instill in my children: slow down, live in the moment, and respect all life. Everything we do stems from these maxims. It is probably obvious from my other answers why slowing down and living in the moment are important. Respecting all life, no matter how small or different from our own, is very important for me to impart to my children.
B+G: What is your favorite thing to cook for your children? Or what is their favorite thing to eat?
Danielle: My children love raw vegetables and especially salad, when they see my husband throw vegetables into a wok they ask him to please leave some raw ones aside for them. It never gets old to seeing my children enjoying fresh healthy greens and asking for seconds, so my favourite thing to prepare for them is a dinner salad. Ro loves to make vinaigrettes (salad dressing) so she takes charge of that while I prepare the veggies. I often make a variation on a Mosaica Salad, which was a staple dish for my dance troupe in university, or Panzanella. I also love making the children pancakes for the nostalgia attached to this food. And to be perfectly honest, my kids also love cookies and salty chips but neither would say it’s their favourite. Phew!
B+G: Describe your ideal family day.
Danielle: My ideal family day would start slowly with snuggles in our big family bed, followed by a simple breakfast of fruit, toast and coffee, eaten outdoors listening to the birds chirp and seeing the morning light filter through the trees in our yard. It may sound a bit precious, but these simple things really fill me with joy and contentment. After this we would pack up for a day walking around the city. My favourite routes involve passing through a farmers market, walking the path along the train tracks, which is full of trees and picnic spots, and visiting the river pathway, so we can refresh ourselves with some moving water. We would eat all our meals outdoors sitting on the ground, napping when we need to, and observing no schedule at all, returning home in time to climb into bed.
B+G: What are your favorite things to do with your children?
Danielle: I guess my answer above got started on this…our favourite thing to do is walk out the front door with no set plan for the day. We love to wander our city and discover alleys and hidden paths, new bakeries and fruit stands, parks and spots along the river. There is always something to discover whether it is a mural, a field of wildflowers or a street performer. I suppose I’ve never lost that childhood thrill of discovery. Ro and Sen love these days as much as I do. We always pack provisions (water bottles, snacks, a blanket, maybe swim wear if we are feeling fancy) so that we can be out and about all day. I also love doing creative projects with them, drawing, crafting, gathering natural treasures for storyboards, and so on.
B+G: What is your philosophy when it comes to motherhood?
Danielle: Mother each day like it is the day you will be remembered by. I don’t say this from an egotistical perspective. I don’t actually care about how I will be remembered. I am not an ego-driven person. What this philosophy means for me is that I should make sure that every day is my best day, that I always put my children first, that I use a kind tone of voice, that I do not leave any business unfinished or concerns for another day.
B+G: What was the biggest surprise about becoming a mother?
Danielle: The biggest surprise for me was how much I missed my children, the heartache I felt, when I was away from them. It never gets easier. Each day at work, away from them, I miss them greatly. The environment I grew up in made working outside the home seem like the norm for parents. I never questioned this and assumed it was not a struggle for parents to be away from their children, and so I followed this path. When I returned to work after having each child, I felt a great loss that did not improve over time, if anything it became more painful. I never expected this. This sense of loss is what drives me to find a way to work for myself so that I can be more present in the lives of my children.
B+G: If you could go back 10 years, what would you tell yourself?
Danielle: Follow your passions and don’t worry about being practical! I grew up in a family of artists: painters, musicians, writers, a clothing designer, a potter, and a dancer. As a child I saw the struggles each had in pursuing their art and balancing the need to provide for themselves and their family. I told myself I didn’t want to struggle in that way, so I pursued hard academics: math, science, statistics and then found myself a stable, reliable job. But all this left me feeling empty. My innate interests were always in visual arts and dance. What I didn’t notice as a child was the joy these pursuits brought each person, the way their passions fueled them and made them better people for themselves and for others. I am now, getting a late start, trying to pursue my passions, doing the things that fill me up, rather than drain me. I suppose I had to go through that experience to know myself better, so I am not regretful, but I am definitely motivated to make big changes.
B+G: What excites you most about motherhood?
Danielle: The excitement of motherhood is experiencing childhood for a second time. Many children feel a sense of urgency to grow up, to be a teenager, to be an adult, and they don’t savour their childhood because they seek the freedoms that come with age. You know the saying: youth is wasted on youth. I love watching my children be children, their moments of discovery, their curious questions about things that seem so basic to adults, their honest emotional responses to everything. The purity and innocence of childhood experience is beautiful and refreshing, and I am fortunate that I get to observe it through my children, because I don’t think I paid much attention to it when I was young!
B+G: By day you work for the Canadian government, and by night you are a photographer, creative, blogger extraordinaire. Is it difficult to balance these two juxtaposing careers?
Danielle: Thank you for saying I’m an extraordinaire….I wouldn’t say I’m there yet! On balance, I would say I haven’t found it yet, so, yes, it is difficult. My day job pays the bills, I don’t think of it as a career because I don’t want to be there forever and I don’t feel it is a part of my self-identity. My night job feeds my soul. The difficulty is having a triple shift each day. I have a rule that I won’t “steal time” from my children, by working on my blog or writing while they are awake. I have so little time with them each week that I have to put them first when they are with me. This means that after they go to sleep I am up planning, writing, editing photos, until the wee hours, I catch a few hours of sleep, and then start again. My goal is to be able to make my night job my day job, until that’s a reality I’ll be pulling a triple shift most days, and fine tuning that balance as I go.
B+G: Any tips for mothers juggling multiple jobs such as yourself?
Danielle: I’m not sure I am a great example…I am someone who has always needed little sleep, and I think that’s probably my lucky asset in all of this. I am usually at work (or biking there and back) for 10 hours a day, in the morning and evening while I am with my children I give them my time. Once they are tucked away to sleep I work a few hours on my own projects. My tip for parents would be to always make time for your family. They are number one. I will never regret posting something to my blog a few days late, but I will regret paying half of my attention to my son while he recounts his “presentate” (his word for show and tell) at school, because I am editing photos on my phone while he talks to me. Putting my family first allows me to focus more intensely on my other jobs when my family is not around, because I’ve given them my all.
B+G: Any upcoming work projects you are excited about?
Danielle: I have a few collaborations coming up that I’m very excited about, but nothing that I can share yet. I also have a book idea or two up my sleeve that I hope to bring to life in the next year.
B+G: What’s a typical work day like for you?
Danielle: I work in a tall office tower. I bike there and back year round, except for very snowy or cold days when I walk in to work. My job is predominantly writing and analysis. I spend a lot of time at a computer reading and writing government policies and meeting with colleagues to workshop ideas. Eight hours later I rush home to my children and enjoy a few hours with them before bedtime.
B+G: How would you describe the aesthetic of your home?
Danielle: We live in a home that is close to a century old, with most of the original features preserved. Our home is eclectic in the sense that I prefer to furnish it with things that are second-hand than pursue a consistent aesthetic, which admittedly I would love, but I prefer to minimize the amount of first-hand things I buy. The decoration is sparse because I love a clean slate and I am someone who has a bodily reaction to her surroundings. The state of my environment is reflected in my state of mind. Clutter and disarray make me feel anxious and confused. I used to be what some people would call a “clean freak” but when I realized that my cleaning and tidying obsession was infringing on my time with my children, I had to let go. Now I just make sure that the space I spend the most time in is sparse. The children’s rooms are another story!
B+G: How would you describe your own style? How has it changed since becoming a mother?
Danielle: My style is classic with bohemian mixed in, and, as much as possible, sustainable. I avoid fashion trends because fast fashion leads to waste. I am a slow consumer and would rather buy one new piece of clothing in a year that I know will be in my closet for a decade, and that may be expensive but is responsibly produced. I’ve always been drawn to traditional and ethnic clothing and fabrics. I actually think of these as the most classic, as opposed to monochrome, denim and black. Traditional fabrics have stood the test of time; these fabrics have auras that draw you in. They are usually joyful, colourful and tell a story, which if you know my photography are my predominant themes. My style hasn’t changed as a mother. I’ve always dressed in a practical way since I’ve always commuted to school or work by foot or bike.
B+G: What pieces would you consider staples for your wardrobe?
Danielle: My staples are long dresses and blouses paired with jeans. I’m not much a t-shirt person. I like quality blouses that will last a long time. Blouses keep their fit and colour much longer than a conventional cotton shirt. I like items that will remain in my wardrobe for a long time based on quality and timeless design.
B+G: What do you love most about raising your kids in Canada?
Danielle: We’ve only ever lived in Canada, so I can’t make a fair comparison with any other country, but I would say that Canada is a very special country for its geographic size relative to its small population. What this means is that there is a lot of untouched landscape to discover. As well, Canada borders three oceans and spans a huge territory so there are many different landscapes and ecosystems to discover within our borders: tundra, rainforest, arctic and so on. We live in the capital city of Canada, Ottawa, which is great because we benefit from having most of the major national galleries and museums here, there are many arts and music festivals hosted in town, and our gardens and pathways are maintained very well. It is a beautiful city, big enough to have an arts scene, but small enough that we know our neighbours and can access wilderness in just a few minutes on a bike. As much as I love Canada I would love the opportunity to live abroad with my children.
B+G: If you could choose another city to live in for a year, where would it be?
Danielle: I am someone who would travel or move almost anywhere, especially for a time-limited period. I love to discover new things and am someone who can make the most of where I am, whether it is a tiny town off the side of a highway or a large metropolis. If I had to choose and cost was of no concern, I would want to give my children an experience outside North America, and with exposure to languages other than French and English, with which they are familiar. With its bike friendly culture and plenty of eating-out food options for vegans, and a vibrant arts scene, I would choose Amsterdam.
B+G: What is your favorite room in your house and why?
Danielle: Definitely our ‘front room’, I think this is what most people call their living room. I inherited the term ‘front room’ from my mother who uses it because her grandmother did. Our front room is a large open space, filled with light, and few objects. I keep it as minimally furnished as possible to allow the space to be used creatively. It is the hub of activity in our home, we read and draw there, the children build their pillow forts, we have floor picnics and impromptu dance parties. I love it because it is a creative space we share and it will surely be the room most filled with fond memories as time goes by.
Thank you for sharing, Danielle! Stay up to date with her lovely family at Hippie In Disguise and be sure to follow her Instagram feed.