Jenni Duncan is an Edmond real estate agent and mom of two who owns downtown Edmond's popular coffee shop Café Evoke with her husband, Jason.
Jenni and her husband have two sons: Tuk just turned 6 and Grey turns 3 in September. The family of four lives in an 850-square-foot home near their Edmond coffee shop. Here, she shares her insights on small house living, working with her husband, running a successful real estate business and raising two boys.
MFM: How'd you end up running a coffee shop and selling real estate in Edmond?
JD: Jason and I met when we were both going to college in Nashville. My family lives in Montana and both of us dreamed of living in the mountains, so we moved to Bozeman and lived there after college. We tried to open up a shop there but it was really expensive. Jason's from Edmond and his family still lives here. In December 2007 we took a two-day drive from the mountains to cater a few Christmas parties here and we decided from that trip to move to Oklahoma. We lived in a studio in the Plaza District for two years and got into the food business. We ran the Evoke truck for four years before opening the Edmond location four years ago. We really love downtown Edmond. In addition to running the coffee shop, we still operate a catering business.
MFM: How do you manage to run a catering business and a coffee shop at the same time?
JD: We have really great people working for us!
MFM: What's your experience been like as a mom?
JD: I grew up nannying other people's kids so for me motherhood has felt really natural. I watched so many moms I thought were awesome parents, so it just felt really easy. There are hard parts of it. But it just felt normal because since I was a freshman in high school I spent summers nannying. I knew what it would look like so having my own felt like an easier transition.
MFM: What's your favorite stage so far?
JD: Gray is at a pretty fun age right now. Two-and-a-half-year-olds are hilarious. He thinks he's funny and he is funny. He didn't get it from me! I like that age because they still need you and want to cuddle and don't have too much sass yet. Tuk's going to enter kindergarten this year which is great because he's really independent. We can open the door and watch him cross the street to his friend's house and I know he's going to stop for cars and be safe. He can be gone at a friend's house for six hours and I'm not worried about him. That's a new phase for us but it's so fun watching your kids develop their own sense of being.
MFM: What are you most looking forward to?
JD: College? Ha ha, not really. I'm interested to see what my kids will be like in high school. Jason and I were both very social and I'm just curious to see how their personalities will continue to form.
MFM: What are some valuable lessons you learned while nannying?
JD: When I nannied in Nashville, there was this mom who just did everything so effortlessly. She had four kids when I started nannying for her and she was nine months pregnant. I had just met the family and she had a stillborn. Watching her walk through that with grace and love and the way she showed her kids how to handle such a horrible situation was just so inspiring.
There were little things I would see that I really felt helped her kids be more resilient. Her older son fell off the swing one night and broke his arm. She was so calm about everything and used it as an opportunity to remind her kids you don't stop doing what you love just because there's a risk of getting hurt. Now they're teenagers and I've kept up with them and see they have so much confidence that even if they get hurt they're going to be okay. She never spoke about it specifically but you could watch her and see these lessons. Motherhood is a lot easier when you know your kids are going to get hurt but you can be the one to be there to tell them they'll be okay and get through it.
I also learned through being a nanny that things won't always go according to plan. It's not always easy to teach your kids that but I think more than anything they learn that by example.
MFM: Did you learn anything from your own mom that influences how you parent?
JD: I learned to adapt to change. My parents were in real estate so everything was always for sale. Because of that we moved a lot. I learned from both my parents to just be flexible and go with the flow. As long as we're all together it doesn't matter where we live. Home can mean a lot of different things.
MFM: Have you and your husband found a good way to share responsibilities at home?
JD: With both of us working full time, we've had nannies on and off. Right now we're not getting any outside help. We're big fans of Google Calendar. That's really how we make things work day in and day out. He comes home and I'll go to work. He works early mornings and I'm fortunate I can schedule my appointments in the afternoon and work from home a lot.
The kids like playing with each other so I take advantage of that time to work, too. After 12 years of marriage I have learned he can't read my mind. If I want something, I have to open my mouth and ask him for it. Kids certainly changed how we shared things. You have to get better at communicating. It's a learning process. There are times when my work slows down and his gets busier and the other way around. There are times we're stretched thin. For example, Christmas is always a really frenzied time of catering. There will be 30 to 45 days of long nights and early mornings and not seeing Jason very much. But January always comes and life goes back to normal. In the busy times, we make sure to just not try to do everything. You prioritize what's really important and make sure to have enough flexibility to take full advantage of the little moments we have together.
MFM: What's life like at home with your kids?
JD: We're very casual. We do nothing formal. Mornings are usually the same. The kids are very laid back and they like sitting at the TV for a cartoon, bananas and milk in the morning. Now that summer's here, we spend a lot of time just hanging out. We wanted to live in this neighborhood because I wanted my kids to feel like it's okay to just hang out outside all day and not really have a plan. I want them to explore, be creative, make up games. I read the other day one of the greatest mistakes parents can make is not letting their kids be bored. When Tuk asks me, "what are we going to do today?" I honestly say, "I don't know. Go do something, go explore, go have fun and figure it out for yourself." I won't have the whole summer scheduled. Hopefully we get to the splash pad a few times but it's just not my personality to book the day solid.
MFM: Tell us about your house.
JD: We moved to our little house on 6th Street in Edmond because we wanted to be close to the shop, have the urban environment and still a real neighborhood feel. We know everyone on our street and we just love that. The house was built in 1940 and we're the third owners.
Because I'm in real estate, I saw this house come on the market and called Jason really fast because we wanted to be in this neighborhood. It's 850 square feet with two beds and one bathroom but the layout really makes sense for us. The boys share a room and they love their bunkbeds. I don't know that they would even want to be in separate rooms right now even if they had the option. We love the size of our house because it reminds us to stay simple, to be outside and to try to keep extra stuff at bay. We definitely spend a lot of time asking ourselves if we really need something before we buy it or bring it home.
MFM: It seems parents are always looking for balance. What is it and how do you find it?
JD: Technically, balance means the scales are totally even, 50/50. I don't think that's ever the case for anyone. If you look at it over a year, maybe things were balanced but on a daily basis, no. Some days are busier, some are slower. Some I have time for myself or my husband, other days are more about work or kids. We try to be balanced by not doing too many social things. We stay at home more because when you're busy, it's so important to protect that family time. So we say no to a lot of things. I think balance is all about finding your own level of contentment. For some people that's going to mean more work. For some people it will be more family time. Find what's right for you.
[Editor's Note: This interview was edited for style and clarity.]