November 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like it is in any home with small children, the kitchen can be a flurry of activity when it comes to mealtime at the home of Brian Wetjen and Jill Rizzo. Brian makes PB&J while daughter Elke (4), uses the cap of a marker to transform a slice of American into its Swiss cousin. Meanwhile son Calder (7), attempts to bring a science play-set to the dining table.

“Calder, not now,” Brian says. “We’ll do science in a little while.”

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It’s a Sunday scene that mimics their weekday lives—Brian stays home with the kids while wife Jill goes to work at Hayneedle, where she is the creative director. Brian works from home as a website designer, but took this past summer off while the kids were out of school.

Hectic though it may seem, the family’s lives have simplified over the past three years. That’s when Brian ran his own company and Jill worked as the design director at Bozell. They each toiled more than 40 hours a week, leaving little family time.

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“We hated having to use the term ‘who has to pick up the kids’,’” Jill says, “because we both wanted to pick up the kids.”

“Once Calder got into kindergarten,” Brian adds, “we realized we wanted him to be able to come home after school. That’s really what kids want—they want to be at home.”

The lifestyle transition initially caused worry for Jill, who wondered about the “what ifs,” as in what if I lose my job?

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Brian took the opposite road.

“Instead of sabotaging it in your brain,” he says “why don’t we think ‘wow—look at all the positives.’”

Also easing Jill’s worry is how the couple thinks about materialism, not just from a monetary standpoint, but as a philosophy that forms their values.

“I recognized I was spending money on just stuff,” Jill says. “Like stuff for the house. I’d buy new pillows and placemats, but we didn’t need them, it was just more stuff.”

“It was retail therapy,” Brian adds.

“And I’m in retail!” Jill quips with a laugh.

One area of “stuff” the couple have carefully cultivated is their kids’ belongings. Markers, paper, and play-dough clutter the kid-sized crafting table at the end of the galley kitchen’s counters, while a play kitchen sits next to the dining table, ready to prepare any manner of made-up meals.

“A lot of the toy choices we make for them are either a) things we loved, or b) art supplies,” Brian says. “We also built a really big sand box in the backyard so they can dig and build things.”

The kids’ creative spirits rub off on their parents. Jill is a noted artist and the kids like to spend time painting with their mom.

“We work on art projects at night,” she says. “I have an easel set up for them in my studio, and they will come down and paint with me…or vice versa. Calder, specifically, will come up and ask me, ‘Mom, why aren’t you painting?’”

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Changes in school curricula over the years have influenced how this couple organizes family life.

“There’s less art, less music, less movement in school,” Jill adds, “all so they can get better test scores. Freedom of thought allows them to be creative problem-solvers.”

“Unstructured time is just as important as structured time,” Brian says.

Calder has drifted into another room by himself to work with his iPad, while Elke bounces on the small trampoline in the TV-less family room, holding onto a small attached railing while she bounces and bounces, joyfully crying “look at me!”

Aforementioned, structured time is just as important as unstructured time.

“We have a routine,” Brian says. “I make breakfast, Jill goes to work. I walk Calder to school then take Elke to preschool.”

Calder is in second grade at Swanson Elementary.  Brian comes home and has a couple of hours to work before picking up Elke, then they have a couple of hours in the afternoon before picking up Calder.

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Once school lets out, the kids get time to do what they want—playing outside or inside.  Brian and the kids make sure the house is picked up on Fridays so the family can participate in things they want to do on the weekends. Their seemingly carefree situation is the envy of their friends.

“Most of our friends are pretty laid back,” Brian says. “Most of them have said, ‘boy, I wish I could do this.’ ”

A big focus for both Brian and Jill is travel. They have taken the kids to see Jill’s extended family in upstate New York along with trips to Colorado and North Carolina. The couple hope to travel more as the kids age.

“We want to incorporate as many new experiences as possible,” Jill says.

The less is more philosophy has worked well for the family, and they encourage others not necessarily to do things their way, but in whatever way works best.

“Not everyone can work from home,” Brian admits, “but if you think about it, you can design your life the way you want.”

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