KAREN TAPPIN

KAREN TAPPIN

Issue No. 1
Brooklyn, New York 

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

“Alright,” Karen Tappin takes a seat on the floor of her spacious and sunny Clinton Hill two-bedroom apartment. She looks around. “I'm ready.”

 Comfortably swathed in a pair of black yoga pants (“I buy them in every color under the sun!”), she sits with one leg tucked under her, the other outstretched. Between her big smile and even bigger fro, Tappin does seem ready for anything. It's that same take-charge attitude that propelled a then 16-year-old Tappin to decide to start her own business.

Comfortably swathed in a pair of black yoga pants (“I buy them in every color under the sun!”), she sits with one leg tucked under her, the other outstretched. Between her big smile and even bigger fro, Tappin does seem ready for anything. It's that same take-charge attitude that propelled a then 16-year-old Tappin to decide to start her own business.

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 Tappin didn't home in on what her business would be until her freshman year of college: a care package delivery company called Karen's Delicious Deliveries. She remembers her first order — and the huge “Are you like a triple drug dealer?” cell phone it was made on — like it happened yesterday.  “[It] actually came Thanksgiving break. My parents came to pick me up and they were sitting in my room,” she remembers. “My cell phone rang and I was like, 'Oh my god, that's [it].' It was a $35 order. That was the beginning. That was it. I never looked back.”   Karen's Body Beautiful , her line of all-natural hair and body products, was born from this dorm-room operation after she and her future husband realized that many of her personal care items carried known carcinogens and toxins.

Tappin didn't home in on what her business would be until her freshman year of college: a care package delivery company called Karen's Delicious Deliveries. She remembers her first orderand the huge “Are you like a triple drug dealer?” cell phone it was made onlike it happened yesterday.

“[It] actually came Thanksgiving break. My parents came to pick me up and they were sitting in my room,” she remembers. “My cell phone rang and I was like, 'Oh my god, that's [it].' It was a $35 order. That was the beginning. That was it. I never looked back.”

Karen's Body Beautiful, her line of all-natural hair and body products, was born from this dorm-room operation after she and her future husband realized that many of her personal care items carried known carcinogens and toxins.

 The one thing Tappin didn't feel ready for was motherhood. “When my girlfriends were like 'Yes, I want a big wedding and the baby and my husband,' I was just like, 'Where's the club?'” Tappin recalls. Her collar-bone-length earrings seem to nod in agreement as she laughs.  It wasn't until she met her husband of 12 years, retired African historian Damani Saunderson, that the idea of being a mother and a wife didn't seem like someone else's dream. And even then, she did it her way: a home birth in her living room, with her husband, his sons, her sisters, a midwife and a longtime friend/doula to help her baby enter the world.

The one thing Tappin didn't feel ready for was motherhood. “When my girlfriends were like 'Yes, I want a big wedding and the baby and my husband,' I was just like, 'Where's the club?'” Tappin recalls. Her collar-bone-length earrings seem to nod in agreement as she laughs.

It wasn't until she met her husband of 12 years, retired African historian Damani Saunderson, that the idea of being a mother and a wife didn't seem like someone else's dream. And even then, she did it her way: a home birth in her living room, with her husband, his sons, her sisters, a midwife and a longtime friend/doula to help her baby enter the world.

 “I have no regrets whatsoever,” Tappin says of having her daughter Imani, 4. “She's a beautiful child. She's healthy. I couldn't ask for a better human being to be given to me.”

“I have no regrets whatsoever,” Tappin says of having her daughter Imani, 4. “She's a beautiful child. She's healthy. I couldn't ask for a better human being to be given to me.”

 Imani was a regular fixture at the Karen's Body Beautiful store for her first three years until she entered preschool. “You would come into my shop and I would be like, 'Don't mind the nursing baby between us. How can I help you?'”   But whether Imani is strapped to her back or in school, the work-mother balance has its difficulties.   “Being a mom is hardest when I have work that needs to be done [and] she's like 'Mommy, Mommy, I need you,'” Tappin says. However, she does her best to minimize being pulled in different directions. Tappin says she takes care of the “super important things when [Imani’s] not there” so she doesn’t have to go through that sort of internal struggle.

Imani was a regular fixture at the Karen's Body Beautiful store for her first three years until she entered preschool. “You would come into my shop and I would be like, 'Don't mind the nursing baby between us. How can I help you?'”

But whether Imani is strapped to her back or in school, the work-mother balance has its difficulties.

“Being a mom is hardest when I have work that needs to be done [and] she's like 'Mommy, Mommy, I need you,'” Tappin says. However, she does her best to minimize being pulled in different directions. Tappin says she takes care of the “super important things when [Imani’s] not there” so she doesn’t have to go through that sort of internal struggle.

 But despite the difficulties of juggling a successful business and a gorgeous family, she wouldn't have it any other way. “I am living the best life ever,” Tappin says. “Couldn't ask for a better life. Love, love, love, love, love it.”

But despite the difficulties of juggling a successful business and a gorgeous family, she wouldn't have it any other way. “I am living the best life ever,” Tappin says. “Couldn't ask for a better life. Love, love, love, love, love it.”

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Q&A

Q&A

How has being a mom changed your life?

I now am totally focused on someone else, not [just] myself. I think about all the things my mother taught me just growing up. It's changed my life. I mean the things people say about the way it changes your life, a lot of it is true. [But] the nurturing kind of stuff didn't really jump out.

I have no regrets whatsoever. She's a beautiful child, very well-behaved. She's smart. She's 4, she's reading, and her math is at a second-grade level. She's healthy. I couldn't ask for a better human being to be given to me.

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  What inspires the way you dress Imani?   Me. I'm not really a dress person so she almost has no dresses. So when people buy her dresses she gets excited. Almost like, “Hmm. See? I like dresses, mommy.”   How do you take care of your hair?   Every two weeks I'll shampoo it or co-wash [washing your hair using only a conditioner]. On those days I will put in the Sweet Ambrosia Leave-In Conditioner, leave it damp, two strand twist it, sit under the dryer. When it's dry, [I'll] pick out the twists. People are like, "That's it?" I'm so low maintenance.

What inspires the way you dress Imani?

Me. I'm not really a dress person so she almost has no dresses. So when people buy her dresses she gets excited. Almost like, “Hmm. See? I like dresses, mommy.”

How do you take care of your hair?

Every two weeks I'll shampoo it or co-wash [washing your hair using only a conditioner]. On those days I will put in the Sweet Ambrosia Leave-In Conditioner, leave it damp, two strand twist it, sit under the dryer. When it's dry, [I'll] pick out the twists. People are like, "That's it?" I'm so low maintenance.

  What do you wear when you want to feel your most beautiful?   I am an earring-nista. I love earrings. I cannot leave the house [without them]. I will go to the gym in these.  I'll take them off  only when I'm on the treadmill because that would look ridiculous.

What do you wear when you want to feel your most beautiful?

I am an earring-nista. I love earrings. I cannot leave the house [without them]. I will go to the gym in these. I'll take them off only when I'm on the treadmill because that would look ridiculous.

  We noticed the cotton plants in your home. What's the story behind them?   It's kind of recognizing [and] paying homage to our ancestors. My husband's family is from the South. He went to a cotton farm where they pick cotton. And I was like "Wow, we still picking cotton?" And he said, "Yeah, it's pretty brutal." So he brought them up from down South.

We noticed the cotton plants in your home. What's the story behind them?

It's kind of recognizing [and] paying homage to our ancestors. My husband's family is from the South. He went to a cotton farm where they pick cotton. And I was like "Wow, we still picking cotton?" And he said, "Yeah, it's pretty brutal." So he brought them up from down South.

Imani's interview

Imani's interview

What's your favorite book? 
Dr. Seuss

What's your favorite thing to do? 
Making jewelry: necklaces and bracelets.

What's your favorite place in your home? 
I like my room.

What do you like about your room? 
That I can sleep with my dolly. We can go to sleep together.

What do you like about your neighborhood? 

That there's lot of people in my neighborhood because some people live here.

What are your favorite colors? 
Black, green, and red.

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ALICIA HALL MORAN

ALICIA HALL MORAN

Issue No. 1.2
Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

Little-known fact: being a mother and being a hit Broadway performer have a lot in common. 

“You have to keep it together,” says Alicia Hall Moran, a classically trained mezzo-soprano currently on Broadway as star Audra McDonald's understudy in “The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess.” (Editor's Note: The play won the 2012 Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Musical,” and Hall Moran went on to star as Bess in the show’s National Tour 2013-2014.)

“But fortunately, because I have twin boys, I have a Master's degree in keeping it together.”

  "For their [Whitney] Biennial residency, Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran [presented] five days of live music, exploring the power of performance to cross barriers and challenge assumptions, as their title, BLEED, suggests."   —  from the Whitney Museum of Art website

"For their [Whitney] Biennial residency, Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran [presented] five days of live music, exploring the power of performance to cross barriers and challenge assumptions, as their title, BLEED, suggests." from the Whitney Museum of Art website

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 That degree comes in handy as Hall Moran, 38, maneuvers through her packed days and nights. Her four-year-old twins, Jonas and Malcolm, attend a Montessori school in the afternoon so she can spend time with them in the morning; in the evening she's on stage, either playing Eva, an ensemble cast character she helped name and create, or as the titular role of Bess.  “Being in a show is like being in a prism,” Hall Moran says. “Being Bess is like being on a different frequency. You really see the show from a completely different angle. It's like going down the highway at 70 with the window open. It's incredible. ”    Hall Moran's sons, Malcolm (left) and Jonas (right).

That degree comes in handy as Hall Moran, 38, maneuvers through her packed days and nights. Her four-year-old twins, Jonas and Malcolm, attend a Montessori school in the afternoon so she can spend time with them in the morning; in the evening she's on stage, either playing Eva, an ensemble cast character she helped name and create, or as the titular role of Bess.

“Being in a show is like being in a prism,” Hall Moran says. “Being Bess is like being on a different frequency. You really see the show from a completely different angle. It's like going down the highway at 70 with the window open. It's incredible.

Hall Moran's sons, Malcolm (left) and Jonas (right).

  It's a feeling akin to motherhood, some might say. But Hall Moran says her ability to juggle singing and acting with motherhood wasn't about learning how to balance it all while going full tilt.    “I think what actually happens is that motherhood makes your priorities   clearer to you and everyone else,” she says. “Their health and happiness come first.    “Truth is, childcare become my biggest expense once I decided I wanted to continue having an adult, artistic life. Being close to theater, music, art, and poets and writers is why we remain in the city but it’s an expensive choice. Even with my extremely supportive husband and family nearby, most of my own resources still go to childcare. But financial responsibility clarifies things. It makes me more savvy about my worth.”  

It's a feeling akin to motherhood, some might say. But Hall Moran says her ability to juggle singing and acting with motherhood wasn't about learning how to balance it all while going full tilt.

“I think what actually happens is that motherhood makes your priorities clearer to you and everyone else,” she says. “Their health and happiness come first.

“Truth is, childcare become my biggest expense once I decided I wanted to continue having an adult, artistic life. Being close to theater, music, art, and poets and writers is why we remain in the city but it’s an expensive choice. Even with my extremely supportive husband and family nearby, most of my own resources still go to childcare. But financial responsibility clarifies things. It makes me more savvy about my worth.”  

  “We’re not raising kids in a test tube or in a vacuum,” she continues. “We’re parenting within the greater challenges of our families   and our community.    One of those challenges that is out of her control? The way society often depicts and treats black men. How does she approach the added difficulty of raising black sons in an age of “Stand Your Ground” and “stop and frisk”?       

“We’re not raising kids in a test tube or in a vacuum,” she continues. “We’re parenting within the greater challenges of our families and our community.

One of those challenges that is out of her control? The way society often depicts and treats black men. How does she approach the added difficulty of raising black sons in an age of “Stand Your Ground” and “stop and frisk”?

 

 

 “I don't tell them the bad myths of what people might think about them,” Hall Moran shares. “Not yet. A four-year-old mind can not handle that. I pre-empt the negativity with positive tools. I teach them to recognize the genius of their own culture.”  Those tools include going to museums, researching African masks (a favorite), drumming, and acting; just like mom and dad, the boys are quite the performers.

“I don't tell them the bad myths of what people might think about them,” Hall Moran shares. “Not yet. A four-year-old mind can not handle that. I pre-empt the negativity with positive tools. I teach them to recognize the genius of their own culture.”

Those tools include going to museums, researching African masks (a favorite), drumming, and acting; just like mom and dad, the boys are quite the performers.

 “I’m very proud of the way they've negotiated having two performer parents,” Hall Moran says. They seem to understand the responsibility in that. They aren't addicted to applause from us but they are addicted to finding that idea that captures our attention. I just am very proud of who they are and the frequency they've chosen to resonate on. It's very unique. They're interesting people who I am interested in seeing unfold."   

“I’m very proud of the way they've negotiated having two performer parents,” Hall Moran says. They seem to understand the responsibility in that. They aren't addicted to applause from us but they are addicted to finding that idea that captures our attention. I just am very proud of who they are and the frequency they've chosen to resonate on. It's very unique. They're interesting people who I am interested in seeing unfold."

 

Q&A

Q&A

How has being a mom changed your life?

The part of life that's changed the most is that I have to manage time in a way that I never had to before. And the stakes on my time are higher. Now if I don't maintain a certain schedule, people's health is at risk. It's such a big responsibility. I think those are the two biggest things: time and responsibility.

"They're very good friends. They get along wonderfully."

"They're very good friends. They get along wonderfully."

  Did you have any concerns or conversations with your husband about raising black sons?   I can say this: No child will ever choose something that they don't want. They're very honest about their wants. So it comes down to persuading them to want for themselves the things that I want for them. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Is it an option for them to not love being black? No! They are black! If they don’t want to eat a certain food, well that’s negotiable. It’s sad how many messages they already receive subtly stating it’s unsafe, and therefore unwise, to be black. My job as a parent is to locate and eliminate the fear and hate in those subtle messages. I say, You are powerful and we have to use power wisely. That’s universal. But are you “dangerous”? That’s the a lie.

Did you have any concerns or conversations with your husband about raising black sons?

I can say this: No child will ever choose something that they don't want. They're very honest about their wants. So it comes down to persuading them to want for themselves the things that I want for them. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Is it an option for them to not love being black? No! They are black! If they don’t want to eat a certain food, well that’s negotiable. It’s sad how many messages they already receive subtly stating it’s unsafe, and therefore unwise, to be black. My job as a parent is to locate and eliminate the fear and hate in those subtle messages. I say, You are powerful and we have to use power wisely. That’s universal. But are you “dangerous”? That’s the a lie.

  Continued   I just try to arm them. Someone is going to step up to my child one day with something to say about my child's version of blackness, or maleness, or whatever, when I’m not around. And my child may one day say something to another child that might alter their point of view in a negative way. I don’t want that, either. But this is what happens and these encounters define us.  Where I feel responsible is in preparing my boys to accept everything out there that tells them they are wonderful and beautiful. They’ll at least have something with which to meet the challenges they’ll face. Wonder and beauty are everywhere! 

Continued

I just try to arm them. Someone is going to step up to my child one day with something to say about my child's version of blackness, or maleness, or whatever, when I’m not around. And my child may one day say something to another child that might alter their point of view in a negative way. I don’t want that, either. But this is what happens and these encounters define us.

Where I feel responsible is in preparing my boys to accept everything out there that tells them they are wonderful and beautiful. They’ll at least have something with which to meet the challenges they’ll face. Wonder and beauty are everywhere! 

  What's the most gratifying part of your job?   I'm a singer and see myself as an artist. I feel free to engage with the ideas that interest me from the point of concept. It’s lonely work sometimes, but very rewarding. I'm most gratified by the freedom performing gives me to express my life out loud. People need that. They need to see that it is ok to be yourself and be loud about it sometimes. 

What's the most gratifying part of your job?

I'm a singer and see myself as an artist. I feel free to engage with the ideas that interest me from the point of concept. It’s lonely work sometimes, but very rewarding. I'm most gratified by the freedom performing gives me to express my life out loud. People need that. They need to see that it is ok to be yourself and be loud about it sometimes. 

  Continued   My own work at the Whitney Biennial — curating the festival with my husband and performing it — we've been doing a lot of pieces together for the last 10 years, and with people we've met along the way. That is the best part. Having a constant outlet for using your gift.  I have learned so much from ["Porgy and Bess" director] Diane Paulus and the other actors on stage. Having a place where those lessons can fit into my life as an artist is really important to me and it's something I cultivate. It's very difficult to do that. I have no time. But at least the time I'm spending is going into things that I really love and that also love me back.

Continued

My own work at the Whitney Biennialcurating the festival with my husband and performing itwe've been doing a lot of pieces together for the last 10 years, and with people we've met along the way. That is the best part. Having a constant outlet for using your gift.

I have learned so much from ["Porgy and Bess" director] Diane Paulus and the other actors on stage. Having a place where those lessons can fit into my life as an artist is really important to me and it's something I cultivate. It's very difficult to do that. I have no time. But at least the time I'm spending is going into things that I really love and that also love me back.

  What are your sons like?   They're little performers. It's gratifying. I'm glad that we all speak the same language.  They have the right degrees of self-consciousness to deliver material in an effective way. They're not entertainers, they're performers — big difference. Sometimes I want them to be entertaining of people, but they're just not feeling it. But when they have an idea, they will sit you down and perform you their idea.

What are your sons like?

They're little performers. It's gratifying. I'm glad that we all speak the same language.

They have the right degrees of self-consciousness to deliver material in an effective way. They're not entertainers, they're performersbig difference. Sometimes I want them to be entertaining of people, but they're just not feeling it. But when they have an idea, they will sit you down and perform you their idea.

  What inspires the way you dress your sons?   Their dad is not really a sweatpants kind of guy. So I think it's a nice opportunity not to make them sweatpants kids. I like dressing them for their image of themselves, listening closely to who they say they are.   How do your sons express their style?    [Jonas] chose a hard case, deep red adult rolling carry on for his suitcase. It's very sophisticated, much better than the one I have. Then my other son decided he liked a lady bug suitcase on roller wheels that was designed for children in bright red and yellow.    I allow them to make their own decisions by kind of expanding the vocabulary of what they can buy.

What inspires the way you dress your sons?

Their dad is not really a sweatpants kind of guy. So I think it's a nice opportunity not to make them sweatpants kids. I like dressing them for their image of themselves, listening closely to who they say they are.

How do your sons express their style?

[Jonas] chose a hard case, deep red adult rolling carry on for his suitcase. It's very sophisticated, much better than the one I have. Then my other son decided he liked a lady bug suitcase on roller wheels that was designed for children in bright red and yellow.

I allow them to make their own decisions by kind of expanding the vocabulary of what they can buy.

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  What's the difference between the love you feel for your partner and for your children?   I have a very wonderful husband. [But the difference is] he's never thrown up on me. The demands of a mature man should be far less than that of a child. If that's not true in your life then you need to switch it up!      Left: Hall Moran performing with her husband, jazz pianist Jason Moran, at their Whitney residency "BLEED."

What's the difference between the love you feel for your partner and for your children?

I have a very wonderful husband. [But the difference is] he's never thrown up on me. The demands of a mature man should be far less than that of a child. If that's not true in your life then you need to switch it up!

 

Left: Hall Moran performing with her husband, jazz pianist Jason Moran, at their Whitney residency "BLEED."

  continued   I've learned more about myself [through] getting to love something as much as [I] do [my] children. The range of emotions are so much wider and the depth of my understanding of what love can be is greater because of the boys.      ΔΔΔ

continued

I've learned more about myself [through] getting to love something as much as [I] do [my] children. The range of emotions are so much wider and the depth of my understanding of what love can be is greater because of the boys.

 

ΔΔΔ

VERONICA VALENTINE

VERONICA VALENTINE

Issue 1.3
Bronx, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

Veronica Valentine and her two-year-old daughter, Mila, have the same infectious laugh. It's a clear, throaty peal that rises and falls, rises and falls, before ending with a satisfied sigh.

“I originally thought she was a boy,” Valentine, 26, shares. “Even after my sonogram, I made the woman do it twice. I really, really wanted a boy. And I thought, 'Oh my God, I can't imagine a mini me running around!'”

 And run around she does, bouncing from her miniature Dora the Explorer couch and her bright red scoot-along train in the living room to the kitchen, where she hands her mom a pair of sparkly pink Converse low tops to help her put on, only to come back a few minutes later with a new set of sneakers she wants to wear.   

And run around she does, bouncing from her miniature Dora the Explorer couch and her bright red scoot-along train in the living room to the kitchen, where she hands her mom a pair of sparkly pink Converse low tops to help her put on, only to come back a few minutes later with a new set of sneakers she wants to wear.

 

MILA'S FAVORITE THINGS...

MILA'S FAVORITE THINGS...

 

• Mom's old baby pink faux crocodile Coach clutch with a little lipstick     mirror

 • Sparkly blue Converse low tops
 
 • Dancey Dance Time from Yo Gabba Gabba
 
 • Dress-up bin in mom's walk-in closet
 
 • Her iPad
 
 • Winnie the Pooh scoot-along train

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 As Mila sits in Valentine's lap for a lesson on how to tie her laces, you can tell the young mother loves every second of it. Although Valentine, a self-professed “type A” personality, didn't think she would be married or have a child until she was 30, “it didn't happen that way.” At 24, Mila's birth changed Valentine's outlook on life at a time when most women are just beginning to figure out who they are.

As Mila sits in Valentine's lap for a lesson on how to tie her laces, you can tell the young mother loves every second of it. Although Valentine, a self-professed “type A” personality, didn't think she would be married or have a child until she was 30, “it didn't happen that way.” At 24, Mila's birth changed Valentine's outlook on life at a time when most women are just beginning to figure out who they are.

 “Being a mom changed my life in every way possible,” Valentine says. “I've always been one that worked and pushed myself very hard. I can be very hard on myself. But I've noticed that even more so being a mother. Now when you have a goal, it's not just your personal goal because it makes you feel good. I really find myself doing everything for her.”  When she had her daughter, it wasn't “just [deciding] what kind of woman I want to be, but what kind of mother and what kind of role model do I want to be,” Valentine says.  She continues: “[Your 20s are] difficult and you do get lost. I think that being a mother definitely has helped me push through that. It's helped me find myself through the fog a little faster.”

“Being a mom changed my life in every way possible,” Valentine says. “I've always been one that worked and pushed myself very hard. I can be very hard on myself. But I've noticed that even more so being a mother. Now when you have a goal, it's not just your personal goal because it makes you feel good. I really find myself doing everything for her.”

When she had her daughter, it wasn't “just [deciding] what kind of woman I want to be, but what kind of mother and what kind of role model do I want to be,” Valentine says.

She continues: “[Your 20s are] difficult and you do get lost. I think that being a mother definitely has helped me push through that. It's helped me find myself through the fog a little faster.”

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 Having a supportive family helps as well. Mila's paternal grandparents are nearby and her mother recently moved from Ohio to the complex across the street. “She's the main caretaker for Mila besides myself and her father,” Valentine says. “I just feel really lucky. I was really close to my grandmother on my mom's side and she died when I was six. That was very difficult for me. So for Mila I think it's very important to have her grandmother nearby.”   A photo of Valentine's maternal grandparents.

Having a supportive family helps as well. Mila's paternal grandparents are nearby and her mother recently moved from Ohio to the complex across the street. “She's the main caretaker for Mila besides myself and her father,” Valentine says. “I just feel really lucky. I was really close to my grandmother on my mom's side and she died when I was six. That was very difficult for me. So for Mila I think it's very important to have her grandmother nearby.”

A photo of Valentine's maternal grandparents.

 Valentine scoffs at the idea that a woman can't have it all. "You totally can have it all. As a woman I feel that we were made to be able to do it all. We were made to be able to bring life, to have children. We were also made to be emotional creatures. But [with] the way our brains work, we're [also] able to do the same work as men."  “I think it's a crazy misconception that just because you're a working mom, you don't spend a lot of time with your children. I think that it's all about balance.” It's a lesson that at 26 puts her years ahead of her peers.

Valentine scoffs at the idea that a woman can't have it all. "You totally can have it all. As a woman I feel that we were made to be able to do it all. We were made to be able to bring life, to have children. We were also made to be emotional creatures. But [with] the way our brains work, we're [also] able to do the same work as men."

“I think it's a crazy misconception that just because you're a working mom, you don't spend a lot of time with your children. I think that it's all about balance.” It's a lesson that at 26 puts her years ahead of her peers.

Q&A

Q&A

How does a typical day for you two begin?

She usually wakes you up by patting your face and saying 'Hi!' or 'Good morning!' or 'Hello!' She'll ask for grapes.

And when you get home from work?

Mila greets me at the door with a big hug and a kiss and screams “Mommy, mommy, mommy!” It's always three times.

  How would you describe Mila's style?   Mila is like a punk, tomboy princess, okay? She's super punk because she doesn't give an eff. She throws on whatever. She'll be wearing a backwards baseball cap, a jersey with a skirt and her sparkly blue Converse sneakers. That's her style.

How would you describe Mila's style?

Mila is like a punk, tomboy princess, okay? She's super punk because she doesn't give an eff. She throws on whatever. She'll be wearing a backwards baseball cap, a jersey with a skirt and her sparkly blue Converse sneakers. That's her style.

     And how would you describe your style?   I've always been really into fashion: the aesthetic, the hair, the makeup, the look. I pay a lot of attention to what's going on in fashion, but I'm not a slave to it.   People [are] so worried about having a good sense of style or a poor sense of style, but I don't think having a good sense of style is defined by spending a ton of money on things. I do think it's important to invest in certain things, things that are timeless that you'll have forever.

 

And how would you describe your style?

I've always been really into fashion: the aesthetic, the hair, the makeup, the look. I pay a lot of attention to what's going on in fashion, but I'm not a slave to it.


People [are] so worried about having a good sense of style or a poor sense of style, but I don't think having a good sense of style is defined by spending a ton of money on things. I do think it's important to invest in certain things, things that are timeless that you'll have forever.

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  What do you think of the idea that women can't have it all?   You totally can have it all. As a woman I feel that we were made to be able to do it all. We were made to be able to bring life, to have children. We were also made to be emotional creatures. But [with] the way our brains work, we're [also] able to do the same work as men.

What do you think of the idea that women can't have it all?

You totally can have it all. As a woman I feel that we were made to be able to do it all. We were made to be able to bring life, to have children. We were also made to be emotional creatures. But [with] the way our brains work, we're [also] able to do the same work as men.

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"I would never expect that at her age she would be able to communicate with me the way that she does."

"I would never expect that at her age she would be able to communicate with me the way that she does."

  What's Mila's favorite food?   She used to not eat anything red, but now she does. She loves grapes. She loves tilapia: “Fish, fish, I want fish.” Those are her two favorites. Her dad is from Ecuador, so she loves Spanish food. Rice and beans. She's always been a good eater.

What's Mila's favorite food?

She used to not eat anything red, but now she does. She loves grapes. She loves tilapia: “Fish, fish, I want fish.” Those are her two favorites. Her dad is from Ecuador, so she loves Spanish food. Rice and beans. She's always been a good eater.

  How do you stay healthy?   I found after having Mila, I got really into focusing on taking care of myself so I have energy for her. I like to run. I eat a lot of raw foods, I don't eat any red meat. I put good things in my body to make me feel good.

How do you stay healthy?

I found after having Mila, I got really into focusing on taking care of myself so I have energy for her. I like to run. I eat a lot of raw foods, I don't eat any red meat. I put good things in my body to make me feel good.

"I'm impressed with her sense of self. She's very intuitive and very knowing. You don't necessarily need to explain a lot of things to her."

"I'm impressed with her sense of self. She's very intuitive and very knowing. You don't necessarily need to explain a lot of things to her."

  What kind of women do you hope she'll grow up to be?   I already know she's going to be amazing and talented. I would want her to know that she's all those things. I would want her to know that she's everything and that she can have everything as long as she believes in it.   ΔΔΔ

What kind of women do you hope she'll grow up to be?

I already know she's going to be amazing and talented. I would want her to know that she's all those things. I would want her to know that she's everything and that she can have everything as long as she believes in it.

ΔΔΔ

CHRISTAL BROWN

CHRISTAL BROWN

Issue No. 2
Bronx, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

In two years, Brownwho is currently an assistant professor of dance at Middlebury Collegewill chair the school’s dance program. Project:BECOMING, a program Brown developed in 2004 to help turn teenage girls into “self-actualized women” through creative expression, is on the path toward national distribution in the next five years.

Looking back on her life leading up to all of this success, Brown freely admits it took a bit of time for her to “self-actualize” her own dreams. When her friend, prolific dancer Ayo Janeen Jackson, came to see her perform with the Chuck Davis African-American Dance Ensemble in North Carolina, she says she shrugged off Jackson’s attempts to set up an interview with the legendary Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company.

 

 “I was like, ‘Whatever. You’re going to take my photos to Bill T. Jones and what’s going to happen?’” Brown recalls. “And she said, ‘Just give me the pictures!’”  Despite a successful audition, Brown declined an offer to move to New York and perform for the storied company. “I never thought I was good enough to be  a professional dancer and the only career I could imagine for myself was as a dance teacher,” she says. “I could only see so far, but God saw much further."

“I was like, ‘Whatever. You’re going to take my photos to Bill T. Jones and what’s going to happen?’” Brown recalls. “And she said, ‘Just give me the pictures!’”

Despite a successful audition, Brown declined an offer to move to New York and perform for the storied company. “I never thought I was good enough to be  a professional dancer and the only career I could imagine for myself was as a dance teacher,” she says. “I could only see so far, but God saw much further."

 After a mentor weighed in (“What’s wrong with you? Bill T. Jones is not going to keep calling you you!”) and much self reflection, Brown moved to New York, setting herself on a path to open up her own contemporary dance company INSPIRIT after apprenticing for a year with Bill T. Jones and working as a principal dancer for  Urban Bush Women  for four years.  “So I moved to New York, I slept on Ayo’s couch for three months until I could find an apartment. I apprenticed with Bill T. Jones for about a year before I auditioned for Urban Bush Women and stayed there as a principal dancer for four years and then built a company.”  Today, Brown is raising her 2-year-old son, Gabriel Grant Jr., or GJ, between New York and Vermont, and will be moving to Vermont permanently once she finishes building her home there.

After a mentor weighed in (“What’s wrong with you? Bill T. Jones is not going to keep calling you you!”) and much self reflection, Brown moved to New York, setting herself on a path to open up her own contemporary dance company INSPIRIT after apprenticing for a year with Bill T. Jones and working as a principal dancer for Urban Bush Women for four years.

“So I moved to New York, I slept on Ayo’s couch for three months until I could find an apartment. I apprenticed with Bill T. Jones for about a year before I auditioned for Urban Bush Women and stayed there as a principal dancer for four years and then built a company.”

Today, Brown is raising her 2-year-old son, Gabriel Grant Jr., or GJ, between New York and Vermont, and will be moving to Vermont permanently once she finishes building her home there.

 “When I’m teaching, I feel alive,” Brown says. “I’m able to connect with the kids on a different level than most instructors are, and I think it’s really because that’s the gift God gave me.”  It’s a gift that Brown says has shaped the way she looks at the world and her role in it. “I’ve always thought of myself as more than a dance teacher,” she shares. “I really equate a lot of life lessons to the art of dance with my students. I’ve always been a catalyst for them to go to a different level in their lives.”  Now Brown has a catalyst of her own in the form of her son Gabriel. “When I learned I was going to be a mom, I was grateful and humbled,” she shares. “Having had a termination at 19, I was always skeptical if I would physically be able to have children and if God would bless me with another opportunity.”

“When I’m teaching, I feel alive,” Brown says. “I’m able to connect with the kids on a different level than most instructors are, and I think it’s really because that’s the gift God gave me.”

It’s a gift that Brown says has shaped the way she looks at the world and her role in it. “I’ve always thought of myself as more than a dance teacher,” she shares. “I really equate a lot of life lessons to the art of dance with my students. I’ve always been a catalyst for them to go to a different level in their lives.”

Now Brown has a catalyst of her own in the form of her son Gabriel. “When I learned I was going to be a mom, I was grateful and humbled,” she shares. “Having had a termination at 19, I was always skeptical if I would physically be able to have children and if God would bless me with another opportunity.”

 Ever the teacher — she’s been at it for years, teaching 5 to 7-year-olds ballet, jazz and acrobatics when she was 14 — Brown gushes about the impact Gabriel’s birth has had on her life in terms of lessons and teaching. But she’s also quick to point out that the two — though sharing an instructive quality — are totally different.   “I’m always entering students’ lives at a specific place and now I get to see the beginning, and how all those things that we as human beings collect over the course of our lives translates into who we are,” she says.

Ever the teachershe’s been at it for years, teaching 5 to 7-year-olds ballet, jazz and acrobatics when she was 14Brown gushes about the impact Gabriel’s birth has had on her life in terms of lessons and teaching. But she’s also quick to point out that the twothough sharing an instructive qualityare totally different. 

“I’m always entering students’ lives at a specific place and now I get to see the beginning, and how all those things that we as human beings collect over the course of our lives translates into who we are,” she says.

 The experiences Brown has collected over the years inform the decidedly hands-off approach she has with her son, which, in turn, has already started producing a specific personality.  “He’s very inquisitive, very personable and pretty much fearless,” she says proudly. “He’ll walk out the front door of our apartment and walk up to people going, ‘Hey, how are you?’”

The experiences Brown has collected over the years inform the decidedly hands-off approach she has with her son, which, in turn, has already started producing a specific personality.

“He’s very inquisitive, very personable and pretty much fearless,” she says proudly. “He’ll walk out the front door of our apartment and walk up to people going, ‘Hey, how are you?’”

 Letting Gabriel toddle about free (within reason, of course) may seem like it comes from a carefree place, but it’s rooted in a deeper and darker pain. Brown’s older sibling has been in and out of prison for half of his life, she shares.  “I try not to be overprotective because I’ve seen so many black males in my family not succeed, and I think part of it is because they don’t have the skills,” Brown says. “And I think those skills are not taught to them because the mothers or the parents in their lives kind of overshadowed their own power.

Letting Gabriel toddle about free (within reason, of course) may seem like it comes from a carefree place, but it’s rooted in a deeper and darker pain. Brown’s older sibling has been in and out of prison for half of his life, she shares.

“I try not to be overprotective because I’ve seen so many black males in my family not succeed, and I think part of it is because they don’t have the skills,” Brown says. “And I think those skills are not taught to them because the mothers or the parents in their lives kind of overshadowed their own power.

 “What I learned from watching my brother make the same mistakes over and over again was that he did that because my mother and father were always there to pick him up, or he thought there would always be someone to save him,” Brown continues.   “I don’t want my son to grown up in the mindset that he’ll always have a savior. I’m a single parent and I want the best for my son. I can’t always think that I can teach him how to be a man, but I can teach him some core values about responsibility and integrity.”

“What I learned from watching my brother make the same mistakes over and over again was that he did that because my mother and father were always there to pick him up, or he thought there would always be someone to save him,” Brown continues. 

“I don’t want my son to grown up in the mindset that he’ll always have a savior. I’m a single parent and I want the best for my son. I can’t always think that I can teach him how to be a man, but I can teach him some core values about responsibility and integrity.”

 Brown’s past has created a path to a bright future for her and her son, as they both ready to move to Vermont for the coming school year and beyond.  “I hope to share with him that the path for your life is not something you create or something that you neglect,” Brown says. “It’s just something that’s laid out for you. And as long as you can listen and be humble, then everything you need will happen.”  If Gabriel needs a role model for those values, he can look no further than his own mom. 

Brown’s past has created a path to a bright future for her and her son, as they both ready to move to Vermont for the coming school year and beyond.  “I hope to share with him that the path for your life is not something you create or something that you neglect,” Brown says. “It’s just something that’s laid out for you. And as long as you can listen and be humble, then everything you need will happen.”

If Gabriel needs a role model for those values, he can look no further than his own mom. 

Q&A

Q&A

How has being a mom changed your life?

How has it not? Being a mother has taught me the trajectory of life.

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  What’s a typical day like with Gabriel?   It differs... We’re in transition, living in an apartment I own in the Bronx with one of my tenants.  Because we’re living in New York [and] going back and forth from Vermont, I’ve been going back and forth for the last four years. [Gabriel’s] been going back for the last two years with me to teach [at Middlebury].   I [also] teach at the Beacon School on 61st Street [so] I get up around 4:30 for my prayer and meditation time. He gets up around 5:30. I get him dressed, he is at daycare by 6, 6:30. And then I’m off to work.   I start teaching most mornings at 8 a.m. And then after that I go and I pick him up.   Like today, we’re going to meet up with some friends, have a little playdate, have a little picnic. Then we’ll come home and take a bath, and he’ll watch his favorite Diego DVD.   We’ll hang out in the bathtub and then he’ll go to sleep around 8:30, 9:00.

What’s a typical day like with Gabriel?

It differs... We’re in transition, living in an apartment I own in the Bronx with one of my tenants.

Because we’re living in New York [and] going back and forth from Vermont, I’ve been going back and forth for the last four years. [Gabriel’s] been going back for the last two years with me to teach [at Middlebury]. 

I [also] teach at the Beacon School on 61st Street [so] I get up around 4:30 for my prayer and meditation time. He gets up around 5:30. I get him dressed, he is at daycare by 6, 6:30. And then I’m off to work. 

I start teaching most mornings at 8 a.m. And then after that I go and I pick him up. 

Like today, we’re going to meet up with some friends, have a little playdate, have a little picnic. Then we’ll come home and take a bath, and he’ll watch his favorite Diego DVD. 

We’ll hang out in the bathtub and then he’ll go to sleep around 8:30, 9:00.

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  What’s the most gratifying part of your job?   When I can’t take my lunch break because my students want to come and sit and talk to me about their lives. Which happens everyday and I’m like, "Guys, can I eat?"

What’s the most gratifying part of your job?

When I can’t take my lunch break because my students want to come and sit and talk to me about their lives. Which happens everyday and I’m like, "Guys, can I eat?"

  Fill in the blank: I love being a mom most when...?   I see [Gabriel] interacting with other people. When I see him just really being himself, his personality out of the parameters of yes/no or conditioning. I really love being able to see him with people. He really loves being in the midst of people, and talking — as much as he has the skills to do so — but people entertain him."   I feel most beautiful when....?   I'm clear about my purpose, my obligations are met, and that I can walk and enjoy being me. My style is about evolution. I remember when my closet used to be 50% suits for going to meetings or corporate things. Then it turned into African clothing and then it turned into jeans and small boutique-made pieces and now it’s like a mix of all those things.

Fill in the blank: I love being a mom most when...?

I see [Gabriel] interacting with other people. When I see him just really being himself, his personality out of the parameters of yes/no or conditioning. I really love being able to see him with people. He really loves being in the midst of people, and talkingas much as he has the skills to do sobut people entertain him."

I feel most beautiful when....?

I'm clear about my purpose, my obligations are met, and that I can walk and enjoy being me. My style is about evolution. I remember when my closet used to be 50% suits for going to meetings or corporate things. Then it turned into African clothing and then it turned into jeans and small boutique-made pieces and now it’s like a mix of all those things.

  Are you excited about the move? How do you feel about the transition?   Being from the South, I never thought I would raise my child in the city, especially being a teacher here and being inside the school system and being a confidant to a lot of kids. I think the city accelerates a child’s growth in a way that I don’t think is necessary.  So I’m really grateful that this position has come up like this at this time in my life because I really feel like it’s going to give my son a different view of the world. It may be little skewed racially because I’m the only black woman in the entire college but with the time I’ll have off, we’ll get to travel, so he’ll get to see the world for what it is and really kind of create what his place is instead of being told who he is in the city. I fear that the most. Black men are already told who they are and what they can become, especially in an urban environment.

Are you excited about the move? How do you feel about the transition?

Being from the South, I never thought I would raise my child in the city, especially being a teacher here and being inside the school system and being a confidant to a lot of kids. I think the city accelerates a child’s growth in a way that I don’t think is necessary.

So I’m really grateful that this position has come up like this at this time in my life because I really feel like it’s going to give my son a different view of the world. It may be little skewed racially because I’m the only black woman in the entire college but with the time I’ll have off, we’ll get to travel, so he’ll get to see the world for what it is and really kind of create what his place is instead of being told who he is in the city. I fear that the most. Black men are already told who they are and what they can become, especially in an urban environment.

  How do you dress your son?   I dress him in a lot of Carters stuff. He has some older cousins so he gets a lot of hand me downs. He dresses like an Upper East Side city kid. He has a pair of Jordans, but he’d rather be barefoot all the time. He’s a Carters, sandals kind of kid. He has big, crazy hair.

How do you dress your son?

I dress him in a lot of Carters stuff. He has some older cousins so he gets a lot of hand me downs. He dresses like an Upper East Side city kid. He has a pair of Jordans, but he’d rather be barefoot all the time. He’s a Carters, sandals kind of kid. He has big, crazy hair.

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   What perspective or example do you hope to impart on Gabriel through your work?    I hope to share with him that the path for your life is not something you create or something that you neglect. It’s just something that’s laid out for you. And as long as you can listen and be humble, then everything you need will happen.  I hope he becomes, first of all, a God-fearing man. I want him to be a man of integrity. I want him to be clear about who he is and not to make exceptions for people to make him comfortable. I want him to be strong in his convictions. I want him to value education, and I want him to be a leader among men. Those are my dreams for him. I think those are probably every mother’s dreams for their children. But I really, sincerely want him to be a man of integrity no matter what he chooses to do to do with his life.   ΔΔΔ

What perspective or example do you hope to impart on Gabriel through your work?

I hope to share with him that the path for your life is not something you create or something that you neglect. It’s just something that’s laid out for you. And as long as you can listen and be humble, then everything you need will happen.

I hope he becomes, first of all, a God-fearing man. I want him to be a man of integrity. I want him to be clear about who he is and not to make exceptions for people to make him comfortable. I want him to be strong in his convictions. I want him to value education, and I want him to be a leader among men. Those are my dreams for him. I think those are probably every mother’s dreams for their children. But I really, sincerely want him to be a man of integrity no matter what he chooses to do to do with his life.

ΔΔΔ

  ΔΔΔ

ΔΔΔ

NIKISHA RILEY

NIKISHA RILEY

Issue No. 3
Brooklyn, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King for mater mea

Rihanna’s “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place” might as well have been about dating in New York City. In a city noted for its tendency to attract... characters... it makes trying to find “The One” feel more like a mix of improv comedy and contact sports without pads, even for a gorgeous and wildly successful lifestyle blogger like Nikisha Riley. (Yes, she’s that Nikishathe co-founder of Urban Bush Babes, which has over 6,000 Facebook fans and 4,000 Twitter followers eating up her thoughts on natural hair, fashion, music and life.) But Riley had more reason than most twenty-somethings to feel guarded about dating in the Big Apple: her 12-year-old son Jaden.

“I’ve dated a lot of doozies,” Riley laughs. “[But] I learned that I wanted somebody that I would love Jaden to be if he were older. I can look at a man and be like, ‘You know what? If Jaden could be this man, it would be great.’ It doesn’t make any sense to date someone that you would not want your children to end up being like.”

 After all those “dooseys,” Riley is now enjoying being engaged to graphic designer / aspiring director Carl Brunson; she’s getting ready to leave New York City for the Virginia / D.C. area with her husband-to-be and son in tow.  “I looked for someone who was stable, very smart, outgoing and could do things with us, like bike riding, hiking,” Riley shares. “Someone who was very family oriented so they’re not about partying. Someone who wanted a real commitment and enjoyed being around kids.

After all those “dooseys,” Riley is now enjoying being engaged to graphic designer / aspiring director Carl Brunson; she’s getting ready to leave New York City for the Virginia / D.C. area with her husband-to-be and son in tow.

“I looked for someone who was stable, very smart, outgoing and could do things with us, like bike riding, hiking,” Riley shares. “Someone who was very family oriented so they’re not about partying. Someone who wanted a real commitment and enjoyed being around kids.

 While the initial shock of being a teen mom definitely took a toll on her, it didn’t keep Riley from pursuing her own education. “Right after I had him, I went to college,” Riley says. “He was only three months old. It was really tough because when I didn’t have anyone to watch him, I would bring him to class with me, bottles, everything in tow. I’d be home doing work on the computer [and] falling asleep. I grew with him.”  After a brief stint with modeling and acting, Riley later went back to school to get her master's degree in education. She now teaches a preparation course for students who have been accepted to Lincoln Technical Institute out of their Brooklyn office, after teaching at an elementary school for a bit. “I still get to help people everyday I go to work, which is great,” Riley says. 

While the initial shock of being a teen mom definitely took a toll on her, it didn’t keep Riley from pursuing her own education. “Right after I had him, I went to college,” Riley says. “He was only three months old. It was really tough because when I didn’t have anyone to watch him, I would bring him to class with me, bottles, everything in tow. I’d be home doing work on the computer [and] falling asleep. I grew with him.”

After a brief stint with modeling and acting, Riley later went back to school to get her master's degree in education. She now teaches a preparation course for students who have been accepted to Lincoln Technical Institute out of their Brooklyn office, after teaching at an elementary school for a bit. “I still get to help people everyday I go to work, which is great,” Riley says. 

 “My son needed to see what a real man looks like,” Riley continued. “Because he’s not going to get that version of a man from me. I’m a woman. I can teach him but so much.”  Perhaps Riley is being a little too modest — Jaden can stand to learn a lot from his mom, who had him when she was 16. Having a child so young was an experience Riley says was “really scary.”  “I was in shock,” Riley recalls. “I thought the doctor made a mistake and switched my urine test with someone else's. I was also terrified of everything! Terrified of what my mom, my family, my friends, and everyone at my high school would think, terrified of what would happen with my life. I felt like everyone was ashamed of me and tried to talk me out of having him. God is good though, he gave me the grace to keep him through one of the toughest times of my life. I raised him on my own with the help of my mom when she was off from work. It was a struggle.”

“My son needed to see what a real man looks like,” Riley continued. “Because he’s not going to get that version of a man from me. I’m a woman. I can teach him but so much.”

Perhaps Riley is being a little too modestJaden can stand to learn a lot from his mom, who had him when she was 16. Having a child so young was an experience Riley says was “really scary.”

“I was in shock,” Riley recalls. “I thought the doctor made a mistake and switched my urine test with someone else's. I was also terrified of everything! Terrified of what my mom, my family, my friends, and everyone at my high school would think, terrified of what would happen with my life. I felt like everyone was ashamed of me and tried to talk me out of having him. God is good though, he gave me the grace to keep him through one of the toughest times of my life. I raised him on my own with the help of my mom when she was off from work. It was a struggle.”

 That same desire to help others is what led Riley and her best friend Cipriana to create Urban Bush Babes, which — along with posts on great music and tasty recipes — is a solid resource for natural hair tips, products and styles.  “One day Cipriana came to my place and her hair was in this fabulous hairdo that looked like this beautiful sculpture,” Riley says in awe, remembering the casual meeting that led to the site's creation. “I was like, ‘Girl!’ We started talking about natural hair and taking care of it. And I was like ‘You’re into that? I'm into that!’ We knew a lot of information about it, so I was just like 'Why don’t we start a website?' and she was down.  “It’s something we started to do for fun, just because we wanted to share our journey, our experience with hair,” Riley continues. “We knew it all ready and we love helping people. We didn’t know it was going to turn into what it has turned into. Which is a beautiful blessing.”

That same desire to help others is what led Riley and her best friend Cipriana to create Urban Bush Babes, whichalong with posts on great music and tasty recipesis a solid resource for natural hair tips, products and styles.

“One day Cipriana came to my place and her hair was in this fabulous hairdo that looked like this beautiful sculpture,” Riley says in awe, remembering the casual meeting that led to the site's creation. “I was like, ‘Girl!’ We started talking about natural hair and taking care of it. And I was like ‘You’re into that? I'm into that!’ We knew a lot of information about it, so I was just like 'Why don’t we start a website?' and she was down.

“It’s something we started to do for fun, just because we wanted to share our journey, our experience with hair,” Riley continues. “We knew it all ready and we love helping people. We didn’t know it was going to turn into what it has turned into. Which is a beautiful blessing.”

 Wanting to help others is a character trait Riley also shares with her son, Jaden. “He has a big heart,” Riley says, her voice brimming with pride. “He [and his friends] bought this old woman some fries from Five Guys across the street the other day, and then they helped her get on the bus in her wheelchair."   

Wanting to help others is a character trait Riley also shares with her son, Jaden. “He has a big heart,” Riley says, her voice brimming with pride. “He [and his friends] bought this old woman some fries from Five Guys across the street the other day, and then they helped her get on the bus in her wheelchair."

 

 It seems like Jaden has already latched onto the biggest lesson Riley hopes to impart on him through her own work. “I definitely want him to learn that he has a purpose here, that it’s not just for himself: he’s here to help others and be extraordinary,” she shares. “Anytime you can take the focus off of yourself and put that energy into somebody else, you’ll always feel so much more rewarded and much more at peace then just trying to live a life of feeding yourself, or feeding your ego."   

It seems like Jaden has already latched onto the biggest lesson Riley hopes to impart on him through her own work. “I definitely want him to learn that he has a purpose here, that it’s not just for himself: he’s here to help others and be extraordinary,” she shares. “Anytime you can take the focus off of yourself and put that energy into somebody else, you’ll always feel so much more rewarded and much more at peace then just trying to live a life of feeding yourself, or feeding your ego."

 

 And with those words of wisdom, Riley cements the reason why she’s our girl crush du jour: her smart, insightful takes on life make her a great friend and an even better mom.

And with those words of wisdom, Riley cements the reason why she’s our girl crush du jour: her smart, insightful takes on life make her a great friend and an even better mom.

Q&A

Q&A

How has being a mom changed your life?

It’s a journey and it’s taught me that there’s no such thing as a perfect mom. It’s taught me about love. I really know what it is to love another human being unconditionally.

What do you enjoy most about being a mom?

I love the fun that I can have with my son. We have a lot of fun together. He’s like my little partner in crime sometimes. They definitely give you an innocent view of life, and they definitely keep you young.

  What’s a typical day like with Jaden?   I know a lot of people don’t like the label, but my son has ADHD. He’s definitely hyperactive, so he’s not a morning person. It’s kind of a fight in the morning — I have to find a way to get him out of the bed and keep him in a good mood.

What’s a typical day like with Jaden?

I know a lot of people don’t like the label, but my son has ADHD. He’s definitely hyperactive, so he’s not a morning person. It’s kind of a fight in the morningI have to find a way to get him out of the bed and keep him in a good mood.

  CONTINUED   So it’s basically being on top of him all day. Make sure you brush your teeth, put this on. After [school and homework], we’ll talk. I try to keep a relationship where we’re always communicating and I'm trying to find out what’s going on in his world. He’s usually always bouncing off the walls, so I’m usually trying to rein him in. It can be really frustrating because a lot of times he doesn’t want to listen, and the fights, the battles, everything.

CONTINUED

So it’s basically being on top of him all day. Make sure you brush your teeth, put this on. After [school and homework], we’ll talk. I try to keep a relationship where we’re always communicating and I'm trying to find out what’s going on in his world. He’s usually always bouncing off the walls, so I’m usually trying to rein him in. It can be really frustrating because a lot of times he doesn’t want to listen, and the fights, the battles, everything.

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  Can you describe a time when, as a single mom, you wished a man were there to help raise your son?   The discipline part. Because when he’s not doing well in school and I’m trying everything, like every type of “I’m taking away your video games” and “You’re not going trick or treating," it doesn’t work. So you wonder like "Ok, does he need that male around for that discipline? Is that going to help him do better in school?"

Can you describe a time when, as a single mom, you wished a man were there to help raise your son?

The discipline part. Because when he’s not doing well in school and I’m trying everything, like every type of “I’m taking away your video games” and “You’re not going trick or treating," it doesn’t work. So you wonder like "Ok, does he need that male around for that discipline? Is that going to help him do better in school?"

  What’s the most gratifying part of your job?   You know what? The answer’s the same for the both of them. The fact that I get to drop some life-changing wisdom to people is the most important thing to me and the thing that feels the best. When I can sit there and keep it real and share my experience and help somebody else out, that’s why I do it. That’s what keeps me inspired. That’s what keeps me going.

What’s the most gratifying part of your job?

You know what? The answer’s the same for the both of them. The fact that I get to drop some life-changing wisdom to people is the most important thing to me and the thing that feels the best. When I can sit there and keep it real and share my experience and help somebody else out, that’s why I do it. That’s what keeps me inspired. That’s what keeps me going.

  FIll in the blank: I love being a mom most when...?   I love being a mom when my son needs me. When he’s in that state of like “Mom, what do I do” or maybe he just needs a hug or support or some affirming words. I love being a mom when we can laugh together. And I love being a mom when I can watch him and learn something.

FIll in the blank: I love being a mom most when...?

I love being a mom when my son needs me. When he’s in that state of like “Mom, what do I do” or maybe he just needs a hug or support or some affirming words. I love being a mom when we can laugh together. And I love being a mom when I can watch him and learn something.

  What is your beauty regimen?   With my hair, I wash it once a week with an all natural shampoo from Trader Joe’s. It’s  Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo . Before that I deep condition it usually to detangle. I just wet it and deep condition it for an half hour to an hour, depending on how much time I have. Then I wash it out with the shampoo. I condition again either with  Darcy’s Botanicals Pumpkin Seed Moisturizing Conditioner  or  Yes To Carrots ; I switch up on my conditioners [and] I usually try to make it all natural. It just works better on my hair and I know it’s healthier for my body.  After that I kind of squeeze out a little bit of excess water — usually with my son’s old t-shirt. Then I apply a leave-in moisturizing cream —  Camille Rose’s Moisture Butter  or I use  Giovanni’s Direct Leave-In . Then I apply an oil — like argan oil — to seal in the moisture or  Treasured Locks African Argan Oil Elixir . And then I let it air dry —e ither I leave it out or I put it in twists or a loose bun.  For my skin regimen, I use black soap, usually by  Shea Moisture . I find that’s the best black soap for my skin. And then  Aubrey Organics , this moisturizing face cream called Vegacol that I get from the Vitamin Shoppe. I juice every single morning. It’s just about taking care of yourself. 

What is your beauty regimen?

With my hair, I wash it once a week with an all natural shampoo from Trader Joe’s. It’s Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo. Before that I deep condition it usually to detangle. I just wet it and deep condition it for an half hour to an hour, depending on how much time I have. Then I wash it out with the shampoo. I condition again either with Darcy’s Botanicals Pumpkin Seed Moisturizing Conditioner or Yes To Carrots; I switch up on my conditioners [and] I usually try to make it all natural. It just works better on my hair and I know it’s healthier for my body.

After that I kind of squeeze out a little bit of excess waterusually with my son’s old t-shirt. Then I apply a leave-in moisturizing creamCamille Rose’s Moisture Butter or I use Giovanni’s Direct Leave-In. Then I apply an oillike argan oilto seal in the moisture or Treasured Locks African Argan Oil Elixir. And then I let it air dry—either I leave it out or I put it in twists or a loose bun.

For my skin regimen, I use black soap, usually by Shea Moisture. I find that’s the best black soap for my skin. And then Aubrey Organics, this moisturizing face cream called Vegacol that I get from the Vitamin Shoppe. I juice every single morning. It’s just about taking care of yourself. 

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  Fill in the blank: I feel most beautiful when ...?   When I’m just in a T-shirt or jeans and having awesome skin day, like when I'm ovulating like every other woman. Your skin  glows . Just real simple. Or usually when my son tells me, “Oh, you look so pretty today!”   What inspires your personal style?   Music is my first love, so I would have to say music influences my look. Even though I get some inspiration from movies, I would definitely say music. Ever since I was four, I was into Tori Amos and Radiohead, David Bowie, Sade — these are all people that I still love even though I was 4 years old. Definitely that music influences my style.

Fill in the blank: I feel most beautiful when ...?

When I’m just in a T-shirt or jeans and having awesome skin day, like when I'm ovulating like every other woman. Your skin glows. Just real simple. Or usually when my son tells me, “Oh, you look so pretty today!”

What inspires your personal style?

Music is my first love, so I would have to say music influences my look. Even though I get some inspiration from movies, I would definitely say music. Ever since I was four, I was into Tori Amos and Radiohead, David Bowie, Sadethese are all people that I still love even though I was 4 years old. Definitely that music influences my style.

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Also, things that come from the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s—I'm really stuck in those eras. If I find clothing from those eras, I will get it.

Also, things that come from the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s—I'm really stuck in those eras. If I find clothing from those eras, I will get it.

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  What inspires the way you dress Jaden?   One of my old friends told me years ago, “You dress Jaden the way you want your man to dress.” I [want] him to be comfortable in his own skin, and for him to realize that he can rock anything.  He’s at the point where I try to pick things out and he’s like, “No, I don’t like that.” I have to let go and let him be himself. He tends to want to wear more flamboyant stuff and I’m like a real minimalist. He wants to get something with some crazy design and colors and I’m just like "Ah!" We find a happy medium. 

What inspires the way you dress Jaden?

One of my old friends told me years ago, “You dress Jaden the way you want your man to dress.” I [want] him to be comfortable in his own skin, and for him to realize that he can rock anything.

He’s at the point where I try to pick things out and he’s like, “No, I don’t like that.” I have to let go and let him be himself. He tends to want to wear more flamboyant stuff and I’m like a real minimalist. He wants to get something with some crazy design and colors and I’m just like "Ah!" We find a happy medium. 

  What does Jaden like to do?   He’s always into hip-hop dance so I definitely have to get him into a class ASAP. He’s into animals, he loves being outdoors and just identifying animals and giving a million bits of information about it. [He likes] studying animals, watching documentary shows about animals — anything he can find, he’ll watch it. He’s just starting to pick up skateboarding too.

What does Jaden like to do?

He’s always into hip-hop dance so I definitely have to get him into a class ASAP. He’s into animals, he loves being outdoors and just identifying animals and giving a million bits of information about it. [He likes] studying animals, watching documentary shows about animalsanything he can find, he’ll watch it. He’s just starting to pick up skateboarding too.

  How would you describe his personality?   Very outgoing. He’s a people person, so I know he’s an extrovert. He’ll get close to you really quick, especially if you’re a male. He’s goofy, he’s intelligent — he has an argument for everything, so he better be a lawyer. 

How would you describe his personality?

Very outgoing. He’s a people person, so I know he’s an extrovert. He’ll get close to you really quick, especially if you’re a male. He’s goofy, he’s intelligenthe has an argument for everything, so he better be a lawyer. 

  How does it feel to have found Carl for you and for Jaden?   I feel blessed and highly favored. I know God has given me more than I deserve and I'm grateful for him everyday. Jaden is still young, so I know that he will appreciate him a lot more as he gets older. Right now Jaden loves having someone who helps take care of him and looks out for his best interest. He also likes that "man" time and he feels very blessed.

How does it feel to have found Carl for you and for Jaden?

I feel blessed and highly favored. I know God has given me more than I deserve and I'm grateful for him everyday. Jaden is still young, so I know that he will appreciate him a lot more as he gets older. Right now Jaden loves having someone who helps take care of him and looks out for his best interest. He also likes that "man" time and he feels very blessed.

  How do you feel about leaving New York?   Bittersweet. I've been here since I was 3. The thing that I know I'm going to miss is of course the culture. This is the only place where you can meet every person in the world.  I’m a big foodie, so [I'll also miss] all the access to tasty restaurants. And just the concerts, the street fairs, just all the things that go on in the summer time. But I’m not going to miss the noise or the rude selfish people. I hope to move to a warm weather place eventually — I definitely won’t miss the winter.   ΔΔΔ

How do you feel about leaving New York?

Bittersweet. I've been here since I was 3. The thing that I know I'm going to miss is of course the culture. This is the only place where you can meet every person in the world.

I’m a big foodie, so [I'll also miss] all the access to tasty restaurants. And just the concerts, the street fairs, just all the things that go on in the summer time. But I’m not going to miss the noise or the rude selfish people. I hope to move to a warm weather place eventuallyI definitely won’t miss the winter.

ΔΔΔ

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COCO FUSCO

COCO FUSCO

Issue No. 10 
Brooklyn, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos : J. Quazi King for mater mea

It seems like once or twice a year the Internet experiences a gender studies firestorm in the form of a lengthy article asking a seemingly simple question: Can women really have it all? On a bright June afternoon in a Clinton Hill neighborhood park, Coco Fuscoperformance artist and an associate professor of Fine Arts at Parsons The New School for Designis just one of the sea of moms juggling the child portion of “it all” that day.

Her son Aurelio bounces from wooden table to table, eagerly awaiting his friends’ arrival at his seventh birthday party, as Fusco cuts slices of watermelon and opens up 12-packs of bottled water to keep the expected 15-20 parents and kids cool in the blazing sun. There are balloons to blow up, battling birthday parties to keep at bay and last-minute errands to run.

“We’ve been planning this and talking about what we’re going to do...”

“For five years!” Aurelio crows, watching his mother arrange watermelon slices on a plate.

 It would be easy — comforting almost — to say that Fusco is an example of a woman who has it all. Healthy and happy son? Check. A high-power position in her field of choice? Check. But ask Fusco what she thinks, if she really believes women can have it all, and the professor lays it all out there.  “People get really defensive about it, but I actually think she’s right,” Fusco says, referencing the latest addition to the conversation,  The Atlantic  ’s July 2012 feature “  Why Women Still Can’t Have It All  .” (The article was written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a woman who left her powerful history-making job at the U.S. State Department to be with her family when her teenaged son began acting out.)   “I’m not going to tell you it’s easy," Fusco says. "This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

It would be easycomforting almostto say that Fusco is an example of a woman who has it all. Healthy and happy son? Check. A high-power position in her field of choice? Check. But ask Fusco what she thinks, if she really believes women can have it all, and the professor lays it all out there.

“People get really defensive about it, but I actually think she’s right,” Fusco says, referencing the latest addition to the conversation, The Atlantic’s July 2012 feature “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” (The article was written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a woman who left her powerful history-making job at the U.S. State Department to be with her family when her teenaged son began acting out.)

“I’m not going to tell you it’s easy," Fusco says. "This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

 Fusco, 52, adopted Aurelio when she was 45 years old, after spending a good chunk of her life devoted to higher education — she has a Masters from Stanford and a Ph.D from Middlesex University — and her art, a mix of performance and video installation pieces that look at concepts as varied as language, race, and how human beings interact or exist online and in public spaces.  “I imagined myself having children at some point in my life from when I was very young, but I also had a very strong desire to finish my education and develop myself professionally,” Fusco explains. “I didn’t want to stop doing that in order to have children.  “I’m not the most conventional person in the world,” she continues. “I just didn’t see myself in a traditional marriage scenario. When I was about 40 or so, I thought ‘Ok, I guess I better put some serious effort into the child thing.’”

Fusco, 52, adopted Aurelio when she was 45 years old, after spending a good chunk of her life devoted to higher educationshe has a Masters from Stanford and a Ph.D from Middlesex Universityand her art, a mix of performance and video installation pieces that look at concepts as varied as language, race, and how human beings interact or exist online and in public spaces.

“I imagined myself having children at some point in my life from when I was very young, but I also had a very strong desire to finish my education and develop myself professionally,” Fusco explains. “I didn’t want to stop doing that in order to have children.

“I’m not the most conventional person in the world,” she continues. “I just didn’t see myself in a traditional marriage scenario. When I was about 40 or so, I thought ‘Ok, I guess I better put some serious effort into the child thing.’”

 Fusco contacted New York's  Spence-Chapin Adoption Services  and went through a rigorous vetting process for a year to ensure she was both a good potential candidate and ready to be a mom. “You really have to look at yourself very carefully and understand what’s involved and what the particular challenges are before you can begin to make yourself available as a candidate,” Fusco says.  After a few meetings with Aurelio’s biological mother, Fusco got word that her son would be going home with her — in two weeks. 

Fusco contacted New York's Spence-Chapin Adoption Services and went through a rigorous vetting process for a year to ensure she was both a good potential candidate and ready to be a mom. “You really have to look at yourself very carefully and understand what’s involved and what the particular challenges are before you can begin to make yourself available as a candidate,” Fusco says.

After a few meetings with Aurelio’s biological mother, Fusco got word that her son would be going home with herin two weeks. 

 “I got the call right before I was going to a video shoot and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Fusco says, laughing, “‘Can I just have one more weekend?’ Women who get pregnant have months to prepare and I had two weeks.”  Despite the frenzy around jumping from working woman to working mom in 14 days, Aurelio’s arrival in the summer of 2005 was “a beautiful encounter,” Fusco says. “I was really lucky.”  While friends warned her that the first three years would be the hardest part of mothering, Fusco felt the complete opposite, thanks to a year off from work for a sabbatical and maternity leave. Mother and son traveled around the world that first year, and “even though he was physically needy, it was really easy to care for him,” Fusco says. “He could adapt to anything that I had imposed. I put him a stroller, he would go to sleep. I would feed him anywhere, change him anywhere. I even gave lectures while holding him on a hip.  “We were able to spend a lot of time together and bond,” she says.

“I got the call right before I was going to a video shoot and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Fusco says, laughing, “‘Can I just have one more weekend?’ Women who get pregnant have months to prepare and I had two weeks.”

Despite the frenzy around jumping from working woman to working mom in 14 days, Aurelio’s arrival in the summer of 2005 was “a beautiful encounter,” Fusco says. “I was really lucky.”

While friends warned her that the first three years would be the hardest part of mothering, Fusco felt the complete opposite, thanks to a year off from work for a sabbatical and maternity leave. Mother and son traveled around the world that first year, and “even though he was physically needy, it was really easy to care for him,” Fusco says. “He could adapt to anything that I had imposed. I put him a stroller, he would go to sleep. I would feed him anywhere, change him anywhere. I even gave lectures while holding him on a hip.

“We were able to spend a lot of time together and bond,” she says.

 But the maternal bliss bubble soon burst when Fusco had to go back to work. “Beyond maternity leave, you get no love at work” for being a parent, she says. Juggling her workload and the myriad meetings, lectures and after-hours events required of a career in academics can be incredibly difficult, Fusco says, especially since “the hours of day care are not the same as academic work hours.  “I do psychological damage to my son if I’m absent for too long,” Fusco says. “I’m a single mother. I can’t always leave him with someone else, because it’s really bad for him. Kids know and feel the difference between being cared for by family or by others and fear of abandonment is a real issue."  Making sure things are working at school is key to keeping the Fusco household running. “If things fall apart in the school scenario, my whole life goes,” Fusco explains. “Because if he can’t be at school, I can’t be at work.”

But the maternal bliss bubble soon burst when Fusco had to go back to work. “Beyond maternity leave, you get no love at work” for being a parent, she says. Juggling her workload and the myriad meetings, lectures and after-hours events required of a career in academics can be incredibly difficult, Fusco says, especially since “the hours of day care are not the same as academic work hours.

“I do psychological damage to my son if I’m absent for too long,” Fusco says. “I’m a single mother. I can’t always leave him with someone else, because it’s really bad for him. Kids know and feel the difference between being cared for by family or by others and fear of abandonment is a real issue."

Making sure things are working at school is key to keeping the Fusco household running. “If things fall apart in the school scenario, my whole life goes,” Fusco explains. “Because if he can’t be at school, I can’t be at work.”

 The pursuit of a good education is something every parent in New York is familiar with — but add “affordable,” “convenient” and “diverse” into the mix and the search can become another full-time job in itself. Aurelio’s pre-kindergarten at The Dillon Child Study Center — a part of St. Joseph’s College — was costly and ended too early (at 2:30, when this working mom was still, well, working). P.S. 8, his first public school and where he attended kindergarten, was not very ethnically diverse and the teaching focused heavily on memorization, his mother says.  “When he was in Pre-K, my hair was falling out from anxiety about how to get him into a decent [kindergarten] because most of the public schools in this zone are pretty bad,” Fusco recalls. “I was down at the Department of Education when he was 4 every other week, because I was told by other parents [that] if you make yourself known eventually you will get what you want. When he was in kindergarten at P.S. 8 he rebelled against it and was crying about going to school.”

The pursuit of a good education is something every parent in New York is familiar withbut add “affordable,” “convenient” and “diverse” into the mix and the search can become another full-time job in itself. Aurelio’s pre-kindergarten at The Dillon Child Study Centera part of St. Joseph’s Collegewas costly and ended too early (at 2:30, when this working mom was still, well, working). P.S. 8, his first public school and where he attended kindergarten, was not very ethnically diverse and the teaching focused heavily on memorization, his mother says.

“When he was in Pre-K, my hair was falling out from anxiety about how to get him into a decent [kindergarten] because most of the public schools in this zone are pretty bad,” Fusco recalls. “I was down at the Department of Education when he was 4 every other week, because I was told by other parents [that] if you make yourself known eventually you will get what you want. When he was in kindergarten at P.S. 8 he rebelled against it and was crying about going to school.”

 Luckily enough Aurelio landed a spot at the Brooklyn New School in its annual lottery, getting off the school’s waitlist in the first grade. New School turned out to be just right for her creative and energetic son.  “It’s an alternative, progressive school with a play-based curriculum,” Fusco explains. “I knew this [was] going to be the right place for him. It’s really the most diverse educational atmosphere I’ve seen in a school in Brooklyn and I’ve toured at least 15 schools.”

Luckily enough Aurelio landed a spot at the Brooklyn New School in its annual lottery, getting off the school’s waitlist in the first grade. New School turned out to be just right for her creative and energetic son.

“It’s an alternative, progressive school with a play-based curriculum,” Fusco explains. “I knew this [was] going to be the right place for him. It’s really the most diverse educational atmosphere I’ve seen in a school in Brooklyn and I’ve toured at least 15 schools.”

 “Momma,” Aurelio suddenly runs up and grabs his mother’s waist, all long, skinny legs and arms. His pointer finger zig-zags in the air. “Listen to what I did: I slipped through, I came around, I went that way!”  “Very good!” Fusco says as he dashes back across the playground, avoiding water fights and toddling babies.  It may be the hardest thing she’s ever done, but moments like this — a son excited for what the day holds, the calm before a child’s party descends on four boxes of pizza and watermelon slices — are things to be cherished. 

“Momma,” Aurelio suddenly runs up and grabs his mother’s waist, all long, skinny legs and arms. His pointer finger zig-zags in the air. “Listen to what I did: I slipped through, I came around, I went that way!”

“Very good!” Fusco says as he dashes back across the playground, avoiding water fights and toddling babies.

It may be the hardest thing she’s ever done, but moments like thisa son excited for what the day holds, the calm before a child’s party descends on four boxes of pizza and watermelon slicesare things to be cherished. 

Q&A

Q&A

What are your summertime plans?

First, we are taking a trip together to Chiapas, [Mexico] for a couple of weeks. Then when we get back I need to work so Aurelio is going to summer camp at Long Island University’s Children’s Academy.

It’s not academic, but it’s structured and the groups are small. So the children take classes in chess, computer game design, the photography, filmmaking and puppetry. They also have time for swimming and game time. 

  How would you describe your son's  personality?   He’s a very imaginative kid. He spends hours building little worlds at home or drawing. He goes to Pratt Saturday School during the school year and spends two hours in classes drawing and learning other basic art skills such as printmaking and collage. He really enjoys those classes. He’s very social — he likes his buddies. He loves to be read to. He’s very curious. He’s very interested in animals and we spend a lot of time in zoos and natural history museums.  He’s a very strong-willed boy. He’s very feisty. He was the toddler who bit other kids, who hit too much, who got into fights. He has a lot of aggressive energy...so we’re trying to learn how to channel that.   What parts of you do you see in him?    Fusco:  He’s kind of an independent spirit. A free thinker. He’s very interested in stories and storytelling. Travelling is very important to me and he’s come along on many trips. He’s been to Russia, Argentina, all over Europe, Mexico and Cuba...   Aurelio:  The North Pole!   F:  We weren’t at the North Pole, but we were way up at the border of Norway and Russia when he was a baby. So he has a view of the world that is shaped by lots of exposure to different people and places.

How would you describe your son's  personality?

He’s a very imaginative kid. He spends hours building little worlds at home or drawing. He goes to Pratt Saturday School during the school year and spends two hours in classes drawing and learning other basic art skills such as printmaking and collage. He really enjoys those classes. He’s very socialhe likes his buddies. He loves to be read to. He’s very curious. He’s very interested in animals and we spend a lot of time in zoos and natural history museums.

He’s a very strong-willed boy. He’s very feisty. He was the toddler who bit other kids, who hit too much, who got into fights. He has a lot of aggressive energy...so we’re trying to learn how to channel that.

What parts of you do you see in him?

Fusco: He’s kind of an independent spirit. A free thinker. He’s very interested in stories and storytelling. Travelling is very important to me and he’s come along on many trips. He’s been to Russia, Argentina, all over Europe, Mexico and Cuba...

Aurelio: The North Pole!

F: We weren’t at the North Pole, but we were way up at the border of Norway and Russia when he was a baby. So he has a view of the world that is shaped by lots of exposure to different people and places.

  Where did the name Aurelio come from?    F:  In my family we have Arturos, Albertos, and an Attilio — lots of names beginning with A, right? And I didn’t want to name him after another family member. In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” the main character is Aureliano Buendia. That’s where I got the idea to name him Aurelio. The Latin version is Aurelius, like Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher.   A:  That means I’m a famous emperor!

Where did the name Aurelio come from?

F: In my family we have Arturos, Albertos, and an Attiliolots of names beginning with A, right? And I didn’t want to name him after another family member. In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” the main character is Aureliano Buendia. That’s where I got the idea to name him Aurelio. The Latin version is Aurelius, like Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher.

A: That means I’m a famous emperor!

  How do you find your balance?   Over time, it’s gotten harder because he’s become more complicated as a person with a broader range of needs. He is more aware and more insistent. He wants me to be around, to take him places, to attend special events at school, to accompany his class on trips. If I have to leave town for a couple of days for work, he gets upset.  Childcare is a big challenge. Last year I started to work with au pairs. It took me awhile to figure out how to make the arrangement work, but this year we’ve had a good situation with Gerardo. He helps me with Aurelio after school, so that means if I have to teach late I can. It also means that I can come home for dinner, see Aurelio before he goes to bed, and then go out again to a meeting, or to run errands or go to the gym. Having an au pair is also expensive but there are advantages such as flexible hours and availability at times when freelancers don’t work.  But basically I don’t have a dime at the end of the month. I can cover food and the expense of childcare, and that’s it. And I’m always thinking about what else I can let go of. This is a very unforgiving city in that the cost of raising children is outrageously high.

How do you find your balance?

Over time, it’s gotten harder because he’s become more complicated as a person with a broader range of needs. He is more aware and more insistent. He wants me to be around, to take him places, to attend special events at school, to accompany his class on trips. If I have to leave town for a couple of days for work, he gets upset.

Childcare is a big challenge. Last year I started to work with au pairs. It took me awhile to figure out how to make the arrangement work, but this year we’ve had a good situation with Gerardo. He helps me with Aurelio after school, so that means if I have to teach late I can. It also means that I can come home for dinner, see Aurelio before he goes to bed, and then go out again to a meeting, or to run errands or go to the gym. Having an au pair is also expensive but there are advantages such as flexible hours and availability at times when freelancers don’t work.

But basically I don’t have a dime at the end of the month. I can cover food and the expense of childcare, and that’s it. And I’m always thinking about what else I can let go of. This is a very unforgiving city in that the cost of raising children is outrageously high.

  What is the best parenting advice you received from the mothers in your life?   My mother was already quite elderly when Aurelio appeared on the scene. Her health wasn’t so good, so she couldn’t really be that involved with his care when he was little. But I do get good advice from other relatives, particularly cousins and aunts who have been teachers as well as mothers.  I think a lot of mainstream media about parenting is complete nonsense. It’s just emotional fluff, designed for pregnant women dreaming about what it’s like to have children. It has nothing to do with the day-to-day challenges and joys and troubles of taking care of children.  Parenting goes way beyond trying to turn your kids into geniuses with special classes. It is much more than getting your kid into the best public school. Sometimes it is about survival, [about] figuring out the most effective ways to socialize another human being and taking care of oneself at the same time.  I quickly found out within the few months of having Aurelio with me that I didn’t need 99% of what parenting advice columns and magazines said I needed. I didn’t need most of the toys, I didn’t need any of the fancy clothes, I didn’t need all the crazily expensive organic foods. I didn’t need any of that. I need time with my son. I need to give him my attention, I need to care about really important things in his life, I need to protect him from bad situations.

What is the best parenting advice you received from the mothers in your life?

My mother was already quite elderly when Aurelio appeared on the scene. Her health wasn’t so good, so she couldn’t really be that involved with his care when he was little. But I do get good advice from other relatives, particularly cousins and aunts who have been teachers as well as mothers.

I think a lot of mainstream media about parenting is complete nonsense. It’s just emotional fluff, designed for pregnant women dreaming about what it’s like to have children. It has nothing to do with the day-to-day challenges and joys and troubles of taking care of children.

Parenting goes way beyond trying to turn your kids into geniuses with special classes. It is much more than getting your kid into the best public school. Sometimes it is about survival, [about] figuring out the most effective ways to socialize another human being and taking care of oneself at the same time.

I quickly found out within the few months of having Aurelio with me that I didn’t need 99% of what parenting advice columns and magazines said I needed. I didn’t need most of the toys, I didn’t need any of the fancy clothes, I didn’t need all the crazily expensive organic foods. I didn’t need any of that. I need time with my son. I need to give him my attention, I need to care about really important things in his life, I need to protect him from bad situations.

  Do you have a large family?   My family is getting smaller. Both of my parents are deceased. I have two brothers. One of my brothers was killed in the 80s — he was in the military. My other brother is here but he doesn’t have children.    Aurelio has a community of people he sees regularly here: friends he’s had, some of them from daycare, some of them are children of friends of mine. We try to keep some sense of community by keeping good relations with the people he’s known for a long time to help him feel more sort of centered. His godfather is also very important for him.

Do you have a large family?

My family is getting smaller. Both of my parents are deceased. I have two brothers. One of my brothers was killed in the 80she was in the military. My other brother is here but he doesn’t have children.  

Aurelio has a community of people he sees regularly here: friends he’s had, some of them from daycare, some of them are children of friends of mine. We try to keep some sense of community by keeping good relations with the people he’s known for a long time to help him feel more sort of centered. His godfather is also very important for him.

  What do you like to do for fun together?    F:  He’s really good at swimming. He took capoeira classes this past year. And he likes drawing a lot. You also like to play some computer games, like Angry Birds.   A:  I’ve played all the levels and I did Angry Birds Space and it’s so easy. And the next one is super fun because there’s lots of monkeys.   F:  I’m a big table games kind of person for hanging out so we do a lot of that. We play card games like War and Go Fish and also checkers, Chinese Checkers and Junior Scrabble. We do a lot of reading together...   A:  Because my mom forces me!   F:   (Sarcastically)  You really suffered. I mean, I think you’re so upset about it.

What do you like to do for fun together?

F: He’s really good at swimming. He took capoeira classes this past year. And he likes drawing a lot. You also like to play some computer games, like Angry Birds.

A: I’ve played all the levels and I did Angry Birds Space and it’s so easy. And the next one is super fun because there’s lots of monkeys.

F: I’m a big table games kind of person for hanging out so we do a lot of that. We play card games like War and Go Fish and also checkers, Chinese Checkers and Junior Scrabble. We do a lot of reading together...

A: Because my mom forces me!

F: (Sarcastically) You really suffered. I mean, I think you’re so upset about it.

  What kind of man do you hope your son becomes?   I want him to be a thoughtful person and a caring person, a moral and an ethical person who understands right and wrong and wants to do good in the world and treat people well. I also want him to be a person who’s happy with himself, who accepts himself as he is and accepts others as well. I think that’s really important. I don’t want him to be narrow minded; I want him to be an open-minded person. You know, we talk a lot about these kinds of things and I try to find ways to talk that he will understand.

What kind of man do you hope your son becomes?

I want him to be a thoughtful person and a caring person, a moral and an ethical person who understands right and wrong and wants to do good in the world and treat people well. I also want him to be a person who’s happy with himself, who accepts himself as he is and accepts others as well. I think that’s really important. I don’t want him to be narrow minded; I want him to be an open-minded person. You know, we talk a lot about these kinds of things and I try to find ways to talk that he will understand.

  What’s your favorite thing about being mom?   I think it’s to see him grow and become his own person. [It] is really fascinating.   ΔΔΔ

What’s your favorite thing about being mom?

I think it’s to see him grow and become his own person. [It] is really fascinating.

ΔΔΔ

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MENGLY HERNANDEZ

MENGLY HERNANDEZ

Issue No. 5
New York City, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King for mater mea

When Mengly Hernandez talks about herself, she often references a self-imposed wall that can create an air of chilly remove around the petite 32-year-old single mom, sometime model and full-time stylist and entrepreneur.

“I’m definitely more cautious,” Hernandez says. “I’ve always been a little more guarded so I really take my time with people.”

 It’s a statement that has a really hard time sticking though, with each warm, husky laugh or offer to hook mater mea up with the Dominican hair products Hernandez swears by that she finds in Washington Heights, the neighborhood she calls home. But when you consider that her 13-year-old son Ousmane is standing right next to her behind that wall, the desire to create some distance starts to make sense.  “I had my son when I was 18, and it was very, very, very, very challenging,” Hernandez says, stressing ever "very." “I was forced to take a semester off [of college] because I had to give birth.”

It’s a statement that has a really hard time sticking though, with each warm, husky laugh or offer to hook mater mea up with the Dominican hair products Hernandez swears by that she finds in Washington Heights, the neighborhood she calls home. But when you consider that her 13-year-old son Ousmane is standing right next to her behind that wall, the desire to create some distance starts to make sense.

“I had my son when I was 18, and it was very, very, very, very challenging,” Hernandez says, stressing ever "very." “I was forced to take a semester off [of college] because I had to give birth.”

 Hernandez went on to get her college degree while working 9-5 at a swimwear company in the Garment District; to say juggling work, school and a newborn was difficult would be an understatement, she says. “It was overwhelming for me because I had school assignments, I had to breastfeed and organize my job. Luckily I’ve always had my mother around to help out, but it [was] still overwhelming.  “But somehow, you kind of make it through and you become a stronger person for it,” she says. “And here I am. My son is almost 14 [and] he’s a great kid.”  At the mention of her son, Hernandez lights up, her voice — usually a half a beat slower with the unmistakable accent of a native Dominican New Yorker  — becomes more animated: You begin to see what life behind the wall is like for the two of them. 

Hernandez went on to get her college degree while working 9-5 at a swimwear company in the Garment District; to say juggling work, school and a newborn was difficult would be an understatement, she says. “It was overwhelming for me because I had school assignments, I had to breastfeed and organize my job. Luckily I’ve always had my mother around to help out, but it [was] still overwhelming.

“But somehow, you kind of make it through and you become a stronger person for it,” she says. “And here I am. My son is almost 14 [and] he’s a great kid.”

At the mention of her son, Hernandez lights up, her voiceusually a half a beat slower with the unmistakable accent of a native Dominican New Yorker becomes more animated: You begin to see what life behind the wall is like for the two of them. 

 The two are very similar, she says, down to their shared business savvy (“He just has great marketing ideas. I’m like, ‘You’re going to be helping me out!’) and eclectic style.  “Sometimes he’ll stay over at [his grandmother’s] house and she’s like, ‘You are not going out the house like that. You have like three patterns on!” Hernandez laughs. “And I’m like, ‘Wow, that looks dope! I like that!’  “I’m more of a free person,” Hernandez shares. “And my son is a reflection of that.”

The two are very similar, she says, down to their shared business savvy (“He just has great marketing ideas. I’m like, ‘You’re going to be helping me out!’) and eclectic style.

“Sometimes he’ll stay over at [his grandmother’s] house and she’s like, ‘You are not going out the house like that. You have like three patterns on!” Hernandez laughs. “And I’m like, ‘Wow, that looks dope! I like that!’

“I’m more of a free person,” Hernandez shares. “And my son is a reflection of that.”

 As is the happenstance story behind how she became a stylist for magazines and big-name companies. Hernandez’s look (and that aforementioned aura of cool) has captured the attention of photographers and fashion brands for years — It-girl label  Madewell  featured her in their “Styled By Real People” section online.  “I met someone at a party years ago,” she remembers. “[She] approached me and asked if she could photograph me.” The woman turned out to be a stylist; the two chatted for a bit and exchanged numbers, with Hernandez not thinking much of the chance encounter.  “I have a friend of mine who has [styled music videos],” she says. “She’s been in the industry forever. So I saw what she did [and] it was never appealing to me. I just saw her lugging bags.”

As is the happenstance story behind how she became a stylist for magazines and big-name companies. Hernandez’s look (and that aforementioned aura of cool) has captured the attention of photographers and fashion brands for yearsIt-girl label Madewell featured her in their “Styled By Real People” section online.

“I met someone at a party years ago,” she remembers. “[She] approached me and asked if she could photograph me.” The woman turned out to be a stylist; the two chatted for a bit and exchanged numbers, with Hernandez not thinking much of the chance encounter.

“I have a friend of mine who has [styled music videos],” she says. “She’s been in the industry forever. So I saw what she did [and] it was never appealing to me. I just saw her lugging bags.”

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 Less than a month later, the woman called Hernandez and asked if she would be interested in assisting her on a job with Trident gum. Since her job as a PR liaison and creative director's assistant at a fashion label had come to an end, Hernandez said, with her signature laissez-faire attitude, “That sounds cool. Whatever.”  One shouldn’t confuse taking life opportunities as they come with a lack of direction. After learning the ropes as an assistant under her new friend, Hernandez eventually struck out on her own. She has since established an impressive client list — Bloomingdales, InStyle, Elle Sweden, and Motorola all rely on her skills. And while it’s definitely more than schlepping bags, it’s far from glamorous, Hernandez reveals.  “It’s a very intense job,” she says. “It’s a lot. It’s invoicing, it’s keeping track of your inventory. It’s trying to make your clients happy. Trying to find that specific color that they’re requesting because they saw it in the mood board.”

Less than a month later, the woman called Hernandez and asked if she would be interested in assisting her on a job with Trident gum. Since her job as a PR liaison and creative director's assistant at a fashion label had come to an end, Hernandez said, with her signature laissez-faire attitude, “That sounds cool. Whatever.”

One shouldn’t confuse taking life opportunities as they come with a lack of direction. After learning the ropes as an assistant under her new friend, Hernandez eventually struck out on her own. She has since established an impressive client listBloomingdales, InStyle, Elle Sweden, and Motorola all rely on her skills. And while it’s definitely more than schlepping bags, it’s far from glamorous, Hernandez reveals.

“It’s a very intense job,” she says. “It’s a lot. It’s invoicing, it’s keeping track of your inventory. It’s trying to make your clients happy. Trying to find that specific color that they’re requesting because they saw it in the mood board.”

 Despite the less than glam life behind the scenes, running her own business suits Hernandez’s entrepreneurial spirit. Along with styling, she also sells all-natural body oils made from peach kernel oil, lemongrass and geranium. “I have my own little concoction going,” she shares. She recently partnered with ceramic jewelry designer Sheila Cox on a limited edition of her oils featuring Cox’s handmade bottle stoppers. And lest we forget, there’s  Wholly Aesthetic , the line of shawls and linens she designs and sells on Etsy.

Despite the less than glam life behind the scenes, running her own business suits Hernandez’s entrepreneurial spirit. Along with styling, she also sells all-natural body oils made from peach kernel oil, lemongrass and geranium. “I have my own little concoction going,” she shares. She recently partnered with ceramic jewelry designer Sheila Cox on a limited edition of her oils featuring Cox’s handmade bottle stoppers. And lest we forget, there’s Wholly Aesthetic, the line of shawls and linens she designs and sells on Etsy.

 With all that she does, Hernandez is living an example she hopes her son will follow as he gets older. “I want him to create,” she says. “It keeps you going, it keeps you happy. It develops you. I wish for him to always use that as a tool in his life to become a better person.”

With all that she does, Hernandez is living an example she hopes her son will follow as he gets older. “I want him to create,” she says. “It keeps you going, it keeps you happy. It develops you. I wish for him to always use that as a tool in his life to become a better person.”

Q&A

Q&A

What do you enjoy most about being a mom?

I enjoy learning the most. My son is an old soul, so I’ve learned a lot from him.

  What have you learned from him?   He inherently knows certain things that I just didn’t know at his age. And I don’t think it has to do with the new generation, or the hormones they put in the milk, or whatever people say. I just think he’s a very wise person.   He’s also very savvy, even marketing wise, with my oils or with my scarves. He’s always giving me feedback. He’s a cool little kid.

What have you learned from him?

He inherently knows certain things that I just didn’t know at his age. And I don’t think it has to do with the new generation, or the hormones they put in the milk, or whatever people say. I just think he’s a very wise person. 

He’s also very savvy, even marketing wise, with my oils or with my scarves. He’s always giving me feedback. He’s a cool little kid.

  How do you feel about him starting high school?   There’s a part of me that knows he’s always going to be alright, because he’s grounded. But at the same time, high school is very transitory, you know? You have all the hormonal changes. It’s a bit nerve wracking in one respect because you think about the outside factors, but at the same time if you feel good about your child — and you feel you gave them a good foundation — then you have faith that they’re always going to be alright.  I feel like with kids, it’s a day to day process. Some days are great, smooth sailing, he wakes up on his own, he gets his own stuff going and then there are days when he gives me an attitude in the morning. It just depends.

How do you feel about him starting high school?

There’s a part of me that knows he’s always going to be alright, because he’s grounded. But at the same time, high school is very transitory, you know? You have all the hormonal changes. It’s a bit nerve wracking in one respect because you think about the outside factors, but at the same time if you feel good about your childand you feel you gave them a good foundationthen you have faith that they’re always going to be alright.

I feel like with kids, it’s a day to day process. Some days are great, smooth sailing, he wakes up on his own, he gets his own stuff going and then there are days when he gives me an attitude in the morning. It just depends.

  What inspires your personal style?   I love textiles and patterns. But also strong women. My grandmother is one of my biggest inspirations. Women like Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama. She’s a Japanese artist who basically created painting as therapy because she was abused as a child. She’s amazing. 

What inspires your personal style?

I love textiles and patterns. But also strong women. My grandmother is one of my biggest inspirations. Women like Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama. She’s a Japanese artist who basically created painting as therapy because she was abused as a child. She’s amazing. 

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"I don’t follow trends. I flow, I go off my mood. Whatever I’m in the mood for."

"I don’t follow trends. I flow, I go off my mood. Whatever I’m in the mood for."

  Do you have a skin, hair, or health regimen?   I make my own oils. And before I made my own oils, I used coconut oil. I got it from the Indian store. I use that in my hair and on my body.  I try not to use anything that’s artificial because I have sensitive skin. [My] hair, it’s very straightforward. I wash with usually Dominican products. My deep conditioner is Dominican because it suits my hair. Those are products that are usually made in Venezuela or Brazil, where women have the same texture as my hair. It’s very hydrating and good for untangling.   Fill in the blank: I feel most beautiful when ...?    (Sings)  When I’m  happy ! And when I’m in love. But I guess when you’re in love, you’re happy.

Do you have a skin, hair, or health regimen?

I make my own oils. And before I made my own oils, I used coconut oil. I got it from the Indian store. I use that in my hair and on my body.

I try not to use anything that’s artificial because I have sensitive skin. [My] hair, it’s very straightforward. I wash with usually Dominican products. My deep conditioner is Dominican because it suits my hair. Those are products that are usually made in Venezuela or Brazil, where women have the same texture as my hair. It’s very hydrating and good for untangling.

Fill in the blank: I feel most beautiful when ...?

(Sings) When I’m happy! And when I’m in love. But I guess when you’re in love, you’re happy.

"I love being a mom when I feel very balanced."

"I love being a mom when I feel very balanced."

"Being a mom is the hardest when I’m stressed out and not balanced."

"Being a mom is the hardest when I’m stressed out and not balanced."

  How do you ensure your life is balanced?   I do a lot of yoga. Yoga, meditation, writing. My to-do lists keep me centered. It can go both ways: Sometimes my to-do list drive me crazy, because I’m like ‘Sh*t, I have not done what I needed to do.’ (laughs)  But yoga really, really has helped my life, specifically for the last six to seven months. I’ve embraced it fully. I practice between four to five times a week. It keeps me healthy, it keeps me balanced, it keeps me  positive .

How do you ensure your life is balanced?

I do a lot of yoga. Yoga, meditation, writing. My to-do lists keep me centered. It can go both ways: Sometimes my to-do list drive me crazy, because I’m like ‘Sh*t, I have not done what I needed to do.’ (laughs)

But yoga really, really has helped my life, specifically for the last six to seven months. I’ve embraced it fully. I practice between four to five times a week. It keeps me healthy, it keeps me balanced, it keeps me positive.

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  What’s the best perk about your job?   I love the fact that when I’m working on a job I get to visit a lot of stores and showrooms. I get a sense of what’s happening trend wise because I don’t follow trends. I love fashion on a personal level. I respect what great artists do with fabric or accessories.   What do you want to teach your son through your work?   To be a good human being. That’s number one to me. I’ve always told him since he was a kid, "Ousmane, you’re a wizard. You can do whatever it is you want to do without your brain being a hindrance."

What’s the best perk about your job?

I love the fact that when I’m working on a job I get to visit a lot of stores and showrooms. I get a sense of what’s happening trend wise because I don’t follow trends. I love fashion on a personal level. I respect what great artists do with fabric or accessories.

What do you want to teach your son through your work?

To be a good human being. That’s number one to me. I’ve always told him since he was a kid, "Ousmane, you’re a wizard. You can do whatever it is you want to do without your brain being a hindrance."

  What do you think about the idea that women can’t have it all?   I just feel like you can’t have it all. It’s not possible. As much as we want to, you only have a certain number of hours in the day. You only have so much energy. And that’s basically it. It’s challenging to have children where ever you have them. If you’re a great parent and you’re fulfilling your child’s spirit, education, everything, it’s going to take work. Your nanny can’t do that for you.  Women that choose their careers and wait til they're 40, 50 to have a child... You may have more money, but you don’t have the same energy level. It [also] may be harder for you to conceive.  Someone like me who had a child at 18, I can say I missed out on certain things, but not really because I’ve never been the type of person who likes to go to clubs and that sort of thing. I feel like it was kind of great for me in a lot of ways.

What do you think about the idea that women can’t have it all?

I just feel like you can’t have it all. It’s not possible. As much as we want to, you only have a certain number of hours in the day. You only have so much energy. And that’s basically it. It’s challenging to have children where ever you have them. If you’re a great parent and you’re fulfilling your child’s spirit, education, everything, it’s going to take work. Your nanny can’t do that for you.

Women that choose their careers and wait til they're 40, 50 to have a child... You may have more money, but you don’t have the same energy level. It [also] may be harder for you to conceive.

Someone like me who had a child at 18, I can say I missed out on certain things, but not really because I’ve never been the type of person who likes to go to clubs and that sort of thing. I feel like it was kind of great for me in a lot of ways.

  Is there still a stigma about being a single mom?   Listen: If you can be with your child’s father and be married, fantastic. Because both parents need to help. You can raise a child by yourself, but if you have a son that son needs a male figure. Whether it’s friends, whatever it is, they need positive role models. So if it’s through your husband that’s even better. But I don’t think it’s necessary. 

Is there still a stigma about being a single mom?

Listen: If you can be with your child’s father and be married, fantastic. Because both parents need to help. You can raise a child by yourself, but if you have a son that son needs a male figure. Whether it’s friends, whatever it is, they need positive role models. So if it’s through your husband that’s even better. But I don’t think it’s necessary. 

  Continued   Is it more of a strain on that single parent whether it’s a male or female? Absolutely. It’s so much work. I was practically a single parent for many years. Now I have more of a support system because my son’s father helps me with everything that has to do with my son and I see the difference.  Right now I’m not the coolest person to my son but he idolizes his father. So it’s perfect because I can call up his father and say, “Listen, I need you to handle this" or "Call him up and talk to him.” And that has an affect on him.    ΔΔΔ

Continued

Is it more of a strain on that single parent whether it’s a male or female? Absolutely. It’s so much work. I was practically a single parent for many years. Now I have more of a support system because my son’s father helps me with everything that has to do with my son and I see the difference.

Right now I’m not the coolest person to my son but he idolizes his father. So it’s perfect because I can call up his father and say, “Listen, I need you to handle this" or "Call him up and talk to him.” And that has an affect on him. 

ΔΔΔ

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STACEYANN CHIN

STACEYANN CHIN

Issue No. 6
Brooklyn, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

When speaking to poet Staceyann Chin, it’s hard not to be taken by the sound of her voice.

That voicethat honey-thick Jamaican accent that makes a point of emphasizing every other syllableis unmistakable. Chin’s unique cadence has served her well, whether on stage at New York’s storied spoken-word spot the Nuyorican Cafe, on Broadway as an original performer on the Tony-Award winning “Russell Simmons: Def Poetry Jam” or during any one of her one-woman, autobiographical shows; it adds even more weight to her work about the space she occupies as a radical, progressive, half-black, half-Chinese lesbian who has adopted New York as her home after leaving her native country because of homophobic persecution.

 Her voice has been a tumbling rush of passionate, revolutionary zeal (“I am at once livid / ashamed and paralyzed / by the neo-conservatism / breeding malicious amongst us”). But now, seated on a soft foam play rug composed of puzzle pieces in primary colors, it is calm. It is serene. It is the voice of a new mom.  “Right, Boogie?” Chin cooed to her gurgling 5-month-old daughter Zuri who is all big eyes and dark, soft curls. “Right, momma?”

Her voice has been a tumbling rush of passionate, revolutionary zeal (“I am at once livid / ashamed and paralyzed / by the neo-conservatism / breeding malicious amongst us”). But now, seated on a soft foam play rug composed of puzzle pieces in primary colors, it is calm. It is serene. It is the voice of a new mom.

“Right, Boogie?” Chin cooed to her gurgling 5-month-old daughter Zuri who is all big eyes and dark, soft curls. “Right, momma?”

 Before she underwent in-vitro fertilization last year to have her daughter, Chin was worried that motherhood would take the fight out of her.  “I felt like I would be sitting around writing poop poems,” she says, tongue-in-cheek. “I thought that she would make me less able to talk about the unpleasant things in life or be loud or want to go out there and march.”  But, Chin says, “the feminist in me is frightened to say that Zuri’s arrival — motherhood — has made me more centered, more steeped in my politics. I worried that she would soften me in ways that would make me less effective as a human rights activist, but I think she’s underscored the need for that kind of work and has connected me with other women.”

Before she underwent in-vitro fertilization last year to have her daughter, Chin was worried that motherhood would take the fight out of her.

“I felt like I would be sitting around writing poop poems,” she says, tongue-in-cheek. “I thought that she would make me less able to talk about the unpleasant things in life or be loud or want to go out there and march.”

But, Chin says, “the feminist in me is frightened to say that Zuri’s arrivalmotherhoodhas made me more centered, more steeped in my politics. I worried that she would soften me in ways that would make me less effective as a human rights activist, but I think she’s underscored the need for that kind of work and has connected me with other women.”

 Motherhood and this newfound centeredness didn’t come easy. Chin wrote in a brilliant Huffington Post essay called “ Coming Out Pregnant ” that she had wanted to have a baby for 10 years, but fear kept her from becoming a mother.  “I waited I think because I was afraid to do it by myself and I wanted to do it with partners who themselves weren’t ready,” Chin says now. “I kept using my partner’s lack of readiness [as a reason to not] go for it on my own. [But] I think the biological clock started ticking louder and louder and louder. And as I inched closer to 40 I knew if I wanted to do it this way, I would have to do it now. So I did.”

Motherhood and this newfound centeredness didn’t come easy. Chin wrote in a brilliant Huffington Post essay called “Coming Out Pregnant” that she had wanted to have a baby for 10 years, but fear kept her from becoming a mother.

“I waited I think because I was afraid to do it by myself and I wanted to do it with partners who themselves weren’t ready,” Chin says now. “I kept using my partner’s lack of readiness [as a reason to not] go for it on my own. [But] I think the biological clock started ticking louder and louder and louder. And as I inched closer to 40 I knew if I wanted to do it this way, I would have to do it now. So I did.”

 Chin’s pregnancy, by her own admission, was “traumatic.” “All those damn happy pictures with women looking into the sky, looking beatific, it’s a f*cking lie,” Chin says, laughing. “It’s a lie, it’s a lie. We all sit around being miserable.”  This statement isn't an exaggeration, especially in Chin's case. “It was traumatic from going into that clinic that first day to say, ‘Ok, can you look at my girly parts and see if they still work?’ and finding out that some places didn’t work, to doing surgery to correct that, to doing the IVF,” she said. A series of complications in her pregnancy — including early contractions at 14 weeks — left the mom-to-be bedridden and dependent on friends for six months. (Her girlfriend at the time had left; she wasn’t ready to be a mom.)  “I had a subchorionic hematoma, I had something called irritated uterus syndrome, I had placenta previa,” she says. “I was bleeding all the time.”

Chin’s pregnancy, by her own admission, was “traumatic.” “All those damn happy pictures with women looking into the sky, looking beatific, it’s a f*cking lie,” Chin says, laughing. “It’s a lie, it’s a lie. We all sit around being miserable.”

This statement isn't an exaggeration, especially in Chin's case. “It was traumatic from going into that clinic that first day to say, ‘Ok, can you look at my girly parts and see if they still work?’ and finding out that some places didn’t work, to doing surgery to correct that, to doing the IVF,” she said. A series of complications in her pregnancyincluding early contractions at 14 weeksleft the mom-to-be bedridden and dependent on friends for six months. (Her girlfriend at the time had left; she wasn’t ready to be a mom.)

“I had a subchorionic hematoma, I had something called irritated uterus syndrome, I had placenta previa,” she says. “I was bleeding all the time.”

 Chin was confronted with emotional pain as well — her decision to have a baby was met with raised eyebrows and bruising, insensitive comments from the black community (“Where’s the good, Christian father? Wait... Aren’t you a lesbian?”) and the LGBT community (“Where’s the  other  mother? Aren’t you a lesbian?”).

Chin was confronted with emotional pain as wellher decision to have a baby was met with raised eyebrows and bruising, insensitive comments from the black community (“Where’s the good, Christian father? Wait... Aren’t you a lesbian?”) and the LGBT community (“Where’s the other mother? Aren’t you a lesbian?”).

 “Generally speaking Americans don’t feel like single women should have children,” Chin says. “They feel like we should find someone and have the child and ape as much as we can the heteronormative nuclear family. When one person decides ‘I’m going to get up and use my own womb to get pregnant with my own kid and push it out of my own vagina,’ people start having problems.”  Zuri’s arrival brought an end to Chin’s physical and emotional pain as she continues to cultivate her own community of diverse and like-minded friends to raise her daughter around.

“Generally speaking Americans don’t feel like single women should have children,” Chin says. “They feel like we should find someone and have the child and ape as much as we can the heteronormative nuclear family. When one person decides ‘I’m going to get up and use my own womb to get pregnant with my own kid and push it out of my own vagina,’ people start having problems.”

Zuri’s arrival brought an end to Chin’s physical and emotional pain as she continues to cultivate her own community of diverse and like-minded friends to raise her daughter around.

 “I’m hoping that all the trouble with the kid came [during pregnancy] and this will be a breeze from here to college,” Chin says.  Always mining her rich set of experiences for material, Chin is working on a new book about motherhood. “I’m hoping to make something that explores the funny side of it, the heartbreaking side of it,” she says. “I’m not trying to get women to get pregnant nor am I’m trying to discourage them. I’m just trying to tell my own story.”  Chin looks down at her daughter, who is curled up snugly against her breast. “Even though you drove me CRAZY in utero!” she exclaims in that new mom voice, laughing, her face within inches of her daughter’s.

“I’m hoping that all the trouble with the kid came [during pregnancy] and this will be a breeze from here to college,” Chin says.

Always mining her rich set of experiences for material, Chin is working on a new book about motherhood. “I’m hoping to make something that explores the funny side of it, the heartbreaking side of it,” she says. “I’m not trying to get women to get pregnant nor am I’m trying to discourage them. I’m just trying to tell my own story.”

Chin looks down at her daughter, who is curled up snugly against her breast. “Even though you drove me CRAZY in utero!” she exclaims in that new mom voice, laughing, her face within inches of her daughter’s.

Q&A

Q&A

How has becoming a mom affected your life?

I think watching a human being come into consciousness makes you reconsider any monolith of consciousness you had prior. It forces you to question your own tenets, the things you thought were immovable and sturdy and steady. And invariably when you look at things that are fixed, you’ll find that they aren’t so fixed, especially when it comes to identity and humanity and human relationships. I mean, I have relationships that are changing as we speak based on what’s happening with my kid, like how I view myself as an individual who will raise a kid, how I might be looking at other people raising their kids. You find yourself bumping against people in spaces you never imagined.

  Continued   Before I don’t think I argued too much with people about tiny things. But [once you have a kid] you argue more with the people who are closer to you, you have more meaty conversations with them, more meaty disagreements and arguments. You’re also aware that some relationships will fall away. And you have to be ok with that, because it’s really choosing your kid or the relationship, and when it comes up as that kind of choice, it’s no choice.   

Continued

Before I don’t think I argued too much with people about tiny things. But [once you have a kid] you argue more with the people who are closer to you, you have more meaty conversations with them, more meaty disagreements and arguments. You’re also aware that some relationships will fall away. And you have to be ok with that, because it’s really choosing your kid or the relationship, and when it comes up as that kind of choice, it’s no choice.

 

  What do you enjoy most about being a mom?   Her, I think! I hadn’t expected her to be such a whole person. I think that I had this idea of a baby. Oh, this baby is going to come and this baby is going to do this or that. And from early [on] it seems you can tell [her personality].  [Zuri's] very kind of chill. There are very few things that are non-negotiables for her. When she first meets a person, she likes time to decide whether she wants to be held by them, whether she wants to go to them, whether she wants to laugh with them. And that’s a non-negotiable. She makes up her mind about that. You have to let her — if you don’t let her then you’ll have a fight on your hands. She hates the car seat. And she hates it in a way that is heartbreaking. There’s nothing that you can do or say to her that will make it better. And she screams the entire time she’s in the car seat almost, unless she falls asleep.

What do you enjoy most about being a mom?

Her, I think! I hadn’t expected her to be such a whole person. I think that I had this idea of a baby. Oh, this baby is going to come and this baby is going to do this or that. And from early [on] it seems you can tell [her personality].

[Zuri's] very kind of chill. There are very few things that are non-negotiables for her. When she first meets a person, she likes time to decide whether she wants to be held by them, whether she wants to go to them, whether she wants to laugh with them. And that’s a non-negotiable. She makes up her mind about that. You have to let herif you don’t let her then you’ll have a fight on your hands. She hates the car seat. And she hates it in a way that is heartbreaking. There’s nothing that you can do or say to her that will make it better. And she screams the entire time she’s in the car seat almost, unless she falls asleep.

  CONTINUED   But [later] she wakes up pleasant, smiling. She’s pretty adaptable. She’s flown to and from South Africa. She’s flown to Jamaica. She’s flown to Utah [and] Seattle. She kind of rolls with the punches. She’s very, very malleable that way. She seems sort of easy. She’s got an easy personality. She eats fairly comfortably. I found her [to be] quite a pleasure. Like, I like her! I wasn’t prepared to like her as much as I do.  I’m surprised that I like her. Because I know from some of my friends that not everyone likes their kid, that it can be kind of a hassle and negotiation. Like if I were 6 months old I would want to be friends with her!

CONTINUED

But [later] she wakes up pleasant, smiling. She’s pretty adaptable. She’s flown to and from South Africa. She’s flown to Jamaica. She’s flown to Utah [and] Seattle. She kind of rolls with the punches. She’s very, very malleable that way. She seems sort of easy. She’s got an easy personality. She eats fairly comfortably. I found her [to be] quite a pleasure. Like, I like her! I wasn’t prepared to like her as much as I do.

I’m surprised that I like her. Because I know from some of my friends that not everyone likes their kid, that it can be kind of a hassle and negotiation. Like if I were 6 months old I would want to be friends with her!

  Did you feel prepared to have a baby?   I think before she came I felt vastly underprepared. I thought, "Oh my God, what am I going to do?" But then she arrives and you know. You’ve got your boobs. They work for milk. There’s a place to bathe her. For now she needs room to crawl, you chuck some furniture, give her some space to walk around.  I thought I was less prepared than I was. I was prepared to be upset — upset as in everything overturned. I was prepared to be stressed and frazzled and out of sorts. And I’ve been anything but.   Fill in the blank: I love being a mom most when ...?   In the moment when things have gone wrong, things have gone wrong, things have gone wrong and then they go right. Like all morning she hasn’t been able to sleep. She’s been cranky. The feeding hasn’t gone right, she’s kind of teething. I’m fussing and tired.  And then she just laughs and she takes a feeding and then she goes to sleep and then she’s snuggled up next to me and then she wakes up and then she looks up at me and giggles. There’s something about it that’s quite wonderful.

Did you feel prepared to have a baby?

I think before she came I felt vastly underprepared. I thought, "Oh my God, what am I going to do?" But then she arrives and you know. You’ve got your boobs. They work for milk. There’s a place to bathe her. For now she needs room to crawl, you chuck some furniture, give her some space to walk around.

I thought I was less prepared than I was. I was prepared to be upsetupset as in everything overturned. I was prepared to be stressed and frazzled and out of sorts. And I’ve been anything but.

Fill in the blank: I love being a mom most when ...?

In the moment when things have gone wrong, things have gone wrong, things have gone wrong and then they go right. Like all morning she hasn’t been able to sleep. She’s been cranky. The feeding hasn’t gone right, she’s kind of teething. I’m fussing and tired.

And then she just laughs and she takes a feeding and then she goes to sleep and then she’s snuggled up next to me and then she wakes up and then she looks up at me and giggles. There’s something about it that’s quite wonderful.

  Fill in the blank: Being a mom is hardest when ...?   When you realize she has limitations that she needs to push [through] and your instinct is to push them for her.  Like when she’s able to crawl, but she can’t. She’s afraid to be on the floor. And so I know that she needs to be on the floor to fall, to roll over and knock her face and figure out the balance herself, and all I want to do is be under her or around her so she doesn’t fall.  I hate being a mom when she has a difficult obstacle that I can remove for her, but I know she has to remove it for herself. Because I imagine bigger things. Like when she’s scared and doesn’t want to go to college, or when she’s being bullied at school and she has to take it on and I want to go in there and knock the other kids out for her, but knowing that the better thing is for her to figure it out herself even if she requires my help. She needs to head that movement.

Fill in the blank: Being a mom is hardest when ...?

When you realize she has limitations that she needs to push [through] and your instinct is to push them for her.

Like when she’s able to crawl, but she can’t. She’s afraid to be on the floor. And so I know that she needs to be on the floor to fall, to roll over and knock her face and figure out the balance herself, and all I want to do is be under her or around her so she doesn’t fall.

I hate being a mom when she has a difficult obstacle that I can remove for her, but I know she has to remove it for herself. Because I imagine bigger things. Like when she’s scared and doesn’t want to go to college, or when she’s being bullied at school and she has to take it on and I want to go in there and knock the other kids out for her, but knowing that the better thing is for her to figure it out herself even if she requires my help. She needs to head that movement.

  What's the best advice on motherhood you've ever received?   My friend Aaliyah in Jamaica said to me, "Listen to everybody’s advice and then go home and follow your own." I’m finding as the days pass that that’s a truer statement than any I’ve ever heard about mothering.

What's the best advice on motherhood you've ever received?

My friend Aaliyah in Jamaica said to me, "Listen to everybody’s advice and then go home and follow your own." I’m finding as the days pass that that’s a truer statement than any I’ve ever heard about mothering.

  How do you keep healthy?   Do I exercise? I used to, my darling. Now I don’t exercise at all. I pick up the kid. That’s what I do for exercise.

How do you keep healthy?

Do I exercise? I used to, my darling. Now I don’t exercise at all. I pick up the kid. That’s what I do for exercise.

  What's the most gratifying part of your work?   I like to think I make the world better. I like to think I encourage women toward their own voices, and that’s really fabulous and fits squarely within the task of raising a girl.   How has Zuri changed your perspective or the way you write?   She changes the way that I see art, changes the way that I write my own life because my own life is different now. Before Zuri I used to think about “Oh, saving little girls,” these arbitrary little girls. When I put pen to paper now, the ink spread begins with her and then it radiates to the other people in the world who I might want to save as well. But now there’s this sort of tangible, focused person for whom I would like to make the world better.

What's the most gratifying part of your work?

I like to think I make the world better. I like to think I encourage women toward their own voices, and that’s really fabulous and fits squarely within the task of raising a girl.

How has Zuri changed your perspective or the way you write?

She changes the way that I see art, changes the way that I write my own life because my own life is different now. Before Zuri I used to think about “Oh, saving little girls,” these arbitrary little girls. When I put pen to paper now, the ink spread begins with her and then it radiates to the other people in the world who I might want to save as well. But now there’s this sort of tangible, focused person for whom I would like to make the world better.

  What example do you want to show your daughter through your work?   I don’t know, man, I just want her to do her thing. I just want her to find her own voice. I just want her to do the thing that she loves. I want her to be able to take care of herself, fulfill the requirements of her own desires. If she wants to live in a house, I want her to be able to procure a house. If she wants to live in a tent, I want her to be able to put up a tent. If she wants to be a person that roams, I want her to know how to roam in a healthy way.

What example do you want to show your daughter through your work?

I don’t know, man, I just want her to do her thing. I just want her to find her own voice. I just want her to do the thing that she loves. I want her to be able to take care of herself, fulfill the requirements of her own desires. If she wants to live in a house, I want her to be able to procure a house. If she wants to live in a tent, I want her to be able to put up a tent. If she wants to be a person that roams, I want her to know how to roam in a healthy way.

  Continued   People often say that she looks like me. I think her toes, her little, itty-bitty toes curl under just like mine. Her fingers are long like my fingers. I think she has a big forehead just like her mother. But the rest of it I’m waiting on.  I think she will go through a life with a lot of people comparing her to me. [At] every turn I want to be able to tell her anytime I push her to be like me that at the heart of me, at the core of me, all I want is for her to be herself.

Continued

People often say that she looks like me. I think her toes, her little, itty-bitty toes curl under just like mine. Her fingers are long like my fingers. I think she has a big forehead just like her mother. But the rest of it I’m waiting on.

I think she will go through a life with a lot of people comparing her to me. [At] every turn I want to be able to tell her anytime I push her to be like me that at the heart of me, at the core of me, all I want is for her to be herself.

  Do you think women can have it all?   Nobody can have it all! That’s ridiculous! It’s very American. It’s almost kind of utopian. Nobody can have it all. Everything you do is about making choices. What you can do is prioritize and find the things that you most want, [then] figure out how to get as many of the things you want out of the top of that list as you can within the limited context of your own resources, your own physical ability, your own location…  I think I’m more about doing things that I like and liking the things that I do. I’m less about some preconceived list of things that I ought to have and I ought to be happy with. It’s ridiculous. You can’t be sitting and standing at the same time. You always have to make choices.

Do you think women can have it all?

Nobody can have it all! That’s ridiculous! It’s very American. It’s almost kind of utopian. Nobody can have it all. Everything you do is about making choices. What you can do is prioritize and find the things that you most want, [then] figure out how to get as many of the things you want out of the top of that list as you can within the limited context of your own resources, your own physical ability, your own location…

I think I’m more about doing things that I like and liking the things that I do. I’m less about some preconceived list of things that I ought to have and I ought to be happy with. It’s ridiculous. You can’t be sitting and standing at the same time. You always have to make choices.

  Do you ever worry about raising her in New York?   Here she has a Caribbean community where she might not feel weird about having a mother with an accent. Or a mother who’s gay, or two mothers who are gay, I don’t know what will happen in the future. 

Do you ever worry about raising her in New York?

Here she has a Caribbean community where she might not feel weird about having a mother with an accent. Or a mother who’s gay, or two mothers who are gay, I don’t know what will happen in the future. 

  How do you feel about your mother's absence now that you are a mom?   Sometimes I’m happy about that, and sometimes I miss having that kind of grandmotherly presence or someone who I can say, "She belongs to me as mother and therefore I can call and ask for things."  I hope I would have the courage to always tell [Zuri] what I know of things that are difficult. Things will be difficult. I would hope that I would teach her that unless somebody is being brutally hurt, that the way things are — even though they may feel tragic or seem tragic, the true tragedy is not having the emotional tools to navigate it in a healthy way for yourself.

How do you feel about your mother's absence now that you are a mom?

Sometimes I’m happy about that, and sometimes I miss having that kind of grandmotherly presence or someone who I can say, "She belongs to me as mother and therefore I can call and ask for things."

I hope I would have the courage to always tell [Zuri] what I know of things that are difficult. Things will be difficult. I would hope that I would teach her that unless somebody is being brutally hurt, that the way things areeven though they may feel tragic or seem tragic, the true tragedy is not having the emotional tools to navigate it in a healthy way for yourself.

  How do you think your race and sexuality will inform what kind of parent you are?   I will tell her that race and sexuality is as relevant as your shoe size: If you’re not going to hold it against somebody that they wear a size 7, then you can’t hold it against them that they’re a lesbian. And I hope that follows through her whole life.  I’m hoping that I won’t pass on my own prejudices to her. I hope that I will teach her to deconstruct and analyze and question everything so that even when she says, “But mom! You don’t like my rich white friend!” I’ll be like “Ok, let’s talk about that.” I’m betting that she will force me to grow, even inside my own politics. I’m hoping. I hope.   ΔΔΔ

How do you think your race and sexuality will inform what kind of parent you are?

I will tell her that race and sexuality is as relevant as your shoe size: If you’re not going to hold it against somebody that they wear a size 7, then you can’t hold it against them that they’re a lesbian. And I hope that follows through her whole life.

I’m hoping that I won’t pass on my own prejudices to her. I hope that I will teach her to deconstruct and analyze and question everything so that even when she says, “But mom! You don’t like my rich white friend!” I’ll be like “Ok, let’s talk about that.” I’m betting that she will force me to grow, even inside my own politics. I’m hoping. I hope.

ΔΔΔ

RENE SYLER

RENE SYLER

Issue No. 7
Westchester, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

Rene Syler is a TV momand we mean that in two distinctly different ways. The mom of two worked on local networks for 12 years before landing a co-anchoring spot on CBS’ “The Early Show," and she’s also the epitome of your dream mom, plucked out of a nuclear family sitcom and into a sprawling, personality-packed home in Westchester, New York.

You can practically hear the laugh track as she jokes around with her 16-year-old daughter Casey and her son Cole, who is 14. She’s a flurry of energy, pulling frozen teriyaki chicken out of the freezer (and taking the opportunity to cool off“I am shvitzing here, holy cow!”), pouring lemonade in tall glasses, and launching into stories right and left, interrupting herself mid-sentence to check in on any one of the five things she’s started that afternoon.

The jaw-dropping home, the well-mannered and gorgeous kids, the solid marriage, and that boundless energy all seem to have that television magic sparkle. But Syler’s storyand the back-to-back obstacles that set her on the path to an unforeseen reinventionisn’t one that can be wrapped up in under 30 minutes.

 “I’m all about keeping it real, and there ain’t nothing easy about what we’re doing,” Syler says. “We’ve been through health crisis, we’ve been through job crisis, and you know what? It’s frickin’ hard. This was not at all where I thought I would be at 49.”

“I’m all about keeping it real, and there ain’t nothing easy about what we’re doing,” Syler says. “We’ve been through health crisis, we’ve been through job crisis, and you know what? It’s frickin’ hard. This was not at all where I thought I would be at 49.”

DSC_4210.jpeg
 If one were to rewind the tape to find just where things began going south for Syler, it would begin towards the end of 2006. “I had a great job at CBS: I had the opportunity to meet these really famous people for three minutes at a time and I had a paycheck attached to it,” Syler says, setting the scene. “But I also had people looking over my shoulder, telling me what to do, making sure [I was] following the procedure. If you didn’t do something right you heard about it.”  Along with that pressure came a new network president who made his feelings about the show’s existing four-anchor set up known when he let Syler go. “I never ever thought I would be in this place,” she says. “I never saw myself doing anything else but anchoring the news.”

If one were to rewind the tape to find just where things began going south for Syler, it would begin towards the end of 2006. “I had a great job at CBS: I had the opportunity to meet these really famous people for three minutes at a time and I had a paycheck attached to it,” Syler says, setting the scene. “But I also had people looking over my shoulder, telling me what to do, making sure [I was] following the procedure. If you didn’t do something right you heard about it.”

Along with that pressure came a new network president who made his feelings about the show’s existing four-anchor set up known when he let Syler go. “I never ever thought I would be in this place,” she says. “I never saw myself doing anything else but anchoring the news.”

 Two weeks after being laid off, Syler underwent a preventive mastectomy due to her family’s history of breast cancer and dealing with close-call mammograms and biopsies over the years. “It got to the point where it wasn’t really how I had envisioned my life,” Syler says of regularly undergoing these procedures. “It wasn’t an easy decision and it’s not the right decision for everyone, but it was the right decision for me.”

Two weeks after being laid off, Syler underwent a preventive mastectomy due to her family’s history of breast cancer and dealing with close-call mammograms and biopsies over the years. “It got to the point where it wasn’t really how I had envisioned my life,” Syler says of regularly undergoing these procedures. “It wasn’t an easy decision and it’s not the right decision for everyone, but it was the right decision for me.”

 A year later, the other shoe dropped: While touring to promote her parenting guide “ Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting ,” Syler came down with a case of asthmatic bronchitis that put her in the hospital for three days.  “When I got out, I had a meeting at CNN and I went right to the hairdresser and got my hair relaxed. A week later it fell out,” she said. Losing her hair was traumatic — Syler had spent years working in the visual medium of television, where your main currency is the way you look — but it brought her to a place of strength.  “All that external beauty was stripped away and you have to come face to face with the essence of you, the thing that makes you you when it’s not hidden by the trappings of physical beauty,” she says. “It was really this journey of self-exploration and acceptance —t hat’s when I let my hair grow in natural.

A year later, the other shoe dropped: While touring to promote her parenting guide “Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting,” Syler came down with a case of asthmatic bronchitis that put her in the hospital for three days.

“When I got out, I had a meeting at CNN and I went right to the hairdresser and got my hair relaxed. A week later it fell out,” she said. Losing her hair was traumaticSyler had spent years working in the visual medium of television, where your main currency is the way you lookbut it brought her to a place of strength.

“All that external beauty was stripped away and you have to come face to face with the essence of you, the thing that makes you you when it’s not hidden by the trappings of physical beauty,” she says. “It was really this journey of self-exploration and acceptance—that’s when I let my hair grow in natural.

 “I was like Job,” she continues. “How much worse could things be? I lost my job, I lost my breasts, I lost my hair. But now I look back and I think in losing all those things I really found myself and who I’m supposed to be.”

“I was like Job,” she continues. “How much worse could things be? I lost my job, I lost my breasts, I lost my hair. But now I look back and I think in losing all those things I really found myself and who I’m supposed to be.”

 It was then that Syler began taking back control of where her life was going. “I had gone to my agent and said, ‘Look, can we get anything else for me?’ And he was like, ‘What am I going to do with you if you don’t want to do TV news anymore?’” she recalls. Facing slim prospects in a field that has made its feelings about “women of a certain age” well-known, she began to write. “It was the only tool in my arsenal that I had, and the only thing I have in my power that could really change the course of what I was doing.”  Her blog,  Good Enough Mother , tackles the big questions of being a mom and has resonated with countless parents; Syler regularly makes public appearances and has an online video series answering questions like “How do I respond when my kids say something terrible about me on social media?” The site was founded as a response to the idea that one has to be perfect to be a great parent, or that once you have kids, your life becomes all about raising them.

It was then that Syler began taking back control of where her life was going. “I had gone to my agent and said, ‘Look, can we get anything else for me?’ And he was like, ‘What am I going to do with you if you don’t want to do TV news anymore?’” she recalls. Facing slim prospects in a field that has made its feelings about “women of a certain age” well-known, she began to write. “It was the only tool in my arsenal that I had, and the only thing I have in my power that could really change the course of what I was doing.”

Her blog, Good Enough Mother, tackles the big questions of being a mom and has resonated with countless parents; Syler regularly makes public appearances and has an online video series answering questions like “How do I respond when my kids say something terrible about me on social media?” The site was founded as a response to the idea that one has to be perfect to be a great parent, or that once you have kids, your life becomes all about raising them.

 You can be a great parent and still make mistakes and you will,” she says. “This idea that once you have kids that you stop living for yourself is just, I think, ridiculous. I’m a big believer in the fact that your hopes and dreams and goals and aspirations don’t have to die just because someone else is going to live.”  Syler’s career took a total 180, with her finally steering the wheel. “I didn’t really want Good Enough Mother to be a business because I was trying to get back into television,” she says. “About a year ago, I started to understand that ‘Oh, wait a second. I can actually make money doing this.’” Now Good Enough Mother is a bonafide business, with advertising and campaigns along with regular content.

You can be a great parent and still make mistakes and you will,” she says. “This idea that once you have kids that you stop living for yourself is just, I think, ridiculous. I’m a big believer in the fact that your hopes and dreams and goals and aspirations don’t have to die just because someone else is going to live.”

Syler’s career took a total 180, with her finally steering the wheel. “I didn’t really want Good Enough Mother to be a business because I was trying to get back into television,” she says. “About a year ago, I started to understand that ‘Oh, wait a second. I can actually make money doing this.’” Now Good Enough Mother is a bonafide business, with advertising and campaigns along with regular content.

 “More than anything one of the reasons why I started Good Enough Mother and have put so much sweat and equity into it is because I never want to be in a position again where someone can tap me on the shoulder and take away everything.

“More than anything one of the reasons why I started Good Enough Mother and have put so much sweat and equity into it is because I never want to be in a position again where someone can tap me on the shoulder and take away everything.

 “I lost everything,” she continues. “And I never ever want to be in that position again. That’s why I was up at 4:30 in the morning today and will be up until midnight. Because I’m going to build something that no one can take away from me unless it’s with a check with a whole bunch of zeros behind it.”  So call it whatever you want: a reinvention, a second act, or, in television parlance, a spin-off. But this TV mom turned blogging and branding maven is having the best time of her life.  “The biggest change between me now and then is that fear is my bitch now. After you’ve been in that place, you’re like, I can take it.”

“I lost everything,” she continues. “And I never ever want to be in that position again. That’s why I was up at 4:30 in the morning today and will be up until midnight. Because I’m going to build something that no one can take away from me unless it’s with a check with a whole bunch of zeros behind it.”

So call it whatever you want: a reinvention, a second act, or, in television parlance, a spin-off. But this TV mom turned blogging and branding maven is having the best time of her life.

“The biggest change between me now and then is that fear is my bitch now. After you’ve been in that place, you’re like, I can take it.”

Q&A

Q&A

How has being a mom changed your life?

I remember someone saying once you have a kid, you can’t go to sleep before making sure everyone in the house is safe. That sums it up: You’re always thinking of someone other than yourself. You just have this understanding that there is always someone else that you would put ahead of yourself.

How have your thoughts on parenting changed as your kids have gotten older?

What I've noticed is that when they’re little, parenting is sort of a malleable path. While there are some things that stay the same, the methodology changes. When they’re little, they’re very labor intensive; they need you for everything. [But] then they get older and it’s fun to see the work that you poured into this vessel come to fruition.

  How would you describe your children's personalities?   My daughter, even as a child, was this caring kind of person. She really works hard to make sure that people around her are good and taken care of. When she sees me getting stressed or crazy, she says "How can I help?" If I’m sick, she’s always right there to take care of me. It just warms my heart and it makes me think, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a good mom.”  My son is sort of the wild side of me. I always say when I’m older, [my daughter] will come by and sit and have tea with me. And then [my son] will come in a sports car on his way to Vegas. It doesn’t make one any better than the other, they are just different.  He’s the more outgoing of the two. She’s quieter. He could be the mayor. Everyone knows him.

How would you describe your children's personalities?

My daughter, even as a child, was this caring kind of person. She really works hard to make sure that people around her are good and taken care of. When she sees me getting stressed or crazy, she says "How can I help?" If I’m sick, she’s always right there to take care of me. It just warms my heart and it makes me think, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a good mom.”

My son is sort of the wild side of me. I always say when I’m older, [my daughter] will come by and sit and have tea with me. And then [my son] will come in a sports car on his way to Vegas. It doesn’t make one any better than the other, they are just different.

He’s the more outgoing of the two. She’s quieter. He could be the mayor. Everyone knows him.

  Fill in the blank: I feel most beautiful when...?   I’m sitting on a beach with a cocktail with an umbrella in it all by myself.  The biggest thing to me is I’m no longer looking to other people to affirm my beauty. I don’t need to walk down the street and turn heads. That’s fun, but it’s not necessary.  I suppose after I left CBS, I went through that serious transformation. All that stuff that makes up external beauty was stripped away. You have to come face to face with the thing that makes you you when it’s not hidden by the trappings of physical beauty.  I’ve always liked myself, I’ve always liked the person that I was. But I never realized how strong I was. What I think makes me attractive is not what people see when they lay eyes on me; it’s about who I am, and the things that I stand for, and the things that are inside my head and not on my head.  You get to a deeper understanding about yourself and what beauty is [as you get older]. I’ve felt this way for the last five or six years.

Fill in the blank: I feel most beautiful when...?

I’m sitting on a beach with a cocktail with an umbrella in it all by myself.

The biggest thing to me is I’m no longer looking to other people to affirm my beauty. I don’t need to walk down the street and turn heads. That’s fun, but it’s not necessary.

I suppose after I left CBS, I went through that serious transformation. All that stuff that makes up external beauty was stripped away. You have to come face to face with the thing that makes you you when it’s not hidden by the trappings of physical beauty.

I’ve always liked myself, I’ve always liked the person that I was. But I never realized how strong I was. What I think makes me attractive is not what people see when they lay eyes on me; it’s about who I am, and the things that I stand for, and the things that are inside my head and not on my head.

You get to a deeper understanding about yourself and what beauty is [as you get older]. I’ve felt this way for the last five or six years.

  How did you find this amazing home?   We moved in 2003 from Texas and we wanted a place where there was a lot of land because the kids were little. I wanted new construction and I didn’t want it to be on a busy street. And look where we are: in an old house on a highway.  I’ve never been in a house like this before that had great bones. I was like, “Oh my God, I love it.” But we rapidly outgrew this place. So about 2005, we undertook this major renovation.   What inspires your home decor?   Two things: comfort and cost. I’m a huge vintage, flea-market shopper. I like to buy things that have a life prior to the life I give it. I use pipes as candle holders, I do some decorative painting.  I knew what I wanted. But I didn’t want my house to look like I decorated it all in one day. Some rooms we had to get in here and live in them for a little while. [Some of my decorations] came from the flea market up north, and they’re like $1 each. It’s my whole philosophy: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to look like you spent a lot of money!

How did you find this amazing home?

We moved in 2003 from Texas and we wanted a place where there was a lot of land because the kids were little. I wanted new construction and I didn’t want it to be on a busy street. And look where we are: in an old house on a highway.

I’ve never been in a house like this before that had great bones. I was like, “Oh my God, I love it.” But we rapidly outgrew this place. So about 2005, we undertook this major renovation.

What inspires your home decor?

Two things: comfort and cost. I’m a huge vintage, flea-market shopper. I like to buy things that have a life prior to the life I give it. I use pipes as candle holders, I do some decorative painting.

I knew what I wanted. But I didn’t want my house to look like I decorated it all in one day. Some rooms we had to get in here and live in them for a little while. [Some of my decorations] came from the flea market up north, and they’re like $1 each. It’s my whole philosophy: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to look like you spent a lot of money!

  Continued   Your home and your life and your clothes should always be a reflection of you. There is no right or wrong. People will come into my house and go, “Why did you do that?” Well because I like it. “Why would you paint that bathroom red, it’s so small? Dark colors in such a small space…” [Because] I like it!  So my husband is a cook, not me. But I knew that I wanted the kitchen to be kind of a place where everyone can eat. I had this vision. This was a marble slab that literally weighs — I want to say 2,000 lbs. It took six men to get it in here. I knew that I wanted this to look like a farm table, so even though this cabinet is actually built in, it’s actually a table. And I like that everything doesn’t match.

Continued

Your home and your life and your clothes should always be a reflection of you. There is no right or wrong. People will come into my house and go, “Why did you do that?” Well because I like it. “Why would you paint that bathroom red, it’s so small? Dark colors in such a small space…” [Because] I like it!

So my husband is a cook, not me. But I knew that I wanted the kitchen to be kind of a place where everyone can eat. I had this vision. This was a marble slab that literally weighsI want to say 2,000 lbs. It took six men to get it in here. I knew that I wanted this to look like a farm table, so even though this cabinet is actually built in, it’s actually a table. And I like that everything doesn’t match.

  Continued   I first started getting into flea markets — I love flea markets, garage sales, the whole thing — when we were back in Texas. There’s a big, big flea market there called First Trade Days in Canton, Texas. I bring [home] all these lamps and things and my husband’s like, “Really?"  I’d go to Canton and take $500 in cash and take all the seats out of the van. I would come back and my husband [would say] “What are you going to do with $500 worth of sh*t?” And I said “Relax. You’re going to like it. You can’t see it right now, but when I get it cleaned up and on the walls you’re going to be happy with it.”  Every so often he would balk at something but I’d say “Look, we all have a role to play in this marriage: you handle the finances and the cooking, and I’ll handle the decorating. I don’t question where we’re putting our money, so you shouldn’t question where I’m putting things on the wall.” And he’s never been unhappy, he just knows that that’s my thing.

Continued

I first started getting into flea marketsI love flea markets, garage sales, the whole thingwhen we were back in Texas. There’s a big, big flea market there called First Trade Days in Canton, Texas. I bring [home] all these lamps and things and my husband’s like, “Really?"

I’d go to Canton and take $500 in cash and take all the seats out of the van. I would come back and my husband [would say] “What are you going to do with $500 worth of sh*t?” And I said “Relax. You’re going to like it. You can’t see it right now, but when I get it cleaned up and on the walls you’re going to be happy with it.”

Every so often he would balk at something but I’d say “Look, we all have a role to play in this marriage: you handle the finances and the cooking, and I’ll handle the decorating. I don’t question where we’re putting our money, so you shouldn’t question where I’m putting things on the wall.” And he’s never been unhappy, he just knows that that’s my thing.

  What was the best advice your mother, or the mothers in your life, gave you?   My own mom has given me great advice, but along with those great nuggets from her came one from a stranger. She must’ve been able to sense that I was nervous or something about having this kid and she said, “Don’t worry. You’re going to be the best mom this baby could ever have.”  I always took that piece of advice with me because it meant that I was going to be good enough, and that good enough was going to be exactly what this baby needed. It immediately put me at ease. I would say that’s the best advice that I got, from a little old lady on a park bench.

What was the best advice your mother, or the mothers in your life, gave you?

My own mom has given me great advice, but along with those great nuggets from her came one from a stranger. She must’ve been able to sense that I was nervous or something about having this kid and she said, “Don’t worry. You’re going to be the best mom this baby could ever have.”

I always took that piece of advice with me because it meant that I was going to be good enough, and that good enough was going to be exactly what this baby needed. It immediately put me at ease. I would say that’s the best advice that I got, from a little old lady on a park bench.

  What perspective or example do you hope to impart on your children through your work?   I want my kids to see what it takes to be successful in this life. A lot of times the kids look at us [and] they don’t know what we do. They ask for things and [it] mysteriously appears — they don’t know what it’s like to be hungry, thank God. We’ve worked so hard to keep the struggle from them.  My husband and I both work from home — we’ve never worked this hard. It’s good because our kids are getting to see what building an empire looks like. I want them to know what it takes to be successful. That’s what I think is important for them to see up close and personal.  I just want them to be upstanding citizens. More than anything I want them to be happy. And to do whatever they need to do to make them happy, within [reason].

What perspective or example do you hope to impart on your children through your work?

I want my kids to see what it takes to be successful in this life. A lot of times the kids look at us [and] they don’t know what we do. They ask for things and [it] mysteriously appearsthey don’t know what it’s like to be hungry, thank God. We’ve worked so hard to keep the struggle from them.

My husband and I both work from homewe’ve never worked this hard. It’s good because our kids are getting to see what building an empire looks like. I want them to know what it takes to be successful. That’s what I think is important for them to see up close and personal.

I just want them to be upstanding citizens. More than anything I want them to be happy. And to do whatever they need to do to make them happy, within [reason].

  Continued   I hate being a mom when I have to yell and try to get them to listen to me. You have to lay [down] the rules on that. It sucks sometimes. Doesn’t mean I won’t do it, because it needs to be done, even though I don’t enjoy that part.  One of my big tenets about motherhood is that it’s not all fun and games. There’s a good deal of it that is hard work. And part of that hard work is laying the ground rules and then following through. I see and hear a lot of moms say they get tough with their kids, but then they don’t follow through with whatever the punishment is that they were going to mete out.

Continued

I hate being a mom when I have to yell and try to get them to listen to me. You have to lay [down] the rules on that. It sucks sometimes. Doesn’t mean I won’t do it, because it needs to be done, even though I don’t enjoy that part.

One of my big tenets about motherhood is that it’s not all fun and games. There’s a good deal of it that is hard work. And part of that hard work is laying the ground rules and then following through. I see and hear a lot of moms say they get tough with their kids, but then they don’t follow through with whatever the punishment is that they were going to mete out.

  Continued   [When you do that] you end up undermining your authority and your word — you’ve become a paper tiger. So if you say, "I’m going to take away your phone if you don’t clean your room," well then you need to take away the phone if the room isn’t clean. A lot of parents for some reason don’t follow through there; that’s the step that gets glossed over, forgotten... And I think that’s not a good thing.  We have a tendency, for some reason, in this sort of modern motherhood [to] act like we can’t ever make a mistake. And I believe that your children are going to learn from your mistakes. Failure is a powerful teaching tool. It’s not necessarily something to avoid — let it happen, look at it, embrace, and learn from it.

Continued

[When you do that] you end up undermining your authority and your wordyou’ve become a paper tiger. So if you say, "I’m going to take away your phone if you don’t clean your room," well then you need to take away the phone if the room isn’t clean. A lot of parents for some reason don’t follow through there; that’s the step that gets glossed over, forgotten... And I think that’s not a good thing.

We have a tendency, for some reason, in this sort of modern motherhood [to] act like we can’t ever make a mistake. And I believe that your children are going to learn from your mistakes. Failure is a powerful teaching tool. It’s not necessarily something to avoidlet it happen, look at it, embrace, and learn from it.

  How has breast cancer affected you and your family?   The family history impacted me personally and it’s one of the reasons why I made the decision to have the preventive mastectomy. I think that it’s one of those things that’s never far from my family’s mind.  Breast cancer is something that’s just kind of like the fifth member of our family. We talk about preventive care, the things that they will have to take into consideration as they get older, as well. This isn’t just for my daughter, but my son as well and my husband — obviously this is a big cause for all of us.

How has breast cancer affected you and your family?

The family history impacted me personally and it’s one of the reasons why I made the decision to have the preventive mastectomy. I think that it’s one of those things that’s never far from my family’s mind.

Breast cancer is something that’s just kind of like the fifth member of our family. We talk about preventive care, the things that they will have to take into consideration as they get older, as well. This isn’t just for my daughter, but my son as well and my husbandobviously this is a big cause for all of us.

  How do you feel about your transformation from CBS anchor to a parenting blogger?   I never ever thought I would be in this place. I never saw myself doing anything else but anchoring the news, and I certainly didn’t see myself working as hard as I am, or struggling the way that I am. There’s beauty in the struggle. I had a friend who said, “You have to respect the process.” And I thought that was so deep because it’s true, there’s no shortcuts. You've got to experience it, you've got to experience every single aspect of it.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I pulled into my driveway and broke into tears because I was like, “Is this going to work?” I don’t know if you want to call it a second act or a reinvention or whatever, but I feel like I’ve fared better than a lot because I have been really ready to embrace everything that comes along.  This is the new reality. I have a lot of friends who are 50, 52, 58 and they’re longing for this thing that doesn’t really exist anymore. They’ve worked for the same company for 23 years, they have no idea where to start. My thing is, you better start learning.

How do you feel about your transformation from CBS anchor to a parenting blogger?

I never ever thought I would be in this place. I never saw myself doing anything else but anchoring the news, and I certainly didn’t see myself working as hard as I am, or struggling the way that I am. There’s beauty in the struggle. I had a friend who said, “You have to respect the process.” And I thought that was so deep because it’s true, there’s no shortcuts. You've got to experience it, you've got to experience every single aspect of it.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I pulled into my driveway and broke into tears because I was like, “Is this going to work?” I don’t know if you want to call it a second act or a reinvention or whatever, but I feel like I’ve fared better than a lot because I have been really ready to embrace everything that comes along.

This is the new reality. I have a lot of friends who are 50, 52, 58 and they’re longing for this thing that doesn’t really exist anymore. They’ve worked for the same company for 23 years, they have no idea where to start. My thing is, you better start learning.

  Casey, how would you describe you and your brother’s relationship?   It’s kind of like a love/hate. I love him, but I hate how he annoys me and bothers me. But I would be devastated if anything happened to him.   What’s one of your favorite memories with your mom?   There’s a recent one where we had a little falling out in our family, so my mom just took me to the city.   Rene:  Really, that’s your favorite?! Aw, that was fun. We went shopping during Christmas. Like most families, we had a huge to do. The boys were fighting — my husband and my son — and Casey and I were like, "We’re not dealing with that." So we jumped into the car, drove into the city and we blindbooked a hotel on Expedia, just the two of us. We shopped at H&M, got sushi, got street peanuts, and went back to the hotel. It was kind of an impromptu girls' trip.   Casey:  It was just so spontaneous!   What’s a lesson from your mom that you really cherish?   If something bad happens, just go on with it. [And] you can’t please everyone.

Casey, how would you describe you and your brother’s relationship?

It’s kind of like a love/hate. I love him, but I hate how he annoys me and bothers me. But I would be devastated if anything happened to him.

What’s one of your favorite memories with your mom?

There’s a recent one where we had a little falling out in our family, so my mom just took me to the city.

Rene: Really, that’s your favorite?! Aw, that was fun. We went shopping during Christmas. Like most families, we had a huge to do. The boys were fightingmy husband and my sonand Casey and I were like, "We’re not dealing with that." So we jumped into the car, drove into the city and we blindbooked a hotel on Expedia, just the two of us. We shopped at H&M, got sushi, got street peanuts, and went back to the hotel. It was kind of an impromptu girls' trip.

Casey: It was just so spontaneous!

What’s a lesson from your mom that you really cherish?

If something bad happens, just go on with it. [And] you can’t please everyone.

  Cole, how do you feel about starting high school?   I don’t know. I feel nervous, [but] it’s just like going into any other grade.   What do you do for fun?   All of my games [on the Xbox] that I have are really good; I can’t pick favorites.   What’s your favorite thing about your mom?   I like how she’s really funny.   What are some of your favorite memories with your family?   The first time I went to Disney World.   What’s one thing about your mom that you know that you think no one else knows?    Casey:  She’s not crazy. When she’s around other people, she’s kind of very outgoing, but really she does have a serious side. She’s not all jokes.   Cole:  I would say the same thing. 

Cole, how do you feel about starting high school?

I don’t know. I feel nervous, [but] it’s just like going into any other grade.

What do you do for fun?

All of my games [on the Xbox] that I have are really good; I can’t pick favorites.

What’s your favorite thing about your mom?

I like how she’s really funny.

What are some of your favorite memories with your family?

The first time I went to Disney World.

What’s one thing about your mom that you know that you think no one else knows?

Casey: She’s not crazy. When she’s around other people, she’s kind of very outgoing, but really she does have a serious side. She’s not all jokes.

Cole: I would say the same thing. 

  What do you think of the idea that a woman can’t have everything: a successful career, a supportive partner and children?   More than anything, one of the things I hope women understand [is that] they have to do what works for them. And if that means working 55 hours a week outside of your home and having your kids go to daycare or having in-home care, that’s great. If it means working 55 hours a week from the confines of your own home with your kids right down the hall and no in-house care, well that’s good too.  I hope that women will understand that if you want to have it all, you need to first identify what that is for you. Then you need to do whatever it is for you and not for anyone else—not because it’s expected of you or because that’s what you should do, or that’s what someone else did, or whatever. It needs to be because that’s what you want to do.   ΔΔΔ    more mater mea features    Poet and activist Staceyann Chin    Ebony Magazine editor Jamilah Lemieux    Artist and sculptor Wangechi Mutu    

What do you think of the idea that a woman can’t have everything: a successful career, a supportive partner and children?

More than anything, one of the things I hope women understand [is that] they have to do what works for them. And if that means working 55 hours a week outside of your home and having your kids go to daycare or having in-home care, that’s great. If it means working 55 hours a week from the confines of your own home with your kids right down the hall and no in-house care, well that’s good too.

I hope that women will understand that if you want to have it all, you need to first identify what that is for you. Then you need to do whatever it is for you and not for anyone else—not because it’s expected of you or because that’s what you should do, or that’s what someone else did, or whatever. It needs to be because that’s what you want to do.

ΔΔΔ

more mater mea features

Poet and activist Staceyann Chin

Ebony Magazine editor Jamilah Lemieux

Artist and sculptor Wangechi Mutu

 

NASOZI KAKEMBO

NASOZI KAKEMBO

Issue No. 8
Brooklyn, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

“I just came back from Kenya last month. Next month I’ll be in Paris for an internal staff meeting. In September, I’ll be in Budapest. I've been to Cape Town, Istanbul, and Senegal. I’ll be traveling to Burma, London…”

The far-flung, exotic locales 28-year-old Nasozi Kakembo visits for her day jobprocuring social justice and human rights grants for organizations around the worldsound as close by as the corner bodega. That may have something to do with how centered Kakembo is: One gets the sense that she’s at home wherever she is, whether it’s in her light-filled Bed-Stuy walk up or scoping out the fabric markets in Dakar for her home décor line, ORIGINS Style by Nasozi.

 But the place that matters most to Kakembo is the home she’s building for her energetic 3-year-old son, Rafayonda Kalungi. With the traveling demands of her job — she's usually gone for no more than a week — it's a constant exercise in balance, she says.

But the place that matters most to Kakembo is the home she’s building for her energetic 3-year-old son, Rafayonda Kalungi. With the traveling demands of her jobshe's usually gone for no more than a weekit's a constant exercise in balance, she says.

 “It would be next to impossible without my collective family,” Kakembo admits. “It’s literally a village effort. He spends time with his dad, his dad’s mom, my mom, his cousins, his dad’s brother... It seems to work itself out. Fortunately we all work together and he keeps us all together. It ends up being a beautiful thing because he ends up seeing the family so frequently.”   A photo of Nasozi's mother on display on her mantle.

“It would be next to impossible without my collective family,” Kakembo admits. “It’s literally a village effort. He spends time with his dad, his dad’s mom, my mom, his cousins, his dad’s brother... It seems to work itself out. Fortunately we all work together and he keeps us all together. It ends up being a beautiful thing because he ends up seeing the family so frequently.”

A photo of Nasozi's mother on display on her mantle.

 Rafayonda sits with his mother on their sofa, taking a break from yoga posin’ and organic lollipop lickin’ to flip through a photo album his grandmother made for him. Each plastic sheet contains a photo of Rafa, as he’s known, with a family member in a moment he recalls vividly.    He presses the photo album close to him for a hug when he sees a photo of him and one of his cousins sitting in the tub for bath time. “That’s my grandma,” he says moments later, pointing to a smiling figure off to the side at a birthday party.

Rafayonda sits with his mother on their sofa, taking a break from yoga posin’ and organic lollipop lickin’ to flip through a photo album his grandmother made for him. Each plastic sheet contains a photo of Rafa, as he’s known, with a family member in a moment he recalls vividly.  

He presses the photo album close to him for a hug when he sees a photo of him and one of his cousins sitting in the tub for bath time. “That’s my grandma,” he says moments later, pointing to a smiling figure off to the side at a birthday party.

“The way he demonstrates his knowledge [is] very subtle. He does it in in a comedic way.”

“The way he demonstrates his knowledge [is] very subtle. He does it in in a comedic way.”

 The importance of family and knowing where you come from is something Kakembo has imparted to her son very early, in fact, before he was born. When it was time to name their son, she and Rafa’s father agreed to combine their last names.  “My last name carries a significant amount of history,” she says. “A lot of blacks [in America] don’t have their African names and we didn’t want to lose that piece of our identity for our son.” Even though she is half Ugandan, “it’s really a point of pride for me,” she says; she visits her family in Uganda often and cites her experiences there as the inspiration behind her decision to go into development as a career.

The importance of family and knowing where you come from is something Kakembo has imparted to her son very early, in fact, before he was born. When it was time to name their son, she and Rafa’s father agreed to combine their last names.

“My last name carries a significant amount of history,” she says. “A lot of blacks [in America] don’t have their African names and we didn’t want to lose that piece of our identity for our son.” Even though she is half Ugandan, “it’s really a point of pride for me,” she says; she visits her family in Uganda often and cites her experiences there as the inspiration behind her decision to go into development as a career.

 Another lesson? Harnessing your creative energy (which Rafa seems to have no problems with as he bounds around his living room, inventing games and stories with ease every five or so minutes).  “That’s something in him that I’m really striving to cultivate and nurture,” Kakembo says. “It’s so easy for us as adults to lose our creative expression that we had as children. I don’t want him to lose [his].” 

Another lesson? Harnessing your creative energy (which Rafa seems to have no problems with as he bounds around his living room, inventing games and stories with ease every five or so minutes).

“That’s something in him that I’m really striving to cultivate and nurture,” Kakembo says. “It’s so easy for us as adults to lose our creative expression that we had as children. I don’t want him to lose [his].” 

 Kakembo was close to losing her own creative spirit before she started ORIGINS Style, a line of modern wax print and batik home goods, in 2011. “Around this same time I was really craving to have my creative side active again because prior to graduate school and my current job, I was always making something,” Kakembo recalls. Before going on a work-related trip to Dakar, Senegal, her son’s grandmother Juliet asked her to bring her back fabric to have skirts made. Along with getting the fabric for her godmother, Kakembo couldn’t help but get something for herself.  “I was excited and overwhelmed with all the fabrics in the market!” Kakembo remembers, laughing. “I had no idea what I was going to do with it; I just knew they were gorgeous and relatively inexpensive.

Kakembo was close to losing her own creative spirit before she started ORIGINS Style, a line of modern wax print and batik home goods, in 2011. “Around this same time I was really craving to have my creative side active again because prior to graduate school and my current job, I was always making something,” Kakembo recalls. Before going on a work-related trip to Dakar, Senegal, her son’s grandmother Juliet asked her to bring her back fabric to have skirts made. Along with getting the fabric for her godmother, Kakembo couldn’t help but get something for herself.

“I was excited and overwhelmed with all the fabrics in the market!” Kakembo remembers, laughing. “I had no idea what I was going to do with it; I just knew they were gorgeous and relatively inexpensive.

 “I had six yards,” she continues. “I [thought], ‘What am I supposed to do with all this fabric?’ It must have been something divine that came in and said, ‘You’re going to make pillows!’ I hadn’t even sewed since I was a little girl!”  But Kakembo got a sewing machine, found a pattern she liked, and started making the bright pillows, fabric-accented mirrors, and curtains that now make up her line. 

“I had six yards,” she continues. “I [thought], ‘What am I supposed to do with all this fabric?’ It must have been something divine that came in and said, ‘You’re going to make pillows!’ I hadn’t even sewed since I was a little girl!”

But Kakembo got a sewing machine, found a pattern she liked, and started making the bright pillows, fabric-accented mirrors, and curtains that now make up her line. 

 ORIGINS Style — which has customers as far as Australia — just adds to the work-life balance of this traveling mom. She finds time to sew in her bedroom when her son is asleep in his. But even when his mother has to go abroad, she’s never too far away: her pillows are on his bed.

ORIGINS Stylewhich has customers as far as Australiajust adds to the work-life balance of this traveling mom. She finds time to sew in her bedroom when her son is asleep in his. But even when his mother has to go abroad, she’s never too far away: her pillows are on his bed.

Q&A

Q&A

Tell us about your day job.

I’m working for a private foundation that provides human rights and social justice grants to organizations around the worldorganizations that are striving to create more open societies [through] freedom of speech, access to education, and rights. We work with smaller organizations to provide the funds that they need in order to achieve those objectives. I work in the higher education support program: fellowships, researchers, etc.

  Continued    I went to grad school for urban planning. Prior to that I had my heart set on architecture. Once architecture was in the academic setting, it was no longer what I thought it was or how I experienced it. I had been traveling back and forth to Africa in my youth anyway, but this is around the time I really started to acquire [not only] a greater awareness, but a sense of frustration about why things were happening in the world around me and wanting to make sense of the disparities of quality of life [and] basic human rights.  It was also inspired by the trips I took to Uganda around the time I was figuring out my career path. My peers, my cousins, and friends — their basic rights and well-being took a backseat to environmentally hazardous and corrupt "development."  “They’re just like me, why does their experience have to be much more trying than mine?” I wondered. So I realized architecture wasn’t the tool that I could use to come to that change. I really started to search for a field of study that would allow me to make sense of their experience. That’s how I got into development and policy and politics.

Continued

I went to grad school for urban planning. Prior to that I had my heart set on architecture. Once architecture was in the academic setting, it was no longer what I thought it was or how I experienced it. I had been traveling back and forth to Africa in my youth anyway, but this is around the time I really started to acquire [not only] a greater awareness, but a sense of frustration about why things were happening in the world around me and wanting to make sense of the disparities of quality of life [and] basic human rights.

It was also inspired by the trips I took to Uganda around the time I was figuring out my career path. My peers, my cousins, and friendstheir basic rights and well-being took a backseat to environmentally hazardous and corrupt "development."

“They’re just like me, why does their experience have to be much more trying than mine?” I wondered. So I realized architecture wasn’t the tool that I could use to come to that change. I really started to search for a field of study that would allow me to make sense of their experience. That’s how I got into development and policy and politics.

  What’s a typical day like with your son?   For me it starts around 6:30. I try to do yoga or ride on my exercise bike to get some exercise or me time in before he wakes up. He wakes up around 7,7:30. Then from there, it’s breakfast in the morning.  [When] we’re getting ready for school, somehow I always end up rushing despite the fact that I’ve been doing this for awhile. One of the lessons I’ve learned early on is to get myself ready first because so many times by the time he was ready and looking presentable to the outside world, I was too exhausted to do anything to myself. 

What’s a typical day like with your son?

For me it starts around 6:30. I try to do yoga or ride on my exercise bike to get some exercise or me time in before he wakes up. He wakes up around 7,7:30. Then from there, it’s breakfast in the morning.

[When] we’re getting ready for school, somehow I always end up rushing despite the fact that I’ve been doing this for awhile. One of the lessons I’ve learned early on is to get myself ready first because so many times by the time he was ready and looking presentable to the outside world, I was too exhausted to do anything to myself. 

  How has being a mom changed your life?   It’s made me more focused. It’s made me more deliberate in my actions, it’s rejuvenated me, and it’s made me a kid again in some ways. It’s really made me more present and aware of the smaller, more mundane things in life, in general.  For example, my son is 3 and he goes to daycare. He comes home singing nursery rhymes and a lot of them I had forgotten. It totally brings me back to those moments of being a kid again, going back in my mind to the time when we were kids and could be free and jolly.  We were on Rockaway Beach off of 70th Street recently and we were playing. For the first time in such a long time, I was doing cartwheels. It was so liberating to do cartwheels along the sand and the ocean. I don't necessarily think I would’ve done that if it weren’t for the fact that I was with him. It brings that part back out of me.

How has being a mom changed your life?

It’s made me more focused. It’s made me more deliberate in my actions, it’s rejuvenated me, and it’s made me a kid again in some ways. It’s really made me more present and aware of the smaller, more mundane things in life, in general.

For example, my son is 3 and he goes to daycare. He comes home singing nursery rhymes and a lot of them I had forgotten. It totally brings me back to those moments of being a kid again, going back in my mind to the time when we were kids and could be free and jolly.

We were on Rockaway Beach off of 70th Street recently and we were playing. For the first time in such a long time, I was doing cartwheels. It was so liberating to do cartwheels along the sand and the ocean. I don't necessarily think I would’ve done that if it weren’t for the fact that I was with him. It brings that part back out of me.

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_O8fgFSbmbu58MqesuJUYvKMsQAKvkrGqrWmyJVIcT4.jpeg
  What do you enjoy most about being a mom?   The laughter. There are just some really funny moments that I have with my son. His humor is still this very unfiltered, innocent, and comedic humor. I’m not sure if that’s by virtue of being a child or if it’s his personality. He cracks me up. He’s quite a comedian.  We’re also the same [astrological] sign and we’re very much in sync beyond the parent/child kind of cosmic connection. Sometimes we understand each other without saying anything; he finishes my sentences and vice versa. I enjoy laughing with him. It’s really my favorite thing to do ever. Being able to share that with him is very cool. 

What do you enjoy most about being a mom?

The laughter. There are just some really funny moments that I have with my son. His humor is still this very unfiltered, innocent, and comedic humor. I’m not sure if that’s by virtue of being a child or if it’s his personality. He cracks me up. He’s quite a comedian.

We’re also the same [astrological] sign and we’re very much in sync beyond the parent/child kind of cosmic connection. Sometimes we understand each other without saying anything; he finishes my sentences and vice versa. I enjoy laughing with him. It’s really my favorite thing to do ever. Being able to share that with him is very cool. 

  Continued   I’m [also] thinking of the first time that we went to visit my brother and my brother‘s wife and nephew in California. My nephew was about 2.5 at the time and my son had just turned 1.  When we first got there my son hugged my nephew, Miles. I was just shocked because we’re always forcing kids to hug each other [and] he just reached out. And I thought “Oh my God, I must be doing something right.” He understands the gesture of love and that made me feel really good and I really enjoyed that.  Even understanding the different ways in which they learn. As adults we’re so literal. If you can say 1+1= 2, you’re intelligent. The way he demonstrates his knowledge is very subtle and he does it in in a comedic way.

Continued

I’m [also] thinking of the first time that we went to visit my brother and my brother‘s wife and nephew in California. My nephew was about 2.5 at the time and my son had just turned 1.

When we first got there my son hugged my nephew, Miles. I was just shocked because we’re always forcing kids to hug each other [and] he just reached out. And I thought “Oh my God, I must be doing something right.” He understands the gesture of love and that made me feel really good and I really enjoyed that.

Even understanding the different ways in which they learn. As adults we’re so literal. If you can say 1+1= 2, you’re intelligent. The way he demonstrates his knowledge is very subtle and he does it in in a comedic way.

  Fill in the blank: Being a mom is the hardest when...?   When I’m tired, and more like a mental exhaustion: full days at work, he might be having his own tantrum. It’s just sometimes it can be very challenging to generate or just squeeze out the last ounce of mental fortitude to remain composed or to remain the bigger person and to really hold it together.

Fill in the blank: Being a mom is the hardest when...?

When I’m tired, and more like a mental exhaustion: full days at work, he might be having his own tantrum. It’s just sometimes it can be very challenging to generate or just squeeze out the last ounce of mental fortitude to remain composed or to remain the bigger person and to really hold it together.

“He’s 3.5 years old but he has my back.”

“He’s 3.5 years old but he has my back.”

  What was the best advice your mother, or the mothers in your life, gave you?   Well, my own mother told me to just always keep peace around me. That was during a time in my life when things weren’t necessarily that way. She told me that’s what she learned when she was in a similar place becoming a mother and trying to figure out what her life was going to be at the time. I found that really helpful and relevant to me at the time.  Another friend of mine is a father of two kids and he taught me to listen to my son. So many times we feel like we have to tell them everything, but in their own little words they have a lot of things to say.

What was the best advice your mother, or the mothers in your life, gave you?

Well, my own mother told me to just always keep peace around me. That was during a time in my life when things weren’t necessarily that way. She told me that’s what she learned when she was in a similar place becoming a mother and trying to figure out what her life was going to be at the time. I found that really helpful and relevant to me at the time.

Another friend of mine is a father of two kids and he taught me to listen to my son. So many times we feel like we have to tell them everything, but in their own little words they have a lot of things to say.

  You’re so beautiful! What's your regimen?   I literally just started doing yoga, but in general I tend to watch what I eat [though] I do have a sweet tooth. I do enjoy [living a] healthy lifestyle. And then of course having the little one and having to keep up with him.  Until recently I was very hesitant to do yoga for some reason. I always did different stretches when I was a runner, but I was put off by the idea or image that yoga has taken on in the U.S. I think part of me was just making excuses to not do it, but I really had a very fortunate encounter and experience while I was on my last business trip. One of my colleagues is based in Kenya and she hosted a staff retreat. She flew her yoga instructor in to lead morning and evening classes.  It was all walks of life and all ages, and just to have that be my first yoga experience... It was actually what my mind needed the whole entire time. She triggered a whole new lifestyle  [Also] I don’t know if it’s something in the air, but when I go over [to Uganda], I feel so much better: my hair and my nails, my skin, everything is just rejuvenated.

You’re so beautiful! What's your regimen?

I literally just started doing yoga, but in general I tend to watch what I eat [though] I do have a sweet tooth. I do enjoy [living a] healthy lifestyle. And then of course having the little one and having to keep up with him.

Until recently I was very hesitant to do yoga for some reason. I always did different stretches when I was a runner, but I was put off by the idea or image that yoga has taken on in the U.S. I think part of me was just making excuses to not do it, but I really had a very fortunate encounter and experience while I was on my last business trip. One of my colleagues is based in Kenya and she hosted a staff retreat. She flew her yoga instructor in to lead morning and evening classes.

It was all walks of life and all ages, and just to have that be my first yoga experience... It was actually what my mind needed the whole entire time. She triggered a whole new lifestyle

[Also] I don’t know if it’s something in the air, but when I go over [to Uganda], I feel so much better: my hair and my nails, my skin, everything is just rejuvenated.

  What inspires your personal style?   My style varies. I don’t mold my style to fit into any place I go in particular, but so many people and so many places affected my style. So I may have a business top on, some masai bead bangles. Because I’m half Ugandan, I really want that to show through in what I wear just as much as I am American.   When I was in Uganda, I had on my Brooklyn sweater. So having one foot in Uganda and one foot in America, I definitely like to combine the stylistic traditions and interpretations.  I believe in addition to accent pieces, confidence is the best accessory. If you feel good in whatever you’re wearing, that will shine through.

What inspires your personal style?

My style varies. I don’t mold my style to fit into any place I go in particular, but so many people and so many places affected my style. So I may have a business top on, some masai bead bangles. Because I’m half Ugandan, I really want that to show through in what I wear just as much as I am American. 

When I was in Uganda, I had on my Brooklyn sweater. So having one foot in Uganda and one foot in America, I definitely like to combine the stylistic traditions and interpretations.

I believe in addition to accent pieces, confidence is the best accessory. If you feel good in whatever you’re wearing, that will shine through.

  What inspires the way you dress Rafa?   Anything in the hand-me-down bin. I have been shopping for him twice: once before he was born and once before his first day of preschool.

What inspires the way you dress Rafa?

Anything in the hand-me-down bin. I have been shopping for him twice: once before he was born and once before his first day of preschool.

  What do you and Rafa like to eat?    Nasozi Kakembo:  I love avocado, I love mango, pineapple, I also like Mexican food. He likes just about anything.   Rafa:  Chicken and rice. And peanuts. And salad. Green lollipop salad.   NK:  What else do you like? You like patties.   Rafa:  Patties, yeah!

What do you and Rafa like to eat?

Nasozi Kakembo: I love avocado, I love mango, pineapple, I also like Mexican food. He likes just about anything.

Rafa: Chicken and rice. And peanuts. And salad. Green lollipop salad.

NK: What else do you like? You like patties.

Rafa: Patties, yeah!

  What kind of man do you hope your son becomes?   I already see the characteristics that I hope my son becomes. My son is very compassionate. I want him to mature with those characteristics preserved. He’s very loyal. He’s 3 ½ years old, but he has my back. He looks out for his family. Two of his cousins are in Brazil for the summer with some of our family and he asks about them all the time.  I think we’re in our truest and purest forms when we’re kids. I want him to stay who he is, but I want him to mature and to have these characteristics evolve and grow as he grows and evolves. He’s intelligent, he’s witty, he’s all of those amazing things.   ΔΔΔ

What kind of man do you hope your son becomes?

I already see the characteristics that I hope my son becomes. My son is very compassionate. I want him to mature with those characteristics preserved. He’s very loyal. He’s 3 ½ years old, but he has my back. He looks out for his family. Two of his cousins are in Brazil for the summer with some of our family and he asks about them all the time.

I think we’re in our truest and purest forms when we’re kids. I want him to stay who he is, but I want him to mature and to have these characteristics evolve and grow as he grows and evolves. He’s intelligent, he’s witty, he’s all of those amazing things.

ΔΔΔ

STEPHANIE POPE CAFFEY

STEPHANIE POPE CAFFEY

Issue No. 9
New York City, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

The entry wall of Stephanie Pope Caffey's bedroom is covered with the ephemera of her early Broadway days. An autographed poster of "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" with a caricature of actor Nathan Lane. A tight close up of Pope Caffey's face, staring right into the camera as her arms frame her face.

But one in particular stands out: Pope Caffey ebullient in a top hat, her large eyes and smile wide as one of her incredibly long legs extends out, the photographer catching her mid can-can.

Despite the toothy grin and successful shows, the 48-year-old mom left Broadway behind at 39 to stay at home with her then 1-year-old daughter Mari. Becoming an older mom spurred her decision to leave the limelight behind, ending the “me, me, me, me, me” period being a theater performer often demands, she says.

“The interesting thing about theater performing,” Pope Caffey says, “[is that] you feel young forever. A lot of women in theater forget time is ticking. I am so grateful. I felt there was not a whole lot more I was able to give. I needed something else in my life; I needed to be fulfilled in another way.

 "[When] she turned 1 and I was still performing I said, ‘No, this is not how I want to do this!’” she continues. “I had my child in tow, going from airport to airport, theater to theater. So I said, 'No, it’s time to take a break.' And that’s what I did.”  Pope Caffey stayed at home with Mari for four years and loved every second of it; it was a welcome break after working for most of her life (she had her first professional dancing job at 14).  “I loved being able to bring her to school, come home, take care of the home, and then be there for her when she came out of school and be there for all her little activities,” Pope Caffey says. “Just really being actively involved in her life was a good feeling.”

"[When] she turned 1 and I was still performing I said, ‘No, this is not how I want to do this!’” she continues. “I had my child in tow, going from airport to airport, theater to theater. So I said, 'No, it’s time to take a break.' And that’s what I did.”

Pope Caffey stayed at home with Mari for four years and loved every second of it; it was a welcome break after working for most of her life (she had her first professional dancing job at 14).

“I loved being able to bring her to school, come home, take care of the home, and then be there for her when she came out of school and be there for all her little activities,” Pope Caffey says. “Just really being actively involved in her life was a good feeling.”

 But, as kids are wont to do, Mari got bigger and Pope Caffey began to think about what was next. Returning to theater was out of the question — she still wanted to be close to home and her 5-year-old little girl. “Whatever it was going to be, it was going to be something where my daughter could be around,” Pope Caffey remembered thinking.  And then it dawned on her: having practiced yoga for 20 years (with a few of those years under the tutelage of Bikram yoga founder Bikram Choudhury), she would open up a yoga studio in her own community.  “My spirit said this is what you can do. [I] have a passion for it, I knew I wanted to bring it back to my community, back to Harlem where I was born and raised," she says. "And once I acknowledged that, the universe just said ‘Ok. Then let’s start.’”

But, as kids are wont to do, Mari got bigger and Pope Caffey began to think about what was next. Returning to theater was out of the questionshe still wanted to be close to home and her 5-year-old little girl. “Whatever it was going to be, it was going to be something where my daughter could be around,” Pope Caffey remembered thinking.

And then it dawned on her: having practiced yoga for 20 years (with a few of those years under the tutelage of Bikram yoga founder Bikram Choudhury), she would open up a yoga studio in her own community.

“My spirit said this is what you can do. [I] have a passion for it, I knew I wanted to bring it back to my community, back to Harlem where I was born and raised," she says. "And once I acknowledged that, the universe just said ‘Ok. Then let’s start.’”

 Pope Caffey and her sister Jennifer Pope opened up their studio,  Bikram Yoga East Harlem , in November 2008 — better known as the period when the bottom fell out of the nation’s economy. But the two sisters and their studio weathered the storm, and have gone on to become an integral part of the community, bringing yoga novices and enthusiasts from all five corners of New York to Harlem. “[People] just love the feeling they have when they’re in our studio. That’s the most important thing for us,” she says.   

Pope Caffey and her sister Jennifer Pope opened up their studio, Bikram Yoga East Harlem, in November 2008better known as the period when the bottom fell out of the nation’s economy. But the two sisters and their studio weathered the storm, and have gone on to become an integral part of the community, bringing yoga novices and enthusiasts from all five corners of New York to Harlem. “[People] just love the feeling they have when they’re in our studio. That’s the most important thing for us,” she says.

 

 What’s more, it’s a space where her daughter, now 9, can visit. The multi-talented Mari (an aspiring fashion designer who says she’d consider acting as well) also practices yoga; she rolls out a purple mat on the ground in their backyard and contorts her long-limbed frame into frog pose, smiling. No problem.  Pope Caffey joins her outside in the last of the summer sun and asks her daughter to spot her as she slowly pulls herself up into a headstand on the mat, her legs (they do, in fact, go for days) slowly and incrementally rising until she creates an exclamation point with her body.

What’s more, it’s a space where her daughter, now 9, can visit. The multi-talented Mari (an aspiring fashion designer who says she’d consider acting as well) also practices yoga; she rolls out a purple mat on the ground in their backyard and contorts her long-limbed frame into frog pose, smiling. No problem.

Pope Caffey joins her outside in the last of the summer sun and asks her daughter to spot her as she slowly pulls herself up into a headstand on the mat, her legs (they do, in fact, go for days) slowly and incrementally rising until she creates an exclamation point with her body.

 Yoga has actually prepared Pope Caffey for her next act: an unexpected return to Broadway after a 10-year hiatus. She’ll be in the ensemble cast of “Pippin” and an understudy for lead actress Patina Miller (who was the original Sister Mary Clarence in the Broadway production of “Sister Act”). After a three-week workshop, rehearsals will start in October.  “I wasn’t sure what it was going to feel like. I was a little bit afraid,” Pope Caffey admits. “[But] once I got back in it was like, ‘Oh, I remember what this is!’”  With the prospect of stepping in for 27-year-old Miller, Pope Caffey says “thank God for the yoga, because I think that’s the thing that sustained me through the period [I wasn’t performing].  “It feels like getting back on a bike and riding,” she said, smiling. “It’s nice to have both worlds back.”

Yoga has actually prepared Pope Caffey for her next act: an unexpected return to Broadway after a 10-year hiatus. She’ll be in the ensemble cast of “Pippin” and an understudy for lead actress Patina Miller (who was the original Sister Mary Clarence in the Broadway production of “Sister Act”). After a three-week workshop, rehearsals will start in October.

“I wasn’t sure what it was going to feel like. I was a little bit afraid,” Pope Caffey admits. “[But] once I got back in it was like, ‘Oh, I remember what this is!’”

With the prospect of stepping in for 27-year-old Miller, Pope Caffey says “thank God for the yoga, because I think that’s the thing that sustained me through the period [I wasn’t performing].

“It feels like getting back on a bike and riding,” she said, smiling. “It’s nice to have both worlds back.”

Q&A

Q&A

How did you get your studio up and running?

I had been asking everybody I knew who practiced bikramor [who were] planning to go to teacher trainings because you have to be an instructor to open up a bikram yoga studioif they were interested in opening a studio with me.

My sister had been practicing since 2006, but she comes from the corporate world and I thought, “No, way!” You know coming from theater you understand you might not make money. She came from the corporate world where you get a check every Friday and you get benefits, and I thought there’s no way she would be interested in doing this crazy thing. [But] one day I finally turned to her and said “Would you want to?” and she turned to me and said “Well, how come you never asked me?” All of a sudden we were both like, “Of course, yes!” 

  Continued    And then we just started looking. We knew we wanted to do it in our community; our studio is literally a block away from the projects where we grew up on 116th Street.   That again was the Universe. [It] was the first location we saw [and we] fell in love with it: there were high ceilings, no beams, no pillars in the middle, lots of windows, lots of light. The back of it looked out onto a beautiful courtyard — we just thought, "This is perfect!" We looked around some more, just to be sure, but nothing was quite what we wanted other than this location. Thank God it was still available. And the rest is history as they say.  We put our ["Coming Soon"] sign up. We got held up with permits and construction and everything. We thought we would be open in June, July... the latest we thought was August, but we didn’t open until November. So that was crazy.

Continued

And then we just started looking. We knew we wanted to do it in our community; our studio is literally a block away from the projects where we grew up on 116th Street.

That again was the Universe. [It] was the first location we saw [and we] fell in love with it: there were high ceilings, no beams, no pillars in the middle, lots of windows, lots of light. The back of it looked out onto a beautiful courtyardwe just thought, "This is perfect!" We looked around some more, just to be sure, but nothing was quite what we wanted other than this location. Thank God it was still available. And the rest is history as they say.

We put our ["Coming Soon"] sign up. We got held up with permits and construction and everything. We thought we would be open in June, July... the latest we thought was August, but we didn’t open until November. So that was crazy.

  Continued   We had done weekly pre-opening sales for classes. People were trying to get their money back, saying you guys are never going to open, but we eventually did! We’ll be celebrating four years this November.  It had its share of challenges, as any new business does, especially opening up in 2008 with the recession. But we kept strategizing and coming back and restructuring and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. 

Continued

We had done weekly pre-opening sales for classes. People were trying to get their money back, saying you guys are never going to open, but we eventually did! We’ll be celebrating four years this November.

It had its share of challenges, as any new business does, especially opening up in 2008 with the recession. But we kept strategizing and coming back and restructuring and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. 

  Why are you returning to the theater?   I am returning to the theater for two reasons — actually three. [With this economy] I needed something to supplement my income. The yoga studio is more a labor of love and a way to give back to my community than a big money maker. Life sort of dictated that I add something to the mix and other than the yoga, theater is what I know, love and have a passion for.  Second, I did not have any theatrical pictures of myself hanging in my home in Jersey. When I moved back to Harlem and started opening boxes and hanging my theater pictures up, my daughter was so fascinated by them. It dawned on me that there was  a whole part of me that my daughter really knew nothing about. I wanted to fix that!  And thirdly, I needed to reconnect with that part of me that I basically gave up after I married and had my child. 

Why are you returning to the theater?

I am returning to the theater for two reasonsactually three. [With this economy] I needed something to supplement my income. The yoga studio is more a labor of love and a way to give back to my community than a big money maker. Life sort of dictated that I add something to the mix and other than the yoga, theater is what I know, love and have a passion for.

Second, I did not have any theatrical pictures of myself hanging in my home in Jersey. When I moved back to Harlem and started opening boxes and hanging my theater pictures up, my daughter was so fascinated by them. It dawned on me that there was  a whole part of me that my daughter really knew nothing about. I wanted to fix that!

And thirdly, I needed to reconnect with that part of me that I basically gave up after I married and had my child. 

  How has being a mom changed your life?   In every way. I think my priorities have totally shifted. I have learned what battles to fight. The things that used to be so important to me are really meaningless compared to making sure that my daughter is healthy and happy.

How has being a mom changed your life?

In every way. I think my priorities have totally shifted. I have learned what battles to fight. The things that used to be so important to me are really meaningless compared to making sure that my daughter is healthy and happy.

  Did you have any fears going back to Broadway?   I had a lot of fears going back. I was the leading player in the musical "Fosse," I played Velma in "Chicago," then to go back into the ensemble I was like, “I don’t know.” I know the choreographer and I said, “Look, I’m not what I would call 'boxer shape,' but I’m going to work my butt off for you,” and he was wonderful and supportive. 

Did you have any fears going back to Broadway?

I had a lot of fears going back. I was the leading player in the musical "Fosse," I played Velma in "Chicago," then to go back into the ensemble I was like, “I don’t know.” I know the choreographer and I said, “Look, I’m not what I would call 'boxer shape,' but I’m going to work my butt off for you,” and he was wonderful and supportive. 

  Fill in the blank: Being a mom is the hardest when...?   ... when I see my daughter frustrated. ... when I see her having difficulty with something or when I see her being afraid. ... when I see her unhappy about an issue.  That’s the last thing I want to see is my child somehow feeling frustrated or sad or feeling confused. And it’s difficult having to explain that that’s also part of life. It’s normal to be afraid, to feel anxiety about things. Yet finding ways to explain to her how to navigate it, how to get around it, how to trust that things will be ok. It may seem very challenging right now, it may seem very difficult right now, it may seem like it will always be this way right now. But [I'm] helping her to see that it won’t always be that way [and] you won’t always feel this way.

Fill in the blank: Being a mom is the hardest when...?

... when I see my daughter frustrated.
... when I see her having difficulty with something or when I see her being afraid.
... when I see her unhappy about an issue.

That’s the last thing I want to see is my child somehow feeling frustrated or sad or feeling confused. And it’s difficult having to explain that that’s also part of life. It’s normal to be afraid, to feel anxiety about things. Yet finding ways to explain to her how to navigate it, how to get around it, how to trust that things will be ok. It may seem very challenging right now, it may seem very difficult right now, it may seem like it will always be this way right now. But [I'm] helping her to see that it won’t always be that way [and] you won’t always feel this way.

  How would you describe Mari’s personality?   She can be very outgoing [and] she’s very creative. She hardly ever stays still: She’s dancing and leaping and jumping and twirling and singing. She probably comes by that a little vicariously; I was performing while I was pregnant, so I just think somehow she just heard music. She loves singing and dancing and running around.  I’m not saying this because I’m her mom, but she’s a beautiful girl who has an amazing sense of humor. I find that so charming in anybody, so I really love that quality about her.

How would you describe Mari’s personality?

She can be very outgoing [and] she’s very creative. She hardly ever stays still: She’s dancing and leaping and jumping and twirling and singing. She probably comes by that a little vicariously; I was performing while I was pregnant, so I just think somehow she just heard music. She loves singing and dancing and running around.

I’m not saying this because I’m her mom, but she’s a beautiful girl who has an amazing sense of humor. I find that so charming in anybody, so I really love that quality about her.

  Does Mari do yoga with you?   She does. She actually takes her own yoga classes at a studio called  Land Yoga  and occasionally she’ll come and take classes [at my studio]. We have an advanced class just for invited teachers and practitioners with more experience. And she’ll come to that because that’s the fun class. That’s the one where you can do all the crazy postures. You can stand on your head a lot, do a lot of the challenging postures, which kids can do like it’s nothing. She prefers taking that class.   Mari, why do you like yoga?   I think that it helps you get flexible, it’s really good for you, and it helps you open up your pores, so all the bad stuff goes bye-bye.

Does Mari do yoga with you?

She does. She actually takes her own yoga classes at a studio called Land Yoga and occasionally she’ll come and take classes [at my studio]. We have an advanced class just for invited teachers and practitioners with more experience. And she’ll come to that because that’s the fun class. That’s the one where you can do all the crazy postures. You can stand on your head a lot, do a lot of the challenging postures, which kids can do like it’s nothing. She prefers taking that class.

Mari, why do you like yoga?

I think that it helps you get flexible, it’s really good for you, and it helps you open up your pores, so all the bad stuff goes bye-bye.

  What kind of woman do you hope Mari becomes?   She’s already book smart — I want her to be life smart. I want her to be able to make good decisions about herself [and] her life. And that takes understanding yourself. You have to have a good foundation and I hope that I'm able to provide her with that.

What kind of woman do you hope Mari becomes?

She’s already book smartI want her to be life smart. I want her to be able to make good decisions about herself [and] her life. And that takes understanding yourself. You have to have a good foundation and I hope that I'm able to provide her with that.

  What inspires your personal style?   That is a question that is very hard to answer for me because I've never really been a fashionista. I love comfortable casual clothing. I tend to be someone who will wear black and will try to accessorize that, especially in the fall and winter months. You’ll often find me in a turtleneck and leggings with some funky boots on. In the summer time I really love to wear cool dresses.  But more often than not, if I'm not in my leggings and t-shirt or turtleneck or something, you’ll find me in a pair of jeans. That’s kind of my [thing]: throw on a pair of jeans, go to the studio, and do my thing.

What inspires your personal style?

That is a question that is very hard to answer for me because I've never really been a fashionista. I love comfortable casual clothing. I tend to be someone who will wear black and will try to accessorize that, especially in the fall and winter months. You’ll often find me in a turtleneck and leggings with some funky boots on. In the summer time I really love to wear cool dresses.

But more often than not, if I'm not in my leggings and t-shirt or turtleneck or something, you’ll find me in a pair of jeans. That’s kind of my [thing]: throw on a pair of jeans, go to the studio, and do my thing.

  What’s the most gratifying part of your job?   I think being a part of and helping to facilitate positive change in people’s lives and actually being able to see that. When I was performing, you’re up there on stage; when you look out it’s totally dark, you can’t see the audience, you can’t see anything. Unless someone takes the time to wait at the stage door or takes the time to write you a letter or something, you really don’t know how you’re affecting people. It is so gratifying to me to literally be able to see the effect that the yoga has on someone’s life: physically, emotionally, even spiritually. It’s the best feeling in the world.   How did you meet Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga?   Over 20 years ago, I lived in California for a little bit and that’s where he had his first studio. That’s where I met him and studied with him for years. he encouraged me to teach, but I was dancing and doing my thing. I was like, “I know nothing about yoga, so why would I want to do something like that?” But when someone like that plants that seed, it stays with you

What’s the most gratifying part of your job?

I think being a part of and helping to facilitate positive change in people’s lives and actually being able to see that. When I was performing, you’re up there on stage; when you look out it’s totally dark, you can’t see the audience, you can’t see anything. Unless someone takes the time to wait at the stage door or takes the time to write you a letter or something, you really don’t know how you’re affecting people. It is so gratifying to me to literally be able to see the effect that the yoga has on someone’s life: physically, emotionally, even spiritually. It’s the best feeling in the world.

How did you meet Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga?

Over 20 years ago, I lived in California for a little bit and that’s where he had his first studio. That’s where I met him and studied with him for years. he encouraged me to teach, but I was dancing and doing my thing. I was like, “I know nothing about yoga, so why would I want to do something like that?” But when someone like that plants that seed, it stays with you

  What's your beauty regimen?   Internally my beauty regimen is to try eat as much fruits and vegetables as I can. To try to stay away from too many cakes, cookies, and sweets. I love food though. I've been really fortunate for most of my life, because I was a dancer for so many years, I never really had to concern myself with my weight so much. That’s kind of changed now that I'm older, but I still try to consciously combine my foods. I try I to do fruits in the morning, I try not to do carbs and protein at the same time. I try to do the conscious food combining, which is really good for digestion and energy.

What's your beauty regimen?

Internally my beauty regimen is to try eat as much fruits and vegetables as I can. To try to stay away from too many cakes, cookies, and sweets. I love food though. I've been really fortunate for most of my life, because I was a dancer for so many years, I never really had to concern myself with my weight so much. That’s kind of changed now that I'm older, but I still try to consciously combine my foods. I try I to do fruits in the morning, I try not to do carbs and protein at the same time. I try to do the conscious food combining, which is really good for digestion and energy.

  How did you meet Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga?   Over 20 years ago, I lived in California for a little bit and that’s where he had his first studio. That’s where I met him and studied with him for years. he encouraged me to teach, but I was dancing and doing my thing. I was like, “I know nothing about yoga, so why would I want to do something like that?” But when someone like that plants that seed, it stays with you.

How did you meet Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga?

Over 20 years ago, I lived in California for a little bit and that’s where he had his first studio. That’s where I met him and studied with him for years. he encouraged me to teach, but I was dancing and doing my thing. I was like, “I know nothing about yoga, so why would I want to do something like that?” But when someone like that plants that seed, it stays with you.

  How do you go about raising a smart girl?   [Her father and I] are actually older parents; we don’t know if that has [anything] to do with it. She’s always had a sort of natural inquisitiveness. We try to stay on top of her school work, but I don’t know how you raise a smart child. I think they are just born with their own gifts and you just try to nurture the gifts as best as you can.  I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t matter where you’re [from]. I grew up in Harlem; she was born in Harlem, but then we moved to Jersey and we just recently moved back. A lot of people say you become a product of your environment, but I think you become a product of your home environment. I think that makes a difference.

How do you go about raising a smart girl?

[Her father and I] are actually older parents; we don’t know if that has [anything] to do with it. She’s always had a sort of natural inquisitiveness. We try to stay on top of her school work, but I don’t know how you raise a smart child. I think they are just born with their own gifts and you just try to nurture the gifts as best as you can.

I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t matter where you’re [from]. I grew up in Harlem; she was born in Harlem, but then we moved to Jersey and we just recently moved back. A lot of people say you become a product of your environment, but I think you become a product of your home environment. I think that makes a difference.

  Mari, this is so cool! Can you tell us about this poster?   It was a project that I had to do for school. I had to study an American hero and I chose Rosa Parks. You had to make a poster of them, but you had to have the face cut out. And you had to memorize a summary for it, like a documentary but without it being a video. So I did Rosa Parks with a Metrocard and the Constitution of the United States.

Mari, this is so cool! Can you tell us about this poster?

It was a project that I had to do for school. I had to study an American hero and I chose Rosa Parks. You had to make a poster of them, but you had to have the face cut out. And you had to memorize a summary for it, like a documentary but without it being a video. So I did Rosa Parks with a Metrocard and the Constitution of the United States.

  Fill in the blank: I love being a mom most when...?   … when my daughter just for no reason comes over and gives me a hug [and] she wraps her arms around me.  … when she comes home very excited because she got an A on a test. … when she crawls into bed with me.  I can just go on and on and on. It really is the best. I mean first of all, to be able to create a life. It’s the miracle of all miracles. And then to be blessed enough to have created a life with 10 fingers and 10 toes and two eyes and a nose and ears. You can’t stop thanking God for that miracle. Because it truly is a miracle. And then the miracle just continues to grow and blossom and develop. And you see so much of yourself raising this being, this beautiful child, you see so much of her father… It is beyond words.

Fill in the blank: I love being a mom most when...?

… when my daughter just for no reason comes over and gives me a hug [and] she wraps her arms around me.

… when she comes home very excited because she got an A on a test.
… when she crawls into bed with me.

I can just go on and on and on. It really is the best. I mean first of all, to be able to create a life. It’s the miracle of all miracles. And then to be blessed enough to have created a life with 10 fingers and 10 toes and two eyes and a nose and ears. You can’t stop thanking God for that miracle. Because it truly is a miracle. And then the miracle just continues to grow and blossom and develop. And you see so much of yourself raising this being, this beautiful child, you see so much of her father… It is beyond words.

  Continued    Prior to having my daughter, I remember being around moms and not caring about the conversation. First of all, I had really nothing to contribute because I don’t come from a family with a lot of kids. I really just could not bother. When I became pregnant, oh my goodness. I felt as if a whole secret society opened up. And all of a sudden you are meeting other moms and mom groups and having the experience of someone actually giving you their seat, just all that stuff. You don’t think about it or you think does it exist? A whole other world just opened up! I call it the mommy secret society. Unless you have experienced it, you really don’t know that it exists.    ΔΔΔ

Continued

Prior to having my daughter, I remember being around moms and not caring about the conversation. First of all, I had really nothing to contribute because I don’t come from a family with a lot of kids. I really just could not bother. When I became pregnant, oh my goodness. I felt as if a whole secret society opened up. And all of a sudden you are meeting other moms and mom groups and having the experience of someone actually giving you their seat, just all that stuff. You don’t think about it or you think does it exist? A whole other world just opened up! I call it the mommy secret society. Unless you have experienced it, you really don’t know that it exists.

ΔΔΔ

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KAMARA THOMAS

KAMARA THOMAS

Issue No. 10 
Brooklyn, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

Last of summer light streams in through the sheer curtains and onto the bed where bassist and vocalist Kamara Thomas sits, her legs unfolded underneath her. Serene and soft spoken, Thomas appears light years away from her onstage persona as a member of rock trio Earl Greyhound or the country group Ghost Gamblers.

"It's me, but it's like a mythological me," the 38-year-old says of the caterwauling version of herself who is known to get down on her knees and shred away at her bass during live performances. "They're larger powers than just me. I always think of being on stage as channeling a larger power."

 But here in her bedroom cast yellow with magic hour light, Thomas is channeling someone other than the mythological goddesses that fascinate and inspire her: she’s being herself — Kamara Thomas, proud momma.  “Cherokee?” she coos to her 1-year-old daughter who is preoccupied at the moment with nailing a downward dog position on her parents’ bed. “Cherokee Moon?”

But here in her bedroom cast yellow with magic hour light, Thomas is channeling someone other than the mythological goddesses that fascinate and inspire her: she’s being herselfKamara Thomas, proud momma.

“Cherokee?” she coos to her 1-year-old daughter who is preoccupied at the moment with nailing a downward dog position on her parents’ bed. “Cherokee Moon?”

 Becoming a mother hasn’t slowed Thomas down, or taken the rocker out of her. While Earl Greyhound is on hiatus, Thomas is using the time to work on her own album.  While Earl Greyhound is on hiatus, Thomas is using the time to work on her own album, Earth Hero, under the name Kamara Thomas & The Ghost Gamblers. “The Ghost Gamblers is my posse of friends that I've been playing with as long as I've been in Earl Greyhound, including my husband, Gordon Hartin,” Thomas said. “[Now] I'm more officially the leader of the band.” The album is scheduled for a late fall release.  “The whole time I’ve been in Earl Greyhound, I was sitting on my own solo stuff,” Thomas said. “I have about a decade of material that I’m working on. We went on hiatus right when I had the baby. It was weird — it kind of coincided with us needing to do that, but it was also good for me because I was able to just take the time off and focus on her and also focus on my solo career.”

Becoming a mother hasn’t slowed Thomas down, or taken the rocker out of her. While Earl Greyhound is on hiatus, Thomas is using the time to work on her own album.

While Earl Greyhound is on hiatus, Thomas is using the time to work on her own album, Earth Hero, under the name Kamara Thomas & The Ghost Gamblers. “The Ghost Gamblers is my posse of friends that I've been playing with as long as I've been in Earl Greyhound, including my husband, Gordon Hartin,” Thomas said. “[Now] I'm more officially the leader of the band.” The album is scheduled for a late fall release.

“The whole time I’ve been in Earl Greyhound, I was sitting on my own solo stuff,” Thomas said. “I have about a decade of material that I’m working on. We went on hiatus right when I had the baby. It was weirdit kind of coincided with us needing to do that, but it was also good for me because I was able to just take the time off and focus on her and also focus on my solo career.”

 This will be Thomas’ first solo album after years of songwriting and performing for a number of successful bands in New York and Los Angeles. “This stuff is more country-soul-Americana-cosmic-jam, and storytelling is in the forefront,” Thomas explained. “This record specifically is more personal -- we focused everything around my vocal-acoustic guitar performance.” As someone who used to suffer from a long-running bout of “over inspiration,” Thomas is looking forward to finally having the time and focus to “manifest the things I really wanted to manifest.  “This solo album is kind of the first thing I’ve maninfested as an artist that I led as a band leader, as a solo artist,” she said. “I’ve been trying to manifest it for a decade. But it wasn’t until I had less time, less energy -- where all of a sudden this can happen in this allotted time -- that I was like, ‘OK, I guess this is all I can get done in my spare time.’ And it got done. But literally I started the album two months before she was born, and it’s been getting done slowly but surely the whole time."

This will be Thomas’ first solo album after years of songwriting and performing for a number of successful bands in New York and Los Angeles. “This stuff is more country-soul-Americana-cosmic-jam, and storytelling is in the forefront,” Thomas explained. “This record specifically is more personal -- we focused everything around my vocal-acoustic guitar performance.” As someone who used to suffer from a long-running bout of “over inspiration,” Thomas is looking forward to finally having the time and focus to “manifest the things I really wanted to manifest.

“This solo album is kind of the first thing I’ve maninfested as an artist that I led as a band leader, as a solo artist,” she said. “I’ve been trying to manifest it for a decade. But it wasn’t until I had less time, less energy -- where all of a sudden this can happen in this allotted time -- that I was like, ‘OK, I guess this is all I can get done in my spare time.’ And it got done. But literally I started the album two months before she was born, and it’s been getting done slowly but surely the whole time."

 “This solo album is kind of the first thing I’ve manifested as an artist that I led as a band leader, as a solo artist,” she continued. “I’ve been trying to manifest it for a decade. But it wasn’t until I had less time, less energy — where all of a sudden this can happen in this allotted time — that I was like, ‘OK, I guess this is all I can get done in my spare time.’ And it got done. But literally I started the album two months before she was born, and it’s been getting done slowly but surely the whole time.”

“This solo album is kind of the first thing I’ve manifested as an artist that I led as a band leader, as a solo artist,” she continued. “I’ve been trying to manifest it for a decade. But it wasn’t until I had less time, less energywhere all of a sudden this can happen in this allotted timethat I was like, ‘OK, I guess this is all I can get done in my spare time.’ And it got done. But literally I started the album two months before she was born, and it’s been getting done slowly but surely the whole time.”

 But how does Thomas find those pockets of time to work when she has an active (and adorable) 1-year-old to look after?  “[Being a mom] is such a time organizer because she takes up so much time that it’s basically cut out all the bullsh*t in my life,” Thomas said. “So I show up more fully to the things that are actually important to me because I don’t have the time to do things that were kind of sucking my energy before. All of your time is built up in nurturing and taking care of this person, so those moments of solitude, those moments of being able to do anything, is really precious. It’s like, ‘What do I want to do in the world? Let me go do that now even if it’s just for half an hour. It’s like, ‘Let’s do this.’”

But how does Thomas find those pockets of time to work when she has an active (and adorable) 1-year-old to look after?

“[Being a mom] is such a time organizer because she takes up so much time that it’s basically cut out all the bullsh*t in my life,” Thomas said. “So I show up more fully to the things that are actually important to me because I don’t have the time to do things that were kind of sucking my energy before. All of your time is built up in nurturing and taking care of this person, so those moments of solitude, those moments of being able to do anything, is really precious. It’s like, ‘What do I want to do in the world? Let me go do that now even if it’s just for half an hour. It’s like, ‘Let’s do this.’”

 Cherokee toddles out of her parent’s room and into the living room; Thomas follows with her guitar in hand. She strums a few chords as her daughter blows out some mournful notes — not unlike the world weary sentiment behind some of her mom’s Ghost Gambler’s songs — on her harmonica   

Cherokee toddles out of her parent’s room and into the living room; Thomas follows with her guitar in hand. She strums a few chords as her daughter blows out some mournful notesnot unlike the world weary sentiment behind some of her mom’s Ghost Gambler’s songson her harmonica

 

“Motherhood is very creative. It gives me access to a whole new internal place of creativity.”

“Motherhood is very creative. It gives me access to a whole new internal place of creativity.”

 “I’m trying to conjure my Cherokee Moon song... but I don’t just want it to be a song like ‘I love my daughter, isn’t she great?’ For me, I want to draw power down for her so that when she hears her song, she can engage with the mythology around [it] and engage these powers for herself.”  Thomas looks over at her daughter who is bopping along.  “Are we dancing?” she asks, smiling. “You’re powerful. Mighty.”  With a goddess for a mom, we’re pretty sure Cherokee Moon will have access to powers beyond our imagination

“I’m trying to conjure my Cherokee Moon song... but I don’t just want it to be a song like ‘I love my daughter, isn’t she great?’ For me, I want to draw power down for her so that when she hears her song, she can engage with the mythology around [it] and engage these powers for herself.”

Thomas looks over at her daughter who is bopping along.

“Are we dancing?” she asks, smiling. “You’re powerful. Mighty.”

With a goddess for a mom, we’re pretty sure Cherokee Moon will have access to powers beyond our imagination

Q&A

Q&A

What do you like most about being a mom?

I just love watching every moment. It’s awesome. The thing I like most about it is how much more open my heart is to life. How much easier it is to be in the present moment. It’s such a gift.

  How would you describe your daughter's personality?   She’s got such a sweetness. When she was even a little baby, we would be on the subway and a few times she would look at someone sitting next to me and she would reach out to them and just touch them on the shoulder. Like (makes there-there pat).  But then she’s also fierce. When she’s ready to do something that she wants to do, she’s like “Ahhh!” She’s got a real warrior cry.  She’s very mischievous. And curious. Very curious.

How would you describe your daughter's personality?

She’s got such a sweetness. When she was even a little baby, we would be on the subway and a few times she would look at someone sitting next to me and she would reach out to them and just touch them on the shoulder. Like (makes there-there pat).

But then she’s also fierce. When she’s ready to do something that she wants to do, she’s like “Ahhh!” She’s got a real warrior cry.

She’s very mischievous. And curious. Very curious.

  What’s the hardest thing about being a mom?   You know, the hardest thing is not being perfect, because you mess up so much. So when I get impatient with her I just feel so bad. And it’s hard to let it go and to just be like, "Alright, I’m not going to give her some perfect experience. I’m not going to shield her from all the negativity in the world." That’s hard. To know that I can’t do everything right for her.  [Also] the sleep deprivation... it’s not so bad as it was before, but I know it was hard. I guess after that first year, after you clock in the year, every minute over the sleep deprivation that you get, you feel like, “Oh OK, this is so much better.”

What’s the hardest thing about being a mom?

You know, the hardest thing is not being perfect, because you mess up so much. So when I get impatient with her I just feel so bad. And it’s hard to let it go and to just be like, "Alright, I’m not going to give her some perfect experience. I’m not going to shield her from all the negativity in the world." That’s hard. To know that I can’t do everything right for her.

[Also] the sleep deprivation... it’s not so bad as it was before, but I know it was hard. I guess after that first year, after you clock in the year, every minute over the sleep deprivation that you get, you feel like, “Oh OK, this is so much better.”

  What inspires your home decor?   Magic, mythology... I like magical storytelling. I’m also a big fan of 70s kitsch. That yarn, flower stuff and weird orange and brown and yellow. I like it for some reason, it’s so home-y to me. It makes me think of a casserole or marshmallow salad.  I [also] really like color. I’m not the biggest fan of New York black. Lots of flowers and birds — I love nature.

What inspires your home decor?

Magic, mythology... I like magical storytelling. I’m also a big fan of 70s kitsch. That yarn, flower stuff and weird orange and brown and yellow. I like it for some reason, it’s so home-y to me. It makes me think of a casserole or marshmallow salad.

I [also] really like color. I’m not the biggest fan of New York black. Lots of flowers and birdsI love nature.

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  How did you get into mythology?   I’ve always been into mythology. In college I got into shamanism. Then I discovered Joseph Campbell — he’s like a seminal comparative mythlologist [from] the 60s and 70s. He kind of invented comparative mythology, discovering all the things that mythologies of different cultures have in common: Every mythology has a goddess cult, and every mythology has a death and resurrection story, every mythology has a creation story. He’s brilliant.  Right after college I really got into him and that kind of set me on my path as an artist. It took me awhile to sort of discover what I wanted to do as an artist. I thought I was going to be an actress for awhile, but once I started songwriting, it started coming together.

How did you get into mythology?

I’ve always been into mythology. In college I got into shamanism. Then I discovered Joseph Campbellhe’s like a seminal comparative mythlologist [from] the 60s and 70s. He kind of invented comparative mythology, discovering all the things that mythologies of different cultures have in common: Every mythology has a goddess cult, and every mythology has a death and resurrection story, every mythology has a creation story. He’s brilliant.

Right after college I really got into him and that kind of set me on my path as an artist. It took me awhile to sort of discover what I wanted to do as an artist. I thought I was going to be an actress for awhile, but once I started songwriting, it started coming together.

  What about country music appeals to you and your songwriting sensibilities?   I was raised on country music, the real country music, that is. Storytelling, honesty, evocative images are all front and center: a good country song always evokes a mythological truth from an everyday experience or a story of regular people living very human lives with very human frailties.

What about country music appeals to you and your songwriting sensibilities?

I was raised on country music, the real country music, that is. Storytelling, honesty, evocative images are all front and center: a good country song always evokes a mythological truth from an everyday experience or a story of regular people living very human lives with very human frailties.

  Does that inspire your personal style?   Yeah. I like to wear cotton. Green’s my favorite color. Green, turquoise. I love feathers... house plants. Seventies hausfrau is my guilty pleasure. But it gets played out in the home, not everyone gets to see it. It’s like, “Yeah, I put on a muumuu and my little apron. I put something in the crockpot... let it stay...” (Laughs) 

Does that inspire your personal style?

Yeah. I like to wear cotton. Green’s my favorite color. Green, turquoise. I love feathers... house plants. Seventies hausfrau is my guilty pleasure. But it gets played out in the home, not everyone gets to see it. It’s like, “Yeah, I put on a muumuu and my little apron. I put something in the crockpot... let it stay...” (Laughs) 

  What’s your parenting philosophy?   I used to work in early childhood Montessori schools as a day job, so I derived a bunch from that. The first step in my parenting approach is the moral equality of children. So we’re here to guide them and we’re here to give them structure, but the whole “You do this because I told you so” or stuff like that [isn't for me].

What’s your parenting philosophy?

I used to work in early childhood Montessori schools as a day job, so I derived a bunch from that. The first step in my parenting approach is the moral equality of children. So we’re here to guide them and we’re here to give them structure, but the whole “You do this because I told you so” or stuff like that [isn't for me].

  Continued   I start from the premise that this soul chose me. And I started speaking to her soul before [she was here]. When I wanted to get pregnant, I said: “I know that there are children there who are waiting for us and want us to be a their parents because of our specific abilities. Whoever you are, I want you to know we want to have fun, we want to have joy... This is what we're going to be providing. So if you’re interested, come on down and let's get together.”  I work from that spiritual premise for sure, first and foremost: That this soul came because it knew it was going to get something it knew it couldn’t get anywhere else, that they came to our family specifically for something that they’re trying to do.

Continued

I start from the premise that this soul chose me. And I started speaking to her soul before [she was here]. When I wanted to get pregnant, I said: “I know that there are children there who are waiting for us and want us to be a their parents because of our specific abilities. Whoever you are, I want you to know we want to have fun, we want to have joy... This is what we're going to be providing. So if you’re interested, come on down and let's get together.”

I work from that spiritual premise for sure, first and foremost: That this soul came because it knew it was going to get something it knew it couldn’t get anywhere else, that they came to our family specifically for something that they’re trying to do.

  Continued   So I feel like I’m here to help her do something that she really wants to do in the world. I’m here to help her become that, and do that, and be as prepared as she can to fulfill her purpose in the world.  There’s this idea of control in American parenting that I’m trying to stay away from, the idea that I control everything. I feel like a lot of the conversation around American parenting is about controlling the situation instead of just nurturing and providing structure. It’s all about “Get this kid on board with my plan for how it’s all going to go down!” instead of it being a conversation and a collaboration. It’s a collaboration. This is a new person here in the world, trying to learn and grow. They’re not to be controlled; they’re to be collaborated with in life.

Continued

So I feel like I’m here to help her do something that she really wants to do in the world. I’m here to help her become that, and do that, and be as prepared as she can to fulfill her purpose in the world.

There’s this idea of control in American parenting that I’m trying to stay away from, the idea that I control everything. I feel like a lot of the conversation around American parenting is about controlling the situation instead of just nurturing and providing structure. It’s all about “Get this kid on board with my plan for how it’s all going to go down!” instead of it being a conversation and a collaboration. It’s a collaboration. This is a new person here in the world, trying to learn and grow. They’re not to be controlled; they’re to be collaborated with in life.

  Continued   Not that I don’t do it too. [But] I think that’s what ends up giving us trouble because they have more perseverance than we do, they have stronger wills than we do. It gets nobody anywhere and ... it sets them up for unhealthy dynamics where they feel they’re fighting the world.  I feel like if there’s anything I can give her as she goes into the world is that the universe is a loving universe and that it’s set up to help her succeed. ... The biggest gift you can give them is [letting them know] you can trust yourself, you can trust your own experiences and your own input and the information that’s coming in from your own senses.  Which is easier said than done. But that’s the parenting [philosophy] that I’m trying to manifest.  (Laughs)

Continued

Not that I don’t do it too. [But] I think that’s what ends up giving us trouble because they have more perseverance than we do, they have stronger wills than we do. It gets nobody anywhere and ... it sets them up for unhealthy dynamics where they feel they’re fighting the world.

I feel like if there’s anything I can give her as she goes into the world is that the universe is a loving universe and that it’s set up to help her succeed. ... The biggest gift you can give them is [letting them know] you can trust yourself, you can trust your own experiences and your own input and the information that’s coming in from your own senses.

Which is easier said than done. But that’s the parenting [philosophy] that I’m trying to manifest. (Laughs)

  Has she changed your work?   I’ve always been pretty focused when it’s time to create, but now it’s hyperfocused. My husband has helped me to learn that planning goes a long way. So sometimes just making a really kind of fool-proof plan — or at least a plan you’re going to execute before you start doing something — kind of keeps things on track and on focus.  I’m more of a planner now. It's nice — [planning] provide this structure. And if the structure is there to support the things you really want to do, then it’s great. It’s really nice to have a whole day where like “Oh, I got to create a little bit today, I took care of my kid, I got to cook (I love cooking), I got to do a lot of the things that I love to do today.” So even if it’s only 15 minutes or half an hour or an hour of getting to create, it still feels great to go to bed knowing I did it. Whereas before I had a really hard time structuring my creative life.

Has she changed your work?

I’ve always been pretty focused when it’s time to create, but now it’s hyperfocused. My husband has helped me to learn that planning goes a long way. So sometimes just making a really kind of fool-proof planor at least a plan you’re going to execute before you start doing somethingkind of keeps things on track and on focus.

I’m more of a planner now. It's nice[planning] provide this structure. And if the structure is there to support the things you really want to do, then it’s great. It’s really nice to have a whole day where like “Oh, I got to create a little bit today, I took care of my kid, I got to cook (I love cooking), I got to do a lot of the things that I love to do today.” So even if it’s only 15 minutes or half an hour or an hour of getting to create, it still feels great to go to bed knowing I did it. Whereas before I had a really hard time structuring my creative life.

  What kind of woman do you ultimately hope she will become?   I hope she’s someone who trusts herself, her own instincts, and her visions. That she’s confident and trusts herself to make great choices. Because it’s weird, these are things I’ve struggled with, these are the things that I feel like I wasn’t prepared for, [to] trust my own instincts and feelings. I feel like the feminist problems of our generation are very nebulous, so they are more emotional and kind of hidden than overt [things] like “We deserve the same job!” [or] these very external trappings of power. They were different for us.

What kind of woman do you ultimately hope she will become?

I hope she’s someone who trusts herself, her own instincts, and her visions. That she’s confident and trusts herself to make great choices. Because it’s weird, these are things I’ve struggled with, these are the things that I feel like I wasn’t prepared for, [to] trust my own instincts and feelings. I feel like the feminist problems of our generation are very nebulous, so they are more emotional and kind of hidden than overt [things] like “We deserve the same job!” [or] these very external trappings of power. They were different for us.

  Continued   I don’t think girls of her generation are going to have a problem seeing that they deserve the same treatment as everyone else. It’s going to be more about mastering our emotions, like “Can I trust myself? What can I do? How can I make my emotions work for me? How do I let them be there but also master them?”

Continued

I don’t think girls of her generation are going to have a problem seeing that they deserve the same treatment as everyone else. It’s going to be more about mastering our emotions, like “Can I trust myself? What can I do? How can I make my emotions work for me? How do I let them be there but also master them?”

  Continued   I was talking to someone today about neighbors. In a city environment you want to teach your kid to be nice to your neighbors, "Say hi to neighbor Joe" and so on and so forth.  But you don’t want neighbor Joe to come up to your kid and say, “Mommy and Daddy said come with me into my apartment.” You want them to be able to trust the energy that’s happening there and know that just because you can say "hi" to neighbor Joe on the street every day doesn’t mean he has any right to tell you anything to do. You gotta have your instincts intact for that. Those decision-making capacities only come from trusting your own instincts [and] being able to do an energy read on someone. 

Continued

I was talking to someone today about neighbors. In a city environment you want to teach your kid to be nice to your neighbors, "Say hi to neighbor Joe" and so on and so forth.

But you don’t want neighbor Joe to come up to your kid and say, “Mommy and Daddy said come with me into my apartment.” You want them to be able to trust the energy that’s happening there and know that just because you can say "hi" to neighbor Joe on the street every day doesn’t mean he has any right to tell you anything to do. You gotta have your instincts intact for that. Those decision-making capacities only come from trusting your own instincts [and] being able to do an energy read on someone. 

  Continued   Those seem to be the things that I can impart to her. How do I take what I know and translate it into a vision that I can manifest into the world? I feel like she’s going to be in a world where she can really make a huge adventure out of it, so what does an adventurer need to know? (Laughs) How can I prepare her for a big adventure where she can make good decisions and know which way to go in the forks in the road?   ΔΔΔ

Continued

Those seem to be the things that I can impart to her. How do I take what I know and translate it into a vision that I can manifest into the world? I feel like she’s going to be in a world where she can really make a huge adventure out of it, so what does an adventurer need to know? (Laughs) How can I prepare her for a big adventure where she can make good decisions and know which way to go in the forks in the road?

ΔΔΔ

RHONDA ROSS

RHONDA ROSS

Issue No. 11
New York City, New York

Words by Anthonia Akitunde
Photos by J. Quazi King

There's a lot to marvel at in Rhonda Ross’ Harlem home. From a purely real estate level, one could be in awe of the three-bedroom apartment’s high ceilings, original woodwork, and large foyer that’s home to life-sized wooden African fertility figures. Any visitor would be forgiven for having a hard time keeping their hands to themselvesthere’s so many photos, tchotkes, and art occupying every available space on the apartment’s walls, end tables, and many mantle places, just begging to be touched.

Then there’s the fact that Rhonda Ross is a Rossdaughter of Motown legends Diana and Berry Gordywho shares an incredible likeness to her mother (she’s all big hair, sharp cheekbones, and expressive eyes).

 But right when you’re about to ask if you can move in, the home’s real star pads into the living room, barefoot and playing with a police car. He rushes up to his mother, skinny arms outstretched and looking for attention.  “Maman, maman, maman,” her 3-year-old son, Raif-Henok Emmanuel Kendrick, cries before carrying on a conversation with his mother in an adorably breathless stream of French. Ross responds back in kind, telling him to play with his toys  avec papa  in another room; Raif tucks his police car under his arm and runs away.  At only 3 years old, Raif can speak and understand French, Spanish, English, and Mandarin, and reads the first three languages at a second-grade level. He can also recognize “like 50 characters” of Chinese, Ross says.  “We get in the cab and he says, ‘Bonjour!’ Then he looks at the person and he says, ‘Oh no... Hola!’” she laughs. “I love, love, love all that we’ve given him.”

But right when you’re about to ask if you can move in, the home’s real star pads into the living room, barefoot and playing with a police car. He rushes up to his mother, skinny arms outstretched and looking for attention.

“Maman, maman, maman,” her 3-year-old son, Raif-Henok Emmanuel Kendrick, cries before carrying on a conversation with his mother in an adorably breathless stream of French. Ross responds back in kind, telling him to play with his toys avec papa in another room; Raif tucks his police car under his arm and runs away.

At only 3 years old, Raif can speak and understand French, Spanish, English, and Mandarin, and reads the first three languages at a second-grade level. He can also recognize “like 50 characters” of Chinese, Ross says.

“We get in the cab and he says, ‘Bonjour!’ Then he looks at the person and he says, ‘Oh no... Hola!’” she laughs. “I love, love, love all that we’ve given him.”

 But why so much for such a little man?  “I have so many reasons that we’re doing this, but one of them is that I want him to be able to walk the world and be comfortable wherever he is [and] be comfortable in his skin," Ross explains. "I want him to be able to communicate with people without demanding that they come to him, like so many Americans do.”

But why so much for such a little man?

“I have so many reasons that we’re doing this, but one of them is that I want him to be able to walk the world and be comfortable wherever he is [and] be comfortable in his skin," Ross explains. "I want him to be able to communicate with people without demanding that they come to him, like so many Americans do.”

 Walking among and experiencing different worlds is something Ross, 41, has mastered. She was raised in Beverly Hills, California, spent some of her youth in Greenwich, Connecticut, and went to school in Europe. The ability to jump from one mindset to another is also mirrored in her wide array of jobs, which vary depending on the day: president of a boutique real estate brokerage, artist, and jazz singer to name a few. (Ross is also hard at work creating Limitless Mind, a line of teaching aides for parents who also want to teach their young children to speak and read multiple languages.) One could probably get winded just looking at her calendar.   

Walking among and experiencing different worlds is something Ross, 41, has mastered. She was raised in Beverly Hills, California, spent some of her youth in Greenwich, Connecticut, and went to school in Europe. The ability to jump from one mindset to another is also mirrored in her wide array of jobs, which vary depending on the day: president of a boutique real estate brokerage, artist, and jazz singer to name a few. (Ross is also hard at work creating Limitless Mind, a line of teaching aides for parents who also want to teach their young children to speak and read multiple languages.) One could probably get winded just looking at her calendar.

 

 “I end up being so busy because there’s so much I want to do, and there’s so many ideas [I have] that I think, ‘Yes, the world needs this and I can do it!’”  Ross credits her “I can do anything” verve to her mother. “She didn’t downplay her greatness, but we never felt lost in the shadow of it. We felt that somehow we could also be great,” she recalls. “She was able to look at each of us and not dictate who we became but just support and encourage who we were becoming."   (Left: Playful family portraits adorn Ross' walls.)

“I end up being so busy because there’s so much I want to do, and there’s so many ideas [I have] that I think, ‘Yes, the world needs this and I can do it!’”

Ross credits her “I can do anything” verve to her mother. “She didn’t downplay her greatness, but we never felt lost in the shadow of it. We felt that somehow we could also be great,” she recalls. “She was able to look at each of us and not dictate who we became but just support and encourage who we were becoming."

(Left: Playful family portraits adorn Ross' walls.)

 “That thought of 'I’m going to follow me as opposed to somebody [else just] because they have some letters at the back of their name,' I know I got from her,” Ross continues, “because she always said, 'You know stuff, you know it in your gut. You know it and you can rely on it.'”  A core of self-confidence and passion is something Ross strives to pass on to her son. And even though her inner compass is relatively steady, she does admit to regularly grappling with the big questions of shaping a child’s identity  —  especially a black male child with “energy levels through the roof," she says.

“That thought of 'I’m going to follow me as opposed to somebody [else just] because they have some letters at the back of their name,' I know I got from her,” Ross continues, “because she always said, 'You know stuff, you know it in your gut. You know it and you can rely on it.'”

A core of self-confidence and passion is something Ross strives to pass on to her son. And even though her inner compass is relatively steady, she does admit to regularly grappling with the big questions of shaping a child’s identityespecially a black male child with “energy levels through the roof," she says.

 “How much [do] I need to curtail him and make him fit society? How much leeway does a child get to have to explore who they’re going to be?” she wonders. “I know I want to raise a child who follows his own compass, and yet I want him to understand how the world works at the same time. What I want to steer clear of are some of the self-imposed limitations to that. ‘Oh, well, you’re black so you can’t do that.’”

“How much [do] I need to curtail him and make him fit society? How much leeway does a child get to have to explore who they’re going to be?” she wonders. “I know I want to raise a child who follows his own compass, and yet I want him to understand how the world works at the same time. What I want to steer clear of are some of the self-imposed limitations to that. ‘Oh, well, you’re black so you can’t do that.’”

 A black kid who can speak four languages is definitely one way to do it  —  but that too comes with it’s own possible landmines and baggage.  “We think about this all the time,” Ross admits. “I’m figuring the balance day by day because I also want him to fit in in the middle of Harlem. I know [black Americans] of all people have the ability to code switch; we know how to do this here and do that there. Then the question is, you do that, but [then who is your true self]?

A black kid who can speak four languages is definitely one way to do itbut that too comes with it’s own possible landmines and baggage.

“We think about this all the time,” Ross admits. “I’m figuring the balance day by day because I also want him to fit in in the middle of Harlem. I know [black Americans] of all people have the ability to code switch; we know how to do this here and do that there. Then the question is, you do that, but [then who is your true self]?

 “I love the idea of him walking the world  —  Beijing, Paris, Madrid  —  and he doesn’t need a translator, he can walk that soil. But he can also walk Harlem and 125th Street and know how to speak that language [through] his body language, his everything else. That’s my husband’s job,” she laughs.   

“I love the idea of him walking the worldBeijing, Paris, Madridand he doesn’t need a translator, he can walk that soil. But he can also walk Harlem and 125th Street and know how to speak that language [through] his body language, his everything else. That’s my husband’s job,” she laughs.

 

 Later Raif and his mom sit on a mat, reading from flash cards with funny phrases in French and Spanish (“ La lengua del niño esta azul! ” The boy’s tongue is blue!). He’s pleased with every correct answer. He then jumps to his trucks and begins racing them.  “ Attrape! ” he yells to his mom. Catch it!  No matter what world he occupies in the future (or the language he speaks in it), Raif has got this  —  just like his mother and grandmother.

Later Raif and his mom sit on a mat, reading from flash cards with funny phrases in French and Spanish (“La lengua del niño esta azul!” The boy’s tongue is blue!). He’s pleased with every correct answer. He then jumps to his trucks and begins racing them.

Attrape!” he yells to his mom. Catch it!

No matter what world he occupies in the future (or the language he speaks in it), Raif has got thisjust like his mother and grandmother.

Q&A

Q&A

What do you enjoy most about being a mom?

I enjoy watching Raif grow and learn. We threw a lot at him as a newborn, and it’s been so exciting.

How did you begin incorporating foreign language into Raif's life?

I speak French; I learned it as a teenager. It’s been a blessing in my life and I thought [that] I’d like to give that to my child someday. [When Raif was] around 5 months old, after giving him baby sign language, we started to give him French. Then I hired a part-time French-speaking babysitter. He was clearly starting to understand the French, and then we’d started early reading with him. He was really younglike before he could crawl at 7 months, he was seeing the word "clap" and clapping. He was recognizing the word "head" and touch his head. 

  Continued   I thought, "Any child can do this, this is amazing!" So we kept moving on. Once I saw he enjoyed the French, I start putting him in Spanish environments and got a Spanish-speaking part-time babysitter  —  just a few hours a week. Then I was like Spanish is great for America, but you need Chinese for the world! 

Continued

I thought, "Any child can do this, this is amazing!" So we kept moving on. Once I saw he enjoyed the French, I start putting him in Spanish environments and got a Spanish-speaking part-time babysitterjust a few hours a week. Then I was like Spanish is great for America, but you need Chinese for the world! 

  Why did you want him to learn so many languages at such a young age?   I really believe there’s a new generation of kids that get the concept of perspective. They get that I can call this "water," and you can call it "agua," and someone else can call it "l'eau," and It’s still water: We don’t have to go to war about it. There's an understanding of perspective that happens when you speak more than one language where you can understand that.

Why did you want him to learn so many languages at such a young age?

I really believe there’s a new generation of kids that get the concept of perspective. They get that I can call this "water," and you can call it "agua," and someone else can call it "l'eau," and It’s still water: We don’t have to go to war about it. There's an understanding of perspective that happens when you speak more than one language where you can understand that.

DSC_8906.jpeg
  Continued   But clearly we are going a different way than many parents with the languages and the early reading. There are some schools of thought that say you really shouldn’t do it. I’m in disagreement. I think teaching can be ... part and parcel of fun and love and nurture and all those good things.  (Laughs)   I think there are a lot of people who think you shouldn’t teach, let’s say early reading, because it’s somehow giving children academics before they should have academics. But I believe you can integrate learning with play. To Raif reading is play, letters are fun! 

Continued

But clearly we are going a different way than many parents with the languages and the early reading. There are some schools of thought that say you really shouldn’t do it. I’m in disagreement. I think teaching can be ... part and parcel of fun and love and nurture and all those good things. (Laughs)

I think there are a lot of people who think you shouldn’t teach, let’s say early reading, because it’s somehow giving children academics before they should have academics. But I believe you can integrate learning with play. To Raif reading is play, letters are fun! 

  How has being a mom changed your life?   It didn’t necessarily change how I see the world, but it deepened me and where I am and where I see myself in the world. My spiritual beliefs have had to become practical. If I believe in "do unto others," for example, I have to figure out how that looks in practice. How do I teach that practically, how do I exemplify it practically to this child who is copying everything I do and learning way more from what I do than what I say?  The other part that’s changed [is that] the minute I got pregnant with Raif and then had a newborn in my life, I realized how hard this job is. 

How has being a mom changed your life?

It didn’t necessarily change how I see the world, but it deepened me and where I am and where I see myself in the world. My spiritual beliefs have had to become practical. If I believe in "do unto others," for example, I have to figure out how that looks in practice. How do I teach that practically, how do I exemplify it practically to this child who is copying everything I do and learning way more from what I do than what I say?

The other part that’s changed [is that] the minute I got pregnant with Raif and then had a newborn in my life, I realized how hard this job is. 

  Continued   I always wanted to be a parent; I love children, so I was very critical about how people did it. I was judgmental. And literally the minute this kid came into my life, I said, "This thing is too hard. I’m doing the best I can, I’m going to assume you’re doing the best you can too."  My judgments went out the window. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything, because I clearly don’t, but boy do I get we’re all out here trying to figure this thing out.

Continued

I always wanted to be a parent; I love children, so I was very critical about how people did it. I was judgmental. And literally the minute this kid came into my life, I said, "This thing is too hard. I’m doing the best I can, I’m going to assume you’re doing the best you can too."

My judgments went out the window. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything, because I clearly don’t, but boy do I get we’re all out here trying to figure this thing out.

  What are your favorite things to do together?   We’re big music people, so he’s becoming a big singer. We sing together  —   we love to do that. We read together. We like to play in the park. This summer, we did a lot of swimming, that was really fun for us. We do what’s very typical mom and kid stuff, but we just do it in different languages!

What are your favorite things to do together?

We’re big music people, so he’s becoming a big singer. We sing together we love to do that. We read together. We like to play in the park. This summer, we did a lot of swimming, that was really fun for us. We do what’s very typical mom and kid stuff, but we just do it in different languages!

  Fill in the blank: Being a mom is hardest when...?   When I don’t know which way to go. What decision to make, which decision is in his best interest. [I usually have this feeling about] more subtle decisions like, "How much do you curtail behavior that might be tied to the expression of his spirit?" How much do you curtail that so that he fits into society’s rules or even more to the point that I, as a mother, fit into society’s rules? 

Fill in the blank: Being a mom is hardest when...?

When I don’t know which way to go. What decision to make, which decision is in his best interest. [I usually have this feeling about] more subtle decisions like, "How much do you curtail behavior that might be tied to the expression of his spirit?" How much do you curtail that so that he fits into society’s rules or even more to the point that I, as a mother, fit into society’s rules? 

  You had a more than 10-year-long struggle conceiving before you had Raif, and have said you feel like you're a better mother to him now than you would have been if you had him in your 20s. Why do you feel that way?   I feel like I have a better understanding of these questions now. I wasn’t asking these questions in my 20s, I certainly wasn’t answering them in my 20s. I didn’t know enough in my 20s to be conscious enough in my decisions so that I wouldn’t have regrets.  I feel like I’m a much more conscious mother with him now than I ever could I have been in 20s. I understand the weight of my choices. Every choice, from when I raise my voice to when I don’t, to timeouts, to all of it. To what joy he gets to see me in, to how much he sees me work, to how much he sees me play, being present with him, all of it. I’m aware of all the impact of all of those things in a way that I don’t think I would’ve been aware of in my 20s.  I also had a chance between 20 and 40 to try a lot of things, to travel, to do all those things I wouldn’t have done if my focus was on him. Now I may still do them, but my focus is on him. Everything comes through him now and I’m happy for that.

You had a more than 10-year-long struggle conceiving before you had Raif, and have said you feel like you're a better mother to him now than you would have been if you had him in your 20s. Why do you feel that way?

I feel like I have a better understanding of these questions now. I wasn’t asking these questions in my 20s, I certainly wasn’t answering them in my 20s. I didn’t know enough in my 20s to be conscious enough in my decisions so that I wouldn’t have regrets.

I feel like I’m a much more conscious mother with him now than I ever could I have been in 20s. I understand the weight of my choices. Every choice, from when I raise my voice to when I don’t, to timeouts, to all of it. To what joy he gets to see me in, to how much he sees me work, to how much he sees me play, being present with him, all of it. I’m aware of all the impact of all of those things in a way that I don’t think I would’ve been aware of in my 20s.

I also had a chance between 20 and 40 to try a lot of things, to travel, to do all those things I wouldn’t have done if my focus was on him. Now I may still do them, but my focus is on him. Everything comes through him now and I’m happy for that.

  What's the most gratifying part of your work?   I love learning and I love sharing what I’ve learned. That is really what I do in pretty much every capacity I show up in. Whether that be through the stage through a song I’ve written, or poetry, or a public-speaking event.  I’m not arrogant enough to think that everyone wants to hear what I have to say, but I believe there are some people who do, and there is an audience out there for the information that I have to share. I’ve come here to learn, evolve, and share with those who are likeminded. I really love doing it  —  that’s the most gratifying. When somebody takes a nugget and says “That helped me!” it’s gratifying.

What's the most gratifying part of your work?

I love learning and I love sharing what I’ve learned. That is really what I do in pretty much every capacity I show up in. Whether that be through the stage through a song I’ve written, or poetry, or a public-speaking event.

I’m not arrogant enough to think that everyone wants to hear what I have to say, but I believe there are some people who do, and there is an audience out there for the information that I have to share. I’ve come here to learn, evolve, and share with those who are likeminded. I really love doing itthat’s the most gratifying. When somebody takes a nugget and says “That helped me!” it’s gratifying.

  What inspires your home décor?   I like comfort. I really like being at home in my house. I don’t have any rules. People come in [and] they say, “Do I have to take off my shoes?” No. “Can I eat in the living room?” Yes. I don’t want my son drawing on the walls, but other than that we’re pretty loose.  I want to feel comfortable in the home; I want people to come into the home and feel comfortable.  Functionality is another driving force. I don’t want a room that you only go in twice a year for the holidays. Most of the rooms here have dual functions. This was officially the dining room, but now it is my office and Raif’s playroom.

What inspires your home décor?

I like comfort. I really like being at home in my house. I don’t have any rules. People come in [and] they say, “Do I have to take off my shoes?” No. “Can I eat in the living room?” Yes. I don’t want my son drawing on the walls, but other than that we’re pretty loose.

I want to feel comfortable in the home; I want people to come into the home and feel comfortable.

Functionality is another driving force. I don’t want a room that you only go in twice a year for the holidays. Most of the rooms here have dual functions. This was officially the dining room, but now it is my office and Raif’s playroom.

  Continued   Clearly it’s Afrocentric. We love having it around us. We love the energy of it, we love the beauty of it.  I love pictures of family. And I love art. 

Continued

Clearly it’s Afrocentric. We love having it around us. We love the energy of it, we love the beauty of it.

I love pictures of family. And I love art. 

  Top photo: Ross and her husband, Rodney Kendrick, on their wedding day. Bottom photo: Wynton Marsalis, Ross' mother, Diana, and Ross' husband (right).    

Top photo: Ross and her husband, Rodney Kendrick, on their wedding day.
Bottom photo: Wynton Marsalis, Ross' mother, Diana, and Ross' husband (right).

 

  What inspires the way you dress?   You mean this old thing? (Laughs) The same things that inspires my home decor: comfort and functionality.  I would love to be in three-inch heels, but that’s not functional for me. I want to get done in my life what I want to get done in my life. I want to be present with Raif, I want to be there for him so he’s safe, I want to have fun... You can’t do it in three-inch heels. Maybe someone can, but I can’t. 

What inspires the way you dress?

You mean this old thing? (Laughs) The same things that inspires my home decor: comfort and functionality.

I would love to be in three-inch heels, but that’s not functional for me. I want to get done in my life what I want to get done in my life. I want to be present with Raif, I want to be there for him so he’s safe, I want to have fun... You can’t do it in three-inch heels. Maybe someone can, but I can’t. 

  Continued   The only caveat to that I feel [is] the way I wear my hair. For a long time I had dreadlocks. I cut my locks about seven years ago and I’ve been playing with different versions of natural since then. I will never relax again, that’s OUT of the question. That is less of a functional, comfort thing  —  that’s more of the way I walk through the world, the way I define my beauty.

Continued

The only caveat to that I feel [is] the way I wear my hair. For a long time I had dreadlocks. I cut my locks about seven years ago and I’ve been playing with different versions of natural since then. I will never relax again, that’s OUT of the question. That is less of a functional, comfort thingthat’s more of the way I walk through the world, the way I define my beauty.

  When do you feel the most beautiful?   When I’m laughing and the moments where I feel aligned with God, with my power, with my beauty, with everything that I was given. And that can come at different times. It comes often through reflection and meditation and there’ll be a moment when everything comes together.

When do you feel the most beautiful?

When I’m laughing and the moments where I feel aligned with God, with my power, with my beauty, with everything that I was given. And that can come at different times. It comes often through reflection and meditation and there’ll be a moment when everything comes together.

  Continued   It’s not just a physical beauty: it’s like a power. It’s like an alignment. It’s a feeling of “I can do this.” And in that feeling there’s a recapturing of beauty. Sometimes that can come when I’m dressed up and I’m about to be on the red carpet, but it can also come at 11 at night eating whatever I’m eating in bed. It comes a lot around my son and playing with him, but it comes at moments when I don’t expect it.   Our dear friend Abbey Lincoln introduced [me and my husband, jazz pianist Rodney Kendrick]. She [was] a jazz vocalist; she died about a year ago. And she was beautiful, but she was beautiful for those reasons! For an understanding of her power, of her worth, of her value, of her alignment to source and to the ancestors, and her understanding of the importance of the work she was imparting to us. There are women like that, and when I think of them and I feel connected to them I feel beautiful. So it’s not about my mascara!

Continued

It’s not just a physical beauty: it’s like a power. It’s like an alignment. It’s a feeling of “I can do this.” And in that feeling there’s a recapturing of beauty. Sometimes that can come when I’m dressed up and I’m about to be on the red carpet, but it can also come at 11 at night eating whatever I’m eating in bed. It comes a lot around my son and playing with him, but it comes at moments when I don’t expect it. 

Our dear friend Abbey Lincoln introduced [me and my husband, jazz pianist Rodney Kendrick]. She [was] a jazz vocalist; she died about a year ago. And she was beautiful, but she was beautiful for those reasons! For an understanding of her power, of her worth, of her value, of her alignment to source and to the ancestors, and her understanding of the importance of the work she was imparting to us. There are women like that, and when I think of them and I feel connected to them I feel beautiful. So it’s not about my mascara!

  What do you do to stay grounded and in alignment?   I pray. I meditate. If drawing a picture will align me in a certain way, I’ll take a few minutes to draw. If listening to a piece of music will do it, I'll listen to music. I try to stay in alignment as often as I can, because I feel like everything I do is easier and better when I am.

What do you do to stay grounded and in alignment?

I pray. I meditate. If drawing a picture will align me in a certain way, I’ll take a few minutes to draw. If listening to a piece of music will do it, I'll listen to music. I try to stay in alignment as often as I can, because I feel like everything I do is easier and better when I am.

  Continued   I have a lot of tools. I like affirmations. I love the Bible. I pray and "listen" to God. I love walking in Central Park, I love playing with my son. I’m usually in a good place and every now and then I’ll dip down — so I'll figure out what to do to bring myself back up. That's something that I make sure I do every day.  I do whatever I can to lift my spirits. I know it’s nobody’s job to lift my spirits. It's not Rodney job — though sometimes I think it should be! It’s not Raif’s job to behave in a certain way to lift my spirits. It’s not my government’s job, it’s not the guy on the corner who screams at three in the morning’s job. It’s not their job! It’s my job! So I take that really seriously.    ΔΔΔ

Continued

I have a lot of tools. I like affirmations. I love the Bible. I pray and "listen" to God. I love walking in Central Park, I love playing with my son. I’m usually in a good place and every now and then I’ll dip downso I'll figure out what to do to bring myself back up. That's something that I make sure I do every day.

I do whatever I can to lift my spirits. I know it’s nobody’s job to lift my spirits. It's not Rodney jobthough sometimes I think it should be! It’s not Raif’s job to behave in a certain way to lift my spirits. It’s not my government’s job, it’s not the guy on the corner who screams at three in the morning’s job. It’s not their job! It’s my job! So I take that really seriously. 

ΔΔΔ

LISA JOHNSON WILLINGHAM

LISA JOHNSON WILLINGHAM

Issue No. 12
Jersey City, New Jersey

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Photos: J. Quazi King

Chicago may be called the Second City, but it was first in the hearts of dancer and Alvin Ailey Extension director Lisa Johnson-Willingham and her family.

“I love Chicagoit’s beautiful,” Johnson-Willingham says. “And it’s a great place to raise children.”

The Johnson-Willinghams lived on the South Side of Chicago for 12 years before Lisa was presented with two life-altering events: a painful divorce in from her husband of eight years in 2008 and, in 2011, the chance to move to the New York area to take a director position within Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc., one of the premiere dance organizations in America.

 “I’ve been a part of [Alvin Ailey] for over 15 years,” Johnson-Willingham explains. “So when the opportunity arrived, I decided I wanted to continue to be a part of [this] wonderful organization.”  But taking the job as director of the Ailey Extension meant uprooting her two children, Quincy and Noah, ages 9 and 6 respectively, from Chicago to New Jersey. It was a decision Johnson-Willingham didn’t relish making.

“I’ve been a part of [Alvin Ailey] for over 15 years,” Johnson-Willingham explains. “So when the opportunity arrived, I decided I wanted to continue to be a part of [this] wonderful organization.”

But taking the job as director of the Ailey Extension meant uprooting her two children, Quincy and Noah, ages 9 and 6 respectively, from Chicago to New Jersey. It was a decision Johnson-Willingham didn’t relish making.

 “At first, the kids were very sad to leave their home and their family. We had a tight-knit community of friends that became our family,” Johnson-Willingham says. “Transitions are hard for adults, so I can’t imagine being [a kid] and having a major transition in your life.  “They left the only place they’ve ever lived,” she continued. “They left their friends, they left their dad. So transitioning into a new city and a new school... I think that was very hard."

“At first, the kids were very sad to leave their home and their family. We had a tight-knit community of friends that became our family,” Johnson-Willingham says. “Transitions are hard for adults, so I can’t imagine being [a kid] and having a major transition in your life.

“They left the only place they’ve ever lived,” she continued. “They left their friends, they left their dad. So transitioning into a new city and a new school... I think that was very hard."

 Johnson-Willingham leaned on her support network on the East Coast  —  she’s originally from Washington, D.C. and lived in New York for 12 years before moving to Chicago  —t  o make the transition as smooth as possible for her kids.  “[I made] sure we had family around us often once we relocated to New York,” Johnson-Willingham says. “My family is located in D.C., so we visited [them] on the weekends often. My mom came up a lot to visit. A lot of my close friends from Chicago often flew here to see them. A couple of times, my daughter’s friends flew to New York to see her, or they flew back to Chicago to see their friends. Their dad was [also] helpful with the transition.”

Johnson-Willingham leaned on her support network on the East Coastshe’s originally from Washington, D.C. and lived in New York for 12 years before moving to Chicago—to make the transition as smooth as possible for her kids.

“[I made] sure we had family around us often once we relocated to New York,” Johnson-Willingham says. “My family is located in D.C., so we visited [them] on the weekends often. My mom came up a lot to visit. A lot of my close friends from Chicago often flew here to see them. A couple of times, my daughter’s friends flew to New York to see her, or they flew back to Chicago to see their friends. Their dad was [also] helpful with the transition.”

 Now, a year later, Lisa, Quincy and Noah have settled into their life in Jersey City. When Johnson-Willingham isn’t playing with her natural-born performers (“We laugh a lot in my house”), she’s at the office. The 15-year Ailey vet is incredibly passionate about dance (she taught and headed a number of dance programs in Chicago); it makes sense that she’s now helping the storied organization meet its goal of bringing “real dance to real people” through its Extension program.

Now, a year later, Lisa, Quincy and Noah have settled into their life in Jersey City. When Johnson-Willingham isn’t playing with her natural-born performers (“We laugh a lot in my house”), she’s at the office. The 15-year Ailey vet is incredibly passionate about dance (she taught and headed a number of dance programs in Chicago); it makes sense that she’s now helping the storied organization meet its goal of bringing “real dance to real people” through its Extension program.

 “I express myself through movement. Dance is my life. It’s who I am,” Johnson-Willingham explains. “I’ve met some amazing, wonderful artists. You get to touch lives, not just in New York City, but from all over the world.”

“I express myself through movement. Dance is my life. It’s who I am,” Johnson-Willingham explains. “I’ve met some amazing, wonderful artists. You get to touch lives, not just in New York City, but from all over the world.”

 While Quincy and Noah enjoy visiting museums in New York City and doing art projects at home, they probably won’t be joining their mom at the barre anytime soon. Noah loves playing soccer and Quincy is the artist of the family.  “She makes the most incredible pieces of artwork,” Johnson-Willingham says, her voice teeming with pride. “She sees life through art and it’s so beautiful to see. I mean, we could be at the dinner table, and she takes a napkin and just begins to create something out of [it]. By the time dinner is over, she’s like, ‘Look what I’ve made!'”

While Quincy and Noah enjoy visiting museums in New York City and doing art projects at home, they probably won’t be joining their mom at the barre anytime soon. Noah loves playing soccer and Quincy is the artist of the family.

“She makes the most incredible pieces of artwork,” Johnson-Willingham says, her voice teeming with pride. “She sees life through art and it’s so beautiful to see. I mean, we could be at the dinner table, and she takes a napkin and just begins to create something out of [it]. By the time dinner is over, she’s like, ‘Look what I’ve made!'”

 With an imagination like that, it seems like Johnson-Willingham’s biggest hope for her children  —  that they dream beyond mental or state borders  —  has already set root.  “[I want them to] dream more than others think is practical,” she says. “I want them to go beyond their personal limitations, and have fulfillment in life.”  Johnson-Willingham is a living example of that wish for her kids.  “You know, today, it was so funny,” she says. “My son said, ‘You know Mom, I’m really happy that you are happy with your job.’ That’s beautiful to hear from your child.“

With an imagination like that, it seems like Johnson-Willingham’s biggest hope for her childrenthat they dream beyond mental or state bordershas already set root.

“[I want them to] dream more than others think is practical,” she says. “I want them to go beyond their personal limitations, and have fulfillment in life.”

Johnson-Willingham is a living example of that wish for her kids.

“You know, today, it was so funny,” she says. “My son said, ‘You know Mom, I’m really happy that you are happy with your job.’ That’s beautiful to hear from your child.“

Q&A

Q&A

What made you decide to take the director position in New York City?

First, to demonstrate to my kids the importance of being ambitious, never settling for less, or allowing society’s personal limitations define who you are. I wanted them to never be afraid to leave their comfort zone and instill a sense of self-confidence and passion.

  Continued   There is a quote from Alvin Ailey that I often try to live by: “To be who you are and become what you are capable of is the only goal worth living.” I am a firm believer that there are no coincidences in life and nothing happens by accident. It was the right opportunity, from the right person, at the right moment in my life.

Continued

There is a quote from Alvin Ailey that I often try to live by: “To be who you are and become what you are capable of is the only goal worth living.” I am a firm believer that there are no coincidences in life and nothing happens by accident. It was the right opportunity, from the right person, at the right moment in my life.

  What was the move like?   I had two months to relocate and find a school for the kids to attend during one of the worst snowstorms in Chicago and New York. My mother came to Chicago to help with the kids while I relocated first to secure the school and home for us.  I traveled to Chicago every weekend for two months until the kids’ spring break to make the transition seamless for them. I placed both feet steadily on the ground, held on to my faith, and believed. I was blessed to find a school that welcomed Quincy and Noah with open arms; the staff and administration were warm and inviting, and the school continues to be a steady rock for the kids.

What was the move like?

I had two months to relocate and find a school for the kids to attend during one of the worst snowstorms in Chicago and New York. My mother came to Chicago to help with the kids while I relocated first to secure the school and home for us.

I traveled to Chicago every weekend for two months until the kids’ spring break to make the transition seamless for them. I placed both feet steadily on the ground, held on to my faith, and believed. I was blessed to find a school that welcomed Quincy and Noah with open arms; the staff and administration were warm and inviting, and the school continues to be a steady rock for the kids.

  What's a lesson you've learned from your children?   When you begin to take care of other people, you find out how important it is to take care of yourself. Like, if mommy isn’t happy, then the children can sense it and feel it. 

What's a lesson you've learned from your children?

When you begin to take care of other people, you find out how important it is to take care of yourself. Like, if mommy isn’t happy, then the children can sense it and feel it. 

  Continued   I try to be very practical and  really  take care of myself so I am able to take care of them with the best of me. [When you do that], I think you develop happy children. 

Continued

I try to be very practical and really take care of myself so I am able to take care of them with the best of me. [When you do that], I think you develop happy children. 

  What do you enjoy most about being a mom?   Wow. Everything. I think everything. Motherhood is amazing. I love it. A lot of times, we become adults and we forget to laugh, we forget to be silly. [We don’t have] the nonchalance that children have about the small things. Small things are important. That’s something that I’ve learned [through my children].

What do you enjoy most about being a mom?

Wow. Everything. I think everything. Motherhood is amazing. I love it. A lot of times, we become adults and we forget to laugh, we forget to be silly. [We don’t have] the nonchalance that children have about the small things. Small things are important. That’s something that I’ve learned [through my children].

  What are Quincy and Noah's personalities like?   Everyone always says, “Your kids are so funny!” We love to laugh. They’re very vocal. They’ve attended Montessori school [so] they’re very independent. They’re not afraid to voice their opinions. They have lots of questions, so they’re inquisitive. They’re risk takers, practical jokers. 

What are Quincy and Noah's personalities like?

Everyone always says, “Your kids are so funny!” We love to laugh. They’re very vocal. They’ve attended Montessori school [so] they’re very independent. They’re not afraid to voice their opinions. They have lots of questions, so they’re inquisitive. They’re risk takers, practical jokers. 

  Continued   They’re very dramatic: They create all kinds of movies at home. We play different characters. One of our favorite games to play is switch personalities. So I would be Quincy, Noah would be Mommy, and Quincy would be Noah. We kind of switched around and roleplayed. It’s quite fun! And you learn a lot from kids when they do the role-playing as you.

Continued

They’re very dramatic: They create all kinds of movies at home. We play different characters. One of our favorite games to play is switch personalities. So I would be Quincy, Noah would be Mommy, and Quincy would be Noah. We kind of switched around and roleplayed. It’s quite fun! And you learn a lot from kids when they do the role-playing as you.

  Continued   Most people who are around us [notice that] we hug a lot and we kiss a lot. We say I love you all throughout the day, so they’re [also] able to say that to their cousins and their grandmother, and their friends, uncles and aunts. I teach them about love.

Continued

Most people who are around us [notice that] we hug a lot and we kiss a lot. We say I love you all throughout the day, so they’re [also] able to say that to their cousins and their grandmother, and their friends, uncles and aunts. I teach them about love.

  Fill in the blank. I love being a mom most when __________?   ... When I see my children happy. When I see me in them, [in] their spirits.  I love being a mom when I see my children communicate and relate to their friends and family. I feel like they have great spirits, and it makes me proud to be their mom. The one thing I do hear about Quincy all the time is that she’s so caring of her friends, very helpful, and a leader in class.   What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from your mom or the moms in your life?   I think for me it would be expecting more than others think is possible. 

Fill in the blank. I love being a mom most when __________?

... When I see my children happy. When I see me in them, [in] their spirits.

I love being a mom when I see my children communicate and relate to their friends and family. I feel like they have great spirits, and it makes me proud to be their mom. The one thing I do hear about Quincy all the time is that she’s so caring of her friends, very helpful, and a leader in class.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from your mom or the moms in your life?

I think for me it would be expecting more than others think is possible. 

  You lived in New York for 12 years before you got engaged and moved to Chicago in 1999. How is living in New York different now that you have kids?   Well, instead of going to see dance concerts and hanging out at venues and everything, we’re going to see  Spiderman ,  Lion King , and  Mary Poppins  on Broadway, and going to the Rockefeller Center to see the lighting of the Christmas tree. [I’ve been taking] advantage of the other part of New York I wasn’t interested in when I lived here 12 years ago.

You lived in New York for 12 years before you got engaged and moved to Chicago in 1999. How is living in New York different now that you have kids?

Well, instead of going to see dance concerts and hanging out at venues and everything, we’re going to see Spiderman, Lion King, and Mary Poppins on Broadway, and going to the Rockefeller Center to see the lighting of the Christmas tree. [I’ve been taking] advantage of the other part of New York I wasn’t interested in when I lived here 12 years ago.

  What inspires your personal style?   My mood, usually how I’m feeling that day. I don’t really have a style. I don’t wear jewelry. I like the classic look though, I like clean lines.   Is that from being a dancer?   I think so. I’ve always liked clean lines, linear looks.   How do you feel about dancing?   From seeing people come [to the Alvin Ailey Extension], [I know] dance builds self-esteem, relieves stress, [and gets people to] start living a healthier life.  Dance heals the spirit [and] develops the mind, body, and spirit. We have people from all walks of life come here and dance and be inspired. I think a lot of times, [when you’re going through] your toughest times in life -- dance. Go on a run, play some music, and dance. 

What inspires your personal style?

My mood, usually how I’m feeling that day. I don’t really have a style. I don’t wear jewelry. I like the classic look though, I like clean lines.

Is that from being a dancer?

I think so. I’ve always liked clean lines, linear looks.

How do you feel about dancing?

From seeing people come [to the Alvin Ailey Extension], [I know] dance builds self-esteem, relieves stress, [and gets people to] start living a healthier life.

Dance heals the spirit [and] develops the mind, body, and spirit. We have people from all walks of life come here and dance and be inspired. I think a lot of times, [when you’re going through] your toughest times in life -- dance. Go on a run, play some music, and dance. 

  What inspires the way you dress your kids?   [With] my daughter, we fight a lot because she’s an artist, so she likes to be very creative with her choices. I try to guide her [and] it doesn’t work. I like the Gap, and she likes to put different colors together and different patterns. Her favorites mix and match, and I’m more like “Blue should be with blue.”

What inspires the way you dress your kids?

[With] my daughter, we fight a lot because she’s an artist, so she likes to be very creative with her choices. I try to guide her [and] it doesn’t work. I like the Gap, and she likes to put different colors together and different patterns. Her favorites mix and match, and I’m more like “Blue should be with blue.”

  And what about Noah?   Noah, he’s a jean, T-shirt kind of guy. 

And what about Noah?

Noah, he’s a jean, T-shirt kind of guy. 

  What kind of man do you hope your son becomes, and what kind of woman do you hope your daughter becomes?   I hope they both become risk takers. I know as an African-American male, my son will have some obstacles, but I hope he can think beyond those and tear down those walls. [As for] my daughter, a lot of times when I say, “She’s an artist,” a lot of people say, “Ugh,” or “Oh no, you should make her interested in something else.” 

What kind of man do you hope your son becomes, and what kind of woman do you hope your daughter becomes?

I hope they both become risk takers. I know as an African-American male, my son will have some obstacles, but I hope he can think beyond those and tear down those walls. [As for] my daughter, a lot of times when I say, “She’s an artist,” a lot of people say, “Ugh,” or “Oh no, you should make her interested in something else.” 

  Continued   I think your destiny is your destiny, and when God gives you a talent, no one can deny it. If she becomes an artist, Mommy would be proud. I think it’s about fulfillment for her. The woman I want her to be is the woman she wants to be, and I will support her a hundred percent. I want her to be independent. I want her to be practical.

Continued

I think your destiny is your destiny, and when God gives you a talent, no one can deny it. If she becomes an artist, Mommy would be proud. I think it’s about fulfillment for her. The woman I want her to be is the woman she wants to be, and I will support her a hundred percent. I want her to be independent. I want her to be practical.

  How do you balance your workload with being a present mom?   For me I often incorporate my children in my job. When my children were young, I taught dance class with my son on my chest in the little Kangaroo. And he would sleep the entire time. The drums were playing, and at the very end of the class, the drums would stop, and his head would pop up. My son and my daughter go to performances with me, and they perform, so I go to see their performances. I think it depends on the decisions that you make in life, from the beginning, [from] their birth, to now, or until they’re 14, or until they’re 18, or until they’re 45. It’s the decisions that you make [that]   plant the seeds [of] all the things that you expect and want from them.  Having incredible support, I think, is [also] very important. I think you can have it all if you have the support that you need.

How do you balance your workload with being a present mom?

For me I often incorporate my children in my job. When my children were young, I taught dance class with my son on my chest in the little Kangaroo. And he would sleep the entire time. The drums were playing, and at the very end of the class, the drums would stop, and his head would pop up. My son and my daughter go to performances with me, and they perform, so I go to see their performances. I think it depends on the decisions that you make in life, from the beginning, [from] their birth, to now, or until they’re 14, or until they’re 18, or until they’re 45. It’s the decisions that you make [that] plant the seeds [of] all the things that you expect and want from them.

Having incredible support, I think, is [also] very important. I think you can have it all if you have the support that you need.

  What do you think about the idea that a woman can’t have it all?   I just don’t address that. I think I am a woman that has it all. I have beautiful children that I’m happy with, I have an incredible job, I’m in an amazing relationship. I just think that’s someone’s personal opinion. Who has it all?  I don’t think of separating a man and a woman, you know, “Women are from Venus, and men are from Mars.” Everybody as a human [has] up and downs, your difficulties, your successes. I think [the key is to] work hard and love what you do.   ΔΔΔ

What do you think about the idea that a woman can’t have it all?

I just don’t address that. I think I am a woman that has it all. I have beautiful children that I’m happy with, I have an incredible job, I’m in an amazing relationship. I just think that’s someone’s personal opinion. Who has it all?

I don’t think of separating a man and a woman, you know, “Women are from Venus, and men are from Mars.” Everybody as a human [has] up and downs, your difficulties, your successes. I think [the key is to] work hard and love what you do.

ΔΔΔ

TRENESA STANFORD-DANUSER

TRENESA STANFORD-DANUSER

Issue No. 13
Brooklyn, New York

Words by Anthonia Akitunde
Photos by J. Quazi King

After hours of laughing and playing with her two children on a low-key Sunday afternoon, Trenesa Stanford-Danuser, 43, has worked up an appetite. Out comes a cutting board, two large bowls, and an even larger knife.

She deftly separates a slice of cantaloupe from its rind, chops the melon into a few blocks and transfers them into a bowl in front of Dylan, her 11-year-old daughter. Romon, 4, continues to giggle hysterically at an admittedly very silly song playing from his keyboard.

 “My husband [executive producer Chris Danuser] just said last night ‘I don’t know why we pay for cable because we never, ever have a chance to watch TV — sorry, Time Warner!” Stanford-Danuser says, laughing. “Even when we are sitting down to watch TV together, somebody’s standing in front of the TV saying ‘Look at me!’”

“My husband [executive producer Chris Danuser] just said last night ‘I don’t know why we pay for cable because we never, ever have a chance to watch TVsorry, Time Warner!” Stanford-Danuser says, laughing. “Even when we are sitting down to watch TV together, somebody’s standing in front of the TV saying ‘Look at me!’”

  Dylan leans against the kitchen counter as her mother slices melon and apples (cut into circles the family call Apple-Os).   “My favorite thing about my mom is she’s just so interesting and inspiring and funny,” Dylan says. “One time I called her a 'boring mom' because she wouldn’t do cartwheels, and she was like, ‘Compared to some other moms, I’m not boring.’ Remember, Mommy?”  The two dissolve into laughter, a constant sound in their gorgeous townhome.

Dylan leans against the kitchen counter as her mother slices melon and apples (cut into circles the family call Apple-Os).

“My favorite thing about my mom is she’s just so interesting and inspiring and funny,” Dylan says. “One time I called her a 'boring mom' because she wouldn’t do cartwheels, and she was like, ‘Compared to some other moms, I’m not boring.’ Remember, Mommy?”

The two dissolve into laughter, a constant sound in their gorgeous townhome.

 It’s moments like these that Stanford-Danuser treasures as she balances the tightrope walk of being a mom and having a high-powered job — she’s vice president of global communications and strategic alliances for  Estée Lauder ’s  Origins skin care  and  Ojon hair products .  Being a VP at an iconic company worth around $23 billion and raising two energetic kids doesn’t allow for much carefree and unscheduled fun time, she admits.  “I’m a full-time professional so I don’t typically get home until 7 or 8 o’clock at night [or later]; I do a lot of things after hours given my industry,” Stanford-Danuser explains.

It’s moments like these that Stanford-Danuser treasures as she balances the tightrope walk of being a mom and having a high-powered jobshe’s vice president of global communications and strategic alliances for Estée Lauder’s Origins skin care and Ojon hair products.

Being a VP at an iconic company worth around $23 billion and raising two energetic kids doesn’t allow for much carefree and unscheduled fun time, she admits.

“I’m a full-time professional so I don’t typically get home until 7 or 8 o’clock at night [or later]; I do a lot of things after hours given my industry,” Stanford-Danuser explains.

 Stanford-Danuser spent her early career in public relations as the director of communications for the American Red Cross (“If there was a storm or tragedy, I would jump in a plane, or drive out to a flooded or tornado-stricken area,” she recalls). From there she made the transition to brands like Braun and CoverGirl before heading to Estée Lauder Companies, where she’s been for nine years this January.

Stanford-Danuser spent her early career in public relations as the director of communications for the American Red Cross (“If there was a storm or tragedy, I would jump in a plane, or drive out to a flooded or tornado-stricken area,” she recalls). From there she made the transition to brands like Braun and CoverGirl before heading to Estée Lauder Companies, where she’s been for nine years this January.

 She finds the strategy and traveling aspects of her current position to be especially thrilling. “We birth a strategy, we roll it out, and then I’m able to go into those [international] markets and see how those strategies are interpreted,” Stanford-Danuser says. “It’s amazing…to know the moment when you’ve said ‘Ah-ha! This is what we’re going to do,’ and then to see it executed in various ways across the globe.”

She finds the strategy and traveling aspects of her current position to be especially thrilling. “We birth a strategy, we roll it out, and then I’m able to go into those [international] markets and see how those strategies are interpreted,” Stanford-Danuser says. “It’s amazing…to know the moment when you’ve said ‘Ah-ha! This is what we’re going to do,’ and then to see it executed in various ways across the globe.”

 Despite feeling fulfilled by her work, Stanford-Danuser takes great pains to ensure it doesn’t consume her. It’s an unspoken goal rooted in great personal loss: her brothers Robert and Solomon Stanford lost their lives on Christmas Eve in 2007, shortly after Stanford-Danuser and her husband discovered they were pregnant with Romon.

Despite feeling fulfilled by her work, Stanford-Danuser takes great pains to ensure it doesn’t consume her. It’s an unspoken goal rooted in great personal loss: her brothers Robert and Solomon Stanford lost their lives on Christmas Eve in 2007, shortly after Stanford-Danuser and her husband discovered they were pregnant with Romon.

 “When the doctor called and said, ‘You’re having a boy,’ it meant so much to know that the universe had made it so, that we would have another son to bring into the family after such a tragic loss,” Stanford-Danuser said.  “His name is Romon because my brothers’ [names] are Robert and Solomon; his middle name is [the numeral] 8, because he’s the eighth grandchild; and he was born in 2008. Eight also means resurrection.”

“When the doctor called and said, ‘You’re having a boy,’ it meant so much to know that the universe had made it so, that we would have another son to bring into the family after such a tragic loss,” Stanford-Danuser said.

“His name is Romon because my brothers’ [names] are Robert and Solomon; his middle name is [the numeral] 8, because he’s the eighth grandchild; and he was born in 2008. Eight also means resurrection.”

 Her brothers’ legacies go beyond the family’s memories and her son’s name, she says.  “[Since the loss of my brothers], the thing my mom says is cherish the time that you have [with your children],” Stanford-Danuser says. “’They grow so fast and then they go so fast’ — that’s something my mom is constantly reminding me. She usually says those things when I’m making a really tough mom decision, like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go to Asia again.’ She’s sort of that conscience: ‘Make sure you don’t let work get in the way. Don’t be gone too long from the children.’

Her brothers’ legacies go beyond the family’s memories and her son’s name, she says.

“[Since the loss of my brothers], the thing my mom says is cherish the time that you have [with your children],” Stanford-Danuser says. “’They grow so fast and then they go so fast’that’s something my mom is constantly reminding me. She usually says those things when I’m making a really tough mom decision, like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go to Asia again.’ She’s sort of that conscience: ‘Make sure you don’t let work get in the way. Don’t be gone too long from the children.’

 “My mothering goes beyond my own children — I’m really now serving in an extended mothering role to my [seven] nieces and nephews that my brothers left behind,” a fact that keeps her grounded and very present in the now, Stanford-Danuser says.  “It may be my own imagination, but I know that my children feel aware of the connection that we have,” she says. “Knowing that they trust me, and that there are so few people on the planet that trust you so completely… as a mother you know you have that with your children.

“My mothering goes beyond my own childrenI’m really now serving in an extended mothering role to my [seven] nieces and nephews that my brothers left behind,” a fact that keeps her grounded and very present in the now, Stanford-Danuser says.

“It may be my own imagination, but I know that my children feel aware of the connection that we have,” she says. “Knowing that they trust me, and that there are so few people on the planet that trust you so completely… as a mother you know you have that with your children.

Q&A

Q&A

What do you appreciate more now that you're a mom?

I was in our little garden area and I was just sweeping, which is strangely and sadly one of my favorite things to do. It was just kind of like one of those moments that you have to yourself, before you have children. You really just cherish [your children] and love [them] and feel honored and significant to have them, but motherhood changes you[it gives you] perspective on the moments that are for yourself. Because it is a selfless task to be a mother, and it is a joyous one as well, but it’s so rare that you can just be to yourself.

  Continued   [So when I was sweeping] I was just sort of enjoying the moment of “This is a task, this is a chore” —i t doesn’t sound too glamorous, but no one’s bothering me and I’m kind of in control of the situation, unless the wind blows the leaves. Motherhood has made me really appreciate the value of those moments that I have to myself. I think as long as I have those moments, they help me be a better mother. At least I know that I have a little bit of time to be Trenesa without children, because the lion’s share of your life is really defined by the fact that you have children.

Continued

[So when I was sweeping] I was just sort of enjoying the moment of “This is a task, this is a chore”—it doesn’t sound too glamorous, but no one’s bothering me and I’m kind of in control of the situation, unless the wind blows the leaves. Motherhood has made me really appreciate the value of those moments that I have to myself. I think as long as I have those moments, they help me be a better mother. At least I know that I have a little bit of time to be Trenesa without children, because the lion’s share of your life is really defined by the fact that you have children.

  What’s a typical day like with your children?   We live in Brooklyn, but we used to live in TriBeCa. My daughter is still in the District Two School District, which is great, but that means she’s commuting to Manhattan to get to school. So I wake up at six o'clock in the morning with her and we leave the house together. I drop her off and then I go back on the subway and go to work.  Chris, my husband, is maybe 30 minutes behind us, because my son Romon just started Pre-K and he’s going to school in Brooklyn. My husband will get Romon ready, and he goes to a school where they wear uniforms. As a mom, I’m like, “Great, I don’t have to worry about how my husband is dressing him.”

What’s a typical day like with your children?

We live in Brooklyn, but we used to live in TriBeCa. My daughter is still in the District Two School District, which is great, but that means she’s commuting to Manhattan to get to school. So I wake up at six o'clock in the morning with her and we leave the house together. I drop her off and then I go back on the subway and go to work.

Chris, my husband, is maybe 30 minutes behind us, because my son Romon just started Pre-K and he’s going to school in Brooklyn. My husband will get Romon ready, and he goes to a school where they wear uniforms. As a mom, I’m like, “Great, I don’t have to worry about how my husband is dressing him.”

  Continued   We’ve been really fortunate. Onica, [our nanny], has been with us for 11 years [and] she fills in the gaps. She picks them up from school, she takes Dylan to soccer practice.  I miss the kids’ bedtime sometimes because I often have industry events in the evening. The mornings with my daughter is our time because even if we’re not saying anything — we’re not morning people — we know we’ll be thrown around in the morning rush hour together.

Continued

We’ve been really fortunate. Onica, [our nanny], has been with us for 11 years [and] she fills in the gaps. She picks them up from school, she takes Dylan to soccer practice.

I miss the kids’ bedtime sometimes because I often have industry events in the evening. The mornings with my daughter is our time because even if we’re not saying anythingwe’re not morning peoplewe know we’ll be thrown around in the morning rush hour together.

  Continued   Dylan has a cell phone so she’ll text me — that’s kind of fun, now that she’s old enough to text, getting these cute little acronymed messages from my daughter. And of course I’ll call and have a chit-chat with Romon when they come home from school. But that’s our day. And then they have all these extracurricular things. If it’s the weekend, my daughter has soccer practice, and she’s in the performing arts, so she may have a rehearsal. I mean, it just feels like it never ends, and just saying it out loud, it sounds exhausting. But it’s our life, and you just sort of navigate.

Continued

Dylan has a cell phone so she’ll text methat’s kind of fun, now that she’s old enough to text, getting these cute little acronymed messages from my daughter. And of course I’ll call and have a chit-chat with Romon when they come home from school. But that’s our day. And then they have all these extracurricular things. If it’s the weekend, my daughter has soccer practice, and she’s in the performing arts, so she may have a rehearsal. I mean, it just feels like it never ends, and just saying it out loud, it sounds exhausting. But it’s our life, and you just sort of navigate.

  What do you enjoy most about being a mom?   Those little moments when the children make you feel special. There are moments where my son can be absolutely impossible, and there’s moments where he can just say, “I love you, Mommy.” I watch my daughter, who’s 11, [have] completely mini-me moments. It’s like I’m looking at myself; it’s funny and frightening at the same time.

What do you enjoy most about being a mom?

Those little moments when the children make you feel special. There are moments where my son can be absolutely impossible, and there’s moments where he can just say, “I love you, Mommy.” I watch my daughter, who’s 11, [have] completely mini-me moments. It’s like I’m looking at myself; it’s funny and frightening at the same time.

  Continued   I love when my children sort of snuggle up to me and we just have these moments where it’s a quiet acknowledgement of our bond. I don’t know what’s going through their minds, but I know that when I’m in that moment, it really doesn’t get any better than having my son sitting in my lap and my daughter leaning her head in on my shoulder, and we’re just calm and connected.  I also like mornings, like a Saturday on one of those rare occasions when I actually get to be the last person to get out of the bed, and my children come and pile into the bed with me.

Continued

I love when my children sort of snuggle up to me and we just have these moments where it’s a quiet acknowledgement of our bond. I don’t know what’s going through their minds, but I know that when I’m in that moment, it really doesn’t get any better than having my son sitting in my lap and my daughter leaning her head in on my shoulder, and we’re just calm and connected.

I also like mornings, like a Saturday on one of those rare occasions when I actually get to be the last person to get out of the bed, and my children come and pile into the bed with me.

  Fill in the blank: Being a mom is the hardest when ...?   When I want to do things for me. You sometimes have to make choices, especially when you’re a professional, and it’s hard sometimes. I travel a lot with my work, and I have frequent professional after-hours obligations. In order for us to maintain the lifestyle that we have, I must work. So being a mom is really hard when I have to make that choice to not be with my family.

Fill in the blank: Being a mom is the hardest when ...?

When I want to do things for me. You sometimes have to make choices, especially when you’re a professional, and it’s hard sometimes. I travel a lot with my work, and I have frequent professional after-hours obligations. In order for us to maintain the lifestyle that we have, I must work. So being a mom is really hard when I have to make that choice to not be with my family.

  Do you ever feel guilty about your work-life balance?   Of course I feel guilt! I don’t know of a mother who doesn’t. But I manage the guilt. I’m like, “Do you want to eat? Do you want to have somewhere to live?” That’s how I quiet the guilt that I’m feeling.    I believe my children understand that mommy works so hard for them. Work-life balance isn’t an act, it’s a requirement. I’m empowered to put work on pause for my family; the guilt comes when I put family on pause for the work.

Do you ever feel guilty about your work-life balance?

Of course I feel guilt! I don’t know of a mother who doesn’t. But I manage the guilt. I’m like, “Do you want to eat? Do you want to have somewhere to live?” That’s how I quiet the guilt that I’m feeling.  

I believe my children understand that mommy works so hard for them. Work-life balance isn’t an act, it’s a requirement. I’m empowered to put work on pause for my family; the guilt comes when I put family on pause for the work.

  What was the best advice your mom or the moms in your life have given you about being a mother?   My parents were both busy people in the church. One of the most important lessons they taught us was connection to God. I think that making sure that our children have exposure to something beyond themselves to believe in [is important].

What was the best advice your mom or the moms in your life have given you about being a mother?

My parents were both busy people in the church. One of the most important lessons they taught us was connection to God. I think that making sure that our children have exposure to something beyond themselves to believe in [is important].

  What part of yourself do you see in your kids?   I see the confidence and outspokenness and humor, and [love of] performing. They got it naturally. I’m constantly humming and singing and being silly, so we’ve established an environment via me that that’s ok. There’s also a little bit of a bold streak in them that I feel like they’ve gotten from [me].  I think there’s something about their abilities to be personable. They’re great hosts, both of them. We’re constantly entertaining so our house is sort of a hub for “Come on over!” There’s always people popping in — the children are really good at making people feel at home. Even Romon at 4 knows how to say “Welcome!” and “Hope to see you again!”

What part of yourself do you see in your kids?

I see the confidence and outspokenness and humor, and [love of] performing. They got it naturally. I’m constantly humming and singing and being silly, so we’ve established an environment via me that that’s ok. There’s also a little bit of a bold streak in them that I feel like they’ve gotten from [me].

I think there’s something about their abilities to be personable. They’re great hosts, both of them. We’re constantly entertaining so our house is sort of a hub for “Come on over!” There’s always people popping inthe children are really good at making people feel at home. Even Romon at 4 knows how to say “Welcome!” and “Hope to see you again!”

  Do you have a beauty or health care regimen that you try to stick to?   Can I count the couple of blocks and the flights of stairs to the subway as my fitness regimen? Because that’s kind of what it is right now.  Every time I buy a [exercise] package or reserve a personal trainer, I’m like, “If you’re going to pay for it, you better use it!” But my life is consumed with what is going on with the family, work, and travel that I don’t know how much money I’ve lost. I’ve rarely finished it out. [But] I love to do yoga, I like that it’s quiet. I go to the gym when I’m on business trips and I actually enjoy group exercises like Zumba — that’s a nice, fun outlet. I just don’t do anything regularly, except count Weight Watchers points.  (Laughs)   I’m in the beauty industry, so my face is sort of a lab, a testing ground for all the products that we’re launching and sneaking peeks at competitors too. I have access to so much beauty so I’m always slathering something on.

Do you have a beauty or health care regimen that you try to stick to?

Can I count the couple of blocks and the flights of stairs to the subway as my fitness regimen? Because that’s kind of what it is right now.

Every time I buy a [exercise] package or reserve a personal trainer, I’m like, “If you’re going to pay for it, you better use it!” But my life is consumed with what is going on with the family, work, and travel that I don’t know how much money I’ve lost. I’ve rarely finished it out. [But] I love to do yoga, I like that it’s quiet. I go to the gym when I’m on business trips and I actually enjoy group exercises like Zumbathat’s a nice, fun outlet. I just don’t do anything regularly, except count Weight Watchers points. (Laughs)

I’m in the beauty industry, so my face is sort of a lab, a testing ground for all the products that we’re launching and sneaking peeks at competitors too. I have access to so much beauty so I’m always slathering something on.

  Is there anything that you swear by?   I think you get a good night’s sleep if you properly wash your face at night. I just love making sure that I’ve thoroughly washed my face, and that I’ve put on a nighttime moisturizer. I use a lot of Origins products, and I use it generously because that’s the best time for your skin to regroup, when you’re sleeping.  I clean my skin, and I always put on a nighttime moisturizer. During the day, I always use something that has SPF in it because I don’t want to get wrinkles, and the sun’s probably the worst offender after age. 

Is there anything that you swear by?

I think you get a good night’s sleep if you properly wash your face at night. I just love making sure that I’ve thoroughly washed my face, and that I’ve put on a nighttime moisturizer. I use a lot of Origins products, and I use it generously because that’s the best time for your skin to regroup, when you’re sleeping.

I clean my skin, and I always put on a nighttime moisturizer. During the day, I always use something that has SPF in it because I don’t want to get wrinkles, and the sun’s probably the worst offender after age. 

  What inspires your personal style?   I guess a little bit of quirkiness. I was wearing a necklace the other day that either you love it or you hate it. I love it when people say “Oh, that’s interesting.” To me, that’s a compliment.  (Laughs)  Sameness is not what I’m going for.  My personal style is pretty eclectic. I’m surrounded by the arts, I’m married to an artist, and I have an appreciation for it, so I have an eye for things that aren’t necessarily tried and true; [I'm] certainly staying away from anything uniform. 

What inspires your personal style?

I guess a little bit of quirkiness. I was wearing a necklace the other day that either you love it or you hate it. I love it when people say “Oh, that’s interesting.” To me, that’s a compliment. (Laughs) Sameness is not what I’m going for.

My personal style is pretty eclectic. I’m surrounded by the arts, I’m married to an artist, and I have an appreciation for it, so I have an eye for things that aren’t necessarily tried and true; [I'm] certainly staying away from anything uniform. 

  What is your parenting philosophy?   We really have been fortunate in that we have children that have a very good ability to communicate. We have a conversation with them. We set boundaries, but they’ve made — thank God — parenting seem easy. My daughter more so than my son.  (Laughs)  Dylan was just so responsive to the boundaries we set for her. Romon tests those boundaries, but he’s a boy.  I don’t know if I have a [parenting] philosophy. I think that you just have to be present as you’re going through it, and you must be flexible, because as I sort of figure things out, so are my children. I think the biggest tool that we have to be successful together is establishing trust and being open and accessible. I don’t know if that’s a philosophy. It’s just how we do things and it seems to be working for us.

What is your parenting philosophy?

We really have been fortunate in that we have children that have a very good ability to communicate. We have a conversation with them. We set boundaries, but they’ve madethank Godparenting seem easy. My daughter more so than my son. (Laughs) Dylan was just so responsive to the boundaries we set for her. Romon tests those boundaries, but he’s a boy.

I don’t know if I have a [parenting] philosophy. I think that you just have to be present as you’re going through it, and you must be flexible, because as I sort of figure things out, so are my children. I think the biggest tool that we have to be successful together is establishing trust and being open and accessible. I don’t know if that’s a philosophy. It’s just how we do things and it seems to be working for us.

  What perspective or example do you hope to impart on your children through your work?   See the world. I’m really grateful to my job in that I do have the opportunity to go around the world and experience cultures in an immersive way. Whatever strategies we develop, we want to make them locally and culturally relevant; having to pay attention to what’s going to work for a certain culture, you have to appreciate it. I’ve just really enjoyed the opportunity to see the world, and with that, I’ve been able to bring back those experiences and share that with my children, and share that with my nieces and nephews, because I think that’s probably the best education you can have, to travel.

What perspective or example do you hope to impart on your children through your work?

See the world. I’m really grateful to my job in that I do have the opportunity to go around the world and experience cultures in an immersive way. Whatever strategies we develop, we want to make them locally and culturally relevant; having to pay attention to what’s going to work for a certain culture, you have to appreciate it. I’ve just really enjoyed the opportunity to see the world, and with that, I’ve been able to bring back those experiences and share that with my children, and share that with my nieces and nephews, because I think that’s probably the best education you can have, to travel.

  Continued   Just recently, I celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary, and my husband and I renewed our vows. We did it in Seville, Spain, and we had 20 friends and family [to represent] 20 years [of marriage]. Two of the people other than my daughter that I was able to take with us to Spain was one of each of my brothers’ oldest daughters, so each of my brothers were represented at our vow renewal.  A lot of amazing things happened on that trip, but the most gratifying moment was when my oldest niece, who’s a freshman in college, stood in the middle of a picturesque cobbled street in Seville and proclaimed, “I’m going to become a foreign exchange student.” She had a powerful epiphany on the joys of seeing the world. I’m so happy to have been able to give her that exposure, that citizen-of-the-world gift. 

Continued

Just recently, I celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary, and my husband and I renewed our vows. We did it in Seville, Spain, and we had 20 friends and family [to represent] 20 years [of marriage]. Two of the people other than my daughter that I was able to take with us to Spain was one of each of my brothers’ oldest daughters, so each of my brothers were represented at our vow renewal.

A lot of amazing things happened on that trip, but the most gratifying moment was when my oldest niece, who’s a freshman in college, stood in the middle of a picturesque cobbled street in Seville and proclaimed, “I’m going to become a foreign exchange student.” She had a powerful epiphany on the joys of seeing the world. I’m so happy to have been able to give her that exposure, that citizen-of-the-world gift. 

  Continued   What I hope my children are gaining from “Mommy’s on another business trip” is that I have stories and experiences that I share with them. I want them to also have an appreciation for travel. And, beyond the great souvenirs I always bring home for the kids, I think it’s just as important for them to see that mommy is fulfilled.

Continued

What I hope my children are gaining from “Mommy’s on another business trip” is that I have stories and experiences that I share with them. I want them to also have an appreciation for travel. And, beyond the great souvenirs I always bring home for the kids, I think it’s just as important for them to see that mommy is fulfilled.

  Trenesa's not the only busy one in the family. Here Romon shares his weekly commute with mater mea.    Romon:  You gotta go to work on Saturday.   Trenesa:  You work on Saturday?   R:  Yeah. I work on Saturday. And I take the G train to the A train to Fulton Street, and Daddy takes the 1 train to Wall Street. And I take the 3 train.   T:  Where do you take the 3 train?   R:  The 3 train to Jay Street - Metrotech. And then I turn into Chambers.   mater mea:  That’s quite the commute.   R:  And then I went up the stairs. And then I take the B22 bus. And then I walk. And then I take the car. And then I go to work!   mater mea:  How long does that take you?   R:  I don’t know, around three blocks?

Trenesa's not the only busy one in the family. Here Romon shares his weekly commute with mater mea.

Romon: You gotta go to work on Saturday.

Trenesa: You work on Saturday?

R: Yeah. I work on Saturday. And I take the G train to the A train to Fulton Street, and Daddy takes the 1 train to Wall Street. And I take the 3 train.

T: Where do you take the 3 train?

R: The 3 train to Jay Street - Metrotech. And then I turn into Chambers.

mater mea: That’s quite the commute.

R: And then I went up the stairs. And then I take the B22 bus. And then I walk. And then I take the car. And then I go to work!

mater mea: How long does that take you?

R: I don’t know, around three blocks?

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WANGECHI MUTU

WANGECHI MUTU

Issue No. 14
Brooklyn, New York

Words by Anthonia Akitunde
Photos by J. Quazi King

The walls in Wangechi Mutu's in-home studio are practically alive. Pieces of fabric and paper from Mutu's mixed-media collages jut out as if it just had a notion to pry itself from the canvas. Further down one finds a long row of sculpted masks that look out at you like a council of unseeing ancients. 

DSC_1073.jpg
 It doesn’t seem like the right setting for a princess or her finery. But it’s here that 3-year-old Neema Lazzaroni decides to create a pile of the tulle, tutus, lace, and sequins that makes up her enviable princess dress collection.  “This one is my favorite,” Neema, the artist’s daughter with her  husband Mario , declares. She proudly holds up a lime green dress before switching to a bright off-the-shoulder yellow dress with ruched tulle along the skirt. “I mean this one.”

It doesn’t seem like the right setting for a princess or her finery. But it’s here that 3-year-old Neema Lazzaroni decides to create a pile of the tulle, tutus, lace, and sequins that makes up her enviable princess dress collection.

“This one is my favorite,” Neema, the artist’s daughter with her husband Mario, declares. She proudly holds up a lime green dress before switching to a bright off-the-shoulder yellow dress with ruched tulle along the skirt. “I mean this one.”

 Mutu watches her daughter go through piece by piece, her eyes crinkling with amusement. “I don’t know if it’s wired into girls,” she said of her daughter’s current princess phase in her lilting Kenyan accent. “[But] It’s fine. It’s helping her imagination.”  It’s no surprise that an active imagination is important to Mutu. While Neema creates a world where fairy princesses and hedgehogs come over for tea parties, her mom has captivated the art world with the products of her own inner world. The complexity of her sculptures and collages of fractured black women pull you in just as it threatens to push you away with a grotesque detail —i t’s a beauty that’s hard to look at.

Mutu watches her daughter go through piece by piece, her eyes crinkling with amusement. “I don’t know if it’s wired into girls,” she said of her daughter’s current princess phase in her lilting Kenyan accent. “[But] It’s fine. It’s helping her imagination.”

It’s no surprise that an active imagination is important to Mutu. While Neema creates a world where fairy princesses and hedgehogs come over for tea parties, her mom has captivated the art world with the products of her own inner world. The complexity of her sculptures and collages of fractured black women pull you in just as it threatens to push you away with a grotesque detail—it’s a beauty that’s hard to look at.

 Mutu’s work has earned her many accolades, including the  Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” award; right now she’s at  the tail end of her fourth solo show titled   Nitarudi Ninarudi   (Kiswahili for "I plan to return I am returning") at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.   

Mutu’s work has earned her many accolades, including the  Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” award; right now she’s at  the tail end of her fourth solo show titled Nitarudi Ninarudi (Kiswahili for "I plan to return I am returning") at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

 

 "I have other shows coming up next year,” Mutu said with a tired laugh. “Mostly museum shows with earlier work that I'm bringing together to recontextualize them, so people can see them for the first time in Sydney, North Carolina [and] the Brooklyn Museum. There’s a show in Germany right now actually. So it’s busy, very busy.”

"I have other shows coming up next year,” Mutu said with a tired laugh. “Mostly museum shows with earlier work that I'm bringing together to recontextualize them, so people can see them for the first time in Sydney, North Carolina [and] the Brooklyn Museum. There’s a show in Germany right now actually. So it’s busy, very busy.”

 Juggling the demands of a thriving art career with that of motherhood is impressive, but the fact that Mutu is also seven months pregnant makes her balancing act seem almost Herculean. It’s a difficulty Mutu acknowledges with her characteristic matter-of-factness.

Juggling the demands of a thriving art career with that of motherhood is impressive, but the fact that Mutu is also seven months pregnant makes her balancing act seem almost Herculean. It’s a difficulty Mutu acknowledges with her characteristic matter-of-factness.

 “I love, and I’m obsessed, with making my work,” Mutu explained. “I’m not one of those people that struggles to come back in the studio; I would love to be here much longer. It comes down to being very disciplined. You can’t really postpone a child’s needs. If she’s back home with the babysitter and it’s time to have dinner, I can’t say, ‘Oh well, I need to work another hour-and-a-half more.’ No, her appetite says now.   

“I love, and I’m obsessed, with making my work,” Mutu explained. “I’m not one of those people that struggles to come back in the studio; I would love to be here much longer. It comes down to being very disciplined. You can’t really postpone a child’s needs. If she’s back home with the babysitter and it’s time to have dinner, I can’t say, ‘Oh well, I need to work another hour-and-a-half more.’ No, her appetite says now.

 

 “Before, I could stretch things and get things done last minute," Mutu continues. "I could do these 14-hour days, stay up to some obscene hour, and then sleep when I’m done with the show. I can’t do that [now]. I’ll get sick. Your body won’t let you. So it’s about being more grown-up. Ultimately you want to be with the child, but there’s some things you have to try and delegate. I have an outstanding team."

“Before, I could stretch things and get things done last minute," Mutu continues. "I could do these 14-hour days, stay up to some obscene hour, and then sleep when I’m done with the show. I can’t do that [now]. I’ll get sick. Your body won’t let you. So it’s about being more grown-up. Ultimately you want to be with the child, but there’s some things you have to try and delegate. I have an outstanding team."

 The decision to be “more grown-up” can come with an array of conflicting emotions, according to Mutu. “I think being a mom [means there are] very internal things related to how your body feels and what is going on inside that are very difficult to communicate.  “[But] I love being a mom most when I’m most challenged with [the] things that are [in] my life, that I’ve created,” she says, looking around her studio. “I’ve kind of just swiveled my head towards the fact that I have my girl, my family, my husband here, and it gives me a sense of calm. It’s so much more difficult to create a creative life of my own than I think it is to create [my art] pieces, for me.”

The decision to be “more grown-up” can come with an array of conflicting emotions, according to Mutu. “I think being a mom [means there are] very internal things related to how your body feels and what is going on inside that are very difficult to communicate.

“[But] I love being a mom most when I’m most challenged with [the] things that are [in] my life, that I’ve created,” she says, looking around her studio. “I’ve kind of just swiveled my head towards the fact that I have my girl, my family, my husband here, and it gives me a sense of calm. It’s so much more difficult to create a creative life of my own than I think it is to create [my art] pieces, for me.”

 As Mutu finishes her thought, Neema has put on her favorite yellow dress, the cutaway cap sleeves barely staying up on her slender shoulders. She takes her mother’s hand and they leave Mutu’s studio behind, heading into another world of make believe.  “Momma, there’s a monster coming!” Neema screams, a mischievous grin lighting up her face

As Mutu finishes her thought, Neema has put on her favorite yellow dress, the cutaway cap sleeves barely staying up on her slender shoulders. She takes her mother’s hand and they leave Mutu’s studio behind, heading into another world of make believe.

“Momma, there’s a monster coming!” Neema screams, a mischievous grin lighting up her face

 Monster attack narrowly avoided, Mutu and her daughter settle onto the couch to play with a mix-and-match puzzle of the Three Bears. The directions on the back show one possible configuration, with Momma Bear wearing a skirt and blouse, Poppa Bear wearing a suit jacket and slacks, and Baby Bear wearing a t-shirt and shorts.

Monster attack narrowly avoided, Mutu and her daughter settle onto the couch to play with a mix-and-match puzzle of the Three Bears. The directions on the back show one possible configuration, with Momma Bear wearing a skirt and blouse, Poppa Bear wearing a suit jacket and slacks, and Baby Bear wearing a t-shirt and shorts.

 “Did I do it right, momma?” Neema asks, taking a step back to observe her work.  Mutu takes a look. “You did that right, Neema, but you can do it however you like.”  It’s an important lesson for any artist… or princess.

“Did I do it right, momma?” Neema asks, taking a step back to observe her work.

Mutu takes a look. “You did that right, Neema, but you can do it however you like.”

It’s an important lesson for any artist… or princess.

Q&A

Q&A

Is there a difference between how you felt during your first pregnancy versus this one?

Yes, [I am] four years older. I literally can tell that I’m a different person, so I’ve been more strict about my exercise because I’m just not as resilient as I was four years ago. And also I think when you have another child, you’re running around. Your energy is being spent already. I know I’m trying to get a ton of things done before the baby comes.

I think if I had decided to have a second child maybe a year after Neema or something, my body would have been in a different place. I’m 40 now. I’ve always seen the way bodies changed [and] I’ve always been in touch with my body’s changes throughout my artist career. 

  Continued   I also feel that [with this pregnancy] my energy is affected by the fact that I have another one, expecting me to be there for her. [I noticed] when I traveled — even for a short amount of time — and I came back, she was clingier. You can’t come back and relax and take a break. 

Continued

I also feel that [with this pregnancy] my energy is affected by the fact that I have another one, expecting me to be there for her. [I noticed] when I traveledeven for a short amount of timeand I came back, she was clingier. You can’t come back and relax and take a break. 

  How does she feel about being a big sister?   She’s so far acting like it’s amazing and she’s ready. Her best friend has a little brother, so she knows what that is, but they all behave differently. She’s acting one way now because there’s no one around, just my belly. But she’s excited; she kisses my belly all the time.

How does she feel about being a big sister?

She’s so far acting like it’s amazing and she’s ready. Her best friend has a little brother, so she knows what that is, but they all behave differently. She’s acting one way now because there’s no one around, just my belly. But she’s excited; she kisses my belly all the time.

  How did you feel when Neema was born?   I was so relieved. When I first saw her, I was so exhausted. To the point where I think women are just like, “Get this thing out of me!" [I felt like], "Finally, this is what I was struggling to do."  But I was also so thrilled to see this full, beautiful, perfect little creature. You know, you’re just very grateful. You have no idea. There are things that machines can test for, but when the baby comes out, and you really see them and hold them and touch them and see them acting alive, it’s so reassuring. It’s a long journey to take, and for things to go wrong, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be at that point. I was in heaven. I was so happy; I was so relieved.

How did you feel when Neema was born?

I was so relieved. When I first saw her, I was so exhausted. To the point where I think women are just like, “Get this thing out of me!" [I felt like], "Finally, this is what I was struggling to do."

But I was also so thrilled to see this full, beautiful, perfect little creature. You know, you’re just very grateful. You have no idea. There are things that machines can test for, but when the baby comes out, and you really see them and hold them and touch them and see them acting alive, it’s so reassuring. It’s a long journey to take, and for things to go wrong, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be at that point. I was in heaven. I was so happy; I was so relieved.

  Continued   It makes it clearer how little time that we have, which I didn’t expect. I wasn’t aware of that, until she came along. This little girl next year will be this age and I want to have [these] things done. You get a sense of that [as a mother]; kids are such an indicator of time passing because their requirements are so specific and you can’t postpone them.  It’s made me very clear about my relationships and not in a way that I’m dismissive of my friendships. I’m way clearer about which friendships are truly meaningful and caring of who I am as a whole person. Some people can’t deal with the part of [you that's] a mother. You’re not the person who stayed up with them until 4 a.m. drinking wine and talking about Art and music.

Continued

It makes it clearer how little time that we have, which I didn’t expect. I wasn’t aware of that, until she came along. This little girl next year will be this age and I want to have [these] things done. You get a sense of that [as a mother]; kids are such an indicator of time passing because their requirements are so specific and you can’t postpone them.

It’s made me very clear about my relationships and not in a way that I’m dismissive of my friendships. I’m way clearer about which friendships are truly meaningful and caring of who I am as a whole person. Some people can’t deal with the part of [you that's] a mother. You’re not the person who stayed up with them until 4 a.m. drinking wine and talking about Art and music.

  Continued   It takes time for people who don’t have kids to get used to it. Your friendships start to rank themselves. Some of them are organic and some of them you end up having quiet divorces.  I think of family differently. I realize what having cousins meant. I look at my parents' relationship to their siblings and it’s not like they were that close. But they wanted us to hang out together. I realize that more than I ever did before. I was raised around tons of cousins. They wanted us to know who our people are.

Continued

It takes time for people who don’t have kids to get used to it. Your friendships start to rank themselves. Some of them are organic and some of them you end up having quiet divorces.

I think of family differently. I realize what having cousins meant. I look at my parents' relationship to their siblings and it’s not like they were that close. But they wanted us to hang out together. I realize that more than I ever did before. I was raised around tons of cousins. They wanted us to know who our people are.

  How would you describe Neema’s personality?   She’s a very sweet, very conversational person. She’s very communicative, very expressive. She’s very uninhibited when she’s allowed to be herself — she starts off very shy when you first meet her, but then she’ll show you what she likes. She’s also very honest; she’s only three-and-a-half, so she says what she feels. But I think she also has a very truthful, courageous, little mouth.  She’s a hugger [and] she tells stories. She ponders things, she imagines things. She has very elaborate and incredible nightmares, and she’ll tell you about them, and then you can’t bring them up again. Even in the daytime, she says, “Don’t talk about it.”  She’s very daring. She’s jumped into pools, and we’ve put her in swim lessons now because she didn’t realize she couldn’t swim. I was swimming when I was pregnant with Neema; she loves water, and I always wonder if it’s because of that. She will never believe she can’t swim. She’ll climb up things, and try out stuff. She’s very adventurous.

How would you describe Neema’s personality?

She’s a very sweet, very conversational person. She’s very communicative, very expressive. She’s very uninhibited when she’s allowed to be herselfshe starts off very shy when you first meet her, but then she’ll show you what she likes. She’s also very honest; she’s only three-and-a-half, so she says what she feels. But I think she also has a very truthful, courageous, little mouth.

She’s a hugger [and] she tells stories. She ponders things, she imagines things. She has very elaborate and incredible nightmares, and she’ll tell you about them, and then you can’t bring them up again. Even in the daytime, she says, “Don’t talk about it.”

She’s very daring. She’s jumped into pools, and we’ve put her in swim lessons now because she didn’t realize she couldn’t swim. I was swimming when I was pregnant with Neema; she loves water, and I always wonder if it’s because of that. She will never believe she can’t swim. She’ll climb up things, and try out stuff. She’s very adventurous.

  Fill in the blank: I love being a mom most when...?   When my daughter and I are hanging out together in the bed. We’re not a particularly super religious pair, Mario and I, but we were both raised religious and we're very spiritual. After having her, a friend of mine told me, “Well we weren’t raised agnostic, and we had the option to be how we are, so maybe it’s her turn to have a little bit of spirituality and religion and all that so that she can decide,” and that’s actually a good point. So we say a little prayer for her before [bedtime]. We have a moment where we say thank you for different things to God.  I don’t give an explanation about who God is, but I think she’s innately in touch with [and] loves the idea of powerful, mysterious things. I don’t know where it came from, but she loves the things that are in her imagination.  She’s also very interested in the unknown something out there. So the idea of saying "thank you" in general to this abstract thing is interesting to her. 

Fill in the blank: I love being a mom most when...?

When my daughter and I are hanging out together in the bed. We’re not a particularly super religious pair, Mario and I, but we were both raised religious and we're very spiritual. After having her, a friend of mine told me, “Well we weren’t raised agnostic, and we had the option to be how we are, so maybe it’s her turn to have a little bit of spirituality and religion and all that so that she can decide,” and that’s actually a good point. So we say a little prayer for her before [bedtime]. We have a moment where we say thank you for different things to God.

I don’t give an explanation about who God is, but I think she’s innately in touch with [and] loves the idea of powerful, mysterious things. I don’t know where it came from, but she loves the things that are in her imagination.

She’s also very interested in the unknown something out there. So the idea of saying "thank you" in general to this abstract thing is interesting to her. 

  Continued   It’s a very beautiful time, because she’s starting to think about the things that she cares about. I love that moment. I’m not telling her how to identify [what she cares about]. I love to hear her attachment to things. She’ll say, “I love my Baba and I love ice cream and I’m so glad I had a playdate.” (Laughs) So those moments are lovely, when we’re laying together and remembering our day.

Continued

It’s a very beautiful time, because she’s starting to think about the things that she cares about. I love that moment. I’m not telling her how to identify [what she cares about]. I love to hear her attachment to things. She’ll say, “I love my Baba and I love ice cream and I’m so glad I had a playdate.” (Laughs) So those moments are lovely, when we’re laying together and remembering our day.

  What’s your mothering philosophy?   I come from a very disciplinarian African home, [but] my theory is that kids come to us wild and feral and free. You can [either] squash that, or you can help them figure out how to control that amazing instinct to just be and do whatever they want to, without oppressing them.  But they need boundaries. They behave so much better when they have boundaries. They appreciate boundaries. So I’m not a big [on letting] the kids walk all over the table because they’re kids. Kids will hurt themselves if you let them. I think kids will be nasty to one another if you let them — they actually don’t know good or bad, they don’t know all these things. I’m a big believer in slowly introducing boundaries [to] them, because you see them relax. They’re like, “Oh, we can’t do that? Okay.” And then they bounce around everywhere else and do crazy things somewhere else.

What’s your mothering philosophy?

I come from a very disciplinarian African home, [but] my theory is that kids come to us wild and feral and free. You can [either] squash that, or you can help them figure out how to control that amazing instinct to just be and do whatever they want to, without oppressing them.

But they need boundaries. They behave so much better when they have boundaries. They appreciate boundaries. So I’m not a big [on letting] the kids walk all over the table because they’re kids. Kids will hurt themselves if you let them. I think kids will be nasty to one another if you let themthey actually don’t know good or bad, they don’t know all these things. I’m a big believer in slowly introducing boundaries [to] them, because you see them relax. They’re like, “Oh, we can’t do that? Okay.” And then they bounce around everywhere else and do crazy things somewhere else.

  What inspires your home décor?   It’s a combination of what I like to be around aesthetically, but also how the space works. Some of [the art] I’ve traded with artist friends, some of it I’ve acquired. There’s a little bit of my own work here.  We never actually childproofed. This is the difference between having a girl and a boy. We were lucky enough that we just honestly moved a few things out, and never put guards. Girls react to language so powerfully that if you tell [them] a couple of times in a little bit of a scary voice, they don’t touch things. So all that was left over throughout her baby years, and she truly never touched anything. I’m not sure what’s going to happen [if we have a boy], because all the boys who visit enjoy breaking things.

What inspires your home décor?

It’s a combination of what I like to be around aesthetically, but also how the space works. Some of [the art] I’ve traded with artist friends, some of it I’ve acquired. There’s a little bit of my own work here.

We never actually childproofed. This is the difference between having a girl and a boy. We were lucky enough that we just honestly moved a few things out, and never put guards. Girls react to language so powerfully that if you tell [them] a couple of times in a little bit of a scary voice, they don’t touch things. So all that was left over throughout her baby years, and she truly never touched anything. I’m not sure what’s going to happen [if we have a boy], because all the boys who visit enjoy breaking things.

  Are you trying to incorporate your identity as a Kenyan woman into the lessons that you give Neema?   Yeah, I guess what I want her to define [herself] as is one of the things I’ve become a lot more astute and reflective about. So as an intercultural family — both [my husband and I] not being American, both of us being very cognizant that we come from specific and proud cultures — we’ve definitely thought a lot about the fact that we’re raising an American child. We want to make sure that she understands that her heritage is also from other places, [and] that she’s Kenyan and Italian. 

Are you trying to incorporate your identity as a Kenyan woman into the lessons that you give Neema?

Yeah, I guess what I want her to define [herself] as is one of the things I’ve become a lot more astute and reflective about. So as an intercultural familyboth [my husband and I] not being American, both of us being very cognizant that we come from specific and proud cultureswe’ve definitely thought a lot about the fact that we’re raising an American child. We want to make sure that she understands that her heritage is also from other places, [and] that she’s Kenyan and Italian. 

  Continued   That actually came up quite a bit with [teaching her our] languages, her meeting her grandmothers and grandfathers, and having our family being involved. You have to think about the movies and the music and what she reads, the kind of dolls and toys and things she has around her that build a sense of who she is.  I’m way more sensitive about culture —I  always have been, because that’s what my work is based on. [There are] racial identifiers that you find everywhere that either negate people’s existence or overemphasize others, so I try to be very cognizant of that and make sure that in her toys, she’s seeing herself.

Continued

That actually came up quite a bit with [teaching her our] languages, her meeting her grandmothers and grandfathers, and having our family being involved. You have to think about the movies and the music and what she reads, the kind of dolls and toys and things she has around her that build a sense of who she is.

I’m way more sensitive about culture—I always have been, because that’s what my work is based on. [There are] racial identifiers that you find everywhere that either negate people’s existence or overemphasize others, so I try to be very cognizant of that and make sure that in her toys, she’s seeing herself.

  Continued   I’m trying to insist on her seeing animations that have African characters. They’re really difficult to find but they’re there, and there’s a few of them. We find them online. She’s definitely watching a few Italian shows as well.  We try to infuse in her the understanding of what she [is]. They get it naturally —y ou see your parents, you just believe the world is that way: that there are people who are one color and another, and speak one language and another, and it’s normal. So we don’t have to tell her that. What we have to keep telling her is that it’s not abnormal. But she hasn’t gotten to that stage yet. At this age, kids are pretty non-racial.

Continued

I’m trying to insist on her seeing animations that have African characters. They’re really difficult to find but they’re there, and there’s a few of them. We find them online. She’s definitely watching a few Italian shows as well.

We try to infuse in her the understanding of what she [is]. They get it naturally—you see your parents, you just believe the world is that way: that there are people who are one color and another, and speak one language and another, and it’s normal. So we don’t have to tell her that. What we have to keep telling her is that it’s not abnormal. But she hasn’t gotten to that stage yet. At this age, kids are pretty non-racial.

  How have yours and Mario’s upbringings outside of the States affected how you raise Neema?   We’re cognizant of the fact that we’re not raising her where we were raised. We were both raised in poor economies; Southern Italy and Kenya can be kind of comparable in some ways: They're both very corrupt and mismanaged, but at the same time the people are very, very rich in culture and curious and quite warm. 

How have yours and Mario’s upbringings outside of the States affected how you raise Neema?

We’re cognizant of the fact that we’re not raising her where we were raised. We were both raised in poor economies; Southern Italy and Kenya can be kind of comparable in some ways: They're both very corrupt and mismanaged, but at the same time the people are very, very rich in culture and curious and quite warm. 

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  Continued   Right now, we’re in a comfortable home, and live a comfortable lifestyle, and I hope that she understands that that’s not how everybody’s life is, that these things aren’t to be taken for granted. So we do try to instill [that] in her. [But] it’s very difficult in a materialistic culture with this many toys. I mean, I probably had this many toys my entire childhood!

Continued

Right now, we’re in a comfortable home, and live a comfortable lifestyle, and I hope that she understands that that’s not how everybody’s life is, that these things aren’t to be taken for granted. So we do try to instill [that] in her. [But] it’s very difficult in a materialistic culture with this many toys. I mean, I probably had this many toys my entire childhood!

  Continued   I was raised in a family that was [very] conservative, I think, because of the time and a variety of things. It wasn’t an upbringing or a place where you felt as a girl that you could go get what you wanted. So I fought quite a bit to untangle myself and be myself: be an artist, be successful at it, be independently minded, [and] try to ignore the discouragement.  I don’t want Neema to have to worry about that. I don’t know if having that kind of lack of encouragement is what builds a stronger person? (Laughs) Like if you hold someone down, [is] the fight that they have to put up what actually makes them stronger? I have no idea, but I’m hoping that it isn’t.

Continued

I was raised in a family that was [very] conservative, I think, because of the time and a variety of things. It wasn’t an upbringing or a place where you felt as a girl that you could go get what you wanted. So I fought quite a bit to untangle myself and be myself: be an artist, be successful at it, be independently minded, [and] try to ignore the discouragement.

I don’t want Neema to have to worry about that. I don’t know if having that kind of lack of encouragement is what builds a stronger person? (Laughs) Like if you hold someone down, [is] the fight that they have to put up what actually makes them stronger? I have no idea, but I’m hoping that it isn’t.

  What kind of woman do you hope Neema grows up to be and what are your hopes for the wee one that you're expecting?   I really don’t want to overimpose what she is. I see her as she is now, and if she grows up to be the mature, bigger version of what she is now, then I’m thrilled, because she’s really a strong girl.  [I want her to be] healthy, smart, and athletic. I want her to understand that’s she’s got no limitations in what she can do; I don’t want to be one of those parents or adults who is like “Um, you can’t do that.”  I feel in my raising, you were taught to be reserved in terms of communication. Not necessarily [so with] Mario’s southern Italian culture, but my middle-class Kenyan upbringing was a lot more reserved and repressed. Hopefully she doesn't lose her honesty.   ΔΔΔ

What kind of woman do you hope Neema grows up to be and what are your hopes for the wee one that you're expecting?

I really don’t want to overimpose what she is. I see her as she is now, and if she grows up to be the mature, bigger version of what she is now, then I’m thrilled, because she’s really a strong girl.

[I want her to be] healthy, smart, and athletic. I want her to understand that’s she’s got no limitations in what she can do; I don’t want to be one of those parents or adults who is like “Um, you can’t do that.”

I feel in my raising, you were taught to be reserved in terms of communication. Not necessarily [so with] Mario’s southern Italian culture, but my middle-class Kenyan upbringing was a lot more reserved and repressed. Hopefully she doesn't lose her honesty.

ΔΔΔ

GWEN FREMPONG BOADU

GWEN FREMPONG BOADU

Issue No. 15
Westchester, New York

Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Visuals: J. Quazi King

Little man Ian Frempong Boadu is the king of all he surveys, which right now is the entirety of his parents’ sprawling weekend home in picturesque Westchester, New York. This includes the expansive yard with wildflowers and dragonflies, as well as the swimming pool, in the back. With a plastic toy shark held tightly in his right fist, Ian runs back into his house, pointing out the contents and goings on of each room.

 “This is the men’s room,” the 4-year-old says, walking around a room he, his father, neurosurgeon Anthony Frempong Boadu, and his grandfather spend a lot of quality time. He marches up and down hallways, shutting and opening doors.  “This is the bathroom. This is my grandma and grandpa’s room. And this,” he says, with a proud flourish, “is mommy’s office.”  Off to the side of a room dominated by a flat-screen television and Ian’s XBox is a glass-topped wrought-iron desk with papers on it. It’s here that mommy — better known as Gwen Frempong Boadu — runs her business:  Gwyneth , a line of shoes you can find online and in 35 stores across the country. Frempong Boadu has been designing shoes for 20 years, starting her career off as a shoe model before shifting to shoe design at Sam and Libby, Kenneth Cole and Steve Madden’s Steven line.

“This is the men’s room,” the 4-year-old says, walking around a room he, his father, neurosurgeon Anthony Frempong Boadu, and his grandfather spend a lot of quality time. He marches up and down hallways, shutting and opening doors.

“This is the bathroom. This is my grandma and grandpa’s room. And this,” he says, with a proud flourish, “is mommy’s office.”

Off to the side of a room dominated by a flat-screen television and Ian’s XBox is a glass-topped wrought-iron desk with papers on it. It’s here that mommybetter known as Gwen Frempong Boaduruns her business: Gwyneth, a line of shoes you can find online and in 35 stores across the country. Frempong Boadu has been designing shoes for 20 years, starting her career off as a shoe model before shifting to shoe design at Sam and Libby, Kenneth Cole and Steve Madden’s Steven line.

 “I find my work very gratifying, I look at it as a gift from God,” Frempong Boadu, 46, says. “I just feel really lucky that I can do something that I enjoy so much and be rewarded for it as well.”  But after two decades of nonstop work, Frempong Boadu said she realized the accolades and acclaim she received as an independent businesswoman couldn’t quiet her desire to be a mother.

“I find my work very gratifying, I look at it as a gift from God,” Frempong Boadu, 46, says. “I just feel really lucky that I can do something that I enjoy so much and be rewarded for it as well.”

But after two decades of nonstop work, Frempong Boadu said she realized the accolades and acclaim she received as an independent businesswoman couldn’t quiet her desire to be a mother.

 “My career [was] extremely demanding, especially travelwise,” Frempong Boadu remembers. “Since the beginning of my career, I used to travel six to eight months out of the year, so it was quite difficult to even consider starting a family until I started my own business.  “I’ve been working for awhile, and Gwyneth actually came out of the need to have flexibility to start a family,” she continues. “After working for nearly 20 years for other people, it was time to go out on my own.”   Frempong Boadu's love of travel is reflected in the art displayed in her home.

“My career [was] extremely demanding, especially travelwise,” Frempong Boadu remembers. “Since the beginning of my career, I used to travel six to eight months out of the year, so it was quite difficult to even consider starting a family until I started my own business.

“I’ve been working for awhile, and Gwyneth actually came out of the need to have flexibility to start a family,” she continues. “After working for nearly 20 years for other people, it was time to go out on my own.”

Frempong Boadu's love of travel is reflected in the art displayed in her home.

 Gwyneth afforded her a more flexible schedule to start planning a family, but Frempong Boadu found conceiving difficult due to a long untreated case of fibroids.  “I was diagnosed with fibroids in 1997 or 1998, [but] because of my work schedule, I put having the surgery off for longer than I should have,” Frempong Boadu says. “I went [to the doctor] because of a heavy cycle and I also noticed that my abdomen was getting bigger. One of the fibroids was quite large and was in part of my uterine cavity.”

Gwyneth afforded her a more flexible schedule to start planning a family, but Frempong Boadu found conceiving difficult due to a long untreated case of fibroids.

“I was diagnosed with fibroids in 1997 or 1998, [but] because of my work schedule, I put having the surgery off for longer than I should have,” Frempong Boadu says. “I went [to the doctor] because of a heavy cycle and I also noticed that my abdomen was getting bigger. One of the fibroids was quite large and was in part of my uterine cavity.”

 The fibroid removal in 2003 was successful, but came with an unexpected cost: Frempong Boadu’s uterus was compromised during surgery. She underwent in-vitro fertilization treatments in 2007, unsure she would be able to conceive, and was beyond surprised when the doctors told her and her husband they were expecting.  “I was ecstatic because I had wanted to start a family for over 10 years,” Frempong Boadu says. “We didn’t know that we were going to have a son, but I just had this feeling that it was going to be.”

The fibroid removal in 2003 was successful, but came with an unexpected cost: Frempong Boadu’s uterus was compromised during surgery. She underwent in-vitro fertilization treatments in 2007, unsure she would be able to conceive, and was beyond surprised when the doctors told her and her husband they were expecting.

“I was ecstatic because I had wanted to start a family for over 10 years,” Frempong Boadu says. “We didn’t know that we were going to have a son, but I just had this feeling that it was going to be.”

 The product of a four-child home, she was eager to expand her family and have four of her own; the plan was to try IVF again when Ian was 6-months old, she recalls.  “I’d just started my company when I was pregnant with Ian, so there was just a lot going on [and] I wasn’t able to [then]. I did go back in 2010 to try to conceive, [but] unfortunately my doctor said that I wouldn’t be able to carry again. That was quite upsetting [and] very emotional for me.”

The product of a four-child home, she was eager to expand her family and have four of her own; the plan was to try IVF again when Ian was 6-months old, she recalls.

“I’d just started my company when I was pregnant with Ian, so there was just a lot going on [and] I wasn’t able to [then]. I did go back in 2010 to try to conceive, [but] unfortunately my doctor said that I wouldn’t be able to carry again. That was quite upsetting [and] very emotional for me.”

 Despite this unfortunate diagnosis, Ian’s tour will soon include a peek into his twin brothers’ nursery.  “Thanks to our modern world, we are having twins by surrogacy,” Frempong Boadu explains. “We’re just beginning to tell our family and friends about it. So I’m so blessed that we have the opportunity to give Ian siblings.”

Despite this unfortunate diagnosis, Ian’s tour will soon include a peek into his twin brothers’ nursery.

“Thanks to our modern world, we are having twins by surrogacy,” Frempong Boadu explains. “We’re just beginning to tell our family and friends about it. So I’m so blessed that we have the opportunity to give Ian siblings.”

 Aaron Kojo Atta and Isaiah Kojo Atta Frempong Boadu came into the world on November 12 (in the Ashanti Akan tribal tradition Kojo means “boy born on Monday” and Atta means “twin”).  “I couldn’t have gotten luckier,” Frempong Boadu muses, “because we actually wanted two more. We looked into adoption, which is still a possibility. Four is ideal.”

Aaron Kojo Atta and Isaiah Kojo Atta Frempong Boadu came into the world on November 12 (in the Ashanti Akan tribal tradition Kojo means “boy born on Monday” and Atta means “twin”).

“I couldn’t have gotten luckier,” Frempong Boadu muses, “because we actually wanted two more. We looked into adoption, which is still a possibility. Four is ideal.”

 After putting away his Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario games, and pointing out the vintage wooden exercise machine next to his mother’s desk, the tour is over. Joining his mother in the kitchen, Ian hugs her legs as Frempong Boadu pours herself a cup of coffee. Later, they’ll sit in the living room, Ian curled tightly into the crook of her arm, and read about sharks, one of his favorite animals.  With a successful business of her own and a growing family, life hasn’t slowed down for Frempong Boadu. But these days, she’s setting her own pace, and enjoying her path every step of the way.

After putting away his Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario games, and pointing out the vintage wooden exercise machine next to his mother’s desk, the tour is over. Joining his mother in the kitchen, Ian hugs her legs as Frempong Boadu pours herself a cup of coffee. Later, they’ll sit in the living room, Ian curled tightly into the crook of her arm, and read about sharks, one of his favorite animals.

With a successful business of her own and a growing family, life hasn’t slowed down for Frempong Boadu. But these days, she’s setting her own pace, and enjoying her path every step of the way.

Q&A

Q&A

How has being a mom changed your life?

I’m much more sensitive. Even when I see other kids, I’m much more sensitive to how they’re being treated or cared for. It makes you much more of a selfless person.

What do you enjoy most about being a mom?

I think the best thing [is] having the opportunity and responsibility to shape this person and guiding them to be the best possible person they could be [so they can] do something good with their lives and for society.

[That and] the joy and the unconditional love that comes along with being a mom, how my son greets me when I come home every day. There’s lots of smiles and laughter, lots of joy.

  How would you describe Ian’s personality?   He likes being in charge. He’s very bossy. He likes impressing people. He’s [talked] a few times [about] a little girl in his class. [He’ll say], ”I want to do this. She’s going to be so amazed and so impressed.” He likes getting a lot of attention. He has quite an extensive vocabulary for a 4-year-old. ( Laughs ) My husband and I are always amazed by what comes out of that little mouth.

How would you describe Ian’s personality?

He likes being in charge. He’s very bossy. He likes impressing people. He’s [talked] a few times [about] a little girl in his class. [He’ll say], ”I want to do this. She’s going to be so amazed and so impressed.” He likes getting a lot of attention. He has quite an extensive vocabulary for a 4-year-old. (Laughs) My husband and I are always amazed by what comes out of that little mouth.

  You mentioned you’d ideally like to have four children. How did you settle on that number?   I have three brothers, so not a huge family, but certainly not small. I always said that if I could afford it, I would have as many kids as I possibly could. It comes back to just having the means and the mind to raise a child that I think is going to make a difference in the world, to be a valuable member of society. I just had not planned on doing it this late in life. It’s much later in life than I would like, but now they’re saying that we have the possibility or the means to live to be 100 years old in the next 20 years, so that makes me optimistic.   Did he know he was going to be a big brother?   We’ve been talking about it for a while, actually. He started asking about a year and a half ago. So now we’re just trying to get him into the mindset that there’s going to be someone [else].  It’s a challenge because he requires a lot of attention, so we’re a little concerned about that. But we talk about the things that we’ll do, and how he’s going to be the big brother, and he can be in charge. Just reinforcing the fact that there’s going to be someone else is how we’re preparing him.

You mentioned you’d ideally like to have four children. How did you settle on that number?

I have three brothers, so not a huge family, but certainly not small. I always said that if I could afford it, I would have as many kids as I possibly could. It comes back to just having the means and the mind to raise a child that I think is going to make a difference in the world, to be a valuable member of society. I just had not planned on doing it this late in life. It’s much later in life than I would like, but now they’re saying that we have the possibility or the means to live to be 100 years old in the next 20 years, so that makes me optimistic.

Did he know he was going to be a big brother?

We’ve been talking about it for a while, actually. He started asking about a year and a half ago. So now we’re just trying to get him into the mindset that there’s going to be someone [else].

It’s a challenge because he requires a lot of attention, so we’re a little concerned about that. But we talk about the things that we’ll do, and how he’s going to be the big brother, and he can be in charge. Just reinforcing the fact that there’s going to be someone else is how we’re preparing him.

  What parts of yourself do you see in him?    Gwen:  Personality, just his energy. My mom told me stories, [and] I start remembering things when I was about his age. I was very mischievous [just like he is]. When I look at him also, he has my eyes, even though he’s the spitting image of his father. He calls him “Mini Me.” We lay together. He likes to lay on Mommy, right?   Ian:  And I love tickles!   G:  He loves tickles and wrestling. We wrestle a lot. He likes to play hide and seek behind the pillows, even though you can see his feet.   Ian, what’s your favorite thing about your mommy?   Kisses. Hugging. Laughing. And whistling. I don’t know how to whistle. My Vanessa [his nanny] whistles very loud.

What parts of yourself do you see in him?

Gwen: Personality, just his energy. My mom told me stories, [and] I start remembering things when I was about his age. I was very mischievous [just like he is]. When I look at him also, he has my eyes, even though he’s the spitting image of his father. He calls him “Mini Me.” We lay together. He likes to lay on Mommy, right?

Ian: And I love tickles!

G: He loves tickles and wrestling. We wrestle a lot. He likes to play hide and seek behind the pillows, even though you can see his feet.

Ian, what’s your favorite thing about your mommy?

Kisses. Hugging. Laughing. And whistling. I don’t know how to whistle. My Vanessa [his nanny] whistles very loud.

  Gwen (to Ian):  How big does the great white shark get?   Ian:  Like, 4,000 pounds.    mater mea :  He’s a carnivore? Is that why he’s 4,000 pounds?   I:  Because he eats a lot of vegetation.   G:  But if he’s a carnivore, he eats a lot of meat.   I:  I knew you were going to say that! And I know Megalodon. That’s a dinosaur shark.    mm :  How do you know all these things?   I:  Because I watch them on my iPad.    mm :  Why do you like sharks and dinosaurs so much, Ian?   I:  Because they have teeth that are this big.    mm :  So you’re not afraid of sharks?   I:  I am.

Gwen (to Ian): How big does the great white shark get?

Ian: Like, 4,000 pounds.

mater mea: He’s a carnivore? Is that why he’s 4,000 pounds?

I: Because he eats a lot of vegetation.

G: But if he’s a carnivore, he eats a lot of meat.

I: I knew you were going to say that! And I know Megalodon. That’s a dinosaur shark.

mm: How do you know all these things?

I: Because I watch them on my iPad.

mm: Why do you like sharks and dinosaurs so much, Ian?

I: Because they have teeth that are this big.

mm: So you’re not afraid of sharks?

I: I am.

  What inspires your personal style?   As a child, my mother. She had a really great sense of style; she was always put together really well. And then just exposure to certain things — looking at how other women around the world or in magazines dressed or how they did their makeup or hair for instance. But it started at home.  She always wore really pretty dresses, and to this day, I love dresses. I have a closet full of cocktail dresses. ( Laughs ) 

What inspires your personal style?

As a child, my mother. She had a really great sense of style; she was always put together really well. And then just exposure to certain thingslooking at how other women around the world or in magazines dressed or how they did their makeup or hair for instance. But it started at home.

She always wore really pretty dresses, and to this day, I love dresses. I have a closet full of cocktail dresses. (Laughs

  Can you tell us how you got into shoe design?   Well, I was interested in fashion from the time I was 12 years old, which is when my grandmother taught me how to sew — thank goodness, because it really came in handy. As a kid, I was tall and skinny, and [it was] hard to buy clothes that looked good on me because of my long limbs. So I made a lot of my clothes, and people always noticed: “Oh, you’re really good at it, you should become a fashion designer.” So before graduating, I made a decision that I was interested enough in fashion design that I would study [it].  I went to Virginia State College [for] their fashion merchandising curriculum. It didn’t take long to realize that I needed to be in New York. My parents, especially my father, was very concerned about me moving to New York at such a young age (I finished high school at 16). So I came to New Jersey instead, under my surrogate family, and finished my bachelor’s degree at Centenary College, where I got a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Design. From there, I started working, but I wanted a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, so I did continuing ed classes there.

Can you tell us how you got into shoe design?

Well, I was interested in fashion from the time I was 12 years old, which is when my grandmother taught me how to sewthank goodness, because it really came in handy. As a kid, I was tall and skinny, and [it was] hard to buy clothes that looked good on me because of my long limbs. So I made a lot of my clothes, and people always noticed: “Oh, you’re really good at it, you should become a fashion designer.” So before graduating, I made a decision that I was interested enough in fashion design that I would study [it].

I went to Virginia State College [for] their fashion merchandising curriculum. It didn’t take long to realize that I needed to be in New York. My parents, especially my father, was very concerned about me moving to New York at such a young age (I finished high school at 16). So I came to New Jersey instead, under my surrogate family, and finished my bachelor’s degree at Centenary College, where I got a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Design. From there, I started working, but I wanted a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, so I did continuing ed classes there.

  Continued   One semester, someone turned me on to shoe modeling. A lot of shoe companies did trade shows, and they needed size six shoe models. I did that for a company by the name of Sam and Libby, [and] they also had a clothing division. After I finished studying at FIT, they hired me as the design assistant, [but] I was always semi-involved with the shoe division.  They ultimately sold the clothing division but wanted to keep me. That was my introduction to footwear design. So I was design assistant there, and seven years later, I was senior designer of footwear. From there, I went to Kenneth Cole for about 10 years, where I designed for the Unlisted and Reaction division. I went [on] to Steve Madden where I did the Steven line.  I thought Gwyneth would give me flexibility but ( laughs ) — well, I did have more flexibility because I was creating my own schedule, but there’s also the schedule within the industry that everyone has to follow. But it did allow me the opportunity to start a family.

Continued

One semester, someone turned me on to shoe modeling. A lot of shoe companies did trade shows, and they needed size six shoe models. I did that for a company by the name of Sam and Libby, [and] they also had a clothing division. After I finished studying at FIT, they hired me as the design assistant, [but] I was always semi-involved with the shoe division.

They ultimately sold the clothing division but wanted to keep me. That was my introduction to footwear design. So I was design assistant there, and seven years later, I was senior designer of footwear. From there, I went to Kenneth Cole for about 10 years, where I designed for the Unlisted and Reaction division. I went [on] to Steve Madden where I did the Steven line.

I thought Gwyneth would give me flexibility but (laughs)well, I did have more flexibility because I was creating my own schedule, but there’s also the schedule within the industry that everyone has to follow. But it did allow me the opportunity to start a family.

  What was it like starting a company when you were pregnant?   Oh my gosh, it was very stressful! There were a lot of tough months because I didn’t really have a staff. My sister-in-laws helped me out, but it still required me to travel. I went to Paris, London, Milan, and China with Ian in tow. He went to all those places before he was born. ( Laughs )  It was hard because I still had to travel while I was pregnant. The hours were demanding [and] it was exhausting, but I had a vision in mind, so it was the sacrifice that I made.

What was it like starting a company when you were pregnant?

Oh my gosh, it was very stressful! There were a lot of tough months because I didn’t really have a staff. My sister-in-laws helped me out, but it still required me to travel. I went to Paris, London, Milan, and China with Ian in tow. He went to all those places before he was born. (Laughs)

It was hard because I still had to travel while I was pregnant. The hours were demanding [and] it was exhausting, but I had a vision in mind, so it was the sacrifice that I made.

  What inspires the look and design of your shoes?   I had to walk around the city or walk the trade shows all day and I couldn’t understand why nobody was making comfortable heels. My feet would be killing me. So it was important to have that in mind when I was creating Gwyneth.  Comfort was important, and then also being able to offer tall women shoes that were pretty, feminine, and sexy. Gwyneth [also] goes up to a size 14, and we’re very much in demand in that size category, because there aren’t many people that offer fashion for women that are above size 10. 

What inspires the look and design of your shoes?

I had to walk around the city or walk the trade shows all day and I couldn’t understand why nobody was making comfortable heels. My feet would be killing me. So it was important to have that in mind when I was creating Gwyneth.

Comfort was important, and then also being able to offer tall women shoes that were pretty, feminine, and sexy. Gwyneth [also] goes up to a size 14, and we’re very much in demand in that size category, because there aren’t many people that offer fashion for women that are above size 10. 

  What do you think of the idea that women can’t have a successful career, a supportive partner, and children?   Oh, it’s definitely possible. There are compromises, but you’re definitely able to have it all. The compromises you make are not consistent, so you get to enjoy your career at one point, you get to enjoy your family at another point.  While the timing may not be ideal, because things do change at one point, ultimately you do get to have it all. It’s just a matter of timing and doing a balancing act. You comprise here so you can have there, and it works. There are ways of making it work.   ΔΔΔ

What do you think of the idea that women can’t have a successful career, a supportive partner, and children?

Oh, it’s definitely possible. There are compromises, but you’re definitely able to have it all. The compromises you make are not consistent, so you get to enjoy your career at one point, you get to enjoy your family at another point.

While the timing may not be ideal, because things do change at one point, ultimately you do get to have it all. It’s just a matter of timing and doing a balancing act. You comprise here so you can have there, and it works. There are ways of making it work.

ΔΔΔ