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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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."
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.
Issue No. 1
BRONX, NEW YORK
Your twenties are a time of self-discovery, experimentation and trial and error. But at 26, when most of her peers are still in the process of finding out who they are, Veronica Valentine has to know: there’s a two-year-old riding on the answer. Valentine, who works for CIRCA, a leading buyer of fine jewelry from the general public, spoke with mater mea about how being a young mom has changed her life.