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!’”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
[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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!”
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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?
Issue No. 11
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Work-life balance. It's a concept more women are concerned with as they find themselves juggling two ostensibly 24/7 positions: being a mom and working full time. While Trenesa Stanford-Danuser, 43, admits she's far from having all the answers, she's found a way to make her job as a vice president at the Estée Lauder company fit with her life as a wife and mom to Dylan, 11, and Romon, 4.