Featured Mama ~ Connie Brown, Head of Talent Acquisition at Manulife and John Hancock Financial Services

Connie

Please meet our Featured Mama, Connie Brown. Today is her birthday!

Connie,  Thanks for sharing your inspiring story. You are truly an amazing Mama, showing perseverance and courage for your daughter, all while of course looking fabulous! We wish you all the best and success in the years to come & wish you the happiest of Birthdays!

xo Blissfulmamas 

Single Mama on a Mission

I am 32 years old single Mom to my daughter Charlotte, who turned two in September. I am currently co-parenting with my ex-husband and am proud that despite our differences we are on the same page parenting our daughter and have sound communication. People always say that being a Mom is one of the hardest and rewarding jobs all in one. I do not think I ever really understood what that meant until I actually became a Mom.  Charlotte has brought me more unconditional love than I knew was possible and I have been able to see the world through this little persons eyes all over again.

Being a Mom has without question changed me for the I am more compassionate, understanding, have redirected values/interests, and frankly do not have time to worry about half of the irrelevant things I was concerned with before I had Charlotte.  It has also strengthened my relationships with my family and friends and brought several amazing new ones into my life.

For me the hardest part of being a Mom is that our family life is not how I imagined it would be and that makes me sad for Charlotte. She will never know her family all together under one roof and all of the amazing things that come along with that every day.  Luckily, her Dad and I are very amicable which has made the process as manageable as possible and seamless for Charlotte as can be.

Career Challenges, Perks & Rewards

I work full time at Manulife and John Hancock Financial Services, a global financial services firm as the Head of Campus Talent Acquisition for North America. In my role, I lead a team of eight individuals in the attraction and retention of student talent for internship, coop, and new grad programs.  I have worked for the company for over 3.5 years and this is my third position during that time.

The biggest challenge for me has been balancing everything, especially while going through a divorce and being a single working Mom. The truth is, if you let yourself, you can feel guilty about just about everything.  The thing that has helped me to navigate this is a strong network of people professionally and personally who are supportive, offer a listening ear, and remind me that I am doing a great job.

From a work perspective, I could not have asked for a better situation.  I took an extended maternity leave, came back to work on a compressed work week, and now work 1 day per week from home. My company offers flexible work arrangements to work from home, compressed work week, etc. depending on individual’s roles and performance.  Our benefits packages offer great rewards for flexible spending, HSA, Back-up child care, college savings discounts, mother’s rooms for breastfeeding, and an onsite gym with health and wellness discounts and benefits.

The most rewarding thing for me is that I have not lost my professional identity. I am continuing to grow and evolve in the way that works for me and being the best me for my daughter.

Organization Style

This is definitely a juggling act. Before having Charlotte, I was very focused on having a clean home, being organized, etc.  While this has not completely gone to the wayside, sometimes it takes a back seat.  I rely heavily on lists, routines, iphone calendar to stay organized, and leveraging external resources (house cleaners!).  For me it is critical to give myself treats here and there too.  For example if I know I am tired one week, Charlotte and I will grab dinner at Whole Foods and eat out.  It’s fun for her, switches things up and makes me feel like I have a break….the little things go a long way. Iphone and google calendars are essential for us.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!

Charlotte and I spend a lot of time at the park, at gymnastics, play dates with friends, and we do sneak in Disney movies. Currently Aladdin, Cinderella, and Frozen are the favorites.  This summer we vacationed with family at the beach. Our must haves are love, patience, laughter, and to celebrate the small moments.

Focusing on Myself

I have joint custody of Charlotte, so I have some time to take care of myself. I work-out 6 days a week and find this is very important to manage stress and the many things I have going on in my life.  I also try to get a massage or a manicure every other month or so, it helps me to feel like I have not lost all of the things I indulged before I was a mama.  Spending time with my family/friends has been critical.  Going through this experience, while one of the hardest things I have ever gone through it has shown me that I have amazing people in my life that will always be there for me no matter what and love me for who I am.

Future Goals & Moving Forward

I wish I had more time to read and travel.  I have had the chance to travel quite a bit this year with Charlotte and on my own.  In 2015 my goal is to visit Europe. I find inspiration in others who have overcome hardships, not necessarily similar to me own, in general. It helps me to know I am not alone in overcoming a challenging time in my life and that this too shall pass.  Additionally, having an amazing group of supportive Mommy friends is critical.  I feel like as women we are so hard on ourselves so having someone who you can relate to and that offers you empathy is crucial. Friendship/family support, time to myself to work-out and relax.

Tools for the Wise:

At home:  Staying organized is key and accepting when things do not go as planned which is inevitable with a toddler. It is important for me to know Charlotte and I have special time, if I travel for work or play I will plan a day for her and I to do something just us.

At work:  This is a struggle for me because I am constantly pushing for more…sometimes this could mean I feel better if I work on a Friday night (weird I know), but I know I will feel better the next day.  The key for me is to listen to myself and what I need to not be overwhelmed.  As I mentioned earlier, we are all different and unique and I think you need to listen to yourself and what is going to make you individually “balance it all’.

Finding Balance 

My advice for other Mama’s; Cut yourself some slack!, two deep breaths go a long way, and find a network at home and at work that support you and help you to grow as an individual.My schedule is my biggest challenge because I always want to be in two places at once. It’s hard not to feel guilty for that because I am such a driven person.  I work Mon-Thurs in the office, Fridays from home and travel every 5-6 weeks to Canada for about 3-4 days.  The nice thing for me is that my work is very flexible so I am able to spend more time with my daughter after I have traveled.

All or Nothing

The biggest challenge I face is that everything I do is all or nothing. When I have Charlotte it’s all me all the time which can be tough on hard days as my family does not live locally.   Even on these days, I am constantly reminded that she and I are creating amazing memories just the two of us and the time we spend is truly quality time.

 

 

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Featured Mama ~ Liz McGrory, Owner of Coach LizzyMc, Working Mom Coach

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COACH LIZZYMC, WORKING MOM COACH ON A MISSION!

My name is Liz McGrory and I own Coach LizzyMc ~ Working Mom Coach.  I am all about getting Working Moms to ignite their Mommy Energy.  I am a Certified Professional Coach and was voted Rookie Coach of the Year in 2013 by the International Coach Federation New England Chapter. I am a blogger, speaker and author of “Igniting Mommy Energy” which came out on the first day of summer in 2014.

Prior to starting my business I worked in IT which was male dominant.  When I spoke with customers they were often surprise to hear a woman’s voice.  When I became a Working Mom I felt alone.  There were a few Working Dads who were there for me, but it was still lonely.  I overcame these challenges after being coached by a Leadership Coach.  I discovered how to make brave work/life choices such as starting a new career path (aka start my own business) where I’d work with only women.

My children have seen me as a Corporate Working Mom and now as a business owner.  They know that I’m working on something I deeply care about and that I’m helping people.  I am tickled pink to be contributing to my family’s wealth while doing something that I love.

CAREER JOURNEY

When I first became a Working Mom, my supportive manager at the time said, “Lizzy, you just need to find balance and you’ll be all set.”.  This was the first time I had heard of this ‘80’s term.  Since I didn’t know what that meant I dove back into my career.  When I left for my second maternity leave I thought I’d return to a promotion (which I truly wanted because I was burnt out in my current role).  Well, the promotion wasn’t there.  Instead I learned multiple life lessons which resulted in starting my own business. I experienced how coaching changed my world and I want to give that same opportunity to others.  My services include Mommy Energy Coaching Sessions either one-on-one or group via Skype, GoogleHangouts, or phone.    In addition to coaching I’m also a professional speaker speaking at local companies about time and energy management.

FAMILY

I am happily married with three young children.  My oldest son is 6 years old, my oldest girl is 4 years old and my youngest daughter is 1 ½ years old.  My husband and I discovered early on that co-parenting works well for us.  Most household chores are split between us, but now that the kids are older they want to earn an allowance (yes!!).  We hit soccer games on the weekend and practice and dance class during the week.  My son is in first grade and my oldest daughter goes to pre-school three days a week.  My youngest naps in the p.m., so two days a week I can focus on marketing my business and on Friday’s I relax.  Quiet time is a must on Fridays so that I can tackle the fun things on the weekend.

ORGANIZATION

I have an 8×10 planner that keeps my life and biz in check.  Every Sunday night I plan out the week according to personal and professional goals I want to tackle.  Goals keep pushing me forward (otherwise I’ll procrastinate and that will make me feel awful).  Every morning I aim to complete 3 personal things and 3 biz things that are beyond what is already scheduled for the day.  For instance, this survey was on the list today, but so wasn’t building a scarecrow/volunteer work, hitting the school fall festival, getting the kids off to soccer, which is where they are now while the baby is asleep, then dinner tonight to celebrate my husband’s new job.  Yes, busy day, they aren’t all like this. Having only three things for personal & biz is manageable for me.  If I don’t complete all six goals, I figure out why.  Was I low on energy?  Was there too many things scheduled on the calendar?  Was I dealing with many emotions that day?  This is a great learning opportunity.

Groceries used to be a chore for me.  I’ve never been a big fan.  Once I became organized about food prep food shopping wasn’t a big deal.  I have an excel sheet that maps out my supermarket by aisle.  I have a binder of recipes.  Getting meal prep organized has made my grocery trips less stressful!! Bills are something my husband does.  I have enough on my plate and don’t mind delegating.

DOWN TIME

All-in-all we have been homebodies and just enjoy hanging out around the house and yard.  In the summer we swim in the pool, go for bike rides, play hide & seek and hang out with the neighbors.  We are blessed to have many young families around us.  We attend some meet-ups that are hosted by a Mom’s Group I belong to.  My husband and I are very close to our parents so we visit them often or vice versa. We try to do date night and the kids will sleepover at the grandparents.  Before our 3rd child this happened once per month, but now it’s probably once every three months (three kids overnight is a bit much). In the summer, we take a vacation down on Cape Cod.  We’ve discovered that vacation is about creating fun memories not for relaxation.  We will have plenty of time to relax later on in life!

COMMUNICATION 

I don’t know how I functioned without a smartphone.  I love my iPhone.  I used to use Google Calendar for personal use, but now I’m back to paper, but I do use it for business meetings. We talk.  A lot.  I guess I could say “open communication” but that sounds too formal.  We just talk a lot.  Mostly about love.  If someone isn’t treating someone right, it all comes down to love.  “Is that something you do if you love your sister?”  “Is that showing your brother how much you love him?” “You are lucky to have a baby sister who you can teach everything you know about love”.  It all just comes down to love.  It’s as simple as that.

ME

It’s sad that after becoming a Working Mom I “lost myself”.  One time my coach asked me what do I like to do.  I replied, “I like to cook, have a clean house, and take care of my children”.  He said, “Liz, those are things you HAVE to do, not things that you LIKE to do.”  Sadly, I didn’t have an answer for him.  So my “homework” that week was to rediscover what I liked to do.  So I LOVE to read, run, crochet, and garden, but not in that order.

INSPIRATION

Twitter.  I enjoy searching for the hashtag #workingmom and reading what other working moms are saying.  There are so many of us out there crushing it and/or losing it.  I enjoy being there for them, talking to them, seeing if I can help in 140 characters or less.  It’s fun and it’s quick! Another thing I have found inspirational and motivational is working out with friends.  I don’t live close to my friend I’m running the half marathon with.  So we created a private Facebook group to check in and we also follow each other on the app Map My Run.  It’s been great using her as my inspiration & motivation.

TO BALANCE OR NOT TO BALANCE

Don’t strive for balance; it’s a term that was created back in 1986.  It’s time for us to move on from this phrase.  I like to focus on each decision I make about work and life.  This way I can celebrate mini-triumphs often.  If I have a setback, it’ll only be a minor one because I know that I made the choice based on what I thought was right in that moment. Every day is something different, which is the complete opposite of how my working life used to be.  I love it but keeping my priorities straight can be challenging.  To keep myself on track I write down my goals for the week, then break them down into daily goals, like I said before.  Distractions can sneak up on me quickly so I keep a copy of my weekly goals up on the fridge.  I have one of those clip magnets so I can easily take my list down and travel with it.  Across from the fridge we have the family white board calendar so in the mornings I can see what’s planned for the day and then choose what goals will be my priority.  There are days when this ritual doesn’t happen (aka I fall off the band wagon), but it is what it is!  If I don’t have the Mommy Energy to get things done then my body is telling me that my health, either mental or physical, should be my priority that day.

STRATEGY

I don’t want to do it all all by myself.  I’ve learned that trying to live life that way is just no fun, especially when we kept adding more children to our family.   Having a strong and loving support system has helped me create all that I’ve wanted to do for my family, business, and personal life.  I follow the 5W’s when I ask for help.  I know who I can count on, they know when & where I’ll need help and with what, but the most important is the why.  Declaring the why made me feel vulnerable at first, but then I learned that it DOES take a village to raise a family.  When my support system knows ‘why’ I need help they know what’s expected of them.  This makes them feel competent that they can truly help me.

 

Featured Mama ~ Catherine McCavanagh Owner/Founder of The Honest Eye

Check out our newest Featured Mama, Catherine McCavanagh, Owner/Founder of The Honest Eye!

Meet Catherine McCavanagh… A 37 year old wife and mother of 2 children (Jane, 4 years old and Walter, 2 years old).

I own an Image Consultant/Personal Shopping business called The Honest Eye. I recently started my business and have been doing it for the past year and a half. I have always shopped for friends and family, but recently decided to make it more official, giving it a name and a website, The Honest Eye!

CatherineMCareer Challenges…

Balancing the time I devote to my business and the time I want to spend with my husband and children. I realize my kids are only going to be these young ages for so long so I don’t want that time to slip away but I also am so passionate about my business and I want to devote my energies to it. It’s a common case of not enough hours in the day!

Rewards…

The most rewarding thing about being a working mother is having something for myself. Being home with children full time can be very draining as in you are giving, giving, and giving, and rarely is anyone looking out for you.

Essential ‘must have’…

My essential ‘must have’ is my mother! I am so blessed to have her close by. She is retired and is able to help me as much as needed. I realize that most working moms don’t have this luxury so I feel very blessed in that department. I also have a very supportive husband who pushes me to do my thing and will pick up the slack wherever needed.

Family Dynamic…Catherine&Jane

I have two children – Jane, 5 years old and Walter 2 years old. Jane is spunky, artistic, very independent, and absolutely loves animals, from worms to horses and everything in between.  Walter is more on the cautious side, checking something out from all angles before jumping in. He loves the typical boy things, like cars, trucks, bugs, and balls. Jane and Walter are so in love with each other, not to say though I don’t have to break up a hair pulling fight on a daily basis!  My husband Patrick is a wonderful husband and father. Playing with balls and trucks comes easier to him, but he tries so hard to give the same amount of time to Jane with her dolls, animal figurines, and art projects. Along with having a full time career in media sales he also coaches lacrosse for various local teams.

Organization tips…

I try to stay organized by writing everything down in both my calendar at home as well as putting it into my phone. On Sundays I take a look at the week ahead and try to tie up any loose ends. I try not to over commit to activities for the family because I think it gets to the point where the kids don’t appreciate it anymore and the parents end up resenting it. Along with playschool and preschool for the kids I sign them up for one activity at a time, whether it be swimming, art, nature camp, whatever I think they’re strongest interest is at the time.

Healthy Perspective…

I can tend to be a worrier but have gotten much better in the past few years. As long as I am giving my family a healthy amount of attention, and that everyone is healthy and happy, I will not stress about material things or trying to do too much at once.

Me Time..

I try to have a bit of ‘me’ time every single day. Whether it is going to pilates for an hour (I put the kids in the day care at the gym), or it’s taking a half hour to read the latest Vogue when my husband gets home from work. He will look at me sometimes when I am feeling worn down and say ‘go upstairs and take a bath’ – he knows it’s not good for anyone in the family if I don’t have some alone time! I am definitely the personality type that needs some quiet time without anyone around. As far as seeing friends, I try my best to not let slip through the cracks. It is a challenge though since we are all trying to raise families, and we all have different schedules, it’s so exciting though when we can nail down a date to catch up. It’s a cheesy saying but it’s true that it’s food for my soul. My favorite personal activities are reading, exercising, and although cliché, shopping. I wish I could paint more. I’m not the best at it, but I love the feeling of creating something that has an actual end product. I find it cathartic and rewarding.

Finding Inspiration…

I find inspiration everywhere; women and teenagers on the street, books and magazines, and historical trendsetters like Jackie O and Lauren Hutton. My essential must have for myself is fashion and décor magazines – I absolutely devour them every night before bed. My iphone is pretty essential as well. I held out for a while before I got one, but now don’t know what I would do without it.

Balance Challenges…

My challenges are keeping our house intact. I never feel like everything is as organized or clean as I would like it to be. I am constantly 3 loads of laundry behind. half the time the beds are unmade and toys are strewn all over our floors. I realize things won’t be this way forever and I try not to be too hard on myself. My kids don’t notice a messy house and it doesn’t bother my husband when he comes home to it. Once again, I just do my best and get to it when I can.

From one mama to another…

Don’t give up too quickly on working if it seems like it’s getting to be too much of a juggle. Soon enough the kids will be in school for longer periods of time, and you will be grateful that you have kept your foot in the work door. It’s so much harder to get break back in the longer you wait.

I don’t feel like I am the right person to be giving other working mothers tips. I am trying to figure it out myself, as I was home with my kids for a few years. I am now back in the game and unfortunately learning by trial and error. The only tip I can give is to try not to be too hard on yourself. Just listen to your gut and keep plugging along, everything is happening for a reason.

 

Featured Mama ~ Katie m. Berggren, Mother & Artist

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Please meet...Katie m. Berggren ~ I am a mother and artist, doing my best in both of my careers! I have been a self-represented artist for 12 years. Please check out http://kmberggren.com

My daily challenges as a working mother/woman are….Many! Finding time to work on my craft while keeping my children happy. Finding a way to balance meal prep, grocery shopping, exercise, house care, mothering and self care while still moving forward in my chosen career.

The most rewarding about being a working mother….Most definitely it has been being able to be home with my boys. Being able to make a living while still creating a lovely life with and for them. Being with them in the morning, making breakfast and lunch, walking them to school, volunteering at school, walking to meet them after school. Being there.

Essential must have for my career...Time and space to paint and strategize.

My family…I have two boys, 8 & 10. My 8 year old is busy and loves to run around and play outside. My 10 year old would rather code computer games, read, draw and write. They are very different (there are pieces of me in both of them) but we find a way to be happy together.

Family fun…We like to go for walks and bike rides, play at the park, go to Seattle and explore. We like to go swimming, have video game tournaments, and we love to read together, every night (Mama reads to the hubby and boys).

Must have for family…Time, space and peace together, with no responsibilities, errands or scheduled activities.

How I keep home life organized –lists, bills, groceries, etc….A time for everything, set aside in advance. I keep lists for groceries, and for tasks both personal and business related. I try to keep things a bit separate and I am almost always doing some sort of work. But I love both of my jobs, so I don’t mind. In regard to stuff: I do believe the saying “a place for everything and everything in its place”. Also, we keep our physical life very simple. Fewer possessions than most, fewer bits of furniture, fewer items on the schedule. Fewer meal choices 🙂

To stay organized…I have a PC and an iphone. I do not use any digital or computer calendars, I use only paper and pen. But my iphone helps me in many ways with posting photos to Facebook, editing photos, creating video, and keeping in touch with those I care about.

Me time…During the school year, I work in my studio while my boys are at school. That is my me time during the week. Every 6-8 weeks I go on a “date” with my sister. In the evenings, I sometimes like to paint and listen to music or a show, but am also trying to be sure and get to bed early enough to be healthy and balanced! Oh, man, balance. It’s tough, eh?

My favorite personal activities…Painting, walking, reading, visiting with a couple of my girlfriends. I wish I could find motivation to exercise more. blissfulmamas

I find inspiration… In the every day. In the sunlight sprinkling through the tree branches. In the mother walking past with her baby against her. In my boys sleepy stories and ideas as they drift off to sleep in my arms.

Essential must have for yourself?…Time and space to be alone.

Balance tips…Be willing to let go of perfection, both in the home and in the business. Realize that showing up is really important both in family and in business. When you feel like your list is overflowing with To-Dos, just write them down, then do ONE. Then do ANOTHER. Action leads to action. And when we have a sense of completion and pride, we tend to move ahead and complete something else.

Also, it is very important to not have things on your schedule that truly don’t matter. There are so many little items we add to the schedule that won’t even matter the next day. Be stingy with your time and your schedule and where you put your focus and energy.

Typical challenges in balancing it all…One big one is not feeling like I have done “enough” at the end of the day. Even though if I sat and wrote down everything I did (from playing catch with my son to folding two loads of laundry and communicating with 5 clients) I would see that I have done plenty. Sometimes I find myself wandering around at night feeling like I should accomplish ‘one more thing’, when what I really need to do is put myself into bed.

How do you implement successful strategies around “balancing it all”? I do not always succeed at this. I write down my great ideas and I try to implement right away. Often, my wonderful ideas get lost in my journal! That is a challenge for me. I write everything down and I try to be super-efficient. I do not manage to balance it all. I do my best day to day and I try not to beat myself up.

 

 

Featured Mama ~ Melissa Guimaraes of Melissa’s Budding Artists

MBA-Zinga-103My story… I am Melissa Guimaraes and I’m a mother, wife, artist, art teacher, a graduate student and now, a small business owner!  We live in Peabody, MA and are surrounded by family and friends.  My husband has been my biggest supporter and when I originally, and very casually, approached him with the crazy idea of beginning my own paint party business, he didn’t think it was that crazy at all.

What I saw happening all around me at local restaurants and bars was the really cool idea of a bunch of adults getting together to make a painting.  There are quite a few nationwide businesses who focus on getting a few drinks into people while they fumble with a brush and have a great time while doing it. I loved the idea of people being creative – most of them probably hadn’t made a piece of art since a high school elective forced them to. What I wished to see more of, however, was the idea of families making these paintings together. Instead of in bars, during late hours, no one was catering to the afternoons, weekends or even early evenings. Basically, the idea of anyone under the age of 18 (more like 21 most of the time) participating in these paint parties was out of the question. In mid-July I began Melissa’s Budding Artists, and we do paint parties for artists of all ages. We specialize in throwing paint parties where little kids and adults can sit and create a piece of art, side by side. We aren’t only creating masterpieces, we are making memories!

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My career began… in May of 2003, when I graduated from Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA.  By December, 2003, I’d finished my student teaching and earned my teaching certification. In the summer of 2004, I was hired by the same high school I graduated from to become part of the visual arts department. I’ve been an art teacher at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School ever since. Teaching art is my passion, there’s really no other way to describe it. It won’t ever make me rich but it is the most rewarding job and I can’t think of another career that would fulfill me the way teaching art does.

My biggest challenge… as a mama, has been balancing my personal, career, and social life, or what’s left of it.  With three children, you begin to really understand what people mean when they say “there aren’t enough hours in the day”.  I’ve always thought there weren’t enough weekends in the week!

My biggest reward… is to see the respect my six year old has for me, my career and my business.  It fills me with joy to hear her tell others “my mommy is a painter” or “I want to teach art like my mom”.  She’s already so creative and unique, I know she’s got the natural talent to draw.

At work, I’m a role model to my students and I take that very seriously, as well.  When I began teaching at 22 years old, some of my students were only a bit younger than me.  After they graduated high school and went on to college, we kept in touch. Currently, I have quite a few close friends who were former students of mine. The first paint party I threw was in my own backyard and I sent out a Facebook Event Invite to all of the former students I could reach. That night, every easel I owned was propped up in front of a 20-something year old who used to sit in my classroom. That paint party was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Not only did it mark the beginning of my business venture, it also showed me that what I do makes people happy and proud.

My career must have… is creativity. It’s not always as easy as it sounds, trust me!

My family consists of… my oldest daughter, Kenna, six years old and just beginning the first grade.  She’s kind, funny, smart and very sharp, also nurturing and has gorgeous hair!  Kinsley is two and a half and is sometimes shy around new people, but when she’s warmed up to you she’ll be your best friend. Kinsley was the perfect baby and to this day has been a great eater, sleeper and gives the best hugs with encouraging pats on the back. Our youngest son, Boaventura, turned one in July. We call him Bo. (Boaventura means “good times” in Portuguese.  It’s a family name my husband is very proud of, and I’ve always adored it, especially with such a neat meaning and cute nickname.) Bo is a sweet, smiley little baby who loves trying to keep up with his big sisters. We recently found out Bo has a peanut and egg allergy, so we’re monitoring his diet, and we have regular appointments with a highly recommended allergist on the Northshore. We also have our dog, Doby, who is like a little furry baby to me, and sister to the kids. Doby has the patience of a pre-school teacher and I admire her agility at times, especially when there are three kids on her tail.

My husband…Jose, is a plumber who took on working many extra hours to make up for my unpaid maternity leave from teaching the 2013-2014 school year. He is an amazing father, and the kids absolutely adore him. I swear, you’d think a celebrity walked into the room when he comes home from work, and he is always just as excited to see them.  Jose keeps me grounded and has taught me so much about parenting. I know I’ve found the perfect man for me because I can’t think of a way it could get any better than this.

We are a bilingual family… Jose’s first language is Portuguese. He was born in Brazil and moved to America ten years ago. In our home, we speak Portuguese. My parents are from the Azores, so I grew up speaking Portuguese, mostly, with my grandmothers. When I met my husband, we hit it off right away because there wasn’t too much of a language barrier. Eventually, I learned to change my accent a bit, depending on the company. Kenna is bilingual and fluent in Portuguese. Kinsley is putting together words in both languages, also. And it’s obvious Bo can understand anything anyone says!  Even the dog responds to both language swithout hesitation. Peabody is a very diverse community and we’re proud of our culture and the culture of those around us. It’s celebrated in our homes, schools and communities.

To keep organized… I rely on the calendar app on my iphone, especially for long term dates and responsibilities. For the most part, I try to take it one day at a time while having the big picture in the back of my mind, too.

Our favorite family vacation… spot is the White Mountains in New Hampshire. We stay in this little inn where they have about a dozen horses. Jose grew up with horses and has instilled his love for them in Kenna. When we visit, Kenna takes several horse back rides on her favorite pony, Tinkerbell. During the summer, we also enjoy our pool. The kids love swimming. We have plans to fly to Brazil in the very near future to visit my husband’s parents and family there.

I rely on my iPhone… in an almost unhealthy way. It contains everything I need to make it through my day and I would be lost without it. Some days, I wonder how I was capable of juggling anything before my iphone. Then I remember I had an iPhone before there was really much of anything to juggle.

Our family must have… other than the obvious answer of “love”, is laughter. My husband is always going out of his way to make the rest of us laugh and I’m a bit of a practical joker myself. We’ve been playing a family game of “who can startle who the best?” where we go out of our way to try to get each other to jump!  Kenna has perfected the art of hiding plastic insects in places like under our pillows and balanced on the bathroom door knob.  As Kinsley and Bo grow up, Jose and I are both a little nervous about being outnumbered in our little game as Kenna teaches them all she knows!

Me-time… is scheduled every few weeks. It isn’t ever anything too fancy, I’ve never been that kind of person. I’m happy sitting on a park bench with an ice coffee, while I doodle in a sketchbook. Sometimes, I’ll meet up with a friend for a liquid lunch, not going to lie!  One of my favorite personal activities and one of the things I wish I could do more of, is painting.  It must seem like between teaching high school art and owning a paint party business, I do enough painting. What I really want to paint, I never have enough time for. It’s always fun doing demonstrations for classes and creating new pieces for our gallery and calendar. Sometimes, though, I want to make art just for me. There isn’t a lot of hours left in the day to do that very often.

Inspiration… I am inspired by a lot of different things in my every day life. Sometimes it’s the pattern on a paper towel, the cover photo someone just shared on Facebook, a t-shirt a student might be wearing; anything can be inspiration because it all starts with an artist. My students inspire me every day in the classroom. And my own three children are my muses, too!Portrait-Paint-Party-012

A me must have… is music. I don’t need cable or expensive purses. I need music. It pairs with art-making and it’s always on in the background at our house. My six year old daughter’s favorite band is Queen! Ice coffee is pretty essential, also.

My advice to working mamas… is to take LOTS of pictures of your little ones!  And pose in lots of pictures with them, too! Moms always seem to be the one behind the camera.  I think it’s important to record memories that capture you in the those special moments, also.  Don’t worry about how your hair looks or if you’ve got your makeup on.  Just keep clicking away!  You won’t ever regret taking too many pictures!

I teach full time at a local high school and I throw between one and three paint parties every two weeks.  I’m able to balance this schedule with the help of my family and friends.  They’ve come through for me time and time again.  My loved ones are an essential part of my success and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Please check out Melissa’s at www.facebook.com/melissasbuddingartists

 

Featured Mama ~ Marissa Ruffini Founder & Owner of Sonatina Music Therapy

 

Marissa Ruffini - Family Photo (1)Please meet…Our newest Featured Mama, Marissa Ruffini, Founder & Owner of Sonatina Music Therapy, www.sonatinamusictherapy.com

About me…I’m originally from the South Shore (Weymouth, MA). Currently, I’m living in Dover, NH with my fiance Greg, our two boys, Cameron (2 years old), Alexander (11 weeks old) and part-time with Greg’s son, my stepson William (8 years old). Our boys birthdays are all within 10 days of each other!

My career...I am a Board Certified Music Therapist and owner of a private practice, Sonatina Music Therapy, centrally located in Dover, NH but serving individuals and groups all over the state. I have a Master’s degree in Expressive Therapies: Music Therapy & Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University. This is my fourth year as a business owner and my fifth year as a music therapist! I LOVE my career! I specialize working in early childhood and with children and teens with special needs. I am 90% through with my birth doula certification and I have also completed an additional training to be a Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth Specialist; providing physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual support to mamas and their partners during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum.  I’m really passionate about working with expecting moms, infants and young children and helping mamas and babies bond through music. I get to share so many unique musical experiences with some awesome families!

My biggest challenge has been learning to let go of feeling guilty! …Starting your own business has so many parallels to having and raising a baby! Before I had my children, my business was my baby. I worked hard to help it grow and develop! Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not paying enough attention to my business and other days I feel guilty that I’m working too much and need more family time. I’m really learning how to let go of the guilt, do what I can and not dwell on what didn’t get done.

Being a mother… has really made me a better practitioner in my career. I’ve always had a love and passion for working with children. After having my own, I was awakened to this whole new kind of love. Now when I’m writing clinical notes and evaluations, I’m always keeping in mind “this is somebody’s baby,” I think as clinicians we all tend to get a bit too clinical sometimes. It’s important to remember we’re talking about a person, somebody’s baby!!

The best thing… about owning a private practice, especially as a mama, is the flexibility over my schedule! I feel lucky everyday that I get to have such control over my work schedule so that I can spend the time I want with my family.

I love having boys…there is so much I don’t know about raising a boy so it keeps me on my toes and I’m always learning from them as much as they’re learning from me. I’ve had to accept that the house will be loud, my  cabinets need to be stocked with band aids, things will get broken, and my fridge will be empty but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

We love being outdoors…the beach and hiking  are two activities we do most. We also love to just kick back and relax with family and friends. Sitting around the fire pit and grilling good food is how we spend most of our summer days when we’re both off together. In the colder months, we both love skiing but haven’t been able to find the time in the last two years with the boys so young. I’m hoping to get Cameron on some skis this winter!

I make lists for everything… There are always one or two lists floating around the house and I put everything in my planner. We also are constantly communicating about who needs to be where when. Communication is really important for staying organized as a family. I’ve been thinking about using Google calendar as an additional communication tool to stay organized &  maybe creating a family calendar.  At the moment though we just talk all the time and use the old school day planner.

Implementing successful strategies…I’m a stickler for lists, schedules, routines and “sticking to the plan” but one of the most important skills as a music therapist is being able to adapt what you are doing in the moment to meet the needs of your client. This is the same strategy I have to use for balancing my work and my family life. I try to implement a “no work during family time” rule but occasionally, I’ll get a call with something that needs immediate attention, or vice versa. I’m at work and my son needs to come home from day care because he’s sick, things happen and being able to adapt in the moment is really important.

I take me time when I need it… I go for a run or I take a hot bath with a glass of red wine and a Real Simple magazine in my hand, and there is always music on in the background. I absolutely love a good workout. I love to run and I especially love to run in races.  There’s something about the adrenaline that I get in a race that just makes me feel good all over! I also love Bikram Yoga. I’ve tried other types of Yoga and it’s just not the same! It feels good to release all the toxins in my body when you’re sweating that much!

My kids inspire me…to be more creative, to get up and move, to have fun,  to play, and they inspire my work. At home I try out new songs I’m writing for my early childhood classes on Cameron.  All the boys love music and moving to music so we do a lot of singing and dancing in our house!

Marissa and Alex 2Balance is essential…I’m not balanced all the time, nobody is. But I try to stay conscious of how the scale is tipping.  If I’ve been working like crazy on a big project, I try to spend extra time with my family the following week. I love my family like crazy but I’m a better mom and wife when I get me time and work time too. Try not to be too hard on yourself. It’s so easy to feel guilty about not doing enough of this or doing too much of that. When you’re feeling guilty about something, it’s okay to bring it to your awareness but then let it go. And if you can, make changes that meet your needs next time or don’t, but don’t dwell too long, you’re doing a great job!

Model the balance…. between working hard and play time for my boys. I consider myself a hard-working individual. I’ve had a job since I was of working age and I’ve never been unemployed for longer than a week. I value putting hard-work and effort into something that you love. I can already see this starting to develop in my toddler, Cameron. He loves to draw and color, he’ll do it for hours. Sometimes he tells me, “mama I’m working” and he’s very proud of himself! Other times he says, “mama wanna have some fun?” I hope that I can be a good role model for my boys. I want to instill my values for hard work on my children but I also want them to know how to balance work and play. We all need to play no matter what age we are, it’s important for our soul.

As for the key to staying balanced… being really aware of my work-family-me ratios, keeps me in check for not letting the scale tip to far in any one direction. Also being really present in what I’m doing. If I’m spending time with Cameron and Alex,  then I really try to invest my presence in that play with them,  if I’m working then making sure I’m really focused on being productive and not wasting time so I can get right back to quality time with my kids.  My family, my kids and myself all deserve quality attention so I make an effort to do that. I’ve definitely had my share of moments, and I get anxious easily when things aren’t going as planned and I get mad at myself from time to time if I zone out or have a day where we don’t get out of the house…but I’m learning to lighten up the guilt and I’ve come a long way in the last five years!! I’m learning to not get upset when we have to veer off the road and take a detour…. it will all be okay!

 

Featured Mama ~ Kristin Grasso Marriage & Family Therapist, Children’s Outpatient Clinician & Administrative Assistant for Finance

kgrassofamilyMy Story…My name is Kristin Grasso; I am 34 years old and am married to my husband Jamie and we have two amazing kiddos: Elizabeth (age 6 ½) and Nicholas (age 2 ½). Elizabeth is entering first grade and she is already reading everything she can touch. She is inquisitive and bright and we find her always caring for those who are sad, even those she doesn’t know. Nicholas is a ninja. He is our bouncing baby boy who brings a smile wherever he goes. When he is not showing off his ninja skills he is snuggling his mommy, daddy or ‘sissy’. We currently live, work and play Vermont. I grew up in New Hampshire and my husband in Connecticut for 8 years and then VT for the remaining years. I am currently a Rostered Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice, a Children’s Outpatient Clinician in community mental health, and an Administrative Assistant for Finance at Keurig Green Mountain. Yes, you read that correctly, three jobs!

I always knew I wanted to be in a ‘helping’ profession. My undergraduate studies were completed at the University of New Hampshire with a major in Family Studies. Towards the end of my degree I found a job as an Administrative Assistant that paid far more than a social worker position, and so, like many others, I got a job not utilizing my degree at all. For years I worked ‘helping’ managers and senior executives, only not to the capacity I had always dreamed of. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I realized I wanted more, that I needed more. Every day was a personal struggle sending her into the care of someone else for me to go to a job that was not richly satisfying or fulfilling. Sending her into someone else’s care was a must, I found myself eager to get out every day and even counting the minutes they had with her versus the minutes I had with her. Since I had to work I knew I had to find a new plan.

My ah-ha moment…one night (or perhaps one early morning) when I was nursing her and fantasizing about what kind of woman she would be, and at that moment I realized that she would be the kind of woman that I showed her to be. It was then that I knew I had to re-enroll to earn my degree in mental health in order to satisfy not only my career need but my need to show my daughter that she too could find happiness and balance in anything she chose to do.

For 3 long years… I worked late nights and early weekend mornings to read, study, write papers, and answer posts while working full time and caring for 1, and then 2, children. I spent 2 separate weeks away to complete residencies; I lost more sleep while finding an internship site and then completed a year long, unpaid, internship. I now have completed my schooling and am working towards licensure, another enduring task however the stress is much less as I have given myself credit for how far I have come and have worked hard to take the pressure of reaching licensure as quickly as reaching graduation.

My good fortune…I have found that I was very fortunate to work for a large company who supported mothers. With both my children I was in a company that had a nursing mother’s room. Two separate companies, but both had very similar cultures and were both very flexible in allowing for unexpected time off. I have been very fortunate in that sense. What I have found to be the biggest challenge is my own internal battle about being a working mama. I find guilt and shame creep up on me at times when I am either vulnerable or simply wanting to stay at home a little longer one morning. Societal pressures show their ugly faces to both stay at home moms, and working moms, and thus I feel conflicted at times.

Satisfaction… It is the satisfaction I receive when I am with my clients and the instant gratification I get when completing a task that has meaning to me as a therapist, and not just a mom, that allows me to help push away the shame and the guilt of being a working mama.  Even during the times when I have to cancel clients because of a sick child (which is rare since I have a very supportive husband who splits our childcare responsibilities 50/50) I find shame and guilt creep in right before the phone call and then by the end of the call I am reassured because people understand that these things happen, and so I move on.

I have worked hard… and continue to work hard, on balance and self-care. I rely heavily on my husband and my friends. My husband and my friends allow me to laugh, cry, vent, sulk, smile, and most importantly normalize my fears and worries throughout all of my work and schooling. A must have career essential for any working mom is support. Support from your spouse, family, friends, mentor, or anyone who will give it to you. Support is a must.

My current schedule… can bring me to three different places in any given day. I balance by clustering appointments to my advantage based on time and place. This leads me to another career essential – a planner. I utilize an hourly notebook planner because of clients but I also add appointments and other events to that calendar. I also utilize my smartphone calendar. These two calendars hold every personal and work appointment, from clients and appointments to birthday parties and upcoming girl’s nights. Finding a way to organize your time is another must.  I book shopping trips and girl’s nights out months in advance at times because sometime that is the closest available time. For me time I attempt the gym at least once per week, I have girls night typically once per month, I see my own therapist, and a chiropractor. The better I care for myself, the more balanced not only I am, but my family as well.

KgrassoFamily time…is very important in our home. We do everything together as often as we can. Our philosophy is they will be young for only a short time so absorb it, laugh at it, love it, and cherish it. Birthday parties, hikes, movies, swimming, sports of any kind, reading, gardening, community family fun, and anything we can get our hands on we’ll try. My organizational skills keep us organized for fun. Both my husband and I cover meals and meal planning. My husband, thankfully, does all the bills – after a year of unpaid internship I never wanted to know where we stood financially all I wanted to know was whether or not we could go out for ice cream! The essential must have for our family is teamwork. We want our children to know that we are a team in all that we do, whether we succeed or fail, whether we are standing by each other’s side or holding one another accountable, in the end we will always be a team.

My words of wisdom… for all the working mama’s out there is to do your best and be easy on yourself. We are our own worst critic. Many times there is nobody actually judging us for what we fear they are judging us for, but rather our worry is what brings us unhappiness. Do your best, be kind, smile, let others help, take care of yourself physically/mentally/emotionally, cry when you need, laugh even more, and enjoy all that life has to offer.