Motherhood. It’s not exclusive. It’s not glamorous. And it’s definitely not easy. But it’s a life-changing club that millions of women around the world clamor to join every year. Just like any other job, (and it is a job) there are good days and not so good days. There’s normalcy and surprise. And then there are the intangible benefits. That feeling that makes you want to be a better person, makes you want to make the world a better place and gives every day meaning. This year, the moms in our annual Mother’s Day spread share their stories of inspiration and how motherhood helped them reach for the stars.
Founder of Small Fry Society
Parenting is a constant balancing act and also among the most rewarding jobs in the world, which I discovered after having my daughter Alexandra in 2010. After having her, my career in corporate marketing and events did not excite me the way it once did.
I loved being with my child every day and I knew I had to find a way to stay with her. I had a growing interest in turning my passion for pregnancy, parenthood, people, places and planning into a career. Thus the Small Fry Society (www.smallfrysociety.com), a social and educational program for moms, babies and expectant moms across the Tampa Bay area, was born. The program combines meeting new friends, exploring family-friendly businesses, creating support systems, education on parenting subjects, a charitable partnership with Alpha House and fun!
The Small Fry Society allows me to be home with my daughter while running a business that connects mothers to each other and mom-tested, mom-approved businesses. My work day is far from 9 to 5. I am most efficient before my child rises, after she falls asleep and let’s not forget those fabulous naps! It never ceases to amaze me how much I accomplish during my child’s two hour nap — a meeting, email responses, laundry, house cleaning, dinner preparation.
Like all mothers, I have learned the true meaning of multitasking. As a mom and business owner, some days are a walk in the park while others are all business. And like the majority of mothers, I do the best I can. As moms we feel that we have to do everything ourselves, but as I’m sure you know, we can’t. It’s important to realize that and not feel guilty about it. So to be successful and as stress-free as possible, I know when to ask for help and delegate. Fortunately, my husband is a loving, supportive and involved father. I hire help as needed for my business and have excellent babysitters. I turn to resources, like Tampa Bay Parenting, to learn about and stay current on parenting issues and advice.
Still, even after the most exhausting days, I often think to myself or say aloud, “How lucky am I?” The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention. For me, motherhood necessitated invention.
Founder/Executive Director of Belle of the Ball
For as long as I can remember, health and fitness has shaped my life. In school I was a cheerleader, ran track, danced and did gymnastics. At 23, I began bodybuilding and became a personal trainer and aerobics instructor. And I met my husband Jim, who also exemplified fitness, at the health club where I was working at the time.
Jim and I married in 1985, welcoming daughter Jessica in 1986 and daughter Meghan in 1988. I still taught my aerobics classes and was able to keep up my bodybuilding and personal training business. The doctors told me not to start any new fitness activities but I could keep exercising as long as it did not cause pain. A lot of women cannot exercise during pregnancy. I was very blessed to be able to keep up with my program.
Chasing a 2-year old and caring for a newborn was a competition in itself. I’m thankful my healthy lifestyle enabled me to not just take care of my daughters but have the energy to have fun with them as well.
When the girls started school, I went back to college. Those years were difficult. School, work, and the family kept me very busy. I believe my faith in God and spirituality carried me through those tough times. I worked hard to instill in the girls a faith in God, love of others and a sense of charity. Lessons I took to heart as well.
While cleaning out a closet nine years ago, I noticed many gowns from my daughters’ proms, homecomings and cotillions. As one of six children, I knew what it felt like to want a beautiful dress to wear to my prom and homecoming. I realized a need for a program that distributes dresses to girls who otherwise would not be able to attend such important coming of age rituals. Thus Belle of the Ball was founded.
I worked Belle of the Ball tirelessly and prayed constantly for God’s help and guidance. Through hard work and a love for the girls we help, Belle of the Ball is now a 501c3 nonprofit organization housed in a 4,000 square-foot store housing more than 3,500 dresses that are distributed for proms and homecomings.
My husband and I are empty nesters now. Jessica is married and serves on the board of directors for Belle of the Ball. Meghan is a group fitness instructor for a local health club. Both following in my footprints! I couldn’t be prouder.
As a mother, I’ve learned that through a love for people and community one person can do marvelous things. Through perseverance and hard work, I’ve built a nonprofit business into a catalyst for girls to not just receive a dress but to find self-esteem, confidence, self-worth and hopefully charity when they are called upon to help others.
At a very young age, I was intent on getting married and starting my family as soon as possible. I always wanted a big family and the chance to pass on good values to my children.
Once married, we were so happy to welcome two children into our lives in short order. When my first husband was not interested in having more children, we parted ways. I was heartbroken and saddened by the turn of events. But that would not be the end of my big family dream.
I’ve now been married to my wonderful husband Chris for 35 years. We were blessed with three children, fulfilling my dream of a large family. My youngest Robert was born with Down Syndrome, changing our lives for the better. It was a challenge but I have grown so much and learned so much thanks to Robert.
Several years ago, my husband and I started a school for special needs children. Our first day, we had two children — Robert and the child of a family friend. After that first year, the school grew steadily with the introduction of some children from the foster care system.
Chris, who was the school’s bus driver, began interacting with the children and grew fond of a little girl who needed parents. One day after school, Chris told me he wanted to adopt her. I cynically told him I would inquire but immediately thought we would be too old to be considered. Last year, we adopted her and her brother, and we truly began to understand that we were both put on this earth to parent children who need love and attention.
This year we are adopting three more children. By the end of the year, we’ll have three 17 year olds, a 16 year old and a 9 year old. My goal is to help as many children as possible and to teach them to live as independently as possible.
In addition to our children at home, we also have our extended children — 70 special needs students at four schools. My dream of a big family has taken me on a journey of education and compassion. The one message I want to spread to families and moms is to follow your passion. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.
I started Intensity Academy Sauces five years ago while working in the garden at my children’s school. The vegetable of the week was carrots. We all took a basket of carrots home and we were supposed to come up with something that the students had not tried before. I came up with a kickin’ carrot hot sauce and made nachos and dips for the students to try. They loved it! Friends and family urged me to bottle the sauce. I took the chance. Five years later, we have won more than 50 national awards and were recently featured on Yahoo! TV.
My three 14-year-old boys, Christian, Sebastian and Tommy, are my world. It has been my greatest joy to see them grow over the years. I cherish our simple daily family time, making dinner or just talking. Their personalities are each unique but their ability to care for our family and business resonates with all three.
It is sometimes difficult to juggle responsibilities to my children, family, work, and household, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am very close to my boys. I talk through my business plans with them and explain what my goals are for the company. Time for homemade cookies is great, but the business lessons they are learning are invaluable. My boys have seen that you can do anything with hard work and a passion to follow your dream. They have seen firsthand the progression from an idea to a company that has reached the pinnacle of the industry in just a few short years.
I’m still working on saying no and not overbooking myself. I love opportunities to share some saucy goodness at an event or show, but I have to be mindful of my boys and home life. I have to decide the tasks only I can do and the ones I can delegate. Sharing the household work as a family also helps ease the burden on everyone.
I hope to inspire other mom’s to take a chance on their dream. The secret to my success is my family and our community. Community is everything. It is true that the connections made while lending a hand or giving back truly launched my saucy business. I did not have a huge budget for marketing. All I had was my sauce and heart to give, and it has made all the difference.