In this edition of The Weekly Newspapers, we salute the hard-working mothers of the Florida Keys.
Gone are the days when mothers sport aprons and cook three meals a day for their families. The June Cleavers of 2009 are few and far between (if they even exist anymore at all!) The ever-increasing cost of living and breaking down of traditional barriers has both moms and dads heading out to bring home the bacon.
Today’s maternal role models, especially those in the southernmost reaches, are constantly on the go in order to provide the best life for their kids.
In the following profiles, working mothers from all walks of life in a variety of professions with an array of experiences give their take on maintaining their careers while simultaneously raising a family.
For those of us challenged by children of the four-legged variety, we salute these incredibly smart, strong, brave and gracious women.
Elda Solis is the head of her household of three teenagers as well as the Chief Supervisor Aide at CVS in Marathon. Originally from Mexico by way of California, Elda took notes on parenting from her grandmother.
She’s quick to refute her childrens’ comparisons of her to other parents.
“They ask me, ‘Why are you so strict?’ and I tell them I don’t care what the other kids are doing,” she explained.
Her eldest and only son, Danny Valerdi, 18, just graduated from Marathon High School and will begin studying graphic design in Miami this fall. As she reflects back on her grandmother’s authoritarian ways, Elda said she can’t wait for Danny to get older and have children of his own.
“When you’re young, you don’t understand why your parents are this way, but when you have your own family, you look back and understand.”
Her daughters, with only two years between them, have distinctly different personalities.
Melissa Valerdi, 16, works part time at Publix and is the more sensitive of the two girls. Naomi Valerdi has been on the cross-country team at Marathon High and as her mother says, “is a typical 14 year old.”
While working one full time job at CVS, Elda also manages to squeeze in a part-time job with Goya, placing orders and stocking the company’s product at both Publix and Winn Dixie. She admits she stretched pretty thin in order to make a better life for her children.
“It’s never enough,” she admits. “The kids always want this and that. They think you can be domestic and work full time. It is a hard.”
Despite a shortage of time and rest, Elda said one of the most important things in her family is sitting down together for dinner as often as possible. Talking about the day’s activities over a traditional meal of albondigas or tamales.
“No matter what, my first job is to be a mother,” Elda said, adding that she’s fortunate to have her sister close by and be able to raise her family in a small town.
Mirine Dye is one of the lucky working moms in the Keys whose job allows her flexibility to work from home as often as possible.
As the Community Liaison with the Healthy Start Coalition, she teaches childbirth classes as well as coordinating individual consultations with new mommies on methods and benefits of breastfeeding. On days when her job requires her to hit the road, her husband’s flexible schedule allows him to stay at home with 13-year-old Mallory and 8-year-old Marley.
Her biggest challenge is finding summer activities for her daughters in their “tweens”.
“During the summer, there are minimal choices for my area and my kids in this age group,” Mirine lamented. “It is very hot and outdoor camps are just miserable. Many camps do not want kids older than 12.”
So this year, Mallory’s honing her babysitting skills while Marley is attending a half day camp at Plantation Key School in Key Largo.
“I just wish it went on all summer, and during the whole business day,” Mirine laughed.
She admitted that though she loves working with new mothers and their babies, she often walks a fine line in being a good role model with her patients. At the sake of neglecting her own mothering duties, she often visits new mothers with her own children in tow.
Mirine suggested new mothers consult with their employers prior to giving birth about the possibilities of telecommuting and devising a flexible work schedule in conjunction with the Federal Leave Act which mandates that eligible employees receive up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave for birth and care of a newborn.
With their busy schedule, the Dye family enjoys small fresh meals like sushi and tapas. Mirine often uses her Sundays to chop fresh fruits and vegetables to keep on hand for snacking. An occasional $5 pizza from Little Caesar’s serves as an invaluable time saver and quick-grilling tempeh with frozen sweet potato fries and pre-bagged salad is her go-to weeknight meal.
Now that her kids are in elementary school, Grethell Suarez, 27, said mornings around her house are a little easier.
Donovan, 7, and Emily, 5, are both quite independent, so while she prepares their breakfast and readies herself for her day as one of First State Bank’s friendliest Customer Service Representatives, they are able to ease the stress of the morning routine.
She’s especially thankful to have her mom in town to take care of them in the summer months when they’re not in school.
During the school year though, she said one of her biggest challenges is to try and make an appearance at all their school presentations and after-school activities.
“I can’t always make it to every function and activity because I’m working, but knowing that I can provide for them and make a good life for them is the greatest reward for me,” Grethell said.
Like walking a tight rope in the circus while juggling bowling balls, striking the delicate balance between work and home is constantly a challenge. While at work, Grethell always strives to give 100 percent to her customers, but when she walks out the door every day, her time is devoted to her kids and generally “being a cool mom.”
What’s her best piece of advice for new working moms?
“Try not to stress too much,” she laughed.
Grethell loves preparing traditional Cuban food like rice, beans, pork and plantains for her family but admits that occasionally Pizza Hut comes to the rescue in 30 minutes or less.
Realtor extraordinaire Claire Johnson said schedules – and patience – are the keys to helping her find balance between work, raising two and a half year old Saylor, spending time with her husband and finding personal time for herself.
“I have to remember that she is experiencing everything for the first time,” Claire explained.
Instead of putting Saylor in the car seat and hastily buckling her in so she can get to her next task, Claire said she tries to be patient and remain calm as she allows Saylor to buckle her own seatbelt.
Though she’s in the midst of the infamous “terrible twos” Claire admits she’s lucky to have a child who can generally go with the flow.
“I have to remind myself, that it is quality of time I spend with my daughter, not quantity of time,” she added. “With Saylor at the age of 2, her attention span is short, so on days I know I have to get certain things done, I try to give Saylor 15 minutes here and there and do an activity with her. That will fulfill her needs, and then when she is playing by herself, I can get my tasks done.”
Trying to keep her family and her business on some semblance of a schedule is a challenge in and of itself. Claire explained that she tries to maintain regular meal times, nap times and bed times as well as scheduling a few minutes each day for herself.
“Of course, everything is not always perfect,” she explained. “When we get to the rough patches in the road, I have to remember to step back, re-group and develop a new strategy. And tell myself that this too shall pass.”
With 3-month-old Sara Jade still new on the scene, Sandy Robinson said she’s using trial and error to help her figure how to juggle work and raising her daughter.
“This is all still so new to me,” Sandy said of her first child.
Fortunately, she serves as the accountant for her family’s property management business. Her schedule is flexible and she is often able to work from home. On days when Sara’s in tow and Sandy must go into the office, her husband and mother, as well as her adopted aunts in the office, are always close by to lend a hand.
“We are still trying to come up with a schedule so I can get my work done and still give Sara the attention she needs without driving everyone in the office crazy!”
Like most moms, Sandy’s come to realize patience is one of the most critical parts of a parent.
“It takes significantly longer to complete my tasks once I begin working,” she lamented. “With her constantly requesting my attention, I know I’m going to have to stop and take several breaks before I finish my work. On the same hand, I won’t miss any of her major developmental milestones.”
She’s also quick to refute the notion that there’s a “right way” to juggle working and being a mom.
“If something doesn’t work out the first time, be ready to come up with a Plan B,” she laughed.
Margie Smith went through an identity crisis of sorts when she relocated from Washington, D.C. to Islamorada. In the blink of an eye, Margie went from long busy days as the Director of Regulatory Affairs for the American Association of Airport Executives to a full-time, stay at home mommy struggling with the basics of parenting.
“I had no idea during my old fast track career what my colleagues with small children had to conquer just to get out the door in the morning,” Margie laughed.
After her husband Cale launched Islamorada Investment Management last year, Margie not only went back to work as a general partner in the family business, she also went back to work as a partner in C3, Civic Communications Consultants. She’s now working each day to strike the critical balance between doing work about which she is passionate and maintaining a high quality of life for her family.
It was only recently that Margie finally found regular childcare for her two daughters. Every time a deadline or meeting arose, she was scrambling to find a caretaker for 16-month old Layne.
Now that Layne and her sister, Corley, 4, are enrolled at Montessori Island School, organization is Margie’s biggest challenge.
“I chewed up half the work day the other day because after dropping the girls off, I had taken my toddler’s lunchbox back home with me by mistake, and I’d already been running late that morning,” she explained.
Factor in time spent shuttling between ballet classes and swimming lessons and logistic challenges – as well as costs – are ever increasing.
Three children under the age of ten and a full time job in property management leave absolutely no spare time for mom Wendy Sipe.
So how does she manage?
“Deep breaths and patience!” she affirms.
Her career and her family, which includes 9-year-old Logan, 5-year-old Kayla and 3-year-old Taylor, are like a sporting event.
“Working and raising kids requires a lot of teamwork with my husband,” she explained. “We keep our kids on a routine schedule with various activities, family meals and bedtime.”
The Sipe family was clearly challenged to find adequate childcare, particularly for young Taylor. She was too old for some caretakers and too young for others. After going through four different providers and waiting for a vacancy for two years, they’ve finally got Taylor in the care of a reliable provider.
Wendy also said she’s forced to pick and choose what sporting events or school performances she’s able to attend.
On the other hand, the joyful infectious laughter and tender confessions of love from her children remind her that she’s doing a great job.
“Enjoy every moment and laugh through the hard times,” Wendy offered from her experience. “Do the best that you can do and realize no situation is perfect. You really have to step back from time to time and realize how quickly children grow up.”