Tag Archives: mother

A non-birthday-card for my mom

My mom and me in 1972. I was embarrassed by my braces and chunky legs but my mom insisted I was beautiful. I always thought she was elegant. But those “Mad Men” era fashions? Not so flattering.

My mom has a real gift for picking out birthday cards. Her cards reflect careful consideration and a deep understanding of the recipient’s strengths and recent challenges. They always seem to say exactly what the person who gets the card needs to hear.

So when it’s time for my mom’s birthday (which, being on May 12, always falls right near Mother’s Day), I fret. Weeks ahead of time, I start looking at birthday cards and Mother’s Day cards. Nothing ever seems to fit. Cards that are marketed “for mother” are typically pretty syrupy. Is it too much to ask that someone create cards for moms that express deeply held emotions without the cliches and gooey gestures?

This year, I gave up looking. I figured I’d spend some time this weekend writing a few words of my own that recognize specific things I love about her. So here goes.

My mom has always been there when I needed her most. She packed boxes for nearly every move I made. She took care of me after every birth. She came to care for my family so I could work day and night to launch a magazine 23 years ago. She even helped me paint my sons’ bedroom the year I decided they needed a purple-and-orange Phoenix Suns motif.

My mom cherishes and shares our family story. When the rest of us allow busy lives to convince us that all that “ancient history” doesn’t matter, she finds subtle ways to bring it back to our awareness, sharing anecdotes that bring long-deceased relatives back to life and offer clues into what makes us the way we are.

My mom is selfless and deeply sensitive to the feelings and needs of those around her. I remember when an elderly family friend was failing and my mom and I went to the nursing home to visit her. I was self-conscious, uncomfortable. All I could think about was that I didn’t know what to do and certainly didn’t know what to say. My mom sat close to our friend, holding her hand and speaking to her in a quiet voice, sharing stories and talking to her like it was any other day. When she noticed our friend’s dry, cracking lips, she pulled her own Chapstick out of her purse and gently applied a coat of relief. I will never forget the significance of that intimate gesture.

My mom does the right thing, even at great cost to her own personal comfort. When that same elderly friend passed away, we attended a sad little service conducted by a clergy person who knew absolutely nothing about her. The service was full of platitudes and devoid of details to help us celebrate and honor our friend’s life. My mother is not someone who easily stands up to speak in front of a group, especially when the subject is emotional. But she stood up that day, with no preparation, and told the stories and said the things that needed to be said. That is real courage.

My mom is resourceful and always prepared. She used to tell me that she took the “be prepared” motto to heart when she was a Girl Scout and it has served her (and the rest of us) well. She is the one we all count on to keep track of the details, plan ahead, think things through and prepare for any scenario. She’s great to have along on a trip. Need a breath mint? She’s got you covered. Stomach growling? She’s got some toasted almonds in her purse. Forgot your hotel confirmation? She’s probably got a copy.

One of the most powerful things my mother has always done for me is to provide affirmation. When I achieve some measure of success, she points to skills and personality characteristics that guide me. When I struggle, she commends me on my courage and determination to get through.

My mom even does this for complete strangers. I remember being at Kohl’s with her one day when she spotted a harried mother trying to get her shopping done with her young son and a crying baby in tow. The little boy was patiently helping as best he could, holding items for his mom and standing near the stroller to distract his little sister. My mother went up to him and said, “I can see that you are working really hard to help your mom.” The little boy (and his mother) looked at her with surprise, but I like to believe that child will always remember the lady who recognized that he was trying. I know I will.

A recent Saturday morning with my mom, my niece Mandy and my brother Bob.

100 mompreneurs and counting

It was longtime Raising Arizona Kids contributor Brittney Walker who came up with the idea of running a weekly feature on our website about local mothers who are running businesses.

Hard to believe we’ve already profiled 100 of them in our Monday RAK Mompreneur feature.

Brittney wrote the section for awhile, until she took a break to focus on family, community and church responsibilities. (We’re happy to say she’s got the writing bug again and has several assignments in the works.)

We gave the assignment to Brooke Mortensen, who interned with us right after she graduated from college in the spring of 2010 and continues to write for us as a freelancer.

Between the two of them, Brittney and Brooke have covered a wide range of mom-owned businesses. They’ve profiled photographers, jewelry makers, cooks/caterers/bakers and candy makers. They’ve interviewed moms who make fitness fun, moms who help other moms stay organized, moms with a knack for fashion — or finding deals, or dispensing advice — and even a “multi-mompreneur” who runs several businesses concurrently.

Certainly these moms are not lacking in energy, creativity or drive. They are a diverse bunch from all kinds of backgrounds. Each has a unique and interesting story of the journey that brought her to this place in life. But there are two things  that unite them all: passion for what they do and the desire to live life on their own terms so they can keep family as their first and most important priority.

As one of the Valley’s veteran mompreneurs (we started Raising Arizona Kids 22 years ago in my then-2-year-old’s nursery), I have great respect for those priorities and a deep and empathetic appreciation for how terribly challenging it can be to live up to them.

There is nothing harder than being a mom. And there are few things harder than running a business. When you’re trying to do both, your highs are very high and  your lows are frighteningly low. On your worst days, you are ruled by questions and doubt. You wonder why you keep at it. On your best days, you feel enormous pride and a deep sense of fulfillment.

And when you’ve been at it as long as I have, you start to gain a sense of the bigger picture. It’s not just about building a business. It’s about building a community — a family of people who care about something just as deeply as you do and sometimes even more. People who have developed their own threads of friendship and meaning within a context of shared purpose that wouldn’t even exist if someone hadn’t thought, “I wonder if I could…?”

“Can you help me start a magazine?”

Many times in the past 22 years I’ve received messages like this one:

“I am currently in the process of exploring an opportunity to publish a magazine and hoped you might be able to provide some insight, advice or guidance in taking such a big step….”

The most recent one came earlier this month from a working mom who was looking for a new direction following her recovery from surgery. She is thinking about starting a magazine. She asked if I could “find some time to either chat by phone, or meet with me (and my friend who may join me in this venture) to answer a few questions.”

Messages like these always make me squirm. I hate to squelch someone else’s enthusiasm or dreams but the truth is that it’s hard for me to recommend magazine publishing as an attractive option. Especially when the person who contacts me is looking at it as an opportunity to “provide a positive balance for my health, my kids and my livelihood.”

The mom who wrote to me sees publishing a magazine as “the possibility of being my own boss and doing something with more flexibility.” That is important to her, she wrote, because she’s a single mom.

I like to be a nice person. I like to be a helpful person. But I can’t think of a single reason to recommend that this woman pursue her plan. Not because I wish I hadn’t done it; but because I know I wouldn’t have done it if I’d had any idea how hard it would be.

Here is what I will tell this woman she should consider before deciding to start her magazine:

• You need to be realistic about the financial model of publishing, especially in this economy and this time in history, when technology keeps changing the game plan. If you don’t have a way to pay for at least a year of operating expenses before you get started, you probably shouldn’t get started.

• You need to thoroughly research the competition and figure out how what you want to do fills a need that’s not already being met. There are obvious competitors (i.e. other magazines targeting your audience) but don’t forget the impact of an increasingly  diverse and stratified range of media delivery systems all vying for pieces of the same pie when it comes to advertising dollars.

• You must have a reliable source of household income. It could be many years before you can put yourself on the payroll regularly. I could never have persevered past tough times if I didn’t know my family’s basic needs were going to be met by my husband’s steady income.

• You must have people on your team who can do the things you can’t do. My background is in journalism. Though I have an MBA in marketing, I have never worked in sales and I don’t have good instincts for it. I would have been lost but for the knowledge, experience and professionalism of my founding and current marketing director, MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb. Then, a year ago, I turned over management of the business to Operations Director Debbie Davis. She has a much better head for business than I do and it has been a relief to know she’s got everything under control while I focus on the part I really love: content development.

• You must involve people who believe in your publication and see their role in its mission as “more than a job.” Never did I appreciate that more than in the last two years, when the heavy impact of the recession meant every person on my staff had to do more for less. Only people who know their work has a higher purpose than making money can put up with that without resentment.

• Forget the fantasy of flexibility. The only flexibility you will have as the owner of a magazine (and, I’m guessing, any business) is when you choose to work. I never missed a performance or game when my sons were growing up. I volunteered in the classroom, chaperoned field trips and served spaghetti and meatballs to the team at noon each Friday when my sons played high school football. But I worked a lot of late nights, rarely took a full weekend off and always had my laptop on vacations (even the rare ones on other continents). When there is too much to do and not enough people to do it, you have to carry the slack. And if you’re someone who truly cares about the quality and the integrity of your business, you are constantly working on ways to improve it.

If she listens to all that and still wants to move forward her plan, then I’m guessing she already has some of the personal qualities it takes to last in this business: resilience, tenacity and sheer stubbornness.

The best kind of tribute to the best kind of mom

I wasn’t expecting to hear from my sister-in-law until some time next week. So I was surprised to learn that she was waiting for me to pick up one of our office lines.

Judy is in Wisconsin. She flew there on Wednesday, on the most difficult of journeys, after learning that her beloved mother, Evelyn (Lynn) Milas, had died last Saturday at the age of 85. Her husband (my brother Bob) and their children, 14-year-old Ben and 11-year-old Mandy, followed a day later.

When I picked up the phone, I was trying to anticipate the reason for Judy’s call. “Are you okay?” I blurted. She must have heard the concern in my voice, because she immediately laughed.

“We’re fine,” she said. And then she explained her dilemma.

Former Maggie's Place staff member Dayna Pizzigoni laughs with baby MacKenzie. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

One of the charities that Judy, her sister and two brothers have designated on their mother’s behalf is Phoenix-based Maggie’s Place, a nonprofit organization that creates homelike communities for young women who are pregnant, alone or homeless and in need of support. Following Catholic social teaching, the organization welcomes women who intend to keep and parent their children as well as those who decide to place their babies with adoptive families. Judy wrote a story about Maggie’s Place for our November 2009 magazine.

“Maggie’s Place: Building Communities of Hope,” became much more than a writing assignment to Judy. She was profoundly moved by the time she spent in the Maggie’s Place communities, listening to the women’s stories, absorbing the atmosphere of love and caring, seeing for herself the deep commitment and spiritual strength of the staff.

Judy was calling from an Office Max in Grafton, Wis. She was picking up the programs for her mother’s Memorial Mass on Saturday and decided to make some copies of her article so that friends and relatives of her mother who were unfamiliar with Maggie’s Place would know more about it.

But the staff at Office Max wouldn’t make copies of copyrighted material (as they certainly shouldn’t) without the written permission of the publisher. That would be me.

“I told them it’s a good thing my sister-in-law is the publisher!” Judy said jokingly, her voice sounding cheerful and strong. I could tell she was okay.

I quickly scribbled a note to Carrie Chronis at the Office Max, attached my business card (a requirement for authenticity) and faxed it off with a hand-drawn heart and smiley face for Judy.

When Judy first told me that she and her siblings had designated Maggie’s Place for donations on their mother’s behalf, it felt like exactly the right thing to do. Judy’s mother was loving, compassionate and devoutly Catholic. It seems only fitting that the grief of  losing the best kind of mom should be channeled toward a positive new start for one who’s just getting started.

Making something on the Internet disappear

Here’s an interesting twist on the warning that “once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever.”

That’s something parents typically tell high school or college students who are posting pictures on Facebook that a future employer might use to judge their character. It’s not something you usually think about in terms of what a mother might say or write about her own child.

At 6pm Monday, well after our office had closed, I got an email from a woman we interviewed five years ago for a story about a behavioral disorder her son was experiencing. She had just published a book on the topic, so of course she was perfectly happy to talk with us about the topic, knowing that our article would help publicize her book.

Her son is now 16. She describes him as a “successful, well-adjusted student and athlete.” And therein lies the problem.

“When one Googles his name for sports-related information,” she wrote, “this article pops up. As you can imagine, it is uncomfortable for my son. I do not think it is fair that this information is under [his] name. Those years are behind him and I do not want his name featured on Google connected with [this behavior disorder].

“Would you please ‘kill’ this story so that it is no longer on Google? I have requested this of other articles and they were very understanding of my son’s privacy. Any help you can provide would be very appreciated. As a parenting magazine, I am sure you understand my dilemma. Please remove this story/kill the story and remove it from Google immediately.”

I absolute understand this woman’s desire to protect her son. I Googled her son’s name and quickly identified the problem. Page 1 lists his various athletic accomplishments. At the top of Page 2 is a link to our story.

But I had to think about her request for awhile. We published the story on this particular behavior disorder because we knew it would provide hope and guidance to other parents who found themselves in this mother’s situation. If we killed the story, that value was gone forever.

And, I have to admit, her request kind of got my back up. She wrote a book about it. Now she’s upset with us?

I had a meeting out of the office on Tuesday morning. Before I even got to work, the mom had called our office, repeating her demand to Operations Director Debbie Davis, who happened to answer the phone. So while I was thinking about what to do (between 6pm Monday and Tuesday morning, mind you), she’d gotten increasingly agitated about the situation and eager to see it resolved.

I’m guessing the real problem is that her son is upset with her. But that’s between them. Debbie and I talked about it and decided the right thing to do was to respect the son’s interests and protect him from embarrassment. So we killed the story, which is no longer accessible from our website.

But that doesn’t really solve the mother’s problem. We can block access from our site but we can’t control Google. For that battle, she’s on her own.