Tarsha’s Rare Magical Boys
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I’m not sure why talking with strangers is easier than talking with close friends or relatives but it just is.

I’m a crier but I wasn’t sure if my regular “Every Mama has a Hiccup” interview would work over Skype—would we bond 10,000 miles from each other? I note Tarsha’s big green cat-like eyes like an actress on Hollywood making a come back. She’s wide eyed as in concerned, alert, and protective. I know we are going to bond. We both have boys.

We connected because we share this search for magic in our mommyhood journeys. My hiccup was my firstborn’s experiences with hip dysplasia. Tarsha’s came with her baby’s albinism. This is where Tarsha starts shifting the phone up and down so at times I’m zoomed in on her eyebrows. That’s when I really felt like I was getting a close-up on her currency as a mama (because we all have a currency—our one thing that defines us): Tarsha is an educator and advocate for children.

“I didn’t realize which path I was meant to be on until Stephen was born. It was a complete shock.” As with real-life hiccups, there was no forewarning or time to prepare.

“He was diagnosed within ten minutes of birth because he was born with white hair. There’s an eye test.” It confirmed the news. Albinism is so rare. It’s a congenital disorder where the skin, hair, and eyes lack or partially lack pigment. Neither side of the family seemed to have it. Various visual disorders can result and the risk of sunburn and skin cancer is greatly heightened. A nurse rattled off to Tarsha the consequences: “He will not drive a car, might not read. May need a special setting at school. Extra help. Can’t take outside….”

That’s where it started. “We went into survival mode.” I knew what she was talking about. Suddenly all background noise disappears. Forever. Or, until you can deal with it.

Tarsha is honest in saying what so few mamas confess, “I was sad for him and for us.” They had envisioned a life of numerous trips to Long Island and days spent at Disney World. “What do you mean we can’t take him to the beach?” Tarsha asked. “The biggest thing for me was the not-driving thing. That alters your life. Your life is a different life.”

Tarsha soon expected another baby. Then she lost her dad suddenly when she was 4 months pregnant.

“I found out we were expecting another boy 10 days after my father passed away.”

When she gave birth to Joseph, they discovered that he, too, has albinism.

In albinism there’s a specific gene that’s missing. Tarsha explains they could have done that test but there was no point. “As soon as they told me it was a boy I knew that he would have it. He did and we knew it. But suddenly Stephen had a buddy for life—they both had someone who would understand.”

They moved back to Boston. Tarsha became a stay at home mom after being an assistant principal in a NYC public school. “I was so envious of SAHMs until I was one. Those were my darkest days because I had attached my identity to being an educator. That was my purpose. Doing good at a school. Now I was sitting in a kitchen on a rolly chair watching an 8×10 TV screen. I had PTSD.”

With the loss of her dad, the move, and two young boys to care for both with a rare condition where you’re warned not to take them outside in the sun, it’s no wonder that Tarsha had PTSD. “I loved my toddler and baby, but I’d find myself crying and felt guilty. It is what it is.”

Her biggest lesson in all of this is to ‘be kind to yourself.’ Not only in terms of taking vitamins and eating clean, but also with time. “Sometimes we need the time to figure out what all of this means.” Hard things need the most time.

”My darkest days were my most important days. I had hours where I had to sit and figure it out, and feel the pain and anger, and then let it go.”

Feeling those things you’re afraid to say out loud sounds like a horrific thing.

“We don’t give ourselves time or space to be still and feel it. And figure out how to use it. It’s a hidden gift. There’s magic in it. But there’s no time to find the magic.” The key to most things is really the timing of everything.

Now Stephen and Joseph are 9 and 7. Both have a sensory processing disorder, which is common in albinism. SPD can look like something on the autism spectrum. Kids experiencing it can be advanced intellectually, but their senses are out of whack. With her boys, this is due to their vision. So one boy needs to touch everything, put it in a pile, as his way of experiencing the world—through touch. Meanwhile, for the other boy, the world is painful to touch, he wants nothing on his feet.

They are each other’s triggers, and polar opposites and in a way one can lean on the other.

“It was tough.” Tarsha breathes deep. Breathing in deeply is just as dramatic from 10,000 miles away. She pauses. “There’s so much in life that we don’t know.”

She couldn’t let her boys see that she was sad. She decided her job is to help them figure out where to turn. To advocate for them. And to show the world the magic they bring.

Ever since the boys could understand, Tarsha’s talked to them about albinism. “We speak about it like it’s going to the grocery store.” They reduce it to statistics: 1 in 19,000 and 1 in 18,000. Autism is 1 in every 65. It is rare, but it was meant to be. “It’s all ‘magic’ because what am I doing with this. Special souls. Not typical children. Once I stopped seeing them as typical I realized how their gifts strengthen their character and help others.”

Tarsha has this to say to parents going through anything tough: “When you’re in a tough spot you need to stay there for a while otherwise it’s never going to go away. You gotta sit there with it.” Things come to us for a reason. We all know that. We can’t change. Our elements alter. And we choose. There will come a time for you to decide if it’s going to change you and how—either to change you for the better or for the worse. To see the light or stay sitting in the dark.

Tarsha’s currency is how she learns, advocates, and teaches. “That is where I find respect and peace and happiness. Trying to strategize how to make the most out of that connection. And yes, everything happens for a reason. As annoying as that cliché is, it really does and you can choose to ignore it or listen and learn.”

I want to help moms on this journey through their hiccup so they can figure out who they are, who they want to be, and what motivates and matters to them.

By the time Tarsha’s boys turn 16, we can hope that cars will be driving themselves so at least that one dire prophecy from that nurse fails to affect them.

“They’re getting there,” Tarsha smiles.

“It is through our ‘hiccups’ and the work we do while walking through the pain that we are able to appreciate and see things in a new light. That’s the magic.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

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It’s always a choice and she chose to embrace cancer … in high heels
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On paper, Amany has it all: gorgeous wavy brown hair, a tiny frame, cute nose ring, serious gray-blue-green eyes, a simple gold necklace hanging from her neck spelling out her name, and Valentino shoes. Understated yet very intentional with a matching handbag. But when you hear what she’s gone through you question… “How?!” She is that clichéd story you hear from a friend’s friend’s cousin… where the bad gets worse and then even worse.

Knowing parts of this hiccup story almost makes it harder to redeliver it to you. But a common thread with most of these interviews is that none of these moms want sympathy. Puppy dog faces rank #1 in their pet peeve list. They want a forum and a place to share their story to reach others.

Amany and I meet in a hotel lobby and end up at the bar, not for the cocktails but for the lighting. She knew this would be a late-morning living nightmare and wanted to lighten it up with her clear-eyed wisdom that makes her wise beyond her 33 years.

The sound of ice being blended is our background and stale cigarette smoke folds under the scent of Amany’s fresh, factual straight talk. She takes a sip of her mint-infused lemonade and flips her wavy locks.

“A lot can happen in three years.”

She had a pixie cut before her current wavy look and before that she had to count on her husband to use colored hair powder to cover the bald patches. She dives in. “So…I turned 30 and felt like I should probably get my act together. You know, life plans and kids and all that.”

A few months later she found a tumor on her neck that she thought was work overload stress.

Our bodies are so smart and send us messages and signals until we listen up. A year prior to this her dad had the same mass. “I think subconsciously I knew and didn’t want deal with it.” I hear a rebellious streak in her voice.

Her dad had just entered remission so like most of us who don’t want to deal with something when we subconsciously know it could be the worst, Amany “brushed it under the carpet.”

On the 7th of March 2013, her doctor started a conversation with, “You’re a mature girl…” “And it was then that I knew.”

Amany was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I needed to start chemo like, yesterday.” She describes an eerie calmness at that moment: “The earth dropped away and I don’t remember much.”

“I wasn’t thinking of me. I was the least of my concerns. For once in my life it wasn’t about me. It was about my Mom and Dad. I didn’t think they could cope with this again.”

The distress when she says this is palpable.

“My husband has a way of making things feel better and I know people say this all the time, but I would take a bullet for him.” Her face becomes peaceful. “I remember we sat at the dining table where he just made things feel okay and did everything but make it a big deal. He simply said, ‘We’ll plough through it.’”

The only thing on her mind was putting her parents through this again. She heaves a heavy sigh as though she’s been holding her breath this whole time, then pauses and giggles, “And my hair.” She manages a wry smile recalling how her doctor, Dr. Mahir Al-Hilali treated her like a daughter and understood the importance of her trying to keep her life as ‘normal’ as possible. That same doctor told her she’d better get a pixie haircut after the 4th chemo session because the hair would be going.

“Two friends in the office cut their hair very short—so I wasn’t the only one. I don’t know if I would have done that. When I cut my hair it hit me that I had cancer.”

After the 4th chemo session she was “basically living day to day” waiting for the feeling to disappear 12 times.

“There was a running joke in the office that I used ‘the cancer card’ and they encouraged me to use it for as long as I had it. And I promised myself to ‘look at the HAHA’ of each situation.”

“As a joke everyone at work would say, ‘I wish I had cancer too.’” Making light of it is what helped her survive it. When I ask her if she thinks she has an edge over other people she nods even before I finish explaining what I mean. She gets it. She has it. And because of it she calls things as they are.

She lost her hair in chunks, giant clumps, but got in hair powder from the US, and asked her husband to powder her scalp. “Moments live with me forever.”

“So, 12 chemo sessions later… here I am.”

A big believer in signs she flags to me that her last chemotherapy session was on August 28th, 2013 (her husband’s birthday). “But once that was over it’s not that life goes back to normal—that’s when it hits you what you went through. Post chemo I needed a break.”

She wasn’t sure if wanted to start a family or quit her job. But the biggest relief was that the burden was off her parents. She looked for the silver lining that this was something her dad and she could share; that they’d both had the big C.

2014 started with simply living life and talking family. It was the start of a new chapter. But she couldn’t become pregnant yet. She didn’t have the green light of an all clear PET scan. She chokes back tears and I feel my throat burning as I clench my jaw shut and momentarily freeze. My eyes are locked on hers as she explains. By June 2014, almost a year post remission, she still held out on getting a PET scan. Her dad wanted her to do it but the “what ifs” held her back.

In Sept 2014, her dad was back in hospital. It was a cancer relapse. Amany heaves a huge sigh and leans into the hotel lobby bar. “There were lots of complications. After 21 days in hospital he passed away on Oct 7th, 2014. The only thing he wanted to know was that I was fine. I didn’t do the PET scan before he passed away and I will live with this guilt of knowing that I should have just done it so he’d know I was okay. I finally did the scan. It broke me that my dad was still listed as my point of contact at the cancer center.”

She tried to start a new chapter after grieving for the loss of a parent, a best friend. With the green light to start a family, Amany finally got pregnant in March 2015, but the good news didn’t last.

“Eight weeks later I lost the baby. I was hating on life. I’m generally a pretty positive person but at one point—even strongest mountains crack and fall apart.”

“After the miscarriage I went through a series of ‘why me why.’ Mo kept saying ‘this is for the greatest good,’ but I couldn’t see it that way. We kept trying but we weren’t getting pregnant. After an invasive ovaries test we found that mine were distressed as a result of chemo and after a hormone test we needed a bit of help getting pregnant and embarked on hormone shots. The third time round there were two heartbeats.”

But they didn’t want to get too excited. “And see it snatched away… again.”

They didn’t tell people until she was really showing. And Amany prayed daily 5 times a day.

Olivia and Yousef were born on the 7th of March, 2016. Three years to the day of her cancer diagnosis. The bad newsversary replaced by a good newsversary.

“What cancer taught me is to be in the present moment. What matters is NOW. Don’t take things for granted. Sure these are all clichés but I’m walking proof of them. Pregnancy didn’t work the first or second time. It worked the third time. With hormone shots. And ovaries measured.”

Amany twins are almost a year now. “I am who I am because of all that happened… And I really found postpartum depression – which I also had -to be worse than cancer.” This is terrible to say, but exactly the straight talk wisdom that Amany exudes. She’s still not afraid to make bad-funny jokes to see the Haha of situations.

“Your attitude toward anything is half the battle. Everything is a choice. I could have chosen to sit at home and cry. I chose to embrace cancer in high heels and all dressed up.”

Amany believes that there are two important days in your life: the day you were born and day you find out why you were born—for her that second day was when she saw that she was meant to be a mother. That it could happen. “It’s all I ever want to do… and the most difficult job. But I get on with it.

Life has come full circle for Amany. “You can’t bubble wrap the hard bits of life, you need the strength, courage and positivity to face it dead on and beat it. Everyone complains. It’s human nature.”

Ain’t this the truth. Sometimes we do it to fill in the silence or ward off ‘the bad eye’ or just because we feel pressured to chime into the ‘I hate my hubby’ conversations between bites of bresaola pizza or grilled halloumi at a girls’ dinner.

Well, Amany had three years and three terrible reasons to complain yet she turned her back on negativity and chose the positives. And she turned those negatives into positives: her twins, her health, and her life.

In this article series, Sara Sadik talks with moms about their “hiccup.” Hers? “My daughter had hip dysplasia and was in a brace for seven months. I got through it by crying for weeks and then embracing retail therapy and buying dresses to disguise the harness… A LOT of dresses.” Sara Sadik’s goal with these sit-down share sessions is to shed light on how each mommy’s hiccup echoes and resonates with many others who are struggling to find the magic or can take heart that the magic is often deeply imbedded in the dark and may need some neon glow bands to reveal it. Your hiccup might be post-natal depression, lifestyle change, or even a grouchy pediatrician. Get in touch to share your “Hiccup.”

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EVERY MAMA HAS A HICCUP: VANESSA’S INCREDIBLE TIMING
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Everything in life is timing. It really is, I believe that. My favorite speech ever is Al Pacino’s team talk about inches in Any Given Sunday. Youtube it if you want to well up. Mommyhood so often feels like that, doesn’t it? We fight inch by inch to get through our days. But sometimes those inches and minutes are about averting tragedy. It can come down to taking action not one minute too late. That’s what Vanessa Abernethy’s hiccup is about.

Vanessa is already at the cafe when I walk in, and she doesn’t look like the mama who’s ever had a hiccup—she could be a member of Hilary Clinton’s staff. Her electric blue skirt suit and purse match her eyes and her blonde hair has that corporate shine. I can’t picture her dissolving into messy sobs during our interview. We’ll probably work out bullet points and an infographic. Totally my style.

Vanessa’s hiccup was her firstborn’s premature entry into life. And that literally his entry—alive—was down to minutes and hours.

Into her second and third trimester, she was still vomiting 6 or 7 times a day. “I got so used to vomiting I got really good at it.” She started being monitored with increased number of scans. Then pre-eclampsia kicked in and she was dealing with blindness in her left eye, water retention, protein in urine, and low blood pressure.

“In every scan we would see that he wasn’t growing as he should, that he hadn’t put on enough weight, but I really thought it was a temporary blip.”

At 35 weeks’ pregnant, Vanessa went for a routine scan at her doctor’s office. (Dr Farnaz Ahmed from Family First Medical Centre.) She called Vanessa at work 2 hours later to say she wasn’t comfortable about the lack of weight gain and had scheduled a growth scan for a second opinion.

“I went to the growth scan one week later, and they discovered the issue and its magnitude. I consulted with Dr Farnaz about 30 minutes after the growth scan and was in the hospital three hours later for an emergency C-Section.”

The growth scan diagnosed placental insufficiency where the baby no longer receives enough blood from the placenta. “I basically had 24 hours maximum before no fetal movement. With no blood flow, the placenta shrinks to the size of a tennis ball.”

“It was amazing my doctor requested the growth scan because her gut was telling her all was not well.” Imagine, that her gut.

Vanessa is a typical Gemini who tries to not worry until there’s something concrete to worry about. Originally from New Zealand, she was banking on her mom being there, but there was no time to give her mama a head’s up to hop on that 17-hour flight.

She was still working and handing over work on her blackberry in the hospital bed before they wheeled her into theatre for the emergency C-section. As a corporate wonder woman, Vanessa went into battle mode, as if she was thinking, saying (and oozing), “‘Get me in there he’s coming out now’ with every cell in my body.” With the double-edged sword of being very underweight plus premature in terms of organ development, Vanessa had to arm herself with a feeling of “we’re not going to lose him.”

They told her, “Don’t be alarmed when he comes out.”

Alex was born 1.8kilos (under 4 pounds) in the 0.4th percentile—not 40th or 4th. His skin hung off him he was so wrinkly. But miraculously he took his first breath on his own.

“My doctor had timed it beautifully” this near catastrophe had been dramatically averted by her female doctor’s instincts. That’s those inches and minutes. Alex still had a fight ahead, but breathing on his own was not expected and his fighter instincts were all there.

No one prepares expectant mothers to deal with the realities of a baby let alone the unexpected reality of NICU.

“I kept saying, ‘Excuse me, I want to see my baby.’ They kept telling me to wait because there was a shift change, so I didn’t end up seeing him for 13 hours.” She had a meltdown as she puts it and understandably so. “Someone finally took me down to NICU bawling and all.” It was either some weird hospital rule or because she needed a wheelchair. Either way, it really didn’t start off well. “So, they wheeled me down and I saw him. He was in a huge incubator. His height wasn’t bad but he was skinny.”

Vanessa believes conditions like placental insufficiency are becoming more common with busy mamas having babies a little older—“I was only 36 when my son was born and since then I have heard of other women having similar issues.” It’s a dangerous condition that causes starvation to the placenta where the baby can’t survive to full term or may experience long-term health effects.

Vanessa believes that discussion on how to parent a premature newborn would have been helpful and perhaps this is something that should be added to antenatal classes as the normal rules of parenting certainly go out the window. “We need more support systems for preemies after they’re delivered. I struggled to find any sort of comfort.”

Wouldn’t it be great to have someone visit who could discuss not just the tubes and risks and importance of steady weight gain, but also the emotional side because there is nothing emotional—no coaching or listening or handholding out there. NICU is a very sterile place.

So there he was, this tiny baby with 4 other babies who were huge compared to Alex. The others had physical reasons for being in NICU and she had other moms looking at her with sympathy. “It was all quite surreal, really. They were looking at me with sympathy and I kept thinking, I have a skinny but otherwise healthy baby versus your baby with a heart defect.” It built camaraderie—as did the nursing—at first she wasn’t allowed to breast feed—but she was so committed she breastfed for 2.5 years. She would express the colostrum to add into the formula the nurses fed him hourly. “They would pick it up in a dropper.”

In New Zealand the campaign for “breast is best” polarizes it to be “all or it’s worth nothing.” But Vanessa in sharing her story wants to say no, it’s actually not all or nothing. For her, she breastfed but there is always a middle ground. Feeds would take an hour and a half because his mouth was so tiny.

With the memories of how close they came to losing him, she breaks down in the most composed way—so much so that I’m unsure if she’s crying or not. But the memory of it is too real. I can’t help but cry along with her.

Every mama feels guilty. We all know that. It comes with the job and the territory. “I feel guilty everyday. Like maybe in some way I changed his destiny or potential because I couldn’t keep him in any longer.”

With her second child, Claire, it wasn’t plain sailing either. “With Claire I had some pre-eclampsia symptoms at 16 weeks but not the full-blown condition yet. I was definitely worried we would not get to 23 weeks (viability age).” But with the same female doctor at her side she reached 38.

It was, ‘every week we’ll see.’ Touch and go because the placenta wasn’t great but not as bad as with Alex. When baby Claire was born she had drank amniotic fluid, was presenting posterior, and didn’t breathe, but they pumped the amniotic fluid out.

“Brand new moms struggle with the lack of sleep but that was the easy part because I had bigger obstacles to overcome. I guess that’s why I took Claire’s issues in stride.”

Like going to a really tough high school only to go to a so-so college you think, ‘Hey this isn’t so bad.’

At 43 Vanessa looks 35 and it’s not so much the lack of wrinkles as the still-idealistic vibe she radiates. She’s been married 19 years now, 12 years then. At the end of the interview she confesses that today is Alex’s 7th birthday.

As if that weren’t enough, Vanessa is also writing a book. She ended up doing some extensive research and wrote a how-to book during maternity leave. It’s for real people and not written by a doctor, but by a woman who’s done it, backed up with science.

“You really just have to take it one day at a time because you wake up and you really don’t know if it’s going to be a good day or a bad day.” It’s those inches all around us that we fight for to get through. We ended our conversation in the bottom floor of the Vida hotel, almost four hours after it had begun.

“I just felt really lucky. We felt so lucky that he was here and focused on what could’ve happened instead of what happened.” That’s how she got through it. She would definitely tell mamas of premmies to buy scales. Reaching 3 kilos was a milestone. Born at 0.4th percentile I tracked it for ages until it was at the 5th.” That was no doubt a monumental milestone.

There are many stories like this and I’m sure Vanessa’s book will resonate with mamas around the world. Here in Dubai, the support group Vanessa sought has started. Following the birth of her son George ten weeks early, Joanne Hanson Halliwell founded Small and Mighty Babies which has reached many families over the last few years providing information, strength, love and support during the most difficult days www.smallandmightybabies.com. You know, inch by inch.

In this blog series, I talk with moms about their “hiccup.” Mine? My daughter had hip dysplasia and was in a brace for seven months. I got through it by crying for weeks and then embracing retail therapy and buying dresses to disguise the harness… A LOT of dresses. My goal with these sit-down exposé share sessions is to shed some light on how each mommy’s hiccup echoes and resonates with many others who are struggling to find the magic or who are unaware of the fact that the magic is often deeply imbedded in the dark and that it can take some neon glow bands to reveal it. Get in touch to share your “Hiccup.” Follow me on @magicmommyhood and check out the rest of my writing on www.sarasadik.com.

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Danielle’s Successful Mix of Salad + Mommyhood
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This interview was by far the most personally relatable for me because business advice plus mommyhood advice are equally welcome right now. I scribbled a dozen takeaways to apply later to my own business of trying to lock down a publishing deal for my books. In a word, Danielle Sallam’s hiccup was juggling the overwhelming needs of launching a brand with a new born baby in her arms and another by her side.

A resident of Dubai going on 7 years now, Danielle Sallam has a teaching and fitness background and is a doer in the purest sense. Originally from Vancouver Canada she has that appreciation of health and nature, but my big question is what possessed her to launch a start-up alongside a little baby? Most mamas would find their hands full at the mere prospect of a newborn.

With the perfect striped shirt from Zara, Danielle has short blonde hair with a high-energy vibe about her hazel eyes and could easily be a TV presenter or work in fashion. Instead of a watch, she wears a simple black bracelet of round circles. Pure simplicity. Stay with what works. Kinda like how popcorn is just good no matter what’s drizzled over it and everyone agrees on that.

“I had my first daughter when I was 29 and we moved to Dubai when she was 3. We initially moved to Dubai with my husband who was starting his company…” Don’t we all? “I honestly didn’t do much when first here; I worked out and trained friends.”

How The Salad Jar started is one of those life-changing moments that comes in the most mundane packages. “I was on Skype with a best friend and she suggested I put my trademark quinoa salad in a jar for my husband’s lunch. My eavesdropping husband came home with some Mason jars and encouraged me to actually do it.”

Danielle’s second daughter was 5 months old and not sleeping through the night so the thought of starting a salad business was absurd. And yet, it’s been almost 2.5 years since that first quinoa-salad-in-a-jar. Danielle credits her Irish-Egyptian husband, who was also born in Canada, for part of her success. “I’ve known him since I was 13 and he relates to me completely when no one else can.” Visions of a fusion of kushari and River Dance flood my mind.

She started doing costings and coming up with recipes and, like anything in life, “looking for inspiration” became finding inspiration. She was suddenly making 10 salad jars a day. She moved operations out of her kitchen to the perfect space in Al Quoz (industrial area in Dubai). Soon she was making 140 jars per week, working 12-hour days.

How did she not burn out? “Hard work, patience, timing, and…” she gives me a small smile, “luck.” The business model appealed in that people could stay where they were and their salads were delivered. “Be where you are and I bring it to you.”

The actual hiccup was juggling all of the ingredients to grow The Salad Jar plus two amazing daughters. She was always up at night because Amira was sick a lot with allergies. “I needed… patience. Sure I had my moments but then I had to let it go. Not holding on is key because that’s when things get heavy.” That’s the key, to my ears, parenting is like following a certain recipe… if it doesn’t work tweak it and implement something new until you are in the flow again.

Danielle admits to “feeling guilty that I wasn’t with Amira like I was with Julia. But she’s happy. I had to balance taking care of my babies, working around clock and being present.”

Her advice to mamas looking to do something is to look to your obvious talents to share because it’s easier to share something you love. Start small and build a solid base. Be open to adapt to what comes your way. People who like it will follow. Keep your head down and build a brand as fast as you can.

She’s honest in telling me that she doesn’t know the feeling of being tired or down. A delicate bulldozer with clear vision and a ‘let’s get it done’ attitude, Danielle’s all about working with her own flow. She didn’t have to tweak who she was to fit in, she brought who she is at her core to her business, and to mommyhood.

Now, The Salad Jar is blooming with 16 staff added in one year. Like the best leaders, Danielle attributes the success to those who surround her leaving no space for self-glorification. She regards her employees as her #1s, and her customers as #2. “I’m a mom at work and home.”

She runs her company like you would imagine the best companies are run with a staff lunch every Thursday and lots of mini birthday celebrations. I can imagine group hugs are the norm. “Simple things are not easy to do well.”

As I get up to go and she reminds me not to forget the three salads she brought me (because my Preggo brain did forget and she knows that). So what’s her secret ingredient, literally? “Really, I have so much patience. I didn’t realize that until Amira and starting The Salad Jar. Neither would have happened without patience and they definitely wouldn’t have happened at the same time without patience.”

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Leslie’s Half Year of 3 Under 3
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There are two types of people in life. Eeyores and Tiggers. Yes, I just categorized everyone according to Winnie the Pooh. Leslie is a definite Tigger, but not in a delusional way, more in a “Bouncing is fun so keep bouncing” way. Leslie’s hiccup was undergoing IVF far from her family, only to end up with 3 kids under 3.

Meeting her is a refreshing change to all that is controlled, contrived, and over-thought-out about Dubai. She wears a low-key silky blue top that bring out the blue in her eyes not because she planned it, but mostly because that’s what she grabbed this morning. We meet in a French café and she looks around with numerous “are you kidding me’s” at the sight of all those high heels at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday. She is that unicorn who cooks 5 times a week, successfully completes Spartan races, holds down a job, and is charming to boot. She doesn’t cancel our meeting despite the sudden news that her grandmother has just passed away and that she has to fly home in a few hours. She shows up, is present and ready to share her story although she’s not sure “who would care.” To her she’s normal and just doing her thing with a healthy disregard to contrary advice about parenting. And no, she never reads parenting sites.

Everyone was pregnant and she couldn’t get pregnant. “I tried not to be jealous. Jealousy is not a good trait.” After trying, but not succeeding and not knowing why, they did IVF and had twins in October 2011, who were born at 35 weeks. One weighed 1.5 kg, the other was 2.5 kg. The first two years of their life the hardest bit was handling both at the same time. “When they could finally sit up, I could handle them… And then when I could finally be out with my kids and not have a panic attack, well, that’s when I got pregnant.”

Her third was born in April 2014 and that’s when Leslie’s half year of 3-under-3 kicked off.

The hardest thing with three is, “There’s always someone waiting. I feel bad.” She’s the type of mama who will listen to “Let it go” on repeat for hours on end and help her daughter into her playheels and lipstick so she can prance around to the song. I’m serious… hours. I’ve been there. She’s also honest with her kids telling them they came out of her vagina, but it’s the farthest thing from crass when she tells me the story. It’s endearing and makes me want to set up a play date. You know, to make Rice Krispie treats the real way. Extra butter. She admits to having a glass of wine during bath time and is indifferent to what anyone might say about that. In fact, she is so confident about what she does that there’s no room for anyone else’s useless opinions to crowd her energy. Nobody’s bringing this Tigger down.

When she found out she was pregnant with her third baby she cried… a panic cry. “I remember my mom saying, ‘It’s fine. You’ll make it work.’ When I finally went to the obgyn at seven weeks and she said there was no heartbeat I was so upset because I was so happy to have gotten pregnant without IVF. And yes, we eventually heard a heart beat a few days later at the fetal medical center.” She breaths a sigh of relief as if reliving that moment.

As a middle child she is the self-proclaimed glue who believes in the importance of quick and rational decision-making. With a level of efficiency you would expect from a heart surgeon or a space astronaut, everything is written down in her world. Right down to cutting their nails. “I don’t have wasted time.”

Kitchen dance parties help. Always thinking ahead. “I can’t think in the now. I need to know. Plan their menu for the week. Saves time.” She prioritizes which child at that moment needs her the most. “Who needs me more? Hungry or poopy diaper. Poopy diaper almost always wins first.” Makes sense.

“I love them more than life, but as a working mom I want them to grow up knowing women can have 3 kids, workout, stay fit, cook and still train and kick ass in a Spartan race running 10kms and 24kms.” As a pediatric occupational therapist she helps children with autism, Aspergers, ADHD, and more. Her job keeps her upbeat and keeps things in perspective. She’s not the mom that cries at graduation from KG1. Yes, sure it’s a proud moment, but she just doesn’t feel it’s deserving of any tears.

I ask her what I always want to ask these moms but usually never have the nerve to. “Do I ever lose my shit? Like when spaghetti sauce is everywhere? Funny because it’s always when I want them to get in the bath. I either yell, walk away or bring wine with me to bath time.” Again, Leslie doesn’t need outside validation to prop up her parenting. “They read you. You’re the glue. I didn’t see light for a long time. But it helped them to gain independence.”

Her take on social media? “Dangerous. Life’s not like that. I never post when Hayden is having a tantrum. It’s insane.” She laughs. “Take it one day at a time. The crazy part is really not gonna last forever. Wild is my new normal. And this is what I wanted. It’s hard. But it’s what I wanted.”

Leslie’s 3-under-3 half year is a good reminder for all us mamas out there. We choose this. We want, pray for, are thankful for, and celebrate this crazy mommyhood ride. The next time my 2 year old purposefully shoves cornflakes up her nose – the same nostril – I vow to laugh and smile and get on with it. It’s all about the light, right? The light and making those cornflakes lodged up that nostril soggy so we can scoop them out with our fingernails.

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