Real Beauty

“Some women feel the need to act like they’re never scared, needy or hurt; like they’re as hardened as a man. I think that’s dishonest. It’s ok to feel delicate sometimes. Real beauty is in the fragility of your petals. A rose that never wilts isn’t a rose at all.” ~ Crystal Woods

As I gaze at this bouquet of flowers, I note that it is far from its finest hour.  Yet, I treasure it.  It was the centerpiece on our table at a luncheon I attended last week during the 84thAnnual Convention of American Mothers, Inc.  I had the ‘winning’ seat at my table and my prize was this lovely pitcher from the immensely popular Pioneer Woman collection and it was filled with beautiful flowers, in full bloom.  Of course, I had already won in so many ways.  It was my privilege to attend the conference after being named the 2019 Mother of the Year for the DC Metro area by American Mothers, a nonpartisan non-profit organization which owns the trademark to “Mother of the Year®” and is the official sponsor of Mother’s Day.  American Mothers is committed to serving as an advocate on issues affecting our country’s 85 million mothers and their children.     

I was part of a special cohort of Mothers chosen to represent their states, with 46 actually attending the Convention.  I was awed by the energy, courage, candor, and kindness of this group.  I had read most of the bios, so I already knew I would be in very special company.  However, I was blown away by the speeches on Day 2 of the Conference.  We were challenged to address America in a speech themed, “America, this is your mother speaking…”. Moms being Moms, you know we could have gone on for hours — alas we only had three minutes.  Accustomed to making magic out of mania, we dynamic Moms rose to the occasion, delivering heartfelt testimonies of triumph and loss, joy and pain, uncertainty and revelation.  We approached the task through lenses tinted by different races, religions, and regions of the country as well as different educational backgrounds, career experiences, and lifestyles, yet we all cheered when the underdog won, were outraged at insensitivity and injustice, mourned the losses, and were in awe of the sacrifices our sisters had made.  There was a sense of knowing among us only Mothers possess.   A knowing that on most days not all of the flowers in the bouquet will be in bloom at the same time.  There will be some curled or wilted petals as trials set upon us and dry, discolored leaves as our resolve is tested.  Yet, like flowers pushing through concrete, there are always signs of hope and beauty in our bouquet.   

My convention speech

Leading up to this year’s  Convention, American Mothers launched a nationwide study to find What Matters to Moms through the American Mothers Project. Preliminary findings indicate the top three concerns are access to mental health services and resources, access to affordable childcare, and quality education for all children.  On Day 3, we got a glimpse of how we could use our knowledge and personal experiences to make a difference in our country. First, we witnessed an engaging bipartisan discourse between Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) and Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) about such topics as women in leadership, sex trafficking, foster care and others.  Next, we headed to Capitol Hill to meet with our elected representatives, armed with our states’ respective concerns as well as the early data from the American Mothers Project.  We felt powerful.  We were powerful. As the Convention began to wind down, I was thankful that one of my college-age sons was able to join me at the Gala on the last day, along with my husband and mother. Without them, and my other son, I none of this would have been possible. Together, they have watched me and often caused me to stretch and grow, and to stay firmly planted with arms folded when I might otherwise have given up. After my son listened to the speakers that evening, he wondered aloud why practically all of the discussion centered on the love and nurturing Mothers provide.  He thought it sounded patriarchal and somewhat dismissive of all that mothers do. He said he appreciated my staying home to raise him and his brother.  He also remarked “that [love and nurturing] was the least of what you did.  You did so much more – you were working.”  I was touched by his sentiments, but I had to remind him that love and nurturing was at the heart of all the work I did. It’s how Moms everywhere make everything fall into place like only they can. Motherhood. It’s a thing of real beauty.

Ready for a Miracle?

As I consider the new year I have been blessed to see, the butterfly and its transformative journey has captured my spirit for 2019.  We admire the beauty of the butterfly and its grace as it floats through the air. Yet, the metamorphosis of a butterfly occurs in distinct stages that each exact a certain amount of growth and struggle as it progresses toward its ultimate grandeur.  The butterfly’s beginning does not foretell the miracle of its imminent magnificence while flitting and floating through the air.  In the year 2018, I experienced and witnessed moments that I couldn’t have predicted in the beginning. Some were pleasing and others less so.  Some events were marked by promise and possibility while others signaled resolution and conclusion, depending on its appointed life cycle.      

In 2019, I am ready to continue my journey.  The fact that I am still here tells me that God wants me to birth more ideas, make more connections, give more, live more, and love more.  I’ve been considering how I might use this precious time I have been given and I found 5 quotes that reflect where my head and heart are right now:

New Years Day is every mans birthday. Charles Lamb

New Year’s Day is as good a day as any to make a fresh start.  Two areas where I want to “begin again” are nutrition and fitness.  I have made progress in fits and starts, but I am hoping real change takes hold this year. 

You will never win if you never begin. Helen Rowland

This past year, I encountered many opportunities. There were moments, when I just had to say to myself, “What do you have to lose?” and plow ahead.  Actually, I was rewarded nicely in some instances.  In those cases, where things did not turn out as expected, I learned a lot. Neither the blessings nor the lessons could have happened if I hadn’t made the leap.  I’m determined to be brave again this year.  

Celebrate what you want to see more of. Tom Peters

I have observed that I often talk about what I want in terms of what I don’t want. I’m not going to speak life to what I don’t want anymore.  I plan to affirm what I see that feeds my vision and disconnect from whatever disrupts it.  Period. 

If youre brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.– PauloCoehlo

It can be hard to say goodbye – to people, ideas, even outdated clothing.  However, holding on to what is no longer serving me has really become a burden. Letting go of what I don’t need or want makes room for something new.  I am excited about reclaiming lost mental and emotional energy, physical space, and ultimately, PEACE.

It is never too late to be what you might have been. – George Eliot

Sometimes, I work with discouraged parents who want to change the way they interact with their children, but feel like they’ve done “too much damage” already.  Here’s what I’ve been saying to them – “It’s never too late to be the parent you want to be.”  I thought I was original!  I just don’t recall seeing this quote, attributed to George Eliot; I promise!  Yet, this sentiment is how I encouraged myself as I approached each new day as a mother of young children.  It has also encouraged me on this entrepreneurial journey after careers in the public and private sectors.  I have many friends who are much farther along in their life’s pursuits and I applaud them.  However, as long as I have breath, I still have time to become a miracle.

What encourages you as you head into 2019? Please share!    

She’s having………….a Baby!

As I was having breakfast this morning, I was intrigued by a newspaper article about expectant parents. Specifically, the article focused on the letdown some feel when they discover that the baby they have been eagerly awaiting is not the gender they had hoped for.  In fact, this devastation even has a name – gender disappointment.  I had to stop for a moment to take that in. I immediately went back a century or two, in mind, and imagined moms- and dads-to be, who had no earthly idea whether their babies would be alive, or have deformities when they were born, let alone what the gender would be.  Somehow, they muddled through.  Of course, I know  even back then, expectant parents had visions of little girls to dress up in pink frills or to help Mom around the house and dreams of little boys to help work the land or to wrestle with (gender roles were practically codified in those days!).  But how much time did these parents spend wallowing in disappointment when things turned out the other way?  

I don’t know about you, but when my husband and I wanted to start a family, I became fascinated anew at the mechanics of all that has to occur within not just one, but two human bodies, in just the right sequence, at just the right time for an embryo to even be created at all.  And that’s just the beginning of the miracle.  I understand preferences and I even get having a comfort level with a certain gender, but have we lost sight of the wonder it is to even create another life?  Or have we just become so accustomed to ‘having it our way’?

As we have seen in recent years, women are waiting longer to have children and couples often contend with additional health issues.  Consequently, the road to conception has been anything but a straight line for some.  Thankfully, fertility techniques have made it easier for many to realize their dreams of parenthood, through various means.  The fact still remains that when conception occurs between consenting adults, with or without help, it is a blessing!  It can be fun to find out the gender, for some couples.  I mean the technology is there.  We have the capability, so they figure ‘why not?’  Once we know, though, let’s remember that the baby who’s coming is ultimately a blessing.

I must confess, I did find out the gender of my twins.  Right or wrong, I reasoned that, since we had two babies to buy for, we should go ahead and purchase the kinds of clothing and other supplies we thought they’d need and not have to worry about it later.  I didn’t have a preference, but I thought at least one girl would be ‘easier’ because I figured I had a frame of reference for that (the fact that I have an older brother notwithstanding).  However, when the technician performing our sonogram told us I was carrying two boys, that was that.  I imagined they’d be energetic and active, thus motivating, if not requiring, me to be as well. I envisioned myself getting out of my comfort zone and exploring pastimes that were a little different from what I had enjoyed when I was growing up with my girl friends.  Parenting is a unique and transformative experience in that way.  It calls upon you to reexamine beliefs, values and ideas you held as truth.  Some are reinforced while others are discarded or refashioned to match your new perspective and circumstance.  All of this happened for me and life with these boys has  been a wondrous adventure.  I imagine this to be the case for others as well.  

Finally, I believe we all get the children we are uniquely assigned and equipped to raise.  They don’t come with an instruction book, but they each  come with a purpose.  We parents are here to prepare them to fulfill it.  Their gender, among other attributes, is just part of the tool kit that will enable them to be who they were created to be.  You eagerly awaited your child’s arrival and society needs what your child came here to offer, no matter the gender.  Why not settle down and help bring it to fruition?  

My Journey to the Red Table | October 22, 2018

My friends have been asking how I got to the New York celebration of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk.  Well, here’s what happened….

Early last week, I saw an announcement on the Red Table Talk Facebook page about a celebration in NY to kick off the show’s next season.  I LOVE RTT, so this was intriguing.  The announcement indicated that guests would have an opportunity to meet Jada and her lovely Mother, Adrienne Banfield Norris, affectionately known as “Gam”. If you haven’t seen the show, I strongly urge you to take a look (I even take notes.).  Anyway, all I had to do was post ‘RSVP’ in the comments and I might have a chance.  I decided to give it a shot with ‘RSVP.  Would love to attend.’ and went on with my day.

Come Wednesday morning, I received a Facebook message thanking me for my interest and requesting that I RSVP with an email address for myself and any guest(s) I wanted to bring.  Hmmm…I quickly called a dear friend and sorority sister whom I thought might be game IF this thing worked out.  She said, “Sure!”.  I continued that day with a speaking engagement.  And later began excitedly preparing for an upcoming road trip to attend my college homecoming celebration.  It would be my third trip in as many weeks, but there was no way I was going to miss it. Next thing I knew, I received an email indicating that I was now on the waitlist for the RTT event (Seriously, Red Table Talk team, stop teasing me!).  I should mention that all of their correspondence included the caveat that there was no guarantee I would get in as admission would be “strictly first-come, first- served”.  Not very promising, right?? Well, I headed out to my alma mater on Friday afternoon.  I didn’t think too much more about the event because, really, how likely was it that I’d get in?  Anyway, IF I were selected to attend the celebration, I’d have to hit the road AGAIN the very next day after returning from this trip….aaaarrrgh!  Fast-forward through a fun-filled reunion with friends on Friday night and all day Saturday and I came back to my hotel room and discovered an email from my willing partner in this boondoggle saying, “We’re going!!!”  I responded with, “Going where??”  She wrote “We’re going to Red Table Talk.  Didn’t you get the email?”  I checked and, sure enough, it was there.  We briefly discussed potential itineraries and I got off the phone and headed to another event.  Even on Sunday, as I described the situation to my college friends, I wasn’t so sure about this as I kept remembering “first come-first served”.  What if we took the train up to New York only to be shut out because folks had been camping out on the sidewalk for three days?? Ultimately, I reasoned it would be worth the trip because I would be with my sister-friend whom I hardly ever get to hang with…#winning!  I got home Sunday evening and, yep, headed out to New York on an early train Monday morning. The event wasn’t until 5 PM,  but we decided to go scope out the venue, so we could easily find our way back there later.  We got some strange looks, showing up so early and all, but ‘Anthony’ one of the staffers assured us that if we showed up at 4:30, we would certainly get in.  We were skeptical, but walked away in search of lunch.  Along the way, we came upon Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) – an interesting moment for me.  I was accepted there for college more than 30 years ago, but had never even seen the place because I got cold feet at the last minute.  After lunch and a little exploring, we made our way back to the venue and there was a line, but Anthony was right — we were most definitely getting in.  Once inside, we snapped a few pics and noshed on some tasty fare as we waited for the event to start.  There was an aura of optimism and sisterhood among the women.  The waiting area was abuzz with conversation – twenty-somethings debating whether women truly can “have it all”, an entrepreneur touting the benefits of her natural skin care line, others discussing the pros and cons of living up North vs. down South, and so on.  We made our way in to the main event and, shortly after that, Jada and Ms. Adrienne appeared.  They were literally aglow – light surely emanated from their attire, along with the air of warmth and authenticity they brought into the room.  We were invited to sit at red table stations and hold our own talks on selected topics.  Those who awaited their turn at the table were encouraged to go up and meet Jada and Ms. Adrienne.  They made time to connect with every women there offering hugs and gratitude for our support.  I asked Ms. Adrienne if I could call her ‘Gam’ and she said I certainly could.  Finally, my sister-friend and I got our turn at the table.  I tried to resist sitting down at the ‘Motherhood and Parenting’ table, but that’s where I ended up.  I sat back and listened for a bit and the ladies shared inspiring testimonies.  Our moderator was Vanessa Ray, a delightful actor on the show, “Blue Bloods”.  She talked about trying to figure out the right time to start her family.  Most of us had older children, while there was one young woman who had a 2 year old. We offered a lot of Mommy wisdom and she eagerly soaked it up though, honestly, we learned a bit from her, too.  Soon, it was time to leave, but we wouldn’t leave, much to the staff’s chagrin. Everyone was busily chatting and taking pictures around the space, not wanting the evening to end.  Finally, we headed out into the night toward the train station.  A divine, full moon shone bright as we made our way through clusters of folks on the sidewalk trying to capture its magnificence on their smartphones.  On this journey, I learned:

  1. If you want to see something new, you’ve got to do something new. Even a year ago, there would have been so many reasons why I wouldn’t have made this trip even after being selected:  short notice, too many things to do at home, fatigue, etc.  I’m glad I did something new, this time.
  2. When you make choices, trust yourself and wring what you can out of the situation. Even today, I know the girl I was 30 years ago was not ready to be on her own, attending college while navigating New York City.  Seeing FIT up close, though, made me ponder how dramatically the trajectory of my life was likely changed with that decision.  I was also struck by how much I have changed since that time.  The truth is I’ve made a lot of wild bets since then and they’ve mostly paid off, including making a different college choice. I soaked up knowledge imparted by a nurturing community of faculty who expected greatness and I connected with students who are like brothers and sisters to me today.  Ultimately, the experience provided a springboard from which I could pursue a graduate degree at one of the top business schools in the country.  No looking back.
  3. You gotta play to win. The odds were slim that I would get to attend this celebration, but slim was good enough. Sometimes, you have to go for it and you just might come out on the other side with something magnificent.


(More pics in the Photo Gallery – On the Go with The Parenting 411.)

My Guest Spot on Awesome Women Entrepreneurs Radio Show

I had a blast today talking with Karen Bate, host of the AWE Radio Show on WERA 96.7 FM in Arlington, Virginia.  We chatted a bit about how I got into parent education, the work I do with Gardener Parenting Consultants, The Parenting 411 and my take on challenges parents face today.  Check it out!  To learn more about Awesome Women Entrepreneurs, visit (Air Date:  April 12, 2018)

Beauty and The Breast

A woman’s breast is a thing of beauty.  For generations men and boys alike have been enamored with the sight of it, whether clothed, bare, captured in portraits, off in the distance or close up.  So, it puzzles me that, lately, society seems to have a love-hate relationship with the breast.  On one hand it is to be ogled, caressed and admired when tumbling out of bustier, over a plunging neckline, or peeking through a clingy blouse.  BUT, heaven forbid, even a few centimeters of it is revealed as it performs its life-sustaining, God-ordained function – breastfeeding a young child!

I was struck anew by this paradox when I recently watched a video of an online social experiment.  The researchers wanted to see how passersby would respond when they saw a voluptuous woman baring her breasts in a revealing blouse vs. a woman breastfeeding her baby in public, in a comparatively low-key fashion.  The woman in the revealing blouse got many admiring looks and a few compliments from men, with one man asking for permission to sit down beside her.  Women who passed by offered no comments or disapproving glances.  When the breast-feeding mom replaced her on the bench, people could not contain themselves.  Reactions ranged from lectures about how inappropriate, even disgusting, her behavior was, sharp questions about why she needed to “do that” there, to advice that she should find someplace else to do “that”.  To do what?  Feed her baby?? How many of us adults eat in a closet or bathroom?   Suddenly, the same body part that only moments ago was admired effusively became a disgusting appendage meant to be covered.

It is hard to believe that, today, when there is so much science to substantiate the preeminent nutritional value provided by breast milk, women still have to defend themselves for offering this sustenance to their hungry little ones.  The World Health Organization offers these guidelines when it comes to breastfeeding1:

  • Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large. 
  • Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy, is recommended by WHO as the perfect food for the newborn, and feeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

Yet, recent studies conducted in England and Canada suggest that not only are bystanders often resistant, but a third of nursing mothers report feeling embarrassed about breastfeeding in public. It is no wonder, then, that champions of breastfeeding felt vindicated and took to social media expressing their admiration when this photo started making the rounds this week:

What was essentially a candid moment of a mother lovingly feeding her child during a break in a photo shoot became a portrait of empowerment and encouragement for mothers who are committed to breastfeeding.  That this was ‘a moment’ this week suggests the battle is still on for the dignity and wide-open respect for this practice; a battle that was being waged as far back as the 1950’s when La Leche League was launched by determined mothers who fiercely promoted breast-feeding as “God’s plan for mothers and babies”.  It’s time we evolve and recognize that, indeed, the breast is a beautiful thing – in form AND function.


1 World Health Organization,




Sexual Harassment in the News:  What Do We Tell The Children?

It seems every other day, we are hearing about another instance of sexual harassment/misconduct involving a high-profile person in the news.  How do we make sense of this for our children?  With this topic and all news, be mindful of the content your younger school-age children are taking in. When they come to you with questions about news they have heard, start with keeping your response simple and age-appropriate.  In cases where your child has not heard about a particular incident, but a valuable lesson is there to be learned, open a dialogue, perhaps in hypothetical terms.  Invite questions and share information in language he understands with just enough detail to get your point across.  Some important points to make when addressing sexual harassment, assault, or bullying that might occur in your child’s world are:

  • Boundaries. Talk to your child about the concept of personal space. He has a right to it and should speak up to protect it.  Communicate that unwanted touching or hovering are indisputable violations.  Role play with him, so he can get practice using assertive language to help preserve his boundaries.  In turn, he should learn to respect the personal space of others.
  • Respect at home. Create an environment of respect at home for everyone no matter their age.  Aside from respect for their bodies, physical belongings and such, this includes respect for ideas. Allow your child to respectfully express opposing views. She should feel comfortable saying “No” when appropriate with family members as well as friends.
  • Forum for speaking up. Regularly engage in discussions about current affairs, events in his life, areas of interest to him, and family decisions, as appropriate. He will not only be developing his voice; he will learn he has a right to be heard, at home and elsewhere.
  • Channels for seeking assistance. At home, keep the lines of communication open, so that your child feels comfortable coming to you with concerns.  Encourage her to seek assistance or guidance from teachers and school staff on routine matters, so that if/when a crisis arises, the comfort level and rapport are already there.

We know the dysfunctional desire to dominate others can be rooted in feelings of hurt, inadequacy, insecurity, or ironically, powerlessness on the part of the oppressor.  Whatever the cause, those around him/her are in turn made to feel powerless, and hopeless.  One step we can take with our children to try to keep them off the receiving, and giving, end of abuse and harassment is to show them their positive power at an early age.

The Parenting 411 – How Did I Get Here?

How Did I Get Here?

That is a good question!

It was a circuitous journey, to say the least.  When I completed my undergraduate degree in Fashion Merchandising and embarked on a career in the industry, there was one thing I never envisioned doing – becoming a stay-at-home mom.  It was not part of my detailed life plan, and friends and family can tell you that I declared, specifically, it would not ever be part of my plan.  I certainly hoped to get married one day and have children.  I just didn’t think I would ever leave the workforce and give my undivided attention to those endeavors.  It is a perfectly respectable choice, but it simply wasn’t what I saw growing up in my family and among the families of my friends.  Our mothers were educated, like our fathers, and they worked outside of the home, like our fathers.  Having said ALL of that, I don’t believe I would be here doing this work that fulfills me in a way that NO other work has, had I not done this thing I said I would NEVER do.

After working in fashion retailing for about 2 years, I wanted to make a change.  I took my talents in forecasting, planning, and analysis to a new arena – the federal government where I managed a multimillion dollar inventory program for naval aviation electronics. I was learning to be flexible way back then.  After a couple years of that, I wanted a change.  I left my job and headed for graduate school and I got change, alright.  Yet, when I emerged two years later with an MBA degree, the hard work and sacrifice was all worth it (I should probably mention I met my wonderful husband there, too!).  I felt equipped to pursue the career in marketing I desired.  I was, in fact, equipped to do a lot of things though I didn’t fully appreciate it then.  I landed at a quasi-government agency and hung out there a lot longer – 10 years!  By the time I left, I had become a Senior Marketing Program Manager where I managed a product portfolio exceeding $1 billion in annual revenue.  I enjoyed the people I worked with, I think they respected me, and we accomplished great things together.   However, I left because my life was about to change.

I left my office on a Friday afternoon, fully expecting to return to work Monday, lead a workshop series, finish out the week, and THEN take a well-deserved rest for two weeks as I prepared to give birth to our wonder twins.  This was MY plan but, they had other plans – they showed up early, and I never made it back to the office to do the workshop or anything else. I even missed the baby shower my colleagues had planned!  Here again, the sacrifice has been well worth it, though I AM hoping to recoup that two-week vacation one of these days…. Anyway, I was a happy mom, a tired mom; a sometimes exhausted and delirious mom (hey, sleep deprivation is REAL!).

After those early months, I became restless, thinking about my next move. I decided to launch a marketing consulting company.  This was a difficult undertaking that first year and my little guys weren’t exactly going with the flow.  I mean, why should they?  They had plans, too.  They were a bit of a handful (or a couple of hands full), and I made the choice to set aside my ambitions for a moment and focus on my boys.  While I tended to their needs and explored the world with them, I spent time reading and learning as much as I could about children and how they develop.  I then began sharing what I learned, first informally among friends and later more formally, with community organizations I served.

As I ended my term as president of one of these groups, I settled down for a good night’s sleep after a somewhat stressful year in office, and in life.  I almost immediately received a message from God in a dream and He let me know change was coming. The message went something like this, “I want you to start a company and share what you know.”  I was highly skeptical — “God, nobody wants to hear me speak.” He said, “Not only will they listen to you, they will pay to hear you speak.”  This was becoming a full-blown dialogue now: “God, how will I do that when I don’t know how to….”  Every obstacle I identified, he named a specific person(s) in my life that could help me overcome it.  Still, unconvinced, I responded, “You know [insert name] is busy, she won’t be able to help me.” (Don’t know why, but He only mentioned women. 😉 ).  He responded, “She will help; ask her.” Then He said, “You don’t have to do it now, though; get the children into school.” Then He stopped talking.  Wait, you laid this at my feet and you’re done talking?  “Really, God??? I have so many more questions!!!!”

I’d love to tell you I jumped right in to preparing for this ‘assignment’ the very next day, but…  in truth, it took about 5 more years; essentially 3 years longer than when He told me to start.   Even then, I only took the first crucial step after an opportunity that I almost overlooked presented itself and I co-founded Gardener Parenting Consultants.

That was 8 years ago and it has been a fulfilling experience for to work with parents and families.  It has been my privilege to meet many like-minded professionals who also serve families, and collaborate with them on special projects outside of the company.  It was one such meeting that led me to step out on faith again and launch a radio show 3 years ago – yet another change though I’ve been preparing for it for years without even realizing it.

That is how I got here.  I’m enjoying the ride and I don’t know where it will end.  I just know I am going to enjoy my time with you and change is GOOD!