The Amazing Adventures of the Marvelous Mompreneurs | Field Notes | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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The Amazing Adventures of the Marvelous Mompreneurs 

Jessica Walsh and her daughter Pearl at Illuminated Baby in Woodstock. - JENNIFER MAY
  • Jennifer May
  • Jessica Walsh and her daughter Pearl at Illuminated Baby in Woodstock.

Marybeth Cale is an early riser. While her family sleeps, she flips on the light in her home office and launches into answering e-mails, managing social media campaigns, and developing a list of priorities for the day while sipping a steamy cup of coffee. Cale is the sole proprietor of Cale Communications, a public relations and communications firm in Rhinebeck. She's a natural writer whose effervescent personality even bursts through e-mails. For her, the work is about helping her clients to share their stories in ways that will resonate.

Once her two boys wake up, Cale spends breakfast with them. They walk to school together and then she heads to her office in the village. After a few hours of writing press releases and planning client events and speaking engagements, Cale rewards herself with some time for physical activity, which makes her more creative and productive for the rest of the day. After meetings and calls to journalists, Cale heads over to the school to pick up her boys. Afterschool time is reserved solely for karate, homework, and playtime with them. Then there's dinner, and Cale visits with her husband. If she's on deadline, she works a couple more hours in her home office before going to bed. "I try to maintain a routine which serves the needs of everyone in my life—my children, my husband, my clients, my friends," Cale says, "and, of course, with some time in the day for me, which is critical to feeling healthy and joyful."

This is the work-life balance in action, Hudson Valley style. And Cale is not alone. When Arlene Deahl was eight months' pregnant, the online tobacconist whose warehouse she managed moved out of state, and her job search for other managerial positions in the area didn't pan out. But all that was fortuitous. "After you have the baby, you never want to leave them," Deahl says. Like so many mompreneurs, those entrepreneurial spirits who balance motherhood and business, Deahl found that her retreat to home-life actually opened a door to her own dreams. Being home with her baby was the first time she was ever without work, but she needed the income. So she turned to what she had already been doing.

For the past 12 years, Deahl and her mother-in-law have been mass baking holiday cookies. As more people were added to the rounds, Deahl got up to baking 1,500 cookies in three days. "It was the passion that I never had time for," she says. So Deahl took a course on running a home baking business, and Banana Moon Baking Company was born.

Focusing on quality, often local, ingredients and freshness without preservatives, Deahl offers people the opportunity to eat homemade without having to make it themselves. On heavy teething days, Deahl might bake at 11pm. With calls to customers and dough mixing fit around naps and toddler classes, Deahl is able to create her own schedule. Deahl's mother-in-law has moved back to Kentucky now, but she gets regular cookie care packages and baby artwork.

The Opt-Out Generation
When Cale set out to start her own publicity firm, she was looking to grow as a businessperson, but also own her time. A colleague at the employer she was leaving e-mailed her Lisa Belkin's infamous article, "The Opt-Out Generation," from the October 26, 2003 New York Times Magazine. It talked about the trend of affluent, well-educated women leaving their high-powered jobs to stay home and raise families. "It felt discouraging at the time," Cale says. "My vision was not at all about sacrificing my career." Belkin's piece led to subsequent books and articles, and an important national conversation about the nature of women's work and the American workplace. In a follow-up story for the New York Times Magazine this summer, Judith Warner wrote: "The women of the opt-out revolution left the work force when the prevailing ideas about motherhood idealized full-time, round-the-clock, child-centered devotion." Warner revisits many of the original interviewees to learn that they often experienced feelings of lowered self-worth, difficulty reentering the workforce when children grew, and divorce. "When traditional gender arrangements were put into place, there was a subtle slide into inequality," Warner wrote.

But hidden in Belkin's article was also this less-discussed one-liner: "Women leave the workplace to strike out on their own at equally telling rates; the number of businesses owned or co-owned by women jumped 11 percent since 1997, nearly twice the rate of businesses in general." And that's the piece that many middle-class women live—those who can't afford to be without the second income, but who also can't afford to have their incomes just cover daycare. Or those who just don't want to stop working entirely.

Creating Community
Denise Summerford is an actor, and she was in a show Off-Broadway at the time that she was commuting daily from her home in the Hudson Valley to work in Manhattan. She realized that she was spending more time traveling than being with her three-year-old daughter. She knew she was lucky to be able to make a living doing what she loved, and she even won a prestigious Drama Desk Award for that show. "It was incredibly hard and fulfilling all at once," she says. "But I learned during that period that I could have it all, just not all at the same time." That's when she knew she needed a career shift and thoughts of opening a theater school started to occupy her mind. That direction had presented itself to her before, but it never seemed like the right moment. This time, Summerford borrowed library books and read up on starting an enrichment program. "It all seemed so daunting, but I decided to go for it."

Half Moon Theater School of the Arts in Poughkeepsie offers something unique to the kids of the Hudson Valley: serious training by people who have lived as actors. The faculty, including Summerford and her husband, have degrees in acting as well as professional experience. Summerford thinks this is important. She still performs, but, with the school and now two daughters in the mix, auditioning and getting that next role isn't the desperate experience that it was in the past. Instead, Summerford aims to give back and inspire the next generation of Broadway stars and theatergoers.

Creating community is what Jessica Walsh is interested in doing too. If you walk into her shop, Illuminated Baby, in Woodstock, at any given moment, you might just find her sitting on the floor, covered with babies. Mostly it's her own three-year-old daughter and the eight-month-old son of Asia Grant, another mom-preneur with the neighboring shop, Empty Spaces, a handmade furniture and decor store. Walsh and Grant often trade baby- and shop-sitting.

The shelves at Illuminated Baby are stocked with essentials (muslin blankets by aden + anais; Bummi's prefolds and covers), as well as handmade indulgences by locals (beautiful handknits by Woolthings, organic bibs by Kribbe Handmade, and wooden toy vehicles by AEWooden). "I want to make the transition into parenting easier by doing the research and carefully choosing quality products on the market," Walsh says.

Before becoming a mother, Walsh worked for 10 years as a mental health counselor with homeless and at-risk youth and young families. "It was during that time that I developed a passion for educating young mothers and working one-on-one to enhance the lives of both parent and child," she says. When her daughter was born, Walsh decided to stay home and focus on raising her. "The time spent with my daughter far exceeded the benefits of having a second income, especially when you consider the cost of child care," she says. But, sooner than she expected, Walsh craved that connection to community. She knew it would be difficult to find a job with the flexibility she desired. So the week before her daughter's first birthday, Walsh opened the doors of Illuminated Baby. She hopes it's a resource center for Hudson Valley families. You can ask Walsh about doula and child-care referrals, find out about a Mom's Night Out she's hosting, or sign up for workshops and progressive child development classes she's organizing. "Like many mompreneurs, I find myself up late, starring blurry-eyed at the computer as I make my way down my to-do list," she says. But she sleeps soundly, knowing that the items and opportunities she's offering are ones that will be passed down through the generations.

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