Welcome to the podcast! In this introductory episode, get to know your host, Karen Stoteraux, and her “why” for starting The Family Room, a modern, inclusive space for expecting parents and young families to learn, find support, and be real – and the podcast and what you can expect from it. Karen also talks with her friends about their first Mommy and Me class over 15 years ago, what they learned, and what life has been like since.
Interesting fact: In Pasadena, SB 1383 allows you to put bagged food waste in your lawn and garden trash can. This bill sets goals to reduce the disposal of organic waste in landfills, including edible food.
Books referenced: The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman and The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd.
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Welcome To The Podcast!
Welcome to We Are The Family Room, a show for expecting parents and young families to learn, find support, and be real during one of the biggest transitions of your life. Like our two physical locations in Los Angeles, we hope this is a space that makes you feel a little less alone in your parenting journey and a lot like you’re doing amazing. My name is Karen Stoteraux. I will be your host.
I am so excited to be launching this show with the awesome The Family Room team. Many of you know me and my story, but for those who don’t, it is nice to meet you. I thought that since this is episode one, we should start at the beginning. First is the backstory. I’m the Owner and Founder of The Family Room. I am from the East Coast. I’m originally from outside of Philadelphia. I went to college in Philly and spent a few years in New York City, and then Boston before landing in Los Angeles.
I’m married to my husband, James, a screenwriter. We have three daughters: Audrey, Colette, and Evelyn. Colette and Evelyn are fraternal twins. I’m also the third girl in my family, so I’ve always been surrounded by strong women. I’m often asked why I started The Family Room. Not surprisingly, it is directly related to my experience as a mom. I had my oldest daughter, Audrey, years ago in Boston. I have a full-blown teenager.
My sister, Stephanie, encouraged me to join a Mommy and Me class. I made friends in that class that would become like family. I don’t know what I would have done without them. While navigating early motherhood, I went through a pretty terrible separation and divorce. I’m happy to share more about my divorce and being a single mom in later episodes as I know my story has helped others.
It was a toxic and terrible time. The friends I made at that class, in the building where I lived, and in my neighborhood, shout-out to Charlestown, all helped me get through it. I eventually moved to LA as a single mom with my then three-year-old daughter to be close to my sister. I later remarried James. After I got pregnant with the twins, I was looking for a place. I went back to Boston and was shocked. There was nothing in my local community. The community I made as a first-time mom felt like a giant gift.
Between the gaping hole and need for support for parents, especially moms, my desire to do something more fulfilling and support women, and the need to have more control over my schedule and so much more, I took the giant leap and started The Family Room. I will get into more of the how and why of The Family Room in later episodes.
I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room. I’m a middle-aged White woman named Karen. It’s unfortunate. I tried to be the most un-Karen-like person I can possibly be. I’ve always been transparent and shared my beliefs because when you put your name, your face, or your heart and soul into something like I have with The Family Room, it’s hard to see the line between personal and business because there isn’t one. It’s an extension of your core beliefs. I do believe that Black Lives Matter, that people should be able to love and marry whoever they want, that we live on stolen land taken from indigenous people, that science is real, and so many more things that aligned with equity and caring for humanity at large.
For some random stuff about me, I love musicals but especially Les Mis. I play that soundtrack a lot. It makes James and the kids a bit crazy. For some reason, it sounds better to me loud. I’m also a big sports fan and have been my whole life. As a kid, I received box sets of baseball cards as Christmas gifts. I generally start my day listening to First Take on ESPN if I can. I have opinions. I’m pretty passionate about my teams. Maybe one day I’ll start a sports podcast.
This is random but if you ask me, “What did you Google search most?” the answer would be about composting. My sister, Jen, and I had been talking about the different options and services for a while. She sent me a link to a new law, SB 1383. I only know about this because I’m researching it. This is in California. In Pasadena, you can put bagged food waste in your lawn garden trashcan. I’m super excited about it.
One of my favorite books that I read was The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. I highly recommend it. It has a lot of themes about what it means to be a mother. Her writing is beautiful and the story is equally so. Another one of my very favorite books is The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman. Do you know when you’re reading a good book, and you stop and reread a passage because you’re like, “How could anyone capture feelings or a moment so perfectly in words?” That is what it felt like reading The World That We Knew.
You may be wondering what you can expect from the show. These are some things I know for sure. I will interview our team of awesome educators on topics you care about and bring in special guest experts too. We know there are lots of ways to do things. While we will provide research-based information, we always want you to listen to your gut and do what works best for your family.
This show may change, evolve, and hopefully get better but that will never change. Since this story started in a Mommy and Me class in Boston, I thought it would be fun to start the show by talking with two of my dear friends from that class about what it was like, what we learned, and what life has been like since.
I am so excited to be joined by two of my dear friends from the Mommy and Me class, Erin Sullivan.
How are you?
I’m great. How are you?
I’m good. Nancy Mullally.
I’m so happy to see you.
The three of us met in our Mommy and Me class. Since The Family Room’s story started the day I walked into that class, I thought it would be fun to talk about our experiences, and how our friendship has grown and changed over all those years because our children are shockingly fifteen, which is crazy. Do either of you remember our first class?
I remember a few things about our first class.Being with other new moms who know exactly how you feel is important. Click To Tweet
I remember there was one fussy infant in the class. The mom was stressed out about it. Our teacher was great about jumping in and trying to help, and be there for that child and for that mom. She ended up holding the infant for the mom so that she could have a little bit of a break. Nancy, do you remember that?
Not really. Everything is a bit fuzzy for that time period. I’m not going to lie.
Erin, I remember it because she didn’t give the teacher the baby until you were like, “You should hand over the baby.” It looked like she needed a break. The teacher kept asking her, “I’m happy to take the baby. Let me take the baby from you.” She was reluctant to do it. Until you said, “You should give her the baby,” that’s when she did it.
It’s a good example of peer support of needing someone else to tell her, “It’s okay. Give her the baby.” She instantly felt relieved to hear that from somebody else. I remember the first class because I came in late. I can’t believe you don’t remember this. I got locked out that morning. It was a total disaster. I got locked out but that wasn’t the worst part. I didn’t have my nipple shield with me. As a nursing mom with a baby with a Tongue-tie when they did not snip them back in the day, that was the only way you could feed your baby.
I remember sitting down and crying, being like, “I’m going to be so late. This is a disaster. I can’t do it,” and waiting for my awesome neighbor, Shawn, upstairs to come home. He had an extra key. I was getting to class late, being that mom who walks into classes halfway over, and being like, “Sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt. I’m trying to find a seat.” I remember that I sat next to you, Erin. Nancy, I remember you were in the corner because I only remember you in class bouncing Dave on a ball. I never remember you doing anything else in class other than bouncing him on a ball.
You were sitting on the ball, Nancy, not Dave.
The two of us were bouncing.
You bounced him a lot.
I’m sure that was more like I’m nervous. I need to move my body and do something. That was maybe a good way to do it. I might be making that up.
He liked to be in motion as most babies do.
I do vividly remember that once I got into class, I had to introduce myself late. I missed everyone else’s introductions and all that stuff. When I got to the part of the story where I was like, “I didn’t have my nipple shield,” everyone gasped. It was like, “I’m in the right place.” You feel like, “This is exactly where I need to be.” That was reassuring to be with a bunch of other new moms who knew exactly how I was feeling. That was so important at that time. It’s an important thing about what we do at The Family Room.
The biggest point of the class for me was trying to figure out what’s normal, what’s not normal, and what is happening. I’ve never had a baby. I’ve never been around babies until I had my own, which is scary in itself. What is normal? What are all these things that are happening? To go to that class and hear everyone tell all these crazy stories, I’m like, “Maybe this isn’t so crazy. Maybe my child is relatively normal.” It made a huge difference.
I said in the beginning that our children are all fifteen. You are still in Boston, I’m all the way in LA, and we’re still all good friends. That is also a testament to that transitional period in your life and how you connect with certain people. That transcends so many years later because we still call each other and talk about our teenagers.
It’s crazy that they’re teenagers. It goes faster than I thought it would. That’s for sure.Every day is very long when your child is still tiny. Enjoy every minute because it all goes so fast. Click To Tweet
Yet every day is still very long when they’re tiny. I want to acknowledge that because I know that when my kids were little, moms would be like, “They grow so fast.” I wanted to punch them because I’m like, “It doesn’t. It’s not fast. They have been up for eighteen hours. This is not fast.”
This is even worse. You enjoy every minute when they say that because it goes so fast. You’re like, “This isn’t enjoyable, not at this moment.” Looking back though, we have so many fond memories of being in class together. I remember always after class going and getting giant milkshakes, burgers and fries, which was part of the best part. In California, they don’t do that. There are a lot of other options, but one of our only options was cheeseburgers, French fries, and milkshakes. We would all walk there after class. Is that place still around?
I don’t know if that place is still there, but we would walk there with our buckets. We have the kids in the buckets, and then we were all sitting at a table.
We take over the whole place. It was so fun. I wish we could go back.
For the record, it was a higher-end burger place. This isn’t like we were walking over to McDonald’s. These were good burgers and milkshakes. This was before Five Guys and all those other places. This was an actual good restaurant. It’s not there anymore. I don’t remember the name either. I remember all of the times that we spent together outside of classes almost more than I remember the actual classes, but the actual classes are what got us there.
That’s such a good point, Nancy. I do remember time spent with you, baby Dave, and your husband on St. Patrick’s Day outside of class. I was working part-time. Karen, you, me, Matthew, and Audrey would hang out and go to the park or go to the Children’s Museum in Boston. Whatever activity we could have to spend time with another adult during the day was so helpful. I remember more of that than what we talked about during the actual classes.
I have that memory, Erin, of when Matthew had this huge explosion. You looked at me because it got all over him and all over you honestly and said to me, “Is he wearing a diaper?” I didn’t know you that well. I was like, “I don’t know what happened.”
I never should have had baked beans the night before.
You were covered. I thought it was hilarious, but the teacher was so sweet. She said, “This is a nice reminder of the fact that you should have a change of clothes for yourself in your car as well as for your baby.” Erin, you needed it. It was funny. It’s those types of moments where you’re like, “Is he wearing a diaper?” You asked me. I was like, “I don’t know because it’s not working if he is.”
The diaper was completely empty. He had poop all over his legs, his belly, and up his back. It was all over me because we were sitting in a circle around the room. I do remember that. I remember coming back to the circle all hot and sweaty and stressed out like, “What do these moms think of me? I’m the worst mother ever. I’m covered in poop.” That was pretty crazy.
From all those moments and then the times hanging out of class, our friendship grew and changed. I credit you so much for supporting me during one of the hardest times in my life when I was a new mom and also going through a divorce and had no family in the area. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without the two of you. Your support through that was so huge. Erin, the first time I ever left Audrey was with you to go see a divorce attorney.
The bonds that we formed and support with each other through the good times and bad times over the years were such a giant gift. It’s not normalizing parenthood and having fun at the Boston Science Museum, but being there for each other. We have been there through postpartum depression, deaths, and other divorces, not just mine. I’ve only had one. Erin had one. To clear that up, Nancy is still married. It sounded like I had a lot of them, which is fine too. I’m so happily married now. It goes back to that support system that you need and how we have always been there for each other. I’m thankful for that.
There’s something about meeting someone when you’re in such a vulnerable place in your life, and meeting other people that are also in that same vulnerable place that almost launches a friendship or a relationship in a different way than it would if you meet them at work or you meet them through another friend. You’ve all been thrown into the fire together. We’re making our way out of the fire or helping each other through all different fires over time. There’s something about starting that way that makes it such a different friendship and probably also why it has lasted so long.
I’ve said this to you before. We all started a new job that none of us knew how to do at the same time. We relied so heavily on each other and other folks that we met at that period in our lives to help us understand what was normal and what was not normal. It helped to answer so many questions that we all had as we were learning this new job of motherhood.
We’re still learning it in different ways.
We always will be. That’s what’s so nice because we have known each other and our babies since they were 6 six weeks old, 8 weeks old, or something like that. They were super tiny. As they get bigger and have different challenges, we still are able to share the new phases and normalize their teenage behavior and things that we are now dealing with.The friendships you develop during a Mommy and Me class can support you during the hardest times of your life. Click To Tweet
Back in the day, I was saying, “Is it normal that he pooped all over me and not in his diaper?” Now, I’m calling you both up to be like, “Is it normal that my teenager said X, Y and Z, or didn’t do his homework?”
I didn’t know what example you were going to give, so I was a little worried. I was like, “What is she going to say?”
I’m very unpredictable. It’s a journey. I’m keeping it G-rated. The questions keep changing over time. I feel grateful for our friendship. I have you as resources that I can call up. I’m grateful for our different time zones because, Karen, I’ve got three extra hours with you to reach you and say, “Is this normal?” It helps to be able to bounce it off other people who are going through the same chapter.
I have known you and your baby for so long. They’re still our babies.
The families you see now and the parents are so different from when we started our motherhood journey years ago. Technology has come so far. We’ve got a global pandemic. It’s a different world. I have to think some of the issues are the same but it’s a different world as well.
There are so many underlying issues with identity and isolation as a new mom that carry through to moms now. Sometimes it can feel even worse. The difference between when I had Audrey and the twins were 6 and a half years or 7 years. What happened in those 6 and a half or 7 years was social media and the iPhone. Moms have access to so many opinions and information that it can be hard to then trust your gut. When we had our firstborns, we had each other and maybe our moms or friends that had babies before us.
There was also less pressure to do it a certain way based on what you’re constantly seeing. That’s hard for parents now. We had our flip phones. We couldn’t capture every moment because you wouldn’t want to on that terrible phone. Although at the time, it felt great and cool. The pandemic has put parents to their limits. It has been hard for so many but thankfully, it looks like we will be out of this sooner rather than later. We have learned to adapt also. We have our postpartum support group online. There are more parents in there than ever. We find ways to connect differently.
It’s great that you’re able to do that. That’s huge.
It’s so needed. What hasn’t changed and what will always be there is the need for connection. What we were doing years ago that moms are still doing is looking to connect. That human connection when you’re going through such a giant change or transition is critical to feeling less isolated, alone, and honestly okay because you need those anchors that you can hold onto.
Over the last few years, so few people now live in the area where they grew up. They don’t have that built-in community. They don’t even have their parents in many cases. I’ve never been to the same city as my parents as a parent. There’s such a huge need for building a new community because you don’t have that as our parents probably did or the generations before that. Figuring out ways to bring people together is so important.
I live in a town that I didn’t grow up in and I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t even meet that many people until my kids were in school because it was so hard. There weren’t that many activities for littles. When I found this class, it was awesome. You all lived in different towns, which was great, but it was still hard because I didn’t have anyone or a neighbor per se. It was tough. Finding ways to make connections continues to be so important because we are all so far away from our people in many cases.
It’s connections not just for us but also for our kids. We moved when Audrey was three, but Dave and Matthew were probably each other’s oldest friends or their first friends. It’s such a nice touchpoint for them.
Having moved, I was going through some old boxes of photos that weren’t on my phone. They were actual photos with every birthday party, included your kids up to the age longer since you and Audrey moved away. It was so cool to see. Nancy, I found a picture of our kids, Matthew, Dave, and the girls. Nancy and I both have girls who are about a year and a half younger than the boys.
It was their first sleepover. I’ll have to send that to you. They might have been sitting on the dining room table. It was a good picture. They were eating breakfast but they were being silly in the picture. It was fun to look back at that as I was going through these old photos. Your kids are embedded in the thread of my life and my kids’ lives. It’s cool to see.There are so many underlying issues with identity and isolation as a new mom. Click To Tweet
It felt like a giant gift. We have the first day of class all the time, which is awesome, but when the new series meet, everyone comes in generally nervous. That’s often the first time they have left the house with the baby by themselves. They’re meeting new people. They’re in that vulnerable place. I instantly go back to how that felt. It’s so relatable. I often think, “Who’s going to be your Erin and Nancy?” It is sweet. I think about you all the time in that way because that’s what’s happening every day here at The Family Room. It’s people finding their Erin and Nancy. I’m so glad I found mine.
The fact that you made The Family Room happen is phenomenal. People say all the time, “Someday I’m going to do that. I’m going to start this company to do that,” but how many people do that within a pretty close timeframe from when they said they wanted to do it? I remember you talking about it and thinking about it, “I’m going to leave this job. It’s not making me happy. I want to start this company. Do you remember this place we went to?” I’m like, “That’s an awesome idea.” A couple of years later, there it is. It’s so great. It makes me happy knowing that you are facilitating these relationships for many other families. It’s huge. Congratulations.
Thank you for saying that. You’re so sweet. James always says, “For better or worse.” Once I get an idea in my head, it’s happening. They’re not always good ideas but sometimes they are. It goes back to how important my relationships with you were in those days and feeling like I wanted to help create that for other people because it’s not just about the good times. It was a huge transition for me on so many levels. Call your mom army when you need people to show up for you because they do. Everyone needs one.
We are so proud of you, Karen. You had a vision. To watch you over these past many years start from scratch and then two locations, the amazing teachers you’ve hired, the people you are bringing together, and the community that you are building, both Nancy and I are in awe and incredibly proud of you.
I remember talking to you early on when you had this vision coming up with your business plan. You did all this research. What you kept coming back to from my perspective was there’s nothing like this out there. We need this. For all these families, there’s nowhere to go. There was this huge unmet need. You have filled such an important need in the community. I’m proud of you. The community is lucky to have you. Congrats.
You’re so sweet. Thank you. I’m launching a new adventure, my show. You are right back there with me helping to bring this to life too. I wanted to thank you so much for your time and for talking about what it was like on our first days, and how far we have come as friends and parents together. It’s all special.
Are we going to launch a Teen Family Room?
Maybe. I always say that we’re growing with our families.
It’s a new chapter.
There are different challenges but it’s still awesome.
It was our pleasure. You are doing amazing work, our friend.
Thank you for having us. We are honored.
Hugs and love to both of you.
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