Leeloo is a trailblazing Rebel Girl, on her way to making positive change in the future. But behind her, is a Rebel Mama who made it all happen, simply by trusting her gut.
This isn’t so much a story of Leeloominai – the 9 year old Toronto artist with a t-shirt business under her belt (www.leeloodles.com), as it is about the Momager that keeps the whole family in check and whose wisdom undeniably needs to be shared with the class.
We didn’t know each other well when we met up for this feature; I had only met Diana once before at a friend’s photography show (naturally), but I have a feeling we’ll be hanging a lot more in these East Toronto parts.
So here’s to an inspiring woman, mother and new friend.
PS: please excuse these photos for being out of season. It was “Spring”
Diana lives in Toronto with her man Ryne and three girls:
– Leeloominai (9), based on the character Leeloo from Luc Besson’s 1997 film “The Fifth Element”.
– Daenerys (5), she was born in the year of the Dragon, so it was only fitting that we named her after the character Daenerys Targaryen from “Game of Thrones”.
– Kanéda (1), based on the character from manga comic turned anime film, “Akira”.
Note: Most badass names ever.
You decided to take the plunge and plow through motherhood in your early twenties, against everyone’s advice. How did that roll out?
I’m the eldest of 4, first generation Canadian with a very traditional Vietnamese upbringing. From an early age, I was “programmed” by my parents — to nurture my younger siblings and help out around the home (basically be a miniature “house wife”). By the time I was 11, I was helping my parents raise my (then) newborn sister, Renée. Renée really paved the way to my many experiences ahead. With that being said, I knew by the time I was in my early teens that I would be prepared for motherhood when the time came. Motherhood never frightened me really, it was something I was certain I would be great at.
How did those first few years on the job shape you?
Motherhood has been quite a feat, to say the very least. The decision between Work & Motherhood vs Motherhood only, was something I flip-flopped back and forth on a million times as a new mother. I took my mat leave and then took an additional year off, only to not go back. I opted out of work and traveled with Ryne (he was touring a lot at the time as a DJ) & Leeloo for the first 2 years of her life. I learned a lot as a person, a partner and a mother in that span. It was pretty simple to be honest, the baby moon phase eventually fizzles out and reality hits you like a ton of bricks.
I knew I had to work again but 9-5 didn’t cut it, so I did many odd jobs here and there in order to maintain being a full-time mother. I made things easier on myself by refraining to bring work home, which gave me more time to be with my family, stress free.
Leeloo is obviously the star of the show with her *brilliant* t-shirt line, so how do you keep her ego in check amidst all the attention?
I think that even though she’s garnered all kids of attention lately, it really hasn’t changed what we would be dealing with a this stage of her development… I mean, she is pre-teening now, so her attitude and tone needs some constant maintenance checks… But what parent doesn’t deal with that? We try our best to keep her in line overall by continually reminding her to be a positive role model for her sisters and peers, as well as being a positive and creative influence on her community, based on what she has always loved to do, DRAW and be herself.
With helping Leeloo bring her artistic aspirations to life, you’re empowering her on a whole other level, all while her younger siblings watch.
All I know is that since Leeloodles became a thing, Leeloo’s hidden characteristics have shined through. Her confidence level has increased. She’s more involved in class room discussions, not afraid to ask questions and more socially engaging with her peers. These traits have now reflected onto her younger sister Daenerys and amplified her fearlessness. Daenerys was a late bloomer as an artist. Leeloo has really inspired the artist in her to come out. Daenerys regularly (like 12 times a day, not exaggerating) doodles heart melting portraits of herself for me. I probably have a 12 tonne bucket filled with the same doodles. I’ve been hoarding doodles from the time any of them were able to pick up a pencil/crayon/sharpie.
I look forward to see how Kanéda will come to all this. She is the very reason why Leeloodles even exist.
My girls will be a force to reckon with, mark my words!
You have now been a mama for 10 years, which means heavy duty sacrifices along the way. How are you balancing keeping yourself , your family and your relationship on the right track?
I’ve really grown from the person I was when I first had Leeloo. Most importantly, I learned to ask for help when needed, especially if it’s at your disposal (just take it). My parents, Ryne’s parents, my siblings and friends (who I consider as my secondary family) have really been my backbone and helped me to become a stronger person (they’ve also prevented me from pulling out all my hair a few times). I try my best to stay as positive as possible and to steer clear from negative vibes; there really is no use for that energy. When Ryne and I are frustrated, we are not afraid to show that emotion around our girls. It reminds them that we are human. We go through struggles day in and night out as individuals and as a couple. When we work things out, we’re teaching out kids that there is always a solution to a problem – you’ve just got to work to find it.
I also can’t stress enough, how important it is to have a healthy relationship with your partner and maintaining a healthy social life. I don’t know why so many mothers believe that it’s not allowed. As moms, we are constantly working for our kids. Why do so many mothers feel guilty for having fun? We bust our asses off – it’s hard work! So yes, I’ll have another bottle of wine, please.
My favourite thing to do is date night a.k.a. playing Ultimate Frisbee with Ryne. (I should add, it’s a very common couples sport. We’ve played against/together with couples in their 40’s to 60’s. Not only do you stay healthy and active together, it creates a strong mental chemistry on & off the field.) Also, social gatherings with my second family (with or without the kids) whether it be a famjam that involves a game of ‘Mafia’, or a night out in the city. Being in good company is always a breath of fresh air.
When you have three kids, it’s best to keep luxuries simple. Simplicity keeps you happy!
You’re attitude is as calm, cool and collected as it is fearless, positive and inspiring. What do you value the most and in turn, what do you want your girls to know?
There is so much as person I want them to value – so much more because they’re girls. I want them to know their own self-worth and I hope that with age, they’ll only get more comfortable with their confidence. I’ve learned the hard way that you can sometimes fail, cry and get hurt, but you can’t allow those emotions to stop you from chasing down your goals and aspirations. This is something I hope they’ll apply over a course of their lives. The fear of the unknown is fine, but as long as they are willing to take that risk, then they haven’t failed at seeking out the reward.
Both you and your man managed to stay true to yourselves and each other throughout a decade of having children… there’s something to be said for that.
In the first couple of years I had Leeloo, I bottled a lot of emotions up. I didn’t know how to express them or who to express them to. I got submerged into a dark place and blamed a lot of how I felt on Ryne – only because he never asked how I was or assisted me as a co-parent at the time. All my friends were still in their early to mid 20’s and busy being young. I didn’t want to burden them with how I really felt as a new mother. Plus, I knew none of them would relate to my situation. I’m the first to admit that I actually did lose my pre-parent self in the mix and it sucked. I managed to find myself again though, over a course of many bad drunken nights out, lots of fierce arguments with Ryne and an on-going battle within myself. With the help of Ryne, we both made it a prerogative to learn how to separate family, me time and couple time. I can’t stress it enough but it is so important to learn how to do that in order to have a successful relationship with yourself, your partner and your family.
You and Ryne chose not to marry, despite being young parents with a traditional upbringing.
When I was younger I always imagined having a typical wedding. Never a dream, more like, “I guess that’s what people do, so I’ll do it too” type of thing.
When I found out I was pregnant, my Mother instantly insisted on marriage. Ryne’s Mother shared the same sentiments. I started asking myself, WHY? Do I need to get married because I am with child? NO! Do I need to prove to Ryne that I love him? NO, hello – I’m having his child! Will Leeloo be confused? NO, Ryne and I will show her everyday what married life is without the paperwork.
Where do I stand on marriage today? I am not legally married but I am married. I have what many (lucky) married people have: A great partner who makes me laugh everyday. Three healthy and lively girls. A messy home. A pet fish. A gas guzzling family SUV. And even a ring on my finger. What else do I need in order to prove that I am married?
Friends often ask, if Ryne were to ever propose, would you say yes? I think the answer is pretty obvious at this point. 100% yes. But I do not want the glitz & glamour at all. I would just use the wedding as a huge excuse to party with all my family & friends.
Whether my own girls decide to get married or not, I’ll be happy either way – as long as they’re happy.
If you had to preach some philosophies that are most important in your home – what would they be?
I feel like I need to answer this question in poem form… But since I suck at that, I’ll just go with the first few things that comes to mind:
It’s ok to go to bed angry, as long as you talk it out within a reasonable time frame.
Learn to admit wrong doings.
Feelings get hurt, just don’t rub them in.
Always end things off with a warm and genuine embrace.
What are some of the most vital lessons you’ve learned from motherhood?
Many of my friends and acquaintances have come to me for advice on what to prepare for as a mother. I tell it to them as is. I tell them the truth. I can’t tell any new mother what to prepare for. Every child is so different. Heck, I had three and holy cow were they all so different yet so similar.
Just take each new day with a long deep breath and know that:
– It’s ok to have leftovers 2 days in a row.
– Socks don’t need to match.
– Ask for help, it’s ok.
– Cry in front of your kids; if there favourite superheroes can cry, why can’t you?
– If your baby finds a Cheerio under the sofa from a month ago and eats it, think of it as an immune booster.
Challenges are the name of the game when you’re a parent. What’s your current one and how are you dealing?
Man oh man, I’d have to say juggling Leeloodles one day pop-up events. Let’s say the event is from 10am-5pm. We normally have to arrive an hour prior to the event, so 9am. For me, I must be up by 6:30-7am (which *by no choice of my own* is normal). I have to prep Kanéda’s baby stuff (lots of food and snacks, diapers, extra clothes, toys, blah, blah, blah) and Daenerys’ things too. All at the same time, Kanéda wakes up and I have to prep breakfast for everyone. Did I mention Ryne probably worked the night before? He DJs weekends, so he normally gets home around 3:30am. I let him sleep otherwise his blood pressure will rise and I won’t hear the end of it. We all must be packed up and ready to go by 8:30am (depending on location of event) and to head over to Grandma Jenny’s to drop the kids off. That is just the tip of the iceberg, a short detailed version of how crazy a pop-up day goes, followed by school the next day. We usually suffer a “pop-up” hangover – very similar to a regular hangover but no alcohol (womp womp). The repercussions last for about 2-3 days. We get over it and then repeat that whole process again. I am most grateful for my Mother and sister.
What’s one thing people may not know about you?
I really enjoy painting. I just can’t find the time to do it anymore. It’s been a really long time. I have an incomplete painting of a mama hippo and her calf. I really should finish it one day.
Any words of advice for new moms or mothers of girls?
Prior to motherhood, I heard all these clichés. “Motherhood is a magical thing!”, “Your friends will change”, “Time will fly by” or my fave, “You’re going to do just fine!”
I then told myself I wouldn’t give into that bullshit propaganda and just do me! Please don’t believe everything you read and hear, even if your own Mother said she read it on Facebook.
Lastly, what does being part of the Rebel Mama community mean to you?
I am so happy that there is even a community now. It’s about time like-minded mothers came together instead of passing judgment all the time on one another. I know it’s early to think this, but I look forward to the day my girls plan on having their own kids knowing that there is a network of Rebel Mamas out there.
All photos by Aleksandra Jassem