Real Mama: Cari Hollis

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting this mama on a trip to California and I can say without any hesitation that she’s one of the coolest people and mamas I have ever met! I know you’ll enjoy her story as much as I do.

Image by April Smith Photography

Tell us a little about yourself…

Who am I? This is always a difficult question for me to answer. I feel like I’m placing a personals ad trying to make friends or find a date. So here it goes.

I am so many things and so few all at once. I am a work-at-home-mama to my wonderful, silly, loveable son and married to my awesome, funny, loving best friend. My husband and I met 14 years ago, started dating three years later, and we were married four and a half years ago. We have so much fun together.

I love the color purple (like, it’s almost a bad obsession), dolphins, Disney, fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies, baking, books (and although I now use my Kindle, I still prefer the feel of a real book to actually turn the pages in my hand), pedicures, music (every year you can find us attending at least one Dave Matthews Band concert), Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (Starbucks, blech!), and my family and friends. I love to get our friends together for a BBQ or our annual Christmas party.

I’m a Taurus and definitely have the qualities that come along with it. I can be very stubborn and fiercely loyal.

I love my work as a newborn and family photographer. With my photographer hat on, I have the honor to capture such special moments in my clients’ lives; from their changing body, the birth of their new bundle, a newborn in his first few weeks of life, and then being able to watch that newborn grow into a toddler. I get to show people how truly beautiful they are and how magical life is.

I also love my work as CEO/co-founder of Mama Say What?!. For MSW, I get to fulfill another itch of mine. The mamas that are behind this site mean so much to me and the fact that we all get to work together and share our stories makes my heart happy.

Although life might get busy and hard at times, I love my life and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Image by April Smith Photography

Where is home?

I am a born and raised Valley Girl: The San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles). I live just about 10 miles from my childhood home.

What are your secrets to balancing life as a mama, loving wife, a WAHM and whatever else you manage to squeeze into a day?

I feel like I am still figuring this out.

Communication and compromise are definitely two of the key ingredients for everything to work. Life is ever changing, especially with a toddler, so it seems as soon as we are in a good routine, something changes.

I believe my biggest “mistake” was thinking that being a work-at-home-mom (WAHM) would be easy, that it would be something easily balanced along with everything else you have to do (taking care of a kid, keeping up the house, running errands, etc). Naps and bedtime are a WAHM’s friend! That is when I get the bulk of my work done. However, not everything I do can be done on my son’s schedule, so there are days when he watches a movie or plays by himself while I work. I sometimes look forward to the days that he will be in school for a few hours so I can have a set time to work. I especially think of those days when he refuses to nap or wakes up way too quickly.

My mother-in-law is also an amazing help. She comes over a few days a week after she is off work to play with N. They go for walks, play in the kiddie pool, color on our sliding glass door, etc. It gives me a few extra minutes to get some work done or run an errand and is giving N an awesome bond with his Nana. He adores her.

There are days that it’s especially hard, but in the long run it is also very rewarding. I love everything that I do.

With your business, how do you find time to let out your creative side with an active toddler?

Lately my creative self has been put into my work, with both Mama Say What?! and my photography business. I haven’t had time for much more.

Image by Danica G. Photography

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

I don’t have just one person that has been an inspiration to me; I have had many. If someone is in my life, I truly believe they have been put here for a reason. There are qualities I admire about many people. I take a little bit from every one of them and apply it to my life to become the woman, mama and wife I want to be.

What has been the best advice you’ve received as a mama and who did you get it from?

I have been given a ton of advice over the last three years. One of them that really sticks out is to trust your mama instinct. It was really hard for me to do in the beginning; trying to figure out breastfeeding, N having a severe case of jaundice, and the “threat” of one of the many newborn metabolic disorders. After the first month, it got easier. I still question myself sometimes, but when I really listen to my mama instinct, I know the direction I need to go or what needs to be done.

And who gave me that great advice? This wonderful group of mamas.

Image by Danica G. Photography

Are you the kind of mama you thought you’d be?

Yes and no. I have always been around kids, worked with them and have a brother who is 15 years younger than me, so, I kind of had an idea of what I was in for. Although in those first few months, I kept waiting for someone to come take him because it still felt like I was babysitting 24/7.

I will say that there were some things I said I would never do. I used to be that non-parent person that didn’t understand why parents did certain things. One of the biggest ones was co-sleeping. Turns out, it was one of my biggest lifesavers. Figuring out what works best for us and our little family has been really important to me.

I have not read a single parenting book. We just go by what works… and I have learned that everything I thought I would do/say/be isn’t necessarily what I do in the thick of it. And that makes me happy.

Do you have a mama mantra? Or something you find yourself repeating over and over when times are tough?

“This too shall pass.” Teething and sleep were our biggest struggles when N was an infant. Knowing that it wouldn’t last forever, especially when we were in the thick of it with no end in sight, was some comfort. Now that he’s a toddler, it’s my reminder that he is ever changing and tomorrow will be different.

What is your best piece of advice for new first time moms?

Live in the moment. We hear all the time to enjoy every moment; what I have realized is that I want to live in the moment and not let them all pass me by. There is no way that I have loved or enjoyed every moment of the last two and a half years, but I have done my best to appreciate the moments because they are fleeting. I remember when N first discovered flowers and wanted to stop to smell them everywhere we went. I would start to get frustrated, but when I “stopped to smell the flowers,” it made me slow down and live in the moment with my son and experience everything again with him. It’s one of the greatest gifts our children can give us.

Was your birth experience all that you had hoped it would be? If you could go back and change anything, what would it be?

This is hard… Is it all I had hoped it would be? Initially, no. I wanted badly to be able to experience labor and a natural, un-medicated delivery. My little man was breech early on and although I tried everything I could to get him to turn, he didn’t. My scheduled c-section went smoothly and I made everyone in the OR laugh, and became a hospital celebrity for a few days. There really isn’t anything I would change about the experience, because my little man was in control. However, I will do everything I can the next time around to have a VBAC and get the experience I desire. Check out N’s birth story here.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Hmmmm… I hope to be the mama of two kids. I hope to be living in a home that will be our forever home, or at least our home for our children to grow up and be happy.

I would love to still be a photographer, working with MSW, and hopefully find time in there to become a doula. I plan to go on field trips with my kids and have careers that will allow me to be present for them and their activities.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

I’d like to be able to wiggle my nose like Samantha on “Bewitched” to get everyday chores done. That way I can spend my time doing the things I really want to do!

Is there anything else you wish to share with the MSW audience? 

Remember the old saying, “it takes a village to raise a baby.” I truly believe that statement. Don’t take it all on yourself. You will get burnt out. Ask for help. I am sure many of your family and friends want to help you. Everyone needs a support system.

And always remember to take care of mama. We recently had a Mama’s Night Out with some of the MSW mamas and it was such a great night. We got to bond, chit chat, and have a grand time while our kiddos were at home. Taking care of you helps to make you the best mama, wife, and friend you can be.

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