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Balancing it all - how one tech innovator works it as an inventor AND a mother

With three teenagers at home - Max, 18, Miles, 16, and Jill, 14, you’d think balancing home life with a start-up would be elusive. But for Amy Baxter, paediatrician turned tech innovator and entrepreneur, it’s all part of the fun.


Amy’s company, MMJ Labs, developed their inaugural product, Buzzy®, in 2006 in an effort to reduce or eliminate injection pain and “needle-phobia”. As a physician herself, she saw first-hand the mental and physical suffering that accompanied injections, especially for children.

She set out to create a reusable product that could provide pain relief, drug-free. in time, and with the help of research and development funding, she launched Buzzy®, a palm-sized device that uses both vibration and cold to combat pain. When the device is placed “between the brain and the pain”, the competing sensations confuse the brain, effectively inhibiting or totally eliminating pain.

Now, Buzzy® is in over 5,000 hospitals, has sold over 75,000 units, and has been used by over a quarter million individuals.

It’s truly a success story, and one that is deeply rooted in the urge Amy has to reduce the suffering of her patients, and indeed the world.

I had honor of sitting down with Amy via Skype recently. I was struck by her wit, thoughtful responses and razor-sharp intelligence. Amy took me through the journey that led her from doctor to CEO, and how finding balance has not always been easy.

When you started “Buzzy”, what dream did you have for how your life would eventually look?

Honestly I though getting Buzzy® into hospitals would take three years tops, and that I would do medicine part time and then eventually go back to it full-time. When I started, I didn’t intend for it to be the family business, and eventually my only job.

I created a prototype of the device to help my children not have pain during their shots. I was a an emergency doctor and I started to get very anxious while working in the emergency department because I couldn’t use the device on the kids screaming in the emergency room; it wasn’t FDA cleared at the time. It was just a little prototype made of cellphones and electrical tape. That anxiety of having a solution but not being able to give it to my patients is what propelled me into the business.

What would you say your company’s core belief is?

Part of why people have stayed with me, is that we to our core, ethically, feel like it’s not right for people to have to pay for a disposable item when they have a chronic health problem.

I invented Buzzy® for vaccines, so people can get fully vaccinated without the pain that causes needle-phobia. With that said, we found that the people who are our biggest fans are families with kids who have diabetes, with growth hormone, women who are trying to get pregnant. Making a device that is disposable for that is really feeding off the vulnerable. So ethically, that matters to all of us.

On Shark Tank they wanted me to make it disposable. That was a big part of why I turned them down. They wanted me to sell it only to hospitals. That would be undercutting and stopping taking care of those who have been our core.

We are a passion and a purpose, as well as a company.

At what point did you feel like you “made it” and what did your life look like then?

There was a moment where I saw the trajectory of Buzzy® working and being acknowledged in hospitals and homes, and spreading everywhere. I saw that vision at one point, standing in my kitchen and thought, “this is really going to work.” but it didn’t feel like a success until I went on Shark Tank, and felt like everything was going to be great from here on out. After that, we had the worst year of our history!

The moment where I saw the path to success, and then the feeling I had watching my kids get into the limo to watch the screening of Shark Tank, in some ways both of those moments were mythical. So there wasn’t a specific moment where I felt “We’ve made it,” or “We’ve arrived.” I feel that way now, though. I feel like we’ve arrived fully.

When things started to get really busy for Buzzy initially, what did that look like in terms of balancing work and home life?

I have sifted my family into this business at every step of the process from testing the first prototype on them in our living room, to having them help me take apart cell phones so we can figure out what causes vibration, to having them pack up Buzzys® and work at trade shows early on.

The experience that the kids have had, seeing that you can create a device with your own hands and then expand into an actual business, that has been the best part of the balance.

We were in my basement up until two years ago, so I was always available to have an emergency consultation, I could check in with them and see what their emotions were after school. Nine times out of ten they would be fine, but that tenth time, when somebody had a bad day and we have to deal with it right now, that was an important part of the work/life balance - being available.

I still work really close to home. So if I need to pick somebody up from school or drop off something they forgot it’s easy to do. But I think overall, part of the balance was about incorporating them into the work itself whenever possible, then continuing to be in close proximity to be able to respond to their needs as soon as they arose.

The other things is, anytime I have a business travel opportunity, I’ll take one kid with me. I’ve brought them to New York, London, Mexico, all these exotic places.

What challenges do you face as an entrepreneur trying to find that balance?

I don’t think that I have it figured out yet, and I don’t actually think it’s something that you can figure out. I’m one of those people that say, “You can have everything, but you can’t have it all at the same time.”

The illusion of balance is not the reality. 

There are times when I’ve missed critically important life events because I’ve been out of town. There are times where I have been torn inside because I have to do a phone call or I have so much to get done and my children are irritating me.

You can talk about the balance and the way it looks from the outside. But we should all give ourselves permission to realize that the balance comes in retrospect. But at the time it will often feel profoundly unbalanced.

So long as you pay attention to the quality of the time you spend with your kids, and try to keep an eye out for opportunities to incorporate them when possible, I think those are the best tips.

Do you have a “village” around you, a support system?

Unquestionably. I live in a very tight community. My husband, who is a child psychiatrist, works three quarter time. So he really wrangles the kids while I do the business.

The other things is that there is a really great community of women in business. I have made my business with an all-woman team because we all appreciate the need for emergency cupcake runs, and the flexibility and transparency are the best parts of the job. So we are a whole company built on this culture of “family first”, making sure our children grow up healthy and whole. We give up opportunity cost for that, but we have more balance.

Why is finding that balance important to you?

Jackie Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

Being able to give my kids the best philosophical approach to how and why they need to serve others, how and why they need to do something that will give back to humanity, has always been important to me.

My paradigm for what matters has been, “What can you do in life that will elevate others, and decrease suffering?”

To be able to give my kids not just the burden of needing to do something huge but to show them that when you find a passion that fits your knowledge or your interests, you’re going to be doing good. You just need to stick with it.

From a family standpoint, the medium is the message. Living by example, here is what I think is important, and I love you no matter what, and you don’t need to feel the obligation to be doing something like I’m doing but you do need to have some discipline and be able to work hard.

How important is confidence in running a company?

Communicating efficiently takes confidence, but passion is also important. Sometimes someone will be passionate about something but lack confidence, and really believing in something will GIVE them the confidence that they perhaps don’t have in other parts of their life.

I am suspicious of people who have a lot of confidence with no substance, but if you have passion, you will have confidence.

How does being a mother affect how you run your business?

One of the big things is that I will not tolerate working with jerks. When you’re a mom you try to teach your kids not to tolerate bullies, and to protect people around you if someone else is being bullied. So in the business world I am positive that I am much less tolerant of people with aggressive or belittling sales and business techniques.

I also think that moms are so much better at helping each other and seeing what needs to be done, that it makes for a great startup team when you hire all moms. We all have our own assigned jobs, but we are willing to jump in and help each other when we need to.

Do you have any one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring lady bosses?

There are actually three pieces of advice I have.

First, everything you say “Yes” to is something you say “No” to.

Women have a hard time saying, “No” But start framing saying, “Yes” as thinking about what you have to give up to commit to that. It might be time with your children, it might be the ability to have a half an hour to wind down and get your sanity back. If you say, “Yes” to something you are saying “No” to something else. That will empower you to say, “No” to things when you realize you don’t want to make that trade off.

Second, lift each other up.

It is very difficult in business because women in my generation and a little older would often want to be the only woman in the room. They didn’t feel constrained by being a woman in business because they were playing like a man.

We need to play like women.

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We need to understand where each other are, we need to pitch in and support each other, and we need to have a sensitivity to what’s going on around us with other women, to support everybody in the village.

...and number three?

Just because you’re the best person for the job doesn’t obligate you to do the job.

Volunteerism is another form of saying “Yes”. And when we do something because we think we’ll do it best, it’s like with your kids and having them clean up their room. Sometimes, even if someone isn’t doing it the “best”, it’s about the long strategy.

In business you’ll be tempted to micromanage because you can do it better. Just because you can do it the best doesn’t obligate you to do it.

What does “Motherly” mean to you?

I think being motherly is being loving and strong enough not to do things for your children that they can do themselves.

There are studies that look at different aspects of parenting, being warm vs being cool, being authoritative vs being wimpy. And the best parents are authoritative. They are very warm, but very firm. So to me being motherly is smiling around a corner looking at your child getting frustrated trying to fix something, and waiting until the child fixes it themselves and feeling proud with them when it’s done.

You can see all of Amy’s work here, and order your very own Buzzy® to take the sting out of needles: https://buzzyhelps.com

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Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day, but in many households, it's also the most hectic. Many parents rely on pre-prepared items to cut down on breakfast prep time, and if Jimmy Dean Heat 'n Serve Original Sausage Links are a breakfast hack in your home, you should check your bag.

More than 14 tons of the frozen sausage links are being recalled after consumers found bits of metal in their meat.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced the recall of 23.4-oz. pouches of Jimmy Dean HEAT 'n SERVE Original SAUSAGE LINKS Made with Pork & Turkey with a 'Use By' date of January 31, 2019.

"The product bears case code A6382168, with a time stamp range of 11:58 through 01:49," the FSIS notes.

In a statement posted on its website, Jimmy Dean says "a few consumers contacted the company to say they had found small, string-like fragments of metal in the product. Though the fragments have been found in a very limited number of packages, out of an abundance of caution, CTI is recalling 29,028 pounds of product. Jimmy Dean is closely monitoring this recall and working with CTI to assure proper coordination with the USDA. No injuries have been reported with this recall."

Consumers should check their packages for "the establishment code M19085 or P19085, a 'use by' date of January 31, 2019 and a UPC number of '0-77900-36519-5'," the company says.

According to the FSIS, there have been five consumer complaints of metal pieces in the sausage links, and recalled packages should be thrown away.

If you purchased the recalled sausages and have questions you can call the Jimmy Dean customer service line at (855) 382-3101.

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Flying with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old isn't easy under optimal conditions, and when the kids are tired and cranky, things become even harder.

Many parents are anxious when flying with kids for exactly this reason: If the kids get upset, we worry our fellow passengers will become upset with us, but mom of two Becca Kinsey has a story that proves there are more compassionate people out there than we might think.

In a Facebook post that has now gone viral, Kinsey explains how she was waiting for her flight back from Disney World with her two boys, Wyatt, 2, and James, 5, when things started to go wrong, and the first of three kind women committed an act of kindness that meant so much.

After having to run all over the airport because she'd lost her ID, Kinsey and her boys were in line for security and she was "on the verge of tears because Wyatt was screaming and James was exhausted. Out of the blue, one mom stops the line for security and says 'here, jump in front of me! I know how it is!'" Kinsey wrote in her Facebook post.

Within minutes, 2-year-old Wyatt was asleep on the airport floor. Kinsey was wondering how she would carry him and all the carry-ons when "another mom jumps out of her place in line and says 'hand me everything, I've got it.'"

When Kinsey thanked the second woman and the first who had given up her place in line they told her not to worry, that they were going to make sure she got on her flight.

"The second woman takes evvvverything and helps me get it through security and, on top of all that, she grabs all of it and walks us to the gate to make sure we get on the flight," Kinsey wrote.

Kinsey and her boys boarded, but the journey was hardly over. Wyatt wolk up and started "to scream" at take off, before finally falling back asleep. Kinsey was stressed out and needed a moment to breathe, but she couldn't put Wyatt down.

"After about 45 min, this angel comes to the back and says 'you look like you need a break' and holds Wyatt for the rest of the flight AND walks him all the way to baggage claim, hands him to [Kinsey's husband], hugs me and says "Merry Christmas!!" Kinsey wrote.

👏👏👏

It's a beautiful story about women helping women, and it gets even better because when Kinsey's Facebook post started to go viral she updated it in the hopes of helping other parents take their kids to Disney and experience another form of stress-relief.

"What if everyone that shared the story went to Kidd's Kids and made a $5 donation?! Kidd's Kids take children with life-threatening and life-altering conditions on a 5 day trip to Disney World so they can have a chance to forget at least some of the day to day stressors and get to experience a little magic!!"

As of this writing, Kinsey has raised more than $2,000 for Kidd's Kids and has probably inspired a few people to be kind the next time they see a parent struggling in public.

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Ah, the holidays—full of festive cheer, parties, mistletoe... and complete and utter confusion about how much to tip whom.

Remember: Tipping and giving gifts to the people that help you throughout the year is a great way to show your appreciation, but it's never required. Ultimately, listen to your heart (and your budget) and decide what's right for your family.

Here is our etiquette guide to tipping and gifting everyone on your list.

Teachers

You can decide if you'd like to do a class gift.

  • Ask people to contribute what they can, if they'd like to
  • Sign the gift from the entire class—don't single out the people that weren't able to contribute
  • Idea: a small gift and then a gift card bought with the rest of the money, and a card signed by all the children

...or a personal gift.

  • Amount/value is very up to you—you may factor in how many days/week your child is in school and how much you pay for tuition.
  • Anywhere from $5-$150 has been done.
  • Idea: a personalized tote bag and gift card, with a picture drawn by your child

Babysitters, nannies + au pairs

  • Up to one night's pay for a babysitter
  • Up to one week's pay for a nanny or au pair.
  • Homemade gift from the child

Daycare teachers

  • $25-70/teacher and a card from your child

School bus driver

  • A non-monetary gift of $10-$20 (i.e. a gift card)

Ballet teacher/soccer coach

  • Consider a group gift or personal gift (see teacher gift above)
  • Up to $20 value if doing a personal gift

Mail carrier

  • A gift up to a $20 value, but they are not allowed to receive cash or a gift card that can be exchanged for cash.

UPS/Fed Ex

  • A gift up to a $20 value, depending on the number of packages you get. Avoid cash if possible.

Sanitation workers

  • $10-30 each
  • Make sure you find out if the same people pick up the recycling and the trash—there may be two different teams to think about.

Cleaning person

  • Up to one week's pay

Hair stylist

  • Up to the cost of one haircut/style

Dog walker

  • Up to one week's pay

Doorman

  • $15-80 each depending on number of doormen

Boss/Co-workers

  • You are not required to give your boss a gift. In some instances, it may be inappropriate to do so—so you'll have to think about what seems right for you
  • Never give cash
  • Consider giving an office gift—bring coffee or donuts to the office for everyone, buy an assortment of teas for the staff lounge, replace the microwave that everyone hates, etc
  • Organize an office Secret Santa—it's a great way to boost morale and have fun, without needing to decide who to buy for. (Hint: We love Elftser for easy Secret Santa organizing!)

Neighbors

Hey mama,

It's the time of year again.

You know what I'm talking about. From Halloween to New Years Eve, where all the sweets and treats come out in full force, and it seems like the universe is plotting to take you down.

You may feel overwhelmed by the weight of it all. After all, history has taught you that you can't make it through the holiday season successfully.

Maybe you can't get by without eating all the holiday treats and feeling like a failure. Maybe you end the holidays vowing to be a better person and start the New Year on the latest detox diet. You are all too familiar with the guilt and shame that comes with holiday eating cycle and how this robs you of joy of the season.

You may have managed to contain some element of self-control over the year. Maybe you carefully avoid those treats that you know you can't simply eat one of, or maybe you've skipped dessert and stayed clear from all the sweets. Maybe you've felt like you're doing well on your latest diet and are worried about how this incoming holiday treat wave will sabotage your success.

Whatever you're worried about, the fear is real and paralyzing, taking up that precious mental space as your thoughts are consumed about food and your body.

It may be hard to think about anything else when you mind is controlled by the rules that dictate what you should and shouldn't be eating. Maybe seeing your spouse or kids eat those holiday treats creates more anxiety for you and sends you on the brink of losing your mind as these food issues become all consuming.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself, where is this fear coming from and why is it controlling your life?

Do you ever feel like a failure at eating because you inhaled that bag of fun-sized candy bars or scarfed through a dessert faster than anyone could say, "Trick or Treat?"

Are you embarrassed that something as normal as food feels like such a struggle?

Does overeating or an emotional eating episode send you on a downward tailspin in self-loathing?

How many times have you stepped on the scale, only to feel miserable about yourself for the rest of the day?

I want to let you in on a secret.

You are not failing, mama.

That desire to eat all the holiday foods or binge on sweets doesn't mean that you've screwed up or that you have no self-control.

You're not a failure for wanting to eat all the things you don't normally let yourself eat or for breaking all the food rules you've set in place to give you more "control."

You don't need more willpower, another diet or more ways to become disciplined.

What you need, sweet mama, is permission.

Permission to eat those foods that you crave every year, like a slice of your Grandmother's special holiday dish or the piece of pumpkin cheesecake everyone's eating at your office party.

Permission to decorate holiday cookies with your kids and actually enjoy eating one too, not pretend like you don't want one, only to eat a plateful once they've gone to bed.

Permission to actually keep food in its proper place, so it's not stealing your joy, energy and mental space.

And you know what?

When you've given yourself permission to eat, including all those sweets and treats that are normally off-limits, they suddenly lose their power over you. And when food doesn't have power over you, you will have freedom to live a life that isn't bound by what you can and cannot eat.

Let me tell you something else: feeling like a failure around food is NOT your fault. It doesn't mean you don't have enough self-control or will power. There is nothing wrong with you.

What's to blame are the abundance of food rules: unrealistic food rules that make you feel unnecessarily guilty for eating or shameful in your body. (i.e: "Don't eat sugar", "Don't eat carbohydrates", "That's not allowed on the diet", "Don't eat anything too high in fat", "Don't eat after 6pm", "Don't eat all day if you're having a big meal at night").

You are not the problem.

Food rules, diets, etc. THAT is what is wrong.

You weren't made to live or thrive under a list of rules of what you should or shouldn't eat. It's not an issue of self-control.

The truth is that trying to follow a diet or a rigid set of food rules is like trying to negotiate with your toddler—you just can't win. And it's not for lack of trying, it's that the rules of the game are created for you to fail. So why try to play a game where the odds are against you?

You can opt-out of diet culture NOW to enjoy a truly peaceful holiday season that doesn't end with self-loathing or a New Year's resolution to diet and start the cycle all over again. Because the truth is, there are no good and bad foods or rules you are have to follow. When you can let go of all those judgments and emotional hang-ups that you've attached to eating, you learn to trust yourself to make your own choices and view food for what is really is - just food.

So choose being present over being perfect with the way you eat (because no such thing exists anyway). Calm the food chaos by giving yourself permission to eat, taste, and celebrate.

Enjoy the treats, if that is what your body is craving. Take back for yourself what all the obscure food rules and dieting have taken away from you all these years. Take in the memories, the flavors of the season - because you deserve it.

This holiday season, commit to putting yourself on a new path, one that doesn't end in self-destruction.

Give yourself permission, not only to eat, but to embrace a new way of living that isn't defined by your body size or what you can or cannot eat.

You can choose food freedom over food rules, and by doing so, you are choosing to live. You are choosing to be present for your children and experience the moments and memories that might otherwise be missed when your mind is imprisoned by food rules.

It's never too late, mama. The time to start is now.

Remember—you are not failing. Start by giving yourself permission today.

Originally posted on Crystal Karges.

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