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My life’s work? Overcoming stereotypes—Motherly@Work

The best work advice I ever got was: “Work smarter, not harder.” Driving yourself into the ground isn’t “success.”

My life’s work? Overcoming stereotypes—Motherly@Work
Tolu Lawrence, family, 

Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.


Tolu Lawrence is one of those mamas. A mother, wife, and head of strategic partnerships at The Representation Project, in the Bay Area in California, Tolu spoke with Motherly about how she makes it all work:

Tell us about your family. . .

As most romantic tales begin, I met my husband Mackinnon in law school.

A friend we had in common sent an email introducing us, something along these lines: “Tolu, meet Mackinnon. Mackinnon, meet Tolu."

After the introduction, we made plans to grab lunch. That lunch quickly became a two ­year friendship (of which he says, “she thought she had a BFF for life") complete with spontaneous day trips, impromptu Bohemian Rhapsody singing competitions (spoiler alert: we can't sing), study sessions, long phone conversations, and a two ­member wine club and Project Runway club (See what he did there? Genius.).

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In true legal geek fashion, and in honor of Richard and Mildred Loving, we married on the anniversary of Loving v. Virginia (the Supreme Court case that struck down antimiscegenation laws).

Five years and many laughs later, we are still independent, sentimental, spontaneous, and enjoy one another's company above all others.

When Mackinnon and I met, one of the most significant commonalities we shared was our love of family.

We both come from large close knit families that mirror one another in birth order (2 girls, 1 boy, 1 girl), so adding children into the mix was always part of the plan.

Enter, Zoë Bea (aka Zoë Bea Superhero Ballerina), our strong, sweet, and thoughtful 3-year-­old BFF.

She couldn't be a more perfect blend of the two of us. She inherited her dad's green thumb and quiet introspection, and she is determined and wears a mean scarf like her mama.

Our family go­-tos include trips to the beach, hiking, epic Lego or Goldiblox sessions, spending time with friends, and trying new restaurants.

My husband and I both work and somehow manage to keep this little family on track. Although we are both members of the California Bar, neither of us practices law.

We joke that we are qualified to lose in court.

He leads a research team for a global energy consulting firm.

I lead the strategic partnerships program at The Representation Project, an organization that uses film as a catalyst for cultural transformation, and inspires individuals and communities to challenge and overcome limiting stereotypes so that everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, or circumstance, can fulfill their human potential.

I also serve on the board of Imprint.City, an organization dedicated to advancing art, culture and community development in urban areas while expanding professional and artistic development opportunities for urban artists.

My work situation works for me right now because. . .

My work situation works for me right now because my commute is only about 20 minutes, the team at The Representation Project is smart, funny, driven, and inspires me to be better, and I get to flex my creative muscle while also dusting off some of the skills I picked up (with a side of hubs) back in law school.

I'm inspired to do this work because. . . .

I'm inspired to do this work because, as a Nigerian­ American woman raised in Iowa and married to a Caucasian man, I am a walking contradiction of many limiting stereotypes — and I am reminded of this daily.

As a mother, my hope is that during my daughter's lifetime, she will see herself reflected in every field she aspires to pursue, and her belief in herself will be affirmed by mainstream media.

The Representation Project has already begun to make strides forward, and eventually will make this hope a reality, so I'm all in.

If I just do this one thing every day my work and home lives run more smoothly. . .

Sleep 8 hours and say a prayer.

My fave look to rock at work. . .

Black jeans or a pencil skirt, a top with texture or pattern, heels, and bright and/or chunky accessories.

And on cooler days, I usually alternate between my black peplum leather jacket and my trench coat.

My partner supports me by. . .

My partner supports me by truly being my partner in every sense. Mackinnon and I are share tasks related to home maintenance, parenting, and financial planning, etc ­­ you name it.

He is a wholly devoted husband and dad who prioritizes maintaining the health and wellbeing of our family over all else.

He believes in me as much, if not more, than I believe in myself and I can honestly say that there's nothing he loves more than spending time with me and our daughter.

(Game of Thrones is high on his list, but I think ZB and I managed to eek past it.)

He's pretty amazing, and I'm very lucky.

My big crazy dream for work is to one day. . .

Achieve The Representation Project's mission.

On the hard days, I remind myself. . .

On the hard days, I remind myself to focus on the people that I love and not to lose sight of the bigger picture and my core motivations. Perspective is key.

The best work advice I ever got was . . .

The best work advice I ever got was: “Work smarter, not harder." Driving yourself into the ground does not lead to success.

Rather than spending every waking moment focused on work, make sure to take time to rejuvenate.

Focus on how to achieve greatness by honing in on the relationships, systems, and skills that drive your work.

Never be complacent.

Continue to refine your skill set, always strive to improve your processes, and constantly seek to learn from those you admire.

Tell us about a typical day in your life:

I wake up. . .

at 5:30 or 6:00 AM to get a head start on work (okay, yes, some days I just hit snooze until 6:30 before hopping in the shower).

At 7am. . .

I'm waking up my toddler who sleeps like a teenager and likes to ease into the day like her mom.

9am. . .

I'm casually sipping my coffee at work while reading my Google alerts (on days when Mackinnon drops Zoë off).

I'm frantically rushing from the car and debating whether I have time to stop for coffee (days when I drop Zoë off).

12pm. . .

I'm grabbing a bite to eat ­­ sometimes heading to a lunch meeting with a friend or potential partner.

3pm. . .

I'm usually in a meeting with my colleagues discussing ongoing projects or new initiatives.

6pm. . .

I'm driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, downloading my day with Mackinnon and discussing whether we're meeting at a restaurant or eating in for dinner.

9pm. . .

On any given night I've either passed out on my daughter's bed, I'm working on wrapping up some residual projects for work, I'm reading a book, or I'm decompressing by watching a show on Netflix or Hulu with my hubs.

I make time to recharge by. . .

As a working mom, it's always hard to find the right balance.

Honestly, right now, I'm struggling to balance work and basic household tasks, so, recharging is something that I'm working on prioritizing.

In the meantime, I recharge by connecting with friends and family and having spontaneous dance parties with Mackinnon and Zoë.

On a good day, I'm finding time to read (on my bedside table right now are books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, Ta­Nehisi Coates, Edwidge Danticat, and of course, Mindy Kaling), sneaking in a date night or a moms' night out, or actually making it to yoga, etc.

And perhaps, one of these days, I'll actually dig up my running shoes and find my way back to a half marathon.

More realistically? I'll motivate myself to sign up for said race by buying a new workout outfit and a hot new pair of running shoes. Truth.

“The childcare situation that works for us right now is. . .

The childcare situation that works for us right now is ZB's amazing daycare and relying on friends and family. It's not perfect and we're still figuring it out, but it works for now.

To me, Motherly means. . .

To me, Motherly means pushing against the boundaries of unrealistic antiquated expectations.

It's about being empowered to be a mother AND your whole authentic self. It's about not having to lose yourself in order for your family be their best selves.

It's recognizing that we are all on unique paths, parenting individual little people with different needs, but we are also each other's best advisors and advocates.

When Zoë was born, I was fortunate enough to plug into the most amazing group of women in my community.

We share research, books, products, horrific tantrums, perceived #mommyfails, hilarious toddler stories, childcare struggles, breastfeeding victories and woes, and we support each other through new jobs, moves, transitions back to work after maternity leave, and much more.

To me, they are Motherly.

Motherhood brought us together, and our mutual respect and love for one another keeps us connected.


14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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