Monday, August 12, 2013

From Mattel to Momma: The Makings of Miss Party Mom

As I'm attempting to put together a FAQ's page, I'm taking a couple of walks down memory lane to answer the questions fans have been asking me since I started Miss Party Mom. I gotta say, these walks are rather humbling... and I just feel like sharing more personally my journey to being a Momma... who is currently a party planner and party/lifestyle blogger. We all have stories and an interesting set of decisions that led us to becoming a mom, either a "working" mom or one who stays at home. Here is mine.

In High School I decided I wanted to design clothing, so I went to college for that very degree. I was that college girl who wanted a career and scoffed at the idea of children. I was a little too busy for the role of serving little needy people... I was dead set on being a fashion designer, and fashion designers care about clothing... not wiping butts.

Upon graduating I was offered a job by the company I'd been interning for since I was 17 years old... I liked the work and felt like it would be a great jumping-off point for me. I mean, fashion designers all need to start somewhere... designing for a fashion icon like Miss Barbie herself didn't seem like a bad start.

I began at Mattel as a temp employee. I was 21 and no company is dumb enough to hire a 21-year-old fresh out of college whose only other job had been bagging groceries at a grocery store. But six months later, I was moved from temp employee to Associate Designer. I was on top of the world. Designing dolls wasn't so bad actually: I was starting to travel... Business Class style and figured I could get really used to that.

Co-designer on the first line of Fairytopia
 If you knew my upbringing, our lower-middle class status...Business Class was a big deal. I'd really come quite far from my humble beginnings and I felt super proud of myself for my accomplishments. Looking back, maybe I was a bit too proud. I was working long hours to be a great designer for the world's largest toy company, and I felt like I deserved everything that was coming to me.

 After 2 years I was promoted to Senior Designer and shortly after moved over to design for My Scene, the biggest Barbie line within the company. Then came more travel, an intern, and responsibility for days... all at 23 years old. I relished in telling people what to do and how to do it, and repeating deadlines and answering emails on my....wait for it, BLACKBERRY.

My Scene by Kenna O'Brien
But this life I was so wrapped up in, was taking over my world. My world was working for Mattel. The person the job was making me, was the person I literally despised a few years earlier... someone who thrived on success and all the "things" it could bring. I had lists of these things "I NEEEEEEDED." A new car, designer jeans, new furniture, vacations, sushi (did I even like sushi?)... the never.ending.list. And not that any of this was bad in itself... but for me, when I started to look at it all together, I was actually starting to not like the person I'd become.

But when the paycheck is coming in and the bonus quickly follows, and the lifestyle is in full effect... you work to provide for the lifestyle. And so I did... I worked long hours doing something I loved: designing. I traveled to Hong Kong and London and Chicago, Texas, New York and more... all in the name of that perfect little pink plastic lady: Barbie. And I loved her. She was good to me. She gave me all of the satisfaction I was looking for as a young working adult. I loved my co-workers... I loved the pressures the job brought, and the late nights, and the crazy demands for last minute changes... I loved all of these things...

Until I didn't.

At some point after 4 years, I realized I didn't like the job as much any more... I didn't like the demands, and the never being able to turn the phone off, and the fact that all of my creative ideas were cost-reduced down to something I wasn't even proud of... and most importantly, I didn't like the woman the job had turned me into... the endless lists of "needed things" and the 2nd new(er) car. How did that even happen anyway? I never even cared about cars...

One day in early November 2005, I gave my notice at Mattel Toys... I gave a 2 week notice on a 5 year job... On a 5 year job with a salary higher than my husband and I currently make combined... On a job that sent me all over the world just "for inspiration."

Just like that, I was done. My mom cried. My co-workers were in disbelief. I felt oddly relieved. I called my best friend Kelsey from my cubicle that 2-week-notice day in November and I told her we HAD to open up a vintage clothing store with some of our own designs. I convinced friends and family I was MEANT to be a fashion designer, Barbie was just a pit stop in my master designing plan. I mean, I was successful already... why wouldn't I be successful as a store owner? {Oh Kenna... If you had only known then what you know now about yourself...} Success as a business owner is different from success as an employee... I would learn this...eventually...

My last day at Mattel, standing in front of the "goodbye" quilt that was made for me.
The clothing store lasted three years. Three years of crazy popularity (we had a Street Team, ok?) and little to zero profit... Three years full of maximum free-reign creativity, as much as I ever wanted. But it was three years full of maximum business frustration too. And not that I regret any of that time spent in that amazingly Kenna and Kelsey'd out space called BFF Vintage Clothing (get it?), but BFF was not the continuation of that creative money-making master plan I'd intended it to be. It was creative alright.... Creative and broke.

That led me to Broke Bags, my next creative bit of genius: patchwork hand bags named after my new found brokeness. Brokeness where paychecks do not roll in and a savings account for living on the wings of your dreams- does in fact run dry. When you go from ordering a Starbucks every morning (yes, you know- that order) to suddenly serving up that order as a barista... well, it's humbling. Big time humbling, run-to-the-back-and-hide-if-you-saw-an-old-co-worker-humbling. I was starting to learn one thing- being a business woman is a whole other game than being a creative genius. And I wasn't winning it.

A newly opened BFF, Christmas 2005
We had bands who would come play... we made the most out of that space. Broke and all, it was our little dream store.

Fast forward to getting married (read it if you haven't) and moving up to Orcutt, CA for my husband's job. I took my vintage clothing sales to Etsy- because hello- I could totally make Etsy work... Well if $20 a week is "working" then I was indeed, killing it...

And because $20 wasn't quite cutting it, I started waitressing at the local breakfast restaurant in our new town. Usually if you're creative, you're not exactly left brained... and let me tell you- waitressing takes a fair amount of the left brain. So not only was I a new waitress, I was a sucky one {and still am a lot of days}.

I remember a "regular" telling me it wasn't too late for me to go to school so I could find a career. Ouch. I felt like explaining myself... but I didn't. I couldn't. Waitressing was/is even more humbling work than Starbucks- serving people all day with a smile; it's not as easy as it looks (and yes, I always thought it looked easy). In the course of a few years I went from sending interns to fetch a vanilla latte, to explaining to people that we don't have a latte machine, only coffee, and yes I can bring some over- asap...

Fast forward to motherhood with a son in 2009 and a daughter in 2011. As some of you know- nothing in life will humble you the way becoming a mother does. No amount of pouring coffee can compare to the job of being Mom. There are days I feel like I can't possibly have a child ask me for another juice or to build another Lego house. There are days I wonder where my intern is and why isn't she changing my daughter's diaper... there are days I literally feel like I need to be back working and making money and bossing people around... I miss telling people what to do and them doing it. Interns begging for a shot at anything Barbie don't say "NO!" or, "I don't want to!", that's what kids say to their stressed out moms.

My old friend Erika recently reminded me that I might just hate working again, the responsibility and the constant demand. And she's right, I'm sure I would. I did once. But, there are still days I wish I had it all back and I wish these kids would just get their own juice... and not spill it for once...

I am trying to work on being content... which I'm terrible at. I want to want to be 100%  Momma... but in my inner being I want to be 100% Miss Party Mom too. I want immediate success for MPM now. I want to work from home blogging and planning events... and being a mom. I want it all. I check my financials on the blog daily, I wonder how I have not had more visitors today or more people calling and asking for parties. I keep wondering why I am still waitressing. I mean, I am a Party Planner... and a Blogger... people actually read my words...

And then I go and serve them coffee.

Contentment. It's so hard for me.

I have to remind myself that more important than ever being successful again in the future, is the fact that I am a Mom right now. And while I may not be churning my own organic peanut butter or dreaming of home schooling my kids... I am happy to be able to stay home with them while fulfilling some of the creative desires in my soul.

And if one day I make a living at MPM, I hope I will never revert back to the lists and unnecessary car and the sushi... because I don't even really like sushi... There's something about being very middle class that keeps your "needs" list short and your "wants" list shorter... there's something about that I think I understand now.

So who knows, Miss Party Mom, it looks like we'll just have to wait it out and see... and in the mean time, be a creative {content} Momma. It's something to strive for.

xo Party or Die xo


  1. Thank you for writing this! Pretty much sums up how I feel most of the time. :)

    1. I'm glad you can relate... us Mommas have got to keep it real.

  2. Such a great post Kenna! You are so not alone journey was/is very, very, much the same. Every day its a juggling act and I think its okay to never fully be content. :)

    1. Thank you Juli! Let's hope party planning takes the world by storm so all of us creative momma's can stay home with our kids while doing what we love!

  3. What a beautiful, insightful post. For me being on the outside I am thinking "Oh my gosh, I want her job at mattel" but it does go to say it is not always greener on the other side. A little over a year ago I left my dream job of being an elem school social worker to support my husband in a new work role that moved us from Phx to Austin. Best decision we could have made for our family.While I do get to stay home and teach preschool parttime I also had to leave some of my wants and needs behind and focus on the greatest job I have always dreamed of.. being a mom.

    My dream now is to be be a party planner where I help put together outfits for bday themes and find all the decorations for busy, working families.

    1. It was a great job. I know that with my current role as mom it would be too much for me. Not to say their aren't some awesome moms working there juggling it all...
      Best of luck to you in your business, I think Austin is a great place to get the off the ground!

  4. Thank you so much for writing this! All of this goes on in my head every. single. day.

  5. i remember feeling this way, after i shut down my shop in HB. i thought, immediately all my business would just be there " online" and instead it took me like 5 years to build it. it was pain staking. and I had anxiety attacks... because my creative side wanted to do things, but usually the pocket book prevented any of it from happening.

    Honestly, that is still the case ... currently saving up to do a REAl tradeshow... and not just be an online designer. the only difference now, is im feeling a bit more calmer, less anxiety about it. I look back at the last 7 years and i see how my business has evolved.. .and even though i want it to go so much further.. I can see that time is the key.

    This MPM stuff is amazing. I say keep with it... and dont quit if it does not happen over night.. you wont be sorry. the more people that find your blog and see your talent will adore you.


    1. Thanks Shauna, I love your honesty and encouragement! I guess no one ever said "making" it in the creative industry was going to be easy! (or at least I've never heard it said...)

  6. I agree with the above poster, stick with it because once more people discover your blog they will want to stick around. Heck I came across your blog like two months ago from Pinterest. I found the DIY table canopy and repinned it. About a week later I pulled it up, looked at the instructions, commented for some help and you repsonded, I made it, I've used it...and yet here I am again on your blog. Why? Because just your tutorial for a table canopy was entertaining enough for me to remember your blog and come back to check out your new posts. You don't have the type of blog where someone on pinterest sees somehting cool and re-pins it and maybe follows the link to the blog to see the pin but then never returns. Your blog ROCKS, you're hilarious and down to earth and so entertaining. So even though I'm on the east coast and won't be using you for MPM I still religiously come back to check out your new posts weekly. And though that doesn't help now-it will in the future once you get advertisements and generate money off of page views, right? Stick with it I say! :)

    1. Thanks Amanda, this is like the nicest comment- um, ever?! The above poster is a friend, so while of course I appreciate all of my friends daily encouragements on the blog- there's nothing like a complete stranger to give pay the blog a compliment to keep me chugging along! So thank you. PS- I'm so happy to hear the canopy worked and that the no-sew method produced something useable!

    2. glad I could help encourage! Keep Calm and MPM on! ;) and yes the canopy was a hit and it looked awesome with my carnival theme as a prize station.

  7. Dear Kenna, what a transparent story. Reading this, I can see so much of myself in your experiences...from the career to motherhood. When times get rough or I get a little beat, I reflect back on working for some of the major companies that employed me. My thoughts are: If my talent assisted them to become extremely prosperous, I owe it to myself by creating the same legacy for my family. (Especially if you're in a position to do so with a few non-detrimental sacrifices.) Please hang in there! I love your work, and your site...very refreshing & inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing!!! - Adjua Ferguson of Atlanta

    1. Thanks Adjua, I really appreciate this encouraging comment. It means a lot coming from someone who is also a mom in this industry, you can actually understand me! Someone gets me! I knew it would happen! ;)


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