María Felicia Kelley is a #boymom of three who lives in North San Diego County in Carlsbad, CA. She’s also the mom behind The North County Moms, one of the CA sites of The Local Moms Network! “My husband Danny and I have three sons – Ian, Nico, and Constantine — our “INC Sons,” (19, 17, and 13) as we’ve grown to call them. No, the acronym was unplanned, but I do tell my boys, the “INC Bros,” that they must build a business one day; it’s already preordained!” says María.
For this week’s Meet a Mom interview, we spoke to María about joining The Local Moms Network, launching her own book series and more.
What was your background before joining TLMN and why did you decide to join?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the Cronkite School at ASU. I
worked as a television writer, producer, and on-air host for Arizona PBS. When Danny and I got married, I opted out of the broadcasting world to focus on raising our INC sons, all the while intentionally stoking my creative juices with self-appointed writing assignments and freelance work for a variety of U.S. and European companies. Recently,I decided to join TLMN because I recognized the outstanding opportunity to connect with my community.
Can you please share what your experience was like when Constantine was diagnosed with Down syndrome?
Constantine was diagnosed with Trisomy 21 at birth following prenatal testing that indicated the possibility. Having given birth to two “typical” sons five and three years earlier, it was a reality that was difficult to wrap my brain around. I experienced a period of self-reflection and ‘woe is me’ moments early on. But to be clear, all the while, I felt the same undisputed love and devotion for my beautiful third son, Constantine, as I deeply felt for my older sons, Ian and Nico.
Where did the idea for Celebrate the HoliDates® come from?
I came up with the Celebrate the HoliDates® book series after writing the manuscript for the Halloween title that launched it, October Thirty-One: 10/31. My youngest son, Constantine, inspired the series with his love of holidays, especially Halloween.
Constantine would beam with delight when Halloween was the topic! Since he would ask at various times of the year, “Is it Halloween yet?” or “When is it going to be Halloween, Mom?” I knew I needed to write a book that not only celebrated his favorite holiday but one that pinpointed on a calendar when it occurred!
One book inspired others, thanks to Constantine’s love of holiday celebrations. We trademarked the series title as we set out to develop a collection of date-specific, holiday-themed books.
How has this project brought you closer to Constantine?
Constantine loved telling Halloween stories. The writer in me saw an opportunity to elaborate on his curiosity in fun and educational ways. My plan was to use the story as a constructive tool to work on his language delay, elaborating on a topic already of interest to him. Naming the title of each of the Celebrate the HoliDates® books after the calendar date on which it occurs became a way to answer Constantine’s questions. Reinforcing the months of the year and circling the date on the calendar connected to it, instantly informed Constantine of when the annual celebration would roll around again. Our mother-and-son bond has grown stronger as we share the joy of building a series of books around our mutual love of storytelling.
Where can people buy your book?
Our Celebrate the HoliDates® children’s book series – including titles for Halloween, October Thirty-One: 10/31 and Valentine’s Day, February Fourteen: 2/14, are available through our website celebratetheholidates.com or directly on Barnes & Noble.
What is next for Celebrate the HoliDates®?
Our upcoming title, December Twenty-Five: 12/25, celebrating Christmas, will be published next month. It will be our third title in two years. Within the next two years, we look forward to January One: 1/1, July Four: 7/4, March Seventeen: 3/17, and others!
One of Constantine’s favorite Halloween traditions is Soul Cakes (video recipe below). Can you please share a bit more about them?
Soul Cakes are ancient Celtic sweet breads (cookies) that have an origin in our present-day ritual of trick-or-treating. On All Hallows’ Eve, aka, Halloween, during the Middle Ages, beggars would knock on the doors of the wealthy to ask for a treat of Soul Cakes. The wealthy would offer the food in exchange for prayers for the souls of their dead loved ones. When I discovered this precursor to trick-or-treating, it sparked the realization that I had to include a history section in each of our books. The homeschool teacher in me recognized the importance of attaching historical context around beloved annual events!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Constantine inspired the protagonist, “Constantine,” inside each of our Celebrate the HoliDates® books. The books offer a fictionalized reality (part one) with a fun and educational story to explore holiday symbols, traditions, seasonality, family and community bonding. The history section (part two) explains some of the origins and history of the holiday and doubles as a social studies component for academic and other educational purposes. And finally, (part three) includes a recipe for a treat mentioned within the opening story of each title. At the end of each book, inside the Celebrate the HoliDates® Kitchen, the character Constantine and his mom create the recipe displayed on their kitchen whiteboard as it’s simultaneously shared with the reader.
I’ve developed the Celebrate the HoliDates® books for all kids! They are not geared toward a certain condition (or disability). However, we do donate a portion of sales proceeds to organizations that seek to improve the lives of children (and adults) who are diagnosed with Trisomy 21, aka, Down syndrome. When I discovered that Down syndrome was the least federally funded genetic condition by the NIH, I pledged to make supporting the most effective organizations – that actively take on research, medical and educational advocacy around the diagnosis – a primary mission of the Celebrate the HoliDates® book series.
Headshot photo credit: Cynthia Shaffer