Meet Cecelia, a wife, mother, artist, creator, educator and equity + inclusion chair at @desertmontessori , and social media coordinator at @dittokidsmagazine. We were curious to hear how she does it all. After reading through this Q&A, we hope you feel the warmth, vulnerability, and realness that Cecelia exudes through her writing.
Q: Can you share something about yourself that might surprise people?
A: I studied Early Childhood Education in college and I HATED it. I bombed a couple of classes and almost quit school, but couldn't stand to waste all that time and money, so I finished my degree.
These days I'm really grateful that I stuck it out because I love being a teacher.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background and culture- What was your upbringing like?
A: So, I grew up dirt poor on a teensy farm in rural New Mexico; a little place called Lake Arthur. We had pigs and chickens and soooo many dogs. My grandma just couldn't say no to them. I spent a lot of time with her growing up---cooking and sewing and working in the garden. She was an incredible person and I'm certain that I wouldn't be who I am without her influence.
Q: Do you have any traditions and/or experiences from your upbringing that you incorporate into your own parenting approach?
A: We didn’t really have many formal traditions growing up, outside of specific foods, just being together, and going to mass.
I don’t identify as Catholic anymore, but we do go to an Episcopal church with a couple of really awesome progressive, Queer priests, one of whom is Latino and has been bringing Latin-American celebrations to the forefront. I love it because I feel like I get to share the essence of what I grew up with, but with values and beliefs that jive with me a little better.
And it’s tamales for Christmas every year. ;)
Q: How old are your children? And how has becoming a mother impacted your creativity and work overall?
My daughter is 5 and my son is nine months. It’s definitely been an ebb and flow with creativity. I was a SAHM for my daughter’s first two-ish years, so I had a lot more time to draw and paint than I do now, but I put so much pressure on myself to do it that I really lost my joy for it. When Samuel came, I got into photography because it’s just a lot more accessible than other forms of art making.
In terms of professional work overall, I teach at a school that my daughter attends (and my son someday will), so I’m invested on multiple levels, which is kind of new to me. But I like feeling rooted in a job.
Q: What excites you the most about being a parent right now?
A: I just have really cool kids. They’re kind and funny and just so purely themselves. There isn’t anything really about the world outside of our home that makes me feel real pumped about parenting, but I’m just grateful for the little people the universe has given me.
Q: And what scares you the most about raising kids today?
A: Umm…everything? I could definitely go down that rabbit hole, but I think ultimately the thing I feel most afraid of is not being able to be present for my kids and them missing the fullness of my love for them. I’ve had some mental health struggles this past year that really kept me from being with and loving them that way I want to, and that’s when I knew it was time to get support from a professional. Hands down the best parenting decision I’ve ever made.
Q: You manage multiple positions and important roles daily- Have you found any wellness practices or daily routines that bring you balance?
A: I'm notoriously bad at self - care, but my husband Ryan helps keep me on track with at least sticking to a healthy diet and (mostly) getting enough sleep. I also make sure I spend at least a half-hour a day doing something I enjoy.
Q: Can you tell us about your work as an educator at Desert Montessori?
A: I’ve been at DMS for two and a half years now, and it is by far the best school I’ve had the privilege of working for. We’re a small school, and the past two years have required a lot of flexibility from us, so I’ve taught in a few classrooms during my time, but I’m currently lead teaching a toddler classroom.
Q: For those who might not be familiar, what is the biggest difference between a Montessori classroom and more traditional classroom?
A: Great question! The whole Montessori Philosophy is built around "following the child," observing what they're drawn to, not in subject only, but also how they learn - can they follow instructions they hear? Do they learn best by reading or observing?- and then building the curriculum for that specific child based on their needs, interests, and abilities. It sounds like a lot of work, but it's really not!
I believe that more traditional classrooms expect children to meet certain standards and if they're don't (or can't), they're seen as a challenge to the teacher. Children are expected to change (or learn how to fake it) in order to meet expectations. I'm not here to "mold" kids, I see myself more as a guide and support to children on their own journey and that's what draws me to Montessori.
I don't mean to come across as anti-traditonal classroom, particularly because this is the model for most public schools. I have so much respect for the teachers working within those systems, and I recognize that a lot of them are doing important work to make change.
And ultimately, Montessori isn't for everyone, and that's great! We need diversity of thought in our world.
Q: Do you incorporate Montessori methods at home with your children? And if so, what do they enjoy most?
A: My husband and I do, but I don't know if it's a conscious effort so much as just the way we are. Haha. Most of our "moral" teaching is pretty aligned with Montessori's, ideas like interdependence and consideration of others. Montessori teaching also has a huge focus on independence, which is big for us, too. Mostly just out of convenience, if I'm honest. I appreciate that when my five-year-old is hungry, she's knows how to make herself a PB & J sandwich, she knows how to put her dishes away, she can fold her own laundry. It's great!
I think she most enjoys helping us make meals. She loves to chop things with her "Montessori knives"-nylon knives with serrated edges.
Q: What is something you might tell parents who are interested in a modern montessori approach to education?
A: Awesome! Go for it! There are so many awesome resources out there. I particularly love Simone Davies work, and you can find tons of Montessori parents and teachers to follow and learn from on ig. Additionally, there are lots of great materials available at fairly affordable prices online. I really like lovevery, but you can support small businesses on etsy, too!
There definitely are two schools of thought when it comes to Montessori - modern and traditional. I personally prefer the more modern approach because I find it more accessible and less exclusive, but some folks are diehards for the traditional model and may even go as far as saying the modern approach isn't "real Montessori." It's the philosophy that matters most to me. I don't think you need expensive materials and rigid structures to live that out.
Q: You've mentioned that you are passionate about anti-racism, equity and inclusion education- What are some ways that you're able to teach this in your classroom?
A: With the younger ages, I feel like so much of teaching through an ABAR (anti-biased, anti-racist) lens is about representation. I take to care to make sure that my classroom is representative of the students who are a part of it, first and foremost, but I also make sure that the books and materials available in the classroom are reflective of the people in our local and broader community.
There are also so many great kids books and resources (like Ditto Kids Magazine) that address racism, oppression, and even genocide in a developmentally appropriate way. I like to tap into those resources whenever I can.
And finally, I stay in the conversation and remind myself that I always have more to learn.
Q: You also work as a social media coordinator for one of our favorite kid's publications, Ditto Magazine! Can you tell us about your role there and what it means to you?
A: So Alexandria (Ditto founder) and I create content for our ig and Facebook accounts, and I manage the blog and newsletter on my own. We've found that ig in particular is a beast that needs to be fed constantly and it's more of a two-person job. It's also nice to hear directly from Alexandria throughout the week.
It's a fun gig, and it's a large part of what keeps me involved in the ABAR community and conversation. I know from experience that if I'm not actively seeking it out, I tend to not pay as much attention to my personal biases or the one playing out around me. It's a privilege I have as a light-skinned Latina in a predominantly Latinx community, but it's not one that I want to live into.
Q: On top of all of this, you are also a beautiful artist and writer! When did you discover your love for drawing and creating?
A: Thank you! I've always loved creating and drawing. As an extremely shy and introverted young person, it was a major outlet for me to express myself, and it continues to be when I give myself the time to engage in it.
Q: How often are you creating art? And where can we find it?
A: I create art almost weekly for Ditto, but pretty rarely for myself. It's a bit of a sore spot, but I'm trying to offer myself grace during a very busy season of life and remind myself that my art supplies will still be there when I'm ready to return to them.
When I do have time to create for myself, you can find it on my ig account @cromerolikes.
Q: Can you leave us with any parenthood or creative advice that has worked well for you and your family?
A: Your kids just want to be with you. It doesn't matter what you're doing. My daughter literally started crying the other night when we told her that we weren't going to wash the veggies from our Misfit Market box until the next day because she was looking forward to spending that time together.
Give them as much presence as you can and don't beat yourself up when it's not as much as you would like. Sometimes we're busy providing for them in other ways. It's all necessary.