I am happy to introduce you to my long-time friend, Nicole Marley. We met in Miami through work, but we’ve kept in touch ever since and I’ve always admired her, her family dynamic, her cultural upbringing and her overall good-natured spirit. She had such a positive impression on me back in the good ‘ole days when she was juggling work and tiny little humans; I was very young in my career trying to find my way in a multi-cultural city managing projects in a region I’d never visited before. Here’s a peak into her life including her background, her upbringing, one famous relative and some of her life philosophies.
Nicole, can you tell me a little bit about your background and upbringing?
Although I was born in Jamaica to Jamaican parents, we moved to Dominican Republic when I was only 3 years old. It made for a very fun and interesting upbringing.
I went to a bilingual school until 2nd grade to help me learn Spanish (even though the best Spanish lesson I got was hanging out with the neighborhood kids). In 3rd grade, I transferred to an American school, where I stayed until I graduated high school. The funny thing was that when we were home, my brothers and I would speak in Spanish but turn around and speak to my parents in English.
My life was a mixture of Jamaican culture (and food) with the Dominican lifestyle that surrounded us. The Dominican lifestyle was not only the language, but also the food, people and culture. I have great memories of my childhood. We lived in an apartment complex that was packed with kids. Afternoons were spent outside playing tennis, tag, roller skating, hide-and-seek, to name a few. I never went to summer camp as we spent all our days outside playing. This was during a time with no cell phones. So your parents couldn’t find you until you decided to go home for dinner. It was definitely a very carefree and relaxed upbringing.
Now that you’re a parent, have you thought about what that might have been like for your parents to make such a big transition and did watching them inspire you at all in your own life?
It was definitely an incredibly brave thing for my parents to do. They landed in a new country with 3 very young children, no family support, and couldn’t speak any Spanish at all. Back in the 1970s, you didn’t come across many people in Dominican Republic that spoke English. As an adult, I can now recognize that, as difficult as they knew the move would be, it was in the best interest of the family. I am so impressed by how well they adapted to their new life. They made it a priority to learn the language and make sure that my brothers and I did too. They didn’t let fear dictate their decision. It definitely has inspired me as an adult. Whatever challenge I face, I don’t let fear of failure or of the unknown dictate the decision/outcome.
What brought you to the US?
Growing up my mom would constantly tell me how important it was to get an education. She wanted to make sure that I could stand on my own two feet and not have to depend on anyone. She also believed that the Dominican Republic offered very limited growth opportunities and she wanted us to study abroad to broaden our horizons.
After graduating from high school, I came to the US to get my undergraduate degree. Upon completion, I returned to Dominican Republic for 3 years to work. Then in 1999, I left again to go get my MBA. I never returned to Dominican Republic after that as I was offered a job in Miami once I graduated.
You have a daughter and twin boys. Tell me a little bit about your daily and weekend routine.
Victoria is now 13 and Nicolas & Sebastian are 11 years old. 7 years ago I made the decision to leave my full time job to focus on the kids. I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible and make sure that I was there whenever they needed/wanted me. I joined the PTA at their school and spent countless hours volunteering.
Our daily routine, which by the way changes as they get older, is a bit hectic, as you can imagine. I have to wake up at 6am to get Victoria ready for school. She gets dropped off at the bus stop at 6:45am. Then it’s back home and time to get Nicolas ready, as he needs to be at school by 7:45am (he’s a safety patrol). Sebastian is the last to leave as he doesn’t have to arrive until 8:30am. Once everyone is in school, this is now time for me to work out, volunteer at school or the classrooms (I was room mom for Sebastian’s class this year), supermarket, and run all house related errands. The boys arrive home from school at around 3:15pm (Victoria arrives an hour later). This will change the next school year as the boys will be switching to a new school and will leave home earlier. It appears that I will now have to drive Nicolas to school and probably pick him up (we will see if I can work out a carpool). Now that they will be gone for a longer period of time, I am looking to start getting back into some flexible work and maybe take some classes (cooking or photography for example) and I started exploring being a travel agent.
Once the kids are home, the craziness begins.. All 3 of them participate in different sports/activities and schedules vary by day. Victoria dances 2-3 hours a day, Nicolas has water polo, tennis, robotics and piano and Sebastian has tennis, basketball and dodge ball (it would be too easy to have any of them participating in the same activity at the same time, right???). Getting everyone to their classes means a lot of driving back and forth and making sure I remember who is where and what time they finish J. It gets a bit tricky when two of them have to be at different places at the same time.
Once I was sitting in the kitchen with Sebastian and Victoria around 9 pm. I asked Sebastian to please call his brother down for dinner to which Sebastian replied, “But he’s not here. You never picked him up.” OMG!!! Can you believe I had completely forgotten to pick him up from tutoring (the tutoring was in preparation for a standardized test for their new school and it was not part of the normal routine).
Marcelo and I try to have a least one adult outing a week. This could be something as simple as a dinner or a movie. It’s always great to just have time to have a quiet conversation. We also used to take a yearly trip for a couple of days without the kids. The kids loved that trip because my dad would babysit and he would give them ice cream every day!!!
I definitely also try to have lunch or dinner with friends once a week; girl time is always such an energy recharge for me.
I heard that you have some pretty fun family reunions. Does your family go on vacation once a year together? Where are some of the places you’ve been?
My brother Paul and his family live in Canada, my parents still live in Dominican Republic and my brother Brent and I live here in Miami. We always try to get the family together at least once a year. It is so wonderful when all 17 of us get together. The kids have such a wonderful time playing with their cousins and building unforgettable memories.
We have been to Dominican Republic (Punta Cana), skiing in Canada, Mexico, Miami, Orlando, and North Carolina. It’s always fun to watch all the kids playing with each other and with my parents. During our last trip to Canada, the kids decided to have a snowball fight with my dad. It was too cute because they would run up behind my dad pelting him with snow and he was fighting back. One of the favorite things that the kids love playing with my parents is monkey in the middle in the ocean. It definitely becomes quite competitive.
When we get together, we always try to take a family picture. The last time we were in Canada in December, we decided that it would be nice to take a picture outside in our pajamas. We were freezing but the kids were such good sports about it and all smiled on cue.
You have kind of a fun family tree and some famous relatives. Tell me how that has made your life interesting and any how this background has influenced your upbringing?
Our colorful family tree includes Bob Marley. Believe it or not, he was my grandfather’s cousin. His father and my great grandfather were brothers. People have a hard time believing we’re related simply because of the color of our skin. The thing is that Bob Marley’s father was English (the Marley’s were English) and his mother was Jamaican. I have met people in person (after speaking with them over the phone and them learning my name) that are surprised to see that I am light skinned. They assume that I would look more like the famous singing Marleys. I definitely didn’t inherit the singing or performing talent J Being related to Bob Marley honestly didn’t influence my upbringing. I never met him or any of his children. We left Jamaica when I was very small and never had contact with that side of the family.
Funny story: Can you believe that once I was in Jamaica buying something and they asked me for my full name. When I said Nicole Marley he answered, can you please spell your last name? Really? In Jamaica???
I have been around you long enough to know that you have a very neutral English dialect and I have heard your Spanish dialect is also pretty neutral. Are people surprised when you explain your background and how has this provided for fun opportunities?
The funny thing about my accent is that it does change depending on the person I am speaking with. All my friends know that my accent when speaking with my parents is totally different than if I’m speaking with you, for example. It was hard when I worked at FedEx in the Caribbean and had conference calls with my mom on the other end (we both worked for the same company for a time). I tried to avoid speaking directly to her because I just can’t control the change in the accent. My kids get a kick out of it.
People always assume that I don’t speak any Spanish. I guess because of the way I look, everyone always assumed I was American. Once I was standing in a line at the airport and this group of girls standing behind me started talking about me in Spanish. They obviously assumed that I couldn’t understand. So I just waited for them to finish and then turned around and calmly asked them, in Spanish, what time it was. The look on their faces was priceless.
FedEx was looking for someone with a neutral accent to record the messages for the call center in Dominican Republic and they asked me to do it (free labor). It was funny because I had friends calling and listening to the messages and then they would realize it was me; I was getting calls asking me if I had a new job.
What languages do your kids speak? What language does your family speak at home?
My kids speak English and Spanish. We have made it a priority to make sure that they learn to speak, read and write in Spanish. My husband Marcelo is from Uruguay, so Spanish is the only way the kids could communicate with his family. We also wanted to make sure that they were fully bilingual. At home you will hear both Spanish and English being spoken. I really try to speak to the kids only in Spanish but that never happens. The conversations are a mix of both. Victoria is the one that will speak the most in Spanish. The boys understand everything in Spanish but will always answer in English, unless they are forced to speak in Spanish.
What advice would you give someone in integrating more culture into their family?
Our house is not only a mix of Jamaican, Dominican, Uruguayan and American cultures/traditions but don’t forget that we also have 2 religions in the house. I am Catholic and Marcelo is Jewish. We decided to also raise the kids Jewish. This makes for a very colorful household. Marcelo has never asked for me to stop believing in my faith or to stop following my traditions. So, for example, we still celebrate Christmas in our house. The Christmas tree goes up, with decorations and all, but you will also find Hanukkah decorations. We light the candles every night and the kids get their little gifts every day. My brother Brent’s kids are Catholic, so my kids have participated in their family’s first communions. We always make sure to explain to the kids what they are doing and the beliefs behind it. I feel that it is important for them to grow up knowing and accepting that we are not all the same and we don’t all believe in the same things but that doesn’t mean we can’t get along or love people that are different from us.
The most important element to making this work is respect and open communication. We discussed the religion issue at length and how we would raise our kids, even before we got married. It was a deal breaker. If we couldn’t reach an agreement, then both of us knew that we couldn’t continue the relationship. This is something that has to be discussed and decided BEFORE you have kids. At the end of the day, we both agreed that we wanted to instill our kids with the same values. If we as a society could learn to respect others and accept that we are all different, it would make the world a lot happier.
Do you have any fun plans coming up for your family?
This July we traveled to Ireland (my parents, our family and my brother Brent and his family). My maternal grandmother was Irish and I had never been there. My mom has always made fun of us because we all hold Irish passports, yet we had never set foot in the country. It was a fun to visit to the country to see where my grandmother was born and where she came from.
Marcelo, the kids and I will also be visiting Croatia and Scotland. We have tried to expose the kids to many cultures and let them explore the world around them.
I have a cruise planned with just myself and the kids through the Western Caribbean. They are really looking forward to this trip, as they are excited about the ship and visiting new Caribbean islands.
Our summer will then end with our annual visit to Dominican Republic. I try to take them once a year to spend some time with my parents. We will also include a visit to a very poor area of the country to give 50 kids much needed school supplies for the upcoming school year. This will be our second year doing this. I wholeheartedly believe that they need to learn that they have a responsibility to help others that are not as fortunate as them.
Thank you Nicole! What an inspiration you are! Your background, your family, and all the cultural aspects of your life have definitely had a beautiful impression on me and I’m sure others feel the same!