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Life Lessons from the Mothers of America's Best and Brightest
Mother of Julie Aigner-Clark
"Just do well and be your own person."
Mary Aigner—the mother of Julie Aigner-Clark, whose brainchild Baby Einstein has become a household name and revolutionized the baby toy industry—said that Julie was born under a lucky star. "Things pretty much always went well for Julie," Mary said. Julie, the founder of the Baby Einstein Company, sold the organization to the Walt Disney Company in 2001. Her company was the first to produce developmental media, including DVDs, music CDs, books, and toys that focus on the arts and humanities, for very young children. Julie is also founder of the children's media company the Safe Side, which is responsible for the three-time Emmy Award-winning videos Stranger Safety and Internet Safety. Julie and her companies have been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, and Entertainment Tonight as well as in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Parenting magazine. Julie has received numerous awards for her work, including Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Award; Working Mother's Entrepreneur of the Year Award, in three categories; and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Michigan State University for starting a billion-dollar industry focused on stimulating the minds of infants and toddlers. In 2007, Julie was personally honored by President Bush at the State of the Union address. Julie donates to a number of organizations but hasbeen particularly active with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (). In addition, Julie is involved with the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee; the World Wildlife Fund; the Gathering Place (a local shelter for women and children in Denver); and the Logan School for Creative Learning. Julie continues to teach middle-school literature and lives in Colorado with her husband and two daughters.
Julie was a planned pregnancy for Mary, as was her choice to only have one child. Explaining her decision, Mary said, "We just didn't want a lot of kids. We just felt we wanted to have one child, so we could do everything for this one child." Mary worked through part of her pregnancy, but then stayed home with Julie during her formative years. "I stayed home with Julie by choice and raised her for seven years. . . . I wanted to be there with Julie during those first years." Later, as a working mom, Mary said that sometimes she felt guilty about splitting her time between Julie and the office, but made a point to be there for the big moments. "The first day of school was a big deal in our neighborhood. All the mothers walked their kids to school. . . . I always went to work late that day because I walked Julie to school with the other mothers."
Mary said Julie was "always a reader," as might be expected from someone who has built an empire centered on education. "We would go to the library every Friday, probably from the time she was two years old, and Julie would pick out the books she wanted to bring home for the week. . . . It was our Friday routine. We went to the library and then went to lunch." Mary stressed, however, that she didn't push Julie. "I took the approach that if she was ready, it would come naturally to her." Like her daughter, Mary was also innovative about the tools she used to teach. "I thought that TV with direction could be an excellent learning tool. In fact, I personally learn something every day from television." Mary, however, did not just expose Julie to the things that she enjoyed. Even though Mary said she "wasn't big on classical music," she played it for Julie growing up. "I thought it was important for her to have a broad appreciation of music." But Julie wasn't always stimulated, Mary said. "Julie was an only child, so she learned how to play by herself, which I thought was important. She didn't need to have commotion all the time."
Mary placed an enormous value on education and learning. However, that didn't mean sending Julie to expensive schools. "We decided to raise her in Grosse Point, Michigan, because they had one of the best public school systems around. . . . I wanted her to have exposure to different kinds of people. We could have afforded to send her to private school, but we chose not to."
When it came to expectations, Mary said that she didn't pressure Julie to succeed. "Of course I wanted her to do very well, but I never said, 'Julie, I want you to be this or that.' " Still, Mary believed that children need a certain amount of discipline and direction. "I always saw my role as a guide. One area where I prodded a little more was when it came to education. I made it very clear to Julie that she should go to college. I wanted to make sure that she could earn a living and not be dependent on us or a man," advice that Julie has certainly internalized.
Encouragement, Mary said, was a staple of her parenting style. "I constantly said to Julie, 'We are so proud of you. That's so great.' " Crediting her forty-three-year marriage as the core of her family, Mary said, "It was my marriage that made us such a strong family unit. We had so much love for each other," a love that was manifested in both the big things and the little things. "We always ate dinner together," Mary said. "Even though I worked, I'd come home and we would have dinner as a family. More importantly, we would talk about the day. . . . I talked about my job and all the people I worked with. . . . I made them laugh with my stories." Religion in the Aigner household was not practiced through rituals, but rather through actions: "I think we just showed religion through love and appreciation of each other on a daily basis."Mother Nurture
Life Lessons from the Mothers of America's Best and Brightest. Copyright © by Stephanie Hirsch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.