Smarty Mom: Leslie Mueller
Meet Leslie, one of those people who leaves you feeling refreshed, someone who grounds you while making you laugh. With all the chaos in todays world, Leslie creates order and sensibility to it all while being a mom to three boys. We all know Charlotte can be a culture that’s all about keeping up with the Joneses – Leslie reminds us the only people to keep up with is your family; specifically your kids. And did I mention that she has the best sense of humor?!
Married to: Kevin Mueller
Kids: Brady (11), Alex (8), Matthew (6)
Years in Charlotte: 16
Originally from: I was born in Arlington, TX, and moved to San Francisco, CA, when I was 13. I attended college at UC Santa Barbara and then moved to San Diego, CA, where I met my husband. I still consider my hometown to be Danville, CA, since this is where my family and friends reside.
Tell us about your journey from the West Coast to the East Coast:
My journey to the East Coast was supposed to be a temporary one: I was 24 when I moved to Charlotte and I was young and in love. My husband had accepted a job promotion to Charlotte and we thought, “What is there to lose? If we hate it, we can always move back.” Charlotte was a relatively new city and many people from the West Coast were unfamiliar with it. I can still remember my friends mixing up Charlotte and Charleston, as well as North and South Carolina. Now with Wells Fargo’s headquarters being in San Francisco and the purchase of Wachovia, I don’t think my friends mix up Charlotte very much anymore. Charlotte looks nothing like it did 16 years ago! I can remember exploring the city and thinking “Okay, I have seen all the neighborhoods and the downtown. Now, where is the rest?” Coming from a larger city, I felt like there had to be more to uncover. Little did I know that 15 years later there would be so much growth and development in this city that I could hardly keep up with all there is to see and do.
How do West Coasters differ from Southerners?
I think the South tends to be more deeply rooted in traditions and the people seem more traditional overall. People are friendly and outgoing here and chivalry still is a thing. There is a slower pace to the South in comparison to California. I have come to enjoy the slower pace more since having kids. I am in no hurry to watch my kids grow up too quickly. And there are seasons here; I love that we get four of them! The fall is truly spectacular in North Carolina, but I do try to escape for the summer – I am not a fan of humidity and bugs.
You’re a mom of three boys who are pretty creative? Can you share some funny stories?
My whole life is a funny story! I think people feel sorry for me sometimes. I am fortunate that I grew up in a home that valued comedy. My father was always playing pranks and I had an older brother that picked on me daily, so I like to think that I was sort of “groomed” for this boy-mom thing. My children and their father love nothing more than to play pranks. I can remember one time getting into my car only to find a faux cockroach resting on my steering wheel. I jumped about two feet in the air and the boys were dying laughing. There was also a stint of about two months where my youngest thought it would be funny to put his stinky socks under my pillow. Every morning he would check in to see if the “sock fairy” had come. He got such a kick over it that I just played along.
How do your boys show their creative side and how do you encourage it?
I think the items that define my household are string, tape, and cardboard. The traps, cars, vending machines, and marble shoots that have been created are an endless thing in our home. I am constantly peeling the tape off the kitchen counter and bits of string off the floor. In fact just last night, I had to take away a ball of kite string. The boys thought it would be fun to run the string down the stairs, out the front door and over to the neighbor’s house. The boys are very creative and love all things that involve engineering. We can no longer park in our garage because it has turned into their personal “makers space.”
Any advice for moms with three kids/three boys?
I have a special place in my heart for boy moms. I respect all moms, but there is this sort of camaraderie when parents of same sex kids meet. It’s like we can communicate without even having to speak. We know that we are just barely keeping it together on most days and that our girl time is very valued. I think the biggest piece of advice for anyone with multiple kids is to find your balance. It is so important to take care of yourself so that you have the right mindset when caring for our little people. With boys, my best advice is to let them be boys and celebrate them and get them outdoors! I hate that boys are expected to act like girls in school. They have these curious minds and it is so fun to watch them explore and create and let loose.
Where do your boys attend school?
My boys attend a charter school (Charlotte Lab School) that celebrates their creativity and allows for a lot of movement throughout the day. I hope to see more schools implementing this sort of thing in the coming years.
Why is it important to be involved with your children’s school?
Being involved in my children’s education has always been a priority. I sort of fell into my involvement, but I am so glad that I did. It started with being a room parent when my oldest was in kindergarten. From there, I joined the PTA at Myer’s Park Traditional and headed up corporate offerings (fundraising) for the school. When we joined the Charlotte Lab School, I naturally assumed the fundraising role with our PTSO. If you want to know how a school is run and the culture of the school, I recommend volunteering.
In regard to educational opportunities, I would say that Charlotte has a tremendous amount of choices – almost too many. A lot of people I know have a hard time understanding the differences between charter schools and how they are run versus magnet schools. I recommend doing your homework on schools: read reviews and reports from sites like www.greatschools.com or the school’s individual report cards and definitely take a tour. There were schools that we found that looked great on paper but just didn’t feel like the right fit for us after touring them.
Once you understand how private vs. charter. vs. zoned schools differ from one another, you can better navigate your options. Magnet programs through CMS are a great way to explore more specialized programs that involve language, Montessori, and STEM. Now is the time to enroll and apply if you are interested.
You and your husband have been involved with the Big Brother organization. How has that relationship impacted you and your family?
My husband and I have been involved with the program since 2005. At the time, we didn’t have children and wanted to give back. We met our “little” when he was nine. Two months after beginning the program, I found out I was pregnant. Despite learning that we would have a little one of our own on the way, we decided that we would fully commit to the program. I love that my children have always known “our little” since they were born. They have had an opportunity to see how races can blend and people can support one another despite their differences. We are so proud of our little: he graduated at the top of his class from Garinger HS a few years ago and was class president! It has been amazing to watch him go on to college and know that he will be walking away with a four-year degree in a matter of months! It has been great for my children to have someone in their lives who is currently demonstrating the importance of higher education. And what an amazing example to show them that we can achieve anything through hard work and dedication.
Share with us about slowing down and the importance of listening to our neighbors and your how your involvement with People of the Carolinas has allowed you to listen more:
People of the Carolinas has been a blessing in disguise. The website is a storytelling platform that honors the stories that make each of us who we are. When I was asked if I would like to collaborate on the website, I had no idea how many doors would open. I have had the opportunity to interview some really amazing people: from charity founders to small business owners to mothers struggling with their fertility. Not only have I learned a lot about others, but I have learned a lot about myself. Listening to people share their experiences has helped me to better understand and empathize with people. It saddens me that technology has really gotten in the way of our everyday interactions with people. It is so important to connect with people because those connections are what help us to grow. It has been fun watching the site grow and I have learned a ton about the amazing people in our state, not to mention social media marketing. To think that Facebook didn’t even exist when I first stayed at home shows how rapidly our world changes. I love being more mindful to slowing down and listening more.
Favorite charity events in Charlotte?
We just attended the American Heart Association’s Heart Ball which was lovely. I watched my grandmother suffer from a stroke when I was in high school. She became paralyzed from head to toe on one side of her body and was no longer able to speak or walk. Her poor health was directly related to her diet; so many of these diseases can be prevented through diet and lifestyle. My husband and I are big believers of teaching our kids about healthy foods and exercise. In our fast paced world today, it is so hard to really slow down and be mindful. Cooking is one of those things that I think many people just don’t have time for on most days. There are days when we are running from school to sports and the thought of cooking is just exhausting. I am fortunate that I have been taught to cook and know how to throw things together pretty quickly. I have learned that fast can still be healthy and the crockpot may be the best invention ever created. It is important for me to teach my kids these healthy lifestyle skills.
Favorite place to take your kids on the weekends?
We love exploring and traveling. There is so much to see and do in our state – from hiking in the mountains to a quick trip to the beach; we love to discover new places. We have a tendency to get outside a lot- with three boys, it’s a must. We love riding our bikes as a family. Our usual ride involves cycling down the Little Sugar Creek Greenway into Uptown and stopping for lunch along the way. We are excited about the new addition to the greenway that we will be able to access from Park Road Park once it is completed. For those who love mountain biking- there are nine miles of trails over there!
The U.S. National Whitewater Center has got to be one of our favorite places to take the boys. We love the ropes courses and my husband and oldest son have really gotten into the mountain bike trails out there. The River Jam music series will start back up in May. They have some amazing bands and who doesn’t love a craft beer to go with it?
Inner Peaks is another favorite of ours. Two of my boys are not into “traditional” sports. We feel lucky to have discovered the climbing team at Inner Peaks. Climb team has been a great way to teach the boys strength and agility while helping to build their confidence.
Favorite summer camps?
We do only a few summer camps because we have always gone back to California for the summers (did I mention humidity and bugs?). I am fortunate to be home with my boys, so we have the ability to do travel. However, I have a lot of friends who work full time and I have so much respect for those who can coordinate camps all summer for their children. I don’t know how people do it. Just the costs associated with full day camps are tremendous. For those looking for full day camps, my boys have enjoyed Camp Thunderbird and my youngest really loved camp Whippoorwill last year. They are very sweet camps that get them back to nature.