A Conversation between Liz Reitman and her daughter, Aidan Conley
Liz’s daughter, Aidan Conley, joins us for a special episode of REIT’s Women Supporting Women series. Liz takes time to hear her daughter’s perspective on entrepreneurship, creativity, and growing up — and we, in turn, learn about Liz’s experiences as an entrepreneur navigating her role as a working parent. In light of ADHD Awareness Month, Liz and Aidan also discuss their experiences navigating learning differences as a parent and child, respectively.
Liz Reitman: Hello everybody. I am extremely excited to introduce a very special guest, somebody I think I know kind of well [laughs], my daughter, Aidan Conley, who is going to talk to us about being an artist, being the daughter of an entrepreneurial mom, and whatever else comes up. So I’ll let Natasha take it off and start with our questions.
Natasha Cucullo: Yeah, thanks Aidan for being here! This is also a special episode for me because I am also the daughter of an entrepreneur; so I am very excited to hear your perspective.
Before we dive in, could you start by sharing a little bit about yourself? Your hobbies and interests?
Aidan Conley: Yeah, so I definitely paint a lot, that’s one of my big hobbies. And I love cooking as well.
Natasha: I love that. I’ve also gotten into cooking [more creatively] recently and it’s a beautiful, wonderful creative process. Liz, you just recently got into cooking. What has that experience been like for you?
Liz: As I’ve said on some other episodes – I really made it a point to try to learn how to cook. I also learned that cooking was a great way to start connecting with your brother, Gabe. So it is a nice way to strengthen our relationship.
Aidan: So [during Covid] for two or one month(s) I was at home and me and my mom would cook and figure out meals together.
Liz: Yeah. We experimented a lot. And it was fun because we both had work to do during the day, but every night we were like, Let’s make dinner together.
Very fun. Well, it's already clear that creativity, experimenting, and exploring were fostered in your family. Aidan, do you want to talk a little bit about that and how you made your way into a creative space?
Aidan: So growing up I did have learning disabilities, or still do, dyslexia and ADHD. And I think my parents already had the value set that it doesn’t necessarily have to be an academic route that you go down to show your successes; it could be a creative field or something that you do with your hands, which I think opened a lot of doors for me. So definitely my environment very much fostered that.
Liz: Is it fair for me to say that you struggled sleeping? As part of having ADHD? So, you know, all of a sudden, [at] one in the morning, I’d hear her in the bathroom, and I’d be like, What are you doing? And she’d have what looked like safety pins in her face! Stitches! I’d be like, What is going on? She went through a period with face makeup, which was extremely creative. So artistic. But I was like, Go to bed!
Aidan: One thing that is really nice is that I feel like my parents always played a role — so I would do the face makeup and then my mom or my dad would set up a background for me or take a picture. They were very helpful with the process.
Liz: And I think what we learned when she was little was that Aidan needs to fill her gas tank; with her ADHD, she needs that stimuli. Now, unfortunately for us, our house was a mess. [laughs] But whatever her path was [we supported her].
Well, it sounds like you both were able to adapt and learn from each other, and foster that creativity. Aidan, how did you transfer that creative skill and energy into a more formal setting at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)?
Aidan: At RISD you learn how to do a craft to the fullest. You learn the traditional way it was done. And it’s really interesting because I feel like I have two types of making: formal and more free flowing.
I will say in general, I don’t think RISD was the best place for me; just in the sense that I went to a [secondary] school that did cater to kids with learning disabilities. So I had 36 kids in my grade, 12 kids in each class, two teachers in each class. And I think going to RISD, I don’t know if I was prepared for what that was going to be. And I definitely have taken a break from creating, and that’s why cooking has become more of a big deal for me; because [at RISD] you had to justify every color that you used, our tests were critiques as opposed to being graded by a teacher, so I think that it definitely was a tough time for me.
Liz: I think your education in some ways was compromised, right? Because what RISD is known for is the facilities and the resources and [during Covid] they’re sending stuff home…it was rough.
Natasha: Yeah, no, it’s definitely [tough]. I can’t imagine going to college through Covid; that sounds really hard socially, academically, [and] especially for a studio art major. So I hear that. I would love to hear about Liz’s college experience…
Liz, did your college experience differ or parallel to Aidan's experience in art school?
Liz: It was somewhat similar, to be honest. I didn’t go to an art school, I went to University of Michigan, but I went into the art program. And I really went there because I wanted to go into medical illustration, then very quickly realized that was not the right major for me. I just wasn’t good enough – the people who could illustrate were off the charts. It was highly competitive. So I really related to Aidan’s experience in terms of the competitive environment and the difficulty in making friends.
Aidan: It was actually a bonding moment for us because I think we realized that we both loved our high school and going from an environment that we loved, we felt safe in, we felt like we kind of made it…and then losing that and going to something new…my mom would always make me feel less alone when I would talk about my experiences. Because one of the biggest things I heard was, This is the best time of your life. And that was horrifying to me because I was like, I’m kind of miserable.
Natasha: No, that is so real. Well, I’m sorry that that was both of your college experiences, but it’s great that you were able to connect with each other on that – that is really special. It also sounds like you two had really great secondary education experiences.
Aidan, can you share what your experience was like growing up?
Aidan: So when I was in third grade, I was put into my school, Churchill, that specializes in learning differences, and that was a really great environment for me. It was small, I felt like I could really learn, and they had an amazing arts program because they prioritized students’ creativity. I also feel the way I grew up was quite different from other people because my dad was the “stay at home mom”. Now everyone talks about gender roles and everything, but I was raised in an environment where it didn’t really matter what gender you were, you just had to do what you had to do and people did it well.
Liz: And there’s also [the experience of] growing up in the city. I always feel like our kids are really good people persons because they’ve been around [so many different types of] people.
Aidan: I think that there is a lot of camaraderie in the city that people don’t see. I have actually had a lot of experiences where people do look out for you. There is a community in the city that is really beautiful.
Natasha: I love that you added the element of New York City because people really, really have you.
Aidan, I'd love to go back to what you were saying earlier about your dad being the “stay at home mom”. My family was similar. Did you find any camaraderie with other people your age? What was your experience like?
Aidan: I think when I was younger, we didn’t really have a concept of what it “should be” necessarily. So I feel like as I’ve gotten older, I see and respect [my mom and her work] so much more because it’s actually really inspiring to grow up with a woman that actually has done it – because you hear that like women can do everything, and then there’s so much put against us. And to see that my mom started a company [that] is still thriving in that company [and she] has had it my entire life…I definitely think that as I’ve gotten older, I now see what that means. I think that it’s definitely been empowering to grow up in an environment like that.
Natasha: Yeah, I would say a similar thing. When I was younger I didn’t see my parents as fully fleshed out human beings; and as I’ve gotten older, and I worked with my mom for a good chunk of time, I am so honored that I am able to see her as more than my mom and learn more about her every day.
Aidan: I remember me and my mom got into a fight, and I remember saying to her, You have one job! And she just laughed at that. And then I actually had an internship with her, and I got to see what she deals with on a daily basis. And I will eat those words now [laughs] because it was –hearing her in meetings and hearing how she ran things – it was so inspiring.
Natasha: Yeah. It’s nice to have the living example as a daily reminder of what your mom is capable of; but then to take it into account consciously gives you a whole other level of understanding and admirability and gratitude.
Liz, I would love to hear your perspective of when Aidan interned at REIT with you.
Liz, what was it like for you when Aidan interned for REIT?
Liz: For me, I loved seeing her work ethic. It was really cool to watch how hard she worked, showing up on time, really being held accountable, keeping her deadlines and then bringing fun to it and adding value to what was happening in our space. I think it was a win-win for all of us.
I wonder if, as you've continued to mature, Aidan, what else have you learned about your mom that has contributed to your understanding of her today?
Aidan: I think that I now I am able to see her as a [fuller] person that has experienced some of the things that I’ve experienced, some different things that I’ve experienced; but growing up, I definitely felt like I missed out on learning about her life and who she is as a person. And now, I am able to see who she is – honestly, you have more of a life than I have at this point! [laughs]
Liz: But the funny thing is, Aidan, gives me advice now, which I love. Like, we’re on a different level. I also think I’m just more chill now. I think I was definitely way more tightly wound because I felt the pressure of raising kids and giving them the opportunities to succeed.
Aidan: We can meet on common ground now – it’s a lot more fun, I will say, this way.
Yes, I have a similar experience. Liz and my mom were steering the ship, which was incredible and important; but you sometimes lose out on learning more about them as people. I love that now you're at that point in your relationship. It sounds like that shift has been positive and seamless; would you say so?
Aidan: I think it happened exactly how it was supposed to. And I think that as you get older, you realize you have a lot of similarities with your parents.
Liz: And I think that was a surprise for us. I don’t think we ever thought we were similar. And then all of a sudden, as we got to know each other better, we were like, Wow, we had no idea! Which has been really fun as well.
Natasha: That is so fun.
Okay Liz, what's something that you're proud of Aidan for doing or for being?
Liz Reitman: [00:48:51] Wow. I mean, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Honestly, having ADHD and dyslexia, like that in itself, how she’s overcome it. And how she finished RISD in four years! I’ll forever be in awe of that – and then add Covid in the mix of it! So I’ll just start there. But now, watching Aidan navigate her life; she’s moved to another state by her own choice, got a job, is financially independent…actually, it gives me the chills! And I’m just so proud of her for all of that, really, because, you know, she’s living the life that she wants and accepts it and owns it. And I just think it’s beautiful.
Aidan: Aw, thanks Mom.
Natasha: Aw, that’s beautiful.
Aiden, same question for your mom. What about your mom makes you proud?
Aidan: I feel like you really have let loose. And I think that you see a joy to the world again that I don’t think I saw that you saw when I was younger. And you always are pushing yourself to do something that makes you a little uncomfortable, that winds up being a really fun experience. You travel a lot. I feel like you’ve done so much to improve your life and get out there. You were already a very independent person, but I think that you can lean on yourself now, and you allow yourself to lean on other people. And I think that it’s a really good attribute. And it feels like you’re enjoying life again. And that makes me really happy.
Liz: That’s beautiful.
That was so special. Thank you so much, Aiden, and thank you, Liz. Aways a treat to learn something new about Liz, and meeting her daughter has been especially fun.
Liz: So true. Thank you.
Aidan: Thank you, guys.