Des Moines Parent Spotlight: Julie Burtnette
I met Julie Burtnette over coffee a few years ago. I will never forget the day when I sat down and learned that she and co-founder Laura Johnson were planning to open a Des Moines Children’s Museum! I was ecstatic and knew that our community needed this place to play and learn. I am in awe at how much she has accomplished and every day she keeps going. Creating goals and knocking them out of the park. Learn more about Julie, her journey and family below.
Give us a little background on your family and personal life! How many kids do you have? Have you lived in Des Moines all your life?
My husband and I grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. We even went to the same junior high and high school and worked our first jobs at the local water park together, but never really knew each other until we met while we were in college and working at the same water park. There are a handful of pictures in my albums where his dad is in the background of a band concert or other school function. Brad and I have 4 girls Evie (3), Alice (5), Reese (11, Riley (12).We moved here a little over 3 years ago for Brad’s job right after our 4th girl, Evie was born. We love it here! Most of our family are still in the burbs of Chicago and whenever we visit we are reminded why we would NEVER move back. The traffic is horrible now that we’ve been spoiled by Iowa.
What is your business, and what do you do?
I’m super lucky to be the co-founder of Des Moines Children’s Museum though that never would have been possible if I hadn’t met Laura Johnson, the other co-founder. A children’s museum is a wonderful place that values the importance of childhood and play. Play is how young children learn and connect. Play builds brains. Children and their caregivers get to play and interact with different exhibits like a pizza diner, doctor’s office, or construction site. All children’s museums are different, but all value children, families, and play.
My husband says I’m a full-time volunteer. I just roll my eyes when I hear him say that since that makes it sound like I’m a really giving, good person. I liked it better when one of my nephews, Carson, said to his parents that Santa must be very happy with me and that I was on the good list.
It’s hard to describe what all I do since its constantly changing, which is one of the things I like about it. For example, I adore talking to guests when I’m working or interacting with the children who come and play at the museum. It’s always an honor when a child offers to let you into their pretend play by offering you ice cream, asking you to take care of a sick baby, or showing off the amazing structure they built.
Sometimes I have to dress up and talk to other grown-ups about the museum, get filmed for the news, or write a press release. These are not my favorite things to do since I don’t feel like I’m good at them, but its important work to continue growing the museum for all the families in Greater Des Moines, and I like trying new things that push me out of my comfort zone. My comfort zone is definitely reading stories for storytime and talking exhibits with Laura. Some days I spend hours writing a grant and getting the answers to fit word counts or character counts (surprisingly I love the challenge of limits). I love our contractor, Jeff Fox, but I’d be okay if I didn’t have to talk to him about plumbing ever again. My work for the museum is extremely challenging and rewarding.
I especially love the kindness of our guests at the museum! Seriously we have the best guests. Every time we get a 5-star review on Google or Facebook it makes me pause and smile. Recently we even had a wonderful mom advocate to her company to donate money to the museum. I will never forget Missy and all the other Sammons Financial Group employees and the amazing surprise or their generous check.
Why did you become a small business owner?
Des Moines Children’s Museum is a nonprofit, but like any great nonprofit (which we are always striving to be) we run it like a business. Though I don’t own it, I’m one of many on the board that makes sure that we run it like a small business, so that it will be fiscally responsible and are able to keep providing a space for families to connect and play which is what builds brains in children. I NEVER thought or wanted to own a business or be on a board. Really I found myself in this position because after moving here I wanted a children’s museum closer than Omaha or Coralville and I had lunch with Laura and children’s museums came up. Both of us loved children’s museums and had been to many.
Where is your favorite place to take your children to play indoors?
I unashamedly will admit, my favorite place to take my young children is a children’s museum. I love that its a pause of daily life and focused time on the play and the importance of childhood. It’s a place I don’t have to say no. I also love that though my bigs no longer would request to go to a children’s museum they too will get in on the play and have an elaborate dramatic play that includes the littles.
Where is your favorite place to take your children to play outdoors?
Hands down it is the pool! I’m really glad that my kids love the water as much as me. Sometimes it’s stressful hauling four to the pool. Once in the water, it is always worth the effort of sunscreen, a bag of towels, finding the flip flops and feeding tired and hungry kids since the pool is also exhausting.
Parent’s day/night out. Describe your perfect parent only day/night out in Des Moines.
I’m horrible at planning date nights. When I had my first baby over 12 years ago there was a nurse that advocated that parents HAVE to plan date nights and that it is really important to have time away from kids and to talk about other things. My husband and I would go to dinner and sit across from each other and only talk about the kids. The kids are awesome, no doubt, but someday they are going to move out and forget to call us. We have to make sure that we have the stuff to talk about when our kids aren’t always around.
I’m better at date days. Going walking and talking is my favorite. We totally don’t do that enough and it’s totally my fault. When we walk together we end up discussing so many things and I’m refreshed and usually, a few of the problems I hadn’t figured out a plan of action will be solved. But date nights are so important, so we’ve learned to add walking somehow to the dinner date.
That being said, I’d like to shamelessly plug the Giggle Gala. Live music by Bruce Day, stand-up comedian, bites to eat and 1 drink ticket for $50.00 per person sounds like a great date night all while supporting the children’s museum. Here’s a code to get $5.00 off each ticket (dsmparent). Go ahead and treat yourself to an awesome night out.
What are some tips on juggling parenthood, working, and personal life?
I try to be kind to myself. Physically I have no skill at juggling, but metaphorically speaking, I’m always trying to be the best juggler around. I read the book Good to Great by Jim Collins last year and his explanation of companies that just keep turning the flywheel (which really-what a weird name!) and how the momentum will build and amazing results will seem like they just happen, but its really just you chugging along. For example, my oldest daughter really struggled with reading early on. This was so hard since I love reading and have taught language arts to Junior High and High School students. What helped her wasn’t a special program, special reading books, or lists of sight words. It was reading every night to her. It took forever, but now I have to tell her to leave her book in the car.
The thing is, there is no way for me to not drop balls. I just try to be kind to myself and apologize when it happens. I also have a magnet that I see all the time by Ralph Waldo Emerson which helps me get through the days where I’m stretched too thin. “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
What is your number one parenting tip?
Pick your battles. Sometimes when I’m hungry and tired and my kids are starting to meltdown and a littles’ legs don’t work, I know that huge amazing exceptions like ice cream before dinner can be made. Not only is it enjoyable for me, but it helps everyone’s mood. Every parents’ important battles are different, but knowing that all parents are picking their battles helps me not judge other parents. Parenting is hard work. It’s never-ending and constant.