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Family Planning

The story of Family Times’ birth sounds, at least in my telling, much like that of my children’s arrival in this world. Yes, I had a lot to do with it—I was definitely there—but a handful of other people loomed large, too, and they remained a lot calmer and looked a lot better throughout the process. None of us got much sleep.

Nor can I take credit for the idea. That goes to the Syracuse New Times’ general manager at the time. Seeing the success of such parenting publications in other markets, and sensing an opening here in Central New York, he approached me with “What if...”

For me, the timing made sense both professionally and personally. I had been with The New Times for seven years, starting as an unpaid intern during graduate school and then playing musical chairs from associate editor to managing editor to, ultimately, editor-in-chief. I worked with smart, creative people to produce something that felt worthwhile. Life was good.

But in 2000, with the birth of my first child, I found the one thing I loved more than getting paid to read and write.
We couldn’t have asked for better baby-sitting—a close family friend provided loving care—but I struggled with the always long and sometimes erratic hours required of my job.

In 2001, I turned over The New Times editor-in-chief reins to Molly English-Bowers and settled into a part-time gig as special sections editor. As it turned out, however, I wasn’t the only staffer more interested in midnight feedings than happy hour. After establishing that this new project wouldn’t take away resources and energy from The New Times, we assembled a small crew to launch Family Times.

At least that was the intention. In the end, some in-house design, promotion, advertising, accounting and editorial staff ended up pulling double duty. The magazine’s format also borrowed some elements from The New Times: short news items; feature story; columns; calendar. Other bits, including a reader opinion column called “Because I Said So” and more photos of babies and puppies in one issue than in The New Times’ entire history, set Family Times apart from its big sister.

We recruited writers, wooed advertisers and prayed for readers. Family Times was unveiled April 24, 2002, during a press conference at Borders Books and Music in Carousel Center.

For the most part, Family Times’ infancy progressed smoothly. I do remember some growing pains a few months in when our July issue included a short story about two men who had adopted a newborn. The couple, both with connections to the local theater community, had had a brush with celebrity because Rosie O’Donnell had helped them with the adoption. The theater geek in me figured they were kind of famous, and the baby was really cute.

Others, including a few advertisers, questioned our agenda. This turned out to be just the first of many times I had to check some of my assumptions about our audience at the door. Breastfeeding, vaccinations, homeschooling and even Pampered Chef parties were all touchy issues. Often I already knew where I stood as a parent but, as an editor, an open mind remained essential.

(Truth is, I learned a lot over the years from our writers and readers. One pleasant surprise was our skinny little startup’s consistent ability to nab top-notch writers and artists. Family Times attracted talented, thoughtful contributors from the start. Some challenged me, some became friends, all impressed me.)

I also had to remember that our publication went home in the backpacks of schoolchildren. The issues that weigh most on parents’ minds are also often the issues they prefer children not know about. Word choice and images had to be considered. Carefully. Especially on the cover. Enough said.

Family Times grew steadily those first few months and, somewhere along the way, work on it became an evening operation for a few staffers. Our publisher set the tone: As long as the work was done, the hours were flexible. We stayed out of the way and saved a bit on baby-sitting.

The following year, I had my second child but returned after a six-week leave covered, thankfully, by Bill DeLapp, The New Times’ managing editor. On work nights, my husband walked in the house around 6 p.m. and I would walk out after handing him a couple of kids sticky with sunblock and sippy-cup spills.

It sounds exhausting but I actually found that schedule energizing. It was enormously satisfying to keep working and, on the best nights, know that both my children and the magazine had been safely put to bed.

Of course, 10 years on, time blurs many of the details and there were definitely days I dreaded dragging myself to the office. I wasn’t the only who had to rally. Our advertising manager, Karen Belgrader, often stopped by in the wee hours. And I’ll always remember the night that our graphic designer, Lisa Mergler-Santoro, sick with a fever but determined to make deadline, left me pages to proof while she drove herself to urgent care. She came back around midnight to make the corrections.

In 2006, pregnant with my third child, I decided even part-time work was too much. Life wouldn’t be any less busy, but it would be a little simpler if one of us parents was home full time. I know not every family has the luxury of making that choice. 

Fortunately, Family Times continues to thrive under a different editor. Indeed, our baby has come a long way, increasing circulation, winning national awards and establishing annual events such as the Summer Fun and Camp Fair, the Besties awards and the Cover Kid contest.

These days, although there are no babies in our house anymore, after-school hours are packed with activities and homework that stretch well into the evening. 

And every now and then I’ll catch a glimpse of Family Times on a newsstand and, much as with my children, I take a minute to appreciate how impressive it’s become. I’m excited to see what the next 10 years will bring. Happy birthday, baby!

Tina Schwab Grenis lives in Manlius with her husband, three children, dog and guinea pig. She was editor of Family Times from 2002 to 2006, with a three-month stint filling in for Reid Sullivan’s maternity leave in 2008.


Photos Above: Michael Davis Photos
Original designer Lisa Mergler-Santoro and founding editor Tina Schwab Grenis
...with Managing Editor (past and present) Bill DeLapp
...and Bill's daughter Amy, holding the magazine with Amy's December 2005 cover.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York