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When it comes to fashion, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in Bobbie Thomas's house, which she shares with her 6-year-old son, Miles.
"He is particular about his clothes," the Today show style editor says of her only child. "He calls them outfits, which is so funny. And I guess that must've been something he picked up because he grew up around me."
Thomas is raising Miles solo following the death of her husband, Michael Marion, last December following medical complications separate from the ischemic stroke he suffered in 2019. Here, she shares how she and her son are processing that loss and how she's throwing herself into new projects with Russell Stover's no-sugar-added Joy Bites and Hairdo's line of clip-in hair extensions, which, after her lengthy and emotional period of caregiving, have helped remind her of the power of taking time for herself.
Judging from your Instagram, Miles has got some cool long hair and cute outfits. Does he have his own personal sense of style?
Miles is sort of a cool kid. I joke around a lot because he doesn't even know who Matthew McConaughey or Kid Rock is, but he's sort of an amalgamation [laughs]. He's like, "Alright, alright, alright." He's super-social, which is so wild to watch. He walks into a playground and has like four friends within a minute, which is amazing; I love that...
He calls [his clothes] outfits and it's funny because he's corrected his grandmother and other people at times; he's like, "No, I need an outfit." And pajamas that match: He won't wear one bottom or top if it doesn't match. "No, I need the outfit." I was always thinking, "Oh my gosh, I've created a monster [laughs]."
He definitely likes outfits, but the hair has been the biggest challenge and conversation and growing and learning experience, because Miles was bald forever when he was little; it was kind of hysterical. And then he had curly hair grow in and it was sort of adorable and unruly. And I just let it go because, frankly, it was easier to manage when it was a little bit longer than shorter, and it was kind of his personality. [He] went from having no hair to the thickest, fastest-growing hair you've ever seen. We took him in for his first big cut and he got, I think, four inches cut off and I posted it on Instagram awhile back. It was still [long], but I didn't want to shock him too much; I just wanted to get the extra length off.
But as time went on, things were kind of tough with taking care of my husband and then COVID hit. We skipped the salon and it was sort of like, "Who cares?" He's not going out, he's not in school. He was Zoom schooling all of last year. And then we found ourselves collectively in a place where I was sort of lax about the long hair. And I know it's been an issue and a lot of outlets have talked about celebrity kids with long hair. And I was conflicted, because a part of me felt like, who cares? Long hair, don't care. But I was asking Miles questions about it because he was often referred to as a girl — he still is. A lot of people are like, "Oh, she's so cute, she's so cute."
At first my husband and I used to be like, "He's a boy" and try to not let him hear it, but he clearly was hearing it. And then all of a sudden, on his own, he just piped up and said, "I'm not a girl, I just have cool hair." And that was his knee-jerk reaction. They would say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." He's like, "It's OK. It's just cool hair." It was kind of funny to see him respond for himself. And then when this whole COVID thing went on, his hair got incredibly long. [Given] the other priorities in our lives, we just didn't care. We would pull it back in a bun and we weren't going out...
And we came down to his grandparents' house for the summer, and there's been a lot of discussion about his hair. It's coming from a loving place, because it's always in his face and it's so hot outside, or he's trying to play sports and it will get stuck and sweaty and then he would cry. You have to wash his hair and untangle it, so there's been a frustration and challenge there. So we said, "Miles, let's just cut your hair, it will be so much easier." He really took to it heart and said, "No, just let me be me. I want to be me. This is what I look like." There's been resistance, but I won't force him. He said he'd consider cutting it before school or something.
So I have a lot of empathy for parents that are kind of put on the spot with people saying, "He looks like a girl. Why don't you cut his hair?" Because I personally am dealing with trying to give him his own identity and space, but also trying to look out for him because I don't want him challenged with not being able to read or write because of the hair in his face, like the more practical side.
It's great that he's so confident in his decision.
I think that's what has convinced me to let him grow it, because he's so clear that this is [his] choice. I mean, how can you argue with that?
What has this past year or so taught you? In becoming a single mother, what have you learned about yourself as a parent?
For me, shifting my focus to what we have versus what we don't was the first big shift; focusing on what feels good as opposed to what doesn't. And I think also shifting my mindset from complex to clear because there's been this insane clarity that I've become more aware of, I think, as a result of that shift. The shift in focus has created a shift in energy and behavior for me. [But] I wish I didn't have to go through what I did...
[There are] three things I've learned through this horrible loss: trust, learning and expression. Of course being a parent, especially a single parent, your whole focus originally is like, OK, how do I become a good parent? What do I do to take care of them? The advice that I was given to be a good guide for Miles has given me more direction, and it was really: If you want to build trust, [give the] honest, simple truth. And it's very simple: Tell him the truth, but make it simple. "Daddy died." "Why did he die?" "His body stopped working." I can be honest with him, but I can also be simple; I don't need to go deep. And I realized that that can work in other areas of my life, whether it's communicating how I feel or [checking in] with myself; I can be honest with myself and I can be simple about it. Building trust is all about honest, simple truth.
Learning because I want my child to learn and grow. I've realized that if I want to learn more about him and what he's thinking and what he's feeling, I need to wonder and listen. I want to learn, so I wonder and listen. I say that out loud to Miles: "I'm wondering what you're thinking about this project." "I was wondering how camp went today." And listen, because we as grownups, we always want to talk. And then we talk about what we don't know about them and we never even given them a chance to tell us, especially me, because I can be a talker. I definitely have learned how to wonder out loud and just listen, and I've learned so much about him and, in truth, my friends and how other people feel. And even myself, when I just listen to my thoughts. I've given myself permission for 30 minutes to just drink coffee outside and not have a plan because it's amazing. When you're driving or in the shower, do you ever realize how much you think about? Sometimes we don't listen to our thoughts, but out thoughts can really give us direction.
And last but not least, expression. The simple fact behind the expression is: Offer him a vocabulary. Especially with us and losing a parent, there was a vocabulary he needs. He needs to be able to express unique feelings to understand what "died" means or other things. So if we can offer a vocabulary or find words for ourselves ... moms will say, "I'm tired all the time." You're not just tired all the time. You're overwhelmed or you are frustrated or you're anxious about something and [you need] to really connect for yourself the true meaning behind the feeling and the vocabulary you need, even if it's just what you understand. Those very simple truths have helped me become not only a better parent to Miles, but a better person for myself.
And, you know, I wish I could be a sh**ier person and have my husband back in a minute ... but I will take this gift and make something better of it because it doesn't make any sense for myself or anyone else to not cherish this. I've been given this new perspective. So that's kind of where everything's landed right now and I'm still learning and growing. Your child can be your best guide because they really see life in a much simpler way. Everything's really black and white. It's pretty clear. They're still in this magical "here and now" [period].
It's so funny because I used to wonder what the rabbit hole meant. And a lot of times I think the rabbit hole is the present. We just miss it as adults. We focus on the path and on the future so much that, gosh, the magical rabbit hole is just stopping time and being right where you are and playing and saying, "Yeah, let's get ice cream for dinner." Just going with it. So in a lot of ways, there's a lot of hurt and pain from the loss, but there's room for so much magic and love and connection. And that's the special thing I get to share with Miles and have another bond with him.
Your time must be so precious now; what about the Russell Stover Joy Bites and Hairdo projects made you want to come onboard?
It really falls under the profession of mine to share whatever I know with women. I really disliked being positioned as an expert because there is no way for me to be an expert about you — you know you — but what I can do is be a professional girlfriend. And my responsibility as a professional girlfriend is to just share with you things that I've been lucky enough to be introduced to...
These two brands are the perfect sort of explanation of who I am. I love the outside, and I love knowing that it's really important to adorn yourself. With Hairdo, I'm not suggesting that who you are underneath a hairpiece isn't 100 percent amazing; in fact, that's everything. But I also feel like people deserve the opportunity to have access to it and it should be affordable ... and I love that somebody can see themselves in a mirror and feel great about what they see and to shift the focus on the things they like.
But when it comes to what's inside — and that was sort of the big premise of my book, The Power of Style: Everything You Need to Know Before You Get Dressed Tomorrow — I could style somebody in a head-to-toe designer suit and work out their hair and makeup and then send them off into an amazing party where the love of their life is. But I can't help them not slouch and move into a corner and be afraid to make eye contact and present themselves in a way that they love. And that's why I love a brand like Joy Bites, because their whole mission when launching was, we really want to remind people about taking the time for joy. And I thought about it and I thought, Gosh, I say no to myself all the time. No, I can't do this now. I shouldn't eat that. No, no, no. No, the chocolate, no to the glass of wine, no to the afternoon nap.
And with such a hard year for everybody, it's been like an upside-down world. I finally was already in a place where I really wanted to say "yes" to me, and my calendar was filled with things for everyone else: caretaking for my husband, and I had appointments for my son and I was grocery shopping. I remember a lovely family member who meant well saying, "Why don't you take time to work out? Why don't you do this?" And I thought, I don't know. I looked at the calendar thinking, Where would I fit it? And I realized I was in control of taking time for me and Joy Bites was an opportunity to have a brand give me the platform to share that thought with other women...
They [want you] to put yourself on the calendar, and I really started after the idea of stepping into a role with them. I woke up this morning and the first 30 minutes of my day, instead of picking up my phone, which is pretty major for most of us, when I opened my eyes, I have a Post-it note that I put on my phone the night before. I'm pretty good about this; I do this at least five nights out of seven. [I write down] the one thing that's important to me that I want to tackle in the morning, and sometimes that's like, "call this person back"... but sometimes it's just "stretch," "drink a cup of coffee," "watch a show," whatever it is. And then I feel so much better throughout the day because I started the day with me.
Speaking of joy, what activities bring you joy as a family?
As a boy mom, I have found that I love Legos. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I am a master Lego builder [laughs] and it's so fun. We'll get kits together and it's such a connection. I get to talk to him and he's learning my directions. I learn so much about where his head is at when I get to do a project like that with him . So Legos were huge. I also know so much about vehicles and Hot Wheels, specifically. I can build a Hot Wheels track like no other. I went Go Kart racing with him recently this summer, and I don't know, it's just such an amazing connection. And it helps me feel not only closer to him, but just more authentic to who I am — just letting go of the expectations of who I should be or what I should do.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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