On her liv­ing room wall, a pho­to clock dis­plays beau­ti­ful fam­i­ly pic­tures where typ­i­cal­ly, there would have been num­bers. In her bed­rooms, cool colours and dec­o­ra­tive ac­cents ex­ude a peace­ful, airy ho­tel feel, while in front and back re­treats out­side the house sit charm­ing en­sem­bles of pal­let fur­ni­ture, pulled to­geth­er by cush­ion ac­ces­sories and wood­en wall dé­cor. There is al­so a small play­house.

Like a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple in T&T, be­ing con­fined at home has brought out the Do-It-Your­self (DIY) crafter in en­tre­pre­neur and moth­er of eight, Ni­ki Ro­drigues. And bal­anc­ing a bud­get for a fam­i­ly of ten has sharp­ened her cre­ative in­stinct even more, she told Sun­day Guardian re­cent­ly.

Ro­drigues is the proud moth­er of Matthew, 20; An­drew, 19; Aimée-Leigh, 15; Bri­an­na, 13; Joseph (Joey), nine; Jesse, six; Cia­ra, four and De­sirée, two.

She wears nu­mer­ous hats with one of them be­ing a found­ing mem­ber of the Home­School As­so­ci­a­tion of Trinidad and To­ba­go, she has been fea­tured in lo­cal elec­tron­ic and print me­dia. The own­er of Daugh­ters of the King bou­tique and im­age con­sul­tan­cy, Made in His Im­age which have had to close un­der COVID-19 re­stric­tions, she has come up with in­ven­tive mon­ey-sav­ing ideas in a time when her house­hold has been left with a sin­gle in­come from her hus­band, Jim, a fi­nance man­ag­er.

Ever a cre­ative spir­it, Ro­drigues did not have too look far to find so­lu­tions last year af­ter be­ing caught in a na­tion­wide shut­down short­ly af­ter her re­turn from a shop­ping trip abroad to re­stock her bou­tique. She googled some things, fig­ured out oth­ers and start­ed churn­ing out DIY projects.

Since then, her Diego Mar­tin home has been trans­formed in­side and out. Her first project was com­ing up with a way to dry clothes af­ter their dry­er quit just af­ter they had some ex­ten­sive un­der­ground plumb­ing done. She built out­door PVC clothes dry­ing rack. Next, she made a gar­den out of gut­ter­ing, a raised gar­den bed and wood­en planters, and has pi­men­tos, oregano, chives, me­l­on­gene, squash, starch man­goes and gua­va to show for her ef­forts.

Niki Rodrigues

Niki Rodrigues

The handy mum has al­so craft­ed a stained cof­fee ta­ble us­ing crates she built her­self since they were quite dif­fi­cult to source. Us­ing pal­lets, she made a sec­tion­al, a play­house for the lit­tle ones, and most re­cent­ly a planter that dou­bles as a pri­va­cy screen. She trans­formed their old front doors—which she dis­cov­ered to be ma­hogany dur­ing the process—in­to bench­es and a small ta­ble. These pieces she used to cre­ate three out­doors nooks, com­plete with throw pil­lows, faux win­dow shut­ters and wall dec­o­ra­tions.

Even the younger chil­dren whom they have nick­named, “the Lit­tles”—the old­er four are called, “the Awe­some Four­some”—got their per­son­al makeovers.

“The last trip we made which was Feb­ru­ary 2020, I said I wasn’t go­ing to buy any clothes for the kids—re­mem­ber I’m trav­el­ling every three to four months. I said we are mak­ing a trip in Ju­ly, every­body will get what they want then. Lit­tle did I know that was go­ing to be the last trip,” Ro­drigues laughed.

“The Lit­tles” who are still grow­ing rapid­ly have been sport­ing dress­es, skirts, tops and even pants sewn by their moth­er. Ro­drigues said she had to learn quick­ly and did so through on­line tu­to­ri­als and by fol­low­ing the pat­terns of their store-bought clothes.

The chil­dren al­so join in the projects, lap­ping up the new ex­pe­ri­ences. Joey is a ded­i­cat­ed gar­den­er and has man­aged to get love­ly pi­men­tos where Ro­drigues her­self has strug­gled, she in­formed. Jesse too has shown an in­ter­est in gar­den­ing. When there was an ex­cess of oregano, Joey sug­gest­ed dry­ing the aro­mat­ic herb. With the help of his moth­er and younger broth­er, they dried the leaves in the oven, packed them in bags and shared them with neigh­bours.

Not to be left out, old­er girls, Aimée-Leigh and Bri­an­na have had their own reg­is­tered busi­ness­es in cup­cakes and eco-friend­ly bags and ac­ces­sories re­spec­tive­ly.

Peo­ple wowed by the items pro­duced by Ro­drigues and her fam­i­ly have been mak­ing re­quests.

Niki Rodrigues repurposed old doors as benches and a table for this outdoor nook.

Niki Rodrigues repurposed old doors as benches and a table for this outdoor nook.

Through her Made in His Im­age con­sul­tan­cy which she start­ed in 2015, Ro­drigues did work­shops from 2018 en­ti­tled “Gift­ed Hands” which al­lowed chil­dren and teens to ex­plore their cre­ative tal­ents through cook­ing, jew­el­ry mak­ing and oth­er arts. She of­ten had peo­ple come in and share their ex­per­tise in their par­tic­u­lar field.

“I want­ed to share that with oth­er par­ents be­cause they felt there was some­thing spe­cial about my chil­dren. Every­body can do this, but be­cause of how the con­ven­tion­al school sys­tem is–you have the chil­dren in school six hours a day, then they have home­work or lessons on top of that, so chil­dren are no longer al­lowed to be chil­dren. It was Ein­stein who said that play­ing is ba­si­cal­ly the lan­guage of child­hood. That’s how they learn.”

A pro­gramme for adults, “Skill Up” al­so emerged and Ro­drigues is look­ing for­ward to launch­ing her newest ven­ture, “the DIY Se­ries” vir­tu­al­ly on Au­gust 7. It will in­clude wood­work­ing with Ro­drigues and acrylic paint­ing with a young artist.

An avid blog­ger, Ro­drigues has shared some of her life knowl­edge in “Chron­i­cles of an Out­num­bered Mom” on Word­Press and she start­ed a Face­book page, “Liv­ing Large by Faith” in 2020.

To keep her large house­hold func­tion­ing, Ro­drigues, a born-again Chris­t­ian, draws on her spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. God has al­so been the main force in her mar­riage of 23 years, she said. She wed a 22-year-old Jim when she was 21. They had met on a sec­ond oc­ca­sion at his church af­ter hav­ing been in­tro­duced years ear­li­er while she at­tend­ed St Fran­cois Girls’ Col­lege and he, Fa­ti­ma Col­lege.

“We are best friends. We not on­ly love each oth­er, but like each oth­er which is an anom­aly for most peo­ple which is sad, but we’ve kept God at the cen­tre and he has kept our union.”

Told that she would be hard­ly like­ly to bear chil­dren, she and her hus­band were pleas­ant­ly sur­prised three years in­to their mar­riage, when she be­came preg­nant with Matthew. Be­tween a short stint at a bank, work­ing as a flight at­ten­dant and lat­er as a sec­ondary school teacher in the pub­lic and then pri­vate school sys­tem and fi­nal­ly be­com­ing an en­tre­pre­neur, Ro­drigues would give birth sev­en more times. Far from the sin­gle-par­ent home which she had shared with her moth­er, great-grand­moth­er and younger sis­ter as a child, Ro­drigues said she was lucky to have a sup­port­ive hus­band who even en­cour­aged her to stay at home full time af­ter her first daugh­ter was born.

A playhouse done by Niki Rodriguez. Three of the

A playhouse done by Niki Rodriguez. Three of the “Littles” snuggle in the playhouse.

De­spite their cir­cum­stance while grow­ing up, her moth­er, who passed last Au­gust, tried hard to en­sure that Ro­drigues and her sis­ter had op­por­tu­ni­ties and ex­po­sure to for­eign coun­tries. They spent many a va­ca­tion in New York with fam­i­ly.

Here is most like­ly where Ro­drigues takes some of her in­flu­ence. She has al­ways had a cre­ative knack, but felt con­strained by an aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly-ori­ent­ed school sys­tem, she re­vealed.

As an adult, her craft­ing skills came to the fore af­ter they bought their fix­er-up­per home when the sec­ond ba­by was on the way. Ro­drigues re­called mak­ing a hob­by of go­ing to garage sales and re-pur­pos­ing items un­til she could buy her own stuff back then.

Her in­tro­duc­tion to home­school­ing came through the wife of a fel­low teacher while she worked in the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. In April 2009 she im­ple­ment­ed it with their four chil­dren at the time. Al­though they were thriv­ing aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, she felt that their crit­i­cal think­ing skills and oth­er as­pects of their de­vel­op­ment were be­ing ig­nored.

Nav­i­gat­ing her way through was “scary” at first, es­pe­cial­ly when the time came for Ro­drigues’ el­dest to write SEA, she ad­mit­ted. She signed up her son for the ex­am while con­tin­u­ing to home­school him four days a week, fol­low­ing a Chris­t­ian-Amer­i­can cur­ricu­lum and tak­ing Fri­days to so­cialise, fel­low­ship and go on field trips with their sup­port­ive home­school­ing com­mu­ni­ty. She did past pa­pers with him for about two months be­fore the ex­am and he passed for his first choice, QRC.

Matthew at­tend­ed for Form 1 and then again in Form 4 when it came clos­er to CSEC. He end­ed up with ten pass­es, in­clud­ing nine dis­tinc­tions. He is now at UWI. Her sec­ond el­dest al­so passed for QRC. Though an out­go­ing child, he chose to con­tin­ue to be home­schooled she said. By age 13, he had ac­cu­mu­lat­ed diplo­mas on­line in psy­chol­o­gy and crim­i­nol­o­gy among oth­ers. He wrote CSEC at 14 and just grad­u­at­ed at age 19 with a BA in Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tions from a lo­cal col­lege.

When it was Aimée-Leigh’s turn she was ac­cept­ed at St Fran­cois Girls’ Col­lege but al­so pre­ferred to re­main home­schooled.

Ro­drigues said her chil­dren are so­cialised on every trip they take out­side the home since she us­es them as teach­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The fam­i­ly is al­ways en­gaged in ac­tiv­i­ties and for this va­ca­tion, cre­at­ing a theme for each week. Dur­ing “Na­ture Week” Ju­ly 4-10, Ro­drigues had Matthew place an ar­ti­fi­cial grass wall she had made as a back­drop for tak­ing pic­tures on the floor and they sur­prised the oth­ers with an in­door pic­nic at din­ner time. They have al­so camped in­doors with blan­kets and Christ­mas light pro­jec­tors flash­ing im­ages of stars on the walls and ceil­ing in the past.

Point­ing out that her fam­i­ly was not per­fect, but do­ing their best for God’s glo­ry, the un­con­ven­tion­al moth­er not­ed that the pan­dem­ic had its ben­e­fits.

“We’ve been af­fect­ed, but brought clos­er. Of course, there would be some squab­bles in be­tween, hav­ing teen girls and young men, but we fared well. Every­body is still alive and hap­py. And we’re just re­al­ly grate­ful,” she said.

Ro­drigues’ up­com­ing DIY se­ries may be ac­cessed on her “Liv­ing Large by Faith” and “Made in His Im­age” pages on Face­book and her pod­cast, Home­school­ing Mat­ters, at https://an­chor.fm/home­school­ing­mat­ters.

Some of the items of clothing made by Niki Rodrigues for her children.

Some of the items of clothing made by Niki Rodrigues for her children.

Q&A with Ni­ki Ro­drigues

Did you al­ways want a large fam­i­ly?

No. I was an on­ly child for 14 years. When my old class­mates found me on Face­book sev­er­al years ago, they were sur­prised. No one thought I would still be in Trinidad. (To them) I was sup­posed to be in New York study­ing busi­ness and fi­nance. I was sup­posed to be a ca­reer per­son, but I’m hap­py. This is what God want­ed me to do, I thought I would have found hap­pi­ness in what I want­ed to do, but my great­est joy and hap­pi­ness is right here in my home.

With the chil­dren be­ing home­schooled, tell me how the pan­dem­ic has af­fect­ed your rou­tine now that you are un­der com­plete lock­down.

Most peo­ple thought that be­cause we were home­school­ing we weren’t af­fect­ed in the least, but they don’t know that we don’t do field trips once a year or once a term like it hap­pens in the tra­di­tion­al school. A trip to the gro­cery store, a trip to the gas sta­tion, all of those things were ed­u­ca­tion­al. They were all a part of who we were. You learn a par­tic­u­lar thing in botany one day and you go to the Gar­dens to look at a par­tic­u­lar flower or tree. You study a par­tic­u­lar an­i­mal and you say: let’s go to the zoo…all of those things we had the free­dom to do.

How do you mo­ti­vate your­self to keep go­ing?

As a be­liev­er you have no op­tion, you can not go. These chil­dren are all the mo­ti­va­tion I need. My hus­band and I say it all the time. He is my biggest cheer­leader, but the chil­dren are the rea­son why we do what we do. We are very con­tent­ed, so al­though we trav­el etc, we don’t run af­ter brand names. We don’t set­tle for medi­oc­rity, but we’re not fussy. The chil­dren pro­pel us to do more. The pan­dem­ic caused me to look deep with­in to see what else I had in me. My hus­band has al­ways said: you are so re­source­ful, so mul­ti-tal­ent­ed.

I think I sur­prised my­self and I found a lot of peace while I was build­ing. I’ve al­ways won­dered why of all the pro­fes­sions that Je­sus could have, why car­pen­try? His earth­ly fa­ther was a car­pen­ter. I now un­der­stand why. It’s a very peace­ful place to be. When you can take noth­ing and make some­thing or turn trash in­to a trea­sure that gives a lot of joy.

When do you take a time out and what do you do to re­lax then?

My busi­ness trips were my time outs even though they were very fast-paced. Even though I would have a ba­by in tow or would take one of them with me, we would have some alone time be­cause they would need to ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s like to be with mum­my alone or mum­my and dad­dy alone. That was my time.