Full of a vibrant, youthful energy, Danielle and John Watler make the rules up as they go, creating their own unique brand of happiness and redefining family life along the way. – Clare-Louise McGrath
Well-known on the Island for their individual talents and successes – Danielle is a fashion designer and owner of local marketing agency Out of the Blu, John is an internationally recognised DJ who co-owns the hip-hop and R&B radio station Star 92.7 – their personal and professional undertakings are guided by a mutual belief in the simple philosophy of ‘just doing what feels right’.
For Danielle, discovering what felt right took some time. Hailing from the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Danielle grew up ‘a country girl’. The daughter of a prominent local family at the heart of a close-knit community, there was always a neighbour’s door she could knock on or a friend ready to play with.
Her father, a hard-working businessman, wore many hats. The owner of a tyre re-treading company, he also sold coconuts from the family’s coconut farm, hosted a local radio talk show and commentated on horse races. His number one priority was always making sure that the family was provided for, while Danielle’s mother, spunky and well-loved within the community, devoted herself to keeping her house and children in check. Growing up, Danielle followed in her brothers’ footsteps, moving to Tampa to pursue a Mass Communications degree with a specialisation in Advertising and Marketing from the University of South Florida. Whilst this decision was made with some uncertainty over where her interests lay, it was a natural fit for her as a determined creative and her passions began to take shape.
John, on the other hand, who grew up in Cayman, recognised his love for music from a young age. His late father embraced very traditional ideals – a handyman who farmed, fished and worked on cars, he was vocal about which careers he thought were suitable for his children to pursue and, for John, that was working in the Civil Service. “You still doing that music thing?”, John’s dad would ask. But despite not always seeing eye-to-eye on John’s chosen career path, ultimately he respected John’s desire to forge his own way. His mother was, and still is, his biggest support system and has always championed John and his brother Perry; “she’s been with me every step of the way”, John explains, “and she has really taught me the value of patience”.
Patience has been key for John in his demanding and competitive line of work. At the age of 18, John made his first leap into the music industry, launching ‘Renegade Disco’ with a small group of friends. On weekends they would drive around the Island from event to event, hauling their DJ and sound equipment to each location, “bringing the music everybody loved”, John says. While the late nights that were part and parcel of working the party scene might have bothered John’s parents, they also recognised that working kept him out of trouble at an age when other kids were actively seeking it out.
Despite an easy first pregnancy, Danielle and John lived every parent’s worst nightmare when shortly after birth, their firstborn daughter, Blu, showed symptoms of a near-fatal case of jaundice. That first night, when Blu was kept separately in the Intensive Care Unit, was their hardest night together as parents thus far, the couple shares. Though Blu recovered, it was a transformative moment for the couple and “the first time there was something we shared that was bigger than the both of us”, Danielle recalls.
After an opportunity arose for John to start up his own radio station on the Island, the couple relocated to Cayman in January 2012. In the midst of their big move, Danielle’s parents separated after 30 years of marriage, and Danielle was left grappling with what ‘home’ now meant to her. March of the same year, life threw the couple another curveball when Danielle’s mother was diagnosed with a rare type of breast cancer. Being a new mother and caring for her own sick mother was a juggling act and it meant frequent trips back and forth between Jamaica and Cayman as she helped raise enough money, with the support of their local community, to cover the costs of her mother’s medical bills. Thankfully the medical care Danielle’s mother received did its job, and she has since been cancer-free, but at the time the experience turned Danielle’s life upside down.
Upon first moving to Cayman, Danielle and John moved into his family home where they were living alongside John’s mother. While Danielle has a great relationship with John’s mother, and is endlessly appreciative of the home being made open to her and her family during this time, she admits putting down roots felt difficult in a temporary and somewhat unconventional living arrangement. Between moving to a new country where she knew no one other than John and his family, and adapting to her new role of mother, “I forgot who I was – I was lost”, Danielle says. She was being referred to locally as ‘Mrs. Renegade’, yet she knew that wasn’t all she had to offer. “I wanted Blu to grow up to be the best version of herself, and to show her you can be a mother and still chase your dreams”.
So she laid the groundwork for doing just that. Dubbing 2017 her ‘year of saying yes’, she dove right in. The moment Danielle began trusting her abilities, the opportunities started presenting themselves. She left her job of five years at the National Trust and launched her own full-service marketing agency, Out of the Blu, named for the personal growth Danielle has experienced since becoming a mother. The company has implemented a slew of successful marketing strategies for a varied portfolio of local companies. Danielle and John also took a leap together, as business partners, combining their creative talents and shared love for Caribbean music to establish their own Cayman Carnival band, Renegade Mas. In the midst of these professional strides, Danielle reconnected with her spirituality, which has been an empowering move that has guided her through times of uncertainty. Faith now plays a prominent role in her life and she and her daughter attend weekly services at the Savannah United Church.
Life’s challenges have always served to strengthen the couple, pushing them to become better individuals every single year. Danielle feels that with each hurdle conquered, she and John are growing into the people, partners and parents that they are supposed to be.
Given the nature of the industries that they’re in, Danielle and John’s schedules can often be unpredictable at best, but no matter what else is going on, family is always at the forefront. “As a family, we show up”, Danielle says.
“There was a moment a few years ago when I felt burnt out”, John confesses, “and I needed some direction”. He picked the brains of his trusted mentors; when asked what their biggest regret was, each said it was not making enough time for family. As a young DJ, working long nights and being booked out every weekend was a sign that you had made it, but now, as a father, John measures his success differently.
He has since adjusted his schedule. His mornings are dedicated to hosting Star 92.7’s Morning Show so that his afternoons can be kept open for helping Danielle with her company and picking Blu up from school and dropping her off to dance classes. He never misses her dance recitals. “I try to do as much as I can for the people who matter to me most because I know time is not promised to anyone”.
When asked about their parenting style, Danielle and John both agree communication is key in their household. As a family they sit down and talk things through: what’s good and what can be worked on. When everyone feels like they have a voice that’s being heard, you’re more willing to listen. But Danielle and John are still learning as they go and Blu teaches them something new every day. “Blu is always so quick to apologise. She reminds us of the importance in owning up to your mistakes”. With the recent birth of Story, their second daughter, in April 2019, they anticipate a few more lessons are coming their way!
Blu, who is seven years old and attends Montessori-by-the-Sea, says her favourite thing about her parents is how much time they spend with her. “We paint, colour and draw together”, she says, and occasionally John even brings her on the Morning Show! When asked how she felt about becoming a big sister, she said she was excited to have one more family member to play with.
Even with their all-hands-on-deck approach to parenting, it takes a village to raise a child and Danielle and John consider themselves blessed to have had lots of support and helping hands along the way. Carol, their nanny, helps with keeping everything running smoothly at home. “She’s part of the family and I don’t know what we’d do without her”, Danielle says. John’s mother, Maureen, also plays an important role in their lives and every Saturday Blu has sleepovers at her house. “We play bingo together”, Blu happily shares.
Danielle and John welcomed their second-born, Story, into this world on the 1st of April, 2019. We asked them how their every-day lives have changed since becoming parents of two.
“We are always chasing sleep!”
“When Blu goes to her grandmother on Saturday evenings, that would normally be our time to do whatever we would like. Now we have to think about Story, so we have instead turned Saturdays into our Netflix evening, where we binge watch our latest show with a glass of wine.”
“We rely on Carol (Blu’s Nanny) to get Blu ready for school and out the door most mornings. That used to be Danielle’s responsibility, but we find that’s the hour she’s either nursing or just getting the opportunity to rest. We know this particular change won’t last forever and we’re looking forward to getting a handle on our morning routine again.”
“Blu is super protective of Story. She’s the first to tell you to be quiet if her sister is sleeping! That said, we try to take Blu out for a date with just the three of us every once in a while so she can get some individual attention like the old times.”
The couple also do their part to ensure that they are making quality time for each other. No matter how hectic home life gets, Danielle and John will always squeeze in a weekly date night. “We want our children to grow up seeing their parents show love towards each other, and to know that’s an important part of a healthy marriage”.
For Danielle, her marketing background means she’s naturally a planner, however one thing parenting has shown her is that things never quite work out how you expect them to. “You make the rules up as you go along. You might not always have the training or the knowledge required, but you know your child and you just go with it”, Danielle explains.
Danielle and John don’t have the secret to achieving the perfect family balancing act, and they’re not interested in fitting the mould. “We’re not cookie cutter by any means but we’re growing and learning every day”, Danielle says. “We’re an unconventional family just now, bit by bit, becoming conventional”.
But with all the love, support and happiness that’s visible between the members of the Watler family, it’s clear they’ve struck a balance that works for them.
How would you describe each other as parents?
John: Danielle is the caring worrier. I would say I am the protector and fun one.
Danielle: John is very reliable and hands-on. He always puts family first and knows the importance of showing up for every occasion. I’m the manager of the overall household – the glue that holds everything together!
Growing up, who inspired you the most?
John: My mother. She has always given me more than what she had and always supported me and my brother’s goals and dreams. It is great to see her now do this with her grandkids.
Danielle: My father. I loved his promise of an adventure, love for the outdoors, and simple nature. He taught me to be a risk-taker and to never show fear. He always had a way with words whether written or verbal. The kind of man that brings gifts that bear on trees (bananas, breadfruit) rather than those you buy in the store.
What happy memory will you cherish forever?
John: Growing up I would have to say my family’s summer travels to Disney. Probably why I keep taking my kids there. In my marriage, the day my daughters came home from the hospital.
Danielle: As a child, spending time on my Dad’s farm or in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica where I grew up. Since becoming a parent it was when I first laid eyes on both our children.
What amazes you the most about the generation of children growing up in Cayman today?
John: Kids are so receptive. They pick up information super-fast. The bad: being too caught up in social media and what people think. They let it define them.
Danielle: Generally, how tech-savvy and advanced children are! Specifically in Cayman, children are being introduced to environmental issues and charity opportunities much more than I ever was as a child. They are being taught, in fun and creative ways, how to take better care of their surroundings, the importance of recycling and about raising funds for those less fortunate.
Do you have any advice for other parents?
John: Patience is key, always choose love over any other emotions.
Danielle: Surround yourself with friends who share or understand the responsibilities and sacrifices that come with being married and raising a family. It can be very easy to get distracted and lose a sense of priority and perspective if you do not have a strong support system in your corner.
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