'My Shining Star': A book for working moms, written by a busy, working mom

Local pediatric dentist helps her daughters, and other children, with new book

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It was more than a year ago, but Dr. Neha Das can still remember the moment, vividly, when her daughter looked her and said, "Mama, please don't go."

Das, a pediatric dentist at Berkshire Pediatric Dentistry's practice in Pittsfield, remembers that feeling of wanting nothing more than to stay with her children, but knowing that patients were waiting.

"I was overwhelmed in that moment," she remembered, adding that her children at the time were fighting a terrible stomach bug. "How do you tell your kid, 'I love you but, I'm still leaving you,'?"

Eventually, Das found the words to share with her two daughters — Enara, 4, and Ziana, 2 — and felt so compelled by the message she knew there must be other moms feeling the same way. "My Shining Star," written by Das and illustrated by Kate Fallahee, is a children's picture book with a simple poem that carries big meaning.

"I know you want to play all day, and frolic in the sun / But Mama has to head to work, the day has just begun," the story reads, depicting a colorful, happy-looking mother fox holding open the car door for her excited little fox running across the lawn. The next page goes on to say: "I love you so much, little one / It's always hard to leave. But I want to show you with hard work there's nothing you can't achieve."

At first, the book was meant just for Das' daughters, a project she felt so compelled to complete that she formed her own publishing company, Elephant & Owl Press, found the illustrator and had the book printed, all with her own resources.

"This was just something that meant a lot to me," Das said. "This was a message that when I thought of it, I knew I had to give it to my girls, somehow. I thought, 'Well, I can give it to them myself,' and we are lucky enough to say ... 'I'll print one copy for myself,' and be done. But then, I was thinking there are a lot of working moms in the world. I can't be the only one feeling this way."

But the mother-of-two, wife, now-partner in her dentistry practice isn't one to do things halfway. To go all-in, Das realized she may need more help and reached out to her network with a Kickstarter campaign.

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"I am a stickler for quality," she said. "If you're going to do something, you try your best to do it right. Even though this was going to be a one-off for me, I wanted it to be something I could stand by."

The online campaign yielded 144 backers, who pledged $6,732 to help bring the project to life. The money raised enabled Das to print multiple copies of the book with a U.S.-printing company that could make quality, vibrant books with offset printing. Today, the book can be purchased online and Das is working on getting it into local bookstores.

"To take that tiny piece of me — that horribly vulnerable piece of me — to put it out there, it was scary," she said. "But to see the response was so amazing; it was a reminder of all the wonderful relationships I have. Everyone from every part of my life all spoke up in some way."

The book is just one of Das' many projects she's tackled in her life, in an effort to continue to learn, grow and create. During an interview in her Lenox home, Das served up homemade applesauce spice cake cupcakes and showed off her recently created homemade marshmallows in the shape of giant teeth that she was going to surprise her team at the Elm Street office with. She's also currently working on writing a fantasy novel, "just for fun," and some of the artwork in their home is of her paintbrush's creation.

"My poor husband, he's such a good sport," Das said with a laugh. She credits her husband, Jayson, who is able to work from home most days, and her support system with helping her juggle so much. She's also a planner, with systems in place to keep things running smoothly. But sometimes, she said, things don't go as planned. For example, due to recent weather, her daughter's "Take your parent to work day" was rescheduled while her husband was out of town on a work trip. It fell on a Thursday, one of the days Das sees patients in her office, so she wasn't able to make it. She said she hopes this book can help with moments like that.

"It's not a story," she said of "My Shining Star," "it's a conversation and, I hope, it's the beginning to more conversations. I don't dwell on teary days, angry days; it's about saying, 'Hey, I go to work, I still love you and I will come home to you and I can't wait for that moment, but I still have to go right now.'"

Das has gotten positive feedback from moms and children about her book, but the most important feedback, she said, is from her daughters. Most nights when they pick out books for their bedtime routine, they pick "mama's book," she said, and love looking for the cheerful little yellow star hidden on every page. Illustrator Fallahee also added another subtle touch, hanging the Berkshire Pediatric Dentistry sign in the mama fox's office.

"I hope that kids can see that a mom's passion for her career does not decrease her love for her children," she said. "And I hope moms can take away that you can be a wonderful mother who works, and the time you're spending at work is not a sacrifice that your children are bearing. You're teaching them things by going to work, and as long as you do what you can do with love, there's enough time."


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