September 11th, 2012
Dina Manzo: Pisces Mom
The returning star of Bravo’s Real Housewives of New Jersey dishes on parenting, marriage, her work ethic and raising Aquarius daughter Lexi.
Dina Manzo famously gave up being a Real Housewife of New Jersey so she could stop having to interact with She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. But lucky for us, her charm and style reappeared on HGTV with Dina’s Party, where Manzo transforms client homes into opulent, memorable themed celebrations. Now filming her show’s second season, Dina Manzo—a warm and witty Pisces with Sagittarius moon and rising—gave us insight into her role as both mother and daughter.
Ophi: So…astrology. Would you say you’re a follower, a skeptic, a believer, or a semi-believer?
Dina Manzo: I live by my horoscopes. I follow every horoscope I can possibly follow. Not that it dictates my day. I usually read them, ironically, at the end of the day, and they match up to how my day went. I’m a huge believer in astrology.
Ophi: You’re a Pisces. What’s your daughter’s sign?
Dina Manzo: Lexi’s an Aquarius.
Ophi: Did you have a sweet 16 party?
Dina Manzo: No. I’m turning 40 soon [ed. note: Dina turned 40 March 7th, 2012. Happy birthday, Dina!] and we are going to take a little mom-daughter trip to Italy in April.
Ophi: Perfect. Two milestone birthdays.
Dina Manzo: Yeah, we figured we would do something. We’re kind of immune to the party scene because that is what I do for a living. Lexi’s always either at the Brownstone [the banquet house owned by the Manzo family] or helping me set up.
Ophi: Right, a party isn’t really a party to you. It’s work.
Dina Manzo: Yeah it’s more like work. We figured we would do something special and celebrate our birthdays together.
Ophi: What would you say the dynamic between you two is? I know you get along really well.
Dina Manzo: For the most part we do. I have to say there is that sisterly dynamic, kind of like fighting one minute and best friends the next. She’s my only one, and I love our relationship. I think she respects the fine line between mother and friend. But, she’s a teenager so sometimes she needs to be reminded of that. For the most part, we are as close as a mother and daughter could possibly be. She’ll text me if she’s thirsty. I’m like, “Go get something to drink!” She just wants contact, even if she’s got to make up a reason for it. I like that.
“My mother has a phrase: You’re only as happy as your saddest child.”
Ophi: As a Pisces mom, you probably like the closeness. I know that a lot of Pisces moms can get overprotective at times. Has it been harder as Lexi becomes a teenager?
Dina Manzo: I didn’t know if it was a Pisces thing or because she’s my only one! I view us as a pair: me and Lexi against the world. I know we will always have each other. But I’m super protective and anxious about her getting older, and yeah, sometimes I am a little overbearing. I just want her to be safe and I don’t want her to grow up too quickly.
Ophi: Aquarius kids are pretty independent and they usually have a lot of friends. Does she fit that profile?
Dina Manzo: Actually, no. She’s very popular in that everyone loves her. But she’s kind of a loner in that she doesn’t like to go to a lot of big social events. She would rather do something special. And on weekends, she’d rather be home baking something she’s never baked before, or hanging out with a few people that were close to her, rather than being in the social scene.
Ophi: That can be an Aquarian. They are independent in that they march to their own beat. They’re not followers. But they are naturally likeable. They have a friendliness that I think people really pick up on.
Dina Manzo: It could also be my influence, because I’m very much like that.
Ophi: When Lexi was born, did you read up on her being an Aquarius, or have you used it to learn about her throughout the years?
Dina Manzo: Of course, and anyone I meet who’s an Aquarius, I grill them about what to expect [laughs]. I’m very much into that. I didn’t plan out what sign she’d be, but my crazy self now probably would do something like that if I were to have another baby!
Ophi: How has motherhood changed you?
Dina Manzo: I think by nature, I’m very nurturing. I remember when Lexi was a baby, being so addicted to that feeling of taking care of someone. And loving it! I think that’s why I surround myself with animals with no legs and all these issues. Being a mother definitely softened me as a person. No matter what sign you are, motherhood changes your outlook on life when you start living for someone else, or worrying about someone else more than about yourself for the first time.
Ophi: Is there anything you wish someone had told you before Lexi was born? Or any wisdom that you remember someone giving you that still plays in your head?
Dina Manzo: My mom – and she’s the master, because she has 11 children – I remember her telling me that your instincts kick in, whether it’s as simple as changing a diaper to how-do-I-handle-this-situation. I think your motherly instinct works along with doing the best you can, with the knowledge you have. I always seem to know what to do. I’m not perfect and I certainly mess up. But it always seems to work out. I think it’s the gut feeling that a mother or caretaker has. But my mother has a phrase, “you’re only as happy as your saddest child,” that really resonates with me. As happy as I am in my daily life, when Lexi gets upset over silly things like school or a boy, I’d rather take that, and have her be happy.
“[Lexi] will text me if she’s thirsty. She just wants contact, even if she has to make up a reason for it. I like that.”
Ophi: That’s a beautiful bit of wisdom from Mama Manzo. What sign is your mom?
Dina Manzo: My mom’s a Leo. And my dad is, too. They were actually born on the same day three years apart! And they could not be more different.
Ophi: Men and women can be very different in the same sign. So is your mom like the protective mommy lioness with the cubs? Was she very hands-on when you were growing up?
Dina Manzo: Very. She created pretty much any toy we played with—the kind that we had to build. She wanted us to use our creativity. If we wanted to play with clay, she would take flour and water and food dye and we would make it. She wouldn’t run to Toys ‘R Us to buy us clay because she didn’t have a car. She really trained us to be creative. And I think that’s why most of us fell into creative fields. But she was always there when we got home with a snack, making us grilled cheese. Very hands-on.
Ophi: Would you say that influenced your career path?
Dina Manzo: Oh, absolutely. Most of what I learned is from her, creativity-wise. I just updated and enhanced it to today’s market and what’s available. Decorating my chandeliers is all from her. Little things like that. Creating a warm space definitely all came from her.
Ophi: Tell me about the TV show, Dina’s Party. How is the second season going? How is it affecting your life as a mom?
Dina Manzo: It’s definitely a challenge to balance it all. But I do what I have to do. Lexi turned 16 on a day I had to be on set setting up a party. I kind of tricked her into swinging by and had a cake and balloons and a party for her. Everybody who works with me loves her and she loves them. It was nice. I mean, she had dinner with her dad earlier and came home and had dessert and cake with me. So it’s just a matter of balancing it all. But she’s older now and understands more and is able to come help me set up a party and have fun with everybody while we do it. And she understands a little bit more about my coming home later at night.
Ophi: What’s your favorite time of day with her, or your favorite thing to do together? Do you have a “sweet spot” as a mother and daughter?
Dina Manzo: We both enjoy nature. We’re addicted to sunsets and taking that perfect picture at the right time when the sun is setting and a bird is flying through. So we connect with each other through nature and naturally beautiful things.
Ophi: Anywhere specific?
Dina Manzo: In the Hamptons, we would take a walk every night during the sunset. That’s our favorite spot together. She loves the Hamptons for the same reason I do, for the sunsets and farm stands. That seems to be where we have the most connection. And in the summertime, we will just get in the convertible and just go for a drive together and walk around wherever we end up.
Ophi: Do you talk or listen or music or just like being with each other?
Dina Manzo: It’s just being. She’s more of a music person then I am. And half the time I’m always lowering it. Unless it’s Adele, [then] I’ll crank it up just as high. But she’s definitely into music more than I am. We’ll go on the drive and it’s so nice that were doing this and then we’re constantly back-and-forth, like, I put it lower, she puts it louder; and I put it lower, and she puts it louder.
Ophi: Tell me a little about what’s going on with your charity, Project Ladybug.
Dina Manzo: That’s another way that Lexi and I enjoy spending our time: doing things for the children. She, in the past, has become very close to some of the kids. And she would love coming to the hospital with me and sitting and playing with them for hours. She has her own fund at school where they do bake sales and car washes and stuff to raise money. So she’s very compassionate and we definitely share that need to help others, which is refreshing to see from such a young girl. But I think it’s the kids themselves that have shown her that. I don’t want to take credit for that at all. I think she sees these kids her own age with no hair in the hospital and is so grateful for her life. It puts things in perspective, and she feels that, once in awhile, she needs to do that to keep in check. But, overall, we are working hard on setting up some spring events and growing within the foundation and hopefully expanding in the near future to other hospitals.
Ophi: Is there anything readers could do that would be helpful?
Dina: Absolutely. We’re launching the new website so all you have to do is click a button and donate, it’s very easy. Please visit www.projectladybug.org and you’ll see the events that are coming up, what’s going on, how you can help. Anyone interested could always run an event themselves, too.
Ophi: How is it for your daughter to have her mom be on TV? Is she used to it? How does she feel about that?
Dina Manzo: She’s not impressed with me at all! She looks at it like a job. She’s definitely not the kid that goes around bragging that her mother is on TV. She’s almost the type that hides it. She’s proud of me, of what I do, and she’ll tweet about it and say “Go Mama.” But she definitely doesn’t go around bragging.
Ophi: Do you have advice for other moms on how to keep things special with their partners?
Dina Manzo: Of course you have to keep things spicy and have date nights. But also: don’t forget to be sweet. I think a lot of people, in everyday life, forget to be sweet to their spouses. My husband did something the other night that reminded me of that, because we have been going through a few things lately. He’s very good with telling me he thinks I’m beautiful, which is great. But he rolled over last night and grabbed my hand in his sleep and kissed my hand and held it to his chest. Just a sweet gesture like that, it’s enough. They don’t have to go out and spend any money. Just do something sweet.
Ophi: It’s underrated, but those little moments of intimacy and connection, they really do put a lot in the tank.
Dina Manzo: A coworker was having an issue with his wife last week because we were all putting in a lot of hours and she was feeling a little overwhelmed. I told him to just go home and hug her and tell her what a great mother and wife she is and that everything is going to be okay. He came in the next day and was like, “IT WORKED, IT WORKED.” I’m like, “SEE.” As women, that’s all we really need to hear is that we’re doing okay and that you appreciate it. I think it works in return. It doesn’t cost a penny to tell your man that he’s important to you. Tell him that he’s a great person, husband, father, whatever.
Ophi: Do you still love doing your television show?
Dina Manzo: I do. I am passionate about what I do and I love and am inspired by design. It’s not just about making things pretty; it’s about the meaning behind all of it and creating a sanctuary, creating a special event. People don’t realize how important those things are. And that’s what I love, the process of teaching people that it’s more than just the pretty. I’m passionate about that message. Be just as passionate about process of the job no matter what it is, whether you’re sweeping the streets or on television. And it’s not about the paycheck. The paycheck should be a bonus. The reward should be what you’re doing and loving it that much and that’s what I feel about my work. Of course, I love getting a paycheck at the end of the day, but that’s not what my drive is. When you’re focused on the process and passion, the money will flow easily.
Ophi: It is all about being in that flow. And Pisces know that. Because you’re the old souls, you’re the last sign of the zodiac. You have that “many lifetimes” kind of wisdom or innate knowledge. Pisces also know guilt, and we touched on that earlier. How do you deal with mommy guilt? How do you talk back to it?
Dina Manzo: I just remind myself that I’m human. Like I said, I’m doing the best I can with the situation at hand. I know what my intentions are. My intentions are to be the best mother I can possibly be and I’ve got to be okay with that. It’s not like I ever want to hurt my child or ever not want to be here for her. I know that I’m doing the best I can. I think that’s what most mothers have to realize. Don’t come down too hard on yourself. You’re going to mess up and you’re not always going to be there when you want to be there. You would if you could. Figure it out another way and make another time extra special. Be in the moment when you are there. The rest will fall into place.