Relatively Speaking: Little Rays owner Michelle Rea and her husband Kieron
Husband and wife team Michelle and Kieron Rea are co-owners of Little Rays nurseries in Moira, Lisburn and Ballymena, which they opened 21 years ago and which cater for over 400 children. The couple live in Lisburn and they have four children, Chris (27), Ashleigh (22), Mark (19) and Lauren (16).
Name: Kieron Rea Age: 46
Occupation: Co- owner, Little Rays Nurseries
Relationship to Michelle: Husband
Name: Michelle Rea
Michelle and I lived close by each other and had the same circle of friends. Starting to go out with her was my 16th birthday present - that's how long we have been together!
Michelle is very dependable and extremely organised. Once she gets into the mix and a decision is made she will stick to her her guns, there is no humming and hawing. She is also very clever, but she would never admit that.
She is one of the most competitive people I know. I think it stems from the fact that she represented Great Britain in the long jump when she was younger. Now she has to win at everything, even if it is only a game of cards.
I decided to sell my newsagent shops, which were becoming a dying breed, 10 years ago and join Michelle in the nurseries. I am very behind the scenes, doing admin, the accounts and general paperwork. We are both very hands-on with the nurseries, though - you have to be to stay on top of things. Every week will find me at some stage on the floor playing with the children. That's my favourite bit of the job. It's like being a grandfather to them all but you get to say goodbye at the end of the day. I have all the fun of playing, but without the tears and tantrums.
We are a very close family and we had a fantastic time together in New York. When we arrived it was snowing, which was amazing to watch. We rented an apartment, as the kids wanted to eat Chinese food out of boxes and order big pizzas like they had seen on Friends, so we had the real New York experience. The first day we went to an outlet store to do our shopping and we shopped till we dropped. Eight hours they were shopping for, so needless to say I found a pub and chilled out.
It is important to Michelle and I to have some time out and get away together. Most years we go skiing but this year we decided to go to New York instead.
Our house in Spain is close to where our son Chris lives so we like to nip over there for long weekends when we can.
Michelle and I buy each other stocking fillers every year, though she is very hard to buy for. We decided this year we would buy each other a weekend away so we are heading to Prague in March. That's my Christmas shopping done!
Occupation: Co-owner Little Rays nurseries
Relationship to Kieron: Wife
Kieron and I have been together for 30 years and married for 27. We got together when we were still at school and were taking the same bus home every day. He pestered me and wore me down until I finally went out with him.
I was a childminder and helping out in the newsagents, which was a family business of Kieron's, when we decided to open our first pre-school nursery. I had two young children at the time and I didn't want to be away from them.
That was 21 years ago - we started out with 30 children and have now over 400 in nurseries in Lisburn, Moira and Ballymena. The first one we opened, in Lisburn, was hard work and involved long hours learning the ups and downs of the business. My daughter Ashleigh was only 18 months old at the time and it was a lot of pressure, but I loved it. You couldn't do a job like this if you didn't love it.
I think for us the key has always been in having good staff around us. We have a great manager in each of the nurseries and the staff turnover is very low, which keeps the kids happy as they are seeing the same faces all the time.
Kieron and I are very hands-on. We have never taken a step back, and we are in all the nurseries at some stage every week.
We spend a great deal of time together because we work together but we work well together and we enjoy it. Kieron makes me laugh, which I think is vital in a marriage. He is also extremely patient with the kids which means a lot in our job. But he is a real family man too and great with our own kids.
We are friends as well as partners and we have a good time together. We make a point of having time away together too.
We have just got back from a family break in New York which was incredible; all the children loved it, especially Lauren, as she had been looking forward to it for so long. Eight of us went altogether, including boyfriends and girlfriends. We also go over to Spain quite regularly as our son Chris lives there.
I am really looking forward to a big family Christmas. Chris and his partner are coming over and we will all be together. I can't wait - I am at my happiest when all the family are together."
A family firm ...
Since it was established in 1993, Little Rays has grown to offer day care facilities in three locations, and runs the playgroup in Brownlee Primary School.
Kieron and Michelle's daughter Ashleigh now works for them as a full-time fully qualified nursery assistant.
The nurseries in Lisburn, Ballymena and Moira all offer full childcare for ages two months to 12 years.