It’s Never Too Late to Move Beyond Labels
Rita Bellino, the hairstylist and guiding light behind Rita B Salons and Institutes, likes to say that she raised her children on “pasta and love.” The pasta was both an essential part of her Italian heritage as well as an affordable way for the divorced mother of four to stretch her food dollars in leaner times, and the love was what came naturally, even when Rita found that maternal love was challenged by the very people she had been conditioned to trust.
Rita was born into a family of Italian immigrants and raised in Chicago. Her father and uncle, after testing out various other career paths upon their return home from WWII, got into the salon business and a family legacy was begun. Once Rita and her twin sister were old enough to reach the shampoo stations, they were put to work washing hair, assisting with rollers and hairnets, sweeping clippings off the floor, and learning every aspect of the business under the watch of their father, whose army training carried over into his precise delegation of salon duties.
The work came easily to Rita who, by the age of 19, was already winning international hair styling competitions. She married young and had two daughters, but the marriage did not last and by her late twenties she had fallen in love with a lauded Norwegian hairstylist and married again. Rita and her new husband began their life together in Norway but, after the birth of the first of their two sons, decided to relocate to Denver for a new adventure.
It was when her sons were in middle school that Rita became aware of something going very wrong with one of them. The boys had been in a terrible car accident and ever since her older son had been different. He developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, needing to open and close his drawers sixteen times before finally removing a single pair of socks. He counted every beam as he crossed the living room floor. Teachers complained that he had become unmanageable in the classroom. He often walked out of school on his own accord, winding up fishing with some stranger he had met in the park. Even more worrying was the fact that he had started hearing voices.
Now divorced, Rita and her ex-husband clashed over how best to help the boy. They went from one doctor to the next, each ready to attach a label and prescribe a drug to “fix” her son’s problems. Nothing seemed to help and Rita did not know what to do. There were days when she had to blink back tears as she snipped and sculpted clients’ hair, forcing herself to see past her own pain so she could focus on their beauty.
It was coming up on Christmas when one of her son’s doctors, fearing the voices he was hearing might one day lead him to violence, strongly urged putting him into an institution. Rita refused. She was not going to lock her son away. Not at Christmas. Not ever. She felt sure that what her son needed was love and acceptance for the exceptional person she and his siblings knew him to be. Yes, he was different from other kids, but he was also extraordinarily kind and intuitive. Rita wanted to find a way to help her son connect through those positive traits instead of the negative labels she knew would only hold him back.
With the help of a healer and tremendous support from her family, Rita persevered. She expanded her businesses, providing the financial security she and her children needed, and guided each and every one of her children into stable, successful adulthoods.
Today, Rita’s once troubled son is a married father, living a fulfilling, healthy life in Sweden. Rita’s other three children, all of whom have found thriving careers in the family hair business, remain close by in Colorado. As for Rita, at the age of 74, she has not slowed down one bit. When she isn’t managing her staff, training new employees, and helping clients walk out of her salons feeling just as she knows they want to feel (beautiful and sexy), she is making time for hot chocolate and sugar cookie parties with her grandchildren and stealing a few precious moments for her art, the creative outlet she once relied on to get through her darkest hours.
Whether it is with a family member at the dinner table being served a bowl of pasta or a client settling into her salon chair, Rita strives to bring out the very best in the person in front of her.
It’s never too late to move beyond labels.