I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I just didn’t know how I was going to marry it with my career. I had gone to an Ivy League graduate school, and worked in Boston at a large firm and then moved to Japan to work in another firm. I loved practicing architecture, but it was very intense. At 34, we decided to move back to the US to start a family and I started tracking my ovulation. It was a real switching of gears.
I got pregnant fairly quickly. I knew an office wouldn’t want me so I just started to take jobs on my own as I could get them. But it was hard, because I was not connected the way I had been. Starting down that path was kind of a shock. What kind of architect was I going to be now? What kind of mom was I going to be? And how important was each one going to be in my life? It was something I struggled with and still struggle with.
From this vantage point, I don’t think I did so badly. I knew some mothers who just stopped working completely and got disconnected from their career. I couldn’t do that. That can be a handicap for trying to reenter later. But at the same time, there’s so much work involved in having children and you’re so wrapped up in dealing with the day to day of it. You’re always just trying to catch your breath.
I’m a list maker, and I check things off my list, and get anxious if I haven’t accomplished certain things. When I was in the Peace Corps in Liberia, during a training they said, “Being in America, you’re used to getting things done, but it’s different here. You might get stuck in the mud and have to sit in the back of a truck all day. You just have to go with it.” That was good training for parenthood. It jolts you out of the rat race here. If I hadn’t had children I might have just been nose down, career driven and burnt out.
Kids give you the opportunity to express love in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise and to be playful and to let go. They help you understand your own parents better and they connect you with all the phases of life in a more direct way.
Like every mother, when my kids were young, I had ambitions about doing everything right in the beginning, like not letting them eat salt or sugar. In retrospect, a lot of that worry was unnecessary.
As far as my relationship with my husband, having children has brought us together. We both could have easily worked ourselves silly. We needed the sort of slap in the face that having kids provides. It’s connected us with being silly and having fun in a way that I can’t imagine happening if we hadn’t had kids. If you’re always living in the adult world where you have to be serious and get things done, having kids is such a relief, too. It’s nice to have an excuse not to get anything done.
From the time you’re pregnant until you’re dead, you worry about your kids. You are constantly adjusting your life according to what stage they are in. Now that I’ve got one son off at college, I sort of pine for those early years. Children are such a marker of time. I can barely look at old photos because I just start sobbing.
It’s shocking how quickly it’s all gone. I was cleaning my attic yesterday and I found these old projects for the kids that I had started and never finished. There’s all this ambition and there’s never enough time. It’s gone before you know it. For me, there’s a sense of frustration that I didn’t get it all in.
What am I glad that I did get in? I’m really glad that they got to know my extended family. I’m glad we were able to take them to vacation places that my family always went to and that we travelled a lot together. Also, my husband cooks all the time — so we’ve had lots and lots of family meals together. And I’m grateful for all the time we spent as a family singing and playing music. I’m glad that they grew up in a small house in a walkable community with lots of friends close by
In the end, on my death bed, who cares if I built five more buildings? It’s really my experiences, my relationships and my family that will mean the most to me.