An Interview with my Mom on Kids, Work, and Life Balance

I love Podcasts.  I’m one of those people who regularly references This American Life in conversation.  And I get super excited when I discover something new, like The Longest Shortest Time  (parents of new babies, seriously, check it out).

One of my (sort of) secret fantasies, which lives where other people store their scrap-booking and novel writing ambitions, is to have my own podcast — Or at least, to write for one.  I did write and record a Shorts episode for The Dirtbag Diaries once.  But I won’t link to the actual episode here because, while I was happy with the story I wrote, my recording skills kinda sucked.  It still makes me cringe a little to listen to myself.

In the wake of my podcast debut on The Dirtbag Diaries, my enthusiasm for all things audio led my SO to buy me a really fancy mic for my computer.  Up until now, I’ve used the mic to call family on Skype… and not much else.  But ever since the last of my grandfathers died, I’ve been thinking about how all the family stories are disappearing, one person at a time.

Yes, there are other things I could and should be doing right now, but this week I finally began to record some of my family’s stories.  My life these days is mostly centered around taking care of a baby, so it makes sense that my first conversation would be about the challenges of child-raising and finding life balance.  Here’s what my mom has to say on that topic:




My son James was born in May of 2014.  Taking care of a baby has definitely been a challenge.  It’s also made me think a lot about life – where  I am and where I want to be.  And so, like on a lot of other occasions, I decided to call my mom.

ME:  I kind of figured if I was going to ask you to tell some stories today, it would be of, like, when Heather and I were young.  Just, some of the really difficult things that got easier?

MOM:  Oh!  Well, that’s going to take some thought.

According to my mom, I was an angry baby.  To the extent that she wrote a letter to a family advocacy organization  asking if her baby might hate her.

MOM:  I did get a letter back, and it said she doesn’t hate you and things will get better.  You know.  [laughs]  Trust on that, it’s gonna get better.  …But I really was kind of isolated and desperate, and it was too expensive to call, you know, Grandma and Grandpa all the time.  A phone call was like five bucks, and you just kept to the basics and then you got off the line.  So, um, that was, you know that was isolation.  Things are changed a lot.

 ME:  What about, I mean, balancing other aspects of your life?  I mean, I realize that’s not something that just gets solved, but —

MOM:  I didn’t do it.

ME:  Yeah.

MOM:  I’m sorry to say I didn’t do it.

My dad was a pilot in the military, and he and my mom were living up in Alaska when I was born.  He was gone for most of my first year.

MOM:  Um, Dad was gone a lot, and, um, I did little piece-meal things.  And then I’d tend to get a bit into things, and then we’d move.  Well, uh, I guess that’s – Military is the way our family was kind of structured.  So, it just worked out that way.

 I uh, I guess the closest I ever came to a balance was when we lived in California.  You guys were older – You know, like grade school.  I had that job at the PR firm.  And um, I had a job where I could be at the office two days a week and then I did stuff from home and things too, and so… And I had my first column there, and you know – other, I was getting writing requests from other places.  So, it worked.  You know, I felt like I was really getting somewhere personally, and then, you know.  And you guys were doing good, and I was there in your schools, so I knew how you guys were doing.  And you know, I was able to pick out your teachers, and I found some good teachers.  And [sighs], yeah, the whole schmeal, I guess.

 And then we had to start all over again when we moved up here, and there just didn’t seem to be jobs.  And the jobs I found, I don’t know.  I stayed at the Writers Center for eight years.  So, we looked over on the west side, and there, um, up by Bellingham there wasn’t – There weren’t really the jobs.  The jobs were in Seattle, and I would’ve had to take the train down, but it wasn’t a good commuter train.  You know, and I would be gone for you guys, and you know, I wouldn’t have been there for your classes or anything.  And Heather was just hitting sixth grade.  You seemed, you know –

ME:  Yeah, it was a rough time for both of us.

MOM:  Yeah.  It… It – Kind of it was.  I mean, I felt like you were out of the zone in terms of doing anything dangerous.  Heather was kind of at a point where she was… Friends meant more to her than anything, and so she, um, was following her friends.  And you know, she could’ve gone off in a very wrong direction.

 It is what it is and we ended up here, for various reasons.  Things never fully took off again.  So, you know, there were some problems with jobs here, and then going off to WSU.  That took so long, and I had to, because I had worked here for eight years, I –  Are we having a poo?

My mom does a lot of babysitting for my sister’s daughter, Evie.  A lot of our conversations are interspersed by interruptions like this.

ME:  [laughs] You sound just like Magda.

MOM:  [laughing] Sorry!  Um…

Since becoming a parent, Magda has become one of my favorite characters from the book, “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”  Most of her conversations are interspersed by things like this…

                 MOM’S VOICE:  Hi Swee –

                SMALL VOICE:  I’m COOLD.

                MOM’S VOICE:  Are you really?  Grab your, grab your towel and you can sit on my lap.

And this…

                MOM’S VOICE:  …We’ve got a poop.

And this…

                SMALL VOICE:  Hi, hi Zippy…

                MOM’S VOICE:  Say hi to Zippy!  Yeahh!

                SMALL VOICE:  Hi Zippy…

                MOM’S VOICE:  We like Zippy.  We like Zippy a lot.

                SMALL VOICE:  Mm, go down.

                MOM’S VOICE:  You wanna go down?  Okay.

MOM:  You know that, um, I went past the – If you go ten years past your masters without going on, um, then you have to do all your credits.  I couldn’t apply any of the credits I’d done.  So [sighs] I had to do the full 75 credits and most people were doing, like, 30, maybe 40.  You know, and I was doing all this stuff, just endlessly taking classes, and it was just exhausting.  So….

ME:  I remember.  That was a long time.

MOM:  Yeah.  Get up at 4:30, meet my carpool person at 7:00, and drive down, and… It got easier once I stayed down there.

ME:  How do you feel about your time doing all that?  I mean, are you glad you did it, or…

MOM:  Yeah, over all I think  I’m glad I did it.  Um, I always wanted, you know, to have a doctorate.  And, you know… It’s just that I had done it so late in life, and all of a sudden I have grandchildren, you know — or I guess a grandchild – to take care of.  And um, they – People are looking for younger people to hire, people who can just put family life aside and do, you know, late hours, research, and things like that.  And I don’t think I’m willing to do that.

 So I look at –

(At this point my mom refers to a previous employer of hers)

— and her husband.  They were just totally involved in their jobs, and look at (their son) and all the trouble they had with him.  I still don’t even know how he turned out.

ME:  What exactly was the trouble?

MOM:  I – You know they just, they, uh – (her boss) used to grab graduate students to be his babysitter.  You were babysitter.

ME:  I, I remember.  That was weird, babysitting him, because he was only a few years younger [laughs].

MOM:  Yeah, and stuff – Yeah.  And um, they just, he was just always this accessory that they were trying to, you know, uh, fill with time.  And I remember one year she was, like, talking about extracurricular activities to get him into, and she was like, ‘I don’t care what it is as long as it gets us to five o’clock.’  And, you know, it was just… sad.  And I think he just felt like he was never quite loved.  Cause he was always the um, ‘pick somebody to, you know, you know, be entertained in some way, you know, but don’t talk to me right now, I can’t play with you right now, I can’t anything with you right now.’  And she had a lot on her plate, too, you know.  She probably still does.  And, um, (their son) just got, um, more than short-sheeted.  I think he got bumped a lot, and I think he rebelled by not getting up to go to school.  And so the truant officer came after them, and everything.  And I think what he needed was his parents to just set everything aside for a while and spend some time with him.  And, you know.  But it happens a lot with professional people that, you know.  That happens.  And their kids often go into rebellious type things.  So…

ME:  Yeah, I worry about that.  I mean moving forward, you know.  I, I mean, wh– Is it even possible to have a life balance with kids?  Sometimes I wonder.

MOM:  Yeah. 

ME:  Do you have any, I guess, regrets about career, or any of that?

MOM:  Oh, I don’t know.  I feel really lucky about my family.  You know you leave your job after a while, and it’s done and it’s gone.  I loved my time with you.  I loved – I loved in California when, you know, I was able to be there for you guys …

                 MOM TO EVIE:  Oh, careful!

 …It’s just, things came together more there than anywhere else.  And, um, I truly feel that family is more important than the job.  So um, yeah.  I really do appreciate that Dad was there in a financial way, that I could do all these things, you know.  And in a lot of ways I wish you had the same circumstances, both you and Heather, cause I know you would have  — Well Heather would have at least, I don’t know what you would have liked – to have recreated that.  Maybe it’s just a generation thing that’s not going to ever come back again, I don’t know.

 ME:  It’s funny, um, as far as, you know, whether I’d want to stay home with my kid or not  — Yeah, I never thought I’d be happy doing that, but now I can kinda see how I could be.  I don’t know.  I – Yeah, and I do wanna get back to some kind of work too.

MOM:  Yeah.  So, yeah… Is anybody ever totally happy?  I don’t know.  But family kind of – You know, I guess I look at it is – Family stays with you, and there will come a day when you walk away from your job.


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