Category Archives: Book Excerpts

Pluses and Minuses of Starting Older

Everywhere you look, magazines, TV ads and billboards extol the virtues of youth. We should all lament growing older, these voices tell us. For sure, we should attempt to erase any signs of the toll the years have paid on our bodies.

Here’s a shocking idea: Growing older isn’t just an inevitable fall into decline. Growing older actually has some advantages. As an older mom, I’ve discovered quite a few.

Now to be sure, there are some negatives, and since they’re the ones that people usually focus on, let’s get them out of the way quickly.

As an older mom (and medical practitioners define this as 35 years and older), you’ll be classified as a high-risk pregnancy and will be urged to take a battery of stress-inducing tests to ensure the health of your baby. Discuss those options carefully with your obstetrician and your network of support and decide if the information they can provide will be worthwhile.

As an older mom, who is considered high-risk, you will be unlikely to have as many birthing options. While it’s not impossible to find ob-gyns and midwives who will work with you, if you’re giving birth for the first time, you’ll most likely be encouraged to have the baby in a traditional hospital setting, with all of the monitors possible. Of course, this is a small price to pay for a healthy baby, as I think we’d all agree.

You might find that your resilience and healing process are slower than they would be for younger women. This can mean healing from the birth as well as losing baby weight.

If you’re an older adoptive mom, the previous points won’t apply to you, but the rest will. As an older mom, you might have a harder time dealing with the erratic schedule that your child brings. If, like me, you’ve been accumulating aches and pains since your 20s, it might be harder to get down on the carpet and play for extended periods of time.

And of course, as an older mom, you’ll have to put up with misguided comments: everything from people asking you if you’re the grandma to rude personal questions about whether you’re going to have another child and why you waited so long. Having talked to moms who started earlier, though, I can tell you that you’re not alone. Nothing brings out the nosiness in neighbors and strangers, it seems, quite like being a mom. Younger mothers also deal with invasive questions: just different ones.

Now for the positives, and there are plenty.

You have experience and perspective that younger mothers may lack. While you may not have personally been a mother until now, chances are you’ve watched from the sidelines as friends and family members raised their children. You may have been taking silent notes on what parenting practices you would want to adopt, and you’ve been in a unique position to benefit from watching their mistakes and successes.

Plus, you’ve gained life experience that younger mothers haven’t had. Many older moms start later because of having focused for years on their career or on hobbies. Chances are, you’ve got enough experience in your field to be able to make intelligent choices when it comes to whether you want to balance work and career or simply take some time to focus on family. Coming at motherhood later, you’re less likely to feel as if you got sidetracked by motherhood before you ever got a chance to see what you might achieve.

In addition, you’ve probably built a network of coworkers and friends who can provide you with a broad variety of perspectives and support.

While it’s not true for everyone, many older moms are more financially secure than they were in their younger years. That can help alleviate some of the stress produced by all those new bills for everything from pediatrician visits to diapers, clothes, and baby food.

You have lived longer and had more time to gain the sort of useful knowledge that will benefit your child. Kids are little sponges: they’ll appreciate it.

I’m sure there are many other benefits, as well, but this is a good start to consider, whenever you start to doubt yourself. Celebrate yourself and all you have to offer.

What other advantages do you think go along with being an older mom? Share them in the comments.

Why I Waited

Sharing Miso
My son and I sharing some miso soup

If life had gone a different way, I would have a teenager by now, instead of the 3-year-old who is currently on the couch next to me, wrapped up a teddy bear blanket and claiming he needs a nap. For now, I will resist the urge to tell him, “So nap already” and instead appreciate where I am and where I could have been.

My first marriage ended 15 years ago, but if it hadn’t ended, I’m fairly certain we would have had a baby soon. Back then, I figured that not only was it the next logical stage in our relationship but also that it could, somehow, repair the marriage that had grown as stale as the freezer-burned wedding cake we had only recently eaten on our first anniversary.

That would have been a very different parenting situation, I know. Without going into detail about his issues, my first husband was definitely not suited to be a supportive partner during pregnancy and childbirth or, for that matter, a reliable dad.

In all likelihood, I would have found myself coping with a new set of troubles: how to care for a baby, and then a child, while still dealing with a host of marital issues. If it had kept the marriage alive, I would never have learned all the things that being independent of that relationship taught me about myself. If the marriage had still ended, I would have remained tied to my first husband; obligated to keep him in my life to some degree, for the sake of the child.

When I think of that bleak parallel universe, I give praise that my life took me in another direction. I would much rather be an older mom, raising a child with the help of a supportive husband and father, than a single mom still tied to her child’s troubled dad.

There was a time, however, when I wondered if I would ever reach this stage. I’d gotten married at age 26, just like my mom before me. Taking her as a role model, I figured I could have two — or even three — children before age 35, the time when fertility is known to drop and obstetricians begin recommending additional prenatal tests to assess the health of the baby.

But it was not to be. My destiny lay elsewhere, and my carefully laid plans went awry. I often joke with my husband that I wish I’d met him 20 years ago, but who knows if things would have worked out with us then? At that time, I was still leaning towards the wrong kind of guy. While I probably would have been attracted to him, I would have put him in the “friend” category. After all, he was too stable, kind and responsible for me to see him as a boyfriend until I got some self-esteem issues worked out.

Sometimes I want to have a serious talk with Past Me. Not just to ask her “What were you thinking?” but to assure her that, really, if she just believed in herself and kept trying, Things Would Work Out.

I needed to hear that message at 26, just to gain some assurance that Husband No. 1 wasn’t my only shot at a family. That I didn’t need to even worry that the invitations had already been sent out; I could follow my instincts and cut things short. While I don’t regret the lessons I learned then, I wish I hadn’t needed to learn them.

I needed to hear that message at 31, when a long-distance relationship ended and I worried that now I was officially too old to start all over again and hope to be a mommy.

I needed to hear that message at 34, when I was dating my second husband and spending Christmas Day with my family. My brother made an innocent comment about what sort of children we might have, and I broke down in tears, fearing that somehow, my dreams might not happen. What if, after all this waiting, we wouldn’t even conceive when we did finally try?

I needed to hear that message at 37, when I married my second husband and wanted to start a family right away, only to get the rude news, barely out of our honeymoon, that he’d been laid off from his long-time office job. With no medical insurance, we had to wait another year for him to find another position before beginning to try.

I needed to hear that message at 39, pregnant with the son I now know came out perfectly healthy, when we faced a very scary prenatal test result. An ultrasound showed he had more than the desired amount of fluid desired on the back of his neck, which could indicate either retardation or heart troubles. For several weeks, over Thanksgiving, we had no idea what to expect, as we waited for the results of a follow-up procedure which would give us information from a genetic level.

Both that and a heart exam showed our boy — for yes, this confirmed he was a boy — was developing normally. Until that point, I’d been convinced I was having a girl. So much for the predictive power of dreams!

I’d also dreamed our child would have my husband’s dark hair and my blue-gray eyes (which my son believes are green). Naturally, this predestined he would have dark blonde hair and his daddy’s large, warm, honey-brown eyes. I find this to be a delightful irony, since it was those eyes that first made me fall for him.

Despite the fact that both of my grandmothers were 40 when they had my parents, it’s still not unusual for my age to inspire questions amongst both friends and strangers. Rather than going through the whole long saga, I usually sum it up by saying that I was married once before but didn’t see him as a possible father, so I waited until the time felt right.

The time is right now. Much better than any previous time could have been, in my life so far. I don’t doubt it. I just need to remember to celebrate it.


The Duck Family and the Evil Robot

I am writing this on my phone while my son plays with his ducks in the tub. The large duck with the blue bow around its neck he calls Daddy Duck. The slightly smaller yellow duck, he calls Mommy Duck. The little plain yellow duck (as distinguished from his pirate duck, football duck, lifeguard duck and singer duck) is the little boy duck.

The ducks are telling each other “I love you” and giving each other kisses and hugs. Seeing this sort of play always makes me deliriously happy inside. Of course, after a few minutes of such lovey-dovey cuddling, something inevitably happens. Sometimes a robot attacks. Sometimes the football duck interferes and causes trouble. Today, they are practicing diving, which he started doing with his bath toys after watching the U.S. swim team in the 2012 Summer Olympics. This is apparently a risky activity, because sometimes they fall out of the tub instead of diving into water. But the ducks are checking in on each other: “Are you OK?” And still telling each other “It’s OK,” and “I love you,” and “Good job.”

I needed this moment. After three weeks of various family members convalescing with colds, and after the car broke down, one week out of the shop, and rain colluded to keep us penned up together, I needed this. My sweet, funny toddler can also be a clingy, demanding task master, especially when in the grip of cabin fever. I’m not always as patient as I should be, especially when toys are being shoved into my hands as I’m trying to call the garage to check on the repairs. At such times, I’m more like the robot duck, fire in my eyes, intoning, “No toys. Mommy’s busy.” But then, the tears come, and oh, those tears.

Toddlers are so fragile, and he will cry at so many things that wouldn’t phase an older child. A dropped toy, a rebuffed demand, and real hurts from tripping and injuring that baby body I’m always telling him to protect. No matter what caused it — he will even cry if one of us says “Ow” too loudly because he stepped on a foot or whipped his hard head into a chin — I always comfort him. I can’t help it: I’m a sucker for tears.

No one is perfect, and despite the best intentions, despite all the parenting books and articles you might read, you will from time to time say or do the wrong thing: the thing that, instead of redirecting your child, winds him up more; the thing that, instead of calming her, makes her cry.

After a bad day, when we were on each other’s bad sides, it’s good to see that the moments I read and played with him made him happy. It’s even better to realize that his internal dialogue — and his idea of families — is by and large a positive, supportive, empowering one. And yes, some days there will be evil robots, but we’ll get through it together, with love.

Myths of Motherhood

More than anything right now, I want to take a nap. And I will take one, as soon as I’ve finished writing this. My toddler will probably take one with me, but he’s just as likely to sit on my stomach, as I recline on the couch, while he watches educational programming on PBS Kids. Some would consider this bad parenting.

Let me let you in on a little secret: anything that keeps you sane and that doesn’t endanger your child is not bad parenting; it’s survival. If you’re going crazy without adult conversation, there’s no harm in chatting on the phone with a friend or checking your e-mail while the little one plays with toys. That is not bad parenting (unless your child is playing with laundry bleach).

One of the pervasive myths of motherhood is that mothers have to be martyrs. If you’re not spending 100 percent of your waking hours enjoying “quality time” with your little Pookie, you’re a bad mommy. Quality time, generally speaking, involves riveting your attention onto them while engaging in something that involves a valuable learning component, such as Exploring Shapes by creating a craft that would make Martha Stewart bow down in awe. Guess what? Tickling their feet and singing a rhyming song is just as good.

If, like me, you divide your day into sections of productivity — writing, editing, promoting — and sections of toddler time, don’t think you should wear a scarlet “B” for “Bad Mommy.” Chances are, your child is getting just as much mental and developmental growth from experimenting with toys and flipping through books on his or her own. (Again, provided you provide age-appropriate toys and a child-friendly play space, and they’re not playing in the alley with an oily rag.) Trust me: when he needs you, there will be no hiding, and when she has a diaper, you will know.

Another pervasive myth of motherhood: once you have the baby, the weight will come right off. Some people tell you that, as long as you breast feed, you burn an extra 500 calories a day and will lose the weight in no time. In my case, while I was nursing, my body seemed to want to stay fluffy, in order to be a more comfortable place for the baby to relax.

The worst part is that my body seems to be completely fine with staying the way it is. Even though I have been trying to follow the same weight-loss plan that helped me lose and maintain 70 pounds of weight loss before getting pregnant, nothing seems to work now. Perhaps it’s because I’m over 40 now, and my metabolism has retired. One friend thinks it’s because of the late hours I have to keep, doing transcription work at night.

Honestly, I just think my body has decided it’s pleased to be plump. I think it’s going to take something drastic to get past my impasse: either hiring a personal trainer or making enough money through my writing that I can afford to ditch the evening transcription work. One can always dream.

One final myth you’ve no doubt heard: Mothers always know best. Upon taking your new little bundle back home, everyone from nurses to family members assure you that you’ll know what to do if you simply follow your instincts. If only it were that easy. There will be plenty of moments when you’re simply at wit’s end: and your crying, red-faced bundle of joy isn’t giving you any hints.

It’s OK to be frustrated. It’s OK to feel clueless. It’s OK to doubt yourself. In fact, it’s absolutely normal. If you didn’t go through a period of adjustment, you’re probably super human. Or a character on a 1950s sit-com. But yes, it will get easier, and yes, you will figure it out. It might involve calling your mom more often than you did when you took your first apartment. It might involve finding a support group — either in person or online — of likeminded moms who can share tips. It might mean relying on your equally clueless spouse or life partner for moral support and assistance. But you’ll make it. And you don’t have to be Donna Reed to do so.

Now that I’ve fulfilled my commitment to write this, I’m going to have some quality time with my son. First, however, that long-awaited nap.

On Toddler Time

Roughly ten minutes have elapsed since I sat down to write this essay. No, I have not been sitting here pondering how to begin. Rather, I have been spooning a container of baby yogurt into my 2-year-old’s mouth. You would think that I would have fed him before sitting down to write, but things don’t always work the way I’d like them to any more.

The yogurt container in question was sitting on the coffee table, having been rejected by my little guy ten minutes earlier. Naturally, the minute I pulled out my laptop, he walked up to me with a spoonful of yogurt and, with eyes as big as an animated character, handed me the spoon. Considering that he’s been apparently subsisting on air and water lately, whenever I am given the gift of the option of feeding him, I jump right on it.

While we have established a pretty regular routine, each day is different, and I’ve learned to adjust. One day, my toddler happily helps with errands: babbling cheerfully as we cross off items on my shopping list “Apples!” he exclaims. “Honey! Rogurt!” (That, of course, is his mispronunciation of yogurt.) On these days, shoppers and cashiers alike coo over him: “He’s so cute! Mommy’s little helper.”

On other days, he rails against the injustice of being forced to sit in a shopping cart. If he will allow me to put him down, we can still shop, albeit slowly as he “helps me” steer the cart. But if he keeps insisting “Up! Up!” then I have two choices: either put him back in the cart, where he’ll wail throughout the entire shop, a noise that’s probably audible in the next county, or I balance him on my hip, pushing the cart with the other hand. Either way, I’m likely to scan my list for only the essential items and leave the rest for another day.

The shopping list isn’t the only thing to get reordered according to my new priorities. I struggle to work in writing and social networking between diaper changes, naptime, and “Mommy time.” On his most cooperative days, my budding train engineer happily amuses himself for hours by lining up all of his cars on the coffee table and pushing them, one by one, off the edge. (This is why toddlers should never be hired to drive real trains.) Even on those days, though, he’ll climb up on the couch next to me, demanding, “Hugs, hugs.” If I’m in the middle of a thought, I often drop it. So if you’ve been waiting for an e-mail response from me for months, you should probably try again. Chances are, it fell victim to a hug.

If it weren’t for my smart phone, I’d be even more of a mess. I’ve created several “to do” lists on an app that allows me to schedule regular deadlines as well as one-time tasks. It even has an optional reminder that will send you an alert when your’re overdue for a task. Usually, by the third or fourth time I’ve hit “snooze” on the reminder to trim the cat’s claws, I actually do it.

The sad thing is, I was never terribly organized to begin with. So it should come as little surprise that the day-to-day tedium (and sleep deprivation, but that’s a topic for another time) are taking their toll. Following the advice of a fellow writer mom, however, I’m lowering my expectations. I’m praising myself for small accomplishments: even if that means a mere 600 words.

These little accomplishments are important, and they add up. Today, however, I don’t know what makes me proudest: the 600 words or feeding my little guy a whole container of yogurt.


My husband has more gray in his hair than many first-time dads. If you look carefully, you’ll see fine wrinkles in the corners of my eyes. Our two-year-old son is a compact bundle of energy, with golden curls, large brown eyes, and unmatched energy.

We have sometimes been mistaken for his grandparents. I used to tell myself it was because of his father’s hair, which started graying in college, but I’ve also faced such confusion when I was out alone with my son. I have learned to laugh it off, joking that sometimes I feel like a grandmother, but really, I’m his mommy. Still, each time someone says it, it hurts.

Families like ours are becoming increasingly more common. Women are waiting longer to have families, waiting until they finish not only college degrees but sometimes advanced degrees. Or in cases such as ours, waiting for a second marriage and a spouse more suitable to be a father. Other mothers have difficulty making sense of their own desires, and hold off on child bearing until they feel the biological clock running out. Some people wait because of career considerations, others because of insurance, financial or medical issues, and some have difficulty conceiving. Whatever the reason, there are more and more of us “belated mommies.” We should bond together.

Having children later was not unusual for my family. Both my grandmothers waited until they were about 40 to have their children. In my maternal grandmother’s case, she was too busy raising her younger siblings, a task which fell upon her, when her mother died. Not until her 30s, when she met my grandfather — who fell in love with her voice when she was a telephone operator — did she find time for her own life.

In the case of my paternal grandmother, she and my grandfather had been together for roughly eight years when she finally got pregnant with my father. I never asked her if this was by design or if she had difficulty conceiving. Tragically, my paternal grandfather died of a heart attack before she gave birth. So in the 1940s, when single mothers were devalued, she not only raised my father alone but was probably anywhere from 10 to 20 years older than most other mothers she encountered.

My story is different, but in some ways, it’s the same. A first marriage, at age 26, dissolved within a year, with our divorce finalized close to our second anniversary. It’s took a lot of false starts and personal growth before I found another man I wanted to marry. Even then, at 33 I did not want to rush into anything. Shortly after we wed, near my 37th birthday, he was laid off work, losing his medical insurance. Since I was a freelance writer and transcriptionist with no health insurance, we felt it was best to wait until he found a full-time job with insurance.

Luckily, I got pregnant with our little panda almost as soon as we started trying. It’s almost as if we simply willed our son into being, this despite the fact that we’d been warned that, as older parents, we might have more difficulty. I guess genes were on my side.

It is a wonderful miracle, bringing life into the world. It is challenging for all parents, but older parents face different challenges. All parents are tired, but older parents might grow winded faster. All parents hear unwanted advice from friends and strangers, but older parents also face rude assumptions. No one tells a young parent that they’re too inexperienced to have a child, but people seem to revel in hinting that older parents are unfit.

There are more of us “belated mommies” all the time, and yet too few of us are sharing our stories. I thought it was about time to change that.