My Mom Life: Jennifer Armstrong

Eight years ago I adopted my daughter, who was eight at the time, and I became a single mom to a scared small person who didn't speak much English. Being a children's book author meant I was home all the time, and for the first few years, my main job was helping her adjust to her new life in a new country. Now she's in 9th grade (at the Waldorf High School), and I work four days a week as lead bookseller in the children's department at Northshire Bookstore. I had a long and successful career as an author but now I prefer a more social role. I do think it was becoming a mom that did that - it made me less focused on myself and my own thoughts, and made me more outward-looking.

firstofallOur first photo, first time I held her hand. We are following the director of the orphanage and my daughter is looking in the window at her first grade classmates.

What is your typical schedule like during the week?

My daughter and I have breakfast together around 6:45 on school days - I'll review what's on the horizon for the next few days with her, and if we need to coordinate transportation for something, we'll work that out. She's almost 16 and we live in a walkable town, so for a lot of her activities she can get herself where she needs to go on her own (to school, to the orthodontist, to her friends, to downtown, etc.) . If I have an event at the bookstore in the evening or I'm working late, we'll figure out if she's going to get dinner started for us to have together or if she'll be eating alone, or if she's going to meet me downtown for dinner out. I'm usually at the bookstore until 6 or 7. I don't work on Mondays and Tuesdays, so those are two days I'm available for driving to ski club or voice lessons or the Y, the after school activities she can't walk to. I work Saturdays but not Sundays, so Sunday is a day she and I can hang out. It's not often she wants to hang out with me (she's 15, after all), but I'm here if does. She did once refer to me on Facebook as her "cool mom," so when her other options for socializing are unavailable, apparently I'm an acceptable substitute.

What do you like best about your current schedule?

It works!

Do you have time for yourself? What do you do with that time?

Monday and Tuesday during school hours are mine. My job requires endless reading, so that's usually what I do on my days off. I also am on my feet all day when I'm at work, so I often spend one of my days off lying on the sofa, surrounded by books, tea mugs, and dogs. According to my FitBit, I walk about five miles a day while in the store! Sometimes I listen to audio books at home so I can do other things at the same time- art projects, chores, cooking. I go to Reform Pilates once a week. If I'm really on my game I'll arrange to see a friend for lunch or coffee on one of those days. I'm in a book club (surprise!) and I play cards once a month with a gang of women friends, mostly other moms.

If you had an extra hour in the day you would spend it...? Reading.

Do you find it hard or difficult at all to stay connected to friends/people in your life now that you have a child? Do you find there is any gap or gulf in between you and the friends/people in your life that don’t have kids? Any tips on how to stay connected to those people?

For me, it's really more that my attention and my goals have shifted. I'm not interested in reproducing the lifestyle I had before I adopted my daughter. It was great at the time, but now I have a different lifestyle, one that I chose very deliberately. I don't want or need my life to be the way it used to be, just with the addition of my daughter. That being said, it is definitely easier to have an adult social life when your child is old enough to leave at home alone. I couldn't be in a book club or a regular poker game if I needed to get a sitter. I also have friends who don't have kids, and it is often uncomfortably obvious that they don't understand this shift in attention. When you are a mom, there's no "out of sight, out of mind." As for staying connected - at the risk of sounding painfully cliche, I think Facebook serves a very useful function for this. Sometimes months go by between visits with friends - but I do try to like and comment on pictures or updates of good friends just to say "I'm still here, I still love you, we'll reconnect eventually." It's not ideal, but it's better than nothing.

What are some of your top must have products for the parenting part of your life? What are some non-mom must haves?

A big freezer and Ziploc bags. Seriously. I precook a lot of our dinners and freeze them. I'm like a food hoarder - two fridges, one upright freezer. And it's just two of us! Dinner time is important to me, and I don't want the excuse of working until 6 to prevent me from putting a good meal on the table for me and my daughter to share. And no surprise: my cell phone and my daughter's cell phone. Her ring-tone for me is an obnoxious voice screeching "Pick up the phone! It's your mother!" I allow her a lot of independence, but I have to be able to reach her. Non-mom? There's a scented candle I buy at Schuyler pond all the time from the Trapp Candles collection - it's called Water. I love the scent, very clean, very serene. It helps restore my equilibrium after work. My other current obsession is smoked salt from Healthy Living Market. I put it on everything, even apples. I use coconut oil for hair, skin, cooking - you name it. I've even used it on wood furniture. And lastly, Gimme Brow - the only makeup I never leave the house without using.

What advice would you give to other moms about how to balance work and life?

Plan ahead. The more advance work I can do, the fewer at-the-last-moment moments there are. Some people thrive on a hectic, high-energy dynamic, but not me. I look at the next week on the calendar and ask myself, what can I do now to make that event smoother when I get there? Being a single working mom means that there are realities about running a family and a household that I cannot escape, and I have to fit them into everything else in the time I have or things can start falling apart - literally and figuratively.

Do you ever wonder how other women manage the juggle? Do you think people are open about it?

I do often find myself wondering how a mom with a Monday through Friday work schedule does it. I have two weekdays for scheduling doctor's appointments and furnace check ups and business calls and vet visits and anything else that can only happen in the workweek. I can only assume that it requires a lot of asking for time off for those women. I also sometimes wonder how other moms manage to raise kids while maintaining a relationship with a husband. So many interpersonal dynamics to maintain! On the one hand, being a single parent can be challenging logistically, but on the other hand, when I see parents who are not in agreement about fundamental parenting issues I think I'm the one with the easier job.

What is one thing you’ve realized/learned about motherhood that no one ever told you before you had kids?

I actually found managing my daughter's social life when she was younger very stressful. Sometimes she liked kids I didn't particularly like, or whose parents I didn't particularly want to hang out with on the playground. So from time to time I had this ethical dilemma on my hands - do I let her choose her friends, or do I manipulate those relationships to suit myself? I was actually quite taken aback by this issue.

Is there anything about making a family through adoption you wish people understood?

Don't ever tell an adopted child she's lucky. Adoption always begins with loss, usually with tragedy. If I could change the past, I would wish my daughter was still in Ethiopia with the mother who bore her and loved her from day one, and that she had never suffered that primal loss. But I can't retroactively protect her from that, so I'm trying to do my best as the consolation prize. Like all moms, I am making it up as I go. Mothering is largely a job of getting out of the way, isn't it? I just need to create the space for this wonderful person to become herself.

DSCN2164Many thanks to Jennifer for sharing her story. I can't tell you guys enough how much I love this series, to read more from the My Mom Life series, click right here.