Saturday, March 7, 2009

Seven Questions--Smart Momma

Can a mother of young children have an intelligent existence? Are the words smart and momma mutually exclusive?

One of my favorite things about blogging has been meeting so many articulate, well-educated and creative women who are using their brains to bless their families. Today's questions are for Ilene. She's blonde...but don't let that fool you. Here are her thoughts on thoughtful motherhood.

1. First of all, give us a little behind-the-scenes info. What was your life like before joining Club Mom? Tell us about your education and work background. What were your intellectual pursuits?
I grew up in Diamond Bar, California (a suburb in L.A. County) and I attended Brigham Young University from 1996 to 2000. I majored in Humanities and minored in Art History. For those who don’t know, Humanities is the study of history through the arts (literature, art, philosophy, music, and dance). Humanities and Art History are, in my opinion, very rewarding and fascinating fields of study.

I think the question I heard most during my years at college was, “Humanities? What are you going to do with that?” My less serious answer to this question was, “Marry a rich man and travel the world.” However, my more serious answer was and still is, “What can’t I do with this degree?” My education taught me to appreciate, interpret and think critically about the world around me.

After graduating from BYU, I only worked for two employers before I quit working outside the home to be a full-time mom. The first was at a big law firm in Portland, OR doing administrative work. While in Portland, I met my husband and we ended up moving to Eugene so that he could complete his bachelor’s degree at the University of Oregon. In Eugene, I worked at the university’s Political Science Department for about five years as the Undergraduate Student Coordinator and later as the Graduate Student Coordinator.

Since moving to the stay-at-home mom position (aka Superwoman), I have become the CEO/ Slave to Jackson (4 years), Thomas (2 years), and Laura (4 mos). Oh, of course there is still the husband (Dan) in the mix. We can label him as the financial backer of this little enterprise.
2. Was the transition into motherhood a smooth one for you? What adjustments did you have to make? How did becoming a mom change your outside interests?
No, it was not smooth. Is becoming a mom a smooth transition for anyone? I am a bit of a control freak and all sense of control is thrown out the window when an infant enters your life. Upon becoming a mom, my agenda and schedule was blown to bits as this new little baby demanded I devote my life to serve him.
I think the only books I read during Jackson’s first year of life were Baby Wise and Caring for Your Baby and Young Child : Birth to Age 5 by the American Academy Of Pediatrics. That first child really rocks your world. Things with my second and third child have been a lot easier.
I am learning how to balance the care of my children while still claiming a corner of my life for me. Most importantly, I am learning to let some control issues go; there is no winning an argument with a two year old and although I always tell my kids to eat crackers in the kitchen, I shouldn’t be surprised to find crumbs on the stairs. Nowadays I take advantage of infant couch time to read novels; for better or for worse, I don’t think I have cracked the Caring for Your Baby book since Jackson was two.

I still have the same outside interests I had prior to becoming a mom, but now my interests have expanded to include child-related topics and activities. I still want to learn how to speak Italian but now I also want to learn how to get my four-year-old to eat his dinner. As with all facets of life, the trick is keeping a healthy balance.

3. Many women claim their IQ shrinks with each baby. How do you feel about this? Is an intelligent stay-at-home mom an oxymoron?
I often joke that my IQ has been sucked dry by my babies but I don’t really believe that to be the case. Having children simply requires your mind to shift “knowledge priorities.” Upon becoming a stay-at-home mom, my knowledge of how to conjugate a Latin verb instantly took a backseat to the intelligence needed to run a household. However, the discipline and dedication that was necessary in my roles as a student and working professional have definitely come into play in my role as a stay-at-home mom.

I switched to a 20-hour work week for the first two years of Jackson’s life. I didn’t have to work for monetary reasons but I was good at my job. It was a position where I had empirical evidence that I was actually accomplishing a task and I received verbal expressions of appreciation on a regular basis. As many of us stay-at-home moms know, there are days when oblivious spouses and whiny children make us want to run for the hills. I was afraid that if I stayed home full-time I would lose the sense of individual validation that I received at my job.

In January 2006 I had a miscarriage that caused me to reevaluate my rationale for working outside the home. After a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to quit my job and stay at home. In some ways I was a bit hesitant to share my decision with some of the female Political Science professors with whom I worked. I feared that I might receive some pitying or disapproving looks. However I had one professor take me aside and tell me how lucky I was and how she wished she could have the opportunity to be at home with her daughters. I never thought that my circumstances would be envied by the likes of her.
Having worked both outside and inside the home I can say that my “job” as a stay-at-home mom has by far been the most demanding, monotonous, exciting, exasperating, creative, and rewarding. Keeping the children, husband, household, and myself in a state of relative happiness has required a level of savviness that demands every ounce of my intelligence. I have ceased to underestimate a stay-at-home mom’s position of importance amidst the world of working women.

4. What are some of the things you do to stay interesting, informed and articulate? And how do you fit them in to the unpredictable schedule of a young family?
Blogging is my primary method for keeping somewhat current with the outside world and where I attempt to articulate thoughts and experiences. Blogging has challenged and exercised my mind in ways I never anticipated. There are many intellectual skills involved in taking a blog post from conception to reality. You have to pick a topic, figure out how you want to present it, and then attempt to write the post in a semi-interesting and coherent fashion (some days are better than others). I also enjoy how blogging has made me more aware of the everyday occurrences in my life. Thoughts, observations, or ideas that I would have just let flit through my mind without a second thought are now jotted down to explore and share on my blog.

Initially I started reading blogs to keep in touch with friends but it has become so much more than that. I have found time and time again that my plights, joys, and experiences as a mom, wife, and woman are shared with so many others. Despite everyone’s differing circumstances, at the heart of it all, I find that we are all striving to find and bring joy into our lives. I find this common ground both reassuring and inspiring.

I do a few other things to stay informed like read countless novels (sometimes I throw some non-fiction in there for kicks), skim through the newspaper on my way to the crossword puzzle, watch ESPN with my husband, and occasionally catch E! News (you know, to stay up on current events). With three small children, I don’t have a specific schedule for these activities. I try to fit most of them in during their sleeping time but I admit that I can be found catching up on blogs while giving the baby a bottle and ignoring a whiny two-year-old. Motherhood is all about multi-tasking, right?

5. I know you are a big reader. Will you tell us five of your all-time favorite titles and why you love them so much?
This question was too difficult to answer. So I narrowed it down to five of authors who I can always turn to for a well-told story. I am not a literary elitist. I don’t care if the book is labeled as a classic or low brow. I love a frivolous Confessions of a Shopaholic novel along with the ever reputable Jane Eyre.

one--Jane Austen- really, need I say more? Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion are my favorites. I love Jane Austen because many of her heroines are the sort of women with whom we can identify and her heroes, much to the chagrin of men everywhere, are the sort of men with whom we all fall in love. Plus her writing- in addition to being brilliant- is simply hilarious.

two-- Orson Scott Card- he is hands down one of the best story tellers that I have ever read. He is most well-known for his Ender’s Game series. If boys in space really isn’t something that sounds interesting (which I thought it wasn’t until I read it), try Enchantment or his Women of Genesis series (Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah and Leah). He seamlessly weaves human emotions, philosophy, folklore, and politics into his stories. I always feel smarter after reading something written by Orson Scott Card.

three-- Shannon Hale- she primarily writes Young Adult fiction. Her stories are beautiful renditions fairy tales with strong female characters. Hale’s stories are lyrical and have an almost melodic flow to them. She also wrote a novel for adults entitled Austenland which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a fun chick-lit read without all the raunchy sex.

four-- Chaim Potok- As Celia says, a lot of us Mormons are obsessed with Judiasm. I like Potok’s stories about Judaism’s intellectual side. His stories are interesting and the conflicts presented are thought provoking. Perhaps many of us Mormons like Potok so much is because we can identify with how a lot of his characters’ everyday actions are shaped by their religious convictions.

five-- Wild Swans by Jung Chang- Okay, this one is a single book. But it is a favorite of mine and, unbelievably, it is not a novel. However, it reads like a novel as Jung Chang writes about three generations of women in her family in China; her grandmother, mother, and herself. I can’t say enough about this book. Read it. If you ever wondered about the rise of communism in China and its effects on its citizens, this book will answer your questions.

6. How do you include your young children in your quest for life-long learning? What are some of the lessons you have learned from your kids?
Children have such incredible observation skills. There are so many times when I am out driving with my kids and one of them points out an animal on a random billboard or spots a “Lightning McQueen” car driving in the opposite direction. Last week, Jackson and I were looking through his Star Wars encyclopedia and we looked at this movie poster of young Anakin Skywalker. Jackson immediately interprets the image and explains to me that Anakin’s shadow looks like Darth Vader because that is who he eventually becomes. I honestly didn’t even think Jackson would notice the shadow and was preparing to kindly explain the meaning to him only to have him explain it to me. I have found that my challenge as a mom involves exposing my children to opportunities in which they can exercise their amazing capability for learning. Since they are so young and I am too much of a coward to take them out among society on a regular basis, I try to create these opportunities at home. Because I love art, I think it is important to introduce different artists to my kids. I have various prints hanging around our home and the playroom has prints by Mark Rothko, Vincent Van Gogh, Franz Marc framed alongside pictures that my kids have drawn. I hope by exposing art to them now will help them be open to learning about and appreciating art as they grow older. The same goes for music, theater and literature. It’s basically a Field of Dreams sort of mentality, “If you build it, they will come.”

7. Who are some of the women you most admire? Why? How do they inspire you become a stronger woman and a better mother?
Ah, since having a daughter, I have pondered this question many times. What women do I want my daughter to look to for inspiration? Actresses? Musicians? Politicians? Writers? Artists? Church leaders? While some women within these categories are worthwhile role models, I rather hope that my daughter discovers, as I have, that she need not look much farther than her family for countless examples of inspiring women.

My mom of course is the woman who I admire most. My dad once said that he knew he needed to marry a strong woman who could stand up to him because he was afraid that his personality would roll over a timid woman. I am indebted to my dad for recognizing that fact because my mother is one of the strongest women I know- and definitely does not allow my dad to get away with much. In addition to being ultra creative and smart, my mom is the ultimate do-it-yourselfer. A couple of years ago I had a conversation with some friends about painting rooms in our homes. They were saying how they had their husbands do the painting and I thought, “What? Husbands can paint?” My mom never waits for my dad to do the painting around her house. She gets the ladder and paintbrush out and does it herself and now travels out to my house to help me paint (because I’m not waiting on my husband’s help either; I am my mother’s daughter after all).

My mom doesn’t wait for opportunity to knock on her door; she goes out and makes her own opportunities. If she didn’t choose to be a stay-at-home mom, I have no doubt that she would have had a thriving business career. I can sing her praises all day but one of the traits I really admire in my mother is how she expects success out of herself and her children. Her belief in my capacity to succeed eventually translated into me demanding a higher standard from myself. It has meant a lot to have a mom who believes that I have the ability to succeed in all of my pursuits.
When I think about the women who inspire me the most, I always come back to women in my family; mother, sister, grandmothers, aunts, great-grandmothers, etc. Seeing and hearing about the talents of women within my family helps me realize my own potential as well as my essential role as a link between these women and my daughter. For example, I remember being a young girl when my father told me about my great-grandmother who attended Brigham Young Academy back when people felt that educating a woman seemed as useful as educating a female cat. That single story motivated me to do well in school so I could continue her legacy.
While there are so many worthy examples of inspiring and strong females in the world (such as the women reading this!), I personally internalize the examples of women in my family best. I know that I have the capacity to be like them because they are me; without these women I simply would not exist or have the faith and life that I have today.
Thanks, Ilene. I know you are making those women proud!
Greenbean Ruminations is Ilene's witty and wonderful blog. In this post she gives Hollywood a piece of her (awesome) mind...loved it!


TravelinOma said...

Ilene is eloquent as a spokeswoman for moms. It is inspiring to know thoughtful, intelligent women recognize the importance of creating a home and raising good kids. It elevates the role of motherhood.

Great questions as always, Gabi. You have a knack for bringing out the wisdom in your interviewees.

jessica said...

I get to call Ilene my friend in real life and blog life. She is AMAZING! I always feel smarter after having a conversation with her.

Great interview!

Ilene said...

Thanks for thinking of me for this interview. It was good for me to think about my life as a mother...

Laura Lee said...

Great interview. Wonderful, candid answers. And I love that picture of you at the top. You look gorgeous.

diane said...

Ilene is the Godmother of the blogging Mafia in Boise. That girl rocks like a princess. Smart, funny, real and generous, I'm so happy I met this talented girl who makes time to serve lonely missionaries and make this missionary mom smile with each new story and adventure.

Emily said...

I loved reading this about Ilene because I also know first hand that all of that is true. She is the most amazing mother! Great questions and answers!

queenieweenie said...

i LOVED this took me back to my "early" years as a mother.

Meg said...

WOW! I knew Ilene was amazing. But now I have an even stronger appreciation for her.

I wish I had known her better when she was in my ward in Eugene. But thank goodness for blogs that connect us all for the better.

Lauren in GA said...

I originally started lurking on Ilene's blog because her comments elsewhere were so witty and humorous. When I read her posts I am always so in awe of her intelligence. You really said it well, Gabi...Ilene is one, "Smart Momma"!

This was an amazing interview. I adore how Ilene says things. I chuckled at her saying her husband is, "financial backer of this little enterprise." Her wit never ceases to amaze me. Truly.

I was reminded of many wonderful aspects of mothering as I read this post. I love how she said that, "having children simply requires your mind to shift, knowledge priorities." As always, so, so well said, Ilene.

Oh, and uh...I honestly don't think I would have noticed the Darth Vader shaped shadow in that picture. It proves that Jackson is brilliant, as well!

Kristen said...

Coming out of blurking to thank you for sharing this with us. Ilene sounds amazing. I am impressed with her priorities and strength.

Too often I don't create the opportunities, and this reminded me of how rewarded I feel when I do.

So thank you very much both Gab and Ilene!

the wrath of khandrea said...

you wanna know how good ilene is? i brought her into my inner circle AFTER i had locked it already. true story. i said "no more blogs, andrea. you can read the ones that are on your reader now, and that's it." self-imposed limits are good. and then i found ilene, and my wiser self said, "one more is okay, because she is going to be worth it."

and i was right.

Lisa-Marie said...

Ilene is beautiful and smart and funny. Who knew that SAHMs could be all those things?!?!?!? She should be our poster girl! You're wonderful Ilene.

As always, great interview, Gabi.

Bridget said...

Ilene is awesome. I so love her blog. Great interview once again Gabi.

Paige said...

Gabi, that had such great questions. I love Ilene and sometimes forget she is only my virtual friend. Some day I'm going to meet her.

I Loved Wild Swans.

Melissa-Mc said...

I love Ilene. We met in Blogland and then she moved to Boise so it has been fun getting to know her in the flesh as well.

Lindsey said...

Loved it! Love her! Enough said.

Christie said...

I love, love, LOVE Ilene. Someday I need to meet her in real life. She seems like my kind of person!

Sally said...

I loved this interview. Ilene, I love what you said about your mom and the women in your family. It absolutely inspires me to try even harder to be that kind of mom for my children.

Rochelleht said...

A girl who loves Jane Austen? Well, you know where I stand on this interview. Bravo!! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Ilene just happens to be my niece of who I am extemely proud of! She is beautiful and amazing inside and out and Dan and her children are some of the luckiest I know. I just recently got to spend some time with her and her family and I was remended of how much I miss her and what great love I feel for her family.I just keep thinking about them and their adorable little family!

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Sarah said...

This is one great blog.. you should share your ideas with the moms in the bizymoms Diamond-bar community.

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