Emma Walton HamiltonProfession: Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling author, children's book editor, arts educator and theatre professional..
Web Site(s): www.emmawaltonhamilton.com
Marital Status: Married, 18 Years
Spouse's Name: Stephen Hamilton
Residence: Sag Harbor, NY
Sam, age 12; Hope, age 5
Q: Why did you decide to become a mom later in life? What factors precipitated this decision (or dictated it)?
A: I've been a bit of a late bloomer all my life. My husband and I were both busy pursuing careers in the theatre when we met, and I was 28 by the time we got married. That same year, we decided to relocate and start our own theatre, which in many ways became our first child. There was a good deal of building and settling to do before we felt ready to have a family… and by the time we did, we suddenly discovered it wasn't so easy to get pregnant. It took us two years of trying before my son was conceived, by which time I was 34. We had similar problems the second time, and in fact, after seven years of trying we had pretty much given up - feeling lucky to have our son. As often happens, we were then taken by surprise when we learned I was pregnant with our daughter, Hope… hence, her name.Q: What do you love about your career? What is most challenging about your work? How long are you doing it? What did you do previously? Where do you see yourself heading? What prompted you to write a book on motherhood, and the particular subject you most recently chose? What is the primary message of the book? Was it based on your upbringing or relationship with your own mother? What is your next book and when is it being published?
A: I feel incredibly blessed to do what I do - first of all, because I enjoy it so much, and secondly because at this stage in my life it offers me so much flexibility. These days, I mostly work from my home office, and can make my own hours, which means I'm able to be there for my kids in important ways and at important times. Things like dropping them off and picking them up from school, helping with homework, taking them to play dates and appointments and generally being available for them when they need me.
My biggest challenge is finding enough hours in the day to do everything I want (or need) to do. I wear a lot of professional 'hats', and though they are all synergistic with each other (in that they all pretty much have to do with kids and/or the arts), they each demand their own share of time, energy and focus. And because I work at home, and juggle so many tasks, there are a lot of distractions. Multi-tasking is my middle name!
Before I was a Mom, I was an actress and then moved into directing and producing. After my son was born, I became passionately interested in kids and education - especially arts education. I created performance and educational programs for kids at our theatre, and taught acting and playwriting. I also began to write children's books with my mother (when my son was a year old) and started working as a children's book editor, initially for The Julie Andrews Collection, the publishing program we created together, and later on a freelance basis as well. I think that having kids, and being fortunate enough to work in these creative mediums, have both led to a new passion for advocacy on behalf of kids and the arts -- and I now do a lot of writing, public speaking, blogging etc. on the subject. My latest book, "Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment" was inspired by the question I get asked most often on book tours and at speaking engagements - "how do I get my kid to turn off the (name your electronic device) and pick up a book?" This is probably the primary direction I will be heading towards in the years ahead.
The message of "Raising Bookworms" is simple - if you want your kids to engage in more of something (i.e. reading), connect it with pleasure. We have to combat the many ways in which reading becomes relegated to "chore" for our kids - by being connected with pressure, struggle, responsibility, homework, boredom etc. - and work in what I like to call "stealth mode" to restore the connection between reading and joy.
The next book that my mother and I are publishing will be Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies - illustrated by the wonderful James McMullan, and published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It features over a hundred of our favorite poems and song lyrics, as well as a few we've penned ourselves over the years. It's due out this fall, and will be packaged with a CD of select readings from the book.Q: What have you experienced through motherhood that has also helped you in your work or personal life?
A: The keyword for my experience of motherhood has been "surrender!" Virtually every pre-conceived notion I had before I had kids has come up for review - and been busted. For example, before my kids were born I poo-poo'd co-sleeping, championed daycare and thought I'd get rid of all our TV's. Needless to say, every one of my long-cherished beliefs has gone by the wayside! I've learned that children are not products upon which to imprint our own opinions, but rather individuals who have been entrusted to our care - and our job is to learn who those individuals are, what they need to best express themselves, and how to support them in every way possible toward that end. This has made me much more inclined to listen or look for the intention or imperative behind every creative impulse in life - and to look for ways to support that, rather than imposing my own ideas onto it.
Motherhood has also taught me so much about priorities. You think you know what it means to love someone - and then you have children. You think you're bothered by this or that, and it all pales in comparison to your children's well-being. It's truly humbling - and a profound gift.
Finally, for me, having kids has revolutionized my work. I didn't think much about children before I had them. Then, as if a door opened inside me, everything became about kids. Every kid I met was someone else's Sam or Hope, and my work became all about nurturing them to the fullest extent that I could.Q: What is a typical day for you like, managing both work and home life? Do you do any work from home? If so, how do you find that? How much time do you spend daily writing? Have you worked more or less since you became a mom? Do you travel a lot, and do you take your family? Will you be going a on a book tour? What do your children think of your work?
A: A typical day begins with getting up a half hour or so before my kids (if I'm lucky). I take a few moments to have a cup of tea, answer emails, assess the day ahead, and plan accordingly. I then make breakfasts, pack lunches and drive my daughter to school (my husband drives my son to school, which is a different campus). If I'm lucky, when I get home from drop-off I might have time for a 45-minute walk with my husband. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to touch base as spouses and parents, as well as business partners. While we walk, we connect on any number of items that may need our mutual attention, and also take time to breathe, get our heart rates up and enjoy the scenery! The next couple of hours are generally my best writing time. I might log onto iChat and work online with my Mom, or I might work on my own projects, but generally 10 - 12:30 I'm in my home office working, and these are my best working hours since they are the least interrupted.
I head out to collect my daughter from Pre-K at 1 PM. Depending on the day, I might also bring a friend of hers home for a playdate, bring her to a friend's house, supervise a physical or occupational therapy session (Hope was premature and has low-grade cerebral palsy… she's cognitively fine but needs therapies for her legs) or just bring her home. During the afternoon, I try to continue to work, but balance that with attending to Hope's needs - getting her a snack (or two, or three!) or setting her up with something to play with or draw or do, overseeing her playdate or her PT/OT session. At this point, any work I get done is on my downstairs laptop, as opposed to my upstairs home office. (Luckily they communicate with each other!) Some days, I have to go out to meetings, and I'm grateful to have a network of support to make that possible… starting with my husband, whose schedule is also somewhat flexible, and including a few terrific babysitters and some good friends with kids the same age. Because of this erratic schedule, it's kind of impossible to say how much time I spend a day writing - but I'd guess it's anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day on average.
Once we hit the dinner hour, I'm done. I'm lucky in that my husband is our family cook, but I do the clean-up and generally supervise homework, bath-time and bedtime. By the time we reach the latter, I'm ready to crash myself - and generally fall asleep when my kids do!
With respect to travel, the kids are always a factor. They pretty much always come with me/us, on vacation and also if we ever make trips for professional purposes. We've been fortunate enough to take them to the UK, Switzerland, Canada, Bermuda, and all over the US.Q: How do you think being a later in life mom has affected your experiences as a parent (share both good and not so good)? Has anything about being a mom surprised you? What did you or do you most try to teach your children? What influence has your own mom had in your life and in your parenting?
A: Although I often wish I had the energy of being a younger mother, I'm actually grateful to be an older Mom. I've sowed all my wild oats, and I've no regrets about putting my kids first at this stage of my life. I'm also grateful for the little bit of added wisdom that a few extra years has brought to my husband's and my parenting abilities.
One of the things that has surprised me most about being a Mom is how much it opened my heart to other kids besides my own. Before I had kids I didn't pay much attention to children - now, they're the center of my world. I refocused my professional life (as well as my personal life!) to revolve around kids, and can't think of anything more important in our world then the welfare of our children.
My main priority in terms of teaching my kids is to encourage them to live with integrity. I want them to be happy in themselves and with their world, and I want them to be kind and true to themselves and others. These are very much an extension of my own Mom's values. We try to focus on how fortunate we are, and do what we can to be kind and generous to others.Q: Where do you or did you turn for support as a mom? Your mom? Do you have a support network and community? Others in the arts or publishing field? How important do you think it is to connect with mom peers? Do you find social networking sites of value? Do you consider yourself a role model for other later moms or aspiring later moms?
A: My Mom has been a huge source of support to me in my own motherhood, as has my step-Mom, Gen, with whom I'm also very close. My daughter was born two months premature, and my Mom was by my side the whole time and helped with driving me to back and forth to the hospital during Hope's early weeks in the NICU. I feel really lucky to have two great Moms who are so supportive. The problem is neither of them lives nearby, so only get to see them when they're visiting (or we're visiting them). I also have a number of girlfriends who are Moms, and have turned to them often in times of need (especially those whose kids are just a tad older than mine.) And I've read about a thousand parenting books of all kinds! I love the Gesell series on child development - they have a book for every age, and those have been a great source of comfort and guidance whenever one of the kids hit a developmental bump, so to speak.
I have also turned to online groups from time to time - mostly when we were trying to get pregnant, and again when I was dealing with placenta previa and a high-risk pregnancy. I got a tremendous amount of support and important information from those other moms at those times. I think the Mom-blog/social networking thing is a wonderful tool, and helps us to create a modern-version of the kind of support network that women used to provide for each other in bygone times.Q: What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a mom later in life?
A: I think being an older Mom is terrific (once you get past the fact that all the other Moms in your kids class are younger than you and have a good deal more energy!) The added wisdom and perspective that the later years provide really do make a difference, and I think kids are the better for it. That said, one of the most important pieces of advice I can share is often the toughest to follow: make your own health and well-being a priority. It's easy, as Moms, to put everyone else's needs before our own. But if we do that without ever attending to our own needs our health and energy begins to suffer - and then our kids suffer by extension. That old adage of "put the oxygen mask on your own face before you put it on your kids" is really true… and the older we get, the more important it becomes.Q: When you became a mom, did your mother share any particular sentiments or advice that really resonated?
A: The best advice I got from my Mom, which has proved to be so true and valuable, was "Enjoy every moment… because it FLIES." She told me that just when you think you cannot cope with a particular problem - whether it's colic, sleep issues, temper tantrums etc. - for one more moment, it will change. Development marches on, and before we know it, they've grown. That has proved true time and again, and my main priority in life is to enjoy my kids as much as possible for who they are RIGHT NOW, and treasure every moment.
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