April 2013 Profile: Jo Ann Grossman
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married
RESIDENCE: New York City
DAUGHTER’S NAME/AGE: Emily Morden, 24
17 years ago I co-founded, along with my husband, Stu Morden, Kids ‘N Comedy. I continue to direct and produce Kids ‘N Comedy at Gotham Comedy Club in NYC, a performance series where youngsters, ages 10-18, perfect their own written stand-up comedy material. Over the years, we’ve developed instructional technique through classes and workshops. Recently, we published a book “Young Funny and Unbalanced, a Stand-up Guide for Teenagers,” which depicts our instructional technique. Our staff is made up of young professional comics who love children and love teaching and who further our philosophy of nurturing the creative spirit. In 2005 we developed a summer camp two week intensive program, which has grown exponentially. In our summer program, not only do we instruct in the craft of Stand–up, but teach Improvisation and Comedic Acting for Film and Television. From our various training programs, we choose the kids who show the most talent and dedication to join our Kids ‘N Comedy troupe, which performs on the Gotham Comedy Club main stage once a month.
What does your daughter think of your work? How do you balance spending time with her and your career? Were you always a working mom? Right after our daughter was born, my husband, a commercial retail broker, became a partner in a jazz club and restaurant across from Columbia University. There were jazz rooms that were not used during the day on weekends many parents and little children were around. We started a program where clowns, magicians and anyone who entertained little kids would perform. Emily grew up by spending every weekend with these performers. It gave her the entertainment bug. She started doing musical theater in elementary school and middle school. She was a drama student at LaGuardia High School, which is the “Fame” school.
Before Emily was born, I was a designer of crocheted clothing and sold in stores, galleries, craft shows and privately. After coming a mom, I was writing a book Modern Crochet for the Home” for Ballantine Books. Everyone said” Nap when they nap”. I crocheted and worked while she napped. Before I was married, I had my private customers come to my apartment, which was full of yarn. I’d show them designs and what I could make for them and put together a color palate. I also had 15 people doing piece work for me and dropping it off at my home. It was too much chaos when I was not living alone. Things changed, and writing and designing a book was less chaotic and took up less room than having customers and workers coming through all of the time.
Since I have worked for myself most of the time for the past 35 years or so. I was my own boss so was able to take time off when I wanted, as long as I kept the flow of work balanced. When Emily was in school, I worked and when she was out, I would spend time with her.
What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? When I was younger, I don’t think I would have had the patience to be a mother. I got married at 42 (for the first and only time) and had Emily when I was 43. I already knew who I was and knew what values I wanted to put in front of my child. I truly feel that I would have missed a big chunk of life if I hadn’t had a child. My whole life changed because we were now parents. It wasn’t something I always wanted, but when I met my husband, Stu, he really wanted to have kids, and I knew that he would make a great dad, so I took the chance. It worked out.
Has anything about being a mother surprised you? If so, what? What do you love the most about it? Can you share a humorous experience you’ve had as a mom. Being a designer, my life circled around my work and my social life. I was a very self-centered existence. When I got married and we had a child, we became a family, and I no longer thought just about “me”. It changed my outlook on what was important and what was not. My daughter and I have a really good relationship, and I am thankful for that. I want her to always be able to come to me, whatever happens. We share a lot of interests and are very close.
What do you most want to teach your daughter? What have you learned from her? I’m not sure what I wanted to teach her other than it’s OK to be different and not to do everything the same as everyone else. She has found her own path in her own way. She always wanted to be an actress and has achieved a great deal in her search. She works hard to get what she wants and learns from her experience. She has a manager and an agent and just booked a part in a major movie. She is also a stylist in an upscale woman’s clothing store.
Where do you turn for support as a mom (or did your turn to when she was little)? How important is to connect with mom peers? How do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later in life families? After I had Emily, I only worked outside of the home, part-time for ParentAge, a newsletter for new parents over the age of 35, and was the only time I had someone taking care of Emily, 3 days a week. We had decided that I would be the main influence in my daughter’s life and the main caregiver. I started to post notes in the pediatrician’s office and in parenting papers to find other woman over 40 having their first child. I had so much response that I had all of those older moms attend an event where they would break up into neighborhoods and form small groups to meet weekly.
That support group was very important to me, as I had no family around to back us up. I remember taking Emily to a neighborhood playground and looking around and seeing a few moms, mostly in their late 20’s/ early 30’s and mostly nannies. I went to a mothers group where I was 10-15 years older that all of them and felt like after talking about the kids that there was little else to talk about. It was much more supportive and comforting to be with a group of women around my age with new babies. I think we all felt that this carried us through a difficult time.
ParentAge was what I imagine Motherhoodlater.com is now. We were too early with our publication (which is no longer around), and it was in print as no one had the internet, at that time. I remember not knowing what I was doing and never was sure if what was happening with my child was unusual or if they all did whatever I was concerned with. Being a part of the mom’s group certainly gave me more confidence in my parenting experience.
What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a parent, particularly if they’re 35 or older? Sometimes you do whatever, when you can. I had an ob/gyn who told me that if I was going to have babie,s that I’d better do it soon. I was in my late 30’s and not married or involved with anyone. When I eventually got married and pregnant, I switched doctors to someone who had a clientele of “older” women. You do it when it’s right for you. There is a woman in my building who was single, professionally successful, and watched me with Emily. We talked about the fact that she was getting into her early/middle 40’s and not involved with anyone. She really wanted to have a baby and saw that it was not impossible to do it when you are a little older, from seeing me. She now has a 4 or 5 year old and is so clear that doing this on her own was the right thing for her rather than miss it altogether.
When you became a mom, did your own mother or father share any particular sentiments or advice that really resonated? Or do you recall anything from your own upbringing that really stuck with you that you’d like to pass on to your child or other parents? Having a child when you are older can bring another set of problems with your own parents. My dad passed away when I was 26. My mom was 80 when I had Emily. I’m from Buffalo originally, and my mom still lived there. The night I went into labor, she fell on the ice and broke her ankle. The plan had been for her to come down and help me for the first week or so. I think I had held my good friend’s baby once before I gave birth. I never babysat or was around little kids….so my mom’s aide would have been invaluable.
My mom was the most selfless woman I have ever known. She was patient, and as Stu says “unlike many parents she was a problem solver, not a problem maker.” She had me when she was 37 which was late in those days, and I was an only child. She was an amazing role model, which I hope I have also been to Emily.