January 2011 Profile: Patty Chang Anker
Patty Chang Anker
Marital Status: Married
Spouse’s Name: Kent K. Anker, 41
Residence: New York City area
Children: G, age 9; R, age 4
Profession: I’m an at-home mother of two girls, a yoga teacher, and public relations pro by day, and a writer and blogger (Facing Forty Upside Down) by night.
I am thrilled to be Good Housekeeping Magazine’s January 2011 “Blogger We Love.” My story “Mom’s Secret Hiding Place: Amid the Clutter of Family Life, I Carved Out Space to Breathe” is on stands now, or take a peek here.
Q:At what age did you become a mother? What factors precipitated your decision (or dictated it) to become one later in life? Please share with us your road to parenthood……. How did you become a mom? What made you go the adoption route? Did you know anyone who had adopted?
A: I became a mom at age 31 when we adopted G, and again at age 36 when we adopted R. That doesn’t sound late, but it was 5 years behind schedule. If that sounds a little Type A, it was.
My mom always told me having children would be the most important thing I ever did. She also told me not to fail at anything. You can’t tell a Chinese American first-born daughter stuff like that without creating a baby-crazed maniac. I got married at 22 and started trying to start a family at 26. “Trying to have” a baby became complicated. Very complicated.
I had always wanted to adopt from China, but the minimum age was 30 to submit paperwork, so the minute I qualified, we put the papers in. What a relief! I was used to being productive in every area of my life – 4 years in college produced a degree, 4 years in my career equaled multiple promotions, after 4 years of trying and waiting for the thing I wanted most of all, I was finally on track.
Almost immediately after returning home with G, I started thinking about adopting again. But motherhood, which I thought I would ace, flattened me. We didn’t know G had special needs right away, but by age 3, she had sensory issues, by 4, signs of Tourette Syndrome, by 5, anxiety. Every ounce of my brain power was spent with both Western and Eastern doctors and therapists, learning psychology, neurology, and the special education system. We started and stopped the paperchase for her sister many times, as I despaired at the thought that it might be too much for me to handle.
I remember meeting a mom with 4 almost-grown kids and being filled with admiration, envy and self-loathing. “How did you do it?” I asked. “I don’t want G to not have a sister because I’m too tired. But I’m So. Tired.” I’m pretty sure I was in tears. She didn’t miss a beat. “Your #1 sounds like my #3,” she said. “My #1 and #2 were so easy. I thought I was the greatest mom. Then #3 came along and kicked my butt. She came out screaming and never stopped. She and I fought over everything, nothing was easy. If she had been #1, I never would have gone on to have #s 2, 3 and 4.” But why did she have #4? “By then I knew that it wasn’t my parenting. I was the same mom, it’s just that each kid is different, and the chemistry between us is different. It’s like learning to dance with a different partner. And #3 and I are so close, because we had to work so hard to understand each other.” She gave me permission to take some blame off of myself and courage to adopt again.
Q: If you work, what do you love about it? What is most challenging? How long are you doing it? Where do you see yourself heading?
A: In my 9 years as an at-home mom I have freelanced, gone back to school, and worked part-time, in two very different areas – public relations, and yoga. What has been most challenging is that the needs of my kids are unpredictable, making it hard to know how much time or energy I will have to devote to work. When things are going well I want to take on the world, but last semester I had one daughter home with me for 3 months, so had to pull back from everything. Balancing the needs of my kids’ and those of my special needs students is important – knowing how attached my kids get to their teachers I don’t want to take students on unless I feel confident I can be there for them until they’re ready to stop. Because of this I decided to take on fewer students privately instead of teaching larger group classes.
When I turned 39 I started blogging FACING FORTY UPSIDE DOWN as a way to cheer myself, and my kids, up. I decided to stop saying no to things just because I was too tired, preoccupied, or scared to try. If I expected my kid to learn how to ride a bike, I needed to be able to do it, too! By making it a public declaration, I had the support of friends, family, and eventually even strangers, in my attempts to face my many fears. I carve out little bits of time to try new things and the rewards are enormous. I learned how to dive into a swimming pool in 60 minutes, total – 60 minutes, and I eliminated a lifelong fear. For the rest of my life I don’t have to say “I don’t dive.” My kids don’t have to say “Mommy doesn’t dive.” The high of being brave, learning something new, the congratulations from all, is exactly what I want my kids to experience every time they go out on a limb. It has made me a better parent and a better teacher, to experience being the student. It is also a revelation for me, after a career spent promoting the works of great authors and journalists, to realize I have my own story to tell. I love everything about it!
Where am I headed? For someone who was bred to be on a fast track to something at all times, I am learning to be okay with focusing on the here and now. I’m blessed to have a working husband so I can work in a way that is low impact on the kids. But I do want to work, so establishing routines for me to teach one afternoon a week or write on a weekend is important. It feels good when my kids say “Mommy is a teacher” or point to my name in a magazine. It’s a matter of balancing everyone’s needs, including my own.
Q: What have you experienced through motherhood that has helped you, both personally and professionally? What have your kids taught you that inspires you?
A: My kids, and the special needs kids I teach, inspire me because so many things are challenging for them, but they do it anyway. For kids with anxiety every time they enter a room is hard. For kids with developmental delays much of their lives are spent feeling out of their element. My kids made me realize I can’t expect them to go outside their comfort zone all the time if I’m not willing to do it too. We don’t let our kids ‘opt out’ of trying new things and we don’t let them give up if it doesn’t come to them easily. So then why was I such a wuss? ‘I’m too busy’ or ‘I’m too tired’ I would say, when what I really was, was scared.
My kids inspired me to start saying yes to things that frighten me. In addition to learning how to dive off a diving board and bike without looking like a spaz, I’ve also learned to do a handstand, faced my fear of rivers and crocodiles, and found my voice in writing. I hope it inspires lots of other moms to take risks and have a little fun!
Q: What is your typical day like? If you work, do you work from home? How are you able to balance parenthood with work? Do you have any help with the children? What do you do to practice self care?
A: My typical day starts at 6:45 am getting G ready for school. She just started at a new special ed school this fall, and every day she gets on the bus I thank god that she’s going to a setting that makes it possible for her to succeed. I do a little fist pump and say a prayer for a good day. Then, if R isn’t awake yet, I try to stretch or meditate for a few minutes, or have coffee and chat with my husband. Once I drop R at nursery school, I have 135 minutes to myself. Tick, tick, ding!
At 11:30am, R is out of school, and we’re off to therapy appointments/classes/play dates, and once G is home from school, it’s a race to do homework, activities, dinner, bath. By 9:30pm, the kids are in bed, and my husband comes home. Dinner/TV/laundry, and then at midnight? Time to write! This is when I blog and do other writing/consulting work, often until 2 am.
Six times a week, I teach yoga, both regular classes for adults and private and semi-private classes for children with special needs. These are grouped into one Monday afternoon when we have a sitter, and a Saturday morning when my husband takes the kids.
Yoga is self care on every level for me – it is physical, mental, spiritual and a way to give back to the world. Teaching is a touchstone for me, reminding me to bring something positive to my students each week and to practice what I preach as much as I can.
Q: How has becoming a later in life mom affected your experiences as a parent (share both good & not so good)? Has anything about being a mom surprised you? What do you most try to teach your children?
A: I look back now on the time I felt forced to wait to have kids and realize that it wasn’t wasted time. It prepared me to struggle and fail, to take risks and not know the outcome. It showed me I can’t control everything. It taught me to deal with emotions like longing and jealousy, and not having what you want when you want it. All things we want our kids to know.
If I had had kids right on schedule I may have expected them to hit every goal, just like me. That would have been a disaster. Special needs kids need so much more patience and understanding than that, as well as strong, educated and attuned advocacy on their behalf. So much of parenting special needs kids is helping them relate to other kids and parents, teachers, doctors, and the outside world. All while learning how to manage medications, treatments, schools, and our own anxieties about the future. The young, optimistic woman I was would not have been able to handle these challenges with maturity or authority.
Having children later also allowed me to develop my career. I was Director of Media Relations at The New York Times before adopting G and deciding to stay at home. It helps me in life to know that I hold up under pressure, and can problem solve and command respect. Especially when my kids are throwing putty at the ceiling and mooning me!
Q: Are your parents still living? If so, have they embraced your becoming a parent? When you became a mom, did your own mother (or mother figure) share any sentiments or advice that really resonated? What from your own upbringing would you like to pass on to your children and/or other moms?
A: My mother couldn’t wait for me to become a mother. She would show me pictures of other people with their grandchildren and say “Look at my friend. Doesn’t she look happy?” Subtle, Ma! But I think all that waiting primed her to love G unconditionally when we finally brought her into the family. Often there is a little concern when adopting – will the extended family really bond with the baby? Will they claim her as their own? And for us, there was no question. That helps so much especially since both girls have had so many challenges. The world may not understand, but my parents do. They are active participants in my kids’ lives, babysitting, worrying, researching treatments, cheerleading, thinking about things from the kids’ point of view. I grew up in a very authoritarian Chinese immigrant family. It moves me deeply that my parents’ shifted their own world view in order to understand ours. That is something I hope I can pass on to my kids.
Q: How important is it to connect with later mom peers? Do you hope to inspire others who might consider following your parenting footsteps? Do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later moms?
A: Connecting with peers at every point of my journey so far, through infertility, adoption, special needs parenting, has been profoundly rewarding. Women I met online or in support groups who knew what I was going through became like sisters. For every person who took the time to answer my questions or let me bawl on her shoulder I want to turn around and do the same for someone else. An organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can give women a sense of belonging as well as practical support and advice. It’s all good.
Q: What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a mom later in life? What advice/tips have you received from other moms that you’ve found most helpful or inspiring, particularly when you were a new mom?
A: I met a mom whose daughter was blind almost from birth. Then she had her son less than 3 years later. So she had a blind toddler and an infant at the same time. Her daughter went on to become the first blind student at a local university, a pioneer. I asked the mom how she did it, how she got through the early years, and she said “I never let myself think too far ahead, or I’d get scared. Every day, I thought about what needed to be done that day. The weeks we decided it was time to teach her how to walk across the street, we focused on that. That was enough to think about.”
It’s sort of the opposite of how I was raised, eyes on the prize. But it’s an excellent mantra for a special needs parent. Or a Later Mom. One step at a time. That’s how every pioneer begins. One step at a time.