January 2013 Profile: Tina Traster
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married
RESIDENCE: Hudson Valley, New York
CHILD’S NAME/AGE: Julia, age 10
I am a writer first. Everything I do and love feeds that. Top among my muses and joys are hiking, photography, movies, swimming, the love of my animals, and of course reading.
What led you to become a later in life mother? After I divorced at age 33, I had a lot of growing to do. I wanted to be whole and in a sound, loving marriage before making a commitment to motherhood. Dating again made me feel like I was 20 years old and had everything to learn. But when a boy from the past – you know, the one you let get away – miraculously returned to my life, I was on solid ground. We married, with instant intentions to start a family. Infertility delayed that goal, but in 2003, when we were both 40 years old, we adopted a baby girl from Siberia.
What do you see as the positives and challenges of becoming a 35+ mom? Let’s start with challenges: I’m in pretty good shape but long years spent building a writing career (a plus for waiting to become a mother) have impaired my neck and back. So lifting my newly-adopted 8-month old daughter was difficult, running after her all day long was exhausting and teaching her to ride a bike, is impossible. I wish I had my 29-year-old-body but frankly I wouldn’t exchange it for the comfortable, confident skin I live in, thanks to experience and wisdom.
Has anything about being a mother surprised you? Um, only everything! Yes, I thought love and bonding would be instantaneous but it wasn’t. I wasn’t prepared for the bonding issues my daughter arrived with, and it never occurred to me that parenting wouldn’t feel like the most natural exercise on the planet. But she did arrive with issues and I didn’t handle it well at first, and it took a few years – and fortunately for me a very good marriage – to make it my life’s work to really rescue that child. That is the subject of my upcoming memoir, which is due out next year. What continues to surprise me most is that being a mother is at the heart of the most important intellectual work I’m doing. After all these years of writing about nearly everything, I have a chance to dig into the deepest places I know and write about my life. Didn’t see that one coming!
What do you most want to teach your child? What has your child taught you thus far? That the world is a complicated place, and that she needs to have an open heart, especially for animals and the earth, but also a cautious eye, because there are real dangers. I like to teach my child by example. She loves animals because I do. She hikes and appreciates nature because we make it a priority to spend so much time outdoors. Food doesn’t grow in a supermarket, which she knows because we raise chickens and because we’re food-obsessed. And finally, I want her to know what a fantastic marriage looks like because that was the single greatest thing I didn’t have when I was growing up. What she’s taught me is that it’s okay to be vulnerable and afraid and human. That everything doesn’t have to be perfect. The way she tackles her violin or draws a cartoon or constructs something from paper, is a constant reminder that creativity and spontaneity is oxygen for the fertile mind.
Do you find the balance between work and parenting challenging? Don’t hate me mothers but no, not really. At least not since Julia began kindergarten. I’m crazy organized and disciplined and I use my time well when she’s at school. But the other half of the formula is that my daughter and I have a good rhythm. She’s always had an upfront seat on my working life because I work from home. So typically, when she comes home from school, I work, she does her homework, there’s harmony. Likewise in the evenings, when we’re home, we eat dinner as a family; then we sit around and read or talk. Julia plays music. We study French. We’re very 18th century, in some ways. It works. My life doesn’t feel imbalanced.
What influence, if any, has your own mother or father had in your life and in your parenting? My parents taught me everything I should and shouldn’t do in raising my own child. On the positive side, I never watched a lot of television, we always ate as a family, Sunday was set aside for day-trips and there was no animal my father didn’t love. All these influences are heirlooms I’m passing along. On the other hand, my mother relied too heavily on doctors’ opinions, we ate way too much sugar (good riddance Twinkie) and it wasn’t until later in life that I learned a woman doesn’t need a man to survive, and the only kind worth keeping is a true friend.
How do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later families? Online site/blogs like Motherhood Later are invaluable. It is not always easy to find community and like-minded souls in our daily travels. I rely heavily on reading blogs and Facebook to feel as though I’m part of something greater, with all its complications and nuances.
Do you recall anything from your own upbringing that really stuck with you that you’d like to pass on to your child? When I was a child, my Polish grandmother – a masterful cook, baker and all-around Balabusta – lived with us. What has surprised me most is how much I think about her since adopting my daughter. While I believe I inherited my drive from my mother (a woman who’s always been successful but couldn’t find the kitchen with a GPS), my priorities have shifted. A happy marriage and motherhood has turned me into a cook, gardener, home-renovator, chicken farmer, and more. My mother never indulged in these domestic delights. I’m glad I do.
What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a parent later in life? Know yourself. Know your partner, if you’re partnering with someone. Prepare for physical limitations. Remember you’re much more set in your ways with a few decades behind you. But if you are evolved and open to change, you’re ready for the greatest ride of your life.