March 2010 Profile: Dani Shapiro
Marital Status: Married
Residence: Litchfield County, CT
Children: Jacob, age 10
Q: Why did you decide to become a mom later in life? What factors precipitated this decision (or dictated it)?
A: I didn’t think of myself as becoming a mother late in life, mostly because I lived at the time in New York City, where it seemed everyone was having babies in their late thirties and early forties. I was thirty-six years old and recently married when the desire to have a child hit me over the head. I truly hadn’t been ready before, nor had I been with the right man. My husband and I were very lucky–it was easy for us, and I am so immensely grateful for that, because I know it could have been otherwise.
Q: What do you love about your career? What is most challenging about your work? How long are you doing it? Where do you see yourself heading? What made you decide on the subject matter of your current book?
A: Being a writer is the only thing I’ve ever done, the only thing I’m equipped to do. I like being alone in a room with my own thoughts, figuring things out on the page. My new memoir, Devotion, is about a spiritual search– really about my search for something to believe. While writing it, I got to read so many books filled with great wisdom, and practice yoga, and meditate, and go on retreats. It was the most fulfilling, remarkable experience and really changed my life in a lot of ways.
Q: What have you experienced through motherhood that has also helped you in your work or personal life?
A: Really, becoming a mother was so transformative that it changed everything else — all my writing since Jacob was born has had in some way to do with motherhood. I find family to be the most interesting imaginable subject: how we care for each other, treat each other, fail each other, help each other — what we do in the name of love.
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? Have you worked more or less since you became a mom? Do you travel a lot, and do you take your family? What do your children think of your work?
A: It’s a constant juggling act. I get Jacob out the door to school in the morning and then start my work day. I do work from a home office, which means that often I’m multi-tasking. Camp forms, doctor’s appointments, emails from the school coexist along with magazine assignments and book deadlines. I do travel quite a bit, and my husband–who is a screenwriter–and Jacob come as often as they can. We started a writers conference in Italy a few years ago, and every year during spring break we go to Italy. Jacob totally understands that these things are the perks of being a writer’s kid–he may have to deal with a dreamy, distracted mother some of the time, but he also gets to go to Europe every year and be the prince of the conference!
Q: How do you think being a later in life mom has 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? What influence, if any, has your own mom had in your life and in your parenting?
A: I think I’m probably a much better mom than I would have been when I was younger. I had a lot to prove to myself professionally and personally, and I’m way more secure than I was in my twenties and early thirties. On the other hand, if I had started earlier, I would probably have had more than one kid–and I often wish Jacob had a sibling, for his sake. But he’s pretty happy being an only child. As for what I try to teach him, so much of it has to do with shoring up his inner life: I want him to be kind, to be grateful for what he has, to be a good friend. to feel good inside about who he is. We have a little expression, the two of us, when somebody’s being cranky or difficult: Let’s start the day over again, we’ll say. How wonderful, to know that you can alway start your day over at any point.
Q: Where do you or did you turn for support as a mom? How important do you think it is to connect with mom peers? Do you consider yourself a role model for other later moms or aspiring later moms?
A: I have a few good “mom friends” who I can turn to for advice — women whose judgment I really trust. It seems hugely important to me to connect with other moms, because sometimes that’s how we best understand our own responses and reactions. Motherhood is the hardest job in the world! It’s so fraught, we care so much, we want to get it right… it’s very helpful to have someone there to hold up a mirror.
Q: What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a mom later in life?
A: It’s the best thing I ever did. I don’t really think of myself as a late-in-life mom, since I had Jacob a few days after I turned 37 — but in previous generations, and in other societies, that would seem positively geriatric! But anyone longing to be a mother should make that leap. I mean, it’s not the things in life we do that we regret — it’s the things we don’t do.
Q: When you became a mom, did your own mother or mother figure share any particular sentiments or advice that really resonated? Or do you recall anything from your own upbringing that really stuck with you and you’d like to pass on to your children or other moms?
A: It’s interesting, the answer to this really is exactly what my new memoir, Devotion, is all about. I was raised in a very religious (Orthodox Jewish) household — and although I am no longer observant, I started feeling like I was missing something, and failing Jacob, by not spending time thinking about what I believe. He had started asking me questions about God, about death, about what I believe — and I didn’t know what to say to him. I have grown to think some sort of spiritual foundation is important — and I had that as a child, even though I rebelled against it. I’m trying now, in my own way, to do that for my son, though in a much more eclectic and modern way than I experienced in my own childhood.