Meet Later Mom: Suzi Banks Baum
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married 21 years
RESIDENCE: The Berkshires, Great Barrington, MA
CHILDRENS NAMES/AGES: Benjamin 20; Catherine 16, (which means 17 in November!!!)
During my motherhood years, I have become a writer and visual artist. I have always been a theatre person and community organizer, and these skills continue to support me as I build my professional presence in the world beyond my kitchen. My website, Laundry Line Divine is the hub of my work online. I have a monthly column on Berkshire Family Focus and have been a featured guest at the Museum of Motherhood, Story of Mum, Studio Mothers, and Mother, Writer, Mentor.
I write about seeing and celebrating the sacred in daily living, about life with kids; cultural and artistic themes weave through my posts. I am dedicated to supporting women finding and using their authentic voices in their creative lives and online. I lead Powder Keg Sessions writing workshops in the Berkshires and at conferences. I teach Rampant Sisterhood: Engaging Your Authentic Voice Online workshops in the Berkshires and at women’s conferences.
I published An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice in March 2013. The writing and art collected there rose out of an event I produce for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers called Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. I am taking a book tour in August of 2014 to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I grew up and went to university. I will be joined by 3 other mother artists for talks about the creative lives of women and readings from the Anthology sponsored by the Marquette Arts and Cultural Center and the Escanaba Public Library.
I am in the midst of creating Slow Time Salons: An Art, Writing and Awareness Immersion on Lake Superior. On August 19 I will offer a one-day sampler of this retreat in Big Bay, Michigan.
What was your road to parenthood like? Long. I waited until I was married. I began my professional life in the theatre, as an actress, stage manager and worked in costume shops all over Manhattan during my 20’s. I had some very personal losses during those years and am grateful I was able to navigate them without subjecting children to the chaos of my life.
I met Jonathan when I was 32. We married 3 years later and had our first child a year after that. Our second child was born when I was 39.
What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? Positives: I had gotten through many personal difficulties that clarified my purpose in life by the time I was 32 or so. I never wished for children earlier than that. I love kids; I have worked with kids all my life- from my earliest experiences caring for my younger sisters, to babysitting, to working at a camp for challenged kids, to doing theatre and art with young audiences all through my professional life.
I knew more of who I was by the time I was 32. I knew what I wanted. I also knew I could not parent alone. This was an immense benefit to me after the confusion of my 20s. Also, once I was in my 30s, I had a delicious appreciation of life that could only come with having lived in a variety of places, traveled a bit and participated with other families.
Negatives: Almost none. Over our kids’ grade school years, my husband and I were often among the older parents at meetings. This provided much welcomed perspective at times, while also creating a bit of a divide within a large group of mixed aged adults. I hated this. I am a group person and resent when others use age as a badge of honor or privilege, ultimately making the younger parents feel less than enough. I endeavored to be as open and attentive as possible and used my experience in the actions I took and responsibilities I shouldered. I do see and value the gift of life experience, but I hope that I have not used mine to lord over others in any way.
Has anything about being a mother surprised you? If so, what? What do you love the most about it? I was surprised by my desire to lick my babies; by the naked visceral connection I have to them. I had never felt so strongly, and to this day, I do not feel this wildly passionate or protective about any other beings, except my niece, who joins the lick-able lot.
I love knowing the humans my children are becoming. It is as if I have been feeding a garden with a variety of fertilizers and am surprised by the yield from this small plot of land. I love conversing with them, watching them learn to travel and be in the world as individuals, watching how they relate to others, what makes them light up with joy, what gives them a sense of belonging beyond the sphere of our family.
Can you share a funny or AHA parenting moment with our readers? I am a child of the women’s movement. I was paying very close attention to the world outside my small town when I was a nubile teenager in the mid 1970s. I had strong feelings about breaking down gender identified roles and was clear that my kids would get all the opportunities they could, no matter what their sex.
When our first child was 6 months old, I was sitting in the baby play park in Washington Square Park in New York City. The mothers I had formed close friendships with were professionals taking a break from their careers to start families. None of us knew just where motherhood would lead us, so we often spent hours talking this over while our babies snoozed in well blanketed strollers.
On this particular morning, wintery cold, but sunny and clear, we blew the steam off our coffees and let the kids gaze up at the sky through the sycamore treetops. The babies were all the same age, nearly to the day. Three girls, and my boy.
The ubiquitous sound of the NYC Sanitation Department truck backing up was a siren song for my supposedly dozing boy. Ben sat up for the first time to watch the garbage truck head backwards along Waverly Place. The four of us mothers looked at each other. The girls continued to stare dreamily up in to the sky while Ben drooled and pointed at the white behemoth hauling trash. The girls did not notice the truck; they did not stir at all.
So much for my ideas about sexual identity. I dressed him in pink, and he played with dolls until he gave it all up for trucks. Ben had a set of close friends when we first moved to the Berkshires, a family of three girls. He longed for the dresses that they wore, sewn by their mother. Before long, she made him a little jumper with trucks on it that he wore with his high top tennies all summer long.
What do you most want to teach your children? In the words of my favorite Broadway musical and from the books that surprised me when I read them to my kids, “Anything is possible if you let it.” Mary Poppins said that, and I hold that as truth. Anything- be it joy, forgiveness, work, inspiration, resolution, healing, adventure, pleasure, change. It is all possible, if we let it.
What do your children think of your creative endeavors? We have come to a place of understanding about my writing. I tell my stories, not theirs. Any blog posts or writing I submit for publication, which includes their names, I run past them first. Photos that I use for illustrations, I always clear with them.
I think they are proud of me. They have watched me move from being a very involved and often worn out community organizer to inventing this effort that has become my professional life. I think they hate and love to see me onstage. I don’t force them to see everything I do, but I do ask them to attend.
I was a complete dunce about computers and online resources five years ago. My son has helped me so much. At this point, I surpass him in most things, but he gives me great tips on new apps and online tools.
What influence, if any, has your own mother or father had in your life and in your parenting? This question could take me a long time to answer. My father died when I was 24. He never saw the work I was doing then, never saw me onstage, and of course, never saw my family. I am influenced by this in that I am clear about witnessing my children’s lives, attending sporting events, plays, talks, dances. When my son had his first DJ-ing gig, I snuck in the back to stand in a sea of teenagers to watch him. I left quickly, but not before I embedded the vision of his joyful presence on stage in my heart.
My mother lived until 3 years ago, and though she did not see all the work I ever did or am doing now, she was very involved with my children. My mother was a great correspondent and instilled in them the value of communication by cards and letters. My mother and her husband were wonderful grandparents during the early years of my children’s lives. Now that my mother is gone, my elderly stepfather does not have much to do with my kids. He leaves a legacy of community and environmental advocacy that has touched all of our lives.
Where do you turn for support as a mom? How important is to connect with mom peers? How do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later families? I rely on the village of people around my family. I have a few older women friends who I talk things over with, who stand in for my mother. My close friends who have children of similar ages to mine are an extraordinary source of comfort, levity and perspective. I make an effort to email and write letters to our family and friends, gathering people for important events, even if my kids are embarrassed by the attention. I think you have to be intentional these days about getting people to show up for stuff. The kids forget the embarrassment while recalling the love, the fun and the strong attention given them by our village of friends and family. For this same reason, I send out a photographic holiday card to a wide mailing list of family and friends. If “a picture says a thousand words”, then I am covering my bases at least once a year.
For a million reasons, a woman can feel isolated during motherhood, whether she is a later mother or not. Motherhood Later…Than Sooner is a great vehicle for resources that build community for women who need reality checks and circles of care and support.
What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a parent, particularly if they’re 35 or older? Don’t wait. If you feel called to start a family, I say, go for it.
Align yourself with other mothers, other families, build a web for yourself, activate your connections and let them know you will be relying on them for connection. People need to know what you need.
Spend time with other families; offer to babysit your friend’s kids instead going out for coffee with the parents. Learning to navigate kids comes with knowing how they operate.
Lastly, your heart is way bigger than you know it to be now. Trust you will have all you need, ask for help and let your powerful love surprise you.
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 daughter or other parents? Neither of my parents offered me advice, though by example, I learned a lot from them. My mother raised my sisters and I for the most part. Her tenacity and devotion to our well being got us all started on own paths.
A feeling that stays with me from my childhood is an honor and fascination with the world of children. My mother was an elementary school teacher, passionate about her work. She engaged the arts in her teaching as much as she could. I witnessed her devotion to her work and this made me hungry to find work that I could care that much about. I hope my children find in their lives work that is satisfying, that engages whole selves and makes the world a better place for everyone.
Tags: later in life motherhood