September 2011 Profile: Leslie Ayvazian
Relationship Status: Married.
Residence: Leonia, New Jersey.
Children: Ivan Anderson – 24
Profession: I teach playwriting to graduate students at Columbia University. I also lead several independent writing classes in a private studio in mid-town Manhattan. I continue to write full length and one-act plays. Currently a one-act play of mine – THERE YOU ARE – is having a run as a radio play on National Public Radio with Olympia Dukakis and Maria Tucci. Another one-act play – DEAF DAY – has been made into a short film in Damascus, Syria. My one-woman show HIGH DIVE has recently completed successful runs in Poland and in Slovakia. My new full-length play, OUT OF THE CITY, is just reaching completion. In addition to teaching and writing, my husband and I attend our son’s rock concerts in various New York / New Jersey locations. The band is called Sweet Fix.
Q: Why did you decide to become a mom later in life? Tell us what your road to parenthood was like?
A: I was married in 1977. I was 29 and my husband was 24. We began our lives together in downtown Manhattan when SoHo was still dark and inconvenient. It was a neighborhood of young artists who lived in unheated lofts and fashioned doorbells by dropping strings out of windows with bells on the end. My husband was studying architecture at the Cooper Union. I was engaged in the things a person who hopes to be an actress does –classes, headshots, auditions, temp work. We enjoyed being young and married and living in SoHo in the 1970’s.
Five years into the marriage, I went to a doctor to ask about having children, later, down the line. At the time, I was earning a modest living as an actress and my husband was still getting his footing in an established architecture firm. The doctor kept his eyes on the papers on his desk and said: “The window gets smaller every year.” That was it. I thought, “He never looked at me. I’m vital and healthy and don’t want to be hurried into a decision I’m not ready to make.”
Months passed. SoHo was becoming desirable property and our building was bought by a developer. With the money we were given, we put a down payment on a loft in midtown. It was here we decided to think about having a child. We thought it might take awhile, but like my mother, becoming pregnant was not complicated. Unlike my mother, however, holding onto the pregnancy proved to be painfully hard. Two miscarriages in the course of one year and I was suddenly at the point where the window of opportunity became a more serious consideration. With trepidation, we tried a third time, and our son was born – almost 10 pounds, caesarean section, and healthy. I was 39.
Q: What do you most love about your work? What is most challenging about it? What do your kids think of your work? Any new projects ahead you’d like to share with us?
A: As a playwright and teacher, I love the opportunity to be creative. Originally I started in New York as an actress, but decided when my son was born to step away from the schedule of 8 shows a week, and concentrate on writing. I wrote my first full length play, NINE ARMENIANS, when my son was four years old. The play was produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1996. Luckily that happy circumstance gave me the opportunity to continue playwriting and that has remained my priority. My son is also a writer. He attended Brown University and graduated having written a play for his thesis. His concentration now is writing songs for his band. Ivan started listening to music as a three year old. He knew all the words to Dave Matthews songs at five or six. He played piano in elementary school and started on guitar in middle school. Our house became a house of sound: scales, covers, then original music. This is what I wrote about for the collaborative play, Motherhood Out Loud, which is having a run in New York at Primary Stages this Fall. My piece is about listening to him and his band play every day, every week, every year until he left for college.
Q: What do you see as the positives and challenges of becoming a 35+ mom?
A: When I gave birth to Ivan, I didn’t consider myself an older mom. He was two when we moved to a New York suburb where he attended public schools. Initially I felt on par with other mothers of children Ivan’s age. We all seemed to be hopeful, hard working, energetic, dedicated, involved in school activities. I noticed over time, as I continued to be involved in my career as a writer, my work took me into the city several times a week. The easy overlapping with children and mothers spending time together was harder to achieve. Coming home to the household – our threesome – became the priority.
Q: Has anything about being a mom surprised you?
A: I’ve learned that the best thing I could do as a mom, is to listen. I recognize that I have the inclination to solve things and fix things and spare my son any and all pain, thereby depriving him of his own experiences of testing his resilience and strength. Even now that he is 24 years old, it takes work to resist that impulse. I needed to learn to allow him his experiences while still being a present, alert parent. In time, I took my cues from him. He’s always had a balanced sense of self. In his development as a creative young adult, I had to learn to let him investigate and stumble and practice what he wanted to learn. My contribution has become more of a guard at the gates. I’ve learned that it’s easy to take for granted that we are hearing what’s being said to us. I try to do the best I can to actively listen and thereby support his particular talents and vision.
Q: Where do you turn for support as a mom?
A: My husband has always been a calming presence in our family. He doesn’t escalate into worry the way I can, particularly around illness. My sister, Andrea, has a single son as well, and we support each other. In addition, I have a third sister, Gina, and several friends who don’t have children. I find their observations valuable. They often have different and fresh perspectives.
I think it’s helpful to have a community. We’re always learning how to parent. It helps to know there are people there to support and inform us through both the easy times and the hard ones. I learned that communities change and are different at different stages of life.
Q: What advice can you offer to other later moms?
A: I believe in teaching by example. We want our children to be healthy. I think we can do nothing better than model healthy lives for them with our own behavior. I tried to do what I could to be healthy. I struggled with finding the time and the energy. And certainly some periods were better than others. I think kids can sense when their parents are fit and present and it makes them feel more comfortable and secure. If I have any advice, it would be to attend to personal fitness. Eat well. Try to sleep. Fit Moms are more available to themselves and therefore more available to their children. I think we all need to be healthy in as many ways as we can.