Interviewer's note: it's a wonderful thing to be able to interview your own mother, which is what I got to do here. I hope that everyone might take the time to learn something new about a loved one. Even if she did throw the grandkid plea in there at the end. ~Merin
Tell us about yourself: what is your story and what are you doing now?
It would be a story of constant change and reinvention; great highs and deep lows.
I set the bar high, perfectionism would be in any list of adjectives that describe me. But I never set the standard higher for others than what I could accomplish myself. I’m creative, resilient, strong, loyal… and probably a little insecure. Forgiving. Open-minded. I’m a leader, but I’m a good follower too. I’m a risk-taker. And I feel things deeply even though I probably don’t show it on the outside.
And I’m a survivor.
My life has been defined by constantly moving - changing cities, schools – and by a lot of family changes. I was born in Palo Alto, California, and then moved to Minnesota, where my parents are from, a month later. And then we moved, a year later, to Toronto, where we lived for six years and had dual citizenship. My parents divorced and I moved back to Minnesota, to Minneapolis. My mother remarried and we moved to St. Paul. I went to boarding school on the East Coast. I rarely saw my father, I didn’t really know him, and my stepfather died in a plane crash when I was 19. I don’t think I was ever in a school for longer than three years my entire life until college.
I went to college in California. I married at 22, and moved to Boston for two years, where I had a job in advertising. Then we moved back to California, where I attended fashion design school. I had three children by 31. And then, later, I got divorced and moved to the East Coast. Then I attended an interior design program and now I have my own business!
So much of it was so eye opening, particularly the death of my stepfather: anything can happen at any point. So make hay while the sun shines. Do what you can do every day.
What were the hardest decisions you had to make in the past? How did those decisions turn out? Any regrets?
My initial reaction is to say that I don’t think there have been many really hard decisions. I’m a fairly logical person, and I’m a planner, so I see things coming. But even if they catch me by surprise, I always felt like I knew what the right decision was; I see things fairly black and white – I’ve always felt like I’ve had an internal compass that allowed me to make those hard decisions.
There are some decisions that I think back on – those crossroads decisions – where I wonder what my life would be like if I had chosen differently. But even though it would be interesting to see what would have happened, I would make all those decisions as I did. Like when I was at design school, and I was asked to work at Christian Dior Couture in Paris. But I was pregnant with my first child, and there was no way my husband and I were going to leave Southern California. It just wasn’t a hard decision to make.
Getting divorced is hard, but, in thinking things through, I think it was very much the right decision. Sometimes you try so hard to make things work that it takes a lot out of you and you stop being you. You put on the perfect exterior and make everything else in your life perfect.
And I think moving to the East Coast after my divorce was a good decision, one that I didn’t think twice about because my kids were all on the East Coast. It was scary, but my background prepared me for that.
Are there things that you spent years stressing out about that turned out to not really be that big of a deal?
Stress is a luxury. Because if you are truly so busy, you don’t have time to stress out. You are just going from one thing to another. Certainly going out on my own after being divorced was something I stressed out about – not having anyone to fall back on. I was a stay at home mom for two decades; it’s hard to go back. It’s hard to get a job in the design industry when you’re out of college, much less when you have been at home for twenty years!
What do you wish you had spent more time doing over the years?
When I put my mind to something, I do it full bore and, more often than not, I succeed at it. But then, with some of my life changes – getting divorced and moving – some things disappeared. They just weren’t feasible anymore. There are things that I’ve done in the past that I just don’t have time to do any more. And, you know, there’s always something that you won’t be able to do. It’s just life.
A lot of people talk about regretting not making more friends or not tending to friendships better, but I don’t feel that. I’m a fairly private person. And because of all of those changes, moving again and again, I have a small group of friends as opposed to a ton of friends. Without cell phones and email, it just took a much greater effort to keep in touch with people.
And while I do have a smaller base of friends, they all know I love them and they all know that if something happened and they called me a two am, I’d be there. Those are the people, through the thick and thin, that I’ve stayed in touch with.
What would you say your highlights have been?
My three kids are definitely at the top. I’m proud of the people they have become. They’re independent and strong-willed and creative thinkers that will make a difference in this world. So, as a mother, I feel great about that. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done with nonprofits.
I’m proud of the fact that, whether in school or design programs, I’ve done well and had some great, unique experiences.
While there are always ups and downs with my work, every once and a while I walk into a client’s house and I’m just really happy to see the way things worked out. Also, I’ve made friends through my work – my relationship with my clients is typically very close and I enjoy them as friends. They’re such interesting people.
And, as a golfer, it’s a fantastic feeling to win a club championship!
And the low points?
I felt very lonely for a lot of my childhood. I was frightened and felt alone. And then there was abuse that made me feel even more alone. I never felt like I had a mother who has there for me – which is hard, it’s hard to live a life where there’s no one to fall back on, particularly not your mother. And I felt that for a long, long time.
Certainly my father dying was a really low point; not only for the loss, but also for the possibility of knowing him more. He was such a private person and I didn’t really know him at all until I was about 20 years old. I would have loved for him to see my kids now, he would have been so proud.
Going through a divorce is definitely a low, because I saw that as a personal failure. I try to succeed at everything I do, and divorce is an admission of failure. And it took me a long time to get past that.
What do you think has changed the most for women over your lifetime?
I was brought up in the Midwest in a very old-fashioned, affluent family. No one ever expected anything more from me than to be a wife and mother. The women in my generation of my family were the first to graduate from college, and it wasn’t for lack of money. It was expected that you’d meet someone and have children and get married and that was it.
My generation is really the transitional generation. We were born in a world that expected us to be wives and mothers, and by the time we hit college that was no longer the expectation. And then there was pressure to get jobs, to do something else. Society was pushing us to one thing and our parents were pushing us the other. And it’s a no –win. If I had a career instead of having a family, my family would have been like, “what the hell are you doing?”
And there are merits to both. I loved being a young mom. You have the energy. You have more in common with your kids. It was a really good thing. And there were plenty of older moms who were accusatory because I had stayed at home rather than accomplishing something early on. But then you get divorced and you’re in the other boat. Now you do have to have a career. You do have to survive on your own.
But the pendulum swings. We went so far from the ‘young mothers staying at home’ paradigm to pushing hard for women to have it all. And now I think we’re swinging back to the middle a little bit. Because it is really difficult to have it all.
What would you like to see continue to change and improve for women?
Instead of the old women’s lib – we’re going to go out and fight the world – it has become more of a groundswell of women supporting other women, and not to the exclusion of men. I hope that continues, that quiet support of women who say, “no matter what you choose, it’s okay.” Women are capable now of speaking out about their friends, of speaking on their behalf and singing their praises. And supporting them through whatever challenges without making them feel like they’re being judged.
When you look at the numbers of women who are earning more, who are working longer hours, hopefully there is more of a push for paid family leave in the US. For men and women. Men have also gotten the short end of the deal, because the world has started to grow and allow women time off to have children, but it’s only more recently that people have begun to realize that men need that time too. Shared parenting is great. Though I would like to see shared parenting extend to shared housekeeping! From what I read, while parents are sharing more of the child rearing, mom is still doing 90% of the housework. I don’t think there can be 100% equality, because if there were, men would be giving birth to babies. Recognizing that some things just won’t change and allowing people to have their differences is great.
Looking back at the past 50 or so years, what words of wisdom would you have?
You have to be happy with you. Because if you’re not happy, no one around you is happy. You won’t do well in work, you won’t do well in your family or with your friends.
Be honest with yourself. Make sure that the people you love know you love them. And constantly push yourself to try new things. Even though they’re scary, and even though you might not know how to get started, just do it. You’ll never know what you can accomplish unless you challenge yourself. Failures may come, but you can’t have successes unless you challenge yourself.
Even in the toughest times, If you can take deep breaths, go to sleep, and wake up in the morning, you can get through the hardest things. You can survive it.
Where do you see yourself in five years, ten years? What does "retirement" look like to you?
Hopefully, lots more work! I don’t feel old even though I’m about to turn 60. I’ve never worried about age. I can still take on new things, whether it’s sports or work or whatever. I’ve always wanted to stay relevant; to not check out, to stay in it. If you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your ability – and I still have that. I still have plenty of energy.
Down the line, it would be great if I could keep building my business so I felt more financially stable. I’d love to travel more. I’m hoping my family will expand. I’d love to hold a grandchild. I just want to keep living the best I can.
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