JON: Welcome back. With me today is Elena Kryzhanovskaya, a stay-at-home-mom with three kids. Please welcome Elena to the show!
(WILD APPLAUSE as "Hey Mama" plays in the background)
JON: You know, this show has often spotlighted men and women doing extraordinary things in the public arena, and before I sign off, I wanted to say thank you to the millions of parents doing the hard work of raising kids, one moment at a time.
ELENA: Thanks, Jon. I have three kids, and the birth of the first one left me totally exhausted. I would watch your show at 10am on Comedy Central's website Tuesday through Friday and that would be the comedic fuel to get me through the day. Hey, you're not perfect, but I think you provided therapy for a lot of people for a very long time.
JON: Thank you. Not necessarily what I was aiming for, but thank you none the less.
ELENA: Listen, Jon, I brought my nine Shutterfly photo books with me (spread out on his desk). Yes, Jon, this is one time when it's totally appropriate for you not to have read them because they are not for you, but for my family to cherish. Private accomplishments to capture the beauty, humor, and growth of my family.
JON: Thank God. Although I am actually curious to look at them now. . .
ELENA: Hey, man, anytime you want. I think a lot of people would secretly or not so secretly want you to be part of their family and in a way feel that you are. Like a rabbi-therapist-crazy uncle who happens to be wildly successful. We dig that, man.
JON: Thanks (chuckling). So what made you want to be a stay-at-home mom?
ELENA: It wasn't like I just woke up one day and decided, hey I think I will just abandon my career and have some kids. The kids came to me and then I had to adjust. It was something I found out about myself--that I wanted to be home with them. Not necessarily even home, because I'm not really a homebody. More like, just with them. Like an RA whose residents pretty much have to go on whatever excursion I have planned (Bwahaha!). I have as my colleagues not only my wonderful fellow moms, but also my favorite parks, the zoo, the Dr. Seuss exhibit at the children's museum, and wild art instillations at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. I am also grateful to the gym and the dedicated teachers of extracurricular activities.
JON: Sounds like you have a whole network you've engaged. But I know that being a mom is a 24/7/365 endeavor. What is your favorite thing about it?
ELENA: Even though having three little kids can feel like an albatross sometimes, I also like the freedom of being able to do anything that day. For example, if the kids want to study reptiles, we are going to go to the zoo and then the library. If the kids want to know about the blue-footed booby, we are going to learn about it.
JON: That is a real creature?
ELENA: Totally. A bird, in fact. Things you learn from being a mom. I also know a lot more about trucks because my son loves them. You know, I was a teacher, and I loved being able to use my creativity to teach objectives. So far, I've done more the Montessori approach of going with what my children are interested in and teaching that, but part of me wants to talk to my friend Susanne about the preschool homeschooling curriculum she uses. There is something really exciting about going through an organized curriculum (must be a teacher thing).
JON: I love introducing my kids to new things, exposing them to the world. Spending time with them, which you know I haven't been able to do as much as I want. There is definitely some guilt there.
ELENA: For sure. For a long time now, you've been dealing with the Big People, the Important People as the world sees them. The beauty of spending time with your kids (the Little People) is that you affirm them, that they are truly the Most Important People for you. And for you, it's not like you are going to stop being around the world's Important People. But for a lot of stay-at-home moms, a sacrifice may be that they are truly humbled every day by their kids and then survive by surrounding themselves with stable, humble people. Like, I clean up spit up, peepee, and poop all day long and then I get to be an adult again with my mom friends while also being real about what I've just witnessed. And I laugh a lot.
JON: What's something funny that happened recently?
ELENA: In preschool, my kids learned the magic of whispering. My five-year-old daughter comes up to my mom and whispers in her ear, "I love you, Baba." My three-year-old son runs up to her and sweetly whispers, "Doodoo head Baba." My mom suppresses her laughter and tells him, "Andy, we don't talk like that. Your sister just told me "I love you."" He looks thoughtfully at her and said, "Okay, okay" and leans in to share what my grandma thinks is a redeeming thought. He whispers "Flush your face in the toilet!" runs away and collapses in giggles, runs up again and says "Poop your face!" That's after a day of discovering new things at the Children's Museum, a day of building toy cars and learning about the Pilgrims. Poop your face, man. That's what he learned. I'm joking. I do think he learned a lot that day. It just wasn't as funny to him as what he said. And truly, it was really funny. Humor helps us get through the day, when we're not watching The Daily Show but living it. Our own daily comedy special brought to us by our children.
JON: (Chuckles) Yes.
ELENA: And it's also a Zen Koan. It's a both/and. Motherhood is both really funny and really heart-rending. It's constraining and freeing. It's often overwhelming but also can be really simple and routine. It's feeling like you are really skilled and also that you have a lot to learn. It's humbling and also a great honor.
JON: That's funny because I kind of feel like that about this show. What do you think is the hardest thing about your profession?
ELENA: That's a tough question, Jon. With the kids, it's feeling like I can't escape. Like I have to be always "on." And even when I am technically doing something else, my heart is always secretly watching the kids. But I think the hardest thing is the relationship dynamic that can be created when the husband is the sole breadwinner. I've heard some horror stories, and I think it's easy for some men to become a Trump caricature at home. Like "You had four kids to take care of? I have four hundred [employees]. How you like them apples?" I can only assume Trump is a good father and husband, but the bottom line is that not everyone is as encouraging, affirming, and supportive as you, Jon.
JON: I'm not sure my wife would always agree. . .
ELENA: It's a spectrum, right, like most husbands are somewhere in the middle, somewhat supportive. Plus you have to draw another graph demonstrating how much they make and what the expenses are. And then the wife staying at home has to decide, is this working? It's data that are harder to analyze than one may imagine.
JON: But if the household is not making enough to pay the bills, then it's clearly not working. So many moms would love to stay at home, but for them it's a simple calculus. They can't. The husband is very supportive, but he doesn't make enough to carry the family at a time when real wages are stagnant and have been for decades. Or the mom is a divorced. Or she was never married, and she's carried the kids on her back all by herself. What do you say to those moms?
ELENA: Now this feels like a Jon Stewart interview, man. I feel for moms who want to stay-at-home but cannot. I've been there. There's a longing for your kids during the day and also the guilt when you're actually really happy to be at work and feel like you should want to be with them instead. And then you come home and you make the most of the time you have. In some ways, maybe I appreciated that time with my daughter more because it was so limited. And if you're working, you are fighting hard to find the best childcare possible. And my childcare was out-of-this world good.
JON: Again, not everyone has an angel willing to take care of the kids.
ELENA: Yes, you are right. I've learned to count my blessings, advocate for a fair wage, help when I can, and not to compare. Turns out that the woman with the great job and great hair who has a son in the same preschool class as mine has a maniac for a husband or is struggling to conceive again. Maybe she loves her kids but is with them way too much because her husband is an absent alcoholic and she has had it. We are all struggling in some way, and I feel very grateful for the things I have been given. I feel very grateful to my family, my friends, and especially my husband who provides so that I can stay home with the kids. He works very hard for us. Money is not everything, but as a mom you want your kids to have great experiences, like a good preschool, and often those cost a lot of money. But there is my pride, too, that says, darn it, I was working, and also I work now. In a recent Harper's article, Rebecca Solnit discussed the idea of women as "baggage that breeds." I feel like I am a woman who works, and works hard, but often husbands view their paycheck as "their money" that they are obligated to share with us, which I think is actually a pretty normal feeling. And it also hits the wife where she might feel weak--the guilt over not bringing in a paycheck, although in her rational moments she knows what she brings to the table is priceless.
JON: That there is interdependence in the family.
ELENA: It takes a really wise man to see that and be able to appreciate and encourage his wife when she is staying at home. I mean, how many of us haven't been in a situation when the man, a very good man, criticizes our spending and in our minds we vowed to get a job, like, tomorrow? Or maybe he doesn't criticize, but we would love to be able to get this and that for the children and can't because of budgetary constraints. And then we look into our baby's eyes, know that she is so important to us, and that we want to be there for her, and just kind of buckled down and carried on? And I miss it a lot, being in an office. The last time I was in an office, it was because my husband asked me to bring his belt.
JON: To spank him?
ELENA: No, Jon, you are getting ahead of yourself, man. He just forgot to put his belt in his gym bag. He changes after working out in the morning.
JON: So, what do you want to do after the kids are older?
ELENA: You know, I'm trying to make it less of a demarcation. Like, before I thought I'd will wait until all of them get to kindergarten. And now, I am thinking I am so going to start writing more NOW, for my own sanity. Trying to tie it all together. And I hope being a mom makes me a better writer and vise versa.
JON: How so?
ELENA: Writing requires that we process and reflect on our world. It's like I tell my kids -- use your words. I have to do the same -- process what I'm feeling, and in doing so, I can reflect on how I did as a mom that moment or that day and what I can do better. And I am a better writer because I have experienced more -- a c-section, two natural births, working outside the home while being a mom, being at home, and so on. I am more understanding and I hope that shows through my writing. Sometimes I am TOO understanding, but that is probably a lifelong struggle -- to understand but also judge correctly. To understand but also set limits and enforce them. To be kind and firm. That is something I am learning and it impacts both my writing and my relationship with my kids. I feel like I'm always learning, every day is new, and time feels like it is moving so slowly, or that we are in a different dimension outside of the rush-rush world we are used to. Except when I'm James Bond on the highway trying to get to their next activity.
JON: Well, do you have some time for an extended interview, Elena?
ELENA: Thanks, Jon, but I have to nurse my son now. But hey, let's meet at the Central Park Zoo with the kids!
JON: Sounds like a plan. I'll bring the Important People.
ELENA: Good. Can't wait to meet your kids, man.