Last week I was standing on line behind a little boy and his mother. The line was long, it was late and the mother looked tired, but the little boy kept trying to get her attention. "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy," he kept saying in that insistent way little kids sometimes do. And although it was clear she didn't really want to, she still turned to him to play the game he wanted to play with her. I was moved to tears. The way he said "Mommy" as if she was the center of his universe affected me more than I could imagine. Because at his age, she most certainly is.
As the mother of an 18-year-old son that used to look at me that way, I am entering another stage of life. My son is preparing to go to college in the fall. He is a musician and has just finished all of his auditions for music schools - and as we wait to hear where he will go, it is hitting me incredibly hard. He's leaving. On the one hand I am so immensely proud of him, and on the other hand, I can't believe it is time.
Someone once told me that we raise our children in order for them to leave us. At the time my son and my daughter, who is now 16, were so little that it was hard for me to believe it. And yet of course I knew it was true. It is with such a mixture of pride and sadness, that I realize it is almost time for my son. Who will then be followed closely by my daughter.
I had my kids in my twenties so was building a family and a career simultaneously. It was a crazy time with many personal and career highs but also much guilt, very little sleep and confusion of whether anything I was doing was actually going right. In retrospect, I certainly suggest waiting until you are a little older and established to have children. But, it means that I have been lucky enough to have built a pretty terrific career, have raised two incredible kids and am slightly younger than most of the mothers that I know whose kids are the same age. Which also means that I will still be in my mid-40 when they are both out of the house.
Perhaps it was these thoughts, my awareness of aging and the need to make some kind of statement that led me to get another piercing in my ear this week. While on a business trip in NYC and meeting my sister for dinner, I had us stop by Venus by Maria Tash (Piercing Pagoda to the stars as well as those with disposable income and a penchant for beautiful things). Her jewelry is gorgeous and I had resolved myself to a mid ear diamond hoop. Classy but rebellious in it's own way. The store was unbelievably fabulous and soon I was pierced and ready to go. I said to the piercer as we were leaving that I knew I was a little old for a piercing like this and he looked at me and said - actually most of our clients are in their 30's through their 50's. Not the stage of life that was once thought of for piercing and yet exciting that now there is no age limit. Confirmed by Vogue which has a two page article this month on earrings for multiple piercings. I am cooler than I knew!
All of these things have made me think about the stages that women, especially those with children, go through in their lives and how it affects their personal lives, but most especially their careers. When do they lean in and when do they step back? Being so engaged in my career has been a blessing and a curse over the years. I know that I have shown my children a strong work ethic and given them opportunities and experiences that they otherwise would not have had, but I have also missed certain things that I regret. As I write this on the plane home from this latest business trip, I am thinking about whether I could have done more - could I have been more engaged or more understanding, could I have had more patience? Maybe. Probably. But one thing that I know I could never have had more of was love for my amazing children.
When women talk about having it all - many do so almost with anger. How can we be expected to have it all? How can we lead productive careers and not have regrets for mothering moments we may have missed. There is no one answer or solution for how to balance motherhood and your career (although so much has been written about it and there are many opinions to be shared). There is the reality though, that women's lives - no matter how long one stage seems to last, are in stages. And while your children are little and you work, perhaps you hang back which can be replaced with a push to do more as you get more sleep and your children's lives develop. Or maybe it's not that scenario but an entirely different one. The point is, that your life and your career are constantly evolving and that brings new opportunities as you navigate these stages.
As my children enter their new stage of life and prepare to leave home, I enter a new stage, too. One where I can more completely focus on growing my business, spending more time with my husband and expanding my online show "Perspectives"(www.katiekempner-perspectives.com). And that is an exciting and scary thing. One I will face with my new fabulous diamond hoop - because you are never too old for a new job, a new plan, a new lease on life or an extra sparkly piercing.