Every week, Momstamp features interviews with parents that inspire us. Discussing the impact parenthood has had on their personal and professional lives, we find out what tricks they’ve learned along the way to help them manage their lives more effectively.
This week, writer Susan Orlean, talks with Momstamp co-founder, Julie Hermelin. Susan is the bestselling author of eight books, including Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend and The Orchid Thief which was made into the Academy Award winning film, “Adaptation.” Orlean has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1992. She lives in Los Angeles and in upstate New York with one dog, three cats, eight chickens, three ducks, and her husband and son.
For Great Advice & Recommendations from Susan Check out her Momstamps!
What Five “Parenting Hacks” Have Made Your Life Easier?
When Austin was a toddler, I used a “one, two, three” countdown. My sister-in-law called it, “one two three magic.” Kids often need a little of time to shift from doing what they are doing to what you want them to do. If you give them a countdown or specific amount of time to get it done, they’re more likely to comply. They want to feel some ownership in the decision.
2. Artkive App
One thing you can’t escape with little kids is artwork — all that artwork! I love it and I want to keep it all but it’s so much. There was also the little crisis of never wanting my son seeing me throw away his artwork.
With Artkive, you can take a picture of your kid’s art and save it, share it online and even print books of it. It’s one of my favorite apps. To be honest, you’re probably going to look through a book of your child’s fabulous drawings more than you’re ever going to look at the big box in the attic filled with this dusty, falling apart, faded artwork.
3. Allowance & The Rule of Thirds
We set up an allowance system for my son. He can spend a third of his allowance, but he must save a third and donate a third. It’s been a great way to teach him about money, charity and, in theory, saving. With any luck, he’ll want to save more than he’s spending, but overall the goal is to teach him about the idea of saving.
Evernote is basically my auxiliary brain in the cloud! It’s a great way to gather and organize everything online and has tons of practical applications for parenting. I have an information file for Austin with a picture of his birth certificate, picture of his passport, the soccer sign up, class roster etc. If I’m going past a store that I think he might like, I snap a picture and put it in his file. It’s all searchable and makes my life so much easier.
One thing that I’ve found that works with my son is routines and systems. We don’t always sustain them but it takes away a certain amount of conflict about choice. I think he likes systems, actually. For example, every morning he does a vocabulary word at breakfast. He’s used to it, he looks forward to it. We have a set system of what he’s supposed to do when he gets home from school. That way it’s just set; it’s not to be debated.
How did becoming a parent influence your life creatively and practically?
I don’t think I ever appreciated how much it would affect me. My work involves a lot of travel and hours that aren’t predictable. I used to work a lot of late nights and weekends. Suddenly, I lost that freedom. It was a big shock to me!
I really measure that time more carefully, but at the same time, I care about my work and want to do it at the same level that I’ve done it in the past.
Ultimately, it’s made me choose different subjects. The book I’m working on now was influenced by knowing that I didn’t want to write a book that required a huge amount of travel. I realized I can find a great story even if it’s only a mile away.
Did you find that you were having productivity issues re-adjusting a creative routine you had established for so long?
It’s an ongoing process. When I was writing my last book, I noticed that by the time I got really writing, Austin was about to be home from school and it was challenging to focus.
I ended up going to a writers’ colony for a few weeks to finish. While it was hard to be away from home, I don’t think I could’ve gotten the book done without that. I needed not to be taking care of anybody; not my kid, my husband, my dog, my cat or my house. Nothing. That sense of being mentally unburdened by anybody else’s concerns is something that is so rare for me now. I think I work best when I feel that the blank screen is the only thing I have to worry about.
Are you and your husband similar in this way?
That’s the biggest difference between us. I can be there working and thinking Did I arrange a babysitter for next Saturday? or Did I make a dentist appointment? It’s a little upside-down: I need to make sure everything is taken care of before I work, which is a fool’s errand because you never really have it all taken care of.
My husband is able to just focus on one thing at a time. It doesn’t make me the better parent just because I remembered that Austin needs his teeth cleaned — I simply can’t help it. At times I use it as a form of productive procrastination, since it’s easier to line up the babysitter than the creatively daunting task of writing a book!
I’m the self designated family worrier.
What’s your co-parenting relationship like and how has it changed over time?
It’s pretty fluid co-parenting. We share responsibilities pretty well. It almost moves more in relation to what particular phase Austin is in. There are times, especially when he was younger, when he really wanted to be with me. Now that he’s 10, he seems to really love spending time with John. We let it ebb and flow.
We’ve also learned things about ourselves and discovered different values, some of which would never have come up unless we had a kid. We would have never learned what each of our positions are on things like discipline or electronic time, or raising someone with a religion or not, any of that. There’s a process where you have to sort it out and discover where you stand. You have many more topics of dinner table conversation to sort through.
It gives you, of course, much more potential to disagree, but it definitely is interesting to learn who your partner is in a much more complex way through these conversations.
You’ve got a large following on Twitter, and your son Austin is part of the “digital native” generation, is he interested in your social media presence?
I have no idea how he came to know that I was on social media. One day when I said to him “You’ve been on your iPad enough — time to take a break!” He said to me, “You’re tweeting all the time!” I thought, “How do you know that?”
Recently I posted a picture of him on Facebook and realized he’s entering an age where he might have a real opinion about it. He’s certainly entitled to. I’ve always been conscious of that and wondered how much I wanted to ever put him out there. I’m not in any hurry for him to be on social media himself.
Does he ever tell you to tweet something?
Yes, usually something silly that would appeal to a boy his age, and every now and again he sees something funny and suggests I take a picture and tweet it. Maybe one in five times it’s something kind of cool and funny and I’ve thought “Oh, all right, he’s getting it.”
Do you feel becoming a parent shifted your creative point of view?
I don’t think so. It has made me think of certain things I want to write about that simply wouldn’t have occurred to me before. . The book I’m working on now came about because I’d taken my son to the library in our neighborhood. I had a revelation about how much libraries meant to me as a kid which got me interested in a writing a book about them.
I have to give Austin credit for that. but I don’t think it’s changed me fundamentally as a writer. I’m a work in progress anyway, as a human, anfd this is part of that progress.