In her new memoir Now My Heart Is Full, Laura June writes about how becoming a parent has helped her make peace with the memory of her own mother, her mother’s alcoholism, and their difficult relationship. Here, she talks about life with her daughter Zelda, from her belief that babies sometimes need to be left alone to the way motherhood has made her more creative than ever.
Name: Laura June
Location: Armonk, New York
Family: Husband Josh, daughter Zelda (4.5) and a chihuahua
Tell us a little bit about your family and your career. Did life happen mostly as planned or were there surprises?
I planned pretty much nothing. I met my husband when I was 27 and we got married at 29. We didn’t decide for sure whether or not to have kids until mid-2013 (it was mostly me putting it off!). I got pregnant quickly and then we had Zelda in February of 2014.
I never really planned my career or my life — I just tried to figure things out as I went and I was really lucky that somehow magically worked out pretty well for me.
Take us through your morning routine. What are your best tricks for getting out the door?
This has changed drastically as my daughter has aged. We enrolled her in a Montessori school (which also functions as a daycare, with longer hours for working parents) when she was 17 months old.
Until she was about three, I was a mother who sort of internally scoffed or felt it was disrespectful to the children’s teachers when kids were constantly coming in very late.
But now that I have an older child, I realise why parents are always late: My daughter is the best at delaying and forcing lateness on me. No matter how early I get her up and start working our way towards the door, we will not make it to school by 9AM, and we live four minutes from it.
We’re working on it, but I’ve also sort of given up on it.
Part of the reason I can give up is that I work from home, so my schedule is much more flexible than it’d be if I needed to be in an office at a specific time.
This means that first thing in the morning, my only priority is getting my daughter to school. For half an hour or so, it’s a rush of breakfast; coffee; feeding and medicating our ageing, nervous dog; packing a lunch; getting her dressed and her bags packed.
Once I actually drop her off, I usually return to actually begin my own day, meaning I shower, put on real clothes, and look at my email.
How much outside help do you get as a parent? Who or what can’t you live without?
This has also changed as my daughter aged. When she was six months old I went back to work and have worked from home writing ever since. In that time, she had a nanny who was an integral part of our lives. We had meals together and, because I was home so much, spent a lot of time sort of sharing some of the work and decision-making.
Now that Zelda is in school five days a week, we do have an occasional babysitter but we also are enormously lucky that my brother and his girlfriend, who is also a close friend of mine, are always around. They can stay with her for a night out or a whole weekend and we trust them about as much as parents can trust anyone who aren’t themselves.
She has known them since birth and they love each other so much, so she always looks forward to seeing them, too. I feel really lucky to have this because I know that most people in New York City do not.
What are the gadgets, apps, charts or tools you rely on?
I used an app recommended by Zelda’s nanny called Baby Connect from the time Zelda was about six months old until she was almost three.
At first I tracked both feedings and sleep, but eventually just sleep. I was nuts about making sure she slept and napped enough and it was also useful in that anyone else who took care of Zelda could enter that information too, so if I was away from home I could open the app and be like, “Ah good, she had a nap today.”
But other than that, I use a paper calendar that I tape in the kitchen and Google Keep for lists.
Has becoming a parent changed the way you work?
Yes. I’m much more efficient. My work hours are limited by the confines of my daughter’s school day: 9AM to 5:15PM. That’s a pretty long day but I also manage much of our household stuff, so when I need a work break I’ll call an electrician about repairs or throw in some laundry. I like to wander around the house when I need a minute to think or take a break and run to the grocery store.
But overall, my daughter’s existence made me more creative and forced me to work harder and faster. Writers (myself included) love to talk about procrastination. I do still manage to procrastinate, but I do it so, so much less than I used to!
You missed your kid's soccer game again because you've been working on that big client report, the one you're still behind on. Oh, and didn't you promise to bring muffins to the school bake sale tomorrow? And there's that meeting at 10am, and the pediatrician appointment at 11.30, and ugh, you should probably buy toilet paper at some point. Everything seems to be hanging by a thread - your job, your family life, your sanity. And your refrigerator smells.
How do you decompress?
After Zelda goes to bed, I often work for a little bit, but rather than work sitting on my bed or in my little office, at night I stand at the kitchen counter. I might have a snack or chat online with my friends. I’m in a few Slack rooms, one composed wholly of other mothers, and evening is usually pretty active. Sometimes I shower.
By then, Josh is usually getting home for the night so we’ll go outside and sit in the dark on our porch and talk and listen to music. I still really enjoy talking to him more than anyone else, so we usually do that for an hour or two every night. We used to watch more movies and TV shows, play video games, but we’ve sort of just mostly been sitting around and talking together weeknights lately.
What’s been your proudest moment as a parent?
The only thing I really feel totally proud of is getting Zelda to sleep well. I think it’s hard to feel proud most of the time because then it really feels like you’re taking credit for some great quality that, you know, your kid might just naturally have. The idea that we mould our children is totally fascinating to me because it’s a relationship that works in both directions. They mould us, too.
But I really believe that from almost the second she was born, I worked really hard, and was very successful in helping her be a great sleeper. She sleeps a lot, falls asleep quickly, and is on a good schedule.
More importantly, she has a good attitude about sleeping. She likes to get into bed and lay there and be read to, and she likes to be alone in the dark, so I am always confident when I have to have someone else put her to bed that it will be fine. I feel like I lived in fear that her “good sleeping” phase would end but she’s almost five now and it’s been really consistent.
Anyway, I’m proud of that though it’s 100 per cent totally possible she would have been this way anyway and all my effort was for nothing.
What moment are you least proud of?
There are so many moments in my life as a parent that I am not proud of. There’s a specific one, a low point, very early in my daughter’s life when she was an infant, lying in her crib, refusing to sleep, and I sang, very sweetly, to her, “Fuck you fuck you fuck you.” All my worst moments are when, through sheer desperation and frustration, I lost my patience.
Now that she’s older and more reasonable and I’ve evolved into my role, this happens much less, but still, I always feel worst about myself when I am impatient and short with her, because she’s not intentionally frustrating or ever trying to hurt me.
What do you want your kid to learn from your example?
That being open and honest with each other, in our little family of three, is the most important thing to me. I grew up in a really closed-off family where we didn’t talk as a group a lot about things that were bothering everyone. We’ve learned over the years that that’s not the best way to be, and so, no matter what my daughter does or faces or feels or wants to be, I want her to feel accepted and loved and supported as she is.
What are your favourite funny/weird/special family rituals?
Pretty much since birth, Zelda, probably because she’s an only child and an attention hog, has insisted that every person in the house at bedtime join in the ritual. So it’s not unusual, if we have guests over, for six people to be lined up at bedside, waiting to be told if they should tickle her (she loves tickles) and hug or kiss her.
She’s very good about bedtime but does like to get the full attention of the entire household at the end of her day. Can’t blame her.
Has anyone ever given you a piece of parenting advice that has really stuck with you?
Yes. My mother died seven years before my daughter was born, but I remember when my youngest brother was still a baby, and I was probably six years old, she told me that even babies needed time to be alone occasionally.
What she was asking me to do was not to rush in the moment he woke up, to give him a few minutes to adjust to be awake, and let him just be there with his thoughts for a few minutes before bustling back in on him.
I found this to be an incredibly great tactic with my daughter, who seemed in a worse mood if I barged right in at the first sounds of waking, but also, occasionally if I leave her alone, she falls back to sleep.
What’s the hardest part about being a parent?
Any time you add another person into your family dynamic, the complications increase. I love relationships with complicated people, but when you have a baby, if you are a two-parent family, you will inevitably need to learn how to make decisions quickly and efficiently.
Working that out was really hard for us at first, and now that Zelda is older, we’re a triad of decision making. So learning to discuss, debate, weigh options with three people, one of whom is a child and doesn’t necessarily always operate on the same plane of logic as you, can be very challenging.
But it’s also really fulfilling and I think that filling my life with complicating, beautiful people was my best decision, even though it makes absolutely everything harder and, to a great extent, life is easier if you’re alone and can make decisions with impunity and no outside voices.
What’s your favourite part of the day?
During the week my favourite part of the day is evening, right after I pick up Zelda from school and it’s usually just the two of us. On the weekends, it’s mornings, when the three of us cuddle together in bed and talk.
Any tips on how mums and dads can stay creative while parenting?
This is a huge topic for me since my work is creative, but for people whose work is not primarily creative, I have always found that creative hobbies, and making time for them, is very important. I’ve been working on learning how to grow plants and have returned to sewing and quilting after years away.
I think it’s really a question of making the time for it, and of not being so exhausted that you have no creative energy inside you. I accepted in the earliest months that my creativity was a bit drained but, eventually, it did return, and now I feel more creative than ever, and often paint and colour and make things with my daughter.
The one thing I would tell other parents who are juggling a career:
To manage your expectations of yourself and your partner, if you have one. The times I feel worst are when I’m trying to do everything and feel like nothing is done well. That’s sort of my resting state actually, but once you accept that sometimes the house will be a mess or sometimes you need to ignore one thing in favour of doing another, you are less hard on yourself about it.
Embracing chaos sometimes can be the best option, but if you’re a perfectionist (like I was but am no longer, ha!), it’s hard to acquire that attitude.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
As my daughter has aged, I’ve found that the best thing I can do for her is often not be with her all the time. That means working hours, yes, but it also means taking even just a little bit of time for myself, and definitely taking time for my relationship with my husband. When we’re happy, she is happiest. And it shows.