I’m really excited about my first feature for my “Interview with a Mother” section. Like I said, I’m jump-starting this little project of mine with people I know, so the first “chat” is with my friend Kala Barba-Court. She is by the way, the coolest Mom I know. In Paris, where she’s based, she watches concerts on her own. And not everyone is brave enough to do that – so in my book, she is the coolest!
Tell us something about yourself, your little one (age and sex).
I’m an artist and web designer, born and raised in Manila, Philippines and moved to France in 2003. Due to my husband’s job we are often sent to other countries, and we’ve lived in Qatar, Rome and Saudi Arabia and return to France in between projects. I’m currently living in Paris with my husband and 3 year old daughter.
Your child’s birth story: What was it like giving birth away from family and home country?
I had a hard pregnancy but a very unremarkable birth story. I was asked to stop working when I was 5 months pregnant and had to lie down for the duration of my pregnancy. When my contractions started, we went to the hospital and gave I birth naturally 2 hours later.
The whole giving-birth and taking-care-of-a-newborn experience was tough, but all new mothers out there, however sleep-deprived and clueless, manage to wing it – with or without extra help from family or friends.
But it definitely helps if you speak the language of the country you’re in. Not everyone speaks English in France, and it could’ve gone horribly wrong if I didn’t understand a word the nurses or doctors were saying.
What you wish you knew about being a mother before becoming one:
I wish I didn’t expect to feel a connection with my baby once I gave birth. They put my daughter in my arms and I kept on waiting to feel something special, but (like other mothers I suppose) I didn’t feel anything. Also, I wish someone had told me that newborns are really ugly. No, seriously. They’re all wrinkly and hairy and splotchy when they come out and that lasts for weeks or even months. Someone commented that she looked “just like me” and I felt insulted.
How do you manage your me-time?
Most weekends are reserved for family stuff, but I always make it a point to go out by myself at least once a week to see an exhibit or a movie, have dinner with friends, or just walk around Paris. I often book a babysitter and take afternoons or evenings off as well. And I don’t do chores during my me time!
Any favourite anecdote about your child?
Having a toddler means every day is anecdotal. I never believed the “They grow up before your eyes” cliché until my kid became a toddler. Six months ago, when she was two and half years old, she came up to me and told me matter-of-factly that she had a “hypothesis that dinosaurs walk on four legs but they make a lot of noise”. I had to stop what I was doing and ask myself, did she just say ‘hypothesis’?
What is it about motherhood you simply love about?
I love the conversations I have with my kid, because it’s all so straightforward and pure and innocent, nothing like conversations with adults. Also, when I pick her up from school, she runs to me with open arms and a huge smile like we’ve been separated for three years instead of three hours. No one is ever that happy to see me, really. So I feel pretty special, when I’m around her.
If there was one thing about motherhood you disliked about, what would it be?
I hated the helpless newborn stage, it really isn’t my thing.
I also dislike the fact that a lot of people judge you on how you raise your child. I didn’t breastfeed, didn’t co-sleep, let her cry it out and I speak to her in English instead of French. I get a lot of unsolicited advice about this.
What’s a typical day like for you and your little one?
Now that she goes to school, the day starts with breakfast, a few minutes of cartoons on TV, and then walking to school. I pick her up at noon and then it’s lunch and she takes a nap. In the afternoon it can go two ways — either we have a good time, or I spend the next few hours putting out tantrums, depending on her mood. I bring her along on errands or we go to the park. During bath time and dinner I place calls to my husband, each call getting more and more frantic, telling him to come home immediately because by the end of the day I’m exhausted from it all.
Best advice you’ve ever received about motherhood:
The best spot-on advice about parenting in general came from a taxi driver. We were living in Rome at that time and were loading the bulky carseat and stroller into the tiny taxi, bitching about how much stuff a 6 month old needed. The driver looked at us in the rearview mirror and said, “You shouldn’t complain, this is the easy part. The smaller they are, the smaller the problems. The bigger they get, the bigger the problems. I have a 15 year old daughter, and she has run away with her boyfriend. For two days she hasn’t come home!” That sobered us up.
If you could give yourself advice long before you became a mother, what would it be?
It’s normal to feel like the world passes you by during the first couple of years with a child. It actually does pass you by. But as time goes by and your child gets older, you eventually get your social life back. Also, never skip date night with your husband!
How do you manage your time as a freelancer and as a mother?
I have a 3 hour window of freedom four times a week when my daughter is in preschool, so I treat these hours like gold. During this time, I don’t clean, cook or do anything chore-related (which I’m pretty bad at doing anyway – so please don’t drop by unannounced at my place).
Instead, I work on projects, personal or professional, while listening to music (because I almost never have time to listen to new albums when my daughter is around). I make a list of priorities every weekend and schedule my “Freedom Hours” accordingly (the meaning of freedom has evolved ever since I had a daughter; it now means being able to work uninterrupted). I make sure to turn off my internet connection while working to avoid surfing distractions and to get the work done faster.
When my daughter is home, I make sure she’s surrounded by activities and explain to her that I have to work. It’s inevitable to take breaks now and then, but it’s still possible to get things done, if you focus. It also helps that I don’t need a lot of sleep, so I work best at night when everyone else is in bed.
Thank you Kala!