PROFESSION: Business Consultant/Coach and TV Lifestyle Professional
MARITAL STATUS: Married
SPOUSE'S NAME: Sway
RESIDENCE(S): Winter Park, FL
Jeremy, Age 8
Q: Why did you decide to become a mom later in life? What factors precipitated this decision (or dictated it)?
A: I always knew I would have children. I thought Iíd probably have five kids because I loved kids so much! But when I was married the first time, I couldnít see having children with my then husband and then I remarried at about age 32 and waited a couple of years before I had my first and only child. I had one and possibly two miscarriages after I had my son. Jeremy was a 2 lb 15 ounce preemie who arrived at 28 weeks and two days after spending a month in the hospital laying upside down in the hospital to keep my amniotic fluid in me. My water had broken at 24 weeks when I landed in the hospital. I was in labor for the whole time off and on that I was in the hospital at Mt. Sinai in NYC.
Q: What do you love about your career? What is most challenging about your work? What was your motivation to write your upcoming book?
A: I have been fortunate to have been able to be self employed for many years while raising a child on the Autistic Spectrum. I have loved the work that I do- from Lifestyle TV appearances all over the country to corporate training and coaching. The most challenging part for me has been maintaining the balance between work and an incredibly difficult and demanding home life.
The motivation for writing the book, Living in the Spectrum, came when I was absolutely fed up beyond belief of living with such chaos in our home. Even though we worked with top notch professionals with our child, his sensory issues, his ADHD, and his defiance was just more than I could handle. I understand why so many couples divorce while parenting a child that is on the Autistic spectrum. There is rarely a day that is normal. If my child got over stimulated, he was sometimes up all night, and when his ADHD meds wore off, the results were horrible from intense irritability to defiance to physical aggression. I was still getting my son dressed at age 7 and there was never a day that I could take him to the store because heíd run away from me or even run out in the street in front of a car. I had many people try to tell me that he needed more discipline or give me advice but they had no idea of our situation. My husband and I passed him off to each other when we were at the end of our rope and the other would take over. That was how we lived for many, many years.
I finally decided that our son would at some point recover from all of his issues and dedicated myself to finding a solution no matter what the cost and I started keeping a journal of our day to day existence. No one quite understands the emotional trauma, financial stress, or difficulties that a family endures unless they are living in the home. Even though I see my mother often, after reading my book she said she couldnít believe all that we had been through. Even she had no idea the moment by moment struggles we endured.
Over the past few years I have written numerous articles on raising a child with Sensory Processing Disorder and have been a support to so many other mommies going through the difficulties we did. I combined these articles with my day to day journal and the book was born! The book is now finished, and advance copies will be available through my website www.marygardner.com.Q: What have you experienced through motherhood that has also helped you in your work or personal life?
A: Before I had my child with special needs, I pretty much flew through life untouched. I was always successful in school, athletics, had a lot of friends, and not many things were a challenge for me. Even professionally, I had a lot of very early success and people predicted great things out of me. But I had never endured the incredible challenges of doing things that you donít think you can do and not knowing anything about them, and struggling every single second with them until it forces you to grow into a person who can handle them. This challenge of raising my son has made me an incredibly strong person. Before, when I had the world at my fingertips, I realize that in reality I was incredibly emotionally weak and probably a bit superficial and intolerant because I really didnít have to push myself to my absolute limits or try too hard to have success.
Now, I know so much more about life and about giving and about receiving. I know that I donít have to do everything on my own. I know that I can and do rely on many, many wonderful people along the way. Iíve grown much more compassionate as a person and understand the ups and downs that people endure. I have learned to not be materialistic because I know that Iíd rather pay for Occupational Therapy for my son, than have my yard perfectly manicured like all of the neighbors, or wear the latest styles, because Iíd rather be taking my son to swim practice and him benefiting than me working late. Thank goodness my son has now improved so much that heís almost off of all medicine, and is in a regular school doing well. He still has attention issues, but the defiance is gone and the sensory issues are mostly gone. We are so relieved that we can now get a normal life going.
However, all of the things that we went through have made my husband and me grateful for having a child with special needs. I now feel Iím much more equipped to serve my clients from a deeper level and share with those who are having their own challenges. Life isnít perfect now, but at least we know we can and will handle whatever comes our way.Q: What is a typical day for you like, managing both work and home life? Do you do any work from home? If so, how do you find that? Have you worked more or less since you became a mom?
A: I would honestly have to say that I donít sit down and that Iíve never worked harder in my life than these past few years. Most nights I fall into bed from exhaustion.
But most of the time, I get up early and go to the gym 3 days a week, then come home and get Jeremy ready for school. We walk to school and then I either take a hard bike ride or get back to my home office where I start writing or working on a project. On the days that I have coaching clients, I line them up back to back, and then other days, I have appointments out of the office for either coaching or training. Every day is different. When Iím out of town speaking or doing TV, my husband runs the show and is quite effective!
Working from home has its ups and downs as everything does. There are days that I feel Iím the luckiest person in the world to have the freedom to listen to the radio and sit in my office by myself, meet a friend for coffee or run errands whenever I want and have created the freedom to do what I want when I want. Then, there have been days where I feel so incredibly lonely and isolated and am on the verge of depression. Usually on those days, I find that I need to get the adrenaline going so I force myself to go to the gym and work out. That always, always helps.
What Iím going through now though, is that my desire of being an advocate for Sensory Processing Disorder is starting me on a new path of discovery of how I can support my family while doing this new advocacy work of educating and supporting others who are on similar journeys. Iím currently exploring developing products that will educate or advocate, and of course there is always the possibility of me doing a TV or radio show around these topics of Autism, ADHD, Sensory Issues and related issues. Either that, or I will get a full time job! I feel Iím ready for a change in my life now that my son is doing so much better!Q: How do you think being a later in life mom has affected your experiences as a parent (share both good & not so good)? Has anything about being a mom surprised you? What did you or do you most try to teach your child?
A: I just donít think I was ready to be a parent earlier than I had my baby in my mid 30s. I was living the high life in NYC, traveling to the Islands with my husband and our friends for vacations, and pursuing a dream career. I didnít want to have kids with my first husband for many reasons and so I am glad I waited for my second husband.
I think that I kept waiting to ďgrow upĒ to have kids, but what I didnít realize is that having kids MAKES you grow up! I think that the most surprising thing is how hard itís been to be a mother in so many ways. I was never particularly good domestically, so thatís been hard to learn to run a household, to have dinners ready every night, to have to manage a whole other personís every single need has been a very big lesson in humility. I was used to being taken care of, not having to take care of anyone! My mother still serves everyone like the good old days, and I have that model stuck in my brain a lot of the time like most women do. Iím fortunate though that my husband likes to keep things pretty clean, is a terrific cook and doesnít mind take out. Plus, Iíve gotten better over time and can now do more than just boil water!
What Iím teaching my child is INDEPENDENCE. I heard a great story about Tony Danza, that he was the kid in college who could do anything from sew to iron to cook or whatever needed to be done. That is how I want my child to be. Iím not afraid to force him to deal with learning these so called ďboringĒ things now, so he wonít be caught swimming upstream having to learn everything on the fly like I did. My mother did try to teach me, but I was too busy socializing to pay much attention! My son also has attention issues, so I make cooking fun, and we play games to clean up the house, and although we havenít tried sewing or ironing yet, Iíll somehow make it fun so heíll be motivated to learn them.Q: What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a mom later in life?
A: Iíd say that itís the best thing that youíll ever do. I wish I could say that it was all rosy and fun and full of laughter and great times. I canít say that at all. But what I can say is that youíll experience love like youíve never experienced before, and youíll work harder than youíve ever worked before, and that youíll be humbled like youíve never imagined possible. But at the end of the day, youíll look at your life and realize that there is absolutely nothing more important than that little bundle of energy that is laying asleep in bed looking like an absolute angel. Youíll realize that tomorrow you might be screaming at him to get dressed or to hurry up, but at that moment, youíll know in your heart that this family youíve created is what life is all about.Q: What are your future career aspirations/plans?
A: I am honestly at the point now in my life where creating a calm and peaceful family life is the most important thing in my life. For the past many years that I was racing from doctor to doctor for my child, and spending the majority of my free time dealing with teachers or therapists or trying to keep up with my home, that I havenít been able to be as productive professionally as I know I can be now. So, even though my heart says to be an advocate on TV, my wallet demands that I make money. And having stress in our life financially has caused stress in our marriage, so Iím looking forward to being able to contribute more so my husband doesnít have most of the burden like he has for the past couple of years.
Iím also aching to get out of my home office and be with people and connect professionally again and see what I can do once again. I am praying that I will get guidance on this path, and I hope that I will have my heart fulfilled in my job. Iím ready to lead with my head and not my heart at this point in my life and take a job that will bring financial abundance. Iíve always succeeded big in sales, so I might head in that direction professionally.
I will be promoting my book so that might open some doors. All I can do is to tell our story of how we got Jeremy from being an uncomfortable, impulsive and aggressive little boy, to being a top notch athlete with a body like a Mr. Universe and ambition to match. Although there were many components to his recovery, mostly it was occupational therapy, biomedical testing, allergy testing, change of diet, vitamins and supplements, exercise and reading healing scriptures out of the Bible and praying for grace to hold on during the wildest and toughest ride of our life.
It took lots of work and tons of faith but we got there. And I pray Iíll have the same success in uncovering my future.
Note: Upon publication of this interview, Mary is thrilled to announce that she just got hired to host a series she created called Star Causes, which will air on TV in Florida, working toward cable distribution spring 2009. And, she has a radio show concept in the works, with other creative, enterprising gals like herself.
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