If you’re exhausted from the seemingly endless array of “momoirs” written by women who seem to have it all together all the time, you’ll rejoice in the refreshing new book of memoirs from Lisa Kogan, writer-at-large for “O, The Oprah Magazine”, entitled “Someone Will Be With You Shortly: Notes From A Perfectly Imperfect Life.” In her book, Kogan—a 49-year-old single mother who lives in New York City with 7-year-old daughter Julia—admits that she does not have it all together, and instead finds the humor and joy in the trials and tribulations of imperfect, though nevertheless wonderful, motherhood. Here, Kogan chats with us about the nature of the book, motherhood in the city, and how exactly she’ll deal with her daughter’s impending adolescence.
How did the book come about?
It’s a collection of things that I’ve worked on for years at “O Magazine”. I wanted to do it for a long time, and one day I had lunch with an old friend who said, “You’ve got to learn to get in the way of chance.” And I thought, here I am with a platform, my Sirius radio show [“The O Magazine Show”] and column [“Lisa Kogan Tells All” at “O Magazine”]; why am I not taking advantage of it? Some of it was that there are only X number of hours in the day. Some of it was probably fear. I like to fly under the radar, but you’ve got to fly in the way of chance, so I decided to just sit down and do it.
Your book is about living your life, not the perfect life. What’s being a single mother in New York really like?
Nature isn’t stupid. Two people getting together to make a third person and take care of them is a pretty good plan. I find that the dirty little secret of being a single parent is that you don’t have to answer to anybody—you don’t have to explain why you put her in those clothes or why she can’t have an ice cream cone 26 minutes before dinner. And New York City is a double-edged sword. There are so many amazing things going on; there’s always something to do with your kid. But things move fast here, things are tough here, and it’s very aggressive. And Manhattan comes with its own set of challenges; you aren’t really a parent until you can say the wheel has come off your stroller in the middle of rush hour on Lexington Avenue.
How do you balance work and family? What are the biggest challenges?
Some days I do it better than others. I think one of the keys for me was to say early on, “I can’t always be the good mother.” So there are going to be days when I have to be the good-enough mother. My rule is no matter what is going on through the day, I have to stop when I come home. When I come home, I’m all Julia’s. I’m not checking my email at work, I’m not on a cell phone, I don’t answer my house phone, I don’t Blackberry. When I come through the front door work stops, and my life with my daughter takes priority.
lot of parents forget to take care of themselves. In your book, at one
point you mention that you’re “dying for a make-over.” How do you make
time for yourself?
really hard. It’s actually a big challenge for me. Maybe I don’t do it
quite enough. I remind myself that I’m modeling behavior. So if I’m
eating a slice of pizza over the kitchen sink, I ask myself, what’s the
message I’m sending my daughter? So when I can’t take care of myself for
myself, I remind myself I’ve got to take care of myself because there’s
a 7-year-old depending on me and watching me. That keeps me on the
straight and narrow most of the time. I also give myself permission to screw up once in a while. I
talk about that in the book. We love our hardest and try our damndest,
and at the end of the day we make our kids wear their coat over their
Halloween costume and all hell breaks loose. You’re not going to get it right 100 percent of the time. I’m happy to shoot for a B.
How do you feel about sharing so much of your life with your readers in the book and in your column?
find that the more you give, the more you get back. I cut to the chase
pretty quickly. I don’t have time for a lot of small talk; I want to
know what’s going on and what people are doing. The best way to do that
is to let them know what’s going on with me. There are corners that are
private. But I have to force myself to say, “Ok look, you’ve got one
long black chin hair and you’ve named her Audrey. Just say it. People
will get it.” And what you get is people stopping you on the street and
saying, “I’ve got one named Lucille!” That’s how you build a community.
What do you hope mothers can take away from your book?
I hope they have a good laugh. I hope they relate. And I hope they know that at the end of the day we’re all in this together.
What do you hope your daughter’s reaction will be when she’s old enough to read the book?
funny because right now Julia just assumes that everyone is in a book
or in a magazine. I hope she looks at it the same way she looks at old
photo albums. I hope she goes, “Oh, yeah, I remember that.” Just as it
says in my acknowledgement page, “I’m her witness, she’s my mutineer.” I
hope she knows how madly in love with her I am.