Marissa Zackowitz | Another Mother Her Way
When I first met Marissa Zackowitz she was a teacher at Spence, one of the elite private schools in New York. The next time I met her, she had had her son, Benjamin, and had shifted to work part-time in admissions and be hands on at home. She had her second son, Ethan, a bit before I had Bodie so when I was pregnant, I inherited her intel on big things like baby nurses to the minutia like swaddles. She was generous, enthusiastic but refreshingly honest talking about motherhood so naturally, since she was simultaneously starting her photography business, I wanted her to capture that happy while very large period two weeks out from having a baby. Those pictures are still some of my favorite taken of me. Now she's shooting for companies like FlyWheel and starting an art element to her photography business. Since I trusted her candor early on, I was so glad to get an excuse to get her perspective on how she dialed up and down her career in education to have more time with her boys and then found a natural path to make her hobby into her own growing and fulfilling business.
Q HOW DID YOU CHANGE AFTER BECOMING A MOTHER?
Reflecting back now, it's hard to remember life before becoming a mother. I honestly felt like my entire life had been waiting and preparing for motherhood. Since giving birth to my two boys, I have become so much more disciplined with my time. I have learned to maximize the day and make sure to carve out time for myself.
The biggest and most obvious change came from my kids. I now know more about construction, dinosaurs and animals than I ever thought I would. It sounds so cliche and cheesy but I honestly never knew I could love like this. My kids come first, with everything. Every decision I make I am thinking about them and I worry constantly. I am less confident in my decisions because now the outcome can change their lives. I care so much more about if they are happy than if I am. It was really challenging at first to relinquish my freedom. I could no longer go to dinners, exercise, meet friends... on a whim. Once I figured out a routine that works (and that took time!) I was much happier.
I have always been very close with my family but I found that after having kids my friendships changed. It was really difficult for me to let go of certain friends, and I still miss them terribly. A major positive has been the relationships with my siblings. I feel closer than ever to them. They are my confidants and best friends. My social circle has become much more reliant on my kids schedules and their friends. We tend to spend more time with the parents of my kids' friends which has resulted in some pretty amazing friendships.
As hard as it is to admit, I also think becoming a mom has taught me how little I know. I used to think I knew it all and I realize now, I just don't. I also used to think there was a best at everything- a best doctor, a best teacher, a best restaurant... becoming a mom has opened my eyes that there is no best, it's just what's best for each individual. Sleep training one of my kids was very different than the other so there was no best method, just like potty training. I get so angry now when I hear people say that "hands down this is the best..." because it may not be the best for me. My best today also may change tomorrow so I've learned to be more open minded and flexible.
Q WHAT CHOICES DID YOU MAKE TO ACCOMMODATE MOTHERHOOD? WOULD YOU MAKE THEM AGAIN
It was so challenging for me to decide whether I would go back to work or not when I was pregnant. I was a teacher for 13 years prior to having kids and was so proud of where I was in my career. I taught at a school where I truly believed in their philosophy of education and loved the camaraderie I had with my coworkers. When I thought about the birth of our first child, I realized I really didn't want to miss out on any milestones or doctor's appointments and I made the difficult decision to leave my job. I cried so hard the day I told my boss. She offered me a position working in admissions one day a week. It was perfect. A year later I was fortunate enough to find a job at another school doing admissions three days a week which provided me with the adult time and camaraderie I missed so much. Despite this ideal schedule, I still did not feel entirely fulfilled. While education had been my career for many years, my passion has always been art. In college I studied studio art and post college began to really love exploring photography. When my oldest niece was born it became an obsession. I loved taking photos of her and loved hearing and seeing how happy the photos made others. I found that more and more people were asking me to bring my camera with me and asking me to take photos- the ultimate compliment. The more I learned about photography, the deeper my interest grew, and I eventually decided to study more formally. I now own my own photography business. It is a lot more work than I originally anticipated and requires a lot of flexibility. It is a constant juggling act and every day I need to prioritize my time. I try to make sure it's as much of a balance as I can. If I spend a whole day on a shoot, I try to make sure the next day has time devoted to my kids. In addition to my career choices, I made the decision to be actively involved at my children's school. I am the president of the Parent's Association which has allowed me to develop great relationships with the faculty, administration, and parent body all while taking an active roll in my kids' education.
I am so happy with where I am in my life right now. It was a long road to get here but every step I have taken has led me to the next opportunity. I learned from each step and misstep, and even with benefit of hindsight I wouldn't change a thing.
Q DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A MOTHER IN 3 WORDS. WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?
Present, involved, loving.
I always try to stay in the moment when I am with my kids. This can be very challenging, especially when they are going at each other and I am on a deadline. My husband and I made a rule of no cell phones, ipads... at the table. We noticed very early on with our oldest son that while it may be easier to hand him a cell phone at a restaurant so we can have a civilized meal, we weren't teaching him how to behave and interact so we said decided not to allow them.
Involved is an understatement for me. I am the Parents Association chair at my kids school. I also take all of the photos for their school. When they aren't in school I am with one if not both of them whether it be on a playdate or at an activity. It brings me so much joy to watch them interact and navigate situations on their own.
I love my kids. I work hard to teach them to be sensitive, caring, kind. I want them to give back and be grateful for what they have.
I would love to be the mother that always looks put together but with my job choice I am usually in comfortable clothes and shoes for shooting. In addition, I have terrible fashion sense! I also wish I could be a little more easy going and let things simply roll off my back. Unfortunately, I am too passionate about the things I care about most. It's just part of who I am.
Q HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF MOTHERHOOD?
I wake up at 5am so I can always exercise- I am a better mother, wife, photographer, and friend if I exercise so I make that a priority. On weekends, my husband and I do the "swap"- I go to an early Flywheel class, he then meets me there with the boys so he can take the next class, and I take the boys home or out to eat. Everyone there knows our kids and it's just become a part of our weekend routine. I also run - a lot. I love to run, it helps me clear my head and organize my life. My husband and I also occasionally hire a sitter or lean on family to watch the kids so we can exercise together which is always a treat. Speaking of babysitters, we have a standing Saturday night sitter. We go out every Saturday night, whether it be with friends or just the two of us. I think adult time is very important.
Q EVERY MOTHER NEEDS HELP TO FIND BALANCE. WHAT DOES YOUR VILLAGE LOOK LIKE?
My village is enormous and I am so grateful for everyone in it. I have the best husband. He is such a doting and involved father. He works really hard and often has long hours, but he always makes time for our kids. He recognizes who I am and what's important to me. He knows I need to exercise every single day and makes sure there is time for it- even if it means leaving a little later for a road trip. He has been unbelievably supportive as I've grown my business. He always encourages me to take risks and believes in me more than I do in myself. I would be lost without him.
We have the most unbelievable nanny in the world. She is a part of our family. She is patient, flexible, kind, and loves our dog as well as our kids. I was initially not looking for a full time nanny but as my business grew, so did our need. She enables me to not only work but also embrace the time I am with my kids. Having another set of hands means both kids can enjoy their activities even when their schedules conflict.
My parents and in-laws are also always pitching in. My parents are unbelievable. They live two blocks away from us which is amazing. There are days I'll come home from a shoot to find my kids were at my parents to visit. I can call my mom to pick the kids up if a shoot runs late, or come to swim class on a whim... They watch our kids so we can get away for a rare night or two which is so nice. My mother in-law came into the city once a week to be with our kids up until they moved a little further away. She now comes in about once a month for a couple of days at a time. Both of my in-laws adore the boys, love spending time with them, and enjoy facetiming in between visits.
Finally, I honestly don't know where I'd be without my siblings. We facetime, talk, and visit all of the time. They are my best friends. We are raising our kids together and the relationship among the cousins makes me so happy.
Q WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IMPROVING ABOUT YOURSELF AS A WOMAN & A MOTHER?
Confidence and seeing the value of my work - I am always making excuses for myself and why I am not good enough. I am trying hard to be present when I am with my kids. It's all going so quickly and in the rush to not miss a thing I find I am not enjoying the moment so I am working hard to stay in the moment. I was recently watching a video from when my older son was 2 on my phone. He was doing the ice bucket challenge with my niece. I couldn't get over how small he was and how much he's grown and changed. I am working hard to enjoy each stage and each moment. It's hard not to get caught up in thinking about what's coming next. I like to be prepared and so I find I am constantly thinking and planning ahead. I need to remind myself to stop and enjoy the here and now. It isn't easy.