Ethel Navas de Noarbe | Another Mother Her Way

While we're pretty committed to city life, once in a while I read stories like Ethel Noarbe's and I can't help but imagine a different place for us.  For now, I'm thrilled to share her path - one from a career in architecture and design in New York to raising her two boys on the water in Miami. I gravitated to her in this last year because of her clarity on this time in her and her kids' life and her confidence knowing that her work and creativity will be there on the other side.  Ethel's wisdom and humility on embracing simplicity, recognizing the gift in creating little people and finding flow in the days through routine and community, is exactly what I needed going into the next season for our own family.

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Q  HOW DID YOU CHANGE AFTER BECOMING A MOTHER?

“Everything has changed, but I am more me than I have ever been”- these are the truest words about (my) motherhood that I have stumbled upon.  It took a couple of moments after giving birth, for it to be so clear that being a mother was not just another title or just another ‘hat’ in my day.  I knew it is was my everything and, at least for these integral first five years, required my everything.  I became enamored with this new world, and in a blink of an eye in the most natural yet abrupt way, I became completely selfless yet very mindful.  

For years, I had been passionate about wellbeing but I'm now extremely conscious of creating the utmost healthy and safe environment for our children.  I’m always seeking the cleanest, most sustainable everything- whether it be our food, our cleaning products, our toys, etc. - keeping in mind not only what’s best for their bodies but for the planet they will be living in.  This was a big change - I was trained as an architect, practiced interior design and loved everything to do with fashion and trends.  I am still very much that, creatively but I shifted gears and my ‘eye filter’.  Now, I consider design as how it can be more meaningful, responsible and ethical, rather than purely for aesthetic reasons.  

For me, it all comes down to simpler.  I became MUCH simpler.  From my agenda to my skin care routine, to my decor and even my social circle. When you simplify, you can breathe.  I also craved and dreamed of moving away and starting a simple life, somewhere slow and very grounded in nature.  Because of the reality of my husband’s work, we are based in Miami- a place clichéd to be this very cosmopolitan metropolis, which it is... but we’ve figured out how to live that slow natural pace.  Our home is right on the water overlooking the endless bay, we are surrounded by lots of parks, greenery and of course, palm trees where we are always playing ... and on weekends you’ll find us on the beach.  

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Q  WHAT CHOICES DID YOU MAKE TO ACCOMMODATE MOTHERHOOD?  WOULD YOU MAKE THEM AGAIN?

Being the single caretaker of your child, and two in my case- is not for everyone because it is very hard.  But enjoying and living in those little daily moments where you get to witness this person, who is yours, becoming something, someone, is incredible.  Celebrating these tiny humans while giving the most unconditional love is the purest, most selfless act we can do. In the same way that they belong to me, I belong to them.  This is going to be someone’s husband, father, friend, and citizen... it is such a huge responsibility because through how you raise your child you are giving your token in changing the world.  I could not bear the thought of giving that gift to someone else.

After giving birth, I tried to continue with my job in architecture and design and make it happen during sleep times. I quickly realized that there was no such thing as having it all.  I really don’t like that lately we see so much “she does it all.”  Not true.  At least not in a way that I could enjoy it completely and be fully present and involved in it.  Something had to give.  There was not a shred of doubt in me that my entire time, focus and energy was for my family.  I hit pause on my “work” but these terms ‘working mom’ and ‘stay at home mom’ are so absurd.  All moms work whether it be a paid job outside of the home or taking care of their children.  So I knew the profession or venture would always be there, it has no time, no age. These significant mothering years, especially the early ones are limited to now.  There is not a single day that I do not voice or feel gratitude that I get to spend the days the way I do, so yes, I would do it again, I would choose to do it again every day.  

Q  DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A MOTHER IN 3 WORDS.  WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?

Affectionate.  We are very attached. We hug and kiss and hold hands at all times. We co-sleep. We do things as a family. We are a unit and showing and receiving love is the core of everything. 

Playful.  It worries me so much that the playgrounds are not as full as they were when I was growing up. That afternoons are filled with extracurricular activities and homework (although I am happy to start seeing a change of voice in that! Hopefully, it progresses) instead of kids running around outside and playing, doing leisurely things, connecting with family if they are available, and resting! That is how they learn. That is how they develop.  I encourage parents to read into the Danish’s take on parenting, they are big on this, and the American educational system and parents should take note.  There’s a reason Denmark ranks as having the happiest kids year after year in UNESCO studies.

Faithful.  You have to believe in yourself, in your child, and for me, in God. I believe that He entrusted me with these beings believing that I have everything it takes to provide them with everything they need to thrive.  And when things are not as pretty, I have faith that stages are stages and believe that nothing ‘bad’ will last.

I’d like to be a mother that is patient and graceful.  I believe these are things that you can never have enough of, and they require regular ‘practice.’  I feel that if you tackle any circumstance with those, you are not only doing your child a favor but yourself as well.  I heard someone say that there is no stressful situation but a stressful reaction and that is so true.

Q  HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF MOTHERHOOD? 

The boys go to playschool for 2-3 hours in the morning, and that is ‘my time,’ and I really want to resume yoga like I used to do pre-babies.  However, I always end up reading a parenting book, a motherhood blog, researching on childhood education, pinning new learning-through-play activities, planning meals... it is not a spa or a girls night, but it is what really nourishes me right now.  A hot shower with a hot cup of tea after the boys are asleep and slathering on amazing clean beauty products (my vice!) seals the deal.  If I do that, I go to bed and wake up feeling great. Also, the architect in me, needs our home always to be immaculate and clutter free so we have someone that comes to help with housework- and that’s a treat for me!

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Q  EVERY MOTHER NEEDS HELP TO FIND BALANCE.  WHAT DOES YOUR VILLAGE LOOK LIKE? 

To find a balance, I rely on the flow of our days.  We have a rhythm and a routine, and we thrive on it. Although my days are long and filled with everything that is entailed in taking care of two toddlers- I’ve made it a priority for it to never feel rushed or hectic.   So, even if the days are full because we are always ‘doing’ something, they are never overwhelming or overpacked.  Sacred naptimes, bedtimes, and outdoor time are crucial for the body and mind to be at ease and balanced.  

Both my husband’s and my family live out of the country, so we are our own little village.  My sister did move shortly after Lolo was born and lives minutes away.  She is the most amazing whether she is taking care of the kids so we can go on a date night or keeping me company at night while my husband is on a work trip.  There is such comfort in having someone that has known you your whole life, having been through the same things, that just knows where you are coming from in all of this newness.  My husband.  He spoils me, listens to me, supports all of my decisions, goes out of his way to make us as happy and taken care of as possible.  Having that in him is crucial for my day to feel solid- and even though you are literally ‘alone’ all day mothering, that is a constant reminder that you are in this together, that you are parents and equal partners whatever ‘roles’ you each play.  And that is good because many of us mothers can make it very isolating and about us.  Also, my boy’s playschool is part of my village. Not (only) for the caretaking they do a couple hours in the morning, but we got so blessed.  As mothers and the teachers, we are all in and out of the classrooms, around the school’s communal areas... we have such a tight-knit community, it really does feel like a village.  And that’s the thing, you cannot have that with just one girlfriend you need to surround yourself with those you get it, get what you are going through, not just know you. 

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Q  WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IMPROVING ABOUT YOURSELF AS A WOMAN & A MOTHER? 

I am so involved and focused on my children, they require so much, that I give them my everything and more.  I am 100% a mother.  And I never want to give in to anything if it means taking time from the boys.  But I am also a wife, a friend, a designer... and it constantly worries me that I’m not good at being the rest of ‘me.’  That my husband, family members, friends, don’t have my time and attention.  This coming fall is our 5 year anniversary, and my husband planned a 5-day trip just the two of us, and I am scared to death to leave the kids. I have left them at bedtime for a couple of hours for a date night. So this is big. But it is also significant for us as a couple, after all, the kids are a product of us.  So that will definitely make me a better wife and definitely strong as I will have to deal with massive separation anxiety I am sure, haha!