A mother balances her world and herself

April 15, 1997|By Susan Reimer

IN HER PREVIOUS life, Iris Krasnow was a globe-trotting journalist by day and a Cosmo Girl at night. She collected celebrity interviews and exotic boyfriends and rode the crest of every trend that washed over this country. She was hard-bodied and tough-minded and she was climbing a ladder of ambition that disappeared into the clouds.

But -- and you can probably guess this part -- she yearned for the love of a good man, and her arms ached for a child.

She got what she wished for, but when she did her life and her mind and her soul split in two and she found herself rocketing back and forth between Earth Mother and Goddess of Celebrity Journalism. Each time she flung herself into her career, she returned home with a thud.

Krasnow describes her fractured self and the circumstances of her healing in a book whose title captures the process succinctly: "Surrendering to Motherhood." A journalist who once dabbled in motherhood, she is now a mother who dabbles in journalism.

The book, due in bookstores in time for Mother's Day, is an outgrowth of an essay she wrote for the Washington Post, which was an outgrowth of what she calls her "scrambled-egg epiphany." That was what she was picking out of the carpet under the high chairs of her twin babies when the boys rained more of it down on her head.

It was at that moment that she surrendered. Surrendered to the fact that she was the mother of four boys under the age of 7 whose needs were so immediate and so enormous that she could do nothing but respond to them.

"This was not letting go and letting God," Krasnow writes. "It was more like letting go and letting children take over."

After years of analyzing who she was and who she wanted to be, she decided to just be. After the birth of her third and fourth child, she stopped trying to straddle the world of kissy, messy babies and the world of power-suited professionalism and retreated from Washington to a house by the river in Annapolis.

She surrendered because the domestic chaos of four kids forced her to do so, but also because she found in that chaos the peace she had been seeking since her flower-child college days.

"The importance of downsizing Self and yielding more and more to my kids did not come to me in a volcanic burst of altruism and clarity," Krasnow writes.

It was a struggle, and Krasnow paints a word picture of that struggle that zings and zips the way her hip-as-you-wanna-be life once did. She was torn between work and home the way too many of us are, but her story is a better read than ours would be because of the way she lived -- interviews with Yoko Ono, Queen Noor of Jordan and Golda Meir -- and the way she writes about it.

"This idea of a balanced life is a dangerous myth that leads to failure," Krasnow said over breakfast, eaten during a brief

window of paternal child care.

Every time she pulled on her pantyhose and left the house in heels, determined to show she had not lost her professional edge, she would start to miss her kids and that feeling would grow inside her until it felt like a rock in her stomach.

But when she was at home, she quickly wearied of the treadmill of chores, and the career girl she had been became a romantic ghost of freedom.

"The real balance comes when you have your heart and mind in one place," she said.

Krasnow refers often in her writing to Baba Ram Dass' "Be There Now," a book she read as a college student about enlightenment gained by plunging yourself into the present.

The lessons of that book clearly didn't take because Krasnow grew into a woman "ablaze with ambition who was always racing past the now to get somewhere better." It is pretty tough to live in the present when you are striving toward some ideal that exists only in your imagination, she writes.

"Surrendering to Motherhood" is a book about the end of that striving, but it is not a book about giving up a career and staying home full-time. That would be an oversimplification of the mental wrestling match that goes on in the heads of too many women like Krasnow.

This is a book about a spiritual shift into the present tense, about not wanting what you don't have, about giving in not just to your children's need of you, but to your need of them.

"You can't balance motherhood and career," writes Krasnow. "The kids will always win. So you have to find a balance between what you are doing and what you have to do."

Four little boys under the age of 7. . . . I don't know if Krasnow surrendered to the mothering of them, or if they beat her into submission with the chaos they brought to her life with Prince Charming, architect Charles Anthony.

But I believe that the lesson she learned -- or was taught -- will be there for her when she is no longer picking scrambled eggs out of the carpet, but sorting through the tumultuous lives of four adolescent boys, of four young men.

Right now, her sons physically need her to be there for them. Too soon, their needs will be more complex, more full of conflict, more frustrating to satisfy. They will require not her body, but her mind, her patience, her conscience.

My guess is, she will be there.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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