Folks We Love with Jennifer Grayson, author of Unlatched
Tell us a little bit about your journey and how you’ve come to arrive here.
I started out like most environmental journalists: as an operatically trained singer with a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music! But seriously, my mom always told me I wouldn’t discover my true path until I had my children. I fought her on this for years, but she was one hundred percent right. I started to reassess my life after volunteering on the 2008 Obama campaign and subsequently becoming pregnant with my first daughter, and took a break from music to start blogging about two issues I had never been able to shut up about—the environment and politics. I landed my first column at Huffington Post Green four months later. I’m the daughter of an editor/writer and had supported myself as a freelance writer and proofreader for years as a struggling musician, so it was actually a seamless transition. The idea for my book, Unlatched, started bubbling up while I was pregnant with my second daughter: I began wondering about the historical precedent for my decision to extended breastfeed and then tandem nurse both girls. Later, nursing a toddler and an infant, I had a lot of time to sit there and think about my book!
Who’s in your family? Ages? Names?
Husband, Matthew: 38, also a musician (jazz composition) turned writer (comedy screenwriter). Thanks goodness I went to New England Conservatory or we never would have met!
Daughter, Isobel (Izzy): almost 6
Daughter, Mika: 3 1/2
How did you choose your kids’ names?
Since I’ve gone through life as one of about five zillion Jennifers, I wanted something more unusual for my kids’ names. Unfortunately, we failed to realize that “Isabelle” had become one of the most popular names in America the year she was born! Oh, well. At least the way we spell it—Isobel—is unique (I saw it in the masthead of Vogue), and she really is such an Izzy. Her middle name is Beatrice, after Matthew’s grandmother Bernice, whom I adored.
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, we loved the name Mila, but our family last name starts with “L” and the two names together sounded clunky. So we discovered the name Mika (derivative of the Hebrew name Micah) and loved it even more. Her middle name is Ellanore, after my great-grandmother Ella.
Los Angeles. I’ve grown to love many things about the city (taco trucks! multiculturalism!), but as a small-town Connecticut girl my heart is forever yearning for a quieter, more nature-filled place for us to live in. We’re going to be here for some duration because of Matthew’s work, so we try to spend chunks of time outside LA taking family road trips and exploring the West. We really like Russian River, CA and Bend, OR.
Environmental journalist and author (Unlatched: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy, out July 5 from HarperCollins: http://bit.ly/1rjcXq5).
What’s on your manifest board?
I don’t have a physical board, but there’s an ongoing one in my head: thru-hiking the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails, visiting every national park in the US, family camping trips, writing for National Geographic, learning to speak Hebrew and Spanish, owning a self-sustaining off-the-grid cabin somewhere and, when the girls are grown, living part-time in a (then solar-powered) RV with Matthew, and road-tripping around North America. But above all else, my dream is for my daughters and Matthew and me (and everyone we love) to live long, happy, and healthy lives and hopefully make the world a better place while we’re doing it. That’s all I really care about.
Tell us some of your most loved ways to spend the day with your clan?
Our newest tradition is something Izzy and Mika dubbed SMOA (Saturday Morning Outdoor Activity), where every weekend we find a new way to get out and explore the city. Some family faves: a hike at Will Rogers or Griffith Park or a bike ride on the new Expo Line path, lunch in the San Gabriel Valley for Chinese food or at one of our favorite spots in Thai Town (the girls are obsessed with the Pad See Ew at Ruen Pair), and—for the parents—a nice IPA working its way into the picture toward the end of the day. The formula is pretty foolproof: nature adventure + awesome food + beer (the girls get ice cream or a fun dessert instead of the latter).
What are some silly/fun things that the kids do or say?
I have two unbelievably rambunctious, zesty girls. Almost everything they do cracks me up! One of my favorite things, though, was when I weaned Izzy (right before she turned 4) and she would content herself by taking a good, long sniff of my breast—like a chocoholic who had recently sworn off sugar: “Ahhh, delicious!” she’d say and collapse in a fit of giggles. She still does that sometimes.
And right now, I’m pretty partial to the way Mika says Despicable Me: “Spickle-duh-me!” I hope she pronounces it that way when she’s 20.
When you were a teenager what did you dream of? Do things look different?
Oh things look very different! As a teenager, I wanted to be a famous actress or singer, and I am SO glad that didn’t happen. I truly believe that privacy is fast becoming one of the most valuable commodities of our hyper-connected 21st-century world, and I want to protect that for my children. (I know it seems crazy, but it’s one of the reasons I don’t post identifiable pictures of them on social media.) As a writer, I love that people recognize my name, but we live our lives completely under the radar.
What are some things you really believe in?
My mother’s (originally, my Russian great-grandmother’s) wisdom: Real food, regular sleep, a brisk daily walk, and soap with a good old-fashioned washcloth.
Where do your passions lie?
My children/husband/family, nature and the environment, anthropology and learning about other cultures, history, science, medicine, politics, food, listening to other people’s stories… The greatest thing about writing Unlatched is that I got to funnel all of my scattered interests into one gigantic project! Who knew?
Has your relationship with your other half changed since having kids?
You know, I don’t think it’s really changed all that much, other than that, not surprisingly, we no longer get to spend as much one-on-one time with each other. We met when I was 19 and he was 20, he was my favorite person in the world then, and he’s my favorite person (other than our children) in the world now.
What are some of your favorite life lessons you’ve grown to love? (even if learning them at the time was hard)
My mom’s mantra: You don’t ask, you don’t get! When I was young I often had a hard time working up the courage to ask for what I needed/wanted. But if you don’t advocate for yourself (nicely, of course), no one else is going to do it for you.
What do you wish you could’ve told yourself when you were a teenager?
Stop being so driven and just relax! Enjoy being a kid!
What do you find most challenging about being somebody’s parent?
Just the constant worrying. I love my girls so much that I walk around most days feeling like my heart is going to explode. It’s a continuous effort on my part to not live in fear, to enjoy my children fully in the moment.
What do you want your kids to learn about the world?
Everything they can! I really hope they inherit my (and their father’s) voracious curiosity and love of learning. So far, it’s made for an unpredictable yet fascinating life. But I also want them to appreciate a simple life, to be good stewards of our precious planet, to be empathetic and resourceful and resilient, and to recognize from an early age that it is experience—not stuff—that truly matters. Even at a tiny age, they are incredible human beings, so they just have to hold on to who they already are!
What are 4 things you can’t live without as a parent?
My boobs, sleep, dark chocolate, and alcohol. (Every mom on this page so far has said that last one, right?!)