Celia Rivenbark on Mom-Hood, Southern Style
Celia Rivenbark, an award-winning columnist, journalist and author, will share her views on motherhood, work and family life with her unique brand of Southern-style humor and attitude at the Carolina Parent Women@Work Breakfast, Sept. 16, 2010.
A North Carolina native who grew up in Duplin County without a washer and dryer, Rivenbark worked as a newspaper journalist, copy editor and humor columnist before leaving a full-time position to work from home to be with her daughter. She has penned five funny books of topical essays, including the national best-seller “We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier” and “Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank.”
We caught up with Rivenbark in advance of her appearance to find out a little more about herself, her work and her efforts to balance her family life with a successful writing career.
CP: Can you elaborate a little on your decision to change jobs after your daughter Sophie was born so you could work at home?
I started working full time in the newspaper business when I was 19 years old so by the time I gave birth to Sophie at age 40, I’d had a long work history. There was no question that I would stay home with her because I still couldn’t quite believe my good fortune. But there was also no question that I needed to keep writing because, while being a mother was everything I’d hoped, it wasn’t “all” of who I was. I’d spent 21 years writing every day for a living and I couldn’t just quit cold turkey. I explained how I wanted to write the humor column from home and my bosses at the time (both men) said no. I think they were shocked when I said that, in that case, I quit.
A few months later, I was approached by the Sun News in Myrtle Beach. They knew I wasn’t writing for the Wilmington paper anymore and they wondered if I’d like to write for them. I said, sure, but from home and only the humor column. The woman editor said, “Well, of course!” It was a completely different response and, ever since then, I’ve thought how wonderful it is to work for a company that has women at the head of the team, from the publisher down.
CP: How important has job flexibility been to you in raising your child?
Job flexibility has been important since Sophie was born. I thought it would become less so as she got older, but that was wrong. Being able to work from home means that I can take her and pick her up from all of her many adventures. Again, maybe because I’d worked so long when I had her, I was determined that she would be top priority. Working from home is the best thing I ever did for all of us, really.
CP: What are some of the funniest episodes from your life as a working mom?
Tough question! Most of them are recounted in my books. I think the story I love best of all is when I wrote about Sophie taking sex education in the fifth grade. I was working from home furiously on deadline and was summoned to the school because she had fainted during the video for sex ed class. I arrived to find her on a cot with a cold cloth on her forehead. Across the room, lying on another cot, was a fifth grade boy in the same shape. When I told my husband about it, he said, “That boy’s my future son-in-law.”
CP: Writers are often able to establish more job flexibility than other professionals have. Among your friends in other careers, do you see much progress being made in helping working mothers achieve work-life balance?
Yes, I do. One of my closest friends is the lead attorney for a huge international company. Not that long ago, she’d have been fired, demoted or hooted down for proposing that she work only while her children are in school. But she’s made it work and they value her enough to give her the schedule she needs. The upshot? Everybody’s happy. I know many women who “telecommute” successfully so they can stay home with their kids.
CP: When did you first realize how funny you are and that you wanted to be a writer?
I was the class clown in elementary, middle and even high school, and I think I got my sense of humor from my dad. He was a schoolteacher who loved a good joke or a well-told tale. I enjoyed writing a lot and was a dismal failure at math and science, so it just sort of naturally evolved.
CP: Do you keep your family and friends in stitches all the time?
It’s often the other way around. People give me great stories that they think would be good material for a column or a book and I’m immensely grateful. I do joke around a lot with friends. I’m always on alert for finding the funny. For example: The other day Sophie came home from her volunteer job as a junior counselor at a local arts camp. She was in charge of the 7-year-olds and, at some point, Sophie mentioned something about her mom. To which, one 7-year-old said, eyes wide, “You mean your mama is still ALIVE?” Can’t make that stuff up.