Modern Motherhood // Interview with Nikiya

Nikiya is mom to Maya, age 13 (now 14!), and Poppy, age 10.

What’s your favorite part about raising kids in this community? 

The fact that there is community. There really is, I get teary thinking about it. But that’s it. I don’t feel like I’m raising my kids alone, I’m raising them with a crew of other parents who are offering different perspectives and things that I can’t offer, that hold them when I can’t, that help with childcare and a myriad of other things. Especially being separated—and knowing that when my kids are with their dad there are also these other parents around loving them. It’s a way of continuing the love that we have in our nuclear family outside in such a bigger way. I know my kids feel that. They don’t get it yet, but my daughter—who’s thirteen—is just starting to [recognize] oh, it’s not like this other places. Like when we travel, she can tell. It’s sort of our version of an extended family. Some people have that…but, yeah. Our community is definitely like aunties everywhere.

So you get to choose the people who are in your kids lives.

Yeah, to some extent. But in some respects you get thrown with them when your kids start school, and l love that part too—I didn’t cherry pick all of these people, but we were thrown into this soup because we have similar values or just because this town is small and you’re bound to have overlap. So it becomes more like family. And we do end up in the same circles because we have similar beliefs and similar things we’re interested in and a similar quality of life that we’re interested in giving our kids. I love the kids in my community like they’re my own, some of whom I have known since birth.

The other part is the natural beauty. Our quality of life is off the chart on this one. This place is so safe and so beautiful. My girls grew up leaping boulders on the river and climbing through the trees. It’s something I am very aware of and grateful for. 

Tell me about your path to motherhood. Did you always want to have children? 

Yes, I always wanted kids. I am the oldest of five, and I sort of grew up raising my siblings and I wasn't in a hurry but I knew when it was time that it was time. I got pregnant right away, as soon as we decided. And the second time was the same. I didn’t have any of the other stuff figured out that people generally have figured out, like how we were going to actually support ourselves. Or if our marriage was even going to work—but I was clear about the kid part. That was one thing I was super clear about, even more than marriage or a relationship, I’ve always been clear about wanting to be a mother. It’s the one thing I knew I wanted and I know that I’m doing well. I mean I’m making mistakes but…yeah. 

And you knew that he was the right person to have kids with?

Absolutely. And I still feel that way. Even with us not being together, I don’t have any doubts that he was the perfect person to have children with—that we are the parents that my kids need and that we needed. I have no regrets about choosing that path. I even had a sense that we may not stay together. But it didn’t really matter—I knew that we’d figure it out. I had some trust in that. It’s funny to say that out loud, because I don’t think of it like that, that I had more certainty about being a mother than I did about the person I was having children with, but oh well! [laughs] When people say “Oh I’m sorry it didn’t work out” when I talk about it, I always have to shift the perception. It is working out. Maybe not how some folks imagine, but it’s working beautifully, though it admittedly takes work. He is one of my best friends. Our children see the love we share. His girlfriend is a close friend of mine and I love her, too. She’s already become a huge and important part of our lives and of our girls’ lives. 

Can you talk about how you balance time with your girls with their father. How did you guys come up with this approach? 

It was pretty clear. We both wanted them and neither one of us wanted to be away from them. That was clear from early on—the only solution to sharing them was doing it 50/50. And while I don’t like being away from my kids, I like so much that they’re getting their dad the rest of the time, that it makes it okay. And one of the weird things about being separated—at least in our family—is I feel like they get better versions of us. They get really concentrated mom and dad time. We have to be more on when we are on and also get to recharge our personal tanks, so to speak, when we aren’t.

What are the challenges of spending a week on and a week off with your girls?

There are lots. Missing them, we both miss them. Fridays are our switch day, and every Friday each of us has a grief process every time. It’s sad. I don’t like Fridays, they’re always hard. The kids talk about it being difficult to be constantly transient, moving all the time back and forth, and we’re looking into ways to have that be different but it’s sort of a bigger conversation and something for later. It’s hard for them to be always be in motion. We’re both pretty home-oriented, and our kids are too, but they’re always having to pack a suitcase. And then just being out—like you're really in their life and then you’re not for a week, and so you miss things. And a week is a long time in the life of a child, so you miss a week of their life where things happen, or feelings get hurt, or they do something in school, they make a basket in a game. There are things that you miss that you wouldn’t miss if you were full-on.

Do you check in and talk? Or do you try to respect—

All the time. All the time. It’s both. We definitely try to respect the other person’s time with the kids but we talk a lot. Enough to stay afloat. But we can’t keep up on everything. When you’re not living with someone you miss some things. 

Can you talk a little bit about the benefits of spending a week on and a week off with your kids?

There is a benefit. I will say this—because I know that every mother that I talk to, I almost want to say—get divorced!—even though I don’t—but there’s a way that you get time that you don’t get as a mother. You just don’t. Our culture doesn’t support us having time and if you’re trying to work and have kids and feed a family, there is not time. So, divorce is kind of this desperate way of building time into your life, where you actually get to be a person again. That’s a huge benefit, and it comes with a price. There’s the expense of missing half your kid’s life, but you get yourself back earlier that you would than when they leave the house. It was essential to me developing the ability to earn money. There is such tremendous pressure on the nuclear family. An on and off schedule definitely alleviates some of that. 

What qualities do you admire most about yourself as a mother?

That’s hard because I want to go right to where I fail. 

You don’t get to.

I know. [BIG SIGH] I’m really open with my kids. There are different philosophies that people have about whether or not you should be friends with your kids—and I am definitely one of those parents that wants a friendship with my kids. I want a relationship where I know who they are outside of me being this authority figure in their lives. I bring a lot of openness and curiosity to the way that I mother and try to see them as whole beings that are not my property—they are people who came in that I get to spend my life with. It’s a little sinister but it’s also sort of an advantage in being a mother—that I can see the temporary-ness of all of this. And it makes every day really precious that I get to spend with them. I’m not sure if it’s fatalistic or realistic, I just know that this is short. There was a lot of tragedy in my life when I was young, so I have this sense that things can change really quickly. It’s a double-edged sword, but the benefit of it is appreciating things that you have right now because you know that they could change. Kids are massive teachers for that because they change so quickly right before your eyes. You can’t get attached to any thing for very long because then all of a sudden there’s something different and eventually they sprout their own wings and leave. I hope to build the kind of relationship with my girls that they will want to be around me by choice, as they become their own people, as we age. I fiercely love my kiddos, as all mamas do, and I tell them as much as I can. I am trying to be supportive of them exactly how they are, to encourage them to stretch and grow while also fostering the love and safety that will be their foundation as they move about in the world. 

What qualities do you admire in other mothers? 

Oh, so many! Patience. I don’t have a lot of patience, so I really admire moms who are patient with their kids…I’ve always admired mothers who can sit and play games, I am not one of those moms. That’s something I really, super admire….I also admire strictness. I tend to be really lenient so there’s a way that I admire mothers with strict boundaries…and mothers that let their lives be messy. I’m really clean and tidy and I appreciate moms who let their lives and houses and their kids lives be really messy. I admire the crap out of women who don’t put themselves on the back burner to mother, who hold down careers while juggling the demands of parenthood.

In which ways do you practice self care and seek support? 

Not my strong suit, self care. I’m still learning. That’s something I didn’t do well—especially as a mother of young children—and I suffered from it. It’s really hard. I think I was taught that you just give everything up—and you give up yourself—and you kind of persevere. I’m just learning that self care—it’s so silly sounding, because we talk about it so much in pop culture—but it’s so critical to the smooth functioning of a family and our effectiveness as women. It’s really basic, like sometimes I will come home and take a bath in the middle of the day. Or lie down on the floor and not do anything. I’ve been just giving myself space to not be on all the time. Going for walks does it for me, like that's where I get rejuvenated. That’s my church, [being] outside, and we have lots of that here. It’s not hard, I can walk outside the door and go be in the woods. It does something—it resets me right every time. And reaching out to another when you're falling apart, being like—I’m losing my shit right now—and it’s funny how we’re all kind of losing our shit, and we just don’t acknowledge it. [laughing] I’ve been pretty rigorously involved in some kind of therapy for more than twenty years. I found Somatic therapy to be particularly useful as a mama. Saunas. Massage. There are a lot of massage therapists in this town. Body work, body work is huge to bring me back to like—oh yeah, I’m a person in a body that needs to be relaxed to be a good mama, to reconnect to myself. 

Can you talk a little about your relationship with your own mom?

I don’t have one. I don’t have any “on the ground” real relationship with her. She got out of prison—I think—a month ago and I don’t know where she is. I took my kids to see her maybe nine months ago, and it was the first time I’d seen her in about fifteen years. It was really hard for me emotionally and it really made an impact on both my kids in a huge way. Even if you don’t have a relationship with someone—someone as important as your mother—there’s a relationship happening no matter where they are. I don’t even know if she’s okay right now, I’m pretty worried about her, actually. Yeah, there’s a connection—she was a HORRIBLE mother. She had me when she was seventeen and she was too young, and had my sister a year later and didn’t know what she was doing and didn’t have any tools and didn’t have any support and she really floundered. I had very little contact with her when I was a baby, and then my grandparents tried at several different points when I was like 5 or 6 to allow her a chance to parent and it never went well. Later in high school I ran away from home to live with her and it ended up being more damaging than it was nurturing. I always saw something really beautiful in her too, humans are funny like that. They’re complex. She did the best she could—and I know that sounds really trite—but I believe that now, being a mother [has been] really humbling. It made me have a lot of compassion for her, seeing how hard it must have been to be a teenager and to be really condemned for having children, by her parents and by culture, there’s a lot of stigma around being a teen mom. And the shit she must have taken for that, and she did it anyway. But she didn’t have any resources or emotional tools or enough psychological wellbeing to do it well, so my grandparents kind of intervened in ways that were positive and negative. 

I feel the bond that is there and I love her. Even if I never see her again, which is always a possibility, I love her and I’ve forgiven her. I forgave her a couple years ago. I kind of had to get one last, God-you-suck-so-bad!-thing out of my system and then it kind of dissolved into huge compassion for her and how painful it must be for her to not be able to do a better job. I can’t imagine what it feels like to know that you couldn’t do the one thing that is sort of innate for most women. I was afraid that I would be do terribly at it because of her. But it’s really intuitive—if you don’t have a lot of things in the way and can get support. So, now I just see it as a tragedy. She is walking around with a tremendous hole in her heart. She has four kids that don’t have anything to do with her, that she doesn’t know at all—and as a mother, I can’t imagine a worse feeling. And I will have a lifetime of healing around not having had that primary attachment. 

This heartache is what’s made me so devoted to my own kids, feeling the trauma and wanting to correct it—wanting to raise another generation of girls—that will be adults—that might be mothers—that don’t have this wound. That will know that I was really present in their lives—to the extent that I can be. It is not always easy, I’m not always present, I’m pretty checked out sometimes.  Being close to my kids triggers the lack of closeness that I had with my own mother all the time—when they were infants it was really strong. It was really really challenging for me to sit with that and let the attachment be there because I don’t know what it’s like in my own body. It was very difficult and what sent me back into therapy. I had so many conflicting emotions arising around attachment and intimacy. 

So who raised you?

My grandmother. 

Are you close with your grandmother?

I was, she isn't here anymore. I mean—it was really ambivalent, her mothering was really ambivalent, and I see that in myself too sometimes—this love of what I’m doing and the resentment. It’s so fucking hard. And she was old and she didn’t want to do it again and my grandpa kind of forced her to. She did the best she could and she was really loving. It’s funny, changing the channel to my grandma, with my mom I feel this softness, and when I talk about my grandma the feeling is a little more rigid. She was super affectionate and really caring, like took good care of our bodies and made sure we were fed, and was very nurturing, but emotionally she was really remote. I feel that remoteness when I think about what she felt like to me. I know she cared for us, but it was sort of in the physical realm but not emotionally. Especially with me—I reminded her more of my mom, and she had a hard time, whereas my younger sister looks like my grandma and they really connected. We didn’t really have as easy an emotional connection. She was just frustrated by our presence. As you can imagine a grandmother would be—she was frustrated that she was raising kids again and that came out on us. Where we just felt like a burden. And she still did it. I don’t want to sound ungrateful because she sacrificed her whole life to this act of caregiving that she should have not been doing at that point in her life. But it was mixed. She wasn’t very happy about her role, and I think the sorrow that she felt around my mother made it hard for her to really love us, like we were reflections of the failed relationship that they had. 

What are your favorite things about your daughters? 

I love them both so much. My older daughter is really deep, she’s cerebral and creative, everything that she touches or looks at is an act of creativity. She’s really artistic and diligent, she’s really detailed and focused and brings so much heart and realness to everyone she engages. She’s a beautiful soul and she’s very deliberate—thoughtful about how she responds to things. She’s very authentic.

My younger daughter is really outgoing and gregarious and charming and a fireball. She is kind of the exemplary type of unapologetic character, which I really love in her. She’s just so unashamed of her being and her zest for life. She’s a phenomenal dresser—equally creative.She is very emotional, a deep feeler and incredibly empathic. I love Poppy’s fierceness and Maya’s composure. They're really different—it’s so crazy how different kids can be—you could have ten and they’d all be different too—endless variations.

I love how they love each other. 

What have you learned from your children? 

I have learned so much. Maya teaches me to be more present and more patient and more real. And to ask for what I want in the world. Poppy teaches me to have more fun and to be light. To not apologize for who we are, she’s such a teacher for that, just being completely 100% who you are. 

What are your hopes for your daughters?

I hope that they feel like they can do and be anything they want in this world, and that they grow up in a world that is accepting. I hope that whatever they want to be doing or being in the world, that they have the freedom to be that. I want them to be healthy and happy and to bring good people into their lives and for them to be well loved—that they love themselves, that they love their bodies, that they love being alive. They don’t need to be anything, I hope they feel like whatever they’re doing is right for them and they get tons of blessings and feel the abundance of being here.

What do you want the future to look like for yourself?

I hope that I have really meaningful work. That’s my next really big piece of work—it’s sort of illusive and mysterious to me right now—but I want to have work that I’m doing in the world that I love doing that also I can make a living at. It feels like a lot to ask, but I’m learning through the healing work that I am doing that it’s ok to want things and to feel deserving of them. It’s very basic and very radical for me. I haven’t spent much time in my life asking for what I want and thinking that I can have it, so this is the time when I get to be like, I’m a grownup, what do I want? And trusting that I can have it and having faith that it’s possible. I want to have some purpose. I don’t know how to translate what I love into money. And there’s that argument, oh, it doesn’t have to be—but I don’t want to spend my days doing a job that I don’t like. I don’t want to spend my precious hours and days doing something that doesn’t feel really fulfilling. We are here for such a short time. I know there are lots of roles for everybody, but I want to be of service somehow, and I don’t know what that is yet. It’s the next thing I get to give birth to. 

What are some things you’ve learned from your mom?

Maya (age 13): Maybe that it’s important to express how you feel and to communicate with people, because it just helps overall. 

Poppy (age 10): That it’s okay to be who you are, any time. 

What is one thing that you’ve taught your mom?

Maya: It’s harder to know from my perspective…maybe, what it’s like to have a child? I don’t know, that’s a hard one. 

What’s your relationship like with your sister?

Maya: We have a super strong connection. I love her a lot. We’ll get into little arguments that don’t have any meaning at all sometimes, but it doesn’t really matter. 

Poppy: We hardly ever fight. If we do, it goes away really fast—not a big deal. She’s really sweet. 

What’s your favorite part about living in Nevada City?

Maya: Community. For sure. Yeah, the people. I just have close friends everywhere. You know, you walk into a coffee shop and like half the people you know. Even though it bothers me sometimes that all the nature is everywhere, it’s nice to live around places that aren’t just building after building, even though I do like the city a lot. 

Poppy: The creativity around town. Everybody's who they are, crazy, wild, and different.

What’s the hardest part about living in two places?

Maya: Probably…there’s a couple things: having my stuff split into two different houses is difficult. All your personal belongings are scattered, which can be a little ungrounding sometimes. Also, it’s really nice to have parents parent different ways, but it also can be a little confusing when they have different perspectives on things. 

Poppy: Probably packing all the stuff.

What’s your favorite thing about your mom?

Maya: I love how honest she is, and how we can talk about everything. Like, there’s nothing I couldn’t say to her. 

Poppy: Her careness—she cares a lot. She’s always been there.