Oprah, Carpe Diem, and Motherhood

Years ago, I was a self-employed graphic designer and feeling a bit unsettled about my work. So I tuned in to watch Oprah because her show that day was about finding fulfillment in life.

After discussing the idea of self-fulfillment, Oprah said to me, “Why did God put you on this Earth?”

I responded, “To be a mother.”

Wha??? Not the response I was expecting.

I was single and had given up the hope of marriage. My biological clock had a dead battery. I wanted to be a mother?

italypaintingI have always been a life-is-short-seize-the-day kinda chick. When a new job turned out to be not what I expected, I quit after 18 months and went to study art in Paris for the summer. When a dear college friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, I looked at my own life. Carpe Diem. I sold my condo to buy a little house with my own grass and trees. I spent a month in the medieval village of Urbino, Italy, painting landscapes in oil. I ticked those things off my Life List (I hate the label “Bucket List.”).

But I hadn’t realized that Motherhood was on that list. Not until Oprah. But once it was on my list, I took action.

I found an adoption agency that dealt with international adoptions. I wanted to adopt a toddler, thinking that would back up my age of motherhood a little. The agency advised that toddlers were most available from Russia, so that was where my search took me. After months and months of paperwork, a picture of my daughter arrived in a Fed Ex envelope. It was my last chance to say yes or no to motherhood. I took the photo to my own mother, who said (as I posted here ) “She just needs a mother to put a smile on her face.” I sent my acceptance paperwork back to the agency.


Our first Christmas as a family.

Two months later, I flew to Moscow and waited four days for my daughter to arrive from another city (it was a long, painful labor). After knowing my three-year-old daughter for only 36 hours, I flew home with her. I call it my Nine Hours of Hell. Anna was a constant ball of energy, racing up and down the aisles, not eating or sleeping, and going from laughter to tantrums in seconds, almost throwing my watch down the toilet as I tried to change her pull-up in that tiny restroom, and ripping out every page from her new picture book, One Hundred Words in Russian. At one point, she and I sat on the floor at the back of the plane as I cried to the attendants, “I’m too old for this!”

But I had Seized the Day. I was a mother and nothing would ever change that.


Fun with new glasses last month

19 years later, my Anna is a smart, funny, beautiful, dog-lovin’ photographer and certified pet sitter. Anna and I celebrate Adoption Day every November 11th, the day we arrived at JFK after those airborne Nine Hours. But this November 11th, instead of Hell, we’ll be enjoying a Heavenly platter of gnocchi Bolognese at our favorite restaurant.

We both continually seek self-fulfillment—Anna with her photography and me with my writing. Like motherhood, self-fulfillment is a job for life.

How do you seize the day?

mom01Cover_smAuthor’s note: In 2001, my picture book, The Best Single Mom in the World: How I was Adopted was published by Albert Whitman & Company, although it is no longer in print. If you’d like to read more about my adoption experience, read this article in Adoptive Families magazine, or an interview with me at ComeUnity.com.

13 comments on “Oprah, Carpe Diem, and Motherhood

  1. rnewman504 says:

    Congratulations to both you and your daughter! What a wonderful story!

  2. Cathy Ballou Mealey says:

    Mary and Anna, enjoy your celebration today!

  3. I enjoyed your story of becoming a mother! Happy Mother Daughter Day!

  4. Ann Malaspina says:

    Have a wonderful day with your daughter. Thanks for your story!

  5. Mary Zisk says:

    Thanks everyone for your good wishes. We’re also celebrating our three adopted dogs and two cats. 🙂

  6. Wonderful! I Loved hearing the back story! Happy Adoption Day! (from another adoptive mother)

  7. johansennewman says:

    Happy Adoption Day (from another adoptive mom) !! I loved reading the back story–inspiring! So wonderful that you and Anna found each other.

  8. Susan says:

    Love you both!

  9. June says:

    Congratulations to Mary and Anna! We love you!

  10. Lauri Meyers says:

    What a beautiful story Mary! I only wish you had posted it last week, so when I saw you at the NJ SCBWI this weekend I would’ve introduced myself 🙂

  11. Jackie says:

    Wow, what a great story. Who is the luckiest? Maybe it is a draw.

  12. writersideup says:

    Wow, Mary, I have to tell you, this—- “She just needs a mother to put a smile on her face.” really got me choked to tears here. That is just the most perfect thing anyone could say in that circumstance. It was a joy reading about your immigrant family, your parents and now your daughter. It’s ALways a joy learning more about the heart of someone and their life in such a moving way. God bless you both 🙂

  13. […] shares her own motherhood journey, which included a special trip to Russia. From: Oprah, Carpe Diem, […]

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