Go Ask Mom

'Oldest Mom in the PTA:' Cary mom writes book about her experience being an 'older' mom

Sharon O'Donnell was one of those "older" moms with a new baby on the way. She was 38 when her third son was born. And today, she's written a book to document her experience called, "Please Don't Let Me Be the Oldest Mom in the PTA."

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Author Sharon O'Donnell
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
, Go Ask Mom editor
WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — New motherhood isn't an exclusive club for 20 and 30-somethings anymore. More and more 40-year-olds and up are watching those two pink lines appear on that at-home pregnancy test to indicate that they're expecting a little one.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that the birth rates declined for nearly all age groups of women under 40, but rose for women in their early 40s.

About 17 years ago, Sharon O'Donnell of Cary was one of those "older" moms with a new baby on the way. She was 38 when her third son was born. And today, she's written a book to document her experience called, "Please Don't Let Me Be the Oldest Mom in the PTA."

The book comes a decade after her first book, "House of Testosterone," which garnered coverage in USA Today, New York Daily News, Parenting magazine and elsewhere. The book covered life as a mom in an all-male household.
In her second book, O'Donnell has a new take on parenting. To learn more, she has a book reading scheduled for 6 p.m., Sept. 16, at the Barnes & Noble in Cary. You also can find her on her website, Facebook group and on Twitter.

I checked in with O'Donnell to learn more about her latest book and why she wrote it. Here's a Q&A.

Go Ask Mom: It's been a decade since your first book, "House of Testosterone." What prompted your new book?
Sharon O'Donnell: I was actually working on my current book the summer immediately after "House of Testosterone" was released in the spring of 2008. Things were going well with the first book, and my publisher even did a second printing. Better Homes & Gardens magazine asked me to be its first ever personal columnist, and I had a top New York agent who loved the material I'd sent her for my oldest mom in the PTA book.

And then the economy took a nosedive in the fall, which affected the willingness that publishing companies had to take risks on unknown writers like me. Unless you had a built-in platform with 20,000 Twitter followers, it was impossible to publish non-fiction in that economy, in that market place where publishers were consolidating and cutting back their lists.

Due to the economy, the magazine decided not to go forward with my column, and my agent decided she couldn't sell my book after all, even though she still loved the content itself. Basically, if you weren't already famous with a following and if your first book wasn't an Oprah book pick, then good luck trying to get published. It was very disillusioning as an author and as a person.

Also, life itself got in the way, with some family health issues. I couldn't make trying to revise or market a book a priority at that time, as my family was my priority. And my manuscript was tainted in a way because it had been represented by a well-known agent, and then she dropped it because of my lack of platform in a tough economy, even though I know she loved the writing.

I decided to put the manuscript away and just wait. And that's what I did. I went back to the manuscript several years ago and began to update and revise it. I had always believed in the audience for this book, as midlife motherhood has been steadily on the rise, and I knew those women might relate to a lot of what I'd experienced over the years. I wanted to put together a book that captured the humor and poignancy of midlife motherhood, as well as issues about the getting older process as a woman. I wanted to include as many aspects of being an older mom as I could and still be entertaining. That 10 years I've waited between books has given me a better perspective on midlife motherhood and motherhood in general.

Courtesy: Sharon O'Donnell
GAM: At one point did you realize that you might be the "oldest" mom in the PTA?
SO: When my youngest son started kindergarten, my oldest son was a sophomore in high school and my middle one was in 7th grade. I'd been very active in the PTA during their school years, serving on a lot of committees and even starting the PTA at one school when it opened on a year-round schedule.

But it occurred to me as the youngest one started that I'd have to also start all over again, and I was feeling very burned out. I realized quickly I was the only one who had a child 10 years older than my child in kindergarten. So it dawned on me that I would be one of the oldest moms around. I volunteered in the classroom a lot but didn't want to start up right away with the PTA, mainly because I had so many schedule conflicts with my older two sons. I participated at my youngest son's school, but I didn't take a PTA leadership role as I had before. That was partly because I was busy and burned out, but the other part was maybe because I wasn't as comfortable; I didn't have friends my age on the PTA already like had happened when I was younger.

GAM: You've got a great passage in your book about the time you were mistaken as your youngest son's grandma. Yikes! What lesson did you take away from that?
SO: I guess the lesson was that I shouldn't let something someone says bother me so much. But it amazes me how strangers can decide to say something specific to someone when they don't really need to do that. The man who thought I was my son's grandmother worked as a cashier at a convenience store we were in, and when he asked my son a question, he told my son, "Go ahead and ask your grandma," pointing to me. He could have easily just said to go ahead and ask without saying "grandma" at the end. I'd like to think that since I was only 46 then that there might have been enough doubt in his mind that he wouldn't just assume I was the grandmother. Sure, there are grandmothers that are 46, but there are more moms who are 46. Many people don't realize becoming a mom later in life is more of a common thing now. It was sort of funny after it happened, but at the time, it made me feel rather inadequate.
GAM: You're a caboose baby yourself. You write about that in your book. How has that experience with your own mom during your own childhood informed your experience being a mom to your youngest son?
SO: My three siblings were 8, 11, and 13 years older than me, so when I was growing up, I did a lot of things with just my mother since my dad was working - like shopping or visiting my grandparents. Luckily, her best friend was also the mother of my best friend, so we would do things with them sometimes.

I've always been very close to my mother, but at the same time, I missed those times our whole family would rent a beach cottage for a week. Logistically, it wasn't feasible any longer when my siblings were grown up. Same thing with my family now. My older two boys would have each other to play with on vacations when they were little, and my youngest was able to join in as he got older. But then my oldest two got older and had other things they did in high school and in college, going places with friends or school groups or teams.

Over time, the family vacation is not what it was at one time because the older boys are understandably busy and have conflicts and schedules of their own. This means that my husband, my youngest son, and I started taking vacations by ourselves. And I have taken him places with just the two of us or sometimes taking one of his friends along.

I think caboose babies might miss having the entire family go places as they used to, but I also think that spending this parent-child time together strengthens that relationship. I do remember worrying about my parents getting older, and I write in the book about Jason, my youngest, worrying about that same thing with me. But when he brought up that worry, I knew where he was coming from. As a fellow caboose baby, I knew it was only natural for him to ponder what my being an older mom meant. Because of my background, I was aware of the special relationship a caboose baby can have with his or her parents.

GAM: What do you hope readers - especially moms - will take away from your book?
SO: Whenever I write something, my goal is to have someone read it and think, "That is just the way I feel, but I've never been able to articulate it." The "high" in writing for me is being able to capture feelings with words.

Of course, my main audience is "older" moms, which is usually defined as women who have or adopt children at the age of 35 or over. I tried to include in this book as many aspects of being an "older" mom as I could; it was important to me to try to write a book that includes as many topics or situations as possible about being an older mom.

I hope "older" moms realize they are part of a large group of moms that is growing every day and that it is completely fine being an older mom-- actually advantageous in many ways. Sure, I have a lot of humorous anecdotes in the book and am pretty self-deprecating, as that is my personality about everything, not just being an older mom. I might start out feeling like I'm the oldest mom in the PTA and not wanting that to happen, but I also recognize in the book that later-in-life motherhood is a rising trend, and society needs to recognize that too. I tell moms that it doesn't matter what age you are, that motherhood is precious no matter how old the mother is. I want moms to laugh about some of the situations that might arise but to also appreciate their worth and to expect others to do the same.

I've had moms who are not older moms tell me they enjoyed the book anyway. There is one chapter I entitled "How I Got My Wrinkles", which is about motherhood in general that moms of any age will find familiar and universal.

The PTA is also a major part of this book, as I think it's a wonderful organization that has a huge positive impact on our children and communities. Schools and education are so important, and for that reason I included an essay in the book that I wrote about my inspiring high school English teacher that I had for two years at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh. This essay is in the chapter called "A Woman of a Certain Age" and is about chasing dreams and reaching goals regardless of our age.

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