It was 20 years ago this week, I know for certain because I mark the date in my desk calendar each year, that we got the first word that we were going to become adoptive parents.
After years of trying to make a baby, the oddness and the indignities of fertility testing, the launching into the bureaucracy and back channels of foreign adoptions, Mary and I were in the kitchen one night after dinner when the phone rang. It was my dad.
"Did we," he asked with amazement and a bit of intrigue, "want to adopt a baby?" He said it like he had an infant in his back pocket. And practically he did.
Three weeks later, our son Ben was born. His birth mom was a relative on my mom's side of the family. His sudden arrival was pure, life-altering joy.
I recall so plainly that in that three-week interval of making ready-cribs, toys, clothes, the wrapping of one's mind around such change-I spoke one day to a fellow whose wife worked with us here at Wednesday Journal, Inc.
"There is nothing in your life that will ever change you so completely as having a child," John Delaney said. In that moment, it seemed almost trite. Of course, it does.
But, no, really. Having a child changes your life. It changes your perspective on life, your place in the world, your approach to every day that follows. It is transforming.
Nothing else comes close. Not getting married, though it is a wondrous bond. Not getting (or losing) a great job or a great house. There is, I concluded and not originally, nothing that so defines a person as when you become a parent. It changes every point of reference, every basis of decision.
And it makes a heck of an idea for publishing a magazine.
Our company started almost 25 years ago. We published neighborhood newspapers. And good ones. But my partner, Andy Johnston, and I were looking for a way to grow our company. It was the late 1980s and we were both dads of young kids. The publication we kept seeing was Chicago Parent. It was good. It was growing. We recognized the beauty of a local Chicago magazine targeted just at young families.
The magazine had been launched a few years earlier, in 1984, by two women new to publishing. Natalie Goodman and Carolyn Jacobs had other careers but met in a class at Northwestern University on how to publish a magazine. I hope they earned "A's" because they turned around and founded Chicago Parent.
It took some persuading, but eventually Carolyn and Natalie agreed to sell their magazine to Wednesday Journal. That was in 1990. Now the magazine is 20 years old and thriving.
The thriving I attribute to our editors and to our readers. On our watch we've had three editors. The first was Mary Haley, my wife. She shifted to Chicago Parent from our weeklies and in short order had reimagined this magazine. More personal in talking to moms, more hard-hitting in advocating for kids, more fun in reflecting the many highs and the astounding lows of being a parent, Mary's version of Chicago Parent connected with readers and advertisers.
Six years later, though, we adopted another child, bringing Mariah into our family, and Mary decided to focus more at home. While she still edits four of our annual publications, we looked with fresh eyes for a new editor.
Happily, we found Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin. Sharon brought a new professionalism and great energy to the magazine. There was a passion for parenting in Sharon's crafting and redirecting of the magazine that was invigorating to watch. During her six-year tenure, Chicago Parent grew enormously in circulation and advertising. It solidified its position as one of the best metropolitan parenting magazines in the country. Two years ago, Sharon took a new direction in life when she joined the magazine journalism faculty at Columbia College in Chicago.
That set the stage for the Susy Schultz era at Chicago Parent. A veteran reporter and editor at the Sun-Times, Susy had just joined our staff when Sharon announced her move to Columbia. So we looked just across the room for our next editor.
Like each of our editors, Susy has put her fingerprints across the pages of this magazine. Two years into her work there are new columns, a thoughtful editorial page, more and more essays from our readers and this month, to launch our 20th anniversary, the most ambitious package of reporting our magazine has yet accomplished.
Our State of the Child-Health report, published in conjunction with The Chicago Reporter, is nearly 20 pages of rock solid reporting on the failures of both Chicago and the state to address lead poisoning and asthma in our children's lives. This is strong stuff.
It is typical for publishers to laud readers. Where would we be without them, after all? Yet over many years now, I have been rewarded so often by examples of our readers' passion for and connection to Chicago Parent. As I noted, our company also publishes weekly newspapers. The impact of Chicago Parent with readers is more direct, more tangible and more fun than in anything else we publish.
To me, it goes back to the transforming dimensions of being a mom or a dad. It changes everything.
And when we succeed in publishing a magazine each month that reflects the lives Chicago parents are leading, it creates a powerful connection. We are blessed by that connection and thank you for it.
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