When I became editor of Chicago Parent in March 1990, my son was 5 years old. I left six years later when my husband and I became foster parents of a newborn baby girl, whom we would adopt in another three years. I find looking back that the experience of editing this magazine and the experience of parenting are difficult to separate.
It occurs to me now (and after reading Sharon Bloyd Peshkin’s reflections on editing in the December issue) that my son and this magazine went through a broadly defined latency together. No longer infants, or even toddlers, the incredible years of “will we survive another day living at this pitch of intensity” were over. Now we were at the point of beginning to enjoy the ride.
It all began for Chicago Parent 20 years ago when Natalie Goodman and Caroline Jacobs, two women from the North Side of Chicago, decided to launch a monthly publication with a focus on parenting. It was a mom-and-pop-around-the-kitchen-table effort made at a time when the concept of a local parenting publication was new. Chicago Parent was one of the first, and one of the best, in an industry that was about to make its mark across the country.
Five years later, Natalie and Caroline knew that the time had come to redouble their efforts to take the magazine to the next level, or consider selling it. Both had other projects they wanted to pursue, so they began to look for a buyer.
At the time, I was feature editor for Wednesday Journal, an independent weekly newspaper in Oak Park and River Forest. The Journal had been launched in 1980 by my husband, Dan, and a couple of other intrepid journalists who found several (but not enough) investors willing to put money behind a locally owned independent community newspaper. Talk about intense infancies.
But the Journal made it, and in time acquired a few more community newspapers. When Chicago Parent came on the market, the Journal was looking for an opportunity to grow the company with a metropolitanwide publication. It had to be something we could get excited about. Parenting is about as compelling as it gets. Chicago Parent and Wednesday Journal Inc. were a perfect match.
I was excited and terrified at the prospect of becoming editor of this magazine. It was not lost on us what a rare opportunity it was to take an existing publication and redesign it, develop new departments, columns, features—do whatever we wanted to do or could dream up. But more important, it was an opportunity to share the experience of parenting—the pure joy, the bafflement, the frustration, the surprise, the panic. Our sense was not one of having answers—what parent ever claims that?—but of being in this great adventure together, of being connected.
Sometimes, looking back, it’s the disasters that stand out most. Like the lead feature of our debut issue, written by a freelancer with impressive clips, which turned out to be unintelligible. Then there was the time we had a Down syndrome child on the cover, who happened to be wearing a black-and-white striped shirt. Our lead story that month, prominently featured on the cover, was “Mothers Behind Bars.”
My monthly column remains vivid in memory, not so much because I spent a lot of time staring at a blank computer screen waiting for inspiration, but because now it chronicles a precious time: the years between 5 and 11 in my son’s life. He was, in those years, an only child; he was my parenting experience; he was the reason behind it all, and I drew on those years shamelessly. How could I not? Nothing was more compelling to me than his young life.
As it turns out, it was a chronicle for more than just me. Ben, who is adopted, decided two years ago, when he was 18, that he wanted to meet his birth mom. Although it was a private adoption and we had never met, we knew how to find each another, and she knew that she had given birth to the little boy I wrote about. This magazine connected us in ways we might not have foreseen.
Yes, Chicago Parent is a product, and ad sales are good, and God knows that’s important. But it’s always been so much more. It’s something that you can put your heart and soul into and know that your life has been well spent. My years of editing Chicago Parent were the high point of my professional life. I’ve been happy to work part time on various projects for the magazine since the birth of our daughter nine years ago. I’ve been gratified to see Sharon Bloyd Peshkin, the editor who took over from me and ran it for seven years, and Susy Schultz, the current editor, put their unique stamp on it, always improving it, moving it forward. It’s the same feeling you get when your 5-year-old turns 20. I can’t believe how far we’ve come.
Mary Haley is the mother of two who lives with her family in Oak Park. After stepping down from Chicago Parent, she continued as editor of Going Places and Chicago Baby.