Issue No. 47
San Francisco, California
Words: Tanyanika Samuels
Visuals: Sarah Hebenstreit of Modern Kids Co.
Meridian Adams is, in a word, driven.
In little more than a decade, the 36 year old worked her way from folding sweaters as a part-time sales associate to global production manager at Gap, Inc (home of Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic). It was a career path that took her to Asia several times a year to facilitate production of the company’s women’s clothing lines, handle cost negotiations, and ensure on-time delivery of products.
“The one thing consistent about retail is that it’s not consistent,” says Adams from her home in the San Francisco suburb of Potrero Hill. “A lot of things are out of your control. I was constantly finding ways to make things work.”
The ups and downs of the retail world proved to be good training for her biggest challenge yet: motherhood. Earlier this year, Adams gave birth to her son Jace Tyler Adams, a mellow, happy baby who has completely changed the focus of his mother’s life. Though Adams always knew she wanted children, career came first for a long time.
Three years after graduating from high school, Adams worked as a part-time sales associate at a Banana Republic in Sacramento while completing her freshman year at Sacramento City College. She fell in love with Gap, Inc. and two years later, in 2001, cold called their corporate office in San Francisco to ask for an entry-level job. She juggled another year and a half of classes while working full-time at Gap, Inc., but college eventually fell by the wayside as she further pursued her career in retail. Adams worked as an assistant buyer for three years then transitioned from merchandising to production.
“I was really interested in the international business aspect of the production job,” she explains. “They worked with our overseas offices around the globe to make clothing. I found it exciting to be able to work daily with people from different parts of the world as well as get the opportunity to travel to these places and see life outside of the U.S. all while making clothes.”
It was challenging work that meant unscheduled late nights at the office. Because of the time zone differences, she often found herself making conference calls in the evenings from home as well.
“It was more than just your eight-hour day,” Adams says now. “You were constantly plugged in.”
But she thrived in that go-go-go environment. “Working in retail you deal with a lot of change in a fast-paced environment to keep up with the market and trends. Dealing with ambiguity and problem solving made for a different challenge day by day. You were never bored for sure.”
Adams moved up in the company, and in 2011 earned a promotion that had her managing her own production team. Her personal life was taking off as well: In 2006, she met her husband Justin, a financial portfolio manager for an investment firm. The two married in 2010 and bought their three-bedroom house a year later. They even got a dog: a Great Dane named Trooper. Adams was in full nesting mode in their new home, and soon it was hard to ignore her longing for children.
“When I hit 34 and 35, it was like, ‘Hmm are we doing this?’”
The couple tried for four months, and when Adams learned she was pregnant, it felt “surreal,” she says. “When we went for that first appointment and saw his heartbeat, I remember looking at the doctor and saying ‘Oh, now it’s for real.’”
Her pregnancy was “pretty easy.” “In the beginning, I felt a little nauseous here and there. I tried to stay fit but cheeseburgers and French toast became my best friends,” she says, laughing. “My husband was like, ‘Okay, now I’m putting on the pounds.’ All we were eating were cheeseburgers.”
After Jace was born on January 26 and Adams went on maternity leave, she fully believed she would return to the job she loved at the end of her break. But, the more she thought about it and spent time with her son, the more she realized her hectic work schedule would not dovetail well with life at home.
“The decision to not go back was a hard one,” she says now. “I had never not worked since I was 16 years old, so just wrapping my head around that was hard. I waited as long as possible before informing my boss of my decision, which was just a couple of weeks before I was supposed to return to work. Ultimately it came down to doing what I felt was right for our family and [for] this short amount of time when our child is home before going off to school.
“I felt being home with my son became more important than my career,” she continues. “This was the first time work was not top of my priority list.”
Other considerations weighed heavily into her decision to stay home as well. There was the question of finances, of losing momentum on her career track, and uncertainty about re-entering the workforce when Jace was ready for school.
“Taking time off meant losing opportunities that arise to advance, as I was was in a really good groove with my team when I got pregnant,” Adams explains. “I also struggled with the life I was giving up, like traveling the world to make clothes, and the friendships I had with my co-workers. Some people didn't understand my decision and couldn't believe I was leaving my job to become a stay-at-home mom, which they imagined to be less glamorous. While changing poopy diapers isn't as exciting as traveling and making clothes, the other parts of staying home have proven to be far more rewarding.”
"You can see my husband’s face light up when he comes home and Jace smiles at him."
Though Adams’ days do look a lot different now—cuddle time, morning walks with Trooper, and mommy groups have replaced factory trips to Asia, conference calls, and work events—she’s happy with her decision to get off the corporate track...at least for now.
“I feel very fortunate that I’m able to stay home and see all these developmental changes,” Adams says. “The first time he took the bottle from me and started holding it I was like ‘Oh my gosh!’ It’s the little things for me that are the best part. I can’t imagine life without him.”
The change of pace has taken some getting used to, however.
“I wasn't completely sure what life would be like at home,” she admits. “I didn't think it was going to be as hard as it was at first—like figuring out being a mom and all the parts that come with your child developing and ultimately realizing your time is no longer your own at any part of the day. You always question whether you are doing it right. I think that’s the biggest question everyone has: Am I giving my baby everything he needs?
“Another aspect I didn't expect was it being a bit alienating and at times lonely,” she continues. “Most of my friends are all still working, so it was a challenge figuring out how to fulfill our days. It can be a struggle to get everything I need in between the limited time my son is napping. As he is getting older, it is getting better, and I am finding ways to keep us both engaged with our day to day.”
It also helps that she has a support network that includes Jace’s grandmothers, who both live close by, in those moments of doubt and isolation.
“My mom told me to just be patient with myself and that was reassuring,” she says. “The best advice came from my mother-in-law who just said, ‘Whatever works.’ She had four kids and they all have their 10 fingers and toes. They all turned out great. So I’m going to go with that for sure.”
Looking back on your career, would you do anything differently?
I think I would have applied for more positions to advance in my career earlier. I think I was self conscious about not finishing college and thought that would prevent me from getting the job. Eventually, after years and experience, I got over it and finally pursued moving up. But I should have pursued it earlier.
How did you eventually move up?
I had a crossroads in my career. I could have stayed and applied for a manager position, but I felt, “If I don’t leave now, I’ll never leave.” It was like the seven-year itch where I felt like I needed to broaden my horizons: I wanted to learn a new industry outside of clothing. I’d been in the same company, so I wanted to see how other retailers out there worked. An opportunity came up [with] Williams-Sonoma Home, which is their luxury brand, so I applied for that [and] worked there for almost two years. That was right around the time the economy changed for everyone [with] the housing crisis, so people weren’t buying $100 candelabras and $800 sheets. (Laughs) They kind of knew they would be transitioning out of that [and] it was only going to be an online type of thing.
At the time, my VP back at Old Navy was like, “Hey, we need someone in accessories. Would you consider coming back?” So I went back [as] an associate production manager. And I’m glad that I did because even though I put off being a manager for a year and a half, I still gained experience.
How do you envision your return to the workforce?
I would love to find something for which I can use my previous background in interior and/or architectural design. When we remodeled our home in 2011, I really enjoyed the process of selecting and sourcing fixtures and finishes and pulling it all together. Based on this, I’m exploring some new avenues to get into this industry. I’m definitely keeping my eye out for ways to stay connected to the workforce if an opportunity arises.
What is your parenting philosophy?
The biggest thing, I think, is they learn from you, so lead by example. Even with Jace only being 9 months, I’ve learned that if you’re cool, they’re cool. If you freak out, they’re going to freak out. So the biggest thing is to just have patience and model what you want them to be.
What is the most challenging part of motherhood so far?
I think the most challenging is questioning yourself constantly: Am I doing this right? [Also] it's learning to go with the flow, know you’re not going to know everything, and [that] you both are learning together. That and the lack of sleep—you really don’t know tired until you have a baby. It’s amazing that Mother Nature can put someone this tired in charge of someone so small. But what I have learned is it gets better, little by little and day by day. And when they finally sleep through the night, you feel like a new person.
What do you love most about being a mother?
I love when I can make him laugh. When I can get that smile out of him, oh my gosh, it melts my heart.
Are you planning on having more children?
My husband comes from a big family. He’s one of four and a twin. So he always knew he wanted a big family. I was an only child. But I think we will. Everybody needs a buddy, so we might go for two.
Did you and Justin have conversations about having biracial children?
At first there was a concern. I would [say] to my husband, “You know you’re going to have a son who’s going to be black, and wanting to identify with the culture.” When Justin and I got together eight years ago, we would get comments here and there just for being a biracial couple. I don’t think he got it until we were dating and he could [hear] the comments, or [see] people giving us a look. If he hadn’t met me, he probably wouldn’t have seen it as much.
We were prepared for whatever might be. I assumed my son would have a little bit more of a tan. (Laughs) When he was born, I was like, “Whoa, ok. This is a whole ‘nother game right now.”
It was interesting. Now instead of getting the looks for being an interracial couple, we’re getting the looks [because] they want to see what the baby looks like. They want to peek around the stroller. I went through a couple of play groups, and people would say, “What family do you work for? Are you the nanny?” No… he’s mine.
That’s so awkward on so many levels!
Isn’t it? And of course she backpedaled and [said], “I just mean there are other nannies here.” And I got it.
I was talking to my mom about it, and it’s funny because the same thing happened with her. My mom is French Creole and looks white. I’m sure in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, it’s like “What is going on here?” because I was much darker than her. She said, “Just get used to it.” My family is French Creole Irish from New Orleans, so everybody is mixed up, if you will. My grandmother had red hair and blue eyes, but we were also raised to not see that. My aunts and uncles are Filipino, Tahitian, and Japanese and Portuguese, so for me it wasn’t a big deal to have a biracial child because I feel like my whole family is sort of a melting pot. But I definitely wonder what it will be like when my son gets older. I know that racism will never go away completely, but I’m hoping it won’t be as bad.
Do you guys have an idea of what you’ll say or what you’ll do if your son has questions?
I think I would talk to my kids as if they were an adult. I think every kid is probably going to go through some sense of identity [crisis], trying to figure out who they are and what they’re about. For me, I didn’t really know my real father all that well—my stepfather raised me. So I think there are different things kids are always going to have to deal with. I think it’s more about leading by example and saying, “Yeah, everyone’s different. But we’re all the same. We all get our feelings hurt. We all go through trials and tribulations.”
He’ll also see his parents: We love each other and we’re different. We come from different walks from life, so hopefully that will instill in him that color doesn’t really matter—or shouldn’t. But I [also] don’t want him to not know the black culture, and what it’s about.
How do you plan on incorporating your culture so that your son knows that part of your identity?
In some ways it’s not like a religion where you [can say] here are the basic thoughts of our religion and this is how we do it. I think it’s more just being part of it and immersing yourself in it. We live in San Francisco, so it’s very diverse, but I grew up in Sacramento where there’s parts of it that aren’t very diverse. We didn’t have tons of money, but my parents worked really hard. My dad was the first African-American licensed painter to work for the Sacramento school district, and he got it because of Affirmative Action and constantly following up with the district for a year. He worked there for 30 years until his retirement. Things like that where I saw my dad work really hard to get to where he wanted to, and deal with racism, I’m looking at that and thinking, “How do I teach my kid that? How do I show him that?” And I think making sure we stay connected to the family is a big piece of it.
I [also] think it’s your life experience. I’ve felt it before so I think I would know how to talk to my son about it. I think my husband would say, “If someone treats you [with] ill will, then don’t bother yourself with them. You do what you think is right,” which I agree with. But I think I would be able to give first-hand accounts or experiences I've had and how I handled them.
It’s a tricky one, because on one hand you’re thinking, it shouldn’t matter—it didn’t matter to your father and [me]—but at the same time you don’t want them to be completely oblivious to it. I think they’re going to figure it out for themselves. I don’t think I have to say, “You have to do this, and you have to spend time doing this.” But I just want to be sure they’re always connected to every part of the family. Not just my husband’s side, but my side of the family, too.
Issue No. 47
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
For as long as she can remember, Meridian Adams’ top priority was her career: She climbed her way up the ranks of Gap, Inc., going from part-time sales associate to global production manager in a little more than a decade. But after her son Jace was born, she made the difficult decision to leave the job she loved to dedicate all her time to her son.
Adams talks to mater mea about navigating this new chapter in her life and her hopes for her 9-month-old baby boy.