It’s hard being everything to your family, and it’s wonderful. I love that my kids know that I’ll help solve their problems and that my husband needs me to remind him which book he should read to the kids before bed and who likes peanut butter today but hates jelly. I take great pride in teaching my kids and watching them learn to love learning. Most nights I cook dinner dancing in the kitchen with my youngest while my oldest rolls his eyes and waits half an hour to join in. I hate cleaning the bathroom and making dentist appointments, but who doesn’t. I know these days and these years are fleeting and I try to make the most of them, but holy fuck is it overwhelming sometimes.
It’s a perfect morning for writing. Outside the sky is a hazy grey and rain is pouring down. I have hot coffee next to my arm and endless ideas for the novel I’m writing. A month ago, aside from the changing weather, that was my routine. Some days my kids would play outside and I’d take my laptop with me on the front steps and spend two hours in the place I love best. Other days they went to the basement and played hockey or legos or ‘Deadly Zoo Day: The Animals Take over.’
My kids are strange.
For the past two weeks I haven’t even opened the document where the first draft of my novel is, waiting to be finished or deleted. Our mornings haven’t lent themselves to my being anything but someone’s mother. I’ve nursed fevers and cleaned up broken glass. We’ve gone hiking early to take advantage of the uncommon amazing December weather. I’ve sat down at my computer only to have to stand up again to shout one of the following sentences, sometimes multiple times:
“You don’t have to repeat everything you hear on TV.”
“The dog is NOT a pillow!”
“Pull down your pants before you go to the bathroom!”
“Pull up your pants!”
“Get off the counter!”
“Get off the dog!”
“Frosting is not a snack!”
“No you can’t take the dog for a walk by yourself, you’re FOUR!”
“Get off your brother!”
“Put down the ice!”
“I’m serious, GET OFF YOUR BROTHER!”
“That’s a lizard, not a hat!”
“Go read a book!”
“Go watch TV!”
“Seriously guys, I just need an hour!”
(Insert stream of curse words said in my head. Hit repeat. Add prayers.)
At some point I got tired of saying “hold on one second” so I decided to stop sitting down at my computer in between cleaning up the kids’ breakfast dishes and reading them their second story of the day. Writing first thing in the morning had been amazing. I’d realized with shocked awe that I was no longer a night writer, that my brain functioned better for stories in the early hours rather than the late ones. I liked the early morning glow on my face as I met with characters whose lives I was shaping. Writing for me is like meditation or prayer and beginning my day in that state made a huge difference in the hours that followed but sometimes life can’t be helped so I stopped trying to fight against my life for the morning.
It meant that I didn’t write for awhile. I can’t do anything but sleep at the end of the day and it is hard not to mourn the only time of day that was really mine but then I thought about my kids and the advice their pediatrician gave me when they were babies. She said, “some of the phases they go through in the next 18-25 years are going to be really hard and just when you figure one out and get comfortable with it they’re going to change. Try not to stress out about not knowing what you’re doing and just do the best you can every day. Everyone feels like they’re in the dark trying to find the light switch.”
It was excellent parenting advice and good writing advice too. I don’t know what I would do without writing, but I’ve never been completely sure of myself while I’m doing it. It’s always felt like this giant living and breathing being that’s coercing me into dancing with it. It’s always changing, my confidence doing it and what I write, and being good or completely shitty, it’s feels alive, and almost no living being is comfortable in one place forever. As my children grow, my writing grows and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with both, to think that if I don’t have all the answers I’m a crap mom or a crap writer, but focusing on that is missing the point.
Routines are good but ever-changing and falling apart when they do hasn’t helped anyone ever, so with writing, as with children, when I have an inclination to fight against the struggle it’s probably more productive to put on music in the kitchen and dance around while I make banana bread and tell myself that I’m doing the best I can. Writing and being a Mom isn’t easy, it’s really hard, but I know that I can do it because I’ve done it before and maybe tomorrow I’ll do it better than I ever have before.