I’ve come to a level of acceptance that I’m a Mother first and a Writer second in a way that just thoroughly pissed me off when my kids were little. And what made it worse was that there was no one to be pissed at.
You ever feel really tired and think, “I kind of wish I could get sick and just lay in bed for a few days?” (Then, of course, your friend who was just sick for a few days says with big, earnest eyes, “I wanted to die, it was that bad!) AND you go see Contagion in which everyone gets sick then their vision blurs, they foam at the mouth, convulse and die … and well, you watch what you wish for.) But the bottom line is that it’s 4:43 p.m. and the weekend is nearly over. I’m sitting on a stripped bed that needs to be made. Only half the tomato sauce has been cooked and there’s still half a box of veg needing to be chopped and cooked before it goes bad. People will be asking “What’s for dinner?” any minute. Math homework needs to be tackled. And … and I’d really like to curl up with a book and go to bed early. Or better yet, I’d like to write. All. Night. Long.
But that ain’t happening.
I just saw a wonderful play by a local writer, Megan Gogerty that’s more or less about just that – the desire to write when you’re faced with being a mother. It’s also about losing your pee muscles, the icy stares of other mothers at toddler time in the library, and the truth of Dolly Parton. Describing her life with a baby and then a toddler, Gogerty helped me to relive many of the finer moments of my kids’ earlier days when I tried to shove “mother” and “writer” in the same box in a peaceable manner. I, too, made a trip to NYC with a baby in tow in order to “work” – sleeping hardly a wink and hauling a stroller up and down subway stairs. I, too, nearly went crazy when my kid – the second, less Buddha-like child – turned two, suffering from insomnia, weight loss, depression, and anxiety – to name a few of my maladies. I, too, tried to find it hysterical but often just wanted to ball up and cry. When, toward play’s end, Gogerty looks at the audience and asks “Does it get easier?” part of me wanted to reassure her, but that seemed a bit false.
Not easier but different, I could say. I am of the mind that you actually do get more work done when children are little and still nap. As my kids have gotten older, I’ve found that the only way to write is to disappear. Otherwise it’s soccer-violin-football — a non-stop cycle. And when it’s not that it’s cooking and teaching and refereeing. I have to be out of sight: in a cafe, at a friend’s house – matters not so long as I’m gone. Some writers even check into hotels in order to churn out the work. And when I read her memoir, Blood, Bones, Butter, I was struck by chef-writer Gabrielle Hamilton writing on the subway or in the car – hugely inadvisable but I get it – just in order to get in a few pages between cooking and parenting.
So you never get more done, but you stop resenting it so much. You turn a corner and surrender to it. I’ve come to a level of acceptance that I’m a Mother first and a Writer second in a way that just thoroughly pissed me off when my kids were little. I was trying to do both all out and it’s really not an option. Unless you want to be super pissed all of the time. And what made it worse was that there was no one to be pissed at. It wasn’t the kids’ fault. It wasn’t mine. Not the fault of the “muses.” It was just a pissy situation. I hated male writers for it (ok, I still do sometimes), and I secretly roll my eyes at the output of child-free artists. (When Gogerty learns that a friend earned a big award, I found it very diplomatic of her not to say whether the woman had children or not.) But after awhile, you get too exhausted being pissed and do what you can.
Which means that you come to find a small reprieve in and even a brilliance to your ability to sit on an unmade bed at – now 4:54 pm – on a Sunday afternoon while the tomatoes remain downstairs in their red jackets and your ex-husband texts on his phone on a sofa in the livingroom and your children watch a cartoon, still damp from soccer. All of that life going on around you and you’ve opted for a moment to write. To spill onto the page. You’ve managed in less than a quarter of an hour, to get nearly 1,000 words off your chest and out into the world.
Karen Maezen Miller, who I so admire, wrote this week that her blog would be short, just a mention of people’s writing that she recommended, because there are so many words in the world right now. Too many, she inferred. This struck me as true, so true that it’s left me silent and somewhat guilt ridden. What do I have to say? But I say it for myself as much as anyone else. Or for my family’s well being. If I don’t write I get edgy and mean. I bark more and have been known to make people cry. I’m a better person when I write. Which is what I knew when my kids were little, and I still know now. I also know I’m better when I exercise and when I don’t have the second glass of wine … so I don’t always do what is “best.” But I try to have hope that when my kids grow up and apart from me – in a way that I already fear, dread, and looking totally forward to – the words will spring up, not only cushioning what could be a blow but buoying me and showing me a way through – just as they’re showing Gogerty through toddlerhood and some other writer through teendom. Keep following the word trail.
(Ha! I just noticed the banner on Megan Gogerty’s web site: “There is always hope.”)