When two worlds collide: motherhood and writing

I told a fellow writer recently I would not be attending two appealing conferences this spring and summer because of conflicts with my children’s lives. One falls on the weekend of my son’s first-ever prom and the other clashes with summer camp drop-off.
She commended me on my “sacrifices,” but suggested I reconsider.
I need to put my writing first, she said.
I need to ensure that I am taken seriously if I want to succeed.
I was taken aback.
I just don’t see it that way.
I chose my career, but I also chose to have children.
I believe in balance, but when I am forced to tip those scales, they will always tip in favor of my four kids. My husband is no different in his approach to his career, though it’s less obvious because he doesn’t have as much flexibility.
Motherhood has made me a better writer, so if it slows me down a little, that’s okay.
My perspective is unpopular, at least that’s what I gather from forums, blogs and books on the subject. We female writers are supposed to protect our writing identities at all costs and forgive ourselves the selfishness required by our career choices.
Don’t get me wrong.
I am selfish sometimes.
Um, plenty of times.
Just this morning, I encouraged my sick ten-year-old son to watch YouTube videos so I could write in peace. The house could be a lot cleaner. I could put better meals on the table. I could be doing art and science projects with my kids during school breaks and on the weekends to keep them off their iPods and computers.
I could also take a regularly paying job and earn money for after-school activities, upcoming college costs and educational summer outings. I have sometimes worked part-time when our finances required it. Most recently, I was a taxonomy specialist for a media company.
But as soon as our finances allowed, I quit.
Why?
Because I’m selfish.
I want to write even if I can’t guarantee that my writing will sell.
But I have my limits.
No conference is worth missing my son’s first prom.
I want to see the flush in his face when I tell him how handsome he looks in a tuxedo. I want to see him give his date her corsage and wave as the two of them head off for a night of dinner and dancing with friends. I want to hear all about it when he gets back.
No networking opportunity is worth missing camp send-off.
I want to hug my twins before they disappear into their cabins for their first full week of overnight camp and squeeze my daughter before we let her go for two weeks, longer than we have ever been without her.
And no novel of mine is going to suffer because I didn’t go to that one workshop.
Look at all the real-life experience I am getting through my kids.
You can’t buy that.
We women have good reason to be protective and defensive when it comes to our identities as writers. Despite all the strides we have made as a gender, society as a whole still tends to see male writers as professionals and women as hobbyists.
But we don’t have to deny one identity in order to reinforce the other.
I completed four novels while my children were in the most physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding stages of their lives. They still need me now, but their needs have changed. These days, the conflicts with my writing are more about the schedule.
Achieving a balance is easier and it will only get better.
If I get published now, my youngest kids are old enough to understand that I will have to travel for signings, to teach workshops or to participate in conferences. They are old enough to be excited for me, to be proud of me and maybe even to sometimes travel with me.
And it goes both ways.
I am secure enough in my identity as a mother to do all that without guilt, to enjoy success as a writer.
I have not sacrificed.
I have compromised to get what I want, an entirely different concept.
We are not going to change society’s view of female writers by mimicking the success of stereotypical male writers. Why would we want to do that? We need to show the world something different. We need to show society that parenthood (fatherhood included) is a valuable asset for writers, not a complication or a burden.
I will go to a conference this year, but I won’t miss a child’s birthday, a school event, or a milestone to do it. Childhood lasts for only so long, but I intend to write forever.
Where’s the sacrifice in that?
(Margaret Atwood, you are my idol!)

Slump. Please help.

I am in a reading slump.
And it’s disappointing.
Until recently, I’d always had two or three books going at once. I kept one on my nightstand, one on the kitchen counter and one near the treadmill in the basement.
Now, only the nightstand holds a book and it’s gathering dust.
I just haven’t had time to pick it up.
Time.
Maybe that’s the problem.
I haven’t used the treadmill since summer.
I’m always on the defensive in the kitchen these days, trying to keep our very-independent twins from emptying the fridge, pretending to cook on the stove and pushing chairs up to cabinets to get the van keys out of my purse.
I never seem to sleep anymore.
I have too much to do.
But I love to read.
I crave a good novel.
I enjoy the escape.
This is a place where I cannot remain.
It is time to map a new course.
The trouble is that I don’t know where to begin.
Do I try to get more sleep, foregoing the measly hour a night I get to hang out with my husband, cuddle, watch silly sitcom reruns and talk uninterrupted?
Do I climb on the treadmill more often, ignoring the editing, writing, cleaning and cooking that tear me in other directions? And, oh yes, our four kids?
Do I remove all glass and hot sauces from the fridge, disconnect the gas from the stove and disable the horn button on my key chain so I can just set the twins loose in the kitchen while I read?
Or am I looking in the wrong direction entirely?
Is it the novels?
Is that the problem?
It seems that over the summer, the novels I picked up were impossible to put down. They pulled me out of my world with so much force that I couldn’t resist. Not even four kids, a messy house and a pile of unedited interviews could keep me in reality.
Nothing I’ve read lately has done that for me.
So, perhaps, it’s not the time constraints at all.
Maybe, what I really need is a good book.
Any suggestions?

Big Purple Mommy

For the past few months, I struggled to breathe.
I was under water and I’d lost my focus.
I couldn’t find the surface and I was running out of air.
I was dying.
As a writer.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little dramatic.
But that’s how it felt.
Like the daily duties of life, the needs of everyone in my life, the needs of the household, mine own less glamorous needs (dental visits and doctor visits and a glass of red wine at the end of the night) were closing in around me.
Confusing me.
I had lost my focus.
I couldn’t find my laptop.
I couldn’t breathe.
I couldn’t figure out how or when to write.
I thought maybe I was getting too old, wearing down, losing my creativity, losing my mind.
Then I saw it.
Sitting right there on the bookshelf in the basement across from my desk.
Big Purple Mommy by Coleen Hubbard.
And I remembered the last time Coleen Hubbard saved me from drowning.
We were living in Arizona.
My older kids were 18 months old and almost three.
I had written a few chapters of my novel, but not much.
I just couldn’t seem to figure out how to write any more.
Somehow, I stumbled upon her book.
I read it and, a few days later, hired a sitter.
Two actually.
They were sisters (Thank you Andrea and Amanda!) and they insisted on coming together.
Two days a week for four hours a day, I sat in a study room in the local l library and wrote, finally completing the first draft within a few months.
I went back to teaching as an adjunct when I finished, something else I enjoyed, and I didn’t worry about my writing. I knew it needed a rest, I knew I need some distance from my novel and I knew my creativity would come back.
We moved, we settled into our home in Cincinnati and I picked up the novel again a few years ago and revised it.
It felt good.
And it was all because of Coleen Hubbard’s book.
Big Purple Mommy is all about balancing creativity and motherhood. She helped me realize, with lots of testimony from other creative moms, that I needed to, first, give myself a break when my kids were young, and second, make a huge effort to carve out time for creative work without guilt.
I did that and I was happy.
I began rereading the book again the other day.
And I found myself in its pages.
I’d lost my focus because the twins have stopped napping and because the twins are 2.5 years old. But time will pass, they will get older and they will be less demanding on a minute-by-minute basis. I will not lose my creativity during that time because stuff is always swirling in my head.
If anything, I might just mature as a writer because of it.
The twins will start going to a sitter three days a week for three hours each time next week.
I’ll need some of that time to do ordinary things I can’t do when they are around–clean, doctor appointments, run errands–but at least one of those days will be mine, all mine.
And I will write.
Thank you Coleen.
Thank you Big Purple Mommy.
For rescuing me again.