Deep breath. Cup of coffee. Quick reread. Fingers over keyboard. Type-
“Mommy, can I have a banana?”
It’s the three-year-old. He can reach the bowl where the fruit is stored, but he hasn’t quite managed the art of peeling the banana yet. I get up and grab a banana, ripping through the skin to get him started, and sit back down.
Another swig of coffee. Another deep breath. And go-
The one-year-old has now seen what his older brother has and he’s not amused. He casts his glances between the bowl on the counter that he’s not yet tall enough to reach and me, sitting at the table. I get up again and get a banana; this one, I peel, slice, and put into a bowl.
Sit down. Deep breath. Reread the same section I’ve just read and think about what to write next. Fingers hover and-
“Mommy, can I play on my tablet now? I’ve finished with my reading.”
Seven-year-old. She’s a crazy fast reader and, although she told me that she was reading three chapters of her higher-than-grade-level fiction book (which I thought would buy me a tad more time), she’s done already and lingering by the table. She reads through the paragraph on the screen. “What’s that word mean?” she says, pointing to the name of a demon.
“Nothing, it’s- yes, yes, you can tablet for a little while.” I try to shoo her away without being annoyed. She bounces to her room with a smile and, in moments, I hear a Minecraft tutorial video start.
I exhale a deep breath. I can totally do this. I’ve promised myself that I’m going to try and write 250 words throughout my day. That’s about a page- surely, I can get that done. I rub my temples which, now, are starting to throb to the beat of the catchy tune playing on the Signing Time DVD that I thought would keep my younger two happy for twenty minutes (before the banana eating began) so that I could write those 250 words. I take the familiar position of a writer at their computer and, for the third time, reread a paragraph that now I’m starting to think I can quote by heart.
“Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?”
It’s my other seven-year-old; while his twin sister was working on reading, he was working on handwriting and spelling. As a child with autism, he tends to be very routine oriented and once his script starts, I know that I should settle in to make the correct responses. I close the computer and vow to try again later.
Writing as a mother to young children has its challenges; writing as a homeschooling mother adds a new layer to the work-life balance. While I am secure in the knowledge that home education is the correct choice for our family, I also feel as though I am in a constant battle between what needs to happen (schooling, play, housework, etc.) and what I need to happen (writing, preferably with coffee while it’s still hot). The heart and mind are willing, but the flesh is weak. If I had to select a piece of my life that I struggle most with, it isn’t the sleepless nights but rather the writingless days.
All of this being said, I do get work done. My husband is a great source of support and he will put in a long day as a scientist only to come home and, without a break, move right into the role of World’s Most Fun Daddy. He will take the kids to the playground or into the backyard, weather permitting, or downstairs to our family room, where they can burn off that nonstop energy all children seem to possess. While most weeknight playtimes are enough for me to get dinner finished, those weekend Daddy Times have been the biggest help to getting more than a few hundred words written during the daylight hours.
My in-laws live close by and, for years, have taken the older kids for two mornings each week. Recently, my youngest started going with the older three, which has given me a few hours to work on different tasks. Writing hasn’t yet made the list, but I hope to change that!
Last summer, I even hired a preteen mother’s helper so that I could finish the final edits on my last two books. Those eight hours each week were a godsend and my children all benefited from their summertime big sister. When our newest baby joins us in late spring, one of my first plans will be to line my helper up for some summertime hours.
Even with the additional assistance, I find that writing takes a backseat to everything else going on in my life. While I feel an internal need to write every day, there is a physical need to make sure that my family is fed, has clean laundry, isn’t living in squalor, and that my children are educated according to their strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. The two “needs” don’t compare and, when something has to give, it’s writing that does.
We have tried a variety of methods to combat this as a family. I’ve tried leaving immediately after dinner to get writing done during the week, but if I’m hiding downstairs or in my bedroom, eventually the kids find me. Writing in their presence, even with additional adult help, isn’t possible without the noise and interruption that young children naturally create. Getting out of the house isn’t always feasible; while I love our local coffee shop, by the time I get there, grab a drink, find a workspace, and get myself set up and ready to work, I’ve lost at least a half hour. Factoring in that I need to be home an hour or so later, can make the entire process frustrating.
Part of this is me and my personality. I’m most comfortable working in my own space; since having children, “my space” has become “our space”. In some instances, it’s become “their space” completely. Trying to recreate my non-mothering writing life does nothing but continue to inspire my frustration and yet, it is my fall back. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, then I am the textbook image of a lunatic. However, I find my writing habits to be some of the hardest to break.
So, what’s a writing mother of young children to do? Is there any hope of balancing the homeschooling of toddlers and primary aged children with the work and research of writing?
Before I had children, I had a steady writing gig for a tristate magazine and wrote a handful of articles for other publications while working full time as a branch library manager. Being a librarian had been a childhood goal alongside writing and it felt like such an achievement to balance both. Yet, it wasn’t easy. I researched and wrote instead of spending time relaxing with my husband; he had his own desires and tasks, so this didn’t cause friction, but it was still a sacrifice. I was willing to make it, as was he, in the pursuit of a byline and a paycheck. When my twins were toddlers, I finished and published two books, thanks to part-time preschool; it took me years before I had anything publication ready after that.
I struggled to meet my publisher’s desires and the needs of my growing household and, by the time my now three-year-old was starting to walk, I was wondering if I would ever write anything other than a sporadic blog post again. But it was when he was a new walker that I began working on what would become the sequel to a previous novel and I started the trilogy that has fulfilled me as a writer. Was it easy? No. Did it take way longer than I would have thought? Yes. But nothing worth having comes easy and, at least in my life, it seems that nothing worth its weight comes without some struggle.
Adding in another baby (and with his birth, a nasty bout of Postpartum Depression), I once again was in the funk of the wordless writer. Everything suffered before I got a hold on my life again, but it was that experience that birthed my most popular article to date. I have received letters from countless women to thank me for sharing my walk through the darkness of PPD that they, themselves, had tread. Who would have thought that from that pain, there would have been the solace that a writer can only find through writing?
Adding children into my writing career has been hard. The needs for my time and attention are multiplied while both are greatly diminished. My writing resume boasts fewer lines post children than it did before and, in some ways, I suppose this can be viewed as a failure. However, as I look at it, I see something else. I see six books, a handful of articles, and a life well lived. I see a stack (albeit a small one) of things that I’ve created next to the most beautiful, compassionate children- children that I’ve helped to raise, shape, and love. Children who have done the same to me. We often think that it is we who teach our children, but that misses the mark. Without my children, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Without them, my best writing would have never happened. I never would have written my most recent trilogy, if not for our family’s introduction to the autism spectrum and all the beauty and pain it entails. I wouldn’t have shared a journey through PPD, had I not battled through eight months of hell after my youngest son. These are, quite possibly, my best works; without the hardship of working through the challenges, they never would have happened.
As I write, my children play around me underfoot. It is loud and messy. There are constant interruptions. The part of my brain that longs for the quiet of a library and a cup of hot coffee is annoyed beyond measure. But the part of me that is evolving into a homeschooling mother writer- an evolution that is over seven years in the making and continues to be shaped daily- looks at the chaos with a smile. My daughter plays with my youngest son, teaching him how to make melodies on a toddler piano. My three-year-old splits his time between reading to his action figures and kissing my belly, telling his baby sister that he can’t wait to meet her. My older son is practicing sign language and singing to me, stopping to use his newfound “excuse me” to show me something new every so often. Is it ideal for working on the great American novel? Probably not; but it’s still absolutely perfect.