No Room Of My Own: The Mom's Writing Life
“Let's go play upstairs so we don't bother Mommy!”
Experts agree on this advice: don't choose a favorite among your children. Regardless, my oldest just swooped to the top of the list by uttering that sentence. I have waited years to hear something like this.
Of course, no one listens to him. It's a snow day and four boys ages nine to three are home with me – three of them are mine and the fourth is a friend. Chaos rules. When they ask if they can try and build a survival fire in the driveway, I say fine. When they ask if they can have Tootsie Pops for lunch, I say fine. When the three year old asks me to help him in the bathroom, I sigh. But I get up from my post at the dining table and perform those duties that most define motherhood – wiping, and correct undergarment arrangement. Then I go back to the table where my laptop has accomplished nothing while I was gone.
Three deadlines darken next week's calendar. Several projects from my “real job” need attention. I owe my writing group a second chapter. And the boys, picking sticky lollipop shards from their teeth, are asking permission to build trenches in my bed quilts for a stuffed animal war. Fine.
My writing career and my career as a mom have always been tangled up with each other. My first son attended my M.F.A. graduation ceremony in vitro; a few months later, when I got the news that one of my stories had been accepted for publication, he was the first person I told. He smiled at me from his usual post on the floor. Or maybe it was gas.
I finished the first draft of my first novel just a few days before boy #2 was born. Those days I should have been focusing undivided attention and energy on my firstborn, whose kingly status was about to be dismantled, I was jamming as many words together onto the laptop screen as I could during Thomas the Tank Engine.
Yes, I've considered the possibility that I'm ruining my children by considering something else as important as they are. So I try harder. I rarely miss a bedtime. I have only been late for after-school pickup twice. I read that second, third, fourth book when they ask me to. And then I stay up later, wake up earlier and further cultivate my ignorance about the latest great TV show.
I have no room of my own. There are no locked doors, no qualified writing hours, no moments when I am just one or just the other. I write in the car, in school hallways, on the playground, and in hockey rinks. I see those photographs of writers' workspaces on that website, Write Place, Write Time, and tell myself to look away. If I had that amazing view, that comfortable looking chair, that well-organized bookshelf, I'd never get a damn thing done. But really, I'm just very, very envious.
For nearly a decade I have been two people, the writer and the mom, and though they often bicker meanly over unscheduled hours, one could not exist without the other. I write about my kids, I write in spite of my kids, and I write for my kids. They have taught me lots of things – including how to play the kazoo – but maybe the most valuable is efficiency. And passion.
I worry that when my kids are grown and gone I will be left with no excuse concerning the quality or quantity of my writing. But, frankly, that's over a dozen years away. Plenty of time for benign neglect, spare minutes put to use, early morning alarms, and Tootsie Pops for lunch.
Andi Diehn lives with her family in Enfield, New Hampshire. She contributes regular articles and book reviews to New Hampshire Magazine, Kid Stuff Magazine, ForeWord Reviews, and Kirkus Reviews, among others. Several of her short stories have been published in journals including The Adirondack Review and The Laurel Review. She shares a blog at www.letusgothen.net.
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