The baby is in bed. I have one hour until “Criminal Minds” is on. I whip out my laptop and head directly toward Word. I don’t pass Facebook. I don’t collect $200.
Dave walks into the living room, holds out a bowl of ice cream. “How was your day?” He says.
“GO AWAY! PUT THE ICE CREAM IN THE FREEZER AND DON’T TALK TO ME!”
Dave walks away and as he leaves the room I see him take two bites out of my bowl. Oh well. Focus.
I type furiously for the whole hour. When the clock strikes 8pm. I close the lid. Grab my bowl from the freezer, turn on the TV and apologize to The Dave. He understands, kind of.
I chose a work-at-home life, which means the line between home and work is constantly blurred. There are the four hours a day I have childcare. But I work more than four hours a day. I have other projects, other writing.
When I was two-minutes pregnant, I read an article by Louise DeSalvo on how having kids is no excuse. I was so afraid of getting lost in this maze of parenthood that I printed that sucker out and pinned it to my wall. I never want my child to be used as an excuse for me not doing the things I love to do. She deserves more than that and so do I. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. When she was first born, I kept writing. I wrote four essays for Babble during maternity leave and it felt like writing in dream. That dream where you try to run fast, but you can’t, except my legs were my fingers and just moving them across the keys took all my brain work and energy. I wrote in 15 minute snatches. Often not even digesting the whole essay until moments before I hit “send.” I didn’t apologize. Your child is not an excuse.
Recently, a writing mentor of mine wrote to me about a fabulous online workshop she will be giving and I wanted so desperately to take it, but I don’t have the money or the time right now, which is a blessing. That means I have work, I have assignments, I have plans! It also means, I feel choked desperate and a little guilty, when I pick up the laptop the moment Ellis pushes herself out of my lap to play by herself. I wrote back asking how this is done. Technically, I know how. One word at a time. Sit your butt down, get your work done. But how had she done it as a single parent, writing novels, working as a statistician? How?
I should say you will have to learn and practice getting what you can do done on a little bit of writing time. I had a teacher once who listened to a music CD (soundtrack to The Piano) for two hours every evening, with earphones on, and that’s how she blocked out the sound of her rambunctious two sons, so she could write. Jane Smiley, who I met on tour one year, writes for two hours a day, five days a week, and that’s it. She has or had then, four children.
Virginia Woolf worked three hours a day. I can steal those moments in the mornings, in the evenings, during nap time, instead of picking up socks. At the behest of my writing partner, Steph, I’m reading Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk and Writing. In it Lara describes how she started writing 500 words at a time. Bits she gave to a friend. Bits that turned into columns. Columns that turned into books. It takes a lot for me to sit down, ignore my email, ignore the socks on the floor, and start typing. Especially, when I’m not going to get paid immediately for what I write, when no editor is eagerly hitting refresh on her browser waiting for her copy (or that’s how I imagine it). But it takes a lot for anyone to leave their children, go to work and get things done.
Yes, it is hard. But that’s no excuse.
An acquaintance once told me that she had to cancel her classes because her son was screaming, wasn’t napping, the sitter was late, the road into town was covered in ice. “It’s just hard,” she said. I wanted to sympathize, but I also wanted to smack her. I’ve taught classes before and many of my students are parents who steal moments to come to class and get their homework done. What about them?
Yes, being a parent is hard. But you know what else is hard? Cancer. Get your work done. Speaking of which…