77: Due Dates
77: Due Dates
One half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it.
It was unlike my dad to call in the middle of a Thursday afternoon. So, even though I was knee-deep in final revisions of two books and diligently working in the dead quiet of the library, I answered.
“Hi,” Dad said. “I was calling to ask if you had seen the news today.”
“No…” My voice trailed off. Today happened to be one of my two workdays that week. My two-year-old son was in daycare, and in his absence I was doggedly trying to get some writing done.
Of course I assumed the worst. An earthquake? A bomb exploding in a school? Why else would he be bringing up the news?
“Well,” he said carefully, “have you heard the name Hilary Rosen?”
I hadn’t. But the next name he tossed out, Ann Romney, I knew. Who didn’t? She was the wife of a GOP presidential candidate, and was garnering a lot of attention in the heat of the country’s primaries.
Dad told me about how Rosen, a Democratic strategist, had criticized Romney’s decision to stay at home to raise five boys. Rosen’s comment that Romney had “never worked a day in her life” had set off a nationwide firestorm.
Ever since I had been swept into motherhood two years before, the perpetual challenge had rattled me: How to completely throw yourself into the hard work of being a mother without losing the rest of your identity? The paradox grinded at me day in and day out; that motherhood can be so dull yet so lively; that it can feel like no work at all and the hardest work of your life. The struggle intensified now that I was pregnant with our second child and trying to finish not one, but two books.
Every day, I asked myself if I was doing the right thing, being a stay-at-home mom and writer. Not working full-time.
Rosen’s comment laid bare the question that so fiercely gripped me.
It had taken me a long time to fully believe in and feel validated by being a mom. The million-and-one decisions that come and go, the moment-by-moment living that being with kids requires, the crucial importance of maintaining confidence day in and day out. Yes, motherhood is hard work. It is legitimate work. Only now, after months of struggle over how motherhood fit into my life, did I really believe that.
My two books progressed along with my pregnancy. The first book, a memoir about growing up as an only child in rural Wyoming, was being pushed along by the publisher and the publication date was looming. I had pitched that book for three years to various publishers and the “yes” had come three days before I got the plus sign on a pregnancy test.
The second book, a project I had begun while my memoir worked its way through the query mill, was a history of my family’s small business. It was to be a venture in self-publishing. I wanted to learn the ropes of the trade to be better equipped as a writer during a particularly tumultuous time in the publishing industry. By pure and wild coincidence, both books were wrapping up at the same time, and my baby’s due date was fast approaching.
Three weeks before my baby was due, I opened my journal in a desperate grope for comfort. The fear of making life work as both mother and writer was so real I felt I might throw up.
It’s all there, I wrote. The haze. The forgetfulness. The failure to finish one simple task before beginning another. The anxiety and million what-ifs.
What if I fail my kids? What if the laundry piles up because I can’t find time to do it? What if I fail to write every day? What if, for a while, I do nothing but focus on being a mom?
My baby came right on time and with him, a flurry of sleep-deprived days and dogged prayers. The laundry piled up. The writing slowed. The publication date loomed.
All because I was doing the hardest and most important work of all, being a mom.
And in those moments of rocking my baby, feeding him while the rest of the world slept, changing his diaper for the hundredth time, I realized: the world wasn’t going anywhere. Life comes in seasons, and there is a season for everything.
The writer Hope Edelman, at a 2012 Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference panel, shared a list of what she can and can’t do as both mother and writer. She is really good at budgeting time, she said, and has experienced a whole range of emotions that have enhanced her writing. But, in her own words, she can’t “spend three months at a writer’s colony… stay at literary events past 9:15 on a weeknight. shower every day. be a foreign correspondent.”
My books are out now. I can’t promote them with the same zest and vigor I could if writing were my sole focus. I can’t tackle my list of marketing ideas fast enough. I can’t always write at the very moment the muse strikes.
But I can snatch quiet moments as they come. I can make an important phone call while I’m nursing, jot down an essay idea on the back of a receipt in the daycare parking lot, confirm a book sale via e-mail while my older son catches five more minutes of TV I can make two solid, blessed hours of work pass in the blink of an eye.
And, I can garner loads of heartfelt material from the range of emotions that come with being a mom. Believe me, I have stories to tell.
In my journal, on a day marked “Nov. 2,” is a single line: “I did all the important stuff today.”
Days and weeks later, I don’t remember what that “important stuff” was. But I know it was good work, the best work, work that mattered.
I can’t not be a mom. I can’t not be a writer. Only through the dogged pursuits of both have I learned that my work is a daily balancing act, focusing on two fierce loves at once. Give up one for the other, and I am no longer a whole person. I am a better mom because I still make time to write and feed that fire. I am a better writer because I am living the daily challenges and joys of motherhood. I hold two worlds in the palm of my hand.
I trust that, as writer and as mom, I am right where I need to be. My books are out, and people are reading them. My boys are happy and healthy and packed with the pulsating energy of childhood.
Two loves. One life.
Full-time work? You bet.
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