How I Became an Author in the Back of My Minivan

How I Became an Author in the Back of My Minivan

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

A bonus story for our readers from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms, a great read for all you multi-tasking moms who juggle a million things every day. Whether you work inside the home or outside, you are all Power Moms.

How I Became an Author in the Back of My Minivan

I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.
~Joyce Maynard

One day not too long ago, I was at my son’s preschool to help out with a class party. As I waited with the other moms for the party to start, one of them looked at me strangely and then pulled something from my hair. It was a Goldfish cracker. She asked me how I managed to get a Goldfish stuck in my hair and I drew a long breath. Then I told her. I’m a mom. I am also an author. I do most of my writing from the back seat of my minivan, and on this particular morning while I was waiting for party duty, I got a little tired and had a nap. In the car. On the back seat. Where the Goldfish live. This all sounded absurd, of course, and I suppose it is. But it came about through a series of events that are entirely sane.

The story begins over a decade ago when I became a mom in the suburbs of Connecticut. In spite of my four years at an Ivy League school, two years working on Wall Street, and three years of law school, I jumped at the chance to “opt out” of my career as a lawyer and raise my kids. For me, it was a simple decision. I could use whatever talents I had helping corporate clients, or I could use them to nurture my own offspring. There were millions of lawyers, but only one mother for my son. It didn’t occur to me that by leaving the life I had worked years to create I was also leaving a piece of myself behind.

As it turned out, I had joined masses of former-professional-women-turned-moms whose talents were now being directed at their children. My job was my child; my child was my life. My schedule became a maze of baby groups, mommy-and-me classes, nap schedules and brain stimulation exercises. There were baby birthday parties, massage classes, post-partum Pilates, and, of course, a vast array of discussion groups. At every turn, my small accomplishments were replaced by new worries. Why isn’t my baby sleeping through the night? Why isn’t he crawling yet? Is his baby food really organic? Should I make it myself? Yes! Suddenly I had a freezer full of kale and broccoli ice cubes. The piece of me I had abandoned became fully embedded in this new job of mothering, and the drive for perfection began to overshadow the small moments of joy that all of this was for.

By the time my baby was a year old, I was deeply unsettled. I had become a case study from Betty Friedan’s epic work The Feminine Mystique, and I knew that it had to stop; I needed an outlet that transcended fabric samples and lunch dates. I had never thought of being a writer. But this was the dream I discovered when I reached inside myself for something to save me from the trap of perfecting motherhood. For the next two years, I wrote a little bit here and there, stopping and starting with morning sickness and again when my second child was born. I wrote during every babysitter hour that I had, during naptime and the other stolen minutes in a mother’s life. And as I became more committed to this dream, I also became a more efficient time scavenger. When my three-year-old started nursery school, I decided to skip the long drive home and instead work somewhere in town.

On the first day of this new plan, I swallowed my guilt, left my baby with the sitter, dropped my older son at school and went to Starbucks—suburban mommy Mecca and home to my favorite dark roast. I got a coffee and a table in the back, then pulled out my laptop and some notes. Taking a sip of the coffee, I instructed my brain to focus. Focus. An alternative rock band I had never heard of was playing in the background. Focus. A woman I’d met at a playgroup came over to chat. Focus. The two baristas were discussing their body piercings. This was NOT working and time was slipping away, precious time I was paying for with mother guilt and cold hard cash. I packed up my things in frustration and went to my car. But instead of getting in the driver’s seat, I slid open the side door and ducked into the back. I moved the boosters, sat down and started to type. It was brilliant! No one could see in through the tinted glass. It was quiet. And there was nothing to do after I swept the Goldfish crumbs to the floor—nothing to do but write.

This became my new office. I stocked it with blankets when the weather turned cold. I bought an extra battery for my laptop and a coffee reheating device. I wrote and wrote, telling no one for fear that the slightest discouragement would break my resolve. When I was overcome with morning sickness again, I stopped writing. When it passed, I dusted off my laptop. Then came the third baby and another interruption. But the need persisted, and so I started again. Through these years, I began to make small concessions to buy myself more time. I gave up the gym and ran with the kids in a jogger. I turned down any social invitation where I couldn’t bring them along. Every minute of school or sitter time was devoted to writing in the back of my minivan outside the nursery school, YMCA, or back at the Starbucks. My life had taken on a frenetic pace. But I was happy.

I finished my first novel, Four Wives, when my youngest son was nearly two. It is a story about women, about the choices we make and the lives we forge as we muddle through the inherently conflicted worlds of work, marriage, and motherhood. I wrote it because these were the issues that had been living inside me and so many women I had come to know. And, ironically, writing about this conflict gave me my own personal resolution.

Four Wives was published in the spring of 2008, marking the beginning of a new career that actually fits in with my life as a stay-home mom. My days have become jigsaw puzzles—baking muffins at 6:00 A.M., driving the boys here and there, cleaning up toys, making dinner, and writing in between. I am settling into a reality that was once a crazy dream, born of inner conflict and executed in the back of my car.

Just this year, I have set up shop at a desk in my home. All of my boys are in school now, giving me time to work in the mornings. It is an odd luxury to no longer worry about battery power, warmth, or finding a bathroom. But there are times when I get stuck, when the house is calling out to me or my thoughts are frozen, and I find myself parked outside that Starbucks, nestled in among the Goldfish. Sometimes the best part of a dream is the journey that makes it come true.

~Wendy Walker

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