When I was a little girl, I believed two things: 1) I would grow up to become a writer and 2) I would have children. It wasn’t either/or, nor was one ranked higher than the other. They were equal goals, holding the same level of importance in my dreams of adulthood. Mothering a natural fit for the part of me that needs to nurture, protect, and love. Writing is a natural fit for the part of me that is creator and storyteller. Mom and writer. Solid choices.
How was I to know at five what a delicate balance it would be to acquire both goals: mom and writer?
It was just as easy to pull my dolls around in a wagon, pretend to feed, bathe, and change them as it was to scribble down stories and draw stick figures. While the “kids” napped, I could pen a few sentences of the next great American novel. While the “kids” played on their mats, I could pen a few more lines. My imaginary hubby would return home, take over the child-rearing for a few hours, while I really got some concentrated writing time in. What a life I would lead as mom and writer.
Things rarely pan out with the same ease of our childhood dreams.
Sometime in my 20s, I started to wonder if I truly wanted children. It was the first time in my life I doubted my llong-standingdream of motherhood. Around the same time that I wondered about kids, I was the closest I had been in legitimizing my trajectory to become a writer. I was in a Master of Fine Arts program, studying creative writing and working actively on a draft of my first memoir.
Then, ten years later, within weeks of my 30th birthday, I found out I was pregnant. A decade had brought significant changes – finishing my MFA, moving back home, finding a significant other, buying a house, getting a dog, and in place of the white picket fence, I found a job in the publishing industry. Now pregnant, I was about to complete my own ‘American dream’ as it were. For this very brief window of time, I was both mom and writer. While my role within the publishing company wasn’t exactly writing my own book, it was close enough and I was satisfied. Finally, I had done it. Accomplished my dream of becoming a mother and writer.
A few months before I gave birth to my son, the company where I worked was acquired, and we were laid off. My dream of being a mom and writer was dashed.
Becoming a mom both motivated my desire to become a writer and inhibited it. As soon as my son was born, I wanted to do nothing other than make him proud. To lead by example. To be an inspiring and magnificent role model.
Having a child can be like holding a mirror up to yourself. I didn’t want my son to someday ask me, “Mom what did you want to be when you grew up?” and have my response be, “I wanted to be a writer.” Would he then ask, “What changed?”
As motivated as he made me, being a mother was exhausting. Especially in that first year. Heck. It’s always exhausting. But in that first year, I contended with an infant who didn’t like to sleep anywhere but on me, the challenges of breastfeeding, the other regular transitions of first-time parenthood, and starting a brand new job in a totally different industry. I was a mother for the first time and I was about to be in a whole new job in a whole new industry I knew nothing about.
Between motherhood and the new job, there was little time or energy to also write.
When time and energy existed, it was quickly snatched up by other activities. It felt silly to make writing a priority even if it felt like a bad itch needing to be scratched. In college and grad school, writing was an everyday activity for me. I had no need to develop a routine or practice. The very act of being in school was my routine. Maybe I should have worked harder to establish the routine of writing out of school but before children, I didn’t. All the excitement of life – new job, new love, new house, wedding, etc. – took me along and I fit writing in here and there as if it were a hobby or something extra in my life.
Then motherhood hit and writing lost more ground, except now it begged to be noticed. Writing took on some kind of demanding life of its own. I had breathed life into a child when I became a mother. So to compete, writing came alive, too.
I was now in my 30s and trying to take stock of what I had said way back when I promised myself I would be the type of mom who would model what it meant to make her own dreams come true. Writing wanted to be as much a part of my life, my time, and my schedule, as motherhood did.
This wasn’t just a want versus a need though. It wasn’t that I wanted to write while the responsibilities of motherhood were required as a result of now having a child. BOTH were needs. I needed my child and my child needed me. But I also needed to write. A runner needs to run. A writer needs to write.
I am both mom and writer. So, how could I be both in practice?
It wasn’t as simple as putting my son in a wagon like I had with my dolls and penning a few lines while he napped. And it wasn’t realistic that when his dad came home, I just passed him off for a few hours and went into literary seclusion. Writing stayed at bay. Every now and then I tried to get into a practice of writing regularly. But like establishing a gym routine after months without one, it was hard.
Life threw more curve balls. I switched jobs. I had a miscarriage. My marriage ended. We sold the house. Everything came undone. During that time of my life, my sole focus was on being a mom. Being a mom while all of our world was shifting and changing. Being a mom and ensuring my son’s needs were met so that he felt as little impact of his father’s and my divorce as possible.
On the days when my son was with his dad, I wondered, “What about me?” The mom switch didn’t turn off because my son wasn’t with me, but he wasn’t physically in my reach to care for. His needs were not going to be met by me on those nights. Being a mom on those days took on an entirely different form. One that was passive. At first, it made me feel less like a mom. Like I was somehow stripped of that title because he was not within sight.
That time and distance apart from my son made me realize how much of my identity had become subsumed in the role of mom.
While I was – and am – ridiculously proud to be a mom, something felt out of balance, lacking purpose when I was without my son was unfamiliar to me. True, I was going through a huge transition. It was only natural to question everything, including myself. Who was I? Where had I been? Where was I going? What did I want?
During those early days of reflection, freshly separated and living back at home with my parents for a time, back in my childhood bedroom – long since redecorated for an adult – I remembered. I remembered how important writing was to me. How much a part of me it had been. It was a need- a thirst that needed to be quenched.
I remembered my belief that I would grow up to be both mom and writer. Not one or the other. Both. Not one more important than the other, but both equally necessary.
Being a writer was being true to myself. Being a mom was being true to someone else.
Both parts are required to make me feel whole. Both fuel and power me. Both lift me up and make me feel like I’m at home.