“Lower your standards and keep writing.” ~ William Stafford
It’s not easy for me to say I’m a writer and believe it.
I know I am a writer because whenever I meet someone who tells me they’re a writer, I feel a tug of longing in my heart and in my bones.
I know I’m a writer because I think about writing all the time. I know I’m a writer because I love to write.
And yet this afternoon, for all the actual writing I’ve done, I could have had a nap, watched a movie, gone for a bike ride and cooked dinner, instead of giving myself a headache trying to get words on paper.
Let me explain.
I’m a mother.
And even on days like today, when my daughter goes to her grandmother’s for the afternoon so that I can write, there is no magical “on” button which makes the words flow.
“Writing is 90% procrastination. It is a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.” ~ Paul Rudnick
This morning I wake at 4.30 a.m. (yep, half an hour after Rudnick is just getting started). I can’t get back to sleep, so I doze until my one year old stirs at 5:15.
It’s been a good night—she only woke up once, and went back to sleep quite quickly.
But she’s not her usual happy self. She has a molar coming through and needs her nappy changing. In the half dawn light splintering through the curtains, I change her and hold her and sing to her until she feels better. Then I carry her downstairs and balance her on my hip while I prepare a bottle.
We read books together. We put her raincoat and wellies on over her pyjamas and go outside in the garden to splash in the puddles and play in the sandpit.
I change her wet, sandy clothes. I give her yogurt for breakfast, then clean most of it up off the floor while I chase her around trying to get her to eat a mouthful of banana. We empty the contents of the vegetable box into the fridge, then take it all out again. We repeat. She rubs banana into the sofa, I clean it up. We repeat.
The tooth is hurting her and the only thing which calms her down is splashing her hands under a running tap. For half an hour.
So we change her wet clothes again. When the crying worsens, I give her some infant paracetamol and put her favourite TV show on. Mostly because I want to sit down.
Despite my weekly pledge to cut down on caffeine and sugar, I’m on my third cup of sweet tea today. And I’m running out of ideas.
It’s only half past eight.
The reason I am telling you all this is not to paint a picture of how tough it is to be a mum.
It’s actually a huge privilege to be there to comfort my daughter, to play with her, to be there for the tears and the giggles; the joy and the drudgery, the patterns and routines only I can know this well—from the moment she wakes to the moment she falls asleep in my arms.
Besides this, there are people in the world who are, to put it mildly, dealing with some heavy shit right now. I chose motherhood, and though it’s not always easy, it is the best job in the world. Not a day goes by when I’m not overwhelmed with love and immense gratitude.
Nor am I writing some sort of “why I’m a stay-at-home mum” manifesto.
I don’t care to add to the chorus of women—mothers or not, working or not—who spend a lot of time justifying their positions to each other.
You don’t see men doing that.
Instead we could be doing what women do best, which is being compassionate and supportive towards each other, amazing beings that we are.
What I am doing is trying to explain why I might be having trouble producing a coherent sentence.
If you are a writer—and this applies to dads and carers as well as mums, though this is written from a mother’s perspective—with a baby, babies or young children, I salute you. I know that you write in the snatches of time when your kids are asleep, when the housework is finished, when your day job is done and when you could really use a rest instead.
I know you write when little hands paw at your pencil or your laptop and little voices which you can’t ignore constantly ask you to do something else.
If you have more than one child, another job or no-one to help with childcare and you still manage to write: I am in awe.
In fact, if you have more than one child full stop, and have managed to retain the slightest shred of sanity: I am in awe.
Maybe one day, if my family grows as I hope it will, I will look back on this and be in awe of myself a little bit too.
Though it’s been a good while since I got a really decent sleep, I have one amazing little girl and caring for her full-time takes up my days (and nights).
Motherhood has not, as I thought it might, cured me of serial procrastination. It’s just that now, I can fit a whole day’s worth of procrastination into one of my daughter’s afternoon naps.
And yet, more than ever, I feel a sense of urgency with regards to writing.
I owe it to myself to write, and to my children, too.
For if they are to grow up knowing that their creative selves are of great worth, and that the dreams they hold in their hearts must be listened to and nurtured and followed, then I must treat myself with the same respect.
I may not get published (but there’s nothing to be lost in trying).
And there’s not much money in this game. But even if I have down days or downright dreadful days or weeks of churning out utter crap just to find one sentence I’m happy with—that sentence might just be the start of something good.
Something great, even.
But most importantly, the start of something.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Carrie Marzo / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Tomislav Zebic / Pixoto