Full Circle

motherhoodIt doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago (It was) that I sat across the counter from my mother, her elbows propped up on the blue Formica of her kitchen while I laid bare the troubles and worries of my pubescent heart. I can’t remember any one specific conversation, (I’m sure they were all riveting and incredibly important) but I do remember that she was there whenever I needed someone to listen, willing to give me her eyes and her focus and most of all, her time.

I never thought about what that time meant to her. I didn’t think about what she might be sacrificing, what dreams or pursuits she might not be pursuing. I didn’t think about the sleep she wasn’t getting or the books she wasn’t reading or the conversations she wasn’t having.

Of course I didn’t think of those things. My head was too full of teenage boyfriends and friendships and swim meets and SAT scores and all the general injustices that accompany adolescence. My head was too full of my own future to spare anyone else a thought.

But now my future has landed me here. In my own mother’s shoes with a house full of children, the oldest starting high school in just a few months, the next two on the brink of those critical teenage years. Suddenly, I am on the other side of the counter at 11:47 PM when my eyes are screaming for sleep and my husband is drifting off and I haven’t had a conversation with him since 1963 and if I could just say hello . . . But there are still bills to pay and emails to answer and laundry to fold and there’s my daughter on the stairs, still awake because she just needs to talk. (SHE. JUST. NEEDS. TO. TALK. At Midnight. When everyone else is sleeping. And there is an early appointment that means everyone even the three year old needs to be out of bed in six hours. Wearing something besides pajamas.)

So we talk. For however long it takes (FOREVER) and with whatever words are necessary. (Have you tried…? Have you thought about…? Those feelings are real… I understand… I hear you… I hear you… I hear you…)

I channel my mother in those moments. My mother, and God, because heaven knows I don’t have enough patience to handle them on my own. The brutal honest truth is that sometimes I have dig deep – DEEEEEEP – inside myself to find those “Let’s talk about it” words. Because I don’t want to talk about anything. Really I just want to take a shower by myself without anybody knocking on the door and telling me they need their blue jeans dry before the morning and also did I write them that check they asked for because the field trip is tomorrow and they will not be allowed on the bus if they don’t have the check IN THEIR HAND and can I just bring the checkbook to you right now and you can write it for me real quick? Here’s a pen. And a towel so you can dry your hand.

How didn’t I see? How didn’t I realize how tired my mother was?

I didn’t sit down to write a tribute to my mother, though she most certainly deserves one. I didn’t even really sit down to complain, though I’ve managed to do a fair bit of that. I suppose I’m just reflecting on the funny way life brings us full circle, turning us around so we see things from one side, and then the other.

Because, now I see both sides. I know how much my mother’s listening meant to me because I lived it. And I’ve got that knowledge to go on when it absolutely isn’t humanly possible for me to listen/help/comfort one more time. Maybe ever again if I don’t just get some sleep. When I am JUST DONE, I recognize that surely my mother had those moments too. And she survived.

There’s a phrase my mother used to say that never held a shred of meaning for me in the moment.

“If there’s a war in the middle east,” she would say, “you children would find a way to make it my fault.” When that sentiment is echoing around in my brain, (because yes, Mom, my kids do the same thing to me) I wish I could pull my children clean through to my side, fast forward them into adulthood so they could SEE the injustice of being blamed for so many things. (My shoe is lost. My homework is ruined. I don’t like this dinner. My uniform is dirty.) Somehow though, I don’t think the lesson would be quite the same if the learning happened that way– All look, and no live. I don’t really think it would stick.

Instead, we’re left to push through our own experiences, collecting wisdom like tiny grains of sand, hoping one day they might add up to something big enough to hold in our hands. I realize now I shouldn’t be all that surprised if, in a few more years, I recognize that whatever wisdom I’m holding in my hands looks an awful lot like what my mother is holding in hers.

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Writing and Mother Guilt. Where’s the Balance?

balanceSo  I can’t promise this isn’t going to get a little ugly, guys. I’m feeling the need for some good old fashioned truth telling. Some full disclosure, laying it on the line. Are you ready?

A few weeks back I wrote a post about balancing motherhood and writing. I still stand behind everything I wrote in that post. But that day, I was feeling optimistic and happy and in control. Today? Not so much. This might be what they call, the other side of the coin…

Here’s the thing. Being a Mom and a writer at the same time is really hard. Okay, maybe scratch that. Being a Mom and only a Mom is really hard. It is busy, and exhausting, and mentally trying. It is bone weary, patience wearing, heart wrenching work. It is HARD. Last night I told my kids that sometimes being a Mom is like running on a hamster wheel, doing the same things over and over. You wash the same dishes, you fold the same clothes, you pick up the same messes over and over only so they can be undone all over again. The thing is, there’s no way to get off that stupid hamster wheel because your running is what’s generating the energy to keep everything else in the house going. (A note: My kids help, okay? They work like crazy and fold laundry and do lots and lots of chores. I’m not their slave. They earn their keep. But I’m still in charge. They’re little still. They need supervision. I still have to help them help. Know what I mean?)

And it isn’t just the menial work of maintaining a house that feels hard. The mental pressures of being a Mom are tough too. When things don’t go right, everyone looks to Mom. When someone is unhappy, they look to Mom. When someone needs to finish a project or needs a new Sunday shirt or needs help practicing an instrument/learning a new skill/perfecting a cartwheel, they look to Mom. The need never stops. There is always someone who needs something or wants to tell you something or needs you to fix just one more thing.

I get it. I know that I will blink and they will all be grown. I know that there will come a time when I miss having so many happy children around me, that I will miss the noise and the chaos. (I don’t know… I kinda doubt that last one.) I GET IT. But sometimes, right now, for example, I just need to say out loud that it’s hard. I’m not wishing the time I have with my children away. I’m not counting down the days until they are grown. Really, truly, I love what I do. But I’m tired, guys. So much of the time, my brain is tired.

And here’s where the conversation gets dicey. See, I have this thing that I love to do. Writing makes my brain NOT tired. It makes my brain happy. If I had the time, I could sit and write all day. Grow roots out of my bum, forget to eat, sleep. Obviously, I have six very good reasons why this shouldn’t happen. (And also, food is good. I don’t really want to forget to eat.) But writing makes me HAPPY–genuinely, full smiles happy.

Which is tricky. Because mothering makes me happy too. Mothering makes me happy because it’s what brings me closest to God. It humbles me, it strengthens me, it teaches me to rely on God when I feel used up and drained out. In many ways, it sanctifies me, because I know that through serving and loving and caring for my children, I am becoming a better person. It is a happiness that comes from outside myself–a happiness that is rich and full because, well, these kids are pretty amazing.

Writing, on the other hand, is a very me-focused happiness. I get lost in the worlds of my novels. I feel real and strong emotion for my characters. I feel smart, and useful and validated. Sometimes it’s just writing related activities–working on a conference planning committee, or networking with other authors, or working as a critique partner. Doing these things, I feel like I am challenging the brain inside my head to do wonderful things, things that are far more stimulating than, say, unloading the dishwasher for the 300th time.

I guess the million dollar question is where’s the balance? I’d be lying if I didn’t say that every second I spend writing doesn’t affect my role as a mother. Because mothering is FULL TIME PLUS OVERTIME ALL THE TIME work. It doesn’t stop. With six kids in the house, homeschooling half of them, music lessons, church service, sports, general household maintenance, and just ALL THE THINGS, I could stay busy from sun up to sun down and still have work left for the following day. When I’m writing, (or doing writerly things) there is always something on hold. And that’s hard. It’s hard not to feel guilty. It’s hard not to feel like there’s something I could be doing with my time that might benefit my children a little more. Except, if I never wrote, I would be losing a part of myself that brings me a great deal of joy and satisfaction.

I want my life to be about my kids. I want to be a good Mom. But also, I need my life to be a little about me too. I’ve heard people say that by taking care of my own needs, I’ll be doing more for my kids in the long run. And in theory, I totally get it. It’s only in application that it still feels hard.

Balance is an elusive thing. I wonder, sometimes, if I will ever figure it out. I do know I won’t stop trying. I will keep mothering and (even if it’s only at 2 am) I will keep writing.

What challenges your sense of balance in life? How do you stay focused on the good things?

Frequently Asked Questions: How do you Balance Motherhood and Writing?

pexels-photo-356079So, here’s the thing. I think people ask this question a lot because I have SO MANY CHILDREN. There are six of them. Most of the time, taking care of six kids feels like enough to fill my day four times without spare time to pee, let alone write a book. So I’m never actually sure how to answer. Some days, I don’t balance it. I do the very best I can, and go easy on myself when it just doesn’t work out.

For many writers, the key to success is writing every single day. And I get it. When you’re immersed in your characters and you’re feeling your story, and everything is working and coming together, it’s critical to keep the pace going. I absolutely believe there will be a time and season of my life that will allow me to write every single day. Right now? I’m just not in it.

And that’s okay.

The reality of my day-to-day life is still diapers and cartoons and home school and music lessons. It is late night conversations with an almost teenager and games of Yahtzee with the twins and dinner on the table and laundry for 8 people. (That word. It deserves to be all caps. LAUNDRY. If I could make it a mountain shaped word, I would. Because that’s what is sitting behind me as I type. A giant, leaning mountain of laundry.)

So I don’t write everyday and I don’t stress about it. Though, when I am deeply involved in a project, I will write more days than I don’t. I tend to work in spurts; for three or four weeks I’ll write three or four days a week, and then I’ll take a step back and breathe for a week or two. I’ve found this helps me maintain focus and keeps me from getting  lost in the worlds that I write, rather than the world I actually, uh, live in myself. I also made a commitment when I started this whole writing gig (back when there were only 4 babies instead of 6) that I wouldn’t write during the day, when little ones were awake. I have this fear of my children discussing their childhood as grown ups…

“What was life like for you as a kid?”

“Well we learned to take care of ourselves cause Mom was behind her laptop all the time…”

I can’t see my kids’ faces when I’m staring at a screen. And also, if I’m writing and I am interrupted, I’m kind of a monster. Mean. Snappy. Totally irrational. Because the thoughts… I don’t want to lose them and if I have to answer a question or fix a glass of milk or tie a shoe or read a story I. WILL. BE. SO. MAD. Which, you know, is entirely unfair to the two year old who can’t exactly fix his own milk. So I write very late at night or very early in the morning when I am alone and the house is quiet. And I exist on very few hours of sleep. Which is something I’m good at because, hello, we already discussed this. SIX KIDS.

The truth is, it’s still very much a work in progress. I wish I could say I always feel perfectly content with the way things roll, but that wouldn’t be the honest to goodness truth. Some days I long for more time to write, and some days I think I’m too distracted by it all and hope the family isn’t suffering for it.

I’ve written about it before–this desire I have to keep all in proper perspective. I’ll link to a few of the posts below.

Just Write? Or maybe just Sleep.

Priorities