On Being a Writer and a Mommy

Before I had James, I was working on the first draft of a novel. It wouldn’t be the first novel manuscript I’d completed, but it was going to be the first that wasn’t absolutely ridiculous. I started it before conception, and as soon as I announced my pregnancy, all my mom-writer friends said, “Finish your book before the baby is born!”

Honestly, I thought they were being overly cautious, but I did finish the rough draft pre-baby! I felt so accomplished. And because of the type of writer I am, I didn’t plan on revising for a few months (I can’t revise without some distance). So, I waited. I had James. I didn’t sleep. I pumped for the baby (for more info on that lovely period of my life, click here). I ate whenever I was hungry, which was often. I cuddled my newborn. I cried. But I didn’t write, or revise, or even think about my story.

Until one day, I did. Months and months after the rough draft was done and my son was born, I decided it was time to polish the very rough story I had churned out. So I did. In stolen moments while James slept or played, in moments when I could have been doing laundry or sweeping, I revised.

It was a small revision and I knocked it out relatively quickly, but man, did it take it out of me! Suddenly, I couldn’t just sit down for twenty minutes or two hours and write. I had to make sure the baby was OK, dry, fed, happy, and then I might get five or ten minutes in broken intervals. But, I did it! I revised (sort of), and I got through every page of my manuscript.

Well, as any writer knows, one revision is just the beginning of the beginning. So, I started a second revision–this one to be more in depth, more brutal, than the last. Only now my baby (who was immobile the last time around) is a toddler, and he is into E V E R Y T H I N G. If I thought it was hard to steal a minute before, now it’s nearly impossible. Nap time is mostly off limits, because I have an online job with Signature HealthCARE that I have to cram in there (oh, and showering every now and again is kind of nice). I could work on it after James is in bed, but that’s really the only time my husband and I have to talk without being interrupted every few seconds by sweet (and sometimes not-s0-sweet) toddler sounds. I could get up early, but…sleep!

So, how does one be a good mother, which I really hope I am, and still pursue her writing, her art? How does one maintain her identity in a sea of diapers and dried bits of food and tantrums and spoiled milk stains? By getting creative. While he eats, I sit with my computer open, and between giving him handfuls of cereal or torn up bits of veggies and chicken or spoonfuls of yogurt, I revise a few sentences. If I have to go to the bathroom, the laptop goes, too. If he’s playing happily for a few minutes in the floor, the laptop is out and the fingers fly until I have to get up to make sure he doesn’t pull the TV down on his head.

I may not have the time I once did–I used to stay up until three or four in the morning, writing until my fingers ached joyfully–but having to fight for the time to work on what I’m passionate about somehow makes it more real, more substantial.

So, mommas and mommas-to-be, don’t give up on what you love. Whether it’s writing, playing music, something super athletic and amazing, painting, other arts and crafts, whatever, you can find time for it, even if that time looks nothing like it did before. Be an amazing mommy and still maintain that beautiful, unique identity! If I can do it, even in bits and pieces, anyone can.

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When Moms Give Advice

When I was pregnant, I got all sorts of advice from other moms–some solicited, some not. A lot of that advice was wonderful! And some of it made me cry and cry. Then, after I had my son, I got MORE advice with the same stats–I asked for some, I got some I didn’t ask for, some was great, some made me feel like the worst mom in the world.

Because of this, I always said I would never give another mom advice unless she asked me, and then I would try to take into account her situation and not just force upon her the “truth” of my own situation, as if my experience in motherhood was the ultimate experience that everyone else needed to live by.

So, naturally, before I even realize what I’m doing, I start handing out advice left and right. “When James was a baby this REALLY worked. You should try it.” “When I was pregnant, the ONLY thing that worked was this. You should do this. Can I help you get started?”I was that mom all of a sudden. Yikes.

Once I realized what I was doing, I reigned myself in. I’m happy to say that now I limit my mommy/baby/wifey advice to the people who either ask me directly, or who happen to get stuck in a conversation with me where those topics are relevant.

But, here and now, I have a piece of advice I need to share with ALL moms, but to give that advice, I need to tell a story first:

The other day, I walked out of the living room to go get something, and left James playing in his play pen. I come back, and he’s holding my coffee cup–which was on a table that should have been far enough away from him–and it’s empty (don’t worry, the coffee had been cold for a while). I take the cup from him and look to where it was sitting, and there’s a huge puddle of coffee in the floor. Very calmly, I go to get towels and cleaner to clean it up. As I’m cleaning, James tries to climb the wall of his pen. Afraid he’ll fall, I go to grab him, only to fall myself, causing the pen wall to fall and a huge piece to snap off. I yelped and James started to cry, so I pick him up to comfort him, only to discover that he’s had a blow out (for those of you who aren’t parents, that means poopy diaper explosion). I take him into his room, clean him up, and put him in his crib so I can fix the play pen and clean up the coffee. I got back into the living room, and as I’m crossing the room, I step on a hair clip of mine and it shatters, pieces going everywhere (not to mention my foot didn’t feel great). So here I am, smelling faintly of baby poop and stale coffee, with hundreds of plastic shards all around, mixed in with my toddler’s toys, with a play pen that needs to be fixed. And all I could do was laugh for a minute, push my hair out of my eyes, and get to it.

So, what’s the moral here? What’s the advice that I really need to share with all the mommies who read this?

Love your babies, hold on tight, do your best, and always expect the unexpected. 

No matter what you do, there will be someone out there who thinks you’re 100% right, and another person who thinks you’re 100% wrong. Breastfeed, bottle feed, rock to sleep, sleep train, purees, mashes, baby led weaning–someone is going to agree with you on your choices and someone else is going to tell you that you’re doing it all wrong. So what do you do? Ignore them. Do what’s best for you baby. Research things you aren’t sure about. Talk to your pediatrician. Talk to your mom, your grandmas, your aunts, your female cousins, your friends who’ve had kids. Talk to your husband or partner. But at the end of the day, when you’re standing there overseeing the huge mess that you’re baby has contributed to, smelling a little funky with food (or something else) on your shirt, and a smile on your baby’s face because he’s spending time with you, know that you’re doing a great job. We mommies are a tribe of warrior women who raise babies and learn to solve all problems. We should come together in person, online, in spirit, and support each other in our decisions. If you’re a mommy who loves her babies, then you, my friend, are a freaking super hero.

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As a bonus, here’s a totally irrelevant photo of my baby chowing down on a lemon!