mommy's a writer
16 February 2000
Who am I?

I’m a writer. I sit at the dinner table dreaming story points and characters and essay ideas and Dan says "where are you right now?" because I’m obviously not here and now.

Uh, what was that thought? I got lost. I have to start again.

I’m mother to a toddler and as I sat here on the bed last night typing the first paragraph on my sleek Powerbook, Damian decided to get out of the tub. Wrapped securely in a towel, he was transferred from Daddy’s arms to my lap. He nursed, played with my hair. Dan fastened the diaper and we both slid his pajamas onto his only slightly pudgy legs. Writer switched off, Mommy switched on.

Who am I, again?

Yesterday afternoon I used my precious sitter time for a dental appointment. When I got home at five, I still had an hour. Quick, fire up that computer! Quick, no time for solitaire or stat-checking or web browsing, gotta milk every minute of that sixty. I asked Jami if she could stay an extra hour. She said she was meeting friends to go drumming later, how about a half hour, stay till six thirty?


An extra half hour it was. Room to breathe. Specifically, to breathe life into my scene. The climactic scene of my new script, the scene I thought would be so easy but has shifted and twisted and become something unexpectedly tricky.

I opened the script file, got to work. Thought and wrote and groaned and deleted and jotted down my frustrations in my "scene notes" file. I finally realized I was trying to make the scene fit my theoretical structure, not its organic one, so I gave in and let it have its say. The muse was with me, and the words flowed again. And all was joy and harmony and --

-- what’s that? The thump-thump-thump of Baby Gap sock-clad feet coming down the hall. The giggle and "maa-maa mee-mee mah-mee" of a kid who’s more than ready for his mother, who knows it’s six p.m. even though he can’t read a clock.

Writer Interrupted. Writer Frustrated. Writer left hungering. Just a few more lines of dialogue, just to the end of the scene? But writer is now mother and mother doesn’t have time for scenes or scripts or even computers. (Well, except for web surfing and email that can be read while nursing, that can be responded to one-handed in cryptic telegraphed sentence fragments.)

"Maybe you should take off after all," I told Jami. "By the time we’ve coaxed him out of here, I’ll only have fifteen extra minutes, not enough to be worth it."

She left. I piled a bunch of kiddie books on the bed, wrote another few lines. Lingered in writer mode another few moments, anything to make the transition easier. But then Damian got restless and I popped into full mom mode. We chased each other around the living room, giggling. Yes, both of us. What, a mom can’t giggle maniacally?

I’ve been talking here about the trouble segueing from writer to mom, but it works the other way too. Sometimes when Jami comes I’m not done playing or cuddling. I’m not ready to relinquish my hold, and when I do -- when I come into the bedroom and settle back against the pillows, Powerbook on my lap -- I stare at the screen as if it could speak. Hoping it’ll type the words for me, because I sure as hell don’t know what to write. I’m not there. I’m back in the living room, listening to the giggle and shriek of my child playing with another woman.

I’m a writer. It’s defined my identity for years. It’s what I love and hate to do. I feel like I’m not completely alive unless I’m in the middle of spinning one or more stories, creating new daydreams all the time. It gives me intense satisfaction and I’d miss it horribly if had to stop and devote myself full time to being a mom. I’d feel strangled and half-alive. I need to write like I need to breathe.

But I’m a mother as much or more so and that definition slipped into my sense of self sometime during the pregnancy. Probably when I first saw Damian on the ultrasound at eighteen weeks, when the way one tiny foot was propped against the other thigh reminded me of myself and the curve of his brow and nose bespoke a distinct little human being. I didn’t fall in love, not then, but I recognized for the first time what an awesome responsibility it is to hold a person’s life in your hands. And I became a mother in that moment.

I got back to my writing a month after Damian was born. I sat there during naps or when Dan was rocking him to sleep and tried to dive into the computer. I was lucky: I was doing a rewrite and it didn’t take much creative juice. I could ease my way back in. I started back more fully at three months post-partum, when Damian’s first sitter started working twelve hours a week. Now it’s up to sixteen. Dan says if we have more money, I should get Jami to come full time. I say no, I want that extra time in the mornings with my son. That time is precious to me. We run errands, we play, we hang out, I watch him explore the front lawn. I get to see who he is up close.

I have the best of both worlds, most people would say. I say that too. I get to have a career and a child and taste more fully of each than a woman who’s had to make the choice one way or the other. I’m very lucky. But it’s hard too.

The thing about being a writer is that you’re always home and at work. There’s no strict "now I’m home", "oh, now I’m at work" division. The computer is always on, the kid is always around. It blends into one big write/play/write/nurse/make dinner/cuddle/write-some-more jumble.

I write as much as possible these days; I’ve got a fire in my belly, I’ve unleashed my muse from the dungeon she’s been in for the past few years. I’m coming into my own, finally, and all I want to do these days is write. It tickles my brain and makes me happy.

But there’s more to life, isn’t there? Motherhood pulls me back into the world I can hear, touch, smell, see. When I get silly with Damian, he glows with happiness and reminds me of why I wanted a child in the first place.

I wanted a child for the moment when he gives my nose a big open mouthed kiss and laughs hysterically. Also when, after he cries, irritable at the world, I settle into the rocking chair and he lays his head on my shoulder, quiet and trusting. And I think, "I can be this to him, I can mean love and comfort and home base." I wanted a child for the fun and the comfort and the hugeness of it all. Being a mother makes me more empathic, makes me fiercer, gives me a center. It pulls me out of the writing-is-all mode. Reminds me of who I am.

I am a writer and a mother. They pull apart and meld together. Yin and yang. Call and answer. Parts of a whole.

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