Writing & Mothering: The Hunger, The Eclipse

October 14, 2015 § 10 Comments


A guest post from Heather Frese:

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Heather Frese and two beautiful distractions

I don’t have a room of my own right now. I don’t have a desk of my own, and I sure don’t have a bed of my own—it’s filled with a husband who works 14-hour days, a toddler who frequently decides at 3 a.m. that toddler beds are overrated, and a teething, nursing baby who just needs her mommy. That’s me. Right now, my role is Mommy, and nearly everything else has been obscured. I’ve been a (mostly) non-practicing writer for the past two baby-centric years, so when I read Kelly Sundberg’s blog post on recovering from writer’s block, one paragraph jumped out at me. She writes about the “hunger” parents feel to write and how that translates into output. “But my hunger had been eclipsed by fatigue,” the paragraph ends. And that’s what I want to talk about, that eclipse. Those days, months, and years when the hunger to write goes underground; what it feels like when your Eye of the Tiger gets buried under piles of Pampers and impossibly tiny onesies; and maybe, maybe, how to get it back.

I started writing this post with the assumption that I’d lost my hunger. Because although it was something I’d wanted my entire life, something I waited 38 years to experience, I found the transition to motherhood a rupture that had the magnitude of a death. The sucker-punch of grief in reverse. Instead of a gaping canyon of loss, there was an abrupt, mountainous upsurge of life. Instead of losing someone who’d always been in my life, suddenly there was a new person who had never before existed. It changed everything. The birth of my son, much in the way of my father’s death, cut a dividing line of before and after where nothing would ever be the same.

Is it ironic that I’m too tired to work on a blog post about being too tired to write?

Here’s what former, pregnant, planning-to-stay-home-and-care-for-my-baby me thought it would be like: I’d write when the baby napped. I’d write after the baby went bed at 7 p.m., (after I’d laid him down drowsy but awake). I’d write while the baby happily played at my feet, after sleeping through the night since I put him down drowsy but awake. It would be the perfect marriage of motherhood and artistic and career aspiration. I’d have everything I ever wanted, everything.

Instead, I’m writing this in the car while the babies nap. Every fifteen minutes or so, one of them realizes the car isn’t moving and rustles around until I hit the gas. My enemies right now: traffic, long stoplights, school busses.

Most days I’m in survival mode, trying to eat, shower, and function on fragmented sleep, and in the beginning, hormones that fluctuated like a bucking bronco. At the end of the day, there’s nothing left over. By the time they’re in bed I’m too physically and mentally exhausted to do anything but scroll Facebook and pass out. Self-actualization? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

The other day, one of my friends posted this article about time and feminism, calling women’s free time “time confetti.” The bits and scraps of time are there, but it’s awfully hard to create something during them. I don’t have an answer as to how to make this part better. The only answer is get away from your babies. But 1.) childcare costs money and if you’re staying home to care for your babies there isn’t extra money, and 2.) The reason I’m staying home to care for my babies is that I want to stay home to care for my babies.

Things I’m afraid of while writing this post:

Coming off as a whiny excuse-maker.

Scaring someone who wants to publish my book.

Alienating other mothers/engaging in a “mommy war.”

But what you should also know: this is my mindful, conscious, feminist choice. So I’m not going to be very productive right now. I’m too tired for twelve a.m. writing sessions. I’m sure there are parents out there who aren’t, and maybe they’re just hungrier than I am, but damn, I’m tired. I’m trying to avoid lapsing into cliché, but maybe the way to have it all is to not have it all at the same time.

It’s hard being a writer with small children. It’s so hard. But it’s also pretty neat. Motherhood is the biggest dichotomy I’ve ever lived. It’s wonder and terror and magic and horror. It’s awesome. It’s awful. It’s all consuming, except when it’s not. At the eye of the hurricane, my hunger to write centers me. It’s still there, effervescent and alive, still there, still there, still there.

At the end of her blog post, Kelly writes that one of the keys to overcoming writer’s block to is “find some time for quiet in your life.” That’s hard to come by when you’re home alone with two babies, unless you’re home alone with two babies and a crap-ton of money for childcare. I don’t have a room of my own right now, but I’m still a writer. I’m still hungry. I don’t necessarily think it’ll get easier, but I’ll get better at finding a way. And while there’s power and beauty in the hunger to write, there’s also something lovely in the eclipse.

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Heather Frese’s fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Los Angeles Review, Front Porch, Switchback, and elsewhere. Her essay, “Fatigue,” received notable mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Essays. She received her M.F.A. from West Virginia University and is a part-time freelance writer and full-time baby wrangler living in Raleigh, N.C.

§ 10 Responses to Writing & Mothering: The Hunger, The Eclipse

  • MarinaSofia says:

    Yes, yes, yes – the fatigue! And even when they get older, time confetti is very often all we get (add money-making work and other admin things to the equation). But stick with it, I wish you the very best!

  • denizb33 says:

    Great post! I’m going through the same thing right now. The only time I can write is those brief times when I *know* the nap will take longer than an hour. Otherwise, who can focus, with one ear on baby at all times?
    Oddly enough, writing is the easy part, since I love drafting. It’s the hard work of editing that it’s harder to focus on, since I’m inclined to procrastinate on that anyway.
    I guess the main thing is to not feel guilty over our choices, and to accept each time for what it’s filled with. Hopefully there will be more writing time soon!

  • When my oldest daughter was a baby, I put her in an exersaucer and she played long enough for me to write 500 words. I thought, “Oh, this is easy! I can do this every day.”

    Nope. It happened once. She never played quietly by the computer again. Then I had a second baby and it was just all over for several years. I had a full-time job, and there was no way I was going to sacrifice my evenings to writing instead of being with my kids.

    My daughters are 9 and 6 now. We’re working on expanding that time confetti. I think it’s good for them to know that I’m working on something I’m passionate about. But that needs to be balanced with the other thing I’m passionate about–raising my daughters.

    I understand the fatigue. I felt like I didn’t quite belong to myself for those first few years and that was disorienting. It gets better.

  • GENERATION NOW says:

    Approval in the mommy world I would love hear you write about. I can tell you have an intelligent mind; I assume like many educated woman, you do not built in babysitters from grandparents to come and clean your home, take care of the children when your sick. You fit into the mommy war. I never was told that taking care of small children was wonderful.
    nOt because of the children, but because of the challenge woman have.
    If you could find friend, who has school child, maby an English professor,
    You could barter with, to have there older children who are good at entertaining little ones, at around eight to twelve. It needs to be the right fit. Some of the children are lonely latch key children, not neglected, they feel lonely- during that 3-5 time. If you get the right match, you could have two hours to write. Also, you could think of new ways to not make the children the problem, they certainly were not born to be a burden.
    They too may have things they would rather do, than society wants to sell to you. The man in your house needs to pitch in. I assume he is doing what he wants.

  • Erica Woods says:

    I’m just going to say lots of random mothering/working stuff.

    Heather it does get easier. I have three, two of them 16 months apart. And it wasn’t until they were 10, 7, and 5 that I could get back into the writing groove again. We had no money for childcare and it was hard to find other folks with children who were willing to help us. Many folks feel like “Hey, I had to endure it, so you do too.”

    I had my babies in New York City and contrary to what people think, it was very, very lonely. My friends were off being moguls and I was being vomited on three times a week. I would tackle my husband when he came in the door for human companionship and words that had more than two syllables. So I get it.

    Do whatever it is you like. If you want to sleep, I say sleep. In fact, I say sleep A LOT! If you want to write, then write. If your budget allows you to. But whatever you choose, don’t feel guilty (easier said then done I know). But guilt just takes up time and space. Your babies will be fine if you take a nap, and they’ll be fine if you write a paragraph. Because you’re going to come back to them with a fresh mind and be a happier mom.

    Also, enjoy your babies. Try to reject all the “perfection” stuff and just have a good time with them. This time goes super fast and before you know it, you’re touring high schools and middle schools (my life this year).

    And remember that you’re doing a great job. Not enough people will tell you that. YOU’RE DOING A GREAT JOB AS A MOM AND A WRITER! And eventually you’ll find your niche and you and your partner will find what works for you both. And you’re not alone, I write lots of blog posts at the bus stop or at car pools and doctor’s appointments. I’ve written while waiting for AAA to come pick up my car. Or at the airport. I call it “writing in the crevices of my life”.

    And I too have no room of my own. I have a desk, but my chair was commandeered by my children so I write on my bed and my nightstand in a makeshift desk and my bed is usually scattered with crap. The desk just holds stuff and is usually a mess. But creations don’t care, they come alive anywhere.

    I’m in Raleigh too. So if you need a should to vent at feel free to email me.

    etucker38@gmail.com

    Good luck to you!

    Erica

  • eliana23 says:

    You and all the commenters–yes. My youngest is 6 and only the past year has involved my brain working in long stretches of time again. Crevices or confetti are ok but nothing like actual hours where you are not interrupted.

  • Jan Priddy says:

    Thank you for this. I remember experiencing exactly what you are talking about—two preschool children and a fear about getting back to IT. A friend visited and asked me how I felt about “giving it all up.” I cried for days.

    I didn’t give up anything. I chose to do one (and a half) thing at a time.

  • […] Frese wrote a great piece about mothering and writing over on Brevity. In it she discusses what happens when […]

  • […] Frese wrote a great piece about mothering and writing over on Brevity. In it she discusses what happens when […]

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