After Birthing Three Babies and One Manuscript: 20 Ways I Am a Writer Who is Also a Mother
May 7, 2021 § 8 Comments
By Anri Wheeler
I cringe at the term “mom writer.” I am a writer who is also a mother.
“Two more minutes!” yelled frequently, doesn’t break my flow. Sometimes it lubricates it.
When I can, I write at a library. I work for a university, thus have access to an embarrassment of library options. I have one for cranking when I’ve procrastinated, one for early stage ideating when I want to stare out a window, and one for when I don’t want to see anyone I know.
I reject “show, don’t tell.” So much of my culture has been passed down through telling. I’ve been socialized—as a woman, an Asian American, a mother—to put others first. I am the keeper of stories ripe for the telling. I must open my mouth wide and unload all the things I’ve been holding.
I am not a sit on the floor and play mom. I tried it. I stayed home, joined a mommy group, went to the baby music class. Each time the teacher called me “mom,” it felt jarring. I’d disappeared into a blanket identity. Then I registered for a writing class at a continuing ed school and was reminded of what 8-year-old me already knew: I want to be a writer when I grow up.
I find an amazing writing school four subway stops from home. I join a supportive community that knows me as writer first, mother only when I choose. On the creaky fifth floor above a piano dealer, I carve out space for my creative process. No more “I’ll do it once she’s…” For there will always be another milestone to finish that sentence.
I pay other women to watch my children so I can write about the ways birthing rips you open; how some parts can’t be so easily stitched back together. I don’t have time to consider the irony of this, I am on the clock and need to make the most of my freedom.
“Mommy, can you read to me?” is the hardest question to say no to.
My girls find the gummy bears I hide in my desk. It was a rookie mistake, keeping them next to the postage stamps. I laugh and tell them they’ve aced a crucial part of the creative process: motivational snacks.
The pandemic hits, libraries close. I sit at my desk, trying to keep the door shut to the rest of the house. But I can still hear them. Just like in those early days when the slightest cry from the crib would have me on my feet, I am attuned to their jostling. I cannot block out the fighting and crying. I cover my ears, but then I can’t type. I type, but I can’t focus on my words, I sense them moving around below me.
My fifth grader’s English class participates in NaNoWriMo. She writes 6000 words about a cheerleader who lives in Malibu. The cheerleader is blonde, like my daughter, and biracial with a Japanese mother, like me. That November, she writes more than me. I am in a dry spell, the rejections relentless. My daughter’s story is carefree exposition, I am jealous of its ease.
I bake a grapefruit cake. It is a snow day and the girls help weigh the flour and whip the glaze. I hope they feel my love baked between the slivers of zest dotting the cake, as my Zoom meetings last through dinner and dessert. By the time I cut myself a piece, the girls are asleep. It tastes bitter and sweet. I eat alone in the dark kitchen, reminded that grapefruits are my mother’s favorite fruit.
“Can you floss me?” “Are you on a call?” “It’s been over two minutes!” constantly pull me out of the worlds I am building.
I wonder whether landing an agent, selling my book, grasping its hardbound spine that represents the culmination of hundreds of missed dinners and bedtimes and afternoons helping with homework or laughing over hot chocolate, will be worth it. I know this is not a fair equation. I ponder it anyway, as I try to get just one more paragraph written before rushing to kiss them goodnight.
My pandemic escape fantasies grow ever more elaborate. I pause mid-sentence to text a girlfriend, “Is it Friday yet?” or “Hawaii. I’m packing now. See you there.” And yet the most exquisite fantasy is still the corner desk on the ground floor of the library. The one with enforced silence. I will savor the pastries I smuggle in, as food, too, is forbidden. Every once in a while I will look up to see the orange cat who lurks around campus has found his way into the library again.
One of the best moments of my 40th birthday was when my 10-year-old daughter said, “I’m so proud of you, Mommy. I can’t wait to read your book.”
The words I write are precious because they are part of a conscious choice to put me first. They are scraped out of my brain, at capacity with all of the monotonous details of parenthood. The urgency I feel is also that of wanting to show them I can do this thing called writing while holding down my day job and mothering them too. That even if they are the only ones to read it, all of this was not in vain.
Sometimes a list essay is all I have time for, composed in the fragments of time between all the other things. I still need to consider its arc, but less so as compared to other pieces. Or, maybe more so.
To my three strong daughters, I am a mother who is also a writer, and that’s okay too. Their stories, their narrative.
I’ve given up on my door ever staying closed.
Anri Wheeler is a biracial writer, diversity, equity, and inclusion educator at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and mother to three strong daughters. She is a graduate of GrubStreet’s Memoir Incubator program and VONA. Her work has been published in The Boston Globe, Cognosenti, Hippocampus, Pangyrus, and others. More at anriwheeler.com.