Monday, June 27, 2011

Doing it all, to try to have it all. And struggling.

I have a book coming out in a few days.

The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken isn't the first novel I've penned, but it's the first one to become an actual book. That is, barring any further calamities like the one that struck Thursday afternoon, ten minutes before my beloved regular sitter shipped out to enjoy a much deserved long weekend with her family.

Two thirds of the way through what I'd hoped would be a final proofread of the gorgeously type set pages, I realized a good six or seven pages had vaporized. Disappeared. Without a trace. And not from any one spot in the book.

Due to what technologically limited people like myself would call a "hiccup," the last round of my changes had been only partially accepted. Some new passages were there. Others weren't. And upon closer examination I realized that a good three or four pages that should have been struck forever persisted to exist on the unalterable PDFs under my nose.

I did what any professional would do. I panicked. I hyperventilated. I took the Grape back from the sitter and wondered if it would constitute very, very bad parenting to give him a little something to help him sleep over the next day or two, so that I could fix the conspicuous holes in my novel. (Answer: probably yes).

I spent the next day, Friday, silently freaking out while playing with the Grape - who must have detected a disturbance in the force because he flatly refused to nap. All afternoon. Then I cursed myself for not hooking the kid on television. Though honestly, since he's never watched a show nor even expressed interest in having the television turned on, I can't bring myself to use the automatic sitter. At least not yet.

As I watched the Grape play in the library, I struggled to figure out when I could get four or five (awake and alert) hours to do my meticulous manuscript repair project. And the whole time, I felt guilty for not feeling more fully present and engaged with my kid. He's only little once, and the weeks go by fast. I have this persistent nagging feeling that whenever I'm not focused on him, I'm missing out, creating regrets. Nobody dies wishing they spent less time playing with their kid, right?

For the first time, I unequivocally understood why so many professional women, even those with the luxury to work less than full time, opt out. It's really very simple: I hate the feeling that I'm giving neither endeavor (the baby or the book, in my case) a hundred per cent.

And I presume I'm not alone in feeling this way.

Promoting The Hazards could easily be a full time job. I could also spend twenty to forty hours a week re-writing another novel I have in the hopper (not that I have that kind of time), and/or starting a third book that's been percolating in my mind for quite some time. I feel pressure to get the words down before the story loses its moment in my head.

And I waste an inordinate amount of time losing sleep over how little I accomplish each week. As if that makes anything better.

I envy people who can switch mental gears in a heartbeat, who can work in small, ten to twenty minute spurts throughout the day. I've never been good at that. When I try to write a few minutes here, a few more there, the result is usually a redundant, disjointed mess that I end up reconciling to the trash.

Thankfully, R. took the Grape on an all-day field trip to visit his grandparents on Saturday. I spent almost nine hours fixing the novel. All is back on track.

But Saturday got me thinking. How do professionals with small kids and without family/friend support networks make it work? How do you tell a client you need to jump off an important call to go collect your kid? How do you keep a part time schedule from morphing into full time, or more? How do you deal with unpredictable travel? If you opt out totally, are you bored beyond words, happy and amazed you didn't step off the treadmill sooner, or somewhere in between? Can those moms who go to work at an office come home and disconnect from work? Or do clients and supervisors employ technology to invade your dinners and play dates and story times? Finally, is "work from home" a Godsend or a curse from the devil? I.e. Are you always doing both, but doing neither especially well?

Because that's how I feel, much of the time. Yet I know my kid is happy, and my novel is good. Maybe life is just messier now. That's tough for my Type A self to accept, but what's the alternative? Less time with my kid? Less zealous pursuit of my dream? Neither feels tempting. So I forge an imperfect balance, and make peace with the fact that all my writing endeavors will take longer than they would have pre-baby.


  1. Oh, Mari. First, the golden rule of thumb that has served me very well through my 12 years of motherhood (and counting): NO GUILT. The truth is, we American moms lucky enough to have such problems plague ourselves with the misconception that we're supposed to be *fully present round the clock (or almost)* for our kids. Huh? How many generations of parents before ours actually were? (Answer: none). We make way too big of a deal of not being "fully present and engaged" enough with our kids. Come over to my house if you want proof that it has little or no impact on their happiness or self-confidence. And if you're still not convinced, read Perfect Madness by Judith Warner, or the Time mag cover article a year or so ago about Helicopter Parenting.

    As for your question about "how do professionals do it?" I'm one of them. And again, the trick is: no guilt. If you feel guilty, the kids feel it and get anxious and angry. If you need day care, get day care. I did. It worked out just fine. If you need after-school care, get that, too. And if you're working at home as I do and need to tell them you're not available to talk yet when they come home from school, do it. Be consistent and firm yet loving, and always come through on your promise to give them your attention at a specified time. They quickly learn the importance of adults having other priorities.

    And it's ok to hop off a conference call for a "family emergency." I've done it, and my boss, a work-at-home dad, does it too. It's also ok to call in a sitter so you can throw together a last-minute, unforeseen business trip -- which actually can be as therapeutic and good for your mood and patience with your kids as a trip to the spa! Eventually learn how to have a silent conversation about work constantly going in your head (because it IS hard to disconnect) as your kids rattle on about Harry Potter or how they hung upside down on a set of monkey bars. As long as you can sit down and have a meaningful, totally focused convo about the importance things -- mood swings, fears and ambitions, troubles with friends -- they hardly notice your mind's in two places when they're rattling on like that.

    Finally - especially as they get older, the sense of independence and self-reliance they get from having parents who can't always give their full attention this serves them well.

  2. PS - see also the interview on my blog with Anne G. Brown, mother of 3, author of YA series, and full-time lawyer!

  3. Got it: no guilt. Thanks! Though as a practical matter, being fully present is still essential for me (or whoever is watching my kid), since he is pushing two and permanently set to self-destruct mode. I know they get more inclined to self preserve as time goes by (of course I understand that instinct dulls again during the teen years), but for now, multitasking is out.

  4. Oh, I know this struggle. It is madness. I try to accept it. I try to remember that no parent is perfect. Will my son be damaged because I stole time to write? I hope he'll remember me as someone who kept her dream alive AND took care of him. Have there been times I've sat by his bed typing? Yes.

    My mother made a mess of herself by giving up her art to be a full-time wife and mom. It took time in a mental institution and electric shock for her to sort that out. So. I keep writing and mothering hoping it will keep the madness at bay.

    I read a quote recently, "A woman with dreams always has trouble." or something like that, and thought--well, that's the ever-loving truth.

    Love the title of your novel, by the way. Keep writing.

  5. Mapelba, Thanks for reading. I agree with your sentiment that children benefit from parents who keep their own dreams alive... And I'm thankful every day to have the luxury to divide my time between my child and my dream. Most working moms don't have that.

    And I am so sorry about your mom. How awful.