It’s probably a small miracle that I am even writing this. Time to write has become an even more precious commodity in motherhood. Yet, there is a need to write that did not go away when I became a new mother. Does that mean that I survived the vortex of being completely and absolutely captivated by my precious little one? Yes, I believe it does. Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing more important to me than my child, but out of self-respect, and a feeling of urgency to write, I also make it important to carve out time for my creative writing. The amount of time does not matter—what is important is the urgency to write, and that time is allotted to meet that calling.
One of my friends, a professor and a writer, refers to the “triple routine” of day job, writing, and parenting. That’s the routine many of us parent writers know all too well in the contemporary world. I know many mothers do not have the privilege, myself included, to dedicate oneself fully to writing. Giving a lecture on women and fiction, Virginia Woolf famously came up with “one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” We have certainly come a long way from the position women were occupying in the world of Woolf, and yet, somehow many of us still expect serious writers who are mothers to be fully dedicated to writing, or at least to put aside an essential part of their life—motherhood.
It is important to accept the triple routine, to even embrace it as part and parcel of the life of a writer. The work of a day job and the work (and play) of motherhood equip the writer with valuable experiences and depth of perspective. Just as we set the alarm to rise for work in the morning, or respond to a crying child in the middle of the night, we owe it to our creative selves to rally the time and energy to write. We may have more to do than ever, but isn’t it also the case that the busier we are, the more urgent the writing becomes? We may find ourselves in the midst of the “triple routine,” but the energy of the writing is tripled as well.
While I was teaching at a writing retreat not so long ago, a writer revealed that she often hides the fact that she is a mother when she finds herself at a writing conference or in any professional writing context. I inquired as to her reasons behind such behavior, and she argued that it was not seen as “professional” to have one’s attentions diverted towards children. Another writer I know actively hides her motherhood and marriage from the public, believing that the mystery of her personal life, and the illusion that she may be single, appeals more to her fan base. Here’s what I think: the idea that one needs to appear single and childless simply perpetuates the oppression of women, creating the ideal of a woman who satisfies the male gaze (young, single, and ready for the taking). Consider this—no one bats an eyelash at the “professional” status of male writers who are fathers; I wonder if that is because of societal assumptions that someone else (ahem) is taking care of the child rearing and accompanying household drudgeries while he writes?
I have found that life since becoming a mother has become more multi-dimensional. I’m doing less navel gazing and more observation of others. My son has expanded my empathy, my capacity to love unconditionally, and my ability to give compassion. This has given me the ability to create more complex characters in the stories I write. Life becomes more rich with the expanded experience and responsibility that the role of motherhood affords, and for us creative writers, the need to express ourselves urges us to find the time to do so.
We are pulled by the “triple routine” in hundreds of directions. Laundry awaits to be folded. Food waits to be cooked. Emails and notifications push and pull at our attention. And then, the gentle tug of our child’s fingers at the hem of our clothing calls us out of the mundane and into the world of the child. What ensues is what can be called parental reverie, a kind of return to wondering through the eyes of a child. Our children hold our hands and walk us back through the gateway of childhood, so that we can play beside them. The shadow of a hand on a wall becomes a wolf, and a blanket transforms into a cave for fantastic, ticklish beasts. We are guided by the wide-eyed awe and the dimpled finger of our toddler pointing to the sky in the middle of the grocery store parking lot, as we hear the word “moon” mouthed for the first time in the high joy of elvish tones.
During this parallel “play” experienced in parenthood, one always gets more out of the experience than expected, if one truly gives oneself fully over to it. As we watch the tiny hands of our children turn over a rock, in search of some mystery of life, we are reminded that the world is ours to explore just underfoot. These magical moments are what carry us through the mundane tasks of work, both at our jobs and at home. The gift of motherhood, for me, has also been the feeling of time fleeting, for I feel, more than ever, the urgent calling to write about experiences, to distill them with paper and ink.
Diana Norma Szokolyai is author of Parallel Sparrows, Roses in the Snow, and Blue Beard Remixed & Poems. Her work has been published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lyre Lyre, The Boston Globe, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, Polarity, and Up the Staircase, among others. Her edited volume, CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing is forthcoming from C&R Press. She is a founder and Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.