Thursday, May 7th, 2015 • 2 Comments on Hello, 48
Before writing my birthday post this year, I went back and reread last year’s post. The cliche of saying time has flown isn’t entirely true. I feel like I’ve savored this last year in ways I haven’t in previous years. It wasn’t entirely voluntary– forces beyond my control made it so I had to slow down and take it day by day. Three big events– losing my regular babysitter last August, some big changes with my publisher over the fall and winter and falling deathly ill last month– reinforced that I can plan and organize my life just so, but it won’t always work out the way I hope. And sometimes, that turns out to be a very good thing.
I have been a full-time stay-at-home mom for nine months now. I want to say it’s been easy, but it hasn’t. What it has been is challenging, exhausting, frustrating and–yes– rewarding. I know I am privileged to be able to stay home with my kids and for the most part, I really do enjoy it. But for someone like me, an introvert who thrives on a certain amount of alone time (not to mention needs it in order to do creative work), it’s been so hard to give up the part-time babysitting schedule I had up until last August. I panicked, I admit it, when I realized my alone time– my writing time– would essentially disappear.
It took me months to find a rhythm that works and, to be honest, I’m still not there. It’s ever-changing, the amount of time I have to write. It’s never enough. Sometimes I can write with the kids playing in the house with me, but most often I do administrative stuff when I’m at home with them– answering emails, editing stories and essays, promoting my work, querying editors, researching markets– and reserve the “real” writing for the times when I can get out of the house alone. Which most often means evenings (when I’m already tired) or weekends (which means missing out on family time). I wrote very little between August and December last year. I didn’t know how. I was plagued by guilt, self-doubt, resentment, frustration. My creativity withered under that weight.
2015 has brought a little more balance. Nothing has changed about my schedule– I’m still home full-time, I still have one kid going to preschool three mornings a week, I still have very few hours to write each week– but I have changed my focus and adjusted my attitude. If I’m only going to have twenty hours a month to write, I want to make it count. And so I’ve been focusing on writing nonfiction, writing what I know– parenting, marriage, relationships, kids, life. It’s been rewarding. I’ve sold to several markets, I’ve picked up a regular writing gig, I’m making the most of what little writing time I do have. I’m a stay-at-home writer mom, just doing the best I can during this stage of my life.
The change in writing focus hasn’t entirely been about a lack of childcare. The reversion of three of my completed and approved anthologies— books I worked hard on, spent many, many hours on– has made me more aware of how I spend my time and on what projects I want to invest my precious work hours. I was angry and somewhat bitter after the initial fallout, but I’ve made my peace with it. It may be “just business,” but that doesn’t mean I haven’t taken it personally. I did and I do, but in some ways I’m thankful it happened– otherwise, I might not be writing and publishing in other markets. And so, this past year has been a big swing in a different direction for me professionally, and while it wasn’t by choice, I’m very happy with where I’m headed.
What’s a typical day like for me? School mornings find me at Starbucks with my youngest, squeezing in an hour or two of work if I can (and sometimes even writing a few hundred words) and then running errands while my oldest is at preschool. Non-school days are more languid, with long mornings spent staying in our pajamas, snuggling in bed, reading or plotting (in my head) while they play quietly. Every afternoon is spent doling out juice and snacks, putting Curious George or Caillou on the TV, mediating fights over cars or LEGOs, hanging out on the deck (weather permitting) while they play superheroes or Transformers or monster, pushing them on the swing, doing crafts at the kitchen table, squeezing in an hour of editing or email writing or social media updating. Some days we go to lunch at Wendy’s (their request) or go to the park or the garden center or Starbucks for frappuccinos. Some days we have play dates with friends. Some days, Jay is off or gets home early and I’m able to get a couple of hours in the afternoon to write (like today, my birthday). This is my life currently. And it’s good.
This past year has brought about an increased awareness of the brevity of life and the preciousness of time. Not to be cliched, but damn, have I wasted a lot of time in the wrong places. It’s human nature, I suppose, to amble aimlessly for years or decades, thinking there will always be time enough to do what we want. There isn’t, we know that, but it’s easier to pretend we’ll live forever than to take this living thing too seriously. I’m grateful for this life I have, I think I have always had an awareness of how truly lucky I am, but the near-death thing… well, I will write about it someday soon. I have joked that if my almost dying was supposed to be a sign, I have no idea what I’m meant to learn. But maybe the lesson is not in what I should change about my life, but in simply appreciating that I am still alive.
I’m excited about being 48. It’s such a nice even number, angles and curves together. The coming year will bring big changes– both boys will be in school in the fall and I will have three– THREE– days a week to write! I can barely stand the anticipation, though I’m not going to rush through summer and I know I’ll be sad and lost for a few weeks in the fall, missing my boys. Jay is retiring from the Navy this summer and he’ll also be in school this fall, as a middle school teacher. And in October we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. The rest of the year is full of exciting, happy changes. And, always, there is the writing. I have more projects I want to work on than I have time for now, and the school year will bring many hours of contented writing for me.
There isn’t a lot of angst in life at this point. I’m settled, I’m happy, I’m grateful. And I’m ready for 48.