There are days when I feel an urgent need to write. I don’t feel that I can wait until the usual 9pm, when the children are asleep and everything else that one household needs has been done, washed, eaten, tidied away or thrown out (not necessarily in that order). I feel an emotion rising up that needs urgent expression or I might implode, right here in the kitchen, while trying to heat up a jar of baby food (oops – I meant to say while pureeing the organic baby food I have personally prepared from scratch!)
I am a mother, and a writer. I am very lucky in that I don’t have to be a mother, a writer and an office manager / recruitment consultant / doctor / teacher / cleaner. There are many women out there who have to juggle everything I have to juggle, with a full time job on top (I’m referring to the full time job of the paid variety – not the unpaid service us full time mothers are usually providing in the home). So I have nothing to resent and nothing to complain about. And yet, those days - they make me feel on edge, like I will miss out on something irreplaceable if I don’t find a way to let my children entertain themselves for just half an hour while mummy writes. It’s got to be half an hour sandwiched between putting the laundry in, putting out snacks or meals, helping Ana to colour in her Peppa Pig book or changing Sacha’s nappy. It can be frustrating, it can be hard, sometimes I have to just pencil a certain sentence on a random piece of paper in the hope that this sentence will later on jog my memory and re-ignite this sense of overwhelming inspiration.
This is something that I am sure isn’t unique to me, but happens to all writers (not even necessarily just women) who have children or other day time occupations. So what do these other writers do? What is the solution to this? Us mothers are used to putting off even urgent needs of our own, like sleep, or somehow combining it with the needs of our children (my need to go to the toilet combined with my children’s need to be by my side at almost all times have often led to the three of us being in the toilet together, sometimes with them actually on my lap). But writing is different. Writing takes time. I am a fast typist but even I can’t dish out a play in between putting Ana on the potty and stopping Sacha from chewing the TV cables.
I often find that by the time the evening comes, I have lost my wind. Or worse still, once the children have mercifully gone to bed at last, my brain requires – no, demands – a transition period, a time to switch from mothering to creativity, and this usually takes the shape of some fairly mindless, frivolous entertainment –Mumsnet, Facebook, a chapter of a book I’m reading, an hour’s programme on the TV. It may be 9.30 or even 10pm by the time my brain has managed to leave the day behind and is now ready to immerse itself in work of a different kind – the words, the images and emotions which both result from and give birth to writing. But by that time, there is not a great deal of time left for it. I’d like to stay up and write all night, but who will look after Ana & Sacha in the morning, if I’m too zombified to do it? And so sometimes I don’t even start – I stay in the transition stage, in the easy entertainment phase, often going to bed with a mind that is just then properly waking up, full of frustration and regrets that another 24 hours have to pass before I have that space and that time again.
It is in moments like those that I make most of my resolutions – that I will start to write early in the morning, or that I will close my Facebook account (but then I’d just log into my husband’s, I’m sure!), that I will disconnect the WiFi, that I will hack into Mumsnet and wipe their website clean, that I will burn the TV, that I will use all my books as scrap paper for Ana and Sacha.
There is no easy solution. I have to remember to be disciplined in those hours which are my own, and to be mindful of the present moment, to never waste it, as once it’s gone it is gone forever. Being there for my children and being there for myself as a writer is a never-ending quest for balance, for fairness (children come first, but I cannot completely neglect my own needs either), for magic (to somehow do it all). Like all quests, it will take a life-time to complete and we will only learn if the story had a happy ending once we come to the end of it.