On Runny Noses

Right now, for the briefest of moments, my two younger sons are playing with blocks. Quietly. One building. The other taking blocks out and putting them back in.

I think: I want to write something beautiful every day. I want to sit and think and read and ponder and write.

I think: These children fill up my days.

I think: Can I do both?

I have been trying for many years. Sometimes I tell myself, you have not really been trying. You are  lazy. You watch TV when you have spare time in the evenings rather than doing research. You eat chocolate and read rather than figure out what it means to plot. You vacuum badly and pretend like you’re cleaning the kitchen when you could be working on a first draft. You sit in the bathtub and cry about your fat when you should be make revision notes.

I am hard on myself. Or I am lazy. I don’t know which one.

My dear friend gave me Ann Patchett’s writing memoir How to Have a Happy Marriage. In one essay, Ms. Patchett says:

Knowing that I wanted to write made my existence feel purposeful and gave me a sense of priorities as I was growing up. Did I want to get a big job and make a lot of money? No. I wanted to be a writer, and writes were poor. Did I want to get married, have children, live in a nice house? No again; by the time I was in middle school I’d figured out that a low overhead and few dependents would increase my time to work. While I thought I might publish something someday, I was sure that very few people, and maybe no one at all would read what I wrote. By ninth grade I was drawing from the Kafka model: obscurity during life with the chance of being discovered after death.

I think about this. I wanted to be a writer when I was young. I told people in elementary school that this was my destiny. I wrote stories, I won a few contests, I even got to spend an entire day with Dean Hughes (along with fifty other kids). I wanted to be a writer. But I never thought I’d have to give up other things in order for this to happen. Things like getting married, having children, maybe even publishing. Being a writer to me meant telling stories. I always wanted to tell stories. Could I have children and tell stories?

Now the two are fighting. The baby one (eleven months) keeps putting his head on the two year old (almost three) and the two year old thinks it’s funny and wraps baby’s head into a headlock. I say: Stop. He giggles. The baby cries.

So I can’t finish my thought. I can’t keep writing because the baby is crying. I think I am neglecting my children. I also think I am neglecting my house. My husband. My toes. My garden. My car. My scriptures. My whole world just so that I can spend time in make believe worlds.

But I don’t want to give it up. Does this mean I’ll never be a great mother and I’ll never be a great writer? Do I have to give up one, to be the other?

I guess I’ll never find out.

There will always be chapters to write and there will always be noses to wipe. And despite how slow and messy they are, I hope I never have to stop doing either one.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “On Runny Noses

  1. One day your babies will have grown up and then you still won’t have anymore time, but you will have grandbabies, which is very worth it. Hang in there Ann Dee. You’re a great writer and a great mother!

  2. In an English course once I read “The Fisherwoman’s Daughter,” an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin. It addresses this very same topic and I remember it gave me hope that I’d be able to both write and have kids. I haven’t found out if I’m capable of it yet–still a ways from that second one–but if you haven’t read this essay before, I recommend it.

  3. A beautiful post, Ann Dee. Thank you.

  4. benschwensch

    Perfect!

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