(trigger warning: adult language)
I started writing semi-professionally in my late twenties, when I graduated from university and entered the workplace. Then, when I was twenty-seven, I got married, started teaching and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was pregnant.
Then when I had my oldest, I found that the elusive thing called “work-life balance” was total bullshit. I tried to cope with a newborn, work and – at that time – postnatal depression. I ended up resigning from teaching. Those years in-between were terrifying, like staring down at a canyon and wondering if I should jump or not. I took to writing to keep myself busy and have some money.
It wasn’t enough to sustain myself.
My daughter grew up as kids do. Her childhood was simple, blessed with love from her two sets of grandparents and her parents. It took six years for me to have another child, because my first was just so traumatic.
The pregnancy with my second daughter was vastly different from my first. I was filled with the urge to write. So, for nine months, I wrote and wrote. Even after the Caesearean, I was up on my chair and writing, much to the chagrin of my confinement nanny who looked after me and the baby for a month. “You just gave birth,” she told me exasperatedly. “And you had a big operation. You should rest.” I didn’t listen to her. My debut novel resulted from this rush of creativity.
It took a couple of years for me to get back to teaching again. I am back as an adjunct teacher, but the expectations are still the same, only with lesser pay.
It took me more than ten years to come to my own.
Writing and mothering is a burning path lined with nice morning glory flowers and thorns. Writing and mothering for you might be different. It might be all peaches and cream for you. But… This is my story.
Kids have an uncanny sense of knowing that mom is about to write, about to sit down and read, about to start planning a story. Kids also have an uncanny way of getting your attention, whether you want it or not – and for me, they fall sick or get hospitalized or any other myriad little ways to get me away from the blank page. Sometimes, I get resentful. But no, I can’t get angry, because “you are the mother.” That was the common refrain thrown at me whenever I protested or complained.
I lost my shit one day and basically told off my loved ones who liked using that to “stop it and shut up.”
They have since stopped and have never used it again.
Society likes to throw shit like that at you, especially if you are a mother with kids. It is weird. On one hand, you are expected to be the happy homemaker and run a tight ship with kids and all, while on the other, you are expected to be a tough woman at work, a caring (and always smiling) wife and obedient daughter. It is basically rude to expect us to be all these without cracking.
No wonder I write, because I deal with shit in my writing too. And I envision better ways of dealing with such shit – and better still, whole new societies where such shit don’t matter. Or I throw my characters into shitty societies and have them to cope with situations like mine.
Nobody gave me a manual on how to be a good mother and a good writer. Remember the song by Marietta in the movie Top Gun? Destination Unknown. That is my theme song, probably, for the rest of my life.
If you think this is all sour grapes and bitterness, you are right. Partly. For many years, I struggled, resented, was angry, and basically was a thorny mess. Throw in the usual shit like imposter syndrome and self-rejection – and you got a very unhappy me.
Right now though, I am much better. I know who I am and where I am. I know that I am a valued individual (and oh, I write too), I know my limitations and that I can never be perfect. I am flawed and at times, I am problematic.
I happen to be a mother too. And mothers are never perfect.
Oh yeah, you want to know about writing? I should talk about writing, right?
With kids, my writing schedule is pretty much night time and free time if I find it. I tend to write more at night, when things settle and I have some peace and quiet. Do not beat yourself up if you can’t write for a couple of days or a few days or a month – we are only mortal and very human. Give yourself time for self-care and if your loved ones are shitty about it, insist on it and not back off. Self-care gives you time to rest. Rejuvenation is important, not to writers, but mothers too who definitely need the break from their kids (and their spouses).
But I have to hasten to add that not all mothers (and fathers) would get the chance to rejuvenate themselves. Or have free time. Or have the money to go away. Or have understanding workplaces who actually practise the “work-life” balance bullshit.
And oh yeah, set yourself goals. Doable goals. Even a paragraph is a good idea. You are writing not for a competition. It is not a goddamn race you have to finish. If other people get stuff like awards or accolades or associated things that will not matter at the end of the time… let them. Your path is not the same as theirs.
And most importantly, enjoy your time with your kids. My girls are growing up so quickly now.
And also this mothering thing. It will not stop until they grow up. And yes, we do have years to write. It might not feel as if we do when we are up to our nostrils in shit – but we have. I tell myself that all the time.