Humor me with a flashback: When I was thirteen I was positive I was going to be the next Emily Dickinson with the romantic idealism of wasting away in our farmhouse attic and writing poetry that would one day be famous. The purpose of this flashback is to offer an anecdote to show I’ve been writing and have wanted to be a writer for a long time. I wrote my first story when I was eight, so writing is a formative experience on my timeline from then to the present. But this reflection isn’t so much about the past as it is about how it informs the present.
I was twenty-seven when I had my first child. A girl. Looking back, I’d only just slipped on my adult shoes: I’d been out of college for three years and just started my professional life as an educator. When she was born, remembering life before her was difficult because it felt like life had just begun.
I took a year off to be a stay-at-home mom. During that year, I got to know my daughter, and in between being exhausted and enamored, I wrote my first novel. It was a historical romance novel with an amnesia twist. (I know. I know. We all have to begin somewhere. It is in a drawer where it belongs). This milestone provided me the experience that I COULD be a mom, and I COULD write a book.
At twenty-seven, I was pretty sure I had it all together. I don’t remember thinking: I’m changed, but looking back, I see now I began to redefine myself. Maybe some mothers would say the redefinition begins during pregnancy, but in my experience, my shift toward motherhood was relegated to healthy choices and weight gain. I still felt like myself - only, slightly better. It was after Baby Girl was born motherhood began to reshape my identity. It shaved down my edges into a smoother more pliable version of myself. It challenged my perceptions and pushed me to learn and seek new understandings about previously held opinions. I began to understand what it means to be selfless.
As a writer, I am a self-centered person. Let me clarify: I don’t mean SELFISH. That’s different. I mean my focus is centered around whatever is happening in my head. I think most creatives and artists can relate. Becoming a parent insisted I reorient. My time was no longer my time alone.
I continued to write, but it was between things like breastfeeding, working, commuting to and from work, feeding the family, playtime, bath time, book time, and bedtime. And Baby Girl was a strong willed child, so nothing ever went as planned. Thank goodness there were two of us. There wasn’t much time left.
Baby number two arrived four years later. I had my Baby Boy. And I returned to being a Stay-at-Home mom with him. I got to know my little guy, who is so different than his big sister, the epitome of happy and content. I began to write again. This time I completed two romantic suspense novels set in Hawaii. Queried and was rejected.
Then I went back to work, but this time, I worked at the school where my now school-aged children began. My identity hovered around my children, my family, and my work. Writing took a back seat - as usual - but not because I couldn’t. It was because that was my choice. I still wrote, but sustaining any writing was difficult. So, in between new ideas that I’d list in a notebook, I spent ten years writing and rewriting a YA novel, a paranormal romance. Queried and rejected multiple times over and over. I put it away, sure I was never meant to be a writer.
Life twists and turns. I changed jobs and focused on my career as a teacher. It hosted my identity and made me feel validated because it is something at which I excel while my writing faced rejection after rejection. Writing - my writing - was given only the time I provided to my journaling students but somewhere in the mix, I rewrote that YA again, removing all of the paranormal elements. I don’t know why. An exercise perhaps.
Where does the time go? We blink and the distance between events expands.
Suddenly, I have a daughter moving away to college and a son starting high school. Time devoted to them and our family stretches out before me. I’ve heard many mother’s lament the loss of their babies. I feel it. I see pictures of my babies, my children as toddlers, each stage a beautiful dance all the way through. I feel joy and poignant loss. And then I see pictures of myself and think: I don’t recognize you. But I don’t feel lost. In a way, I feel reborn.
I took a leave of absence from teaching this year. As my I transition from a mom of independent children, I’ve had the opportunity to look more closely at myself. The mom duties have changed now, have reoriented from all my time to some of it. I’ve had the opportunity to help my son transition to high school, be available for college freshman woes, but the need for mom has waned significantly other than to be a nag about homework, a taxi and a hug.
And there it was - time. Stretched out like a ribbon wrapped around a gift. I could write again.
So I have. I’ve dug in. I rewrote that YA. It’s independently published. I wrote the second book in the series. It’s Independently published too. I’m revising the third book in the series, and it will be independently published later this year. I completed Nanowrimo this year with 70,000 on a new book and a host of ideas in that notebook. I still have time for my family, they just don’t need as much of it.
What I would tell myself as a young mother now that I’ve lived her reality: Don’t worry about your time. You will get it back. Enjoy every moment of these children - even the difficult parts. It goes so very quickly.
Now, I look in the mirror and think: I know you. I knew you when you were thirteen and thought you’d be Emily Dickinson. I laugh at my reflection and think: There’s time. There’s time.