In August 2013, author Emily S. Morris wrote hilariously honest essay, exclusively for Life’s Soundtrack. It is a piece about creative life before and after having children, and what it really means to have it all.
by Emily S. Morris
I don’t have the time or energy to write this. No, really. I mean that. Even as I type, less than three feet away is a basketful of sheets that needs to be folded, and there’s a load of clothes wrinkling in the dryer downstairs. My sink is full of dirty dishes and I have an inexplicable cluster of corn growing amid my gladiolas. And those are just the most pressing household chores. The personal chores I’ve been neglecting include three broken fingernails, frighteningly unplucked eyebrows (soon to be eyebrow), and feet with the exact texture of that large sandpaper thing my last pedicurist used to smooth my heels some one hundred years ago. Also, I need a nap.
If any of this sounds familiar, you may also be the mother of a four and a half year old. But, my particular brand of crazy is enhanced by the fact that I’m eight months pregnant. This means that I spend twenty out of every twenty-four hours in a zombie-like state of perpetual motion driven not by a lust for human brains, but by the pathological need to clean and prepare, and the constant thrum of the phrase “play with me, Mommy!”
It doesn’t help that the new addition to our family has caused my husband to enter a strange mid-life crisis wherein a glimpse of his mortality has lead him not to the nearest Ferrari dealership, but into a breakneck quest to make the maximum amount of money in the shortest amount of time. This is much better for the family than, say, getting involved with a stewardess. However, it’s not as good as, say, being home in time to pull weeds and fold sheets.
So why am I writing this, you ask? Why should I sit here in front of the laptop and neglect my laundry and hair removal regime? I’ll tell you. I’m a wife and a mother, but I’m also a writer.
Writing is pretty much the only income-producing activity I’ve ever loved that I’m also good at, and I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have found a career that allows me to work and be a mom–simultaneously. Now, before you go thinking that this is a vainglorious piece about how I’ve discovered how women can have it all (amazing family and equally amazing career) my eyebrow and I hate to disappoint, but we haven’t unearthed that particular grail. In fact, I would say that the only thing I have discovered in my four and a half years of motherhood is that having it all is impossible. That is, I now subscribe to the school of thought that contends modern women can have it all–just not all at the same time.
I have to admit, it took a little while to succumb to this idea. I was raised by parents who always told me that I could do anything I put my mind to, that I could be successful (even wildly, ridiculously successful) at anything I chose if I just tried hard enough. No challenge was too great, no dream unattainable. For the most part these tenants served me well. They got me through college, got me an agent and two published novels. But that was before. Before children. Before my son was born, I would have told you that I could certainly, without a doubt, be a successful writer and successful mother at the same time. (I can do anything I put my mind to! No mountain is too high!) It seemed pretty simple. After all, my career doesn’t involve seeing patients or, in fact, people of any kind. I don’t have to spend eight hours a day in a lab or an office. I never have to work late or on weekends, I could still attend music recitals and be room mother. I could be creative during naptime, after the kids were in bed, when they were busy playing Legos or watching Super Hero Squad. It all seemed pretty straightforward (as things tend to when looking at them through the prism of ignorance and naiveté). Reality, of course, is something different.
It turns out that my creative juices, which had been so reliable in my previous life as a carefree single lady, now run decidedly hot and cold. I can absolutely sit down and put words on paper during naptime. I can tune out Super Hero Squad faster than you can say fractal. Occasionally, I can even form a coherent sentence after 8 pm. But none of this results in anything nearing my best work. I rarely experience the amazing flashes of creative insight that used to drift unbidden into my daily life. Often the only words I can put on paper are of the single syllable variety most commonly heard in psych wards. I almost never get three or four hours of uninterrupted writing, and when I do I find that my brain has been reduced to an amorphous blob with roughly the same consistency as runny oatmeal and exactly the same comedic timing.
Coming to grips with this new state of affairs took some time. I grieved a little (maybe a lot) and then, of course, felt guilty about it. . .and then guilty about feeling guilty. I felt a deep nostalgic longing for the old days when I could think about anything I wanted at leisure and then write anything I wanted all day if I so chose. But then I realized something important. I realized that this isn’t forever.
In no time my kids will be in school all day. They’ll have friends to hang with and I’ll have to beg them to stay around for dinner or watch a movie with me. When that time comes, I’ll be able to write like I used to. My brain will no longer behave as a breakfast cereal. In the meantime, I can focus on helping my kids become semi-sane adults. I can enjoy the experience of getting to know them because I don’t have to live in that terrible space where I think about the kids when I’m working and about work when I’m with the kids. By the same token, I know that if I spent every waking moment doing mommy chores I would have equally disruptive brain liquidity issues, and more than a little bitterness thrown in for good measure. So, I do what I can.
I still write–during naptime and Super Hero Squad. But I don’t beat myself up for writing drivel. Right now the good writing takes forever and is often painful to produce. That’s okay. It’s my side job. More than anything, I do it because I enjoy it. My real job is being a mom. (And a cook, maid, chauffer, laundress, CEO, CFO. . .) But, let’s face it, I have no boss for this mothering job so sometimes the dishes can wait. The sheets can be wrinkly. I am not making lasagna on Friday though I know my husband wants me to. (We’re having hot dogs. And he’s grilling them.) I know that I will not write anything more complicated than my name and the odd birthday greeting for the first few months of my second child’s life, and that’s okay. I am certain that the script I work on next will take six or nine months to complete instead of three or four. It will also take at least three times the rewriting that it would have in the old days, and that’s okay, too.
I’ve decided that I’d like to raise happy, productive, amazing humans and write entertaining novels and films on the side. That is, until I can get back to writing amazing novels and films and the kids are grown up enough to be a part-time gig. Now, I know this won’t work for everyone. Moreover, I know that there are plenty of women who somehow manage to be both astoundingly creative and maternally present. But, as it turns out, I’m not one of them. The good news is, I don’t have to be. I can still have it all–in time.
Emily S. Morris is the co-author of two novels, Happiness Sold Separately and Accidental It Girl (both Simon & Schuster) written with her best friend under the pseudonym Libby Street. She is currently at work on her first solo novel and her second child. She lives in Athens, Ohio with her family. For more on her work visit www.libbystreet.com.