Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Writing parent, part two.

What would my life be like if I had a second child? What would my writing life be like? Would I still manage to find time to write? Would two children to care for inspire new ideas? Bring new wisdom and insight? For the longest time, I wondered. What would it be like?

I recently had a chance to find out when I had another little one to care for in addition to my 3-year-old. My 7-month-old niece, Laurie, got to spend a week with us and I was reintroduced to diaper changes, formula-making and baby-food-feeding schedules. Oh, and let us not forget the peace and relief when the baby settles down for a nap, or the frustrations of when she is teething (which she is pretty badly, by the way). But one other thing I was reintroduced to was a lack of sleep because the baby didn’t sleep very long at night. The amazing thing is that, no matter how much she screamed or cried after she woke up, she never woke up my sleeping toddler in the same room.

But the traditional downsides of parenting weren’t the only things I coped with during that week. I also had to put off eating something when I got hungry because I was too busy with the kids (or keeping the house clean!), let alone having to hold it anytime I had to go to the bathroom. Then there was how I’d have to go back and forth between the two children feeding them, cleaning them, changing diapers/clothes, getting them a bottle/cup of juice, soothing one child while getting another off the kitchen counter and constantly reminding one older child to be quiet because the other younger child was sleeping. I also had to negotiate time when I could take my daughter outside to play since I have to go out there to watch her and because we had some cold, rainy weather that I wouldn’t take the baby out in.

I also realized something else: Having an extra adult in the house to help out is a sanity saver. For the most part, I was on my own. But on those occasions Jason was here, the help he gave with our child really, really made things easier on me. I didn’t have to keep one eye on one child and another on the other child, at least.

So did I find the time to write? I wish I could say I did. I wish I could say that I managed to get the little darlings into bed by 8 p.m. then spent several hours happily writing my heart out. Or that I managed to wake up very early in the morning to write before they woke up. But one thing about babies is that their sleeping schedule is NOT a predictable one. Not at night, anyway. Sure I managed to get Laurie to sleep before 10 p.m., but my toddler was another story. There was rarely a night she finally conked out before 1 a.m. and by that time, I was too exhausted to even think straight. (The job of caring for two small children is a BIG one!!) So of course the writing suffered. I spent more time frantically sweeping and vacuuming every speck of dust in this house and keeping the floor free of any baby dangers than doing anything else. I rarely got a chance to read, too. And any time that Laurie was taking her nap I spent making up the lost time with my daughter, as well as cleaning the house.

There is one time I did something writing-related, though. I had an unexpected interview with a source for a SIGNews article, who asked me to call her for the interview. I explained I had young children to care for and mentioned what times would be best for me to call her. She gave me a time and Jason watched the kids while I conducted an hour-long interview without incident. Sure my daughter occasionally ran up to me for something but I pointed out that “mommy is on the phone” and steered her towards her father for help. Oh, sure, I got the occasional dark look and mutterings of “hurry up,” but I pulled off the interview and got some great stuff for my article.

But I really think that, given enough time, I would’ve found the time to write. It’s really a matter of trial and error, just like when my daughter was an infant. I had to try so many different schedules before I realized that you CAN’T schedule time to write; you have to steal it. You have to look for those little moments where the children are playing or watching a show to quietly scribble something or speak into a tape recorder.

The one thing I kept thinking about during the time I had two children to care for instead of one was a statement I’d used when I had more writing work on my plate than I had time: “Something’s gotta give.” In the past, I’d go without food, sleep, showers, outings, sunshine and a social life if it meant I’d get an article or book done on time. And I wasn’t exactly a cheerful person to be around, either. Well, for the most part, I’d be deeply “in the zone” and wouldn’t be much of a conversationalist, anyway. But anytime someone tried to come to me with their problems or ask me for some money, that scream I’d throw their way pretty much indicated that NOW wasn’t exactly a good time. So this is why I pretty much neglected answering non-writing E-mails, dabbling in other writing projects and put off querying for extra work. I didn’t watch TV, either. Nor did I frequent a writer’s message board as often as I used to. Any free time I had went towards writing. I didn’t get a whole lot done, but I managed a tiny bit and that’s good enough for me. At least I tried. You can’t blame me for not trying, because I did.

Had Laurie been with us longer, I know I would’ve found a way to write. I can’t NOT write; I’d start climbing the walls if that desire to write is ignored for too long. I HAVE to write, but I HAVE to take care of my family, too. If anything, the number one thing a writer must learn to do is adapt. In the face of crunching deadlines, disappearing sources, ignored E-mails and lost phone numbers, our power to overcome obstacles to get the job done is the key to surviving as a working writer. It is also the key to survival when you’re a parent writer, too.


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