To be in the same physical space with these five smart, honest, and highly esteemed writers was, in a word, inspiring. Yes, of course, the fact that they have written books, essays, and stories and each been published multiple times over is, in and of itself, admirable.
But doing so while also having children under foot? Well, that just takes it to a whole other level for me.
Through their candor and anecdotes, they hit the sweet spot between the two overlapping spheres of writer and mother. I hesitate to say that all of what they said could be applied to professions other than writing, but certainly much of it is relevant, so read on even if you are not a writer. Incidentally, my pause is largely driven by one aspect not usually found in other professions: isolation. As the panelists often noted, writing requires both some amount of uninterrupted isolation, and the ability to withstand it, if not love it. It’s no secret that many writers like being alone, and yet that preference is diametrically opposed (at times) to having children around, especially when they are young. It is hard to find the time and/or energy to carve out that necessary isolation to get work done, especially if you are doing it in the same space where you live and take care of your children. It’s also hard to rationalize financially for a lot of us, especially early on. I’m not saying writing is harder than working in some other capacity, just that these are noteworthy factors that come into play.
I took some notes (not quotes!) of the things I wanted to remember and lift me when I wonder whether the path I’m now walking down is worth it. When other mothers freely admit (and laugh) that they sometimes run out of toilet paper or struggle with “the right thing to do” when it comes to their children and their profession, I listen. These women are the real deal. I share a few tidbits with you below, but first a few salient points.
First, each of the panelists noted that they were writers before they had children. That is not the case for me (most of you know I was a practicing attorney until recently) and I suspect there are lots of other “late to the game” writers. I note this because, as you’ll see below, there was some talk about the before/after of having children in the context of their writing.
Second, though they all wrote when their children were young, these are the panelists’ children’s current ages (if my notes are to be trusted):
Heidi – twins, 8 years old
Megan – 24 and 31 years old
Kim – 15 and 18 years old
Claire – 11 and 13 years old
Lily – 14 and 16 years old
I liked that there was a good range of ages, but more so that they were on the older end. I think that this adds a layer of seasoned perspective to what each woman had to say. It also gives mothers with children on the younger end (like me with my 7½ yo) some hope about the process of writing and, ideally, that there may be some eventual success in whatever ways we individually define that.
My takeaways, from my notes
When asked about writing during the early childhood years:
When asked about whether these mothers talk about their writing with their children or show them the writing
Briefly, the last part of the discussion focused on the isolation part of writing/motherhood
This was probably the quickest 90 minutes I’ve spent doing anything recently. I plan on reading Kim McLarin’s essays in Divorce Dog: Motherhood, Men, & Midlife because it sounds like more of what she alluded to during the panel might be found there. I walked away also wanting to read a few of these authors’ novels as well. But mostly I left feeling grateful and hopeful because of the conversation they shared with all of us. That this discussion clearly could have extended well beyond the allotted time tells me that we need continued dialogue in this regard. I REALLY hope PEN New England does not wait another 20+ years to gather more women writers together for these very important conversations.
* I held this post back a day due to my Brain, Mother essay going up sooner than anticipated. THEN! Late Monday night I discovered that Justine Uhlenbrock (Heirloom Mothering) was also at this event. Aside from the fact that I am really bummed that I missed an opportunity to meet Justine in person, she’s written her own lovely account of the insight we heard on Sunday. I highly recommend you read her words too because she got a lot more down than I did (and besides, it’s way prettier than my post).
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
I had planned on an unmedicated childbirth.
Of course, I use the word “planned” loosely. Truth be told, I thought I could wing it.
But before I relented to an alternate path, I counted windows.
Please come read more at Brain, Child magazine’s blog, Brain, Mother, where I’m proud to share my essay, Thirteen Windows.
Comments are closed on this page, but you can leave one over at Brain, Mother, if you are so inclined.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
Three months ago
Every Wednesday afternoon, I sit for an hour in the coffee shop next to my daughter’s pottery class. It’s easier than going home and coming back to pick her up. With headphones on, I tweak stories I’m writing, doodling edits in the margins. Once in a while, I allow a stream of consciousness to flow out of my pen with new ideas. Sometimes I just daydream or listen to conversations at nearby tables, getting a glimpse of others’ lives. It’s an exercise I’ve grown to love, sitting there under the glaring fluorescent lights with the scent of donuts and hazelnut coffee heavy in the air.
I have a favorite seat. It faces the busy street, with cars rushing by like background noise. But on this day it was taken. I found another seat, one that faces the parking lot. I like to be near windows. From here, I could see the patrons coming and going. It was mildly distracting.
And then I noticed her. She couldn’t have been much younger than 75 years old. Her white hair was cut short and looked like it had been set a day or two before. She was slight but had a big presence when she walked in. Wearing a large cardigan sweater printed with life-sized cats all around it, she strode over to her table of friends. It was hard not to notice her with all those cats. There must have been at least a dozen encircling her waist.
I figured she must really love cats in order to buy this sweater. Maybe she was a “crazy cat lady” who owned an assortment of other feline themed threads. Did she have cat socks? Were her shelves lined with cat figurines?
Then I thought about how badass you can be at that age because no one thinks twice about what you’re wearing. Whether you love cats or cows or pugs, you can rock that look in a way that says, “I don’t give a shit. I am wearing this because I want to.” And, in turn, a certain amount of societal grace is automatically granted, it seems, to those lovely people. Maybe it’s because they remind us of our grandparents, or maybe we simply understand, on some subconscious level, that they are doing the last of their living in these years and we must respect that. They should be allowed to be comfortable and get joy out of every aspect of living that they can.
How liberating it must be at that age, I thought.
When my hour was up, I closed my notebook and walked out the door, ready to see what my daughter created in class. I left the cat sweater lady behind, chuckling with her friends.
Two Weeks Ago
After that day, I didn’t really ever think about the cat sweater lady again. She soon settled into some dusty corner of my mind, likely to never be remembered by me again, just like the thousands of other anonymous faces I’ve already passed in my lifetime.
But then I borrowed some poetry books from the library. I was coursing through one of them when I stumbled upon this poem, by Charles Reznikoff, a poet that I’d not yet heard of before.
I Was Wearing A Belt Buckle
I was wearing a belt buckle
with the initial of my family name on it
in a cheap design. A friend noticed it
and I said apologetically:
“This was my father’s. He had no taste.”
“Perhaps,” my friend answered gently,
“he wore it because it was a gift.”
I thought about how I do the very same thing—but not often enough I admit—when my daughter makes me a bracelet out of tacky plastic beads and bits of wood cut into flower shapes and hearts that she’s colored with magic marker. Or when she buys me something for $1 from the school fair, like the brassy colored necklace with an angel made of gaudy rhinestones. I wear them because they are gifts given with love.
Then I immediately thought of that woman with the sweater. I wondered whether she was wearing it because someone, maybe her grandchildren, had given it to her because they knew she liked cats. Maybe she was wearing it because she saw them that day, and she knew they’d like to see her in it. For some reason, I liked that idea more.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
Stick and Stone is a lovely children’s book written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. We picked this one up (M’s choice) at the Scholastic school book fair this week. (Note: I saw on Amazon that it’s actually not being released for sale until April 7.) The fact that my daughter chose this title over another book about zoo animals wearing underpants is most telling.
Geared for the 4-8 year old set, it’s a short, heartwarming tale of two lonely strangers, Stick and Stone, who quickly become friends when one sticks up for the other on the playground because that’s what friends do. With minimal text, and drawn with fun and expressive illustrations, we see the adventures these two friends go on together until one of them goes missing in some inclement weather. It all turns out fine in the end, but the message of this book is clear: friends look out for each other, no matter what.
It’s a fun read for early/emerging readers (lots of rhyming) and a good one to hear aloud from an adult too (lots of play on words). This would make a sweet gift book for any elementary school aged child.
What children’s books have you recently read and recommend?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
Just a normal Saturday of “getting a few things done” stretched out before us. Bathrooms were cleaned, and I got to sleep in a bit. Coffee was brewed, eggs were fried, and showers were taken. Sheets got stripped from the bed and thrown in the wash so that they could be put back on before our next slumber. These are our favorite sheets, a soft jersey cotton and miraculously still brilliant white. They offer a full body embrace at the end of a cold winter’s day.
Puttering was in full swing until at least noon.
But there were things we had to get done out in the world too. Printer ink needed replacing, and new set of dry erase markers was long overdue. We can barely read the kitchen calendar, especially if green needs to be used—that’s my color and it seems as though I’ve been the busiest because it’s been dried out since January. A deal was made: let’s get the office supplies and then hit our favorite restaurant nearby for some grilled cheese and nachos. We hardly go out like that for a meal just the three of us. It’d be fun to change things up a bit. After that, they could get haircuts and drop me off at home on the way.
Quite unexpectedly, and perhaps a bit unusually considering the time, there was a long wait for a table at the restaurant we wanted to visit. We didn’t have time to wait.
A plan was devised for the second best option just six miles down the road and so we changed gears. Only, we hadn’t been since before M was born some 7.5 years ago. We were a bit suspicious when we pulled into the vacant parking lot. Closed for renovations. Figures.
A third plan was hatched, this time across the street from the hair cut salon, but still another twelve minutes away and we were all getting a bit hungry. Good thing I thought to bring some apples for her to snack on. Thankfully there was no wait, and we were soon filling our bellies with food. She enjoyed her grilled cheese, but we were left disappointed. We laughed about it though—Who puts parsley on nachos? Is this tomato sauce? I don’t think it’s salsa! The cheese is weird too. She forgot the lemon in the iced tea. Oh well. The nachos were largely left untouched and we stole fries when she wasn’t looking. (We eventually got busted.) We watched her blush when we told her to say hello to a (boy) classmate who was also there with his family. The waitress stopped to talk to her dolls and so she got an overly generous tip.
They got hair cuts and I picked up some small things for dinner at the adjacent grocery store while I waited for them. I lingered in the magazine aisle awhile since I wouldn’t get that time at home as I’d planned. Why are there so many magazines about guns?, I wondered. I left irritated by the feeling that so many buzzwords—mindful, clean, happiness—were making me reach for magazines that were largely devoid of meaningful content once I’d peeked inside.
As I made my way to the checkout line, I spotted a tiny pink birthday cake, smaller than a teacup saucer. Her half birthday had been the day before. It feels like a whirlwind on her actual birthday with the start of school and Labor Day every year. But early March offers a nice pause and so we usually do something very small to note the mini milestone. Last year it was a balloon. This year it would be a bit of cake. There was some confusion when I asked the bakery clerk to write “7 1/2″ but eventually she got it right. I hid it in the trunk of the car.
We sang “Happy Half Birthday” after the groceries were put away and the birds were given an extra suet cake on the tree. She was delighted. “When did you buy this!?” she gushed. Mission accomplished.
A gin and tonic was poured, and I skimmed the first few pages of The New Yorker. Björk is 50 years old? I saw her in concert a few… wait, well more than a few…years ago. I am a longtime fan, even from her Sugarcubes days. How could this be? Where is the time going? I let the ice in my drink brush up against my lips as I pondered this perpetual mystery.
Without me realizing it, the two of them had escaped upstairs to play for a bit. Twilight arrived and I started to lower the blinds. As I coursed from room to room, lowering each one, I thought to myself how lucky I am that we are all tucked safe inside this house tonight, together. We made it through another day. There are so many who didn’t. And tomorrow, that will happen to a few more. One day that will be each of us, but right now, in this moment, we were fortunate that we got another day.
As I got to the last of the windows, the ones in my office, I glanced out the French doors that face the backyard to the west. It’s my favorite view at the end of the day. I noticed dark, gauzy clouds enveloping the light fading on the horizon. I was reminded that the clock will thrust ahead an hour and a bit of sleep and rhythm will be lost as a result. Moods might swing for a few days. No matter, I thought, this—days like this—is what matters most. We will be lucky to get another one together.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
Copyright (c) 2010-2014 Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved. Personal theme was created in WordPress by Obox Themes.