I'm trying, with limited success, to work three jobs. I got the one that pays the bills for 40 to 50 hours a week. I've got the one I took on when the Big Guy and I decided to become parents. And I've got the one that I'm still auditioning for – The one I get up at – still early, Buddy, don't you want to go back to bed? – 4AM to scribble in my notebook and doodle in my sketchbook for.
I slept in today. It was 5 AM when I finally dragged myself out of bed and into the shower, but I figured I had enough time before the rest of the house was awake – Stop that, kid – to get through a story revision – No you cant have the remote when everyone still asleep.
Thing2 usually does his own figuring on Saturday mornings, however. Like most seven-year-olds he has a sixth sense that tells his body clock when it's a school morning and went to get up early. Today the body clock was working perfectly, and as I sat down with my notebook and a short story I'm updating, somebody padded out in his jammies and socks.
Now, I'm sitting on the recliner with my story in my notebook and no daylight or molecules between me and my seven-year-old. i'm still editing and writing. I don't know if these are the kind of working conditions that Louisa May Alcott had to suffer through when she was an aspiring writer, but I figure scribbling away with a giggly seven-year-old – Cut it out! wrapped around my writing elbow is in my next job's description.
I can get used to that. The pay isn't so great, but the benefits are hard to beat.
For the last month, I’ve been wondering if my bipolar disorder had evolved in to something more insidious as the chorus of demands created by a stint of intense overtime at work and holiday social obligations amplified, drowning out much of what matters to me – fitness, writing and even family from time to time. I had been joking the last few days that – even as a work-at-home-mom – I spoken to my kids no more than twice a day lately (Once to tell them to get on the bus, and another time to tell them dinner is ready and go to bed).
There’s an old saying goes, “When mom ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”. I never believed that. I was thought I was putting my family’s health and happiness first – even when I wasn’t so happy. But Saturday, as the Big Guy and I arrived home from a cross-state work party too late to get to another outing and knowing I had to throw together a potluck contribution for the town’s annual holiday Christmas party (the only place with a Santa who actually knows if Thing2 has been naughty or nice), I realized I wasn’t happy. And I wasn’t making my family happy either. I was running on empty which doesn’t leave you much to give the people you love.
Saturday night Mother Nature gave me a sign. Actually she threw up an eight inch powdery white stop sign. And Sunday, the din stopped.
We knew the storm was coming, and, while the forecasted 5-10″ isn’t’ enough to morph my Saturday grocery shopping list into disaster planning mode, I knew the weather would likely keep us housebound in the morning. I did a mental inventory of our hot chocolate and popcorn supplies, but I also began making a list of the commitments outside my door that I could now reasonably avoid a day.
Sunday quickly became a day of rest. For me, it was a day of no iPhone, no email – work or personal, no iPad or TV. There was no Facebook and no news. After a late-night saturday look at the weather map, there was Radio Silence.
Sunday, with the cacophony shut out, I was finally able to hear the things that matter. Three of them are still sleeping down the hall. The other I am nursing for the first time in over a week.
After the storm, the windchime is still in its spot. It was a gift from the Big Guy’s sister who is not my sister-in-law. She’s my sister.
We didn’t have to go through all the in-fighting that adolescent sisters inflict on their parents. She lives in Southern New England, so we see each other a few times a year. Over the years, we’ve become friends and then truly family.
She brought this chime as an xmas gift a few years ago, and I keep thinking when we build a deck (which could be very far in the future given our ability to procrastinate building decisions), I’ll design a special spot for it. Now it’s hanging form a post that’s sunk into a corner of our very over-grown stone patio. I actually like it there. It seems to survive all kinds of storms, and it’s seems like it’s there to remind me to suck it up and stand firm when things don’t go perfectly.
It’s a lot like the giver in that way, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot the last few weeks as the storms of late autumn bluster through our mountain. My day job has claimed all my daylight hours and even most of my waking night time for the last few weeks. Everything else has disappeared – running, writing, down time. Even if I can set the alarm for my 4 AM writing time, often I do the numbers, realize I’ve slept four hours and reset the clock.
Sometimes it seems like it should be nothing. Writing’s just a hobby, right? But it’s also who I am. Not doing it makes me incomplete. Not providing for my family, however, would create an even bigger hole.
I’ve been there before and not by choice. A few years ago the Big Guy spent a week in the ICU because our then lack of health insurance had deterred him from seeking medial attention until a minor infection became an absess that nearly ended his life. It took years to pay off that bill, but it isn’t the fear of another ruinous bill that helps me accept being incomplete right now. It’s not even the determination never to let lack of insurance determine when we get care. Right now, what’s got me up at 5AM, girding my soul for another soulless day is that wind chime.
Last Saturday, to much fanfare from my family, I clicked an upload button and published my first short story. Fifteen minutes later, I had my first sale and, somewhat hesitantly, added the moniker of ‘author’ to my Facebook profile.
Hesitation has been the hallmark and stumbling block of my short writing career.
I’ve wanted to write most of my life. Only in the last year and a half – on joining the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Project – did a professional writing career seem like a realistic goal.
Over the year as I’ve sketched and posted, seven-year-old Thing2 has written and sketched with me. He’s filled 5×8 notebooks with trees and robots and star systems. He’s pilfered printer paper to produce his illustrated, staple-bound paperback stories.
The weekend before I published my story, I mentioned his endeavors as I was standing in the living room of a friend and writing mentor and his wife. I had been working on their computers, and my friend was taking the opportunity to harangue me for my hesitation, even enlisting thirteen-year-old Jack to keep me on the hot seat until I hit ‘Publish’.
“I think you’re scared,” said my friend’s wife.
“You’re right,” I said and pointed to Thing2 who was hanging on my friend. “You should see the books he makes,” I said. Thing2 smiled shyly. I thought I was off the hook, but my friend’s wife smiled, apparently knowing her husband would not be so easily distracted. “He’s really talented,” I said.
“And I bet he doesn’t doubt himself,” said my friend.
“No he doesn’t, I admitted.
A week later, we were at Bob’s diner. I was enjoying the glow of seeing my first royalties.
Jack and Thing2 quickly put my accomplishment in perspective as they setup a game of table hockey, complete with salt-and-pepper shaker goal posts and a straw wrapper puck. Fulfilling the requirements of my primary job title, I did the mom thing and barked a reprimand.
Thing2 asked for my notebook, and I gave it to him.
“Are you starting a new story?” I asked. He grinned and nodded, staking out the back 10 pages for illustrations.
“Mommy,” he announced, “I want to write a book just like you when I grow up.”
“You’ll be a great writer,” I said. There wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind or voice. The Big Guy concurred with the same confidence he expresses when he’s encouraging me.
That’s when it hit me. Thing2 and I have the same dream. I see his innate talent, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have his hills to climb. Each of us will only succeed, however, if we don’t start (or in my case stop) worrying if we have the right stuff and just climb.