It’s counterintuitive that I like to write, that I’m a writer. I need social interaction to stay sane, to stay out of my head, to experience present moments in the form of dialogue with another. In the presence of other people, bouncing ideas around, dumping, whining, rejoicing, critiquing, I feel alive and normal. Don’t ask for my definition. It’s basic. Normal, for me, is the absence of neurosis.
And yet, I write. Alone.
While the girls are at school, I’m tapping away at the keyboard either writing a post, writing something for hire, or trying (desperately) to obtain more writing work. I’m in my head and on the page – and while that happens, I’m fine. I love to write. But like running a race, I don’t always love it as I go along. Sometimes it feels tedious and I struggle with motivation. Undoubtedly, there’s reward, sometimes during the journey, when my pace is smooth and the words tumble too fast, and at the end, crossing the finish line, closing the last paragraph, feeling like the pieces of a whole have come together. It’s the downtime, the writer’s block, the dearth of deadlines, the embarrassing shortage of confidence, where I think I’ll self-combust. But if I leave the house, if I speak with another, if I interact with fellow humans, suddenly I’m fine.
Being a stay-at-home mom is really, really hard – not in comparison to working mothers, or brain surgeons, or firefighters battling the Santa Ana winds – not in contrast to or in competition with anything. I like math. I like sports. I like quantifiable achievements, and there are little if any associated with staying home and mothering. Sure, down the road, when the kids turn out okay, there might be proverbial pats on the back, but day to day, it’s a struggle. When the kids are all of school-age, stay-at-home moms have to find more meaning to their lives than making the house pretty, and so we attempt to find part-time jobs or fill the hours between the wash and dry cycles with social support and survival.
And yet, I write. Alone.
I’m not a complete basket case and I’ll tell you why (while remembering to heed my own advice): occasionally, I get out of the house. Monday mornings are tough and I don’t always lace up the running shoes and get out the door. This morning I did, wearing my Oklahoma City Fire and Rescue shirt and my Michigan baseball cap (and shorts, a jog bra, etc.) Three blocks away, a construction worker in a white truck slowed down next to me and asked if I was from Oklahoma City. I told him ‘no’, that I got the shirt while working on a television movie. “About the bombing?” he asked. I answered ‘yes’ and asked if that was where he was from. “Yes, ma’am…have a nice day,” he said smiling, and drove off. Two miles later, a street management worker was shoveling dirt for a repair project and glanced my way. “My nephew went to Michigan!” he shouted at me, seeing my hat. “Mine did too!” I shouted back and added, “They lost on Saturday.” “Yeah, they did. Made me real mad,” he said and waved as I ran ahead. Neither interaction was profound but even in those small connections, I feel as if everything’s okay. I’m out in the world with others. I talk with someone, therefore I am.
Motherhood is tricky this way. Even surrounded by one’s children, there can be uncomfortable feelings of loneliness. Dialogue with kids is on a different playing field than it is with friends, strangers, peers. Kids are selfish by nature, so there’s not much chance they’re interested in talking about the news or the meaning of life. They want to talk about school and have you listen. They want to talk about friends and see you nod. They don’t want to talk at all. They don’t understand why you linger at carpool, soaking up as much chatter as you can before you’re relegated to correcting homework and answering the incessant question, “What’s for dinner?”
Yesterday I took time for myself, away from soccer and birthday parties, and joined a friend for a cooking demonstration in a funky part of East LA (this week’s recipe will be Indian) and a visit to Intelligentsia for a latté after. Sure, we talked about our kids a lot but we also talked about spices, schedules, husbands, movies, and books. We made friends with a young man from Echo Park, also at the cooking class, who was getting his PhD in pharmacology, and shared our Shrimp Saag with him. It was a lovely afternoon. It filled me up.
Motherhood isn’t soul-crushing; that’s not what I’m saying. Neither is writing alone. I’m just lacking in spirit and depth and normalness when I go too long without talking to another grown-up, without making a connection, even if it’s with the guy filling the pothole up the street. I’m a social animal and a stay-at-home mom who writes, which requires balance by way of human connection. It takes more of an effort than those who go to a job every day and sometimes I forget. Thanks for letting me write 881 words to remind myself.
Life, Monday motherhood, Parenting