The past couple of weeks have been tricky at my house. Shortly after Thanksgiving, one kid came down with a cold. I counted off the days of the incubation period before the next family member fell to the virus. Three days, and it was me. It was a bad time to run out of tea, but thank goodness, the Internet is so good at providing, and before the stuffiness was finished with me, tea arrived at my doorstep.
Three days later, the second kid got the cold, too. Little Dude hasn’t had much experience with microscopic invaders wreaking havoc on his immune system, and it showed. He dissolved into a puddle of clingy toddler. Fortunately, I have lots of practice cooking with one hand while holding a squirmy kid with the other. Anything that requires two hands must be done with wailing in the background, or just has to wait.
I have this deal with myself that I will write consistently. I aim for a little bit every day, rather than a lot of writing every once in a while. Nothing puts this vow to the test more than a kid with a cold. I tried plopping him in front of Finding Dory, but even fish on epic adventures in Moro Bay couldn’t distract him from “Mama, Mama, Mama.” I pulled my best evasive maneuvers, but any attempt to detach from the tiny cling-on were in vain.
Like Frodo in Rivendell, I realized that I would have to be the one to carry the Ring of Power to Mordor. Only in this version, my sacrifice would be sitting on the couch watching movies with a dribbly-nosed one-year-old.
It seemed more epic at the time than it does now.
Really, though, what sounds like a perfect opportunity to chill out gets old after the second day. Dishes piled up, the family was going to mutiny if we had pasta for dinner one more time, and my fingers itched. My draft was almost done. It was so close that I could feel it. But Little Dude kept snagging my pen and thwarting those last few pages.
Then, when I started to think my patience couldn’t wear any thinner, the polar vortex hit us. Little Dude had just started feeling better, and the weather turned so bitterly cold that we still found ourselves trapped inside. I needed a walk. The kids needed a trip to the library or some time in the backyard to reset. Mother Nature didn’t have much sympathy for my troubles.
I carved out the time, eventually. Some days my husband entertained the kids while I cooked, and between chopping and throwing stuff in the oven, I scribbled in my notebook on the counter. Little Dude started to sleep again, and I managed a few pages between his bedtime and mine.
Before I knew it, the draft was done. Two years of work finished while the world outside froze and my kids battled colds within.
It’s been a couple of days. The colds are now a memory, and the ice is melted. I’m back to fairly normal levels of personal time: not much, but enough to work with, enough to pursue my own hobbies and passions. My quick flash of pride at finishing the draft has been swallowed in the grind of revising my first novel.
Time jerks in stilted, uneven ways when kids are little. One day, I’ll find myself walking around the house, twiddling my thumbs while Little Dude and Little Miss play peacefully together. The next, I’m buried in a deluge of needs that no one can fulfill but me. It’s a strange life to inhabit as a writer, as anyone who needs to carve out some consistent time in the day. It’s taken me years of practice to learn how to judge those days when the writing will just need to wait. My inclination is to fight for every sentence, but there are times when that’s an exercise in frustration. I set my notebook to the side, knowing that I can come back, that it won’t gather dust for long.
The most important skill is returning to the writing when the time flows back. Old patterns must be reestablished, and no time wasted thinking that progress has been lost.
Eventually, the weather turns and the noses dry, and when they do, I’m always waiting there with my pen and my paper. New ideas, and a more flexible attitude.
How do you set your priorities, and then get back to those things that are important to you when things go back to a more normal rhythm? I’d love to hear what your challenges are, and how you get through them.
As for me, I’m grateful to have my sacred writing time back.