Last night I saw Yvonne Blomer read at the Dawson City Public Library. It was wonderful. To hear new poetry, to meet some other local writers (they exist! they have a writing group! we exchanged email addresses!) to be reminded that yes, I am a writer and a poet. To say, out loud to people I don’t really know, “I’m a poet” was pretty special. And it didn’t feel nearly as awkward or nerdy as it does when I say it to people who aren’t also poets or poetry enthusiasts.
Yvonne read a new poem about limpets, and about the way young children cling to their mothers and don’t let go. And it got me thinking about my little limpets, all three of them, always clinging to me. It rarely feels anything but smothering, if I’m being honest. So after the reading was finished, I asked Yvonne how she balances life as a writer and as a mother. I asked if she found having a child to be a detriment to the writing life, or if it enriched it. And she said that absolutely, having a child enriches her writing life and helps her to see things in new ways. And we chatted a bit about how intense it is, when they’re just these little limpets suctioned to your legs, your chest. And then she laughed and said “but then they go to school, right?”
If you know me, you know P and I have talked about homeschooling the kids. It’s been the plan pretty much since Aedan was a baby. There are so many things we love about homeschooling: the kids can learn at their own pace; they can follow their interests, dig deeply into subjects they are passionate about; our family will be free to travel in the winter; the kids can remain close friends. These are all wonderful, positive things that have led us to make this decision. But since coming back to myself as a poet and writer, since reviving my dream of publishing a book (or books!) some day, I can’t help but fret more than a little over this particular choice.
It’s something I hear or read repeatedly from mothers who are writers: the early years are exhausting, but then they go to school. Then you can write. Carol Shields said:
“I didn’t start writing until [my children] were all in school. And I might say to writers with young children, eventually children really do go to school. I found, very gradually, that I had a little more time every year to devote to writing. The first novel I wrote entirely between 11:00 and 12:00 every day just before the kids came home for lunch, and I very seldom got any more time during the day to get back to that. I set myself a little task which was to write two pages a day. Now it takes me all day to write two pages. Then I could squeeze it into one hour.”
[Interview with Diane Rhem for US Public Radio, March 31, 1984]
If I look at myself, my experience of motherhood so far, with total, brutal honesty, I would say I don’t love it. I love my kids, yes. But I don’t love spending all of my time with them. And I know that this is a trying age. That eventually they will be able to wipe their own butts, make their own snacks, read books or play computer games or watch documentaries themselves. But that is years away. I wonder if I’m really the kind of parent who is cut out for homeschooling, or if it’s another part of the “natural parent” persona I adopted when Aedan was a baby (along with: wanting to grow and preserve all of our food, have goats and chickens, extended breastfeed. I don’t want to do any of these things anymore. I’m tired.)
Maybe I would be a more effective parent if my kids went to hang out with someone else 5 days a week. Maybe I would feel most fulfilled if, after dropping them off at school, I went home or to a coffee shop and wrote for 2 hours, or 3 hours, or even 4 hours. Maybe I would yell less. Maybe they’d watch less Netflix. I feel like I’m still extricating the mother and human I actually am from this imagined mother-person that I invented from beautiful blogs like Soule Mama and other internet people like her, when I first became a mother. As much as I love the idea of a huge vegetable garden and hand knit clothes and fermented everything, and yes, kids happily following their interests at home all day every day, maybe that’s just not me.
Maybe there’s a way to balance it all, to find a way to be both published poet and homeschooling parent. Maybe I’m just having a bad day (the boys did break a really beautiful dish and bury the petunias in dirt, all before 9 am, so…)
I do know that I don’t have to decide right now. And as my littlest limpet clamors at my feet to be picked up and read to, I am reminded that even if I do send them all to school, it’ll be another 5 years before those blissful, uninterrupted hours of writing time. So I guess I should try to “enjoy it while it’s lasts.”