When my daughter throws herself in a lump on the floor, when I’m operating on too little sleep, when I argue with someone during the day, when my beautiful girl refuses to take her vitamins/finish her worksheet/turn off the television/tie her shoes, objects to sitting on the stairs for a time-out and ignores whatever consequence I then enforce…
I begin to feel I can’t do this Mommy Thing anymore, that there is some secret I missed during “orientation.” I begin to worry that parenting was a bad choice for me, that she’d be better off with a different mom – a stronger, stricter mom, someone less dramatic, someone funnier who could defuse the taut air around us with humor. But she has me. And my partner, her Mama.
Then I look back. (Don’t ever do that when you’re in the throes of a parenting crisis.) There, I see my mom who slid steadily down the depressive mountain during my growing-up years. What can I possibly know about parenting?
Maybe – and you know what’s coming here, don’t you? – if I left right now, called my partner to come home quickly, kissed everybody one last time… There are whole books written about families where this happened. (Are they fiction or non-fiction?) I rationalize that after the initial shock and trauma wore off, their lives would improve. Immensely.
But I know it’s not true.
I love my family more than anything and I don’t want to leave. What I want is a plan. A vision. A tool for making it through this moment – this here, right now – a strategy. I need to find … crossover skills.
(Bear with me. It will all come right in the end.)
So here is what I know about writing – or, more precisely, here is what I know about my writing:
Every time I consider a speech, a presentation, an open letter, a press release, or a page for my agency’s Annual Report, I begin with overwhelming excitement, buzzing with joy and anticipation and possibility, and then I crash and burn through all the self-doubt I’ve managed to keep a lid on for days or weeks or months or however long it’s been since my last grand challenge. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize this as Writer’s Block. And it always passes. Always.
Sometimes I nudge it along by looking back at old writings, talking with a friend, outlining my ideas. I may drink hot coffee or gnaw on a straw. I may call a writer friend for inspiration or play pretend with my daughter. I read. I scribble, rip paper, cross things out. But I always come out the other side.
Maybe parenting is like that.
Last semester, I was invited to speak with a class of undergrads about writing and for days, I deliberated over what I might say, what I’ve learned in twenty years, what they may want to know. Two days before I was scheduled to speak, with notes scribbled out and a fresh page in front of me, I decided to start with Writer’s Block. And then a strange thing happened. Little green seedlings popped up through all the hard matter. I made another decision and another, and before I could get to a pen, I had an outline blazing in my head.
I spoke with the students about Writer’s Block. I told them you need to build it right into your timeline, into your process, and understand that it can be part of what makes your writing GOOD. I told them to write through their fears, even if what they write first is crap. To come back the next morning with fresh eyes.
I told them even the best writers cannot depend upon writing their best work each time they sit down with a pen. Or a computer. Or an iPad or a Droid. It takes time to be good at what you do. It just does. But I didn’t know that twenty years ago. Even though I heard it time and again, I didn’t want to believe it was true. I believed that you were either good or you weren’t, and that was that.
I didn’t understand how much work writing required. How much practice. How much time.
Now my daughter is erasing her math answers, nearly ripping holes in the page. What should I say? Why can’t I think of anything helpful?
Deep breath. Parent through the block. On the other side will be words on a page… a plan… numbers that all add up.
“Have another bite of apple, Sweetheart.” Silence.
Then, “No! I hate apples!” The paper is suddenly on the floor beneath her.
Breathe. Keep writing. Keep talking. The light will come. Hardy green leaves poking through all the hard bits.
It takes time to be good at what you do. And stamina. And patience. It just does.
But in my experience, if I parent through the block, the light will come. Even when it feels like it takes a really long time.