Not just a mom. Not just a writer.
by Tanya Ward Goodman
Since I last posted here at The Next Family, I’ve become a published author. My memoir, “Leaving Tinkertown” came out in August and was accompanied by a small flurry of interviews and readings. While I have considered myself a “writer,” for a long time, holding a book in my hands cemented this identity in my brain. The book is a “testimonial,” the kind that the Wizard of Oz bestows upon the Cowardly Lion and his pals. It wasn’t that they didn’t have courage, brains and heart, they just needed some tangible evidence to prove it. I get that. I’ve always had a problem answering the question “what do you do?” I stammer something along the lines of “I’m a mom, but I write a little.” The book has miraculously shifted the order of this answer. “I’m a writer,” I say. “And a stay at home mom.”
The stay-at-home mom business is a full time job if you go at it with a “bake-it-yourself” mentality. I know this, because for much of the past ten years, I’ve been baking and making. I’ve sewn Halloween costumes and prepared potluck casseroles. I made dinner every night and packed carefully nutritious lunches. I spent hours volunteering in school classrooms and baked hundreds of bake sale cupcakes. I’ve served on boards and committees and sat right next to my kids while they did their homework every day. And it has been great.
But it doesn’t allow much time for writing.
The book is a testimonial. A talisman. The book has my name on the front cover. The book has needs. The writer has needs.
“It’s just all about your book, now, isn’t it?” my daughter asks.
“Not all about it,” I say.
She yawns. My daughter will keep me honest. She will keep me humble.
“It’s an exciting thing,” I say.
“It is,” she says. “But you don’t have to talk about it all the time.”
I don’t have to talk about it all the time, but I want to. In those first few weeks, I crave to talk about it the way I used to crave cigarettes. I feel like I shouldn’t be taking up so much time and space talking about the book, but I can’t help myself and I begrudge the time I spend not talking about it and even more the time when I am not writing.
I stop baking and making. At first I feel guilty. I beat myself up for not writing. I beat myself up for not being a full-on-full-time mom. And then I get tired of beating myself up. For the first time in a long time, I cut myself some slack. I realize that having the book out has brought me as much happiness as having my children. I want both. And I deserve both.
I stop making dinner every night. I let the take-out containers pile up. The kids learn to make macaroni and cheese from a box. I let them turn on the stove and boil water with very little supervision. And no one dies.
But I feel guilty. I volunteer more at the elementary school and take on an extra tutoring session at the high school where I don’t even have kids. It only takes me a couple of weeks to realize that I am overcompensating.
I hire a babysitter to pick up a couple of days after school. My kids do not love me any less. In fact, they have enough love to love the babysitter, too. And I am nicer when they come home because I’ve had enough time to complete a thought, fill a page, be a writer.
A couple of months in, we are finding a balance. I’m getting a little more organized and the tide of take-out is diminishing. I can make a pot of soup in the morning and let the simmering smell keep me company while I sit down at the computer. I volunteer here and there and make time for exercise and meetings and seeing friends. I am not just a mother or just a writer. I want my kids to know that. I want them to know that I am a woman who is pleased and satisfied with her life and that I am willing to work hard to keep it that way.