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Cathy: Can someone please explain how all the time in the world disappears without writing?

[Editor’s note: Shortly after she submitted this post on Monday, Cathy wrote to ask me not to publish it after all. She worried that her post sounded too whiny. I told Cathy that I thought she didn’t sound whiny at all, and that she was covering ground that many of us can relate to. (Me, for one!) At my urging, she agreed to the posting. Thanks, Cathy!]

Right now, I am a stay-at-home mother with a baby who won’t sleep off of me and must have one hand pinching, rubbing, or tweaking my muffin-top under my shirt at virtually all times, not just when she’s nursing. I look around my home, and think I need to do laundry, wash dishes, plan meals better, etc., but feel like I am accomplishing nothing because of little miss clingy or I’m on the chase because she must crawl, cruise, etc in the rare moments she is not attached to me. I know the regulars here are thinking my lack of sleep and how Baby C won’t sleep off of me are becoming like a Zen mantra of complaint: noooo sleeeeep….oooommmm…..noooo sleeeeeep. I’m sorry, but this is what I’m living right now. I have raised two other kids out of this phase and nannied a handful of others when the boys were little, so I know not all babies are this clingy and shallow sleeping. Just mine, apparently.

I must add that while it seems she is preventing me from getting anything done, she is generally a pretty mellow baby who is kicking my keyboard when I’m not giving her my full attention because I’m trying to have a creative life or a somewhat internet based social life. She’s not a screamer, like at times, my eldest could be, or always, like my second was. She’s generally the most pleasant baby I have known. But if I put her down in the port-a-crib, she won’t sleep and fusses for me like I’m breaking her heart. If she’s crawling around when I’m trying to accomplish something, S (by some miracle) is the only person who can pick her up and put her in the port-a-crib, and she’ll entertain herself nicely for enough time to make dinner, as long as she can see me hovering at the stove.

Now I can and do easily and often analyze the part I’m playing in this, such as giving in to her baby demands when I should let her be, put her down, train her to sleep off of me, etc. But then I turn around and don’t remedy it with all the advice I can readily give others. Part of me says, I’m 43, I had no business having this baby at this age, but in having her, I appreciate and want to hold her and have much more patience and appreciation for her than I did when my boys were little and I was 10 and more years younger, working, etc. I think my age difference is very telling about patience and perspective.

However, I’m trying to finish writing a novel. It’s not a very big or complicated one, it’s a children’s novel for goodness sake! A good old friend peeks in on this blog, but doesn’t comment because he’s a guy. He calls periodically with concern. He’ll say things like: are you sure now is the best time for you to be trying to finish the novel — because I remember when my son was that age, and it was impossible to write between lack of sleep and divided attentions. I thank him, tell him, I need to finish it now because I’m that close, and if I can sell it, it may bring some much needed income and assuage my guilt in that department.

Then I think: when S was in part time integrated preschool thru first grade and K was in kindergarten through fourth grade, I was working upwards of three part-time jobs, going through an unpleasant divorce that took forever, and began writing this novel. I was able to write it in the 30-minute snatches between my arrival home from job number one and when S’s bus arrived. I was extremely stressed, had no time, little to no child care, terrible finances, yet I wrote and managed my home by myself. And read The New Yorker within the week, novels and the collected poems of Robert Penn Warren repeatedly. I also journalled a la The Artist’s Way every morning while staving off the boys with the mantra “mommy’s morning pages!” How the heck did I manage all of that and start a relationship with my current husband, too? I seem to recall passing out on him often when we’d rent a movie at the beginning of our relationship. He claims that’s why he fell in love with me: I drooled on his shirt sitting on his couch on our second date.

Now I can barely see the time fly by while I feel like I am incapable of reading a book, doing anything beyond the wash and fold stage of laundry re: housework, yet I am home all the time! I have no brain to maintain a level of writing on a regular basis that I can honestly say: yeah, that sustains from the last part, and I can be proud of it. Is it that in being able to be more present for the baby, at my age, I am also less able to multitask in the ways I needed to at a much more stressful albeit younger time in my life? Or is it merely, I have baby-fied lack of sleep brain and forgot exactly how that taxes the mind from when my boys were also less than ideally sleeping babies?

I also know that I don’t feel like I’m having a heart attack for most of the day, because my stress level is nowhere near what it was then.

Someone please explain. Maybe I’m just having an overly critical moment. I did only write the first not quite 30 pages then, now I’m on page 85, after a four-year hiatus.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m beginning to think it’s merely a law of the universe that writing mother=frustrated mother.

    Newton wasn’t a working mother, but he came up with several laws that fit our situations to a T.

    Newton’s laws:

    I. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

    (In other words, we will write until our children prevent us from writing.)

    II. The relationship between an object’s mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma.

    As is “Ma!!!! I want to nurse! Ma! I want to sleep on you! Ma! I want a snack! Ma! I have a booboo! Ma! I want to have a long and violent tantrum!”

    III. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    Therefore, a mother’s enthusiasm for writing will be met by her children’s equal enthusiasm preventing her from writing.

    February 18, 2009
  2. cathy #

    hilariously true!!!!!

    thanks for pointing out the humor in it, brittany. i was having a relatively humorless moment when i wrote the above. the above is the thought process that happens when i am uninspired in front of the computer with my open ms doc. i did, after all manage to type a bunch of words (too many for the subject), with baby c kicking and sliding off of my lap, just not in ms!

    February 19, 2009
  3. I feel you. I had two “only sleep on me” kids, one of whom cried whenever he was awake. I think you should not underestimate the brain damage that can cause! Being creative takes a level of emotional energy that being a mom to a baby can suck out.

    I think it’s good to think about how you used to do it — not because you should be doing that now, but because it’s a reminder that they grow and get easier and someday you’ll be back at the page with your old gusto.

    Good luck.

    February 19, 2009
  4. Liz #

    I thought my Romana was the only kid who had to endlessly pinch any squishy part of my skin she could get her little hands on (and nails into).

    I don’t know what the weather is like out there, but maybe strap the little bean on you & go out for a long walk in the brisk air.

    It doesn’t solve anything, but it always makes me feel better.

    February 19, 2009
  5. cathy #

    thanks, jacqui, that does help put it in perspective.

    liz, yes, the nails, too! and it’s nice today, i may just break out the stroller and leash. i’ve been bad about walks lately, such a wimp about cold and damp, though i talk about missing new england all the time. i just don’t have the shoes and woolies to deal with it anymore!

    but she has been asleep off of me for an hour and more. i think i got out a good poem that started in the shower this am! still need to fiddle with the end, but the i’m pretty pleased with it. next, i open the ms…after i figure out some pre-lunch snack munchy. this writing thing makes me hungry!

    nevermind, her highness stirs….

    February 19, 2009
  6. georgiageis #

    Cathy, I’m so glad you decided to post this, thank you. I often have the feeling I just can’t get anything done. I’m trying not to be as hard on myself. My son has always twirled my hair and at almost five he still does, it is sweet and annoying at the same time.

    February 19, 2009
  7. cathy #

    i’m glad it was good for you to hear, georgia…

    February 19, 2009
  8. Kristine #

    I’m also glad you decided to post it, and I don’t think you’re being whiny. We call can relate. Believe me. My little one is also very clingy so getting anything done during her waking hours is a huge challenge.

    It’s amazing how our perspective of time changes once the babies come along.

    Brittany got it right: writing mother=frustrated mother. How true!

    February 19, 2009
  9. cathy #

    thanks, kristine.

    and i did go for a walk today! still no writing in ms, but revised the poem i wrote this am a wee bit and submitted it for next week’s contest.

    February 19, 2009
  10. i think we all get this, huh…i heard a song this morning that reminds me of this situation. this guy was sharing the story of all he was dealing with with a friend over a little too much alcohol, and the friend’s response was “sounds like life to me”. i think that’s the name of the song. it is what it is and we make the best of it. i think that’s all any of us can really do.

    brittany, i love your newton’s laws, and liz, i’m with ya on the getting outside. that’s always my remedy for whatever’s ailing me.

    hang in there, cathy! as the saying goes, “this to shall pass!” and then you’ll look back at it and miss those baby days. i sure do.

    February 19, 2009
  11. cathy #

    thanks, kelly. yeah, sounds like life was why i rethought posting this. i wrote it in a bad moment. i’m really not beating myself up when i don’t write these days, just feeling frustrated. i appreciate everyone’s support after the post, and i’m glad that what i wrote spoke to people, too.

    the good i gained from posting it is brittany’s comment gave me a great laugh, jacqui reminded me that thinking about other aspects of my life tells me baby will not always sucking my brain cells, i took liz’s advice and got outside, and i ain’t sailin’ this boat alone….thanks everyone!

    February 20, 2009
  12. Jen #

    Amen for shower poems! And for honest posts like yours, Cathy. Thank you for letting Miranda nudge you into posting it. Definitely rings true for me in many ways (though I no longer have babies sleeping on me! kinda miss it now, actually…. kinda.) I appreciate knowing I’m not alone. Love Brittany’s take on it, too!

    February 20, 2009
  13. Reading your entry felt like I was listening to my own thoughts–eerie. I often look back on my life when I seem to have accomplished much more than I feel I do know. Now I am a stay-at-home mother trying to start a writing career but my daughter is very intensive investigative two-year-old and I constantly feel behind and as though I have no time.

    I think that you have to look at life as a whole, though, and that there is a time and place for everything. I think that we can do amazing amounts of things but not all the time, only when we have to and the adrenaline can keep us up to pace. But if it goes on too long then it can be debilitative and leave you without zest and energy to enjoy life. This is your time to enjoy your sweet wee one and celebrate that you are close to finishing your book! An accomplishment in itself. Just do the best you can with what you’ve got and enjoy the fleeting moments of having a baby. At least that’s what I tell myself!

    February 24, 2009
  14. cathy #

    thanks, johanna! glad it spoke to you. now, have you read my post that’s up today? i think it relsoved a lot of the feelings i expressed here.

    February 24, 2009

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