I finally figured it out, and so I’m going to tell you. You see…
Ender: “Mom! Where are you?”
…you’ve been asking me for years, “How do you do it?” What I thought you were asking was “How do you work and take care of your babies; how do you write and homeschool” and variants on the above…
Flora: “Moooom! Where are you? Ender wants you!”
…and I would tell you, and you’d get this glazed and confused and frightened look in your eyes, and never actually—so it seemed to me—hear anything I said—certainly in no way heed my unadvice. But I had this immense epiphany the other day…
Cinder: “Mooooom! I want to make cookies; where the hell is the margarine?”
…that is was my fault—I wasn’t telling you what you needed to know, because I wasn’t hearing what you were asking. You see, while I thought you were asking…
Flora: “Mom, Ender just stole my orange marker, tell him he has to give it back!”
Cinder: “Hey, Mom, can you wash the good cookie sheet? It’s covered with chicken grease.”
Ender: “It’s! Not! Fair!”
… while I thought you were asking, “How do you find the time to write and take care of the kids and take care of the house and exercise and have a life and, and, and,” what you were actually asking…
Flora: “Mom, Ender won’t leave me alone!”
Ender: “Mom, Cinder pinched me!”
Cinder: “Mom, the little bugger stole my Lego guys again!”
…what you were actually asking is…
Jane: “Shut up, shut up, shut up! GET OUT OF HERE! Now! Outside! All of you! Give me 30 minutes, and then you can come talk to me. Now—out. OUT!”
Flora: “Mom, it’s like zero degrees out. And raining.”
Cinder: “Maybe she just means out of the room.”
Ender: “But I’m hungry!”
Jane: “There are bananas and bagels in the kitchen. GET! OUT! AND STOP ASKING ME FOR SHIT! OUT! NOW!”
… what you were asking me was “How do I work (write) while interacting meaningfully with my children while making amazing dinners while keeping an immaculate house while pursuing my personal interests ALL AT THE SAME TIME.”
Yeah. So, the answer to that…
If you have this picture in your head of your laptop computer on the kitchen table, and you writing a novel—or, fuck, even a 1500 word article—while washing the dishes, peeling potatoes and teaching your children math and having a meaningful conversation with your lover…
Cinder: “Are you done yet? About that baking tray…”
Jane: “Clean it yourself or make chicken-flavoured cookies, I don’t care, leave me alone!”
Flora: “Is she done?”
Cinder: “No, she’s still pissy.”
Jane: “Writing! I’m still writing!”
Cinder: “Writing, pissy. It’s kind of the same thing.”
Jane: “Only when you interrupt me. NOW GO AWAY!”
…you are dooming yourself to failure, because all those “while’s” are impossible.
You know this intellectually, right? You can’t, oh—have a shower WHILE typing on your laptop. Make risotto WHILE scrubbing the kitchen floor. Paint a bedroom wall WHILE having sex.
So. You can’t write (work) WHILE interacting meaningfully with your children (or cleaning house or making supper or buying groceries or doing yoga or…)
Now, you CAN—I do—do most of these things sequentially, at different parts of the day-week-month.
You will do some better than others.
And choosing to give time to some things will mean less time for others.
Again, you know this, intellectually, right? But practically… you never seem to hear me. You know, like when I tell you what a crappy housekeeper I am, or that my children eat cucumbers and mustard as snacks when I’m on deadline? And you think I’m being funny?
The truth: say, I have two hours. In those two hours—I can write a story—edit a chapter—craft a rough draft of a pitch.
Or. I can make risotto.
(I don’t, by the way, know how to make risotto. But I understand it involves standing at a stove for an eternity, stirring a pot of rice. Fuck. That.)
Or. I can scrub the kitchen floor and the stairs. Or, do laundry or make the beds or declutter.
Or, read a chapter or two of Harry Potter or Hank the Cow Dog or Wow! Canada to the kids, teach Ender to read, help Cinder with his math…
These are all things that I should do, and do do at some point in a week (month… year… except that risotto thing, that’s just NEVER going to happen).
But if what I need to do—want to do—with those two hours is write a story… then I have to use those two hours to write the damn story.
And that may mean ensuring other-adult child care for my children.
Jane: “Moooom! I’m on deadline, can you please come and take the monsters AWAY for a while BECAUSE THEY WILL NOT LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Or, leaving the house for two hours for an adjacent coffee shop, so that the house—“The fridge really needs cleaning today, Jane, it does, it does, clean me!”—doesn’t make its passive-aggressive demands on me.
And, picking up a roast chicken or frozen pizza from the grocery store on the way home instead of making the perfect, healthier pizza crust from scratch (this, by the way, I can do and I do do… just not on deadline days, y’know?).
I have become much better at this over the years. Accepting that my time and energy are limited—as are yours—and becoming better and better at channeling that time and energy into the things that are really important to me.
So. I write. Every day. (Really. Sometimes, utter crap. But. Every. Day.)
Read with my kids. Take them on amazing adventures. (Most days.)
Exercise religiously, no matter how urgent the deadline, because, health.
Make guilt-free time for my friends and loves and just for myself, too—but not so much for organizing the Tupperware drawer (or for people who drain me).
Scrub the kitchen floor only when it gets to THAT level of filthy—or I desperately need to procrastinate (sometimes, that happens).
Never, ever make risotto.
Cinder: “You done yet?”
Jane: “Two minutes.”
(I think, by the way, that if making risotto is an essential part of who you are and need to be, you will find a way to make risotto and write/work and take care of your kids and all those other things. You will maybe let something else slide more than I do. Read less, stir more. Stay home more—the stirring demands it—and skin your knees in the wild less.)
Cinder: “Hurry. I didn’t scrub the tray that well, the chicken fat caught fire and I can’t turn off the smoke alarm.”
P.S. Speaking of priorities—I’m taking a sabbatical in October and November from Nothing By The Book while I pursue other priorities. Stay in touch via Instagram (@NothingByTheBook), and come back in December, will you? I promise I will be back.
Oh, and babes—I want to take my brood to Cuba, Mexico or some other hot-and-beachy place for (ready for this?) January, February, March 2016. If you’ve got a lead on affordable and cockroach-light accommodation (so long as we’re walking distance to a swimmable beach, we are not picky, and will co-habit even with pestilent insects), email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.