Yes, it has come to this. I am so exhausted from all this “summer vacation” that the lyrics from Porgy and Bess make me ornery. I could have told you – even without looking it up – that the person who wrote the lyric “Summer time and the livin is easy” was a MAN. Sure enough, it appears author DuBose Heyward who wrote the novel that the opera is based upon penned that line.
Let me tell you Mr. Heyward, as an author and a mother that line of prose makes diet coke squirt out of my nose in a most unbecoming way. If, like me, you combine writing with mothering all from the same location (home) then summertime is a marathon—a marathon that your muse is bound to lose. Can I get an amen from the other writing mom’s out there?!
Unless you ship your kids off to sleep-away camp there will never be a more chaotic time for writing than summer “vacation” (well I suppose trying to write during a family crisis would be worse but let’s hope that isn’t as common an experience as summer-vacation writing is). The school year schedule may provide short writing days, but those truncated days are blessedly quiet. And they are relatively uninterrupted, except when the fridge is bare and the shopping must be done or one’s spouse declares he is wearing absolutely his last pair of clean undies so you spend half the day running up and down stairs to your laundry room.
During the school year if I am writing well I don’t eat lunch. During the summer it doesn’t matter how well I am writing, my elementary aged-son son is going to get hungry. And he, not unreasonably, is going to want to spend some time with me (unless he is avoiding doing his daily math and in which case I am going to go looking for him, muse be damned). Summer’s short windows for writing tend to provide just enough time for me to get into a scene before, voila, it is time to stop. Someone always needs picking up somewhere (the metro station, a lesson, day camp) and the fear of forgetting a child somewhere looms even larger than the fear I am never going to finish this manuscript. So I leave the fantastic paragraph unfinished and jump in the mom-mobile.
Yes Sophie you say – nodding your head in maternal commiseration—but where is all this whining going to get you?
NOWHERE. And that is the point (you were hoping I had one weren’t you). Being frustrated never got a chapter finished, and it sure sucks the fun out of cookie-making or crafts. As I see it we (the mass of mom’s with kids home for at least a few more weeks who are desperately trying get some other sort of work done) have a couple of choices:
We can try to be supermoms. We can get up to write before the kids awake; work after their bedtimes; and make ourselves jot down a sentence or two while waiting in the camp carpool line. This is a necessary approach for those of us on deadline, and it works wonders for some writers– but it is ONLY if they are the type of person who can write under that sort of pressure (and at odd hours). Staying up past your bedtime is not a winning strategy if you are prone to waking at 3 a.m. in a pool of drool on your own manuscript.
We can get away. Probably not for the whole summer, but if you are the type of writer who works best in long stretches and relative quiet, what about grabbing a long weekend here or there? Tell your husband “you’re it” and head to a friend’s guest room or somewhere more glamorous (funding permitting). If I had this summer to so all over again, I would take a whole week for myself. I’d put my college girl in charge of my younger kids, tell my husband to feed the family take out, and head for the hills. There’s always next summer . . .
We can cut ourselves some slack. We can accept the rhythm and writing-rate that a summer with children at home imposes and shrug, muttering “I can only do what I can do” under our breaths. Ultimately (after 3 rounds of out-of-town guests, 4 different types of camps, etc) this is what I am doing. You see I had an epiphany while on my real vacation. By the time I hit the beach last week I was as crabby as a two-year-old kept up for 36 hours straight and only given junk food. I wasn’t enjoying my writing. I wasn’t enjoying my kids. And I KNOW I was inflicting collateral damage on the rest of my family (because hey, to quote something I read in a Washington Post editorial years ago, “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy). I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, it’s August, you didn’t write as much as I thought I would this summer. Get over it and enjoy the weeks you have left before school starts.”
I am I disappointed in myself? What good would that do? There is enough needless worrying and unearned guilt in mothering at the best of times, and plenty in writing as well. Besides, the book will get done. To circle back to Porgy & Bess (with a few changes):
One of these mornings, I’m gonna rise up singing. I’m gonna spread my wings and take to the sky.
I suspect that morning will come the Tuesday after Labor Day. I imagine I’ll see plenty of other writer-moms up in the clouds that day as well.