Tuesday, August 31, 2010


We have this glorious first-day-of-school tradition at our house, in which we scorn the big yellow bus and trudge uphill en famille through the late-August heat to arrive sweaty and exhausted at the schoolhouse door. (It's delightful, really; you should try it sometime.) This year our third child donned the ceremonial kindergarten backpack and joined his older siblings, and as my husband and I walked back out into the heavy sunshine, pushing the stroller that contained our last remaining toddler, a part of me wanted to howl in sorrow at the passing of summer and playtime and youth itself.

The other part wanted to bolt down the sidewalk shouting, "FREEDOM!"

Don't get me wrong. I love my kids. My husband and I both work from home, raising them without a nanny or part-time babysitter. I'm a hands-on, roll-around-on-the-floor, tuck-'em-into-bed kind of mom, and I wouldn't have it any other way. And that's the problem.

Come summer, I can't get any work done.

Now, I know it's a problem I share with millions of other moms. And I'm luckier than most: not only is novel-writing an extraordinarily fulfilling career, it also fits neatly into the nooks and crannies of suburban motherhood. While folding my way through a Himalayan mountain of laundry with my Sherpa guide, I can imagine an entire character arc into vivid detail. Racing past yellow stoplights in the Sticky Minivan to deliver my nine-year-old to soccer practice, I can solve the most intractable plot conundrum at very little risk to other drivers.

But the whole system depends on having a few hours a day to myself, in which to imprint all these magnificent thoughts onto something more permanent than my overloaded short-term memory. And when my day is filled with feeding, cleaning and adjudicating my own marauding band of restless youngsters, plus a couple of stray neighbor kids wandering by at lunchtime, the only imprinting around here occurs when I bang my head repeatedly against the kitchen counter. (It's just so soothing.)

And yet somewhere in the middle of all that sand and salt water and ice cream and sidewalk chalk, we managed to have a pretty good summer. Our five-year-old learned to ride his bike without training wheels. Our nine-year-old finished the Percy Jackson series, and his seven-year-old sister climbed Mt. Washington by his side in her ruffled pink hiking shorts. The baby turned two and started demanding her own Happy Meal box at McDonalds. I wouldn't have missed a single milestone, even when it marked one more step in the journey away from the nest.

Now the big kids are in their classrooms, and the baby's napping, and I'm sitting in front of the computer at last, being myself. And you know what? I can't wait for my gang to come home and toss their backpacks over the clean floor and tell me all about the first day of school.

As long as they go to bed early.


  1. I can't imagine how you find time to write with four, I'm struggling with one!

    Great blog post and happy writing now that school i in session:)

  2. I'm floored. I have to escape to my little office down the street to get anything done. I can't believe you have four kids and still find the time and energy.

  3. Your posts are fascinating. I just caught up on all of them. Amazing what you find when you go digging into family history. Your cousin Bunny reminded me of a few of my own family stories. Thanks!

  4. Thanks so much, Sarah -- it's all about embracing the chaos! (And the running helps, as you know...)

  5. LOL, Chris! And to make things worse, my computer is in the kids' playroom. On the plus side, when I do finally crawl into bed at night, I sleep pretty soundly!

  6. Anne, family history is always a great source of inspiration. Our forebears seem to have led much more exciting lives than we do!

  7. Oh my goodness, I have to multiply my chaos by 4 to imagine yours! My hat is off to you. Do you get plenty of material out of the madness?? My six-year-old's imagination often puts me to shame. ;)

    Thanks for the lovely blog!

  8. Thanks, Jenny! In fact, my older son has taught me a lot about the creative process -- he loves to write stories and goes tapping away on his keyboard and never gets stuck! No writer's block for him. Something to be said for putting words on paper and editing later...

    Good luck with your own projects! :-)