Monday, February 8, 2010

A Private Loss

Hi folks. This is a post I'd written for A Motley Vision, but I chickened out and couldn't post it. It's too girly. Too personal. I also couldn't let it go. So I'm posting it here. Sorry it's off topic.

In 2007 I gave birth to my third child and simultaneously vowed to myself that I would become a "real" writer by 2010. I'd be published. I'd have a solid resume. And I'd be proud of the direction my art was taking.

I have not reached my goal.

As many of you probably already know, the third child is quite often when the proverbial diaper contents hits the fan and it was no different for me. My third child had severe eczema, acid reflux disease, and obstructive sleep apnea. He screamed so loudly and so often my oldest child, who was then four years old, suffered panic attacks. Baby Number Three is two and half now and still doesn't sleep through the night.

When he was in utero I was flush with possibilities--for my unborn child, myself, and my writing. I truly believed I was coming into my own. Now, in 2010, I am flush with sleepless nights, piles of laundry, and disillusionment. Conspicuously absent is my writing success.

And I am having another baby. A hoped-for and wanted baby. But a baby that means my literary aspirations will continue to suffer.

Pretty much every female writer since Anne Bradstreet will tell you writing is a lot like having children. But I'm beginning to think it's a sign that God never sent me twins: he knew I couldn't raise two babies at once--just like I can't raise babies and write fabulous literature at the same time--I'm not meant to multi-task.

Those same female writers, including greats like Maya Angelou and Madeleine L'Engle, will tell you writing and mommying is a balancing act. But I'm beginning to wonder if that isn't a bit misleading. Nothing about having children is about balance and nothing about creating art is balanced. Both require complete surrender. You can't get out a scale and put a pile of children on one side and a pile of literary accomplishments on the other and have them ever be equal. They honestly don't compare. Writing opportunities missed--workshops, conferences, contests, little inspirations that don't make sense when I can finally devote time to the random notes I've made--always occupy an ungainly portion of my thinking. But what about the sting of guilt I have over snapping at my kids because I stayed up too late the previous night writing as if I was going to win the next Marilyn Brown Award. It isn't just apples and oranges. It's apples and Winnebagoes.

My children's cravings for parental affection and attention cannot be approached in a balanced, methodical manner. Our best moments are when I am wholly theirs, forgetting my notions of who I should/would be and immersing myself in their world--their problems (oh, the woes of sharing! the frustrations of shoe-tying!), their dreams (to fly, for real, and not in an airplane; can't I feel the wings growing in under her shoulder blades?), their realities (which, since they are not yet burdened by constraints of calendars and clocks, are basically extended dream sequences).

Those moments are the only times I come close to fulfilling the Savior's injunction to lose myself in order to find myself. In their minds I am stronger, wiser, and much more lovable than I perceive myself to be. And the more I am with them the more I become that superhero they think I am. Seeing the growing (and inevitable) realization in their eyes that I am less than perfectly wonderful is a loss--my oldest is only six and is already questioning my abilities--I need their dreams just as much as they do. After all, it is in their dreams I find reflections and reminders of my own pushed aside aspirations, my own stories. It is intimidating and inspiring and it makes me want to sit down and write but I'm afraid to because me being a writer only makes sense in the dream-world my children inhabit, not in the crowded, sensible, grown-up one I live in.

One particularly worthy project has been languishing for over four years now. It limps along with me researching and writing when I can, but my sporadic efforts are not enough to please publishers and I wouldn't feel right about asking readers to spend money on it when I know the book hasn't had the attention it deserves. For the vision of the book to be fully realized would take a full time effort. Because, just like my children, this book needs me to have more wisdom and experience, to be less limited. Just like my children, this book overwhelms me. But unlike my children, if I don't rise to the challenge nobody suffers, except maybe me. The unwritten words are a kind of miscarriage. A private loss.

In 2009 I had a couple writing opportunities that seemed huge to me: I got to write two reviews for Mormon publications, Dialogue and Irreantum. Finally, I was getting my name out there and building up a cache of "real" publishing credits. It felt like everything--my self-respect being the biggest--was riding on these two reviews. But neither worked out how I thought they would. Both ended up clashing with minor family crises. The first suffered neglect due to a bout of anxiety/depression in my oldest child and the second was only half-baked because of a chemical pregnancy/miscarriage. The sudden neediness of my family sucked all the energy out of my writing and I learned that any creative energy I have--whether it be for producing babies or producing rough drafts--came from the same source and it was tapped. When all was said and published, I felt depleted and frustrated and embarrassed. There was no balancing act, only unsatisfactory compromises on every front.

So in 2010, now that there's another baby kicking it's way toward earth life and a book waiting to be resurrected what am I going to do? I don't know. All I've got right now is what I'm not going to do: I'm not going to saddle either with expectations. And I'm not going to try to balance them. I may even manage to avoid conflating and comparing them. (Because, really, no matter how good the metaphor there are limits. My children are not blank pages waiting to be filled and a novel isn't going to be expelled out of my uterus.)

I'm writing this in the past tense, as if these things are over and done with in my life and I am now truly ready to fight the good fight, finish the writing, and keep the faith of my children in tact. But all these attempts at children--both biological and literary--have taught me that failure and success are two sides of the same coin. Both are temporary states of being and one will always imply the other because that's the way agency and opposition and life work: there's always a cost. The price we pay for the things we love is always the private losses registered only in sighs and faraway looks, is always the things we must give up.


queensister said...

Oh, Laura, I here you loud and clear. I've put goal setting on the shelf because it is too frustrating to try and push for something when my time is so heavily dictated by 4 kids. But that's o.k. I made homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches (with homemade bread!) last night and I believe that sitting down to dinner as a family is so much more valuable in the eternal scheme than any profound insight I could write. I know we can't see it, but I'm pretty sure that there will be a season down the road when our heads will be clearer and our children can feed and dress themselves, thus allowing a few minutes to collect our thoughts and get them down on paper. And in that season, we will miss our babies--Won't we?
Really, you do a terrific job expressing yourself, despite hormones and lost sleep. I'm a litte envious.

Misty Lynne said...

You know, I've been coming to the same conclusions myself. Between three kids and homeschooling, my energy and brain are all used up by the time I have "me" time. Typically all I have the energy to do is veg with a book or laptop.

Gone are the days when I was creative and intellectual. Or, I should say, they are put on hold for now. Some day I'll get back to quilting, wood carving, writing, art, a masters degree and the like, but now is not the time. My family takes precedence.

Even so, it's comforting to know that I'm not giving these things up. They're just on hold, waiting for another day, and someday, I'll see them again.

m said...

To every thing (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
An to everything there is a purpose...
Is that how it goes? I'm trying to sing it in my head and type it at the same time while my baby is calling to me to pick him up (one sec, Linc!) and two other kids are "BOOOORED MOM!" I have aspirations too...I hear you. But my accomplishments right here and right now are what I am really proud of.
You know I support you resurrecting your book. I really hope things come together on that project because you have already worked so hard on it!
Gotta go- m

Charlotte said...

Oh how I love this post! I wish you had posted it at MV! Because it tells a truth so contrary to what most wsould have us believe and then we feel like failures when it doesn't work. I've been pondering this ever since you posted it, meaning to discuss it further with you on the phone but there is never enough time. So instead I'm typing you this short comment. One handed. Because I'm nursing my infant:) I love you!!

Bonez said...


I have seen all the conditions you describe in many of my smaller patients, and have seen most of their conditions resolve with a few spinal chiropractic adjustments. Have you ever considered Chiropractic to help your kids and relieve them of these issues?

Laura said...

Thanks for all the support guys :) and suggestions. . .

Bonez--Several people have mentioned chiropractors to me, I just haven't gotten to it yet. It's worth a shot, though!

jendoop said...

I really connect with your post in a big way.

I heard this quote recently, "Give up the life you have planned for the life God has planned for you."
I am trying very hard to believe that what God has planned is better than my own, but it's difficult. In part I rely on how he has led me in the past, it's been good so far so I'm going to try to trust him.

But that coin, it seems to flip when my faith wavers. I am like Lot's wife, turning to gaze mournfully on what I've left behind.