Sunday, November 16, 2008

Is writing compatible with motherhood?

Virginia Wolf didn’t think so. She sacrificed being a mother for being a writer. And didn’t one of those early women writers actually give up her children so she could write? And can we even put down the proliferation of our best loved Irish writer, Maeve Binchy down to the fact she has no children?

Ok, I hear you saying, what about JK Rowling? Millions of words and millions of pounds later, she’s a shining example of successfully combining motherhood and writing. Aha, I suggest. She writes children’s books. That means she probably gets all her ideas from them, and can count reading over her work as quality child time. She can even arrange playdates with Daniel Radcliffe.

A room of our own? That’s a laugh. I don’t even have a pen of my own. My office? My desk? My room? A large Orla Liely bag which contains all my current musings and laptop that I clutch to my breast looking for a quiet corner of the house. Sometimes the bag retreats to Starbucks and sets up office there. I’m a writer in waiting: waiting for the kids to sleep, waiting for the Dora half hour on TV, waiting for my time to come after everyone else in the house has been taken care of.

I met John Boyne recently. I discovered he wrote the first draft of his best selling, multi-award winning, Hollywood-film-showing novel, Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in two and a half days. TWO AND A HALF DAYS! That’s how long it takes me to scrape the Weetabix off my laptop so I can find the delete button to rid myself of the appalling drivel I wrote the previous week in between cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping, arse-wiping, knee-kissing, jigsaw constructing, rocket making (cosmic pink with tinfoil windows), and remembering to breathe. Like all good writers, it seems I need a wife. But my kids need a mother so what’s a woman (writer) to do??

I’ve just had to stop writing this in order to construct a rather fetching ‘tent’ in the playroom by draping some blankets over some chairs. I’m pretty sure Stephen King doesn’t have this problem. (Not that anyone is likely to want to get in a tent, no matter how pink, with Stephen King.) Still, the point is, it’s hard. I know enough wonderful women writers who are mums struggling with the same issues as me (and actually, I’m sure it’s not restricted to writers.) How do we find time to do what we love amid doing what else we love? To clarify, I mean being with our children is the other thing we love. I did not mean, and never will mean, thinking about what food to give us all, shopping for the food I’ve still not thought about, cooking the food I’m still not sure what it’s going to be – just something that starts with the left over onion in the fridge and see where my (lack of) inspiration takes me, washing up the dishes the food was not eaten off, hoovering the food off the floor, and washing the clothes that are covered with the food I’ve been thinking about all day.

How do I correlate wanting to be a full-time mum with being a full-time writer? How do I even correlate being a part-time mum with a part-time writer? I can’t, because I can never be a part-time mum or a part-time writer. Both are in my blood. Both are what I am. I cannot successfully be one without the other. If I was no longer a mum, I would have no inspiration to write. If I was no longer a writer I would be a terrible, disgruntled unhappy mum.

I don’t know if that makes me bad at both, or just in one of those places that no matter how often I ask the question, there really just is no answer.

So I’ll carry on being both, doing both, shunting one in front of the other occasionally, trying to find the balanced line. I’ve just danced with them to Abba, and read the Princess book. Again. Now they’re having tea with dad, and I’m clutching my Orla Kieley bag to my chest. My time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From the mouths of babes

Will my children ever know what today meant? They will grow up never knowing it wasn’t possible for a black man to be President of the world’s superpower. Another thing they’ll take for granted – along with their mother being able to vote, our Irish nation in peace with itself, apartheid something from a fantasy novel.

My two girls will grow up thinking – knowing – they can achieve any position, any career, any desire they have, not only because that is what my husband and I will tell them every day, but because all kinds of people before them have fought to give them that future.

What battles will my children fight? What barriers will they batter down? What ceilings will they shatter? I don’t know, but I do know that today is another step towards ensuring they will be able to fight, will have the courage to battle, and can reach high enough to shatter.

And really, in such a historic moment like this, it takes a child to put it all in perspective.
Recently we made a big deal of Daisy throwing all her dummies in the bin. When she went searching for them a short time later, I had to tell her the bin man had taken them away. She contemplated this information, pondering I suppose, just what a bin man was having never seen one.

This morning my husband told her it was a special day. A black man had just become the most important person in the world. She looked a little put out. “Yes,” she said, none too pleased, “and he took my dummies away!”