I remember settling sideways in a black, plastic chair to sit across from a new client. I was developing my freelance corporate writing career simultaneous to incubating my first baby. My client, a land developer, stared doubtfully at the tent-like awning—er, maternity blouse—brushing the edge of the table. I tried tucking my “bump” under the table, but that didn’t work. That’s why I ended up sitting sideways to take notes.
“Are you sure you’ll be able to finish this job?” he asked, gesturing to my bump, “I mean, will you finish it before…uh…in time?”
“Of course!” I chirped in reply. “The baby is due next month—plenty of time to complete your information packets. Let’s get started.”
After my meeting, I drove home wondering if he was right. Would I be able to finish his project? Even broader than that, would I be able to launch this part-time career and deal with a new baby? Could I be the mother I want to be and become the writer I want to be? Could I do both well?
I wasn’t sure.
Somewhere along the line I ran into a Madeleine L’Engle quote:.
During the long drag of years before our youngest child went to school, my love for my family and my need to write were in acute conflict. The problem was really that I put two things first. My husband and children came first. So did my writing. Bump. (p. 19)
The bump. How interesting that she chose that word when talking about motherhood: bump. Funny, with biological moms flaunting their bumps these days in photos on blogs.
Anyway, knowing that Madeleine L’Engle developed her writing life in the context of motherhood gave me hope. If Madeleine figured it out, maybe I could, too.
And then an amazing opportunity presented itself. During that phase of early motherhood when my computer keyboard was bumping regularly against the umbrella stroller (metaphorically speaking), Madeleine spoke at a college about two hours away from my house. A friend of mine and I eagerly secured tickets. As expected, her talk inspired my writing-mind with her musings on time and space and creativity.
After her message, she signed books. Just to get her autograph, we stood for a long time, maybe an hour, in a line that snaked down a hallway. Madeleine’s health wasn’t good at the time, so they streamlined the process to minimize her stress and strain (and maximize the number of people who got books signed) by having us open our books and file through the room in a certain way. It was orchestrated smoothly. They wouldn’t appreciate a glitch.
I’m famous for glitches.
As we inched closer to the table where she sat signing book after book, I kept thinking, This is my chance to get some nugget to hold onto, some hope that somehow I’ll be able to pull off motherhood and writing.
“How, Madeleine?” I wanted to ask. “How did you do it?”
Maybe as much as knowing how, I just wanted some encouragement from her.
Maybe I wanted to hear her say, “You can do it. You’ll make it.”
Maybe a knowing smile and a slight nod would be enough.
I’m sure I was a maddening companion for my friend Julia during our long wait. I waffled. Should I ask, or should I just say thank-you and move on? If I asked her, what would she have time to say in the instant we were face-to-face?
Actually, I had a long list of questions I’d like to ask her. But I would have about five seconds.
Of all the things I could ask Madeleine L’Engle during those seconds I would stand in front of her—a chance in a lifetime—you’d think I’d go for something more esoteric or profound. Or ask her something more personal about Crosswicks or life in New York. But at that stage in my life, the most pressing question nagging me involved writing and motherhood:
How? How would I do this?
I handed her a book to sign (Walking on Water). She asked for my name and scrawled a note on its pages. She looked up and handed it to me.
“Thank you,” I said. Then I blurted it out: “When your kids were young…how did you do it? How did you manage to write?”
She looked up at me.
I’m sure my eyes were bugged out a little from the desperation I felt inside. I needed to know.
“It was hard,” she said.
And that was all she said.
Then she looked past me, hand outstretched for the next book, to scrawl another name, another mindless message, to click the next cog in the wheel that would get the assembly line back in motion and make up for my glitch.
It was hard? I already know that, Madeleine. I’m living that. I’m struggling. I’m dealing with the bump—the conflict, the struggle—every day.
I shuffled along with Julia out of the room.
What did I expect? It was a book signing, and I deserved no more time, wisdom or insight than anyone else in that long line of fans.
But boy did I need it. I needed hope from some author-mom on the other side, with kids all grown, who could look back and assure me that I’d make it through—someone who could offer a few principles for how to handle that Bump.
Madeleine couldn’t offer that.
Deep down, I knew it even before I asked.
A bit later I found myself in a writing workshop. Holly Miller was teaching. She used to work for the Saturday Evening Post. She’s written books and countless magazine articles. She frequently teaches writing workshops and seminars.
The event was held years ago in a small, intimate setting. Unlike my limited, five-second exchange with Madeleine, I had time to chat with Holly. I was the mother of three kids at the time. They were still very young.
After the official seminar finished, the room cleared out except for a few stragglers. I stood back and listened as she interacted with three friends of mine. Then she turned her attention to me.
I was lugging my portfolio, which included feature articles I’d written for the newspaper. A magazine article or two. Some brochures.
I’m sure she was noting that same bug-eyed look of desperation that poor Madeleine had to face.
“Here’s some of my work,” I stammered. “My kids are all young. I want to write and develop myself more.” She was leafing through the pages. “But…you, Holly, you’ve ‘arrived.’ You’ve done it! You’ve pulled it off—I dream of one day being where you are now. And you did it with kids. I just wonder how? How did you do it?”
She looked into my pleading, buggy eyes and reassured me. “You’re doing it. I mean, you’ve got some nice work here. You’re getting your name out there. You’re working at it. I think you should feel good about what’s shaping up here.”
Then I remember her eyes. There was a shift. She asked how old my kids were. I told her, and her eyes grew distant, almost melancholy. I don’t know if that’s what it was, but that’s what I felt.
“I’m where I am today because I worked long hours full-time when my kids were young,” she continued. “And now they’re grown. You’ll still have time to develop your career later, but you only have now with your kids. Your kids are so little, and they’re little for such a short time. Right now, I suggest you focus on your children. You’ll never regret spending time with those kids.
“Keep your finger in the publishing world,” she concluded. “Just keep your name out there. Publish locally with your paper, like you are. Submit to magazines. Keep it going on a small scale and your time will come.”
Finally: An answer.
I thought I was looking for hope or a plan of action. What I was really looking for was: Perspective.
That wistful look has carried me for years. I did not want to live with regret that I gave too much to my career and not enough to my little children, so I let that reflective advice assure me, especially when others were building more impressive careers than mine, that my time will probably come. Eventually.
And if it turns out that my time never comes as a writer, I’ll have been (and be) the mom I want to be for my children.
I was never bug-eyed desperate after that.
Taking Holly’s advice, I’ve faithfully kept my finger out there in the publishing world:
- maintaining this blog
- submitting to a magazine now and then
- authoring a book
- writing for corporations, organizations and not-for-profits.
I could stand to be savvier. There’s probably a way to make money from all these words I compose for the blog. I’m working on new projects and ramping up my writing life in other ways.
Maybe my time is coming. Maybe not. We shall see. Lord willing, we shall see.
But there are still soccer games to support. Softball practices. Meals and birthdays. Doctor’s appointments and carpets to vacuum.
My little boy just today asked me to read Mirette on the High Wire, which I did, along with Mem Fox’s Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge and Possum Magic. And then we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and an apple cut up.
But he also had to wait while I finished up an e-mail that I had to send out for my freelance work, and when I told him he had to go to drop-off childcare so that I could attend some meetings, he muttered, “I wish you didn’t have this job.”
Bump. Bump. Bump.
Life’s an experiment. It evolves; I adapt.
I live, laugh, love…and write.
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—Rachael and Larry Crabb, authors and speakers
Julia K says
Ann, I was thinking about that conference with Madeleine L’Engle recently, too, and how she wrote a different word in each of our books after sizing us up. I got “Julia–Harmony.” I cut it out of the book to frame and hang on the wall in my study.
Holly Miller was one of my favorite professors at Anderson University. She gave me a lot of encouragement to be a writer and stick with it. I enjoyed reading about your encounter with her. She’s great.
I interviewed Diana Gabaldon (of the “Outlander” series) a few years ago and asked her the same question. How did she find the time and focus to write those huge novels with children in the house? She laughed and said, “They do grow up, you know!” That phrase runs through my head at least once a week and helps me keep things in perspective when I need it. – Julia 🙂
Perspective. That “bump” forever changed my life when I was a sophomore in college. My career aspirations quickly went down the drain as I realized that a CPA doesn’t really get to do motherhood from January to April. I’m so glad that “bump” shook me. I’m living a life I never knew existed.
And that “song on the walk”…….love it! “Let my lifesong sing to You….” as I walk with Him.
Julia! Okay, now I’ve got to dig out my book and see what she wrote–I can’t remember my word! “Ann–Desperate,” perhaps? I wondered if I was off in my details from that event. That was a long time ago.
I forgot you’d have that Holly Miller connection, and I love your Gabaldon quote–“they do grow up, you know.” It complements Holly’s perspective. Nice. Thanks for commenting!
Okay, I found it. It says:
a song on the walk.”
Kind of reminds me of that Poetry in Motion post from the other day.
Oh, it also reminds me of one of the most hilarious stories Antique Mommy has ever written. Keeping in mind “Harmony” and “a song on the walk,” enjoy the following link:
Julia K says
I love that. “A song on the walk.” I think Beth’s was “Peace.”
Anne, you’ve made me think–AGAIN. Just yesterday I was questioning my sahm-ness. I’d love to be a writer (I’ve been published in some young adult curriculum/magazine) but I don’t know how or where to start. Anyway, I can’t put it into words. I had tears in my eyes as I read, so thanks for giving me perspective, too.
BTW, I’m so jealous you got to meet Madeline L’Engle, even for 5 seconds! 😉
Ann, this entry encouraged me more than I can express right away. Thank you.
I’ve always loved stories and writing. In 6th grade a creative teacher had us write a play about Mexico’s history. We made it up and he wrote it on the board, a designated student copying it long-hand as we went. I loved it! He had it typed, and we practiced then performed it for the school – I got to play Pancho Villa! I was hooked. Love that writing stuff! But there’s more school to finish. Years of it.
When my high-school counsellor told me I was the first in Colorado to ace the creative writing section of my SAT test I was amazed. But music was a bigger rush for me at the time so I sidelined the writing and English teacher thang, but I wrote some pretty mean papers in college. In one course my papers turned my failed exams into a passing grade for the semester. Whew~!
I married, entered church ministry and relished opportunities to write for the church newsletter. In my first church I asked two English teachers in the congregation (the fun, hip, encourage-you kind, not the old-maid, slap your knuckles with a ruler kind) to proof some of my things and suggest ways to improve. They helped a lot, but more waiting. Years of it. Ministry. Family. You know, the important things.
Then came the year I wrote and produced a live-broadcast-style Thanksgiving Eve service, patterned shamelessly after Prairie Home Companion, complete with bluegrass gospel, homespun in-house church and ministry commercials, radio drama, and my monologue, read from a stool in front of a mic on a boomstand, just like in Minneaopolis. Heaven stopped by for a night, but nothing published. There was a long string of maybe 12 years of those services… one a year. The Back Porch Society, I called it, The society for the preservation of all that is good and pure and wholesome.
A magazine article for a no-longer-published church music magazine. I loved the end result but hated the editorial hoops between concept and reader. (I think it was too business-y for the editor, not enough teach / encourage for me). More waiting.
There was the Master’s project. And a prof who suggested turning it into a book on a more reader-friendly level at some point. Hope! Count me in! But not enough time to water the thing and make sure it stayed in the sun so it could sprout.
Then came the trip to visit an aunt who lives on the shores the Gulf of Mexico, a retired English and literature teacher who spent a couple of days discussing documents I’d mailed ahead. She concluded I had *several* books in my head, some of which would probably come to light before my favorite idea would find it’s way into print.
(this is getting long, isn’t it? I’m sorry. It’s just I’m seeing “…a song on the walk” embossing itself on the page here)
The empty nest. A setback, ministry-wise. Financial concerns. More writing, journalling, stuffing my writer’s stash with scraps and notes and ideas – for later, not for now.
A ministry concept – born about this time, April, 2006. It took me three months or so to choose a name and settle on Vibrance. I toyed with blogging at some friends’ urging and found it wasn’t much fun if no one could find, read, and profit from all those profound thoughts. I nearly quit.
Then someone suggested WordPress. I looked around here a while and decided to change addresses and start in. Through the fall I wrote sporadically before deciding to step it up and write (almost) every day in ’07. Bright, appreciative readers, without any cigar-smoking, visor-clad editors. I can do this!
In the quiet of this morning, even before I read today’s post, I noticed and journalled something exciting. The current number of those who read me each week is more than the largest church I served. I stopped for a moment and thanked the Lord, choked up a little and then resolved to keep going. Following Him, encouraging others on the way, helping believers help each other, thankful for tools we have today that none before us got to try.
It IS a journey. My book(s) are still in there – some just have longer gestation periods than others, I guess. You’ve encouraged me. Thanks.
Now with your permission I’m going to copy and paste this at my place – it seems I’ve just written a blog entry as a comment on one of yours. Go figure. 😀
Very inspiring post.
I’ve already commented on what it was like when you were little and wished I didn’t have a job…without realizing what I had given up and had taken the job I had to have more time at home….
BUT, when I was little, my Mom was home nearly all the time, except on Saturdays when she had to go help my Dad in the grocery store, which often stayed open until after midnight, until all the farmers had their groceries. When Dad got sick, she spent a lot more time there. And I wished she didn’t have that job.
Sometimes jobs are necessary, even part-time ones.
And sometimes, kids just have to get over it. It won’t look so bad to them later on. At least you aren’t sending HIM out to work in a cotton mill!!!
Although then he would have something to write about when he grows up!!
Karen Hossink says
OK, Ann, your question was *How?*
Mine is *Why?*
Why didn’t you think this essay was worthy of a contest??? I think it’s fantastic. During your story about Madeleine I almost had to cover up the bottom of my screen to keep myself from skipping ahead!
I think you would’ve won! 🙂
Fiddledeedee (It Coulda' Been Worse) says
I’m with Karen, you are a winner in my book. That was beautifully conveyed. And what an awesome message. I’m going to from now on, think of these years, as my “gathering material” phase. And enjoy my babies while they are young.
Jenny: I like your song on the walk there–walking with Him. Nice.
Julia: That’s such a simple idea that Madeleine appeared to have–to pull from a mental library of words and phrases when “sizing people up,” as you said, and then fitting them to each person as the Spirit leads.
Amanda: It sounds like you’ve got a start to a writing life, being already published. You have a clip for your portfolio. It can build from there, if you want to pursue it. I’m humbled that something in this post stirred you like that. I hope whatever stood out to you helps you figure out what’s next.
I was talking with a friend of my in-laws who stayed with us overnight one time. We chatted briefly about writing, and Madeleine’s name came up. I said I went to hear her speak. This lady got to attend an exclusive, intimate writing retreat (maybe only 20 people in attendance) with Madeleine out in Colorado–I think it was for a whole week! Maybe just a long weekend. But far more than five seconds!
Phil: Well, now! How fascinating to read your writing-story, and there’s so much here. Can I just bow down and murmur, “I’m not worthy…I’m not worthy” regarding your Creative Writing SAT score?
Anyway, your story is a good reminder that a writing career can be put on hold for many more reasons than motherhood.
And what an amazing realization has hit you about your blog, how your ministry has expanded, and it is, finally, utilizing your writing. Bravo. Finally you can put those words to work. Enjoy your journey, your song for the walk (a very nice phrase that fits you even better than me, I do believe).
Glad my story somehow inspired the bones for a Vibrance post, too!
Mike: Hi–thanks for the note. You know how I feel about people leaving a little “footprint,” if you will, via comments. I appreciate it.
Lynn/Mom: Turns out The Boy had a nice time at the daycare drop-off today. So I don’t know if that means he “got over it,” or what. But it worked out pretty well for both of us. My meetings went well, and he had fun.
Karen: You are sooo encouraging! Could I hire you as my publicist? 🙂 Actually, one big problem regarding my entering/not entering is that I just checked the word count on this blog and it was 1684 words. The contest limit was a mere 500. I would have had to hack away to the essence. I guess I could have just told the Madeleine part and left out the long intro and the Holly Miller advice. But I just imagined all kinds of hilarious bloggers telling stories with punchy humor and perfect comic timing and thought, “I don’t have a chance.”
By the way, you’re building quite a great reputation yourself for humor-meets-honesty-meets-motherhood! I was at another blog and saw someone promoting you in the comments.
Did you enter the contest?
FiddleDeeDee: The material you are gathering is fabulous! I told your Easter-truffle-rock story to someone just the other day, and even in my awkward retelling, they were laughing incredulously. You’ve got some great stuff just living your life, and you’re capturing it beautifully on your blog. You *are* writing. And you’ve got a large audience already.
Thanks for your vote of confidence. It means a lot, coming from a master storyteller.
(Came back by and re-read this post again this morning -)
Mike’s right. Very inspiring. Thanks again for putting this out there where we can tap into your experience and insight.
Ann- That was really great. I’m not talking great in a contest-worthy way (which it was) but great in a touched-my-heart kind of way. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing!
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit yourself to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” ps.37:4&5
This, I cling to. I know that nothing can be on His throne but Him, alone. I grapple with my desires to be a good mom, a good writer, a published writer even, but I don’t want to care about any of that as much as I care about His will in my life. If He is first, the rest will fall into place.
And that’s what keeps me going.
Wow. Fantastic post, fantastic perspective. There’s a little voice inside me that keeps saying, “You need to start submitting again. You need to get writing. You need to DO something NOW.” But my little guy is only 10 months old. If not much happens this year — or next — that’s okay. I do want to enjoy him, to savor the moments I have with him now. That doesn’t mean I can’t ever write, but it does mean that now is not the time to pressure myself. That time will come. The kids are here now. They still want my hugs, they still want me to read to them, they still like having me around. And I need to be here – in body and in mind. Thanks.
Phil & Tracy: Your comments are better than winning a contest any day. The idea that it could provide inspiration and kind of touch a heart is extremely rewarding.
Beautiful Heritage: Amen and amen. What an excellent reminder about everything we ponder and pursue. Thank you.
Katrina: I loved your last lines “They still want my hugs, they still want me to read to them, they still like having me around. And I need to be here–in body and in mind.” I thought of them this afternoon when my own boy showered me with kisses and hugs and said “I love you” while on the sidelines of his soccer game. No embarrassment. No self-consciousness. Just hugs and love, still liking the fact that I’m around. I don’t want to miss that, no sirree.
Julie Q. says
Oh my goodness, how did I miss this post? There’s so much here to think about. I love the Madeleine story and the follow up too. I’m struggling with the bump right now something fierce. More like I’m beating my head against the keyboard over it. I want to live my dream of writing (and having others read what I have to say) but my kids suffer so much when I’m absorbed in my own work. Which kind of neglect will I regret more in 10 years? I think I know the answer to that but I just don’t want to hear it.
This is an encouraging post…just stumbled across it. Perspective! I’ll have to revisit this post!