Column by Vanessa Shields
I know there are many of us who are writers and parents. This is a wild duality to live. My intention with this column is to write about the challenges of being a parent and a writer. I aim to share stories that reflect both the difficult and the extraordinary experiences of striving to balance the creative and the caregiving mind, body and spirit. Find an archive of the Writing Parent columns here.
Firstly, happy new year to all! 2016 was a wild year. It felt like Time was a mother-cusser ripping through each day with a whip and a whistle, never shutting up her demand to DO MORE AND DO IT FASTER. I think the only thing that slowed down was the night of the presidential election for the USA. I’m gonna leave it at that.
This year went by too fast. It was too filled. My whole ‘I’m-going-to-say-no-this-year’ that I promised myself at the end of 2015 – yeah, that didn’t happen. In fact, I was worse than ever at saying yes! I will say that this was a unique year for me because I had a book published, and a small but mighty book tour that I went on. I said yes to everyone and everything that would help promote my new book. I went out of my way to create things to do in an effort to do readings and get my poetry out ‘there’.
That made me crazy busy from July to December. What with planning, organizing, finalizing, and then actually attending all the events (in and out of Windsor), the days flew by. I think it’s because time feels different when there are events to attend, when any kind of travel is part of your schedule. So, I’d get up early on a weekday morning, get the kids to school, scoot to the train station – all of this rush and go happening within about 45 minutes of time – then sit on a train for nearly five hours! Stop and go and go and stop, baby. Life of a poet! There were these pretty long pockets of time to catch up on emails, reading, writing. Miraculously, I was able to manage to not get too behind on my life outside of my book tour.
I was never gone more than two nights, so the disruption with family life was minimal, and since I planned my book tour, it was up to me to choose how long I was away, and where I traveled to. That was a perk. In the end, I only got sick once, had two small ulcerative colitis flare-ups, and I made it to all my events but one. I think that’s pretty good.
By the end of the year, with Christmas and a two-week holiday just the corner, I felt calmly overwhelmed with the remaining work. I had my face stuck in books over the holidays. I had my brain planning my discipline schedule for January through March for the rewrite of my novel. I continued to work on the two major projects I’ve volunteered my time and energy towards for the League and a literary magazine. There was a lot; there still is a lot. But I have to remind myself that it’s a lot for things I love doing.
Some days I feel like it’s still difficult for my kids to understand that my job is as important and necessary and real as other people they see working every day (teachers, doctors, dads, other parents…). I know that we as a collective of writers have worked tremendously hard this year especially regarding this…what can I call it – misunderstanding. Being a writer is a very real, very alive, very challenging, and very necessary job. Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly having to explain this – to myself, to my family, to other writers. That’s bizarre, right? I mean, doctors don’t chat about the importance or legitimacy of their jobs between patients, do they? I don’t know. But I can tell you that they all read our books when they want to escape or relax or have an adventure, right?
That misunderstanding sometimes feels particularly heavy at the end of the year: lists are surfacing all over the internet, and maybe I’m on them and maybe I’m not. Even as I’m cramming those “days off” with work, I’m reminding myself daily that my “days off” work is just as valid as any other work. I find myself wondering why at the end of each year I get stuck feeling totally spent, reflective, and… what’s the right word? Wobbly. The kids get glimpses of it when I say yogurt instead of coffee or when I put something down then can’t find it two minutes later, and I know it’s hard for them to understand how I can work so hard for my writing life, yet all they see is a book they can’t read yet, and me cramming my face in front of other people’s books, and sometimes feeling down about myself.
I stood under the mistletoe a lot this holiday, gathered as many kisses as I could. The little things I made time for turned into big things, and the break was filled with deep breaths and long sighs, catching up on long-delayed to-dos. But I caught up, and I planned and pleaded with myself to work harder at saying no in 2017. I finished reading that novel I started two months ago. I watched my favourite holiday films. I laughed, I played games with family and friends. And I was grateful: that I am a writer, that I am a parent. I was grateful that I pushed through another year of being both, and finding joy and pain on this beautiful path.
Vanessa writes in the in-betweens of a busy life as a parent, producer, photographer and poet. (That’s a lot of Ps!) She lives in Windsor with her hubby and two kids, Jett and Miller. Her first book of poetry, I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press) was published in 2014. Her book Look at Her (Black Moss Press) was released in the fall of 2016. Shields created and hosts a storytelling series called Mouth Piece Storytelling. For all things Vanessa, visit her website www.vanessashields.com.