The Writing Parent: On Being a Fierce Negotiator

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.

I was having a hard time thinking about what to write for this blog, until it hit me that I was having a hard time coming up with an idea because I was having a hard time fitting any writing into my days because they have been so filled with other things.

Other things that are important: my part-time job, editing other people’s work, prepping for classes and workshops I’m teaching, volunteering at my children’s school, taking the kids (and myself and the dogs!) to doc appointments, reading, doing groceries, doing laundry…attempting to keep the house at even a small level of cleanliness/tidiness.

Honesty, every day is a series of connected negotiations that push me through to making decisions.Right now, I should be folding clean clothes and/or switching the laundry over. I could be getting myself a cup of coffee that I made half hour ago.

Look, I’m tired. My body is achy. This weather makes my inflammations inflame. The joints in my hands are thick with pain. But I’m not going to stop typing. It’s 6:35pm and I’ve negotiated with myself sit here, right now, and finish the blog. Being a writing parent means being a fierce negotiator.

I have come to conclusion that being a parent and being…well, anything else, means that we have (at least) two people living within us. Our soul is split. And not always down the middle.

You know what I’m talking about here.

When you’re writing, it’s bliss. You’re happy. You’re filling up. You’re zapping with energy – even if it’s the energy of not knowing (what comes next? What word should I use? What should my character do or say now? What should I research next?). No matter what you’re doing when you’re being creative – it feels damn good. But there’s that part of you that is thinking about…wondering about…worrying about your child(ren). That’s watching the clock to be sure you get there on time to pick them up or show up at the event or feed them. And all the while – even while your heart and soul is pouring out the words – your brain is firing off small zips of negotiations: okay, write for ten more minutes then go switch the laundry over or write for half an hour then start making dinner or you have to stop writing NOW – time is up! Go do those other things you need to do.

 

The voices in my head are efficient because I’ve trained them to be.

I’m strong at time management because I’ve trained myself to be.

 

I can get a lot of writing done because I’ve taught myself how to write without being inspired. I’ve practiced writing anywhere, anytime in order to get the job done. To write that poem. To finish that article. To edit that scene. To research that information. For years, I’ve practiced the art of negotiating – of prioritizing those mega-lists of things that have to get done every day as a parent and then fit in the creativity. It has not been easy, but no negotiation is. For every thing you choose do there are many things you are not doing. And it’s difficult to not think about those other things while you’re working. You have to train your mind to quiet. A baby crying always wins. At least for me it does. Dogs whining at the door – another win. Cooking meals, although I will admit this is one the most challenging parts of being a parent for me, has to win. I’ve written through too many meals – so many I can’t even count. And this negotiation extends to the bigger pictures. To the choices you can make that can affect people and things outside of yourself and your family.

Do you work at a job that isn’t writing because you need the money?
Do you take that residency that is away from your family, but the money is good?
Do you take that writing job out-of-country and move your family?
Do you teach writing to kids in a developing country?
Do you stop driving to minimize your carbon footprint and ride your bike to
work – then lose that hour of writing you had in the morning?
Do you stop everything to care give for an ailing parent or grandparent or friend?

It’s 7:31pm now. I stopped writing to help my daughter find her snow pants and my husband find some gloves. Then I had to blow dry my daughter’s hair, then dryer buzzed because the sofa cushion covers were done. So I put the sofa cushion covers back on the cushions and put the cushions on the sofa. The dogs were barking to come in so I let them in. Oh, and I thought I should probably write an email to some teachers to get quotes about the workshops I did because the League of Canadian Poets is offering to fully cover poets in the schools into the new year and I want to take advantage of that if I can.

See how wild the mind is? See how easily it can flit and flounce? I can’t even sit for forty minutes to write this blog. At least not today. And trust me, I get the gift of a forty minute writing window. It’s rare when you have young children. Even when I can have it – the negotiations shift and change with every breath.

What was I writing?

There are infinite choices you can make that could affect your writing life. And each choice you make that affects your writing life absolutely affects your parenting life. What are we supposed to do?

Keep writing.
Keep reading.

Keep practicing the art of time management.
Keep practicing quieting the mind.
And be gentle with yourself, okay?

Being an artist takes a lot of courage. So does being a parent. We’re negotiating for two here, remember? If the writing of this blog is any indication, you can see that it’s a tough gig negotiating for two in one body. But now…the house is quiet. The dogs are under the dining room table where I’m writing. My feet are tucked into their armpits and it feels warm and cozy.

I’m nearly done writing and I’m wondering what to do next? Fold the clothes? Read? Rest? Eat? Ooo. That was a hunger pain right there in the center of my torso. There’s fresh bread on the counter calling my name. I don’t know if I’ll write anything else tonight. But that’s okay. I wrote this. And I read bits of the novel I’m reading earlier this afternoon. I can fall asleep knowing that I lived another day of negotiations and I managed to make time for writing and reading. The fierce negotiator within isn’t backing down for either the writer or the parent in me. Celebrate your daily negotiations. High-five the fierce negotiator in you. Accept the gift that is the two-part soul that belongs to a parent and a writer.

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. Vanessa is the owner of Gertrude’s Writing Room – A Gathering Place for Writers. For all things Vanessa, visit her website: www.vanessashields.com.