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 didn’t think about dinner when I was dreaming about being a parent. I never considered the time and thought and effort it takes to come up with 5-7 different dinner meals a week. But I can tell you with sincere honesty that cooking meals has been a real challenge for me as a parent.

As a writer, my relationship with food is inconsistent at best. When I’m in the writing zone, food is nowhere on my mind. I can write for hours and not feel hungry until I stop. Even if I’m writing about food! But when I stop, my body can feel weak and exhausted. When I did my writing weekend mini-retreat last year, I made sure to use my timer when I was writing so I would I stop to eat. The practice of writing uses a tremendous amount of energy so one must keep her body in shape when a long-haul of writing is at hand. I know that I write better if my body is in its best shape, and eating and exercise are directly related to this.

Today, for example, I wrote for three hours. When I stopped to look at the clock I realized it was nearly time to pick up my kids from school. This, for me, means that my writing has to stop. I hadn’t eaten. When I thought about it, I was really hungry. I had eaten a homemade egg sandwich much earlier, but it wasn’t enough to keep me sustained for much longer than a few hours. I could have kept writing through the hunger…but I knew I’d need energy to get the kids, make dinner, do dishes (last night’s too!) and handle the family evening routine. So, I stopped writing and made something to eat. I had to take my writer’s hat off and switch to my mother’s hat. Happens every day.

During our holiday vacation, we gathered as a family to talk about some changes for 2018. Food and cooking were major topics. In 2017, we ate fast food way too cussing much. Like, embarrassingly too much. We also ate too much junk food (cookies, chips, chocolate – ooo, the three c’s), and we didn’t exercise. Full transparency here: being a parent means seeing your eating and cooking habits for what they really are. For me, they’ve never been very great. I don’t remember cooking being a big part of my childhood except on Sundays when our family would gather at my grandparent’s house for a 3-4 course Italian meal. I wasn’t helping with the cooking, but boy did I ever cherish the eating. And my Nonna’s words were always on repeat: “Did you eat enough? Eat more!”

I came to parenting not thinking about cooking. And it really hasn’t been until this new year’s new beginning energy that I’ve started taking seriously my role as ‘cook’. I’ve never made so many slow-cooked meals, cut so many veggies, washed so many cussing dishes. What’s happening though, slowly but steadily, is that I’m gaining confidence in the kitchen. I’m feeling slices of pride when we sit to table and the kids say: “Mom, this is delicious!” Dare I say it: feels about as good as when I read a line of my writing to the kids and they say: “Mom, this is really great!”

Eating well and cooking healthy meals takes practice. Just. Like. Writing. I’m only now making this parallel, and it’s helping me be a little gentler on myself as I open a cookbook and attempt to follow a recipe for a meal we (may) all enjoy very much.

Is it helping my writing? I don’t know yet. It still feels hard to tear myself away from the keyboard so I can feed my belly when the feeding of my soul and heart from writing is so darn filling.

We’re still in conversation about our eating habits, and will continue to shift towards healthier habits every day – including exercise. I’m finding that a ‘we’re in this together’ mentality is making the shift much more exciting. No, we’re not stepping on the scale or hauling out the measuring tape. We are marking down our walks and paying attention to how different we feel when we eat better.

There’s one thing I won’t change though. That is, if I ever win the lottery (do you ever play the game ‘how would you spend the millions?), the first thing I’d do (okay, not the first, maybe the fourth) is hire a Chef Nanny. What’s that you ask? A person who handles everything food: the groceries, the cooking, the dishes. Yep. I would.

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