From The Writing Mother’s Child’s Guide to Cat Care

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m returning to the writing enterprise after seven years of not writing (I’m not counting my personal journal, which typically contains a lot of whinging about work and weight). I resumed full-time employment when my son was a year and a half, so he is used to a certain level of fragmentation in my time and attention.

What he is not used to is finding me, of a weekday evening, melded to the overstuffed chair in our living room in an apparent fugue state, tapping away at the keyboard with the regularity and indifference of an old Teletype machine.

Last night, I fed my child dinner and sat down to write, intending to reheat the previous evening’s leftovers for my husband and me when he arrived home from work. Instead, I ate a half a bag of Earth Balance vegan cheddar cheese puffs while writing, leaving my spouse to his own devices. The dog waited patiently on the back porch for his walk, which finally came at a little after 11 p.m., when I’d finished my blog post, checked it twice (or several times), and published it.

The degree of dereliction of my parenting and household offices has increased in direct proportion to the amount of time I now spend writing. Mind you, my baseline for attention to domestic duties on a 5-point scale, 1 being no attention, is somewhere around a -20. Now, great tumbleweeds of black dog fluff adorn the living room carpet. I’ve started digging into storage for any winter clothing that might be lightweight enough for our unseasonably mild August temperatures because my regular summer clothing is mounded in shifting dunes in the walk-in closet, waiting to be laundered. I’m working my way through my meager assortment of Spanx because I’ve exhausted my supply of everyday underpants.

My generally patient husband has been supportive of this new mania, and aside from his discountenance of my overdue library book–in his mind, an act of moral turpitude–he has carried on around me, shouldering more than his share of the evening parenting duties. And he has kindly pointed out that, in spite of my absorption, I’ve still managed to provide for our child’s most basic needs.

Fortunately, my son is old enough to entertain himself for extended periods of time. He has his art supplies, Bey Blades, Legos, books, and–yes–TV. He frequently requests to be left alone so he can un-self-consciously enact his favorite dramatic scenes. In fact, I don’t think he feels so much neglected by me as deprived of the iPad, which has been fully commissioned in service of the literary endeavor.

I know myself and my family well enough to know that we have done, and will continue to do, right by our son, and that we will always be there for him, in ways big and small. But there are times when I more keenly feel the pain of being apart for the nine hours a day that I’m at work and he’s at school, when I feel the guilt of leaving him in afterschool until nearly 6 p.m. while many of his classmates go home at a little past 3.

Before the blog, I had been getting up at 4 a.m. to write. This week, my writing schedule shifted to evenings, simply because I was more awake when I started and didn’t have to break stride for silly disruptions like getting ready for work. But I knew last night, as my husband gave our son a piggy-back ride up to bed and the dog barked at the backdoor for his walk, that I couldn’t go on like this–certainly not on a nightly basis.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that some of my favorite authors are the mothers of only children. I’m not sure whether to look at them as role models or cautionary tales. I haven’t yet read Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, her elegy for her daughter, in which she airs her doubts about whether she was a good-enough mother.  Alice Walker and her daughter, author Rebecca Walker, have been frank about their own strained relationship and subsequent estrangement.

Still, I have a hard time feeling bad about getting serious about writing. My son, at age seven, has already starting writing and illustrating his own comics and instructional guides. Recently, when I was working on my novel manuscript, he started reading over my shoulder and offered to help me by dictating the next several lines. His re-write involved monsters and sword fights, but I didn’t mind wandering off course for the joy of creating something together. If I play my parenting cards right, I suspect he might come to think of my avocation as kind of cool, unlike my incomprehensible day job, which, I’m pretty sure, has never been “performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book” and so possibly isn’t even a real occupation.

For the moment, anyway, in spite of my desertion, my child has been fed, walked, and has clean clothes. I might be mixing up the kid and dog there. At any rate, I know that when it matters, I’ll drop the iPad in a heartbeat.