Calgon, Take me Away!
My daughter turned eight years old last November, and for the first time since she was born, I didn’t get a party pulled together. Sure, we celebrated. I sang to her when she woke up. I made sure all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins called or texted. She had a cake and presents (wrapped even…the night before.) But she didn’t have a party…not until four months later, because I was so consumed by a book deadline that I had neither the brain space nor the time to pull something together.
Was she disappointed? Yes. Was she mad at me? I don’t really know. Did her Great Wolf Lodge weekend with friends in March make my gaffe up to her? She’d tell you yes.
Have I forgiven myself?
What do you think?
I started writing professionally fifteen years ago. It was a natural evolution for me, given my love of writing that goes back as far as I can remember. For my husband, however, who met me while I was masquerading as a young corporate executive, I think my sudden obsession with writing happily ever after stories came as quite a shock. Three years later, I sold my first book. We were childless back then, just him and me. Our world wasn’t yet fractured or compartmentalized. Heck, there wasn’t even the Internet or satellite TV to compete for our time. So even though he shared me with my passion, there was still lots of time for us. Lots of time for him.
Three years later, our daughter came along. Realizing I’d never be able to work 50 corporate hours per week, be a mother and a wife, and still have time to write, we decided to let go of my corporate salary, live leaner, and let me keep pursuing a dream that was gradually coming true. I’m still awed by how amazingly supportive my husband was of that huge step, which had significant financial implications. But he loved(s) me and believed(s) in my dream.
More contracts came, more books, along with our son four years later, born ten weeks early at less than two pounds. Lots of drama there, lots of intensity and fear and angst. But life keeps moving along, and now the young woman who once split her time among her husband, her writing, and a corporate job divides her time among getting kids to and from school, packing lunches, dance practice, soccer practice, tee-ball practice, homework and school ‘projects’, soccer games, enhanced laundry, enhanced family meals, picking up Legos, exercising the family dog, and, and, and…you all know the drill. Sometimes it’s hard to simply hold onto a thought or remember to say hello to my husband—and last fall I failed to find the time to throw a birthday party for my daughter, the child who taught me a whole new definition and dimension of love.
The result has left me feeling inadequate, spread so thin I excel at nothing, and guilty as hell.
Yes, I finally understand the commercial from my childhood: Calgon, take me away!
Earlier this year, while I was going through a particularly virulent funk, one thing I discovered is I’m not alone in my feelings. Nor are my feelings necessarily isolated to writer moms. I think most moms feel this way. But two things unique to the writer-mom are 1) the fact that since our work is usually done at home, it’s often tough to carve out “work only” time, which means you’re constantly bouncing back and forth between work and family and 2) the personal nature of what we do for a living. We open our hearts and our souls for the world to see, and sometimes the world doesn’t respond with glowing accolades. To the already stressed out mom, feeling like a failure, this is simply another straw on the fragile back.
Once I started talking to other writer-moms about this, it was like I’d stumbled across this dirty little secret, that everyone tries so hard to be Wonder Woman, that we all try so hard to live up to some imaginary standard of perfection, but inside we’re crying out for…something. Help? Relief? Validation? All of the above? Something else—something more?
Fascinated, I was talking to my husband about this, on one of those rare, blissful occasions when the house was quiet and the night was dark, when I held a glass of red wine in my hands and no one was trying to get me to do anything. I was talking to him about the intense guilt that I feel that in trying to be good at everything, I’m good at nothing. That I was failing him, our kids. Remember the whole birthday party thing? And he smiled. Just a smile, that warm, intimate smile, that soft glow in the blue of his eyes, the one that always somehow makes me a little gooey inside. Then he asked me a question: Is that what you really think?
Yes, I said. It is.
The next evening, after the kids were in bed and the house was again quiet, he sat me down and said he wanted to show me something.
This. This is what he wanted to show me.
Life With a Mom Who’s a Writer
It’s really cool to have a mother that’s an author. You get to help her think of ideas, and read her book early. She’s always being goofy and making stuff up, and sometimes I get to go to book signings with her, which are fun because I get to watch her sell books, then I get to buy some for me. It’s always fun to think ‘that’s MY mom.’
Sometimes its not so good having a mom that’s an author because she gets glued to her computer and note pad, and when she can’t figure something out she’s cranky But MOST of the time it’s really fun, interesting and unique. Oh, and she’s home to walk me to and from school. I like that a lot.
While I’d been busy doing goodness only knows what, he’d pulled my daughter aside and asked her to write a few paragraphs about what it was like being the child of a writer.
I sat there staring at her words, and cried. Yes, she noticed all the things that I feel guilty about, the time in front of the computer and the crankiness when I’m stuck and/or barreling toward a deadline, but these things that I beat myself up over were only a small part of the picture she painted. She saw a mom who is fun and interesting and unique. She found excitement in helping me plot and going to book signings. She sounded…proud. She said it was (I am?) really cool.
Such a simple but powerful lesson. We tend to look at our lives through a cloudy, micro-filter of the problem or stressor du jour. Too often we judge ourselves based upon what we don’t get done, rather than what we do get done. But trust me, the gifts that we give our families—not those that we purchase in a store, but those that come from inside of us, our creativity and passion and presence—far exceed anything we don’t get done.
I recently gave a presentation at the big and fabulous Romance Writer’s of America conference titled Care and Feeding of the Writer’s Soul. My message was simple, but so very, very important. Go easy on yourself. Take time to smell the roses and the candles and the cat box. Look at what’s around you every single day, and see the beauty in everything, even the Legos strewn all over the floor. That means your children were playing. Breathe deep. Crank the music. Take a hot bath (with lots of Calgon!). Focus on who you are (that’s who your family loves), not who you aren’t. And know that everything isn’t going to be okay: it is.
Read my daughter’s words again. Notice anything? Notice what’s not there?
The birthday party.
About Ellie James
Most people who know Ellie think she’s your nice, ordinary wife and mom of two young kids. They see someone who does all that normal stuff, like grocery shopping, walking the dogs, going to baseball games, and somehow always forgetting to get the house cleaned and laundry done.
What they don’t know is that more often than not, this LSU J-School alum is somewhere far, far away, in an extraordinary world, deeply embroiled in solving a riddle or puzzle or crime, testing the limits of possibility, exploring the unexplained, and holding her breath while two people fall in love.
Regardless of which world Ellie’s in, she loves rain and wind and thunder and lightning; the first warm kiss of spring and the first cool whisper of fall; family, friends, and animals; dreams and happy endings; Lost and Fringe; Arcade Fire and Dave Matthews, and last but not least…warm gooey chocolate chip cookies.
You can follow Ellie on Facebook.
About the Midnight Dragonfly Series
The firstborn daughter, of the firstborn daughter, of the firstborn daughter, sixteen year old psychic Trinity Monsour has a connection to the Other Side. She knows secrets and truths she shouldn’t, feels emotions that do not belong to her, and see events that have yet to happen. They come to her as glimpses, shadowy, disjointed snapshots that flicker through her dreams. Some terrify: a girl screaming, a knife lifting, a body in the grass. But others–the dark, tortured eyes and the shattering kiss, the promise of forever–whisper to her soul.
They come without warning. They come without detail.
But they always mean the same thing: The clock is ticking, and only Trinity can stop it.
Find out how in the Midnight Dragonfly Books, available from Griffin Teen!