Parent Presence Required: Something has to give

I have come to a hard conclusion in these last couple of months. It has come after banging my head against the wall, lamenting my lack of time to devote to my writing. Predictably, this has only resulted in a large mental bruise (I wasn’t literally banging my head against the wall- I’m no masochist.)

I came to the realisation that I am not going to be able to do anything but dabble in writing until my kids are out of high school. Oh, I will continue attempting to get my half hour here and my hour there of writing time. I wouldn’t feel like myself if I didn’t. But the dream of finishing a novel in a reasonable amount of time?

I’ve let that little dream bird fly away.

But let me back track. It has been a hard few months, but not for me. For the members of my family. My role has been simply as supporting actor in the drama.

First we had the summer vacation of constant visits, showing that even vacationing can come to feel like work. For part of those visits I was also literally working, which meant I left work as early as I could to go back and visit with the people camping in my living room.

The day everyone left, my kids started school. And my husband got a call that most people live in dread of:”come right now, your dad might not make it.” He was on the plane back home within a couple of hours. This was the beginning of two months where J was more gone than home. At the same time, he also had a major showing of his work in Toronto, which required his presence.

But here is the big thing, the thing that I have only just realised. All this other stuff was circumstantial and conceivably, once all these little crises and events were over, things could get back to normal. (Normal, if I am being honest with myself, has always been an erratic writing schedule where if I can get more than an hour in a day I count myself lucky).

Except that I have two daughters, one who has just entered high school. She will be thirteen very soon and I am just starting to glean what that means as a parent.

I am finding that contrary to expectations, a whole new kind of parenting is being required of me- one more complicated and nuanced than what I have hitherto have had to give. When they are kids, you spend a lot of time making sure they are fed, watered, clothed properly. The bobos are visible and the problems, even those stemming from friendship, are relatively simple.

But now I am dealing with a daughter who is motivated, eager to do well in school. She is happy, blossoming and finally putting herself out there. The problem is, she doesn’t always live up to what she thinks she is doing. She has marks for the first time in her life (she has been in an alternative school) and loves it as she can gage her progress. But this also means dealing with the disappointment, the sense of failure when she doesn’t get the grade. It means showing her how to take it as a measuring stick for her own progress and not to succumb to discouragement and despair. It means having conversations about the building blocks of the world and seeing her face as she asks questions she will believe will be answered in a finite way, like all her questions so far, but that have no good answers, like, “If there was a big bang that created the world, what was before the big bang?”
It means being present as she figures out what it means to work hard, to feel discouraged, as well as celebrating the successes (she was recently in a very successful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, something she would never have conceived of doing in Elementary school).

It is helping negotiate her rapidly changing body and her mood swings. It is being available to listen.

As for my younger daughter, she is dealing with more responsibility as she no longer goes to the same school as her older sister and has to make her way home by herself. She spends hours alone after school. My presence is required in more pronounced time alone with her- reading books and cuddling. Trying to figure out why she is so tired all the time.

My attention can no longer be in two places. When I am always thinking I could be writing instead of being present with my children, I am doing a bad job of both. Something has to give.

As I write this, I am half listening to an interview with Umberto Eco on CBC’s The Sunday Edition. (Yeah, I know- the irony of doing two things badly at once isn’t lost on me). He wrote his first novel, The Name of the Rose, at the tender age of 48 saying that writing is a game for old men (which I am going to assume he meant old women too). He said it was because he felt like poisoning a monk…

There is hope.

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5 Responses to Parent Presence Required: Something has to give

  1. Angela Milligan says:

    I understand your dilemma. I already feel torn between being with my children and doing something for me.

  2. Alice Zorn says:

    I've just looked for a study I read a couple of months ago but I can't find it. It was put out by the Conseil des arts et lettres du Quebec and showed that the median age for publishing a first book is somewhere around 50. I don't recall the exact number. 51? 52? For most of us, life gets in the way. Don't get discouraged. The point is one *can* write at 50 whereas there are only a couple of ideal decades to have a child. Or two.

  3. Thanks for your kind comments. I am calling a truce with myself and ceasing the self-flagellation. For now.

  4. dianemb says:

    Yes, please go easy on yourself. It is absolutely different parenting teens. Not so much hands-on stuff, but much more making yourself available. For a few years, doing things for myself was put on hold. But it flies by so quickly and then they are gone, off making a life of their own. There's lots of time, then.

  5. kyra says:

    that is most certainly the story of my life you have put out there in writting. it seems that some of us take the time to write it out. not sure that is exactly comforting though (the word is too cozy for the circumstance).

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