Writing with children

I think these are true memories. But after all I am a writer, and I tend to embellish or rewrite. (Always revisioning!)

However, it is such a strong recollection, visual and visceral, that I am sure it is real. I can see myself at the computer, looking out onto our 3 acres of wood. It was early on in our inhabitation of upstate New York, because I still laughed to myself whenever I thought about ‘owning land’. Anyway, the trees I owned were all white pines, a hundred feet tall, and when the wind blew they fluttered their branches like ballet dancers being swans. And when the wind blew hard, they toppled over, being very shallow-rooted.
And I remember holding my sleeping son on my shoulder with one hand and typing feverishly with the other hand. It was 2003. I was writing my first book.
Or rather I was writing the first book I would ever finish.

Now the following is an embellishment:
I wrote that book with my infant son splayed on my lap or perched on my shoulder the entire time. Mostly with just the five fingers on my right hand- actually four because I don’t use my pinkie at all.

Such is the romance of the past. Four fingers, 95 thousand words and a peaceful baby who slept all the time.

I wrote another book(my second published) when my daughter was wee but she was no Buddha baby. She was born at 60mph and she continues to live at that speed. I learned to write in 5 minute bursts, like a sprinter. I learned to immerse and surface in a split second. I learned to switch my vocabulary from somewhat intellectual to baby talk on a dime. At the end of the day my brain hurt like a strained muscle but it was a good kind of pain.
I could control her somewhat by shutting her in the bedroom with me while I typed into a laptop balanced on my knees but that all ended when she learned how to open doors. Frequently I’d come up for air- having completely lost myself in my story- and discover that she had vanished. It was a very small rented house. Two bedrooms and a bathroom off a large living area but still she was able to disappear. Once I followed a trail of brown footprints on the carpet, only to discover that she had removed her diaper and painted all the walls like a junior Marquis de Sade.

On that day I found out that it is possible to laugh and cry in equal measure at the same time. Also, that when something like that happens, there was no one in the world who loved me enough to come and help me clean it up. Except, perhaps for my sister who sadly lived an ocean away.

My kids are pretty good at amusing themselves these days. But today is the first day of Spring Break and they have fallen out of the habit because their teachers spoil them with attention. I am working in the sitting room because it has a pellet stove and an electric fireplace, and the rest of the house is bloody freezing. My daughter, now almost 7, flops on the couch next to me, sighing gustily and periodically announcing that she is “so bored”. Normally I just say something annoyingly mom-like: “it’s good to be bored”, “I like being bored” or “you’re not really bored, you know”. This hardly helps matters. So mostly I try and ignore her.
So my question is. How do I write with boredom manifesting itself beside me, embodied by a girl who conveys everything she is feeling?

I find myself struggling to think of words. Everyday, useful words that connect other words. Not even the fancy ones that demand some mental exertion. I am finding it hard to move my characters from one place to the next.

I know I used to know how to do this. I used to be able to ignore everything around me, to the degree that babies were misplaced and found later in the dog bed, rooms were plastered in poo, dinner came and went, appointments forgotten, duties neglected. I lived so much in my head that when I had to speak out loud, it was difficult. And the real world? It seemed less real than the one I was writing about.

I want to get back to that place and I fear I have become soft in these days when school gives me a certain amount of free time.

My greatest fear used to be that when I had time to write I wouldn’t push as hard. That if I was ever so lucky as to go on a writer’s retreat, I would spend all my time walking in the woods, staring out the window, or talking on the phone to my children.

She has gone outside to dig in the half-frozen flower beds. The dogs have gone with her.

Instead of working on the book, I wrote this blog.
Writing is writing is writing, I suppose.

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2 Responses to Writing with children

  1. Kelly says:

    Thank you for these words…as I currently have a sick baby strapped to my back and the television on for the pre-schooler so that I can try sneaking in some work on the computer:)

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