My eight-month-old had decided, yet again, to forgo her afternoon nap. Her older sister dutifully napping, Anna seemed to know that she had me all to herself and wasn’t going to waste that opportunity by sleeping through it. Spreading a blanket on the den floor, with several pillows behind her as tipping insurance, I turned her loose with a shape sorter, a cloth house with four buggy looking cloth friends, and a few favorite rattles. Thanks to her recently acquired skill of being able to sit unassisted, she was investigating some of these toys for the first time. In the midst of editing one article, composing another, doing research on the Internet, and listening to some “mood music,” I had hoped to move mountains during nap time.
Side-by-side, we worked independently for some time. My work was punctuated by an occasional sigh as I waited for a page on the Internet to load or as I struggled with word choices. Her work, on the other hand, was punctuated by squeals of delight as she realized that the top came off of the shape sorter. I turned to find her surrounded by shapes and munching on a square, grinning at me over the drooly, plastic cube.
Just enough time had passed for me to really focus on what I was writing. I could hear Anna playing beside me, though her squeals were beginning to sound more like whimpers. I knew eye contact would end it all for me, so I plugged away, wanting desperately to have some finished product to show for my efforts.
With a disgusted grunt and an unskilled arm, Anna sent a soggy toy in my direction. Whimpers turned to wails, and I finally gave in to her requests for a playmate. As I sank to the floor, she gave me her jack-o-lantern grin even before the last tear had managed to trickle down her cheek. There we sat in a patch of afternoon sunlight, surrounded by toys, and her big sister was nowhere to be seen. She had won.
Scooping the shapes back into their bucket, I set the sorter aside and put the bug house between us. On the roof, a bright orange sunshine smiled at us. Lifting the sun, I revealed an opening through which we could see the buggy friends nestled inside. Anna leaned over for a closer inspection of the house. She tasted it, she opened and shut the sunny flap, and she peered into the hole beneath the flap. She did not, however, attempt to retrieve the toys within.
I reached through the hole and giggled at the startled look on her face as she watched my hand disappear. When it emerged with a polychromatic snail, she looked from my hand to the hole quizzically. She leaned over, peered into the hole at the remaining friends, and sat up with a sigh. She had just learned how holes work.
We spent the remainder of that afternoon on the sun-warmed den floor exploring that little house.
“Open,” I said. Anna squealed once again, raising the sunshine flap.
“Close. Open. Close.” She shrieked in response to my chants.
I produced and replaced each buggy friend, and she finally decided that the hole was okay by her and tentatively stuck her chubby fingers into its depths.
And the work piled on my desk waited for another day. There will be, I know, afternoons where the naps are long. There will be time enough to move my mountains then.
At 1:30 p.m. the nap time race begins. With a kiss, I lay the baby in her crib. I shut my elder daughter’s bedroom door and sprint to the den. For the next stretch of time, 45 minutes on a bad day, 2 hours if the alignment of the planets is just so, I get to be a writer. When the nursery monitor cackles I send my muse home for the day and become Mommy once more.
For as long as I can remember, except for when I was three years old and wanted to be a giraffe, I have wanted to be a writer. First came college, and then full-time employment, and then marriage. I dabbled in writing much as a stifled artist might doodle potential masterpieces in the margins of her appointment book. Then came motherhood. At last, I thought, home with my children, I might actually begin to write.
And begin I did. Beginning was never a problem; I had ideas clawing their way out of my mind and onto paper. Finishing was another story. Teething, nightmares, thunderstorms, and dirty diapers took turns scaring my muse to the far recesses of my mind. While I had some success writing for the local newspaper and published a few essays online, I began to think that motherhood and dreams of a writing career were not compatible.
I was seven months pregnant with my second child when I entered a short story competition. Having been given a prompt, I had twenty-four hours to write and submit an entry. The prompt had to do with shortcuts. As I stared at the computer’s blank screen, the baby within me began a gymnastics routine. Using my condition as inspiration, I wrote a tale of childbirth from the unborn’s perspective, the shortcut being a c-section delivery. I had no experience with surgical childbirth, as my first daughter was born after an uncomplicated labor and delivery. To tell my tale, I incorporated details from friends’ experiences and television documentaries. I was ecstatic when I won first place in the contest and publication on the sponsor’s web site.
I went into labor ten days early. Things were progressing normally, but the doctor became concerned when monitoring of the baby indicated fetal distress. We were discussing the situation and our options when the baby’s heart rate plummeted. The doctor ordered an emergency c-section and my second daughter was born nine minutes later.
It was only a few hours later that the realization hit. Anna and I had written her birth story weeks before she was born. Perhaps my muse wanted to show me that motherhood is not hindering my ability as a writer; it is shaping me.