Not Keeping Mum: On Motherhood and Writing

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“Every day includes much more non-being than being. This is always so. One walks, eats, sees things, deals with what has to be done; the broken vacuum cleaner; ordering dinner; washing; cooking dinner. When it is a bad day the proportion of non-being is much larger.”
– Virginia Woolf

This is it – this is precisely what is most difficult about being a mother of young children. I was speaking with a friend the other day who summed up motherhood perfectly: ‘Lots of time for reflection; little time for action.’

As a largely unpublished (female, minority ethnic) writer, a writer who (like Toni Morrison states in her Paris Review article) has been given the permission to write by ‘No one’, I am already a slow writer. I doubt myself; I hesitate. Motherhood takes away the luxury of time – tells you, If you’re going to write, you have to do it now! No one is going to hand you a slice of writing time on a plate.

So I do. I write. At night and in the early hours of the morning when the children are asleep and I should be too but the day has gnawed away at me so much that I have to replenish myself through the act of writing, having my thoughts heard instead of silenced (even if only by a blank page / screen). It is my one chance in the day to put something into action – to do something that is more than attending to the everyday needs of survival. In that day, I will have wiped the dining table and floor half a dozen times, fed and washed and clothed the children, played with them, kept them safe – and there will have been moments of connection (especially with my son, who has just turned four and is blossoming into such an interesting and articulate little being). Of course, connecting with others is vital, too, for a sense of ‘being’. But those moments are rare. Most of the time, it is: ‘Mummy, I’m hungry’, ‘Mummy, I’m thirsty’, ‘Mummy, chase me’, ‘Mummy, play with me’.

‘Motherland’ is a lonely place, especially when today’s workplace has little regard for families, keeping fathers (and working mothers) away from their families for longer and longer hours, so that weekends are a blurred frenzy of trying to rest while making up for lost time. ‘Motherland’ is a lonely place, when conversations with other mothers, parents and carers met at the park or at the Children’s Centre are interrupted every two seconds by a child screaming or pulling your hand.

When the children are asleep and I do get those few precious moments of desk time, the list of things to do is seemingly endless: order my son’s uniform for school, browse the web for a birthday gift for my children’s friend, update my details with the Student Loans Company, etc., etc. One could easily be tempted to just do those, do the To Do list, and not do the writing. Who would know or care?

The answer is: I would. I would suffer – and so would my family as a result of my suffering. Being a mother of young children, I have learned that if at the end of any given day I am sleep-deprived and have not had the time to write, then I am a miserable human being. Whereas if I don’t sleep but have written at least a string of words, then I am OK. Stumbling across Woolf’s quote on Dani Shapiro’s blog today has made me understand why this is: the importance of ‘being’ as opposed to ‘non-being’. Because, for a writer, you are never more yourself than when you are writing.