I remember the day I began this journey with perfect clarity. Sitting in my office, there was a cup of coffee on the desk, a laptop open to a blank screen. From the window I could see my son with the sitter walking to the swing. Even now, I can feel the all-consuming guilt that held me captive as I watched him toddle hand-in-hand with someone else. A mother’s guilt is a powerful thing. What was wrong with me that after only a year on the job as a stay-home-mom I was trying to forge a new one as a writer?I had hardly noticed the desire when it crept in. Driving in the car to my child’s activities, I found myself constructing characters and dialogue. At night while I waited for the baby to call, I put together story lines and plots. The part of me I left behind when I opted-out to raise my kids kept calling me until, finally, there was nothing left to do but admit to myself that this was something I wanted, and needed.
When I finally turned away from the window that day, I began to write. I wrote one page. I wrote again two days later, then two days after that. When I was overcome with morning sickness, I stopped writing. When it passed, I started again. Then came the second baby, more stops and starts. I took my laptop with me everywhere. I wrote in the back of my car in the pre-school parking lot. I wrote during naps and drop-off swim class. I wrote when my husband watched the kids, when the sitter came. I wrote and wrote through years that were filled with self-doubt, with moments of clarity then confusion as to why I was so intent on pursuing something so inherently evasive – and, most alarming, something that had nothing to do with the life I had chosen as a stay-home-mom.
For the next year, I searched for an agent, finally finding one a few weeks after giving birth to the last of my three sons. She encouraged me to write women’s fiction, but I was once again overwhelmed with the demands of a newborn. At thirty-seven years old with three children under six, I was officially embarking on a new career – a career I had come to desperately need. And yet, what was I thinking? How was I going to write an entire novel in the midst of the sleepless nights and frenetic days that constituted my life? It was, ironically, from this core-shaking doubt that the four characters in my first novel were born.
Four Wives was written in six months, pouring out of me and into these characters, filling page after page. As I await its publication this coming February, I am frequently asked how it came to be. I have to stop and think because my life doesn’t feel that different. Still, it is within this same life that the answer emerges.
Here is what I have learned about pursuing a new dream in the midst of stay-home-parenting. First, say no to your house. No to redecorating, antiquing, and gardening. Your house can be your worst enemy. Second, micro-manage your time and resources. Every hour your kids are at school, with another parent or a sitter can be spent working. Third, work from your car. The vast majority of Four Wives was written from the back seat of my minivan in the school parking lot. Your house won’t find you there. Fourth, say no to daytime socializing that does not include your kids. No to lunches, coffees and shopping sprees. Skip TV and see your friends for a night out. And last, say yes to your kids – school plays, field trips, baseball games. It is possible to stop working after they get home.
I came to be a writer one page at a time, starting with the first one I managed to write that day in my study. Through the guilt and doubt, it was built like a house, brick upon brick. It was built around everything that was in its way. It was built because beneath it laid a profound need to be seen and heard and valued in the world beyond my front door that so many stay-home-parents come to feel. And it can be done.