When There is no Tower: the Writing/Parenting Life

March 27, 2013 — 45 Comments

by Addie Zierman.

I “met” Addie by discovering her blog a few months ago, and I haven’t stopped reading. She blogs here. You can follow her on twitter here. Enjoy!

Madeliene L’Engle had a Tower.

Maybe not an actual tower, but a special writing room that she called “The Tower” in her home at Crosswicks. I imagine it full of leather-spined first editions and a heavy, oak desk. I imagine a view – the kind that inspires deep thoughts – and one of those old typewriters with keys that click with beautiful finality.

I always thought that the writing life would look like that. The room. The books. The windows. A quiet place for lovely words to emerge, calm and orb-like, rooted in some other magnificent reality.

Here is my actual writing spot:

actual writing spot

I write at our old, scratched up kitchen table in the very early morning. I stumble downstairs at 4am when the rest of the world is still sleeping.

I move slowly and carefully into these mornings, because it’s like there are all of these invisible trip wires. One wrong step, and I will set off my kids’ Mommy Radar. All it takes is one creaking floorboard, and they’re Awake, hollering, impatient for me to come get them, ready for juice and PANCAKES! and my undivided attention.

The darkness presses in through the patio door, and the kitchen buzzes with pre-dawn quiet, and I write.

I am living in the intense, exhausting pre-school years. One of my boys is nearly four years old, the other almost two.  We are battling it out over snack choices and toy-throwing and putting on shoes, and it is too much already, all by itself.

But once I heard Anne Lamott speak, and she said that if you can’t find the time to write now, you never will. And I am a writer. These words, they are my work too – every bit as much as raising the boys. And in my actual life, there is no Tower to retreat to in the middle of my day. There is the uneasy tension of both.

Here is what it looks like for me: a half-written blog post, a blinking cursor, a half-baked metaphor at 5:45 when a kid starts howling. It’s that rush of frustration and whispered prayers for patience. It’s a sippy cup of juice and a PBS schedule I know by heart, and the complexity of finishing my work in the midst of the morning chaos.

I write a sentence. Retrieve a blanky. Write a paragraph. Break up a morning fight. I am reworking a sentence in my head while administering a time out. I am almost done, almost done, for half an hour, and my two-year-old, Liam, keeps bumbling into the kitchen, climbing into my lap, pushing the computer keys, adding f’s and v’s where they do not belong.

the mama writer

It is slow chaotic work. I never have my blog posts up at the “ideal” time; my guest posts are almost always late. Everything is all mixed up together – the writing, the kids, the unhung pictures, the unclipped coupons – and all of it matters.

And the truth is that beautiful, important things coexist, side-by-side. They are bound to real time, to passing minutes and hours, to schedules and to-do lists. They overlap, rub against each other, and it’s messy and frustrating and unavoidable. But that doesn’t make it less worthwhile.

At six in the morning, Liam is tugging my sleeve, and the table is one big chaotic mess. The words come piecemeal, and the trick is learning to do it all anyway. I redirect him – again – to his blocks. In a little while, I’ll close my computer and scoop him up, and the three of us will snuggle together on the couch.

I love them immensely – my kids – love them desperately, but the writing – that matters too. And there is no guilt, no shame, no should in that. Only the complexity of my real, actual life. Only the daily work of living the tension.

I kiss Liam on the head, say “Mama’s coming, baby.” And then I turn back to my wildly messy kitchen table and keep writing until the day’s work is done.

45 responses to When There is no Tower: the Writing/Parenting Life

  1. Link exchange is nothing else but it is simply
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    UV black light flashlight recently posted…UV black light flashlightMy Profile

  2. I stumbled across this post from another blogger linking to one of your post on your blog, a more recent one to do with making space. I am so glad I clicked through and found this. It’s sort of ironic in a way as I sit here after midnight in my ‘secret world’ while the rest of the family sleeps away.

    I get this so well. I get most of a post done, on outline, an expanded thought and trudge off to bed to finish it amongst the loud roaring that is my daily life with a wrok at home husband, two kids and two dogs.

    I would love to share this on my 10 things to read this week post if that’s okay.
    Felicia recently posted…The Pro’s of having a Work At Home HusbandMy Profile

  3. I love this! Thank you for sharing how you are both a mother and a writer, not one or the other. My blog is brand new as of yesterday so I may try the 4am stumble downstairs….
    I am intrigued by the light box too, we have no need for such things here in Sydney winters :)

  4. I am struck by what I just read. About how writing and responsibilities of parenthood can co-exist, without guilt. I haven’t believed it, but had hoped it to be true. For some reason, coming from you, a pastor, it takes me so many more steps closer to agreeing that it could be so. Thank you. I hope that you truly believe that, so that I can begin to as well.

  5. This is a place I’m finally getting to. Allowing myself value in my writing, it’s beyond a hobby it’s my work, my freedom.
    Sara recently posted…Only this lifetimeMy Profile

  6. Elizabeth W. Marshall March 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I hear this. I so hear this in my heart, my head, my soul. You frame this passion for writing well, the rising early the absolute call to do it. Thank you Addie. And then we get to this bitter sweet place of one gone, on leaving in September and on who will have her senior year in the fall. All toe headed. How do we get there. I didn’t write when they were little but I wish in some ways I had. I got a late ish start. Writing is healing. It’s a call. And it’s like breathing. Bless you in your efforts at balance. I’m still working on balance at 53. Hopefully that and writing until I die. :) love this write. Hope you can hear it in my words.

  7. YES!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is it EXACTLY!!!!!!
    ON the days when I try to write more than I try to play with my kids, I usually feel really bad.
    But I love that both of these things matter. I love my kids. I LOVE THEM, LOVE them! I LOVE them. (all 4 of them, ages almost 8, 6, 4, and just turned 3)

    But I NEED to write. I need to be able to move the words from my head onto the “paper.”
    I NEED to.
    Thank you so much for giving that insatiable need a place.
    Gianna recently posted…A Gift for My KidsMy Profile

  8. Addie,
    I am also the mom of young children, ages 6, 2 and 6 weeks. I love that you emphasize time and again that your writing matters and I admire your determination to “keep on keeping on” in and around all the demands of daily life, including loving your kids. I’m still in that newborn sleepy haze, but this has been a sweet reminder that the things I love to do, Bible study, sewing and crafting matter, too, and that it’s ok and even good to pursue them along with being mommy to my sweet little ones. Thanks so much!

  9. Loved to hear more about your writing routine, friend! I am so impressed … I have a hard time writing without carving out SPACE. You are a rockstar writer/mama!

  10. So happy I happened across your blog. Your writing and the way to think and express those thoughts remind me of my favorite author, Robert Fulghum. As a parent of 5, the things you say about parenting on dead on. So validating, wish I would have known I wasn’t a 3-headed freak when they were toddlers, that all the struggles and emotions that I dealt with were perfectly normal. As parents, we are all too hard on ourselves and you give us permission to be overwhelmed and to still be individuals. Enjoy these sleep-deprived years, the teen years are coming and you will beg for booster seats and juice boxes again.
    Looking forward to sharing what’s in your head and in your heart. Have a great Easter.
    Shelia

  11. First off, let me say how glad I am that you get up at 4 am to write. There aren’t many things I’m willing to get up early for, but if that were the only time I could READ what you wrote, I think I’d actually do it. I can honestly say your blog posts are my very favorite thing to read, and I would read just about anything to hear your voice, because it’s so honest and intelligent and reasonable and real and true.

    I understand many of your challenges. My kids are 19, 16 and 12 now, but they were once toddlers, and I used to have sticky sippy cups under my desk and diaper wipes on top of it. And kids climbing me like monkeys. It was hard and wonderful all at once. I’m a graphic designer (who now finally also calls herself a writer), and I’ve worked for myself for 19 years, so I’ve experienced the chaos of working and parenting, all at once, one sentence at a time, interruptions every five seconds, phone calls, siblings fighting, start another video, clients demanding quick turn-around, piles on my desk that I never put there but can’t seem to clear off, exhaustion. But I left out a few: sticky-faced kisses, chubby hands patting my cheeks, my kids helping me pick the best color scheme for a logo, playing word games with the kids in the car, running to Target on a mid-week afternoon. It’s hard. And it’s worth it. (Two non-contradictory truths.)

    And I thank you for doing it.
    Kelly Stanley recently posted…A pale reproductionMy Profile

  12. Christina Wall March 28, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Addie, I am going to admit something completely embarrassing, yet a very valid reflection of my mentality as a working mother. When I read through this the first time, I assumed it was Steve. I thought, wow, “redirect kids to the blocks while trying to get more work done”…I wish I was more skilled at that – maybe it’s a “guy” thing. I can’t believe myself! I am a professor in the aviation department and recently (last fall) taken a tenure-track position. And I really, really struggle with my identity as a working mom. I still think of myself as a stay-at-home mom. So does everybody else, solely because of how I portray myself. And it is unsustainable. It is unsustainable because in order to be successful in my work, I need to also make it a priority…a priority that coexists with my children (3-year old daughter, twin boys on the way). I am also trying to realize that this is a good thing to model for my daughter. Mommy has interests beyond doll houses and finger paint. Mommy takes care of herself by making the things, all things, that are important to her a priority. Again, my sincere apologies and thanks for the great post.

  13. You made me smile Steve. This is so real.
    Keep writing !! God Bless You and your family!!!!

  14. True beauty. And love personified. Thank you!

  15. I’ll be honest and say: I hate living in tension. I’m a fixer, and I want things to resolve.

    So the beauty in this, the resolve to stay in the tension and let it be, intrigues me. I find myself either mothering OR writing. I hate trying to do both at the same time, because then I fail at both. So I drop one – usually writing, at this stage of life – until I can have a few dedicated hours. That may only happen once a week. Or once a month. But making it either/or instead of both/and seems to help me be driven less crazy.
    Kelly @ Love Well recently posted…PreparationMy Profile

  16. I know that tension! The other day, I bout lost it when my 2-year-old banged the keyboard and my screen went blank. And I was ALMOST DONE! Thankfully, I was able to retrieve it, and mend his wounded heart. Work-at-home is hard, no matter th work, and I so wish I could compartmentalize better. Recently, we have tried re-instating a 7am wake up rule. I am hoping if that gets more routine, the creaking of the floorboards will be less scary!
    Rachael recently posted…Wedenesdays in the Word: My Knight in Shining ArmorMy Profile

  17. This makes me immensely happy. Thank you.
    Brenna D (@BrennaJD) recently posted…Walking on WaterMy Profile

  18. This brought such a beautiful image to my mind of a painting I was just looking at and how the different colors splashing up against each other were what made me love it. There is so much in life and art and faith that exist in tension. And for so many of those things it’s the tension that makes them so beautiful and valuable. But then I find myself thinking that my LIFE should not hold any tension like that. It should be easily segmented into parts that sit calmly next to each other like prim girls in an old fashioned photo. This was a beautiful reminder that the tension is there and it’s good. And embracing it has got to be better than fighting it!

    (oh, and it almost motivates me to get up early to write. I do SO need to carve out time to write….)
    Janice recently posted…God With UsMy Profile

  19. Addie:

    You’re an awesome writer. I stand in awe of your dedication and look forward to reading your memoir. Very inspiring. I shared this on FB.

  20. Keep in mind that L’Engle chose writing over housework. She talked about it all the time. I am grateful she made that choice. Wouldn’t work for most of us, though.

    • My housework has also taken quite the hit. The laundry never gets put away, the bathrooms are unbelievably gross, and I don’t even know where my dusting stuff is. Oh well.

  21. I can really relate to the demands of a kid who doesn’t understand why mommy/daddy has to be looking at a computer screen “right now.” Also, waking up early has been a life saver!
    ed cyzewski recently posted…A Backwards Take on Following Jesus: UnfollowersMy Profile

  22. I sometimes flail in the mess of writing, mothering, wifing (I just made that word up, but I think I like it), and loving Jesus, my neighbor, orphans, our church, and everybody else around me. Thanks for the encouragement to keep at it. I have been tempted to quit the writing, which seems to be the one thing I can quit without hurting the people I love most. Except that writing transforms me into the “me” I am meant to be, and so quitting that is not so helpful, really. The life that does not challenge our humanity is the life lived without the power I God. This is my mantra.

  23. I looked at your photos this morning and smiled. The “messy” table looks clean compared to mine. I guess that never goes away. The towhead adoration brought back the sweetest memories. I, too, had a fair-haired baby boys who wanted nothing better than to touch me and murmur in happiness. Well, in between wanting to clout each other or flush the cat down. It feels like yesterday. I swear I can still smell their sweet baby necks fragrance. But I’m on the other side, now. They
    live hours and hours away and I see them, if I’m very lucky, maybe 4 times a year. I have time for writing. Lots of time. And let me tell you how unbearably much I’d love to have that sweet 2 year old leaning on my knee, wanting to look into my eyes, patting me with sticky fingers. I know how very very hard parenting toddlers is. SO hard. And the fatigue is mind deadening. But in a breath it will be gone. In a breath. Have patience with the 60-year-olds who tell you to savor every moment. We would give anything to feel that baby hand on our face again.

    • This comment made me weepy. Thanks for the important, gentle reminder.
      Addie Zierman recently posted…Thoughts on the Writing/Parenting LifeMy Profile

    • Janet–This comment DID make me weepy! Pregnant with two small boys=mind-deadening fatigue (and body-shattering, too) for sure. My husband and I both drag ourselves through each day and wonder what we thought we were doing having kids! A full night of restful sleep is only a distant memory, and a clean ANYTHING just doesn’t exist in our house. Thank you for the vivid imagery to remind me again today though how sweet this (saying this in faith) short time is. THEY are sweet, and I am so thankful to be their mommy. Writing… art… yeah. Might have to wait a bit longer! But Addie–loved your post, too. I just can’t drag myself out of bed at 4 for anything other than a screaming child at this stage! But glad you’re doing it :)

  24. Addie – always love your posts, and so thankful I got to meet you in person at MotherCare! Always praying for you as my life is like yours, but wish I could find the energy to wake up at 4am! So true that we have to make the time now. Blogging helps…as well as taking classes at the Loft. My other life is doing spiritual care ministry, which matters too. Our lives are our own.

    As I’m planning a retreat with Jasna Burza, thinking so much about you! You are an inspiration – and love this post. Embracing our “now” purpose and finding a balance between them – as we can have more than one purpose – is difficult, but doable! Blessings!!!!

    • Thanks so much Stephanie. So glad to have had the chance to meet you too. Hope the retreat is wonderful!

      Retreats are life-saving for me. To have the chance to get away and focus exclusively on writing for a few days…wonderful. I also started being much more intentional about taking a Sabbath this last couple of months, and having a day to keep the computer off and keep my focus on rest and mothering has been really great too. :)

  25. I’ll let you in on a little secret-we readers of your blog don’t mind at all if you are not “on time” with your posts, we are just delighted to find them up whenever it happens. Thanks for a glimpse into your reality, next time I have one of those wake-up-at- 3am-and -can’t -sleep mornings, I’ll think of you and send thoughts your way for the kids to sleep soundly.

  26. Thanks for sharing a picture of your tower with us Addie! I would show you mine, but it looks like Office Max, a college course, a library, and my personal life all threw up in it! And I don’t have children! Ha!

    I was really inspired by the fact that you arise in the wee hours of the morning to write! It reminds me of my colleagues who get up at that same time…to run for exercise…in the winter! I guess we make time for what is important to us! Keep at it!
    Jenny Hill recently posted…Birthday ReflectionsMy Profile

  27. This looks a lot like my life, except I move the piles of library books for my dissertation all over the house. I get frustrated sometimes, but mostly I love the mixed-up nature of my life and work. Thanks for being real!

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