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I don’t go back to writing immediately. For a moment, I stop and think about the ways I used to envision a writer’s life: A tortured Bronte sisters existence in a dark Gothic tower on a barren, windswept hill with only my art and imagination to sustain me. The glamorous, globe-trotting lifestyle of Hemingway. Even Melville’s harrowing experiences on 19th-century whalers seem more appealing to me. At least the harpooners could pour their own milk.
Now that I’ve sold a novel, people have suggested that I rent office space, or hire a baby-sitter, or send the kids to after-school day care. I used to think about it, believing no mommy would be better than a distracted, sometimes short-tempered mommy, but I’ve realized this isn’t true for my kids. Having me around is important to them.
To my son, I am the cataloger of his lifestyle: the one person who knows that he likes his orange in sections, not in slices; who knows he has to have his alligator to sleep with but doesn’t need his bunny; who knows he won’t wear his Mr. Bubble shirt anymore because it has pink on it and he has decided that pink is for girls. When you’re 5, a mom is proof of your existence.
To my daughter, I am an encyclopedia, a map, a fashion consultant, a spiritual leader. I am the foundation upon which all of her thoughts, feelings, opinions, and actions will eventually be built. When you’re 8, a mom is proof of your importance.
They come stampeding at me.
“Can we go outside?”
“Did you finish your homework?”
“Wear coats and stay in the yard.”
The minute they’re gone, I’m caught in the guilt-laden paradox of parenthood: Sometimes it’s easier to love your kids when they’re not around.
Being a mother is a thankless job, a relentless job, and one whose eventual success will be measured by how much I am no longer needed. Sometimes I don’t think I can do it anymore, but I persevere out of duty and, of course, out of love. It may not be what I do best, but being a mother is the best thing I will ever do.