In last month’s “Birthing the Mother Writer” column Cassie Premo Steele announced that she will be taking a five-month break from her column, as she prepares for a new season in her life. After five years working with Cassie, her editor, Maria Scala, is keen to join the conversation about what renewal means to her.
by Maria Scala
This is what I wished for—
both of them in school all day.
What will I do first?
Take a walk?
Sit in a café
drinking something that is
Before I have a chance
to run a bath
do some yoga
write in my journal
it’s three o’clock.
The autumn sun
burns my face.
Now my children
are climbing into the car
reaching for the snacks
I offer them.
I don’t notice
how steep the hill
the cars too close
because I am
eyeing the little one
in the mirror
dozing in his booster seat.
He had a good day
but he will find my bed
at 4 am.
And my daughter
is tracing words
on her window
that I can’t
Some Notes from Maria Scala:
“September” came about in response to Cassie Premo Steele’s most recent column “Renewal: Beginning a New Season in the Mother Writer Life.” I am anticipating that my own renewal as a mother writer will come in the fall when my son joins his older sister full-time at school. In writing this poetic response, I have internalized what Cassie points out about planning and trying to control: “Life doesn’t work like this. It certainly is never as smooth as we would have it be in our plans. Neither is mothering smooth nor plan-dependent.” In the poem, I can’t seem to make a decision about what to do: take a bath, do some yoga, write in my journal? Before I know it, it’s school pick-up time, and I am handing out snacks, looking in that rear view mirror, wondering what’s going on with the kids, instead of paying closer attention to the road before me . . . and to the balls from outer space that life may throw at me! Cassie assures me that I will catch them, and, having worked with her five years and counting on this wise and wonderful column, I believe her.
After reading this response, Cassie had a few questions for me, and I, in turn, had some for her.
Cassie Premo Steele: I love the rhythm and rhyme in your poem. Is this something you plan or work on?
Maria Scala: I certainly pay attention to this a lot when I am writing a poem. It’s a habit of mine to read lines out loud for musicality and rhythm. Many of the internal rhymes that occur are by chance, as in the last stanza, with the words “bed” and “guess.” This month, in trying to pen thirty poems to mark National Poetry Month and one of its offshoots—National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo)—I have been exploring various poetic forms. These include the Word Sonnet, Haiku, Cento, Prose Poem, and Ghazal, if I’m brave! Some of these efforts have been mediocre, at best, but I think it’s important to get out of one’s comfort zone every once in a while, especially as a mother writer. Cassie, I think you are the poster child for this kind of thing, with all the life changes you’ve written about all this time working on the Birthing the Mother Writer column. Sage words, but terrifying for some: “the best times—the growth, the wonder, the surprise, the pain, the miracle—come from being open to what surprises us, knocks us off our feet, upends everything we thought we knew.” How do you convince the most vigilant Type A’s among us to relinquish some of that control?
CPS: Control is the biggest illusion for mothers. And for writers. We use the illusion of control to stem the tide of our anxieties. Research every aspect of a baby’s health in the middle of the night when she’s coughing. Outline our novel over and over to avoid thinking about the hard emotional issues at play in our lives.
But what happens is that we miss out on the joy. The spontaneity. The freedom and flow that come from both mothering and writing when we let go.
Start slow. Write for 20 minutes about anything. Let yourself switch topics. Pick your child up from school without a plan. Drive through town and stop somewhere you’ve never been before.
Let yourself do one surprising thing every day.
I used to be a great planner. I am still very organized. But I was pregnant with my daughter and stubbed my toe in the post office and bled all over the floor in flip flops when I realized pushing myself was not such a good idea.
I learned to do more small bursts of work on a regular basis rather than big pushes all at once.
How has your writing changed since becoming a mother? Did it change again after becoming a mother of two?
MS: I feel like I’m actually writing more than I did before I became a mother, because my schedule is different. I no longer report five days a week to a nine-to-five job outside the home, a job that was pleasurable because I was working with books, but was also draining due to the long commute, and all the administrative tasks. As a freelance editor, and as an editor for Literary Mama, I’m involved in some of the most rewarding projects. This feeds into my writing which is done, of course, in short, yet productive bursts. Because my children are five years apart, I usually have only one at home with me at a time, but there are days when they are both around, and very little writing work is done, despite the fact that my daughter is quite good at keeping herself busy.
What is the biggest change you have noticed in your writing, now that your daughter is on the cusp of her high school years?
CPS: I find that I write less about mothering than I did when she was little. My writing tends to take what I learned from the early mothering years and apply it to the wider question of how we can live creatively and mindfully. Another big change is that I no longer have to write only when she’s asleep or in school. She is old enough to respect my work and be on her own when I’m writing. I think it’s important to model this, especially for our daughters. They need to know that moms have inner lives and outer work that connects to the wider world outside of mothering. It provides them with an example to follow as they grow and develop their sense of self and passionate work.
Speaking of work, it’s been such a delight working with you, Maria! I want to thank you for being my editor and giving me the clarity and encouragement that every writer dreams of receiving.
MS: It’s been my pleasure, Cassie! I’m looking forward to starting up again with a new season of your column in the fall!