My youngest, who is almost nine, sits at the kitchen table with her math notebook, working on multiplication tables. I sit beside her, my hands wrapped tightly around a warm mug of tea, waiting for her to ask for help. She can do most of her assignments on her own, but feels more confident with me nearby. This brief moment of quiet seems like a great time to work on drafting a new poem, rather than scrolling through email on my phone. “I’m going to get my notebook,” I push the chair out and walk to the other room.
She continues her math problems; I watch a bird outside, poking its beak into the grass in search of worms. Words begin to form on the blank page in front of me. I freewrite, comparing the robin’s search for worms with my own search for words. Before I can turn it into anything that feels done, she finishes her work.
“Mama, is this right?”
I close my notebook and shove it to the side, pulling hers in its space to check her work. My writing time is over for now.
Several days later, I sit on the porch, where they are quietly reading their chosen Literature books for the day. A gentle breeze blows across my face, with it a realization that this is a good time to draft that blog post I’ve been mulling over for weeks. I disappear to grab my journal and pen, and return silently, hoping my movement doesn’t disturb them. Just as I sit down and begin writing, my youngest shuts her book and drops it on the glass patio table. The rattling of the glass disrupts my thoughts and I look to see what’s up.
“I’m done! Ready to go play outside!”
I put my pen down and spray her bare arms with sunscreen. The Spring sun always surprises me with its power this time of year. She runs off to play. I sit down and begin again. Three words in, my oldest, who is eleven, closes her book and drops it on the patio floor with a loud bang. “Can I wear a hat instead of sunscreen?”
“If you keep it on, and find something to cover your arms.”
She finds a thin shawl and ties it around her shoulders, covers her head with a beach hat and poses as a model on a runway. “How’s this?”
“Don’t take it off,” I reiterate, “and it’s just great.” I wave her away, ready for her to get out of my hair so I can write without interruption.
A few days later, I’m in the kitchen making corn chowder for dinner. Our evening is packed with dance and gymnastics and I have an hour to make sure everyone has everything they need. As the onion sizzles in the butter on the stove, I feel a deep urge to document the intoxicating smell. Something about cooking always gives me a deep desire to write. I grab a pen and write messily in my journal, in between stirring the onions and slicing cucumber and apples for a snack. Hopefully I’ll be able to capture the essence of this moment when I have time alone, but for now the scribbles are worth more than the blank page.
Two weeks later, my husband takes the kids to swim at the YMCA. It’s been more than a week since I sat down with my notebook and pen. The puppy snuggles next to me on the couch and I take a deep breath in. The silence is golden. These are the very moments I long for; the stillness beckons me to write. I know I should make dinner before they get home, but this time at home alone is rare. I can make dinner when they return. I grab my notebook and pen and get to work.
I wish I could tell you I have a solid writing routine. That I wake early to write before the kids wake. Or that I stay up after bedtime to journal about the day. Go to my home office every afternoon while my kids play silently on their own. But none of that happens every day. Heck, most of that never happens at all.
As a homeschooling mama of two tweens, uninterrupted time is hard to find. It’s not because I don’t prioritize writing. It’s simply because no day looks quite like any other. I don’t have regular times at home alone. My husband works from home. Except when he doesn’t. I don’t have an office outside the house where I can escape. I do a lot of writing at public libraries when my kids are at nature class, dance lessons, or gymnastics workouts.
Most of my deep writing happens on retreat. Once a quarter, I try to get away for solo writing retreats. I try to block out six hours one Saturday a month for writing projects. Some months, if I’m lucky, I get two or three. My husband takes the kids for the day and I escape to a room (or library) of my own. We call it “Dadurday” and it’s my favorite day of the month.
But these designated writing times are rare. Most of the time I have to fit the writing into the moments of my day. Being able to leave my kids to fend for themselves is a relatively new thing. They can play outside unattended; be left home alone for short periods of time. Although I don’t get hours of time every day, it is easier to sneak moments here and there than when they were three and five.
It’s hard, this sporadic writing time. Projects take so much longer than I think they should. I know I could change our lifestyle so I have more time to write, but homeschooling is as important to me as my writing life, so for now I’ll keep carving out nuggets of time wherever I can.
When they were younger, I told myself they wouldn’t be little forever, and the days and memories were far more important than creating a book. As they get older, I feel time differently. A decade into parenting, I have less than a decade left with them at home. And even fewer years where they’d rather hang out with me than with friends. These are the memory keeping years. The note-taking years. The years when I’m reflecting on what was and slowly releasing my grip as they begin to venture out into the world alone.
Sometimes writing looks like going on a nature walk, or reading a book. Sometimes writing looks like standing at my kitchen counter, stirring spaghetti sauce with one hand and scribbling words with the other. Sometimes it’s recording a voice memo while I’m driving to the grocery store, because a brilliant idea appeared the minute I walked out the door alone. Occasionally it looks like sitting in a parking lot, writing as fast as I can while waiting on my kid to finish her private lesson. Or packing myself a picnic dinner to eat at the YMCA after yoga class, carving out a half-hour for whatever words show up on the page.
In this stage of life, writing looks a lot like a huge bulletin board full of ideas, waiting for quiet time to be pulled together into something that resembles art. But I’m confident if I stay open and available throughout the day, the words will add up in the end. It may take me a decade to write my first book, but a decade of baby steps is a marathon’s distance of words.