Monday, March 21, 2011

What Do You Do?

I've been traveling a lot lately--as in, in the last six weeks, I've been to Texas twice, North Carolina, Virginia, and California--which has given me a lot of time to think about my life. There's something about distance from home that throws me into an introspective fit of pondering. It's a really good thing I'm not single. I'd spend my whole life in my head, and even though I really like my head, it's no place to live.

So after a few plane trips with strangers, I've noticed a couple of things: First, people are willing to share really personal information with a total stranger when both people are stuck on a pressurized aluminum tube hurtling through air six miles above the earth's surface. Second, those strangers, after spilling their guts, often ask what I do. It goes something like this:

" that's how I ended up selling human organs on the black market. What do YOU do?"

For a very long time--at least 20 years--I've dreamed of answering that question this way: "I'm a writer." And now I can.

Except that's not entirely true. I mean, it's true that I write for a living. Right now, people pay me to write a lot. (I write a lot. They don't necessarily pay me a lot.) And while I'm not exactly Margaret Atwood or Joyce Carol Oates or Wallace Stegner (my newest literary crush), I'm finding my way, and I am a writer.

But I don't feel like my "what do you do" is properly wrapped up in being a writer. So my answered have evolved from the first:

"I'm a writer. And a mom. To a toddler. A girl. She's amazing."


"I'm a mom and a writer."

It feels right to say it that way, to put the mom part first, and here's how I know: When I crawl into a big empty bed in another town and know that I won't be awoken by Hadley calling, "Mommy, are you? Hadley's bed" (as if she has to remind me where to find her), I feel a pang in my heart that isn't soothed by the fact that I get to sleep without being awoken in the night by Hadley talking in her sleep or Jason snoring. I don't have to spring out of bed, try to focus my eyes enough to get the milk poured into the sippy cup, and haul 27 pounds of toddler to my bed for five more minutes of rest. And believe me, there are mornings at home when I wish I could just open my eyes when my body decided to wake up--not when the body in the next bedroom decided to wake up.

But when I'm gone from this home and my family, I long for them more than I've ever longed to be a "real" writer. So I know: I am a mama first, a writer second.

I read this blog often, and just a few days ago, she had a post about travel in the age of postmodern motherhood. And aside from the fact that I hate the adjective "postmodern" because too many people use it as a pseudo-intellectual, aren't-I-so-smart trope, I totally dug the essay, especially the part where she admits that she's lucky to have a husband who's able and will to be the Parent In Charge (love that term) while she travels do to work she loves. And then she says, "That luck is kind of complicated."

I nearly cried. Then I almost did my best reporter work to track her down so I could call her on the phone and say, "Yes! I get it! Sing it, sister! Want to be friends?" But you'll be glad to know that I didn't. (Or maybe you're not glad. Maybe you really wished that I had called her because that story would be far more interesting than this one. Whatever.)

This luck--I'd be more inclined to call it a blessing--is complicated. This life is not simple. I would be so, so, so unhappy if I couldn't write, if I didn't feel like I had at least one project that felt meaningful and challenging. But working on this meaningful, challenging project means leaving the people I love most and stepping out of the story of their daily lives. It means choosing one over the other--at least for a few days--and that's hard, really hard.

But it's also good. (See? This is the complicated part.) I think there's some value in having a place to reflect on motherhood; otherwise, I think it's easy to plug along without considering how or why--or at least, it would be easy for me to plug along. Instead, I get to long for the too-early wake-ups and Hadley's ever-stronger will and the living room strewn with toys. I see life without them (for a day or two), and I choose life with them over and over and over again.

I love to come home, to stop ruminating about motherhood from a strange hotel room a thousand miles away and instead, to wake up abruptly on a Tuesday morning when Hadley yells, "Mommy, are you?"

Right here, baby girl. Right here.


  1. HIlary, another wonderful blog! I can hear Hadley yelling for you in the mornings, "Mommy, are you?" And then I can see her happy smile on her face when you come in to get her!

  2. This post is beautiful, just beautiful. :)