Kids have a way of helping you see things clearly. Maybe because they consume so much of your time and energy until all that remains are the essentials? I don’t know how it works, but I do know that shortly after the birth of my son, my old dream of becoming a writer suddenly became very important to me. I remembered the passion I felt for storytelling and the excitement that thrilled me when I finally selected the perfect word, rearranged paragraphs in an unexpected way, or realized that entire chunks of words could be cleared away.
All it took was the loss of my free time and a hungry newborn to help me remember a dream. I know this is the typical “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” conundrum. But dwelling on the unfairness of this situation won’t present me with a magical solution. Taking action is what helps, like when I can put words down on whatever page or screen I have available in the quick free moments I uncover. The frustration when I’m interrupted at my writing, the anxiety I feel to perform well when I do manage to get some time away, and the little spark of determination that burns inside me are all byproducts of this remembered dream. And each day, I wake intending to chase it.
My alarm goes off at 5:30am and I know if I want to get some time to myself today, I need to get up right now.
“Time to Write!” urges my bright blinking phone.
I swipe right to silence the alarm and fall back onto my pillow.
Why am I trying to get up so early?
It’s because of my secret goal that sustains me when my usual roles of wife, mother, and employee leave me edgy and depleted. Someday, I hope to be a writer.
Just a few more minutes, I promise myself, seized by a wave of guilt and anxiety.
Early mornings are my chance to write. It’s the time when my mind is fresh and the words come willingly to the page. Early mornings mean the toddler isn’t throwing a fit, the baby isn’t attempting to ride the dog and my husband isn’t repairing power lines in the dark.
Unfortunately for my writing dreams, getting out of bed can sometimes prove to be an insurmountable task.
Something rustles from the hallway. The doorknob to our bedroom twists unsteadily, the door creaks open, and my stomach sinks. I’ve already lost my chance.
“Mommy!” An urgent whisper from the doorway.
I answer with a grunt.
“Mommy, Mommy!” The voice travels from the door to my side of the bed. Beside me, mouth open, my husband snores on.
Time has taught me that three-year-olds possess extraordinary persistence. I can pretend to be asleep, or try to explain how tired I am after a night spent soothing the baby but it’ll be wasted effort. So, I turn on my side to face my son, who is clutching his beloved blanket with his eyes still puffy from sleep. I swoop hair off his forehead and cup his round cheek.
“It’s nice out, Mommy!” This is his way of encouraging me to get up for the day. “We go downstairs!”
No! my body protests, aching with sleep deprivation. There’s coffee downstairs, I remind myself, reaching for reasons to sit up and push back the bedsheets. Ugh. I reach for the sweatshirt that tops the pile of unfolded laundry at the foot of the bed. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee!
In the kitchen, my son requests a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“What do you say?” I mumble, already reaching above the microwave for the loaf of bread.
“Please,” he answers, drawing out the word with theatrical flair.
I take out a slice and spread the peanut butter and jelly onto the bread, fold it in half, and carry it over to him before returning to the kitchen.
The plastic attachments for my breast pump are next to the sink where I left them last night. I put them together and reach for my morning pills, the little blue ones that stifle the waves of panic that try to clamor up my throat.
It’s best to fend them off early in the day.
“I watch choo-choos on the TV?” my son inquires from the other room. I tell him to hush, in a minute, and take out a coffee filter and grounds. I fill up the pot from the water dispenser in the refrigerator. The controls beep red, twittering at me to replace the filter. I could’ve just filled it from the tap; quieter, and probably the same water quality.
The bag of coffee beans opens with a crinkle and I inhale deeply, savoring the fragrance.
The smell floods my mind with memories from just one child ago, when I’d brew coffee in a fully quiet house. I’d take a seat at the dining room table, steaming cup in hand, and open my laptop, ready to experiment with creative essays, short stories, flash fiction. The house would sleep on while I found myself gripped with the excitement of telling stories, an old love that had returned with twice the passion.
I pour the ground coffee beans directly from the bag into the machine. After I hit “Start,” I carry my pump attachments over to where my son is nestled on the couch. It’s almost 6 o’clock now, and I can hear birds outside heralding the arrival of the gray morning light.
“Choo-choos!” he urges.
The movie begins to play and the cat jumps up to join us. She waits for me to place my attachments and start the pump, then manages to curl herself between the tubes that leash me to the Medela Pump InStyle.
“Hi Mommy,” my son says unexpectedly, leaning against me. I clutch the bottles that are steadily filling with milk to protect them from spilling, and swallow my cranky retort. This spilled milk would warrant tears.
“Hey, sweetie,” I manage.
The theme song to Thomas and Friends accompanied by the creak-creak of my pump drowns out any other remaining reflections or nostalgic memories of early morning productivity.
And just like that, another morning melts away into the opening act of another day.
Words didn’t get written this morning. Between a last minute diaper catastrophe and a stubborn toddler, I’m pleased to make it out the door without tears. The coffee I sip on my way to work is lukewarm and for a moment I think longingly of my laptop. I know thinking “what-if” is a waste of time, but I can’t help wondering: what if I never had children? Would my old dream of writing remain just that, a memory never realized? The dichotomy of light and shadow makes me think I only realized how I’d most like to spend my time when I no longer had any to spare.
Through it all, deep in my chest, my dream to write still beats away, golden and patient.
Angie is a gainfully employed English major who enjoys caffeine, podcasts featuring YA authors, and new library books. She lives with several humans and fur babies in a home that is surrounded by snow for most of the year. Follow her on Instagram @angiemaywrite.