When They’re Not Babies Anymore

baby3Part of this post originally appeared at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard, where I was a guest on August 9. Most of the regular bloggers there are writer-moms of young kids, as I used to be. Moms who write fiction are always discussing the balancing act, the challenge of meeting our families’ needs when we have day jobs or are stay- or work-at-home moms who also struggle to fit writing time in. I thought it would be a great idea to ask my oldest, who leaves for college on Monday, some questions about growing up with a mom who’s a writer. She had such great things to say (in my not-unbiased opinion) that I wanted to share the entire interview here. It’s a bit long, but I hope the things she says are reassuring to any mom who struggles with the whole balance thing.

Do you remember anything about your mom being a writer when you were little, and how that affected you?

For such a good student I have an absolutely awful memory, so most of the specifics from when I was younger have long since vanished. I always credit the fact that my mom is a writer as the reason I had such an avid interest in writing from such a young age, despite the fact that I can’t remember much from that time period. I think it was mostly that when you’re little, everything your parents do is the coolest thing ever. We had these writing periods in my first and second grade classes, and I just wrote the heck out of everything. I absolutely loved it, and I think the fact that my mother was a writer allowed me to love it. Writing was something that would be automatically approved of. I didn’t have to worry about parental acceptance and could simply let myself foster that love for writing, even though it was subconscious at the time.

I do remember sitting on a couch in my first or second grade classroom with my mom, listening while she talked about being a writer to my class. Mostly I felt awkward because I sat there doing nothing while my class just stared at the two of us, but I remember being slightly nervous. I thought my mom and her job were so cool, and I wanted my classmates to think they were cool too. And they did, or at least didn’t act like stereotypical jerk kids. If they had, I probably would have felt a sense of shame, but I didn’t. That feeling of awe never really did go away, though obviously it has manifested into something different now that I’m older.

Overall, what has it been like growing up with a mom who’s a writer?

I don’t know, like growing up with any other mom? A good mom isn’t really defined by her job. Those with high-power jobs, like doctor or lawyer or CEO, they can have a more difficult job because they’re away from home so often and can’t give as much attention to their kids. Judging by the next question, I think the implication is that writers face that same challenge. But I honestly believe that if my mom had been a doctor or a lawyer, my childhood would have been pretty similar when it comes to my mother. She’s caring and attentive and has far too large of a guilt complex, and no matter her job, she would have made sure to be there for us in the same way she’d actually been.

I can’t tell if I actually answered the question. It was normal, growing up with a mom who’s a writer. Only it was extra special because my mom’s success is tangible and evident and can be physically flaunted in front of my peers’ faces. Not that I’ve ever actually done that. Yet.

Do you wish she had spent less time at her computer and more with you?

I think the better question for my family is does she wish we had spent less time on the computer and more with her. I simply jest. I actually never really noticed the difference. I think when it mattered most, like when we were younger, it didn’t actually matter all that much. It’s difficult to make a living being a full-time writer, so my mom had a day job in our younger years. As a result, my sister and I went to summer camp/day care, where we received the stimulus needed to develop our ever-maturing brains. By the time she quit her job so we could stay home during the summer and so we didn’t have to go to an after-school service, we had our own computers and our own reasons for sequestering ourselves away in our room.

Honestly, I think the only person it really bothers is her. She expresses her guilt all the time about how she’s always working downstairs in her writer’s cave of an office, how she never makes dinner or all that other “mom” crap. My sister and I couldn’t care less about that kind of thing. She was always there for us when we wanted to talk to her, dutifully taking as much as an hour’s break to listen to me chatter away about things that really had no true point. I know my sister and I both, me especially, kind of appreciate needing to become self-sufficient. I will not be one of those yuppies next year in college who lives off of Ramen noodles and doesn’t know how to do laundry. And for that, I thank her. Besides, she cooks often enough that we all have favorite meals that she makes, and it’s not like she’ll say no (usually) if we ask her to make something special.

So, no, I don’t think I wish she had spent less time at her computer. I think everything worked its way out in the end.

What has her career taught you? Does it affect how you look at your future, or what your dreams are?

Um…let me think…everything! I felt weird answering all of these questions because I’m not answering as a daughter who’s mother is a writer solely; I’m answering as a fellow writer who probably identifies way too much with her writer mother. From a very young age I wanted to be an author, to become our family’s third generation author. I love it, so much, and I’m so grateful to have a writer mother because I can see the kind of career path I can expect to have if I put all of my focus on novel writing. It’s hard and it’s dirty and it doesn’t pay the bills. There’s little guarantee for success, and the success you get has little guarantee to be large. Following her career has taught me that I have to aim for something beyond simply writing novels if I want to be happy with my career, because let me tell you, I will go out of my mind having to be a receptionist or whatever at a local doctor’s office. That idea led me to look at my future realistically and consider other options, such as publishing, editing, or magazine writing, for a day job, one that I could actually enjoy.

When I applied for colleges, I focused, for the most part, on schools with writing programs. Ithaca has a pretty decent one, and Champlain is right near Burlington, so it even seemed like a post-college career could be possible. But getting a writing degree kind of felt like getting an English degree: like a pretty useless endeavor. In the end, I went with Emerson College because their major is a joint Writing, Literature, and Publishing major. They focus not only on the writing, but also on the publishing industry, which is something that not a lot of schools do. Boston is the second largest publishing city in the country, and I know that I can get internships to start building my network as early as the end of my freshman year. Tour guides told us that publishing industries are more likely to hire Emerson students because they already know the publishing industry before ever setting foot in a building.

Basically what I’m getting at is this: I could see a future. Watching my mom solidified the idea that a writing career is volatile and very precipitous. Nothing is a guarantee, and everything could change in an instant. I need to give myself the best shot at preventing a fall or need for career change or any other bad career bomb, and Emerson seemed like place to start. Many of the things I’ve talked about here in regards to myself, such as what I learned from my mother, what it was like growing up, have been kind of subconscious. I never went, “Gah! Look at my mom’s career! I can’t have that! Emerson, help!” But every little thing gets filed away in a schema, and all of those little things helped me to create my dreams and career path, and, as cheesy as it sounds, to basically become a better person.

What’s the worst part of having a mom who’s a writer?

Being the daughter of someone who is exactly like me.

What do you wish would be different?

I don’t know. I actually hate questions like these because it begs you to look into the past, something steady and never-changing, or to make commentary and complaints on a present that would probably be perfect if you weren’t making commentary and complaints in the first place. I don’t really wish that anything was different, in all honesty. I love my life, and I love my family, and I love my mom, just the way she is. If I had to choose something, I would wish that my mother were more successful with her writing, that she didn’t have to kill herself most nights trying to meet deadlines for demanding editing clients. She’s a talented writer, and I wish the publishing process wasn’t always so cruel or agonizing for her. She deserves better. But even that isn’t something I’d dwell on. This is probably one of the very few things we haven’t discussed at length together, but I am relatively certain that she’s someone who doesn’t tie her happiness to her career success. It’s like with The Princess and the Frog; Tiana’s father never did get what he wanted (his restaurant), but he had what he needed (a family). My mom isn’t drinking herself into a stupor or snapping outlandishly because she’s not a New York Times Bestselling Author. She’s happy, I think, just like me, and that’s all that really matters.

What’s the best part of having a mom who’s a writer?

Being the daughter of someone who is exactly like me.

Natalie J. Damschroder