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(Not) doing it all

So now it’s Thursday. My husband and oldest son left Monday evening for Alaska, where they’re fishing for two weeks along with my father, brother, neighbor, and first cousin. (It’s a real male-bonding trip. No one, apparently, is going to shave for the entire fourteen days.) Meanwhile I am sitting down here in my office, absolutely exhausted, and realizing again that I couldn’t be a writer and a mother without my husband’s holding down the home-fort for half the week.

I’m in charge of the younger three for the next fourteen days.

And because of various deadlines, I couldn’t just take two weeks off from work. So I’m trying to slip in a few working hours early in the morning, late at night, and in the hours that my mother is doing reading lessons with my five-year-old. Oh, my goodness. I am so very tired. And not getting a great deal done. When Peter’s with the kids, I don’t even think about them. When they’re with anyone else, I’ve always got half an ear open for shrieks or explosions. It’s almost impossible to sink myself into my work.

(Number two son. And you wonder why I can’t concentrate?)

More than that, though: Parenting takes emotional energy. Writing takes emotional energy. I’ve only got so much emotional energy.

“How do you do it all?” This is the number one question I get from other moms, particularly those who are also writers. How do you manage to write, run a publishing company, home school, be a pastor’s wife? Well, I’ll take credit for a working pace that’s naturally set on “high,” but the truth is that no parent can do what I do without a full-time, fully dedicated partner.

I have a wonderful housekeeper (“cleaning woman” doesn’t do her justice) who comes in three days a week, and she has made the last six months amazingly productive for me. But I’ve done without household help in the past, and I could do it again without dropping any of my writing projects. The same is not true of my husband. (Aren’t you glad?) Apart from the fact that I just miss him, I can’t keep these kids properly parented and write at the same time. If he were to change jobs and lose his flexibility, I’d be facing a serious life reorganization.

And it’s not just my husband. My father makes the business decisions for Peace Hill Press, and acts as general manager for the farm (110 acres, far too many random domesticated animals).

(Back garden. Needs spraying, disking, and possum-shooting to stay productive.)

Since Dad’s also in Alaska, I’m dashing back and forth to the Press offices and struggling (not very successfully) to keep an algae bloom out of the pool.

(Dan leaping into pool. You can’t SEE the green tint, but it’s THERE. As soon as I go inside, the whole thing’s going to turn the color of lime jello.)

One of my favourite movie quotes is from the end of the Hugh Grant-Toni Collette About a Boy, which is about various pairs of people trying to cope with the difficulties of daily life. “I don’t think couples are the future,” one of the young characters remarks, at the end of the film. “Two people isn’t enough. You need backup.” I think he’s right. It takes four adults to run THIS enterprise, and with two of them gone, I’m absolutely beat. I’ve only written five paragraphs of the Medieval World since Monday, and I haven’t even tried to finish up those first-pass proofs of the Ancient World.

Interesting wrinkle: I normally try to write a little bit of fiction every couple of weeks, just so I remember how to do it. I tried last night, after a day of schooling/refereeing/comforting/library visiting/grocery shopping. I couldn’t get a single word down. I can keep plugging away at this history, though. I’m not getting a tremendous amount done, but I’ve just polished off Constantine’s second wife (she boiled to death in her bath) and I’m steaming on towards Julian the Apostate.

Which is illuminating, to me. I haven’t written much fiction in the last couple of years, partly because I’m slightly discouraged by the fact that the perfectly brilliant novel I finished in 2004 keeps bouncing back into my agent’s mailbox. ( He never thought it would sell, to be honest. “I didn’t say it wasn’t any GOOD,” he told me, last time we talked about it, “I just said I didn’t think anyone would BUY it.”) But mostly it’s because fiction requires immersion in an alternate universe, and with my kids at the age they are, I haven’t got the energy to create one.

Yes, I know women write novels when they have multiple children in the house. Kudos to them, but I’m betting that they’re not also turning out nonfiction books. I can only exist, simultaneously, in the Peace Hill Farm universe and the Medieval World universe. Trying to create a third world would blow out all the gaskets.

Whew. Can’t wait for the men to return from their bear hunt, triumphant and bearing fresh meat to the waiting women. :-)

(Pete with boys)