Writing Small While the Kids Are Small {A 2013 Retrospective}

writingsmall It had been three and a half years since I’d had a baby. I’d forgotten how my words would forget me, at least the written kind. They seemed to go down the drain with the dishwater or get lodged in the cushions of the couch where I sat for hours a day nursing the new addition.

One month I was full-throttle writing and interacting, posting daily in the Take Heart series, and the next month I barely existed on the Internet. In real life, I toggled between the cradling and fixing lunch and playing dollhouse and listening to the first grader read, three kids on three different schedules with lots of good things happening but virtually no time for documenting it.

Maybe I’d have a phrase or idea sweep across my mind, but the computer often seemed out of reach. It has happened to writers with much more on their resumés than I have on mine. When I read the preface to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, I was puzzled to find that although she’d published seven novels, Winifred Watson had left off writing when she, her husband and their young son moved into her mother-in-law’s home after their home in England was bombed in WWII. She never published again. Gasp.

“One cannot write,” she told interviewer, Henrietta Twycross-Martin, “if one is never alone.” That rings especially true for a ponderer like me.

I’m a little like Charlotte who wove her words in the middle of the night while Wilbur and the others were sleeping. But a writer needs her sleep too, so that the words will cooperate.

This fall, my 6-month-old baby didn’t agree and so we did a repeat of the fresh-from-the-hospital newborn days. For a two-month stretch of sickness and teething and who knows what else, she woke me every hour or two through the night. She could sleep her exhaustion off during the day, but I have big kids to tend to. It’s a good thing no one’s life was depending on my writing, because in the stupor of sleep deprivation, there were no words on the web in the morning.

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When my friend Ann was in the crux of the “writing vs. parenting young kids” struggle, she met Madeleine L’Engle and asked her how she had done it. After several moments of pure silence, L’Engle simply said, “It was hard.”

It is hard. With all of the things that need my attention around here, it has taken me five writing sessions to pull this post together. No kidding.

In her book, Circle of Quiet, L’Engle shared in more detail and echoed Winifred Watson’s words about solitude, “The various pressures of twentieth-century living have made it almost impossible for the young mother with pre-school children to have any solitude. During the long drag of years before our youngest child went to school, my love for my family and my need to write were in acute conflict. The problem was really that I put two things first. My husband and children came first. So did my writing. Bump.”

The question mark always hangs, and sometimes when I listen well, I hear whispers of the answer. One time it came at the end of Charlotte’s Web. After all the words she’d published for the world, in her final hours, the spider strained to make a tiny silken purse to carry her babies. She called it her magnum opus. And as much as I hope to write longer works for a larger population someday, ultimately my kids are the masterpiece I’m sending out into the world.

I hope it can someday be said of me that I have been a good mother and a good writer, the way it could be said of Charlotte: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” For me, that means I have to write small while the kids are small.

It’s not just mothers. Fathers feel it too. I love the way novelist Chris Huntington expressed the nonchalant way he fell out of his writing routine, “When I was younger, I used to get up early in the morning to write. Now I get up early to make my son breakfast…. My life is constrained in hundreds of ways and will be for years as my son grows up and my wife and I grow older. I don’t know when I will return to Paris, if ever. I don’t know when or if I will finish my book. I do know I love eating breakfast with my son.”

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We parent-writers feel the pull. Family life affects our other gifts and goals not by brute force, but by affection. It is both because they need me and because I like them that I don’t force the issue of writing as often as the ideas or the urge come to me.

While I can understand the sequence of events that led to Winifred Watson’s early retirement, I myself don’t want to be one who leaves off writing altogether. My writing time is good for my sanity…and my family’s too, actually. You know, “If mama ain’t happy…” And maybe, just maybe, sharing my writing could be good for someone else’s sanity, too.

I do know how thankful I am for women who have worked hard to love their families well while still finding time to write and publish. Once, I watched an interview with Ann Voskamp in which she almost cried because all she really wanted was to be home with her kids that moment, but she had followed God’s call to share the message of eucharisteo with a wider audience. Her willingness to not only write, but to share that writing (like the pressure cooker post, the mother duck post and the entire text of One Thousand Gifts), changes me as a mother and writer.

Each post or chapter I write, is a little offering at the altar and a rock of remembrance to carry in my pocket. And I know that being faithful in the small tasks the Lord has given me now helps me exercise and be ready for other tasks He may put on my list in the future.

Thankfully, in this phase, I have a way to practice my writing on a smaller scale while I major in motherhood: my little blog. Like another writer advised my friend Ann, I can “keep my finger in it.”

Last year, even with the long silences, I wrote 66 posts here at Message in a Mason Jar, almost doubling the archives. WordPress tells me that I had enough friends like you visiting the site to fill four sold out performances at the grand Sydney Opera House. And what fun– you’re coming to this place from 92 different countries! Thank you, faithful readers and friends for gracing this space with your visits and for sticking with me even when my writing pace slows in favor of home life.

Here are some highlights from 2013 at Message in a Mason Jar….

Biggest Day on the Blog: February 12 with Words Like Honey, where I announced the new writing group my friend Sheila and I would be heading up with (in)couragers. While my own writing has been sparse, that group of vibrant, Spirit-filled, go-getter women has been the best thing on my Internet. Keep watching for updates on how to take part in our next round!

Most Comments (not counting giveaway posts): 18 comments on Getting Somewhere Even When I’m Standing Still ~ “When we get down and look at things from the angle of our children, we see that these incremental steps of learning are the stuff of life. When we wish the tediousness away, we are little by little wishing life away….”

Posts with the Most Blood, Sweat and Tears:

1. Until Life Is Finished with Me ~ “The words blurred with mother tears. A wheel chair or walking stick. I thought of him losing speed instead of gaining it, how he’d no longer run so fast that you couldn’t see his legs, him feeling the aches in his bones not from growing pains but from degenerating ones…and without me there to rub them out.”

2. A Week of Lost Things (and How You’ve Got to Keep Filling the Vase) ~ “After almost a decade of pouring on the poetry in married life, my vocabulary in that moment reduced itself to ‘I love you so much. Stay with me. Stay with me.’ I picked up his full weight and carried him across the room to lay him flat on the floor to count breaths, following every command of the emergency operator.”

3. Literature, Love Letters and a Panoramic View ~ “I didn’t take a picture that night, not with a camera anyway. But my mind plays the super 8, how I wanted him to kiss me and how he didn’t know if he should try, the wind blowing over hot skin and swaying us in the car at the top of the Ferris wheel, bulbs glowing on the rinky-dink coaster below and tiny lampposts shimmering in the distance over farmland.”

4. Battle Hymn of the Shark Mother ~ “I tried my softer voice maybe 100 times that day, but now I felt my secret sin darting up like a jagged dorsal fin, cutting through breakers, circling. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. Muscles constricted. I clamped my teeth together and growled my ultimatums through them.”

5. Frankincense and Mercy {A Birth Story and a Thank You Note} ~ “You lent me your intuition, deciphered the signs of emotion and told me to stop vacuuming the crumbs off the kitchen floor if I didn’t want to have that baby in the car.”

Most Popular “Take Heart” Posts:

1. Framing the Fragments, by Annie Barnett

2. Love Down the Drain, by Mandy Cross

3. The Fearfully and Wonderfully Made Club, by Jenna Woestman

Most Popular “A Less Digital Life” Posts:

1. The Chain Reaction of Art in 3-D, by Jessica Green

2. What I Didn’t Give My Daughter for Her Birthday

3. Out the Nursery Window

Old Posts Still Topping the Charts:

1. Road Tripping Mama

2. The Right Container

3. The Wardrobe Picked Out for You

It’s been a real encouragement to look back on all the words that did make it onto the page, even if I felt somewhat out of the loop this past year. I’ve got some ideas in store for this coming year and I’m looking forward to sharing them and spending more time with you as life around here permits. Happy New Year!

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13 thoughts on “Writing Small While the Kids Are Small {A 2013 Retrospective}

  1. Wonderful to see how you’ve made significant progress in the midst of motherhood–keep your finger in it, as you are, and you will continue to go far. I have no doubt, with your gifts. And you can do so while being the mom you want to be, as well.

    • Thank you, Ann. I really appreciated your writer friend’s candidness in your post about how vital it is to focus on the kids while they are young. I don’t want to look back with regret on how I spent this time. The kids and the writing are both worth my attention, but like Madeleine L’Engle said, one’s got to come first if you don’t want to feel that “bump.” :)

  2. Darcy – What a beautiful, honest, purposeful post. I think you are so wise to look around and see all you HOPE to do, but also assess what you reasonably CAN do and make plans and changes accordingly. I’m at a different stage in life, but I’m also reassessing, finding the limits and accepting them. That’s my word for 2014, in fact. Limit. I’m just about to write on that over at my place. I’ll be linking back here.

    • I always feel better after our conversations about all this…and I always feel better when I step back and pare down my commitments to focus on the central things. Thank you again for your encouragement and for leading me to Ann’s post with all of the meaty quotes. I’m looking forward to reading/hearing about how you’re going to decide what stays and what goes this year!

  3. I so relate.There are not enough hours in my day for all of my loves. In prioritizing something is going to get left out. And on days that I don’t prioritize, everything may get left out. Some days I just need to shut down, to veg. I’ve learned the world will keep spinning on its axis. That was a valuable lesson, too. You’ve been a source of encouragement, challenge, and inspiration this year. Thank you!

    • How true this is: “And on days that I don’t prioritize, everything may get left out.” When I can get my bearings, I like to pick one thing to tackle in a day so that I don’t get overwhelmed by the fact that the to-do list never goes away. And you are so right, when we get over ourselves, it’s a relief to admit that the world doesn’t need our busyness like we sometimes pretend it does. Great reminders, Janey.

  4. This was a beautiful post that touched my heart. Can’t believe how big E looks in the school picture. I’m sorry I didn’t know some of your struggles this year with little one. You write so well. I want to read Charlotte’s Web now…especially being reminded how you tied it into the State Fair. Your blog and writings are an inspiration!

  5. Thank you, Darcy, for your candidness. I can SO relate to this post (and MANY that you write). Having four kiddos, five and under has certainly made writing a challenge for me. Recently, I found myself poking words into my iPhone while nursing an infant at 2am. Any little time I get, I find myself processing, thinking, dreaming, imagining…writing. I am also encouraged by the comments from the others on this post…especially about prioritizing. Such beautiful reminders. :) Thanks!!

    • A writer is first a thinker…and there’s lots of time for thinking when you’re nursing a baby! I’m glad you’re not burying your gifts, but using them in whatever way fits with this season.

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