(Un)Excused Absence

Saturday is when I should have clued in.

November had stashed away one last jewel of an afternoon, and it glittered emerald and gold in an unexpected flood of sunlight. Some friends of ours were taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to harvest their olives—another regional tradition that I’ve wanted to participate in since we moved to Italy—and they invited us to join them. I couldn’t imagine a lovelier way to spend the afternoon… soaking up the beauty of our friends’ country home, teaching the girls how to climb trees, rolling smooth olives between my fingers, and connecting with nature and laughter again after a stressful week.

However, I could not go. Literally. I had been dragging myself out of bed before dawn for days and scraping out my brain until late at night for any bit of creative residue. My Saturday word quota was filled, but I was beyond exhausted. Over a late lunch, my mind ran frenzied laps around the manymany other things I needed to get done until it simply stopped. Total shutdown. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t respond to simple questions. I couldn’t hold my head up.

While the girls skipped out the door with their dad to enjoy the last perfect fall afternoon, I burrowed under piles of covers where I spent the next few hours shivering uncontrollably and dozing off only to snap back in a panic over everything I needed to do. That’s when I should have clued in that NaNoWriMo was costing us too dearly.

It didn’t sink in though until yesterday when I read this:

“Sometimes I think I can do this and do that and then do this after I do that. But the truth is, motherhood permeates everything. It trumps all. It’s the calling that interrupts this and cancels that and makes this look like it never mattered anyway.”

Her words thudded into my chest and jolted my eyes back into focus. I hadn’t actually played with my girls since, oh… Day 3. The priority of writing a book in thirty days had edged them out, labeled them as threats to my agenda, marginalized their need for a happy, attentive mother. I had told myself we could survive anything for a month, but that simply wasn’t true. The crusty dishes could survive. The unsorted laundry could survive. But we, with our beating hearts and fragile skins, were not surviving my absence from life, no matter how excused.

I parked myself on the girls’ rug yesterday evening to play Legos with them and practically had to glue myself in place. I wanted to be there, to be a mother again, but my mind was lost in a maze of Christmas lists, insurance policies, and an ever-looming storyline while a disembodied voice over the loudspeakers reminded me that I was still 3,000 words behind. I told it to shut up. It boomed an accusation of laziness. I asked it what could be more important than my family. It answered, “NOT FAILING.”

Wrong answer.

I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to understand that that voice over the loudspeakers, the voice of achievement no matter the cost, didn’t have any more control over me than I gave it… but I would rather clue in late than not at all. Before going to bed, I reset the alarm to give myself an extra hour of dearly-needed sleep, and I woke up smiling for the first morning this month. Throughout today, I’ve worked on extra-bookular activities and spent time with my family without guilt. I worked on the novel too, but I let myself feel proud for adding 500 words rather than despondent over not completing 2,000.

I’m not quitting NaNoWriMo, and I’m certainly not giving up on my strapping kindergartener of a book. However, one month is too long to devote myself to literary abandon. I have a worthier calling that interrupts plots and cancels characters and makes an impressive 50,000-word goal look like it never mattered anyway. My new goal for November is to make sure my girls know that I know this… and if I manage to write a large chunk of book in the process, well, that will just be olive oil on my bruschetta.

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  1. Well said. But I would like to see this book once it’s reached, um, graduation.

  2. Yes! Good on you 🙂

  3. You are lovely. Please remind me of this when I am a mother.

  4. Ahh! Very well said.
    I love it.

  5. I love the quote, and yes. I know we have written back and forth about the whole “agenda” thing before. It is easy to get swept away with that. I am glad that you reigned it in and woke up smiling. Good for you!

  6. congratulations and well done, dear friend.
    aside, you could totally publish this article somewhere. i’m serious…a mom reflects on nanowrimo, or something.
    also maybe you could start a mamawrimo.
    a support group for mamas who want to write.
    a chapter a month.
    12 chapters.
    complete in one year.
    of course then that would be mamawriye
    or something.
    but seriously,
    i am proud of you.
    so much love…

  7. Q – You and me both, hun.

    Liz – I love how supportive you are, no matter how my goal adjusts; it’s a delicious feeling.

    Bethany – Only if you remind me of it tomorrow, which is how quickly I’m liable to forget. <3

    Beka – Was that a scream of agreement? 🙂 Thankya, dear.

    Megsie – You are wonderful. That's all.

    Rain – I love the mamawrimo idea — less pressure, more spit-up! Love you too.

  8. As someone who is trying to write her PhD whilst also being a mum to a 16 month old I have no idea how a mother can do NaNoWriMo without going insane. Like much of “serious” academia, it is set up for bachelors!

    You will get your writing done but go easy on yourself!

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