I live just steps away from Washington, D.C. – a city where people are as likely to ask, “What do you do?” as they are to say, “What’s your name?”
So … what do I do? It took me a while to figure that one out.
Eleven years ago, when my first son was born, I left my job as a features writer for the Baltimore Sun. As a reporter, I covered all sorts of compelling stories, from the accidental death of one police officer at the hands of a fellow officer to a glorious, sun-soaked Opening Day at the new Camden Yards baseball stadium. I spent a night at a haunted house – it was built on top of a graveyard, just like in the “Poltergeist” movie – and wrote the story of an aimless teenager who turned into a hero during the Columbine school shootings.
I adored my job, but my traffic-clogged daily commute to Baltimore, combined with the frequent travel required, made my decision to stay home an easy one – well, at least on the easier spectrum of the wrenching choice so many women face when they weigh how to best balance work and family. I kept reminding myself I was lucky to have a choice as I free-lanced a bit here and there, and then, less than two years later, had another gorgeous baby boy.
Life, as it tends to do, got more complicated. Our family moved to a new house (actually, a very old, fixer-upper of a house) and we began to renovate the kitchen, meaning we had no water on the main level for weeks – so every night, I scrubbed bottles in our bathtub and tried to dream up dinners I could cook in a microwave. Then my husband exhibited some serious multi-taking by catching pneumonia and simultaneously starting a new job, requiring him to work longer hours. The cherry on top? Our brand-new refrigerator exploded one night when we were all (oh, thankyouthankyouthankyou) out of the house. We arrived home just in time to summon the fire department to save the house – but our home was, once again, a fixer-upper. The new carpet, the new paint, the new counters… all destroyed. Oh, and so was our computer – and with it the first hundred pages of the novel I was trying to write late at night while the kids slept.
We moved to a hotel for a few months and the two babies and I slept on the fold-out couch so my husband, who’d cracked a rib from all his coughing, could sleep in the lone bed and try to recover. And it isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that around that time, I quietly lost my mind. Well, as much as any Mom can lose her mind while she’s trying to hold the family together. I didn’t have time for a breakdown. I didn’t even have time to blow-dry my hair. Which was probably no great loss, since I rarely had time to wash it, either.
And for the first time in my life, I didn’t have time to write.
Being a stay-at-home Mom was wonderful – and alternately exhausting, frustrating, funny and joyful. But I ached for writing. I missed it like you’d miss a beloved best friend you’d lost. Then one September, my youngest son began school. And I began to type. I could’ve gone to the gym and tried to lose those last few pounds of baby weight (fine, ten!) or gone grocery shopping alone for the first time in years, but my keyboard was calling me. I was scared at first. Would I be rusty? Did I know what I was doing? And was I crazy to even try? Because I hadn’t written fiction since elementary school. I wasn’t sure I could put together an entire novel.
But fiction was what worked within the new parameters of my life. I couldn’t fly around the country chasing stories anymore, but I could dream them up. So the pages piled up, slowly and steadily. In the mornings I was a writer again, and in the afternoons, I was wiping noses and cutting the crusts off sandwiches. I’d finally found a balance.
Now I have another baby boy to snuggle – my third! – and every day, thanks to a wonderful babysitter and a nearby Grandma, I have a few free hours to write. The two best jobs I’ve ever had – writing and motherhood – are finally in sync. This is what I do. And I feel so very, very grateful.