Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Single-Mom Author: A Balancing Act

I’ve been a single mother for three years now. I had to get over the fear of being a single mom before I could settle in and enjoy it. I had the skill set down: my ex-husband traveled extensively for work while we were married, so I was flying solo with my kids much of the time. But after we separated, giving up the notion of a backup partner, even one on a different continent for weeks at a stretch, took some getting used to. After surviving the single mom initiation of late-night ER visits and broken-down cars and financial tight spots on my own, I learned to embrace the role, and now I know that my merry little trio is the best family I could have imagined.

My amazing daughters, aged 7 and 9, are bright and lively girls who keep me busy. They are my nonstop job, my constant companions, and what keeps me going every day no matter what. And best of all, they have been by my side as I finally made that great leap from being an editor who wrote on the side to an author who used to work as an editor: passing through my office to ask for a snack or help with homework as I worked on my novel, celebrating with me when I got my agent (then asking what an agent is/does), and after I got a book deal with a major publisher, we headed to Hawaii together to celebrate. They know that the inspiration for my novel was their amazing Uncle Mike, who they never got a chance to meet, and who had Asperger’s Syndrome. And they know that there are swear words in my novel that they aren’t supposed to repeat out loud.

My girls are avid readers, so they know a thing or two about books. They have opinions on chapter titles, points of view, and character development. They are expert typo finders. When my publisher sent me an abundantly colorful cover mock-up, my 7-year-old took one look at it and said “That looks like a little kid’s book.” My agent and editor agreed, and the blocks of pink, purple, red, and orange were gone from the next version.

Motherhood, single or not, carries its own challenges. It can be all-consuming, never-ending, and cause serious sleep deprivation. The writing life can be isolating and quiet, with hours spent in your own head and before a blank page or screen, waiting for that perfect string of words to come. Combining motherhood and authorhood can be a lot to juggle. For the past year I’ve been learning how to balance the two, and I’m still figuring it out.

There are limitations. I can’t just head to every writer’s conference that interests me. Before even considering it I need to find a sitter who can handle the morning school prep, homework and school project duty, and getting my girls to their gymnastics class and horseback riding lessons. I enviously look at listings for week-long writing retreats and think, someday, after my girls are on their own, I’ll do that for myself. When we were planning the release date for my debut novel, my agent had my publisher push it back from spring to summer, because it was easier on me to schedule events while my girls are out of school.

My debut novel, The Art of Adapting, comes out in 8 weeks. I’m scheduling book signings with my publicist at Simon & Schuster with an eye on the calendar, considering everything from my children’s swim lessons, to their bedtime, to my own conflicts. The juggling never stops. I am constantly pulled in two directions. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Because when the galleys for The Art of Adapting arrived, and my daughters sat down on the floor to flip through the hundreds of pages of my words, when they looked up smiling with understanding that all of that time I had spent in front of my laptop was for this, when they turned to the dedication page and their faces lit up, surprised to see their own names there, I knew I had struck the perfect balance.

I am a proud single mother. And I am honored to call myself an author. And I am grateful to be able to teach my daughters by example that life is what you make it. Challenges will come. Heartache will happen. But in the face of hardship, you must keep dreaming and working and striving and loving. And one day, in the midst of all that struggle, you will have a moment, maybe when you see the wonder in your own child’s eyes, when you realize that you have everything you ever dreamed of. And it’s just the beginning.

This post originally appeared as a featured blog post on She Writes.