On Writing

Published on June 2nd, 2014 | by Tayla Jankovits

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Tayla Jankovits on being a WRITING MOM

I have been writing since I was 8 years old and a mother since I was 24. I had always wanted to be both a writer and a mother and it never occurred to me that I couldn’t be both at the same time. I worked through graduate school pregnant, wrote my novel over the span of five years while birthing two daughters, breast feeding, sleep training and all the rest of what goes along with rearing newborns and toddlers. During this time, I had waited through eight years of marriage for my husband to finish his education and training as a veterinary surgeon so I would be awarded what he promised me when we first got married – that I could stay home and write…and take care of our children, of course.

I felt like I had won the jackpot. I was thoroughly exhausted from working five days a week at a dead end job and spending minimal time with my children while writing into the late hours of the night. I had pursued an MFA in creative writing and wanted writing to be a serious career. Finally, I would have my own time, be the kind of mother I wanted to be and have time to devote to writing. And then it actually happened. And it was nothing like it was supposed to be.

A lot of changes happened fast. My husband completed his residency and found a job in Chicago. I quit my job and moved the family out of LA, into a rented house with a tons of space. I found myself standing at a fork in the road: one room, lined with bookshelves and a small desk that would be a space of my own, across from another, fully stocked with toys and a kiddy size table and chairs. I stood in this no-man’s land and faced the first harsh reality – being a stay at home mom is exactly what it sounds like, and it leaves little room for anything else. It does not allow time to escape behind closed doors and throw my aching fingertips atop my keyboard. What it means is two children on two different schedules requiring all of my attention. I had no housekeeper. No family or close friends nearby, and the house which originally seemed to be a blessing of tons of space quickly morphed into an endless chore as I ran from bathroom to bathroom scrubbing my toddler’s urine off of each toilet seat, desperately searching for the misplaced sippy cup full of milk instead of working on my next novel as I had intended.

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I thought I could devise a work at home mom plan. A full time nanny, or even a part time babysitter was out of the question. I survived a gruelingly long summer where writing was next to nil ,and then quickly shipped my older daughter off to pre-nursery and set my younger one up on a rigid nap schedule. The goal was simple: 2 hours of writing a day my younger daughter sleeping during the brief hours that my older daughter was at school. The result was catastrophic. She doesn’t nap. She won’t sleep. She cries. She gets sick. She teethes. She needs a diaper change. The older one got pink eye. Then, a questionable rash. A fever on the first day of school. They need vaccines, cuddles, someone fell, someone’s toy broke. She needs lunch. She needs a bottle. Her princess costume has a tear. Can we go to the park? The library? Have a playdate? Read to me. Sit with me. Be with me always and constantly every minute of each day, and of every sleepless hour.

My dream was a big fat bust.

For the first six months I did not publish one piece of writing. I made minimal headway on my second novel. I had little time to query agents about my first novel and spent much time lying in bed at night reading social media posts from colleagues and friends regarding their latest book deals and recent publications. I found myself seething with questionable emotions. Some days I didn’t get to sit down at my computer at all, and other days I was so exhausted from running back and forth all night from crying child to crying child that I literally could not illicit a thought further than ­I am so fucking tired. Eventually, I caved and put my younger daughter in a playgroup the second she turned 18 months. This doesn’t always go so well; two months into it and she’s spent half the time home sick from whatever germs she was picking up from other kids. The hours I am able to now steal in the morning are laced with guilt: I have abandoned a baby just so I could have moments alone to write. And despite both my girls being out of the house in the mornings, I still find myself constantly interrupted by them and their needs, their social calendars, school events I must attend or volunteer at, kids home on vacation or home with a fever. These children I so badly wanted, so longingly waited for, are now stealing my time, conflicting with other dreams and desires. What once felt like a magical deal, to be at home with my children and my writing, has quickly manifested into a life of self loathing and failure.

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I resent my stay at home role because it keeps me professionally starving and personally spent, and I resent my writing for running my patience thin as a mother and confusing my priorities. Every day I am losing, and I have yet to figure out how to mend the quiet war between the office and the playroom. It certainly doesn’t help that writing is solitary and at times ugly and painful and exhausting. It’s a job with little assertion, barely any recognition. Often, people look at me like I’m from another planet when I tell them I write. Perhaps they look at me as if I’m self-indulgent. It doesn’t seem like the best excuse for a mother to say she can’t spend time with her kids because she wants to sit around and write stories all day, and it helps even less that I have yet to land an agent after more than 70 rejections and 20 months of querying. The self loathing and pity and, at times, jealousy kicks in while I’m lifting a brightly colored plastic tea cup to my lips, wearing a princess tiara in my hair and quietly thinking , I should be writing.  Because the validation writers need is publication, recognition, assertion that you’re not a complete idiot that everyone’s been humoring all this time. And while we don’t write to get published, we certainly crave it, because ultimately we write to be read. It’s a terribly tricky system that can suck a writer into the swirling vortex of self-deprecation and creative doubt.

Ten months into my new role as “writer” and “mother” I’m no wiser. Despite my attempts to carve out a time and space to write, I am always rushing to pick ups, play date co-ordinations and the like. I write when I can, and I do it hungrily, angrily, sadly; other times, I do it with my fingertips quivering and my lips racing ahead of my typing, enthralled and enraptured by the process. For most writers it’s always a balance; most of us are working other jobs and have other commitments, usually conflicting with the very moment we want to just get to a pen and paper and be left alone. But it’s really in my role as mother, one in which countless selfless acts must be made regardless of what you do, that I find myself feeling as if I’m failing at both ends: society’s expectations of me as a mother, and the world of writing’s expectations of me as a writer. The two will eventually crash and spontaneously combust, leaving me with nothing but ashen dreams and disappointed children.

The age of my children requires me to push a lot of myself aside, and as a mother, I need to be at peace with that. I try to remind myself, regardless of whether I have an agent or even get more than a shopping list written each day, that I am still a writer and I will always be a mother. Even if I often feel I am failing at both, I know I will never give up on either.

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About the Author

Tayla Jankovits

Talya Jankovits earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her work has appeared in The Citron ReviewRecovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing, and her short story “Undone” in Lunch Ticket was nominated for the 2013 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters and is working on her second novel while seeking representation for her first.



4 Responses to Tayla Jankovits on being a WRITING MOM

  1. Reading Tayla Jankovits “on being a WRITING MOM” brought back memories (I wrote my first novel, Vigil, between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. when I had two babies at home) and Langston Hughs’ poem, “A Dream Deferred”.

    What happens to a dream deferred?

    Does it dry up
    like a raisin in the sun?
    Or fester like a sore–
    And then run?
    Does it stink like rotten meat?
    Or crust and sugar over–
    like a syrupy sweet?

    Maybe it just sags
    like a heavy load.

    Or does it explode?

    This sounds like festering: “I resent my stay at home role because it keeps me professionally starving and personally spent, and I resent my writing for running my patience thin as a mother and confusing my priorities. Every day I am losing, and I have yet to figure out how to mend the quiet war between the office and the playroom.”

    Perhaps the key here is in Jankovits’ grammar, “and I have yet to figure out how…” She uses ‘and’ rather than ‘but’; she’s still looking for some way rather than the excuses implicated in the conjunction ‘but’.

    There is a way. And every writer has to find a way.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I’m the mom of a three year old, and I work 4 days a week. I really relate to much of what you said about disruptions in schedules and how nap time doesn’t always go as planned, and being too tired to write when the hoped for time comes around. Keep plugging away though. I try to write for 15 minutes after my daughter’s bedtime, and it does add up. Plus, kids get older, and school days get longer…

  3. Rhea says:

    Thank you for your story. It is a vital conversation for mother-writers to be having. Personally I do not feel guilty when I put my child in all-day preschool, 3 days a week, so that I can write, but it is all the other things I need to do IN ORDER to write that make me feel guilty. Writing requires meandering, time to read, self-care and space. So I feel bad when I leave my daughter at aftercare so that I can go swimming and mull over a story whilst doing laps, but not when I’m actually writing said story. Anyways, thanks so much for sharing your experience, it’s a really important one.

  4. Jenn Jenn says:

    I identified with so much of this, especially the feelings of guilt that come along with wanting to escape the kids to be alone and write. Every day that I’m home with the kids I experience that tension, the wanting to be present with them, the competing desire to be present with myself via writing. Thanks for capturing that so beautifully here.

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