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Nov 4 2013

My Children vs. My Passion: Can I Really Do it All?

By at 2:29 pm

where was i? typed on typewiriter

I know I am not the first person to write a novel with my right hand while changing a diaper with my left. It’s just that when I do, the contents of the novel end up very similar to the contents of the diaper.

“Being here now” is difficult when you have to be in three places at once. But if you have a passion, a day job, and you’re an involved parent, then you must learn to compartmentalize on a dime. You know you’re dealing with a passion when you simply have no choice but to do so. Crystal meth has a limp handshake when compared to the grip of a passion. It’s not a desire; it’s an obsession. It’s an elemental–

“DAD!”

Excuse me.

“What?”

“Sarah called me stupid and said my dress is too small!”

“Are you stupid?”

“No.”

“Is your dress too small?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, then ignore the first part and change your clothes.”

“OK.”

I’m sorry about that. So, it is an elemental–-shit. I’m sorry, one second.

“BECCA!”

“WHAT?!”

“Don’t change into anything too fancy. It’s muddy outside.”

“But I want to wear my flower-sparkle dress!”

“Becca, please be a good cooperator!”

“FINE!”

“Thank you!”

So, where was I? It is elemental. Like oxygen. But you can’t breathe while drinking water. A passion is invigorating when it is indulged, but it doesn’t play nice with others.

But what if I start to get published? Like, really published? The kind of published that pays for things such as birthday parties and swimming lessons and food? What then? Wow. That sounds pretty good. Then I could justify an office. And at the end of the day, I would return home fulfilled and ready for some good old-fashioned selfless parenting.

But that’s a pipe dream. The odds of earning a living from writing are abysmal. Depressing, if you think about it. So I don’t. Instead, I press on. I know that I must do so. Because when I don’t feed my passion, it bites chunks out of my vital organs. Insidiously, it also puts beers in my mouth. That’s not me doing that, it’s that neglected passion.

But if I attend to my passion, then I neglect my family: I don’t spend enough time at my “real” job, or I recruit the iPad and TV to babysit, causing my children to suck face with a video screen for an hour, thereby diminishing the odds that either of them will ever develop their imagination and a passion of their own. This guilt breeds its own special kind of anxiety–an anxiety that has long fingers, which reach into the refrigerator and grab beers. That’s not me doing that, it’s that guilt-induced anxiety.

One day, I received a personalized rejection letter from the editor of a relatively prestigious magazine. As any aspiring professional writer will tell you, getting anything north of a form letter is like winning a minor lottery. I’m embarrassed to say this, because rejection just shouldn’t be anything to brag about–and also because I like to think happiness is in the act of writing, not the reactions of others–but I felt a little tingly inside. Later, my family had a wrestling match in a pile of autumn leaves. So balance is achievable. I try to find it each day, to eke out enough time to pursue my dreams without neglecting the beautiful, loving responsibilities that I have incurred along the way. This way, I keep–

“STOP!”

This way, I keep–

“GET OUT OF MY ROOM!”

This way, I keep–

“THAT’S MY RIBBON!”

“GIRLS!”

“ ‘GIRLS?’ Why are you saying ‘girls?’! SHE’S taking MY things!”

“YOU’RE in MY room!”

“She took my ribbon! I bought it with my own money and it’s very special to me!”

“The next one who says anything audible to me will lose desserts for LIFE!”

“But–”

“I mean it!”

Where was I? Oh, right: This way, I keep sane.

There are several differences between a passion and a child, and they go a long way in defining the choices I make in any given moment: The passion sometimes wakes me up at 1:00 a.m. to create something mysterious and scary; from time to time, the child will wake me up at 1:00 a.m. to help her forget about something mysterious and scary. The child believes in the tooth fairy; the passion is the tooth fairy. The child is always easily amused; the passion is slave to a muse. The child needs a balanced diet; meanwhile, if you offer your passion broccoli it will take your talent and shove it up your ass. And the most important difference: while a passion is both a curse and a blessing, a child is never a curse. They just–

“DAD! Sarah just puked on her bed! And she is going to go to college in eight years and you can’t rely on anything more than a partial scholarship!”

I’m sorry, you’re going to have to excuse me. This will take a while.

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