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Tips from the Tooth Fairy:
Making Time to Write When You're a Mom

                                                             by Anna Rae                                                                                                    May 2007

historyfish Guilt.  Drudgery.  Resentment.   Let's talk housework.  Let's try to put the word "housework" and the word "writing" in the same sentence--in the same room.  It doesn't  work.  The guilt is too compounding.  And when unfinished housework and unfinished short stories combine, I feel like an abject failure at both.

For years I didn't even try, my creativity eclipsed by the dishes in the sink and two sets of diapers to change.  I had three children under five, and forget it, if a bottle didn't need warming, or buckle overalls laundering, it wasn't my life.

Then I picked up a copy of Syd Fields' book Screenplay.  I came to an important passage.  Fields warns that "Housewives usually have a more difficult time than others" when it comes to getting real writing time.  He aptly notes that "husbands threaten to leave...children turn into 'animals'"...and they all "gang up on Mother" because she wants quiet, and time to write.

This passage proved very useful to me.  Not only did it validate my feelings, but instead of feeling miserable and alone, I felt like a mighty warrior with a just cause and a mighty heart!  The first thing I did was to read the passage to my husband.  Ha ha!  See, I crowed!  Someone who knows something has said this.  Not just me but an expert with the facts.  If you want to dispute it, take it up with Mr. Fields.    

This helped me realize that I had to stick up for myself.  That, or I would perish under a pile of prescription drugs.  Before this I thought that if I was sweet and stated my needs clearly and kindly, my family would respect my 'writing time' and leave me alone.  I don't think this approach has ever worked for anyone on the planet.  I mean, how many kittens get left alone?  Badgers do much better.  Think badger.  Grrr.... Defend your territory.

Defend it by claiming it. I started by claiming my own space. I took over an entire room.  Not everyone can do this, I know, but everyone can claim some space, even a cabinet that doubles as an office in the den.  Open the doors to block out the legos scattered on the floor.  Get an iPod and play something loud enough to block out screaming.  This is your space.

I was on a roll.

The methods are simple, and they work like this.  Accept the fact that your children will not obey you.  You tell them all that you will be writing for the next four hours and you don't want to be disturbed unless there's blood.  Good start.  You add, "pretend I'm not home" and other remarks to discourage interruption like "don't be a baby.  Handle it yourself."  Then, addressing your husband directly you say: "I'm working until 2 pm.  You're in charge."

If your family is like mine, half an hour later one of your cherubic children will march straight past Dad reclining with an Autoweek on the sofa, climb seventeen flights of stairs, pass two locked doors and an armored tank to tell you they are hungry. This won't seem strange (or exasperating) to anyone but you.  After all, you feed them, Dad forgets about lunch until three or four in the afternoon.

 He doesn't intend to forget about lunch, mind you.  He just forgot he was supposed to do it today.  Besides, at noon, he hands were covered in motor oil.  Surely, your task would be much easier to break from than his.  He only needed another few minutes.

Passive or active, this resistance hurts.  It feels like your work is less important than anyone else's no matter what anyone else is up to.  And so you never get a break.

 Here's another trick.  Triangulate.  Powerful people triangulate their power.  Think of the Pope, he gets things done.  Why?  Because if you don’t like what he’s up to, who are you going to argue with about it?  It works the same with children.

You already do this.  Think about it.  Your oldest child loses a tooth.  If you told him to put in under his pillow, he would resist, outright refuse.  It's his tooth, a perfectly good tooth, and mighty wonderful.  He plans to plant it in the garden and see if it will grow. 

So you triangulate power.  Explain, it isn't really you who wants the tooth under the pillow.  If it was up to you, he could do anything he wants with that fine tooth.  But you see, the tooth fairy, well, I wouldn't want to get her angry.  On the upside, you get a dollar. 

You can use this.  Triangulate.  I would make lunch now, but I promised my editor I would get this done.  It isn't up to me, see.  I would love to.  But I have to meet this obligation.  My critique group is expecting the first chapter Wednesday.  If you need clean jeans, why don't you throw in a load of laundry?  The soap in in the cabinet.

 To help me with all this, I did a very important thing.  I hired a housekeeper.  The housekeeper was really key.  Every two weeks a brave and wonderful man comes in to clean my house.  (A man!  Think of that!  Proof that men are capable of doing housework.)  I feel like a fairy princess.  His contribution cannot be understated.  He allows me to do what I cannot do without him, triangulate housework.  Suddenly, we all share in the responsibility to ready the house.  It isn't just mom's job anymore, this is a job for a hired professional.

This also means that the buck no longer stops with me when it comes time to clean up.  The day before, up goes the cry "The housekeeper comes tomorrow"!   My housekeeper is very nice and personable, so I have to embellish a little.  I tell my kids all must be cleaned or they will incur the wrath of the housekeeper.  In my tales, the housekeeper transforms into a relentless seeker of clean carpets.  He ruthlessly discards any and all toys on the floor, sucking them away forever with this mighty shop vac.  “Your things will never see daylight again,” I warn like a Sybll, “don't let the housekeeper find them first!” 

This works on my husband, too.  The three foot deep pile on his dresser melts into drawers on that day.  And it also works on me.  I know that if I can get things to a decent level, it will get clean, and then I won't have to worry again for a couple of weeks.  Mercifully, I can return to my writing desk free of the housework guilt that otherwise bogs me down.

As for the seventeen flights of stairs, if Rapunzel isn’t going to let down her hair, your kids are just going to have to climb right back down again.  It just takes a little reprogramming.  Believe me, if you aren't going to make lunch, hungry children will find someone who will.  And all that motor oil washes right off.


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