Writing Over the Noise

I walk over to the calendar and put my finger on the square that has written in pencil, “Rhett’s first day of school!” It’s only four days away. Earlier that morning I woke up to the kids crying out for me–jolting me out of bed. I was immediately met with breakfast requests, which feels like a lot to ask of someone who isn’t fully awake yet. Remembering how I felt, I grab my phone and go to the alarm settings and slide the toggle to ‘on’ for 5 a.m. Starting tomorrow, I am going to get up before the kids. I know once school starts, the bus will pick Rhett up around 6:45 a.m., so he needs to be up by 6 o’clock anyway.

That night, after the kids have gone to bed, I grab my favorite blanket and the remote as I curl up in the recliner. This is the time I’ve been craving all day. I remember that my mom has told me many times that I have always been a night owl, often staying up later than I should have as a kid. Was I really going to try and change my internal clock? Even though my alarm is set for 5 a.m., I stay up later than I should.

The next morning, the alarm goes off and I roll over, fumbling in the dark for my phone. Once I silence the alarm, I exhale. I look out the window, seeing only complete darkness. I’m tempted to roll over and go back to sleep but I know I will regret it. I put my glasses on and step out of bed into the cool room, leaving the warmth of my down comforter. I slip on a sweatshirt and tiptoe down the hall, trying not to wake anyone—the last thing I want at 5 a.m. is an audience.

As I walk to the kitchen to fire up the Ninja coffee maker, I think how fast this summer went. Every year, time seems to go by faster. Rhett finished preschool in May, then I blinked and it was August. All summer we kept the windows open at night to cool the house down. Then one morning there was a crisp edge, the warm summer mornings giving way to the beginning of fall. For most of the summer, I was in ‘survival’ mode. Rich was gone for long hours and bedtime was always a zone defense: me vs. the kids. I was waking when the kids did; then I stayed up late, trying to soak up as much “me” time as possible—only to be tired and cranky in the morning. For weeks it seemed like no matter how early I woke up or how late I stayed up; I never had enough time to myself. I was greedy for more. When I had an hour to myself, instead of my cup feeling full, it felt like I had been in a desert—there wasn’t enough water to quench my thirst.

I jump a little when the coffee maker beeps—the sound piercing the silent house. I grab the cup, pour in an excessive amount of French vanilla creamer, and walk to my office. The washing machine clicks off (thank you, delay wash cycle), and I move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. The clothes begin to tumble, filling the room with the rhythmic beat of the dryer balls. I pick up my devotional book, read a chapter, then I lift the screen of my laptop. The house is completely quiet, other than the dryer. My fingers begin to tap away at the keyboard, trying to catch my thoughts before they drift away.

Every once in a while, I stop typing, listening for sounds of the rest of the house waking up. I take a sip of my hot coffee, knowing that the minutes are ticking until the kids wake up. When it’s close to 6:30, I hear a bedroom door click open and tiny feet on the floor. 

“Oscar, no!” Allie shouts. 

I save my work and close my laptop, then walk down the hall to “rescue” Allie from the puppy, who greets her each morning with lots of unwelcome licks. 

I didn’t finish an essay or start a book. But in those 90 minutes, I was able to do what I enjoy—without being interrupted for a snack request or potty breaks. The quiet of the early morning is a welcome respite to an otherwise noisy life.

A week goes by, I am still getting up at 5 a.m., and Rhett has already finished his first week of school. On the next school day, I wake him up shortly after 6 a.m., feeling well-rested, my cup filled up. After he is gone for school, it’s just Allie and me. Later that morning as I’m picking up toys, she brings me the bag of magnetic letters. 

“Play with me?” she says. Instead of thinking I need just five minutes at my computer, I say, “Okay, let’s spell your name.” I sit on the floor in front of the fridge and spell out all our names. Just as soon as I put them up, she slides them down the stainless steel even faster. When we are both bored with the game, I begin to pick the letters up and get ready to pick Rhett up from school.

Later that evening, after the kids are in bed, I walk to the living room, turn on “Nashville,” and sit down to watch an episode before I go to bed myself. I thought back to the summer months when I felt guilty for watching TV after the kids went to bed. Guilty that “If I love to write so much, why am I not writing right now?” But I’m able to relax, knowing I already spent time writing this morning, and I have my alarm set for the next morning to do the same. 

After I click the TV off, I walk to bed. I think back to the times when I have told Rich that accomplishing a lot of my goals feels impossible. “How will I ever write a book? The kids need me so much.” His usual response is, “It’s like eating an elephant. One bite at a time.” 

I laugh whenever he says it because the image of eating an elephant is an interesting visual. But it’s true. I know that getting up early won’t solve all my problems, and I still find myself wandering to my office throughout the day, but it feels good to carve out time just for myself, not waiting until 8 p.m. to scrape together whatever energy I have left from the day for me to write (or read, or just sit in silence).  

Instead of expecting the time to magically appear, or waiting until my kids are both in school—I’m taking the time now. (It only took me six years to adapt to a farmer’s schedule, but here I am.)

I know there will always be challenges in finding the time to write, and there will be some mornings when it doesn’t work out. There are also the days I have to wade through the noise of my inner critic who says, “You’re not really a writer.” But I’ve found that my inner critic is a bit quieter in the morning.

No matter if it’s morning or night, I’m going to write anyway.

 

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Write Anyway.

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Why I Write

Many years ago, I stood nervously behind a heavy gold curtain, waiting to go on stage at my first dance recital, it was right before Christmas. The lights dimmed, the curtains opened and the music started. All the girls began dancing around, but I just stood there. My black patent shoes frozen in one place, my hands at my sides. My mom whispered anxiously to my dad, “Should I go up there?” My dad, who was unsure of what to do said, “Let’s just wait.” And they did. I stood there frozen with fear the entire song.

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To this day, performing in front of a crowd is still not my forte. I’m a typical introvert and speaking in front of a group (heaven forbid: dance) is sometimes enough to make me freeze up like I did as a preschooler on stage. For many years I wasn’t sure where I fit in. In most situations I feel like an outsider looking in, even when I’m right there in the middle: leaving me feeling like that little girl once again.

When I became a mom four-and-a-half years ago, most of my wants and needs went out the window. I didn’t have time to think about my passions or what made me feel like myself. A year after I had my second baby, it felt like we were finally settling into a rhythm. One day I found myself constructing an essay in my head; itching to grab a piece of paper and bring my thoughts to life. The calling felt real; but I heard another voice in my head too, saying, “You don’t have time for this. You’ll have to wait until your kids are in school.” I listened to the voice for awhile, agreeing there wasn’t time. My writing would have to wait.

A few months later, after an extremely challenging day in town with my kids and an interaction with a kind older woman, it felt like the only way to process what happened was to write. I came home and turned the TV on for the kids and I wrote. I was able to express myself in ways I hadn’t in years. When I put my fingers to the keyboard, it felt like a direct connection was being made from my thoughts to the world. It was one of the most freeing moments of my life.

Several months after that first dance recital, we had our spring recital. I imagine my parents were nervous leading up to the program. Would I dance this time or stand frozen with fear again? But, they dressed me in my pink tutu, did my hair and sent me on-stage. My mom says now with a laugh, “The curtains opened and you were all over the stage! Your dad and I thought you were going to fall off!”

I would like to say as an adult I became that precocious and outgoing girl from the second recital, but really I am still reserved. There are days I wish I was the outgoing one, the one that everyone gravitates toward. My friend Danielle is this person: she lights up a room with her infectious smile and laugh, along with her easy going personality. She’s quick to hug and you can tell it feels natural to her. I tend to gravitate toward the wall, picking up bits of conversation and standing with sweaty palms, wondering how much more small talk I have in me. Sometimes I envy her; but that isn’t who God made me to be.

Feeling at ease in social situations will likely never be my calling, and I’m realizing that’s okay too. The way she connects with others isn’t the way I connect to the world. I find myself connecting to my feelings through writing: constructing essays in my head while I walk around. I use stories to process my feelings.

Sometimes writing and motherhood feel at odds with each other. Every time I have a thought I want to get out: the kids need a snack, or help in the bathroom. It can feel like they are holding me back. There are also times I feel like my writing is taking away from being their mother. The days I find myself stealing away time in my laundry room to write, I still feel that nagging in my stomach. You’re ignoring your kids. Shouldn’t you be playing with them instead of writing?

In reality, they give me stories to write about and writing offers me a way to process being a mom, wife and woman. I hope someday the stories I have written: from essays in publication to the journals I keep for them, will give them a true glimpse of my heart. My days still revolve around them, but now I’ve made it a priority to write in the margins of the day. Some days that is only five minutes. For now that is enough. Because when I’m writing, I channel my confident, second-recital self; using my words to make a paper bridge, paved with words between their hearts and mine.

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Finding Myself in the Laundry

While the kids are happily playing together, I retreat to the laundry room. The laundry room also doubles as my study. I always feel rushed when taking time for myself, not knowing how long I actually have. In an effort to set a calming mood, I light my new candle. The scent of pink magnolias begins to enter the room.

I hear the towels going round and round in the dryer, along with the wool balls that hit the drum. I close my eyes and imagine the comfort of a fluffy, still-warm towel after a hot shower. Last year, this room was just a laundry room. I don’t know why I didn’t take notice of the space before; maybe it was the too cheery yellow walls that didn’t feel like me. Or maybe I wanted to spend the least amount of time with my washing machine as possible. One day I realized the space being used to hold my husband’s dresser would make the perfect desk for me. He happily agreed to move his clothes.

To find out what this photo has to do with my laundry room, click over to Sweatpants & Coffee to read my latest essay.