"Mommy, do you love me more than your laptop?"
"What?" I asked, my fingers frozen above the keyboard. "Of course! Why would you ask that?"
"Because you're always writing," said my 8-year-old daughter.
She'd come home from school and asked for a snack. I promised to make her a grilled cheese in just one minute, but my character, a married mother of three, was back online, exchanging messages with her old love from college — the one she'd friended on Facebook and agreed to meet for dinner while her husband was out of town. Things were heating up on the page, but I had every intention of making that grilled cheese…
I wasn't always a writer-mom. After my kids were born, I threw myself into parenting. I was eager to build a thriving mommy life, but things didn't turn out like I planned. My son had severe ADHD, and that caused a lot of angry judgment, misunderstandings and conflict. I felt like one big mom fail. So I dived into researching therapies, medications and advocacy. But a restless feeling plagued me. I felt off-course, like I should be doing something else, but I didn't know what it was and I didn't want to think about it.
Writers write what they know. I didn't want to write about parenting and ADHD. I thought people might get angry or judgey. I thought I didn't have time. I thought it was too private. But something desperately wanted to be expressed, even though I had an opposite and equally powerful desire to hold the creativity in.
So I took a baby step. I published a parenting essay. Not only did the sky not fall, but emails flooded in from parents sharing similar struggles. I kept writing. And then I took another step. I began to pursue my dream of writing a novel. And just as suddenly, a voice inside me insisted that the kids were too young and that I had to get to Costco and make dinner and drive to practices and we were running late…
My 40th birthday came and went. A few more birthdays passed. The stymied feeling became a primal ache. I had to ask myself, "If not now, when?" I had plenty of reasons why I couldn't focus on my dream: not enough time, three kids, volunteer commitments, advocating for my ADHD kid, my mother, doctor appointments, the list was endless. But none of these was the real reason holding me back.
The truth was: I was afraid.
Pursuing my dream meant moving myself up from the bottom of the list. It meant letting go of excuses. It meant moving my focus away from my kids. It meant single-mindedly going after the thing I most wanted. It meant change, exposure and discomfort. It meant I might try and fail.
The clock was ticking. If I waited for the perfect moment to move forward, I'd spend my life waiting. My fears might never go away. I had to make a decision: now or never?
I chose now.
After I made the decision, pockets of time seemed to open up. I bought a laptop and wrote in my car during kid appointments. I pulled to the curb to jot down scenes. Once I committed to the project, it poured out of me as if a cork had been unplugged. I called the book my "divine download."
Balancing family and work wasn't easy. I had to stop making writing optional and view it as a job and myself as a professional. I had to stop squeezing it in and become a ruthless prioritizer: No. 1 family, No. 2 writing. If I didn't mercilessly protect my time, it would be easily absorbed by other things. Of course, I still felt guilty when my youngest asked if I loved her more than my laptop. But it was always my kids.
I simply found a passion that made me feel on purpose.
The pros far outweighed the cons for my three children. They've seen what it looks like up close when an adult follows her dreams. Last month, I turned 47, and my first novel was published on Feb. 28. For my birthday, I got a sandwich press. My kids like to make me grilled cheese.