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Raising Children is Like Writing Stories

Some days I’m swallowed by a sea of diapers, dishes and laundry. When I wake and before slumbering, I pump extra breast milk, lulled by the pump’s monotonous whoosh-puff. Until my husband interrupts my stupor. He moos like a cow. The stale joke makes me bristle. I contemplate how motherhood, like a cow’s life, can be mundane. I’m a world away from my former life as a full-time freelance writer.

Or am I?

Striving to remember that parenting, even in rote tasks, glorifies God, I fail. I grow weary. My brain needs more satisfaction, the kind I get by doing something that stays done. Like writing a story. When I take a freelance gig, I report, research, write, fact-check, edit, rewrite. In a few days or weeks, the piece is published. My thirst for completion is quenched.

Since Syma’s birth I’ve taken a few assignments. But a few weeks ago was the first time I did field reporting, to cover a financial conference. Reflecting on the experience—aside from reinforcing how much I love to work—showed me that raising children bears some resemblance to writing stories.

Chasing a Story

Up before dawn, I hopped a suburban train to Chicago. At an hour when I’m typically deep in dreamland, I joined throngs of commuters spilling onto pulsing city streets. I bolted over the river and through the Loop, landing first at a tea shop. Nothing fuels a reporter better than good food and drink. I raced east toward the University Club, where I checked in and set up my laptop. I guzzled most of my black tea and inhaled half of my breakfast quiche.

And the 9 a.m. keynote began.

For 90 minutes, two financial experts discussed the future of private equity and venture capital. Unlike daily news reports of fiscal doom, theirs was a message of hope. The economy could regain steam, they argued, through vehicles like venture capital. As they talked, I took notes on my laptop. After the discussion I interviewed audience members for reactions, scratching notes by hand and exchanging business cards.

My reporting complete, I was ravenous. I devoured the other half of my breakfast and scurried to I Dream of Falafel, a prime lunch spot. Heaping portions of fattoush, hummus, shawerma and kefta doused my hunger. Wending my way toward Union Station, I looked forward to napping on the train home.

I didn’t sleep.

I outlined my story, caught up on reading and e-mails. And I reflected on the day. It reminded me how much I enjoy working. Before kids, I was a workaholic. As an editor in D.C. and later as a freelancer working from home, I logged well more than 40 hours a week. Not for money, but for love of journalism.

Similar Love, Actually?

I still log more than 40 hours a week as a mom. I’m never off the clock. The similarities between working as a journalist and working as a mom don’t stop there.

Some reasons I enjoy journalism include:

  • People. Meeting sources is fun. Sometimes it’s funny, too.
  • Places. Reporting has taken me from ground zero after 9/11 to summer in Barcelona. My work shows me the world, and educates me in ways no other occupation could.
  • Deadlines. They keep me accountable and productive.
  • Information. There’s lots of it, begging for organization. Bringing order to the chaos, crafting an angle and carving a story—this brings me joy.
  • Teaching. Ideally, my stories enlighten readers. I help them make more informed decisions about their lives, their worlds.

What I love about journalism is also part of the joy of parenting:

  • People. I deal with two little people all day. We have fun, and they make me laugh. I meet new people—teachers, librarians, doctors. These adults are sources of encouragement and inspiration as I walk the shifting landscape of early motherhood.
  • Places. Most days we’re going somewhere. To the bookstore, to the post office, to the river where we feed the ducks. On a recent outing to the grocery store, I realized I was nimble enough to push a shopping cart (with groceries and a toddler) and a stroller (with a sleeping infant). I found everything on my list, and didn’t bump into others. That was a new, instantly gratifying success.
  • Deadlines. They’re not as firm as story deadlines. But the price is steep if I skip my son’s naptime or delay his bedtime.
  • Information. To be a parent is to be deluged with information. The reporterly skill of sifting the useful from the detritus is handy.
  • Teaching. My children are mirrors, reflecting what I’m teaching them about how to live, love and thrive.

The Same,  and Different

Of course there are differences between writing and child-rearing. As far back as I can recall, I wanted to write. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a mom, though. Especially after my mom died. I long entertained serious doubts about my ability to be a mom. I wanted a challenging career, my friends, an independent life. And maybe one day, a husband.

But God is good. He sent me out of my comfort zone, into the wilds of marriage and motherhood. My love of parenting is growing. It’s more of a gradual process than the love I have for my work. But it plays an equally vital part of my identity. The diversity of my experiences, I hope, strengthens my character.

The fruits of motherhood aren’t as instantly gratifying as writing a story, either. Three years into my son’s life, I’m just beginning to see why reading to him every day, from the day he was born, is paying off. He carries full conversations and reads books to me now.

Like me, my children are works in progress. I’m beginning to help write their stories, but I won’t have a byline. Still my son and daughter are–and will be–my greatest accomplishments.

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2 Comments
  1. Variety in short bursts is the “spice of life” or so it is said. I believe it’s true, remembering that “a little goes a long way” as priorities change over time for most active people.

    • You’re right, Connie. My life now is more varied than ever, and I’m learning to enjoy the different facets.

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