The past few years have been tough for me in terms of anything to do with writing—time to pursue it, books published, finding an agent, blogging . . . The fledgling career I began in 2007 when Counting Stars was published seemed extinguished before it was even fully lit. I was sad about this, but life became so demanding there was little I could do.
In 2009 we were finally blessed with our fifth child—nine long years after his closest sibling. He was a hard-earned gift, and I intended to cherish every minute with him. For the most part, I feel confident I’ve done that. I’m known for telling everyone I can that they should have a baby at forty. What joy, what fun, what a miracle he is. How awesome it has been to have another round of toddler time at the library, more trips to the zoo and children’s museums, more Disney movies and music playing, more Legos strewn everywhere in our house, more tucking in at night and snuggling, more magic.
Along with all of that—how exhausting, how crazy, how nuts is it to be raising children whose ages span eighteen years and who seem to be at just about every stage in life. Young married? Got one of those. College students. Five, if you count my daughter’s husband and my son’s fiancée. High schooler. We’ve had that one covered for the past several years. I’m still patiently waiting to graduate myself—from algebra and term papers, especially. And finally, this year, we’ve got a kindergartener. Our miracle baby is no longer a baby, but an exuberant little boy, so excited his turn to go to school has finally arrived.
Along with the busyness of starting parenthood over, while in the midst of surviving the teen years with our older children, Dixon and I became grandparents a couple of years ago, a scant eight months after our daughter’s wedding. Her miracle was that her firstborn survived—after arriving three months early. His sudden appearance caused a ripple effect of financial and other stresses on our still newlywed daughter and her husband, and as a result our basement is used for a lot more than ping pong tournaments these days.
Along with living with us, our grandson spends mornings with me, driving children to school and then driving me a bit crazy as he gets into everything he can in our very unchildproof house. It’s impossible to be upset with him—the memories of his fragile two pound self are still too fresh, and I can only feel grateful that he is both curious and fast, with both a mind and legs that work quite well. So easily it could have been otherwise. We are truly blessed to have this little boy tearing around our house.
Still, writing time continues to be at a premium and a minimum. I haven’t had time to mourn my youngest going off to school, because I don’t come home to an empty house. There are eight of us currently living here, five of those students, which makes for a lot of insanity. And a lot of good times too. I worried that Andrew would grow up alone, since his siblings are so much older. Instead, it feels like he’s got a little brother to pal around with, and he knows not only his oldest sister, but her husband as well. They all share a bathroom, and it doesn’t get much closer than that!
So while I may not be able to devote much time to that fledgling career just yet, I still do feel like I have it all. Or the all that I’ve chosen, at least.
I don’t have to look any farther than my critique group to see others enjoying/enduring a similar phenomenon. Our group meets regularly these days—maybe ten times a year if the fates align! Somewhere along the way our lives all became too complicated, our houses too far apart, our schedules too different, for the consistent weekly meetings we used to have. Some have to travel a lot, some are dealing with serious health crises, some support their families financially, and all of us have families. And those families have always come first. It’s a universal rule that we all understand and respect. And at the end of the day, or the year, and eventually our lives, I don’t think any of us will feel too much regret that we never had enough time to write.
Fellow critique group member and dear friend, Lu Ann Staheli gets this perhaps more than any of us. Lu Ann married later in life and then opened her heart and her home to foster children, five of whom she adopted. It hasn’t been smooth sailing with her five boys—far from it—but she has been and is the mother they needed, all during years when she might have been having great successes with her writing—because she is an amazingly talented author. Over these years Lu Ann has also been a teacher, nurturing talent in others and watching as many of those students went on to their own successes, sometimes achieving the dreams she’d set for herself and not yet had time to reach for. But her generosity has continued. I am just one of many benefactors.
Last summer Lu Ann learned she has stage IV cancer and has since entered into a determined fight for her life. During her treatment she continues to write—letters to her missionary son and then her novellas and novels and non fiction as she has time and feels well enough. She is upbeat and positive, and has exhibited quite an amazing peace about her situation and a readiness to do what must be done to beat the cancer. In this too she is a wonderful example, as she has been an example of having it all, or the all that matters.
So if you happen to be at a point in your life (middle age, anyone?) where you feel your goals are lagging, and you just haven’t accomplished all you hoped you would, I hope you’ll think of Lu Ann and others like her. I do believe that we can have it all, in terms of families and careers. The caveat is that we cannot have it all at once. Our challenge is to choose wisely that which comes first. For me that will always be my family. Any hero I may write will never be as great as the guy in the other room folding a mountain of laundry right now. A paycheck in my purse will never mean more than sticky hands and slobbery kisses on my cheeks. How blessed I am to have to have those, even if it means my writing career remains fledgling a little longer.