Always on the Go: Toddlers and Writing

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Every person who’s ever been a parent (or has seen one on TV) has a comment (or two or three) about two-year-olds. Heck, we’ve got a flashy code-name for this developmental stage: Terrible Twos. Our culture has since added another for three and four… and I wouldn’t be surprised if that it hits 18 now.

But really, this huge change hits before my smiling, little exploring toddler even turns two. It’s that range, between 18 and 20 months, when my sweet baby bundle of joy finally realizes he has an opinion of his own… and he not only can express it, he wants to.

Loudly.

With determination.

With the absolute conviction that The World Is Ending… right now. (This, of course, translates to: the minute I don’t get what I want, you’re going to be sorry.)

This is a crazy-tough transition for everyone and I’ve been telling my husband for months now this day was coming. Well, it’s here. It’s full-blown. And it’s also more challenging than when I went through this with Kate… even though I’ve been rewiring my parenting brain and philosophy, practicing a more peaceful, cooperation-approach style of parenting. And yet… wow. Parenting Eric, right now, is a full-time job. You see, it’s no longer about feeding or nursing or diaper changing. Or walking outside while he slowly toddles around and has the most interesting observations about a handful of rocks, or dirt, or leaves. Man, babies are easy. They’re constant, in the physical sense, and you’re always dead tired, but whoa is it easy.

Now Eric runs. Now he throws rocks. Now he limit tests because… guess what… that’s what they do at this stage, that’s their job. However, now I’ve got two kids who are veering in different directions and different opinions of what that should be. And all the while I’m trying my best to not always say, “No,” and instead, figuring out what the real need is.

Oh, and I’m still not sleeping.

And all that I described above? That’s constant. That’s my daily life. I am constantly on the go, constantly moving, constantly being aware of Eric so I can step in and gently redirect (which usually fails as he’s way to perceptive for those tactics) and try to teach that throwing rocks and sand can hurt and it’s not okay. Eric then usually just smiles and grabs another two-fistfuls and throws again.

This makes for some very loooong days.

And… I’m still writing.

I know, right? People look at my output and think I’m crazy. Or superwoman. And it’s not like my output is huge… oh believe me, there are days when getting in five minutes of quiet play-time for my subconscious is a huge, huge, huge success.

I’ve been working at this parenting and writing thing for five years now (including pregnancy because oh man does that count) and while I haven’t found the ‘answer’ I was always looking for, I’ve somehow managed to write and produce. But writing with a toddler has its own unique set of challenges.

Like, never really getting peace and quiet.

Unless you do the dreaded ‘screen-time’ which so many parents and grandparents and in-laws (and doctors too) will give you the evil eye if you so much as hint at this.

Well… I do it.

I do it because I’m an introvert. I need quiet time to recharge my batteries. I need this downtime where it’s just me so I can then step in and be a patient parent, a kind and empathetic parent. After we’ve gone swimming and shopping and I’ve been up since 4 a.m. because neither kid could sleep… you better believe I’ll use movie time (and all-things-Disney) to give me that desperately-needed quiet and recharge time. It’s a much better alternative than me losing it and yelling when Eric’s goes to the bird cage (which strategically blocks the window that’s by the couch, and the three story drop) and stands there and purposefully shakes it.

But I also use that time to sneak in the writing. Sure my goal is to wake up before the kids and write before they’re even up, but when my average is four hours of broken sleep, you better believe I’m doing my best to sleep as much and long as I can.

Also, I try to write after Daddy gets up. He spends time with the kids and then is off to work, but that’s hard too because he hasn’t gotten much sleep either. So it’s this trade off… letting him sleep in so he can then go and make the money to pay the bills and all our food… or me getting that quiet and alone time to write.

Somehow, every day for the past three months, I’ve gotten the writing in. Sometimes it’s so tiny no one who wasn’t a parent of young kids would count it. Sometimes I’ve literally tried three times to write and every time I sit down, I’ve got a kid hanging off me like I’m their own personal climbing gym. And yet… those little dribbles do add up. But even more important, they keep my creative voice open and willing to come out and play. I think that’s been the hardest shift as a parent-writer, especially as a mother (when kids are under a certain age we are just hard-wired to hear everything and that little voice where stories come from immediately shuts down).

It’s taken a lot to get my creative voice to come out and play; it’s taken a lot of patience and time to tell myself: it’s safe now; it’s safe to write again. So each of those days, when the writing is a dribble, it still plays a huge role in keeping my stories open, in keeping me connected to my need and ability, as a storyteller.

I am always on the go. Always on the ball to step in and teach. And with Eric, he’s more aggressive than Kate was so I really need to step in and slowly, painfully slowly, teach him what to do and what not to do.

So, how have I done it? Write and parent an opinionated toddler? (So far, anyway?)

Little dribbles, every day.

These are perfectly fine and perfectly acceptable for the parent-writer. You should celebrate every word, especially when you touch down into your creative place. Man, that’s a huge reason to celebrate and cheer right there!

Another tactic, especially when starting a new story, is have an idea raring to go. Whether a character or place or problem… just something so then when I do sit down I can focus and just write. When you write, one sentence, then another, it’s like this little wake-up to your subconscious. The act of writing gets that part of you to wake up and come out and play.

And speaking of play, keep the writing fun. Keep it a place where you go to play.

Whenever I find myself getting frustrated (ahem… yesterday) as I try to write but Kate or Eric decide, at that very moment, that they must literally be attached and will not leave me alone long enough to get to my creative voice… I tell myself to stop. To let go. I’ve learned that trying to plow through and keep writing is miserable for everyone (and usually ends with me getting frustrated and yelling). And that is not fun.

So, I stop and try to come at it when my kids are in a better place for me to write. That means I need to be okay with writing for only five minutes, or in one case, two minutes. But… it was writing and therefore it counts (certainly when that was my third attempt).

With kids, it’s all about being flexible and the more I stop thinking about what I want and focus on what they want and what they need (especially on those days when they won’t leave me alone), I’m usually in a better place to handle what happens next… my ability to let go of my writing and give them the attention they’re, very clearly, communicating to me.

I’m happier for it. They’re happier for it.

The writing is what it is, but it’s there. Some days it’s a full hour or forty minutes. Some days it’s barely enough to plug into my creative voice. But you know what? Every little, tiny bit helps. Somehow, for me, that recently ended up with a 17,000 word short novel. I just kept plugging away at it, bit by bit, and that meant that every time I sat down I was already tuned into that world and those characters.

The more I work and try and keep the writing fun, the easier it comes to me. Even if I have a toddler who doesn’t stop moving, who cries and stomps and turns around in circles when he’s mad because I wouldn’t let him take a bath in the toilet.

And this toddler-time isn’t forever.

I remember, when Kate was two and I had just discovered the new (for me) world of homeschooling, and I asked another mother if it was possible to write and be a homeschooling mom. This was huge for me. Huge. I’d already (happily) put so much of my writing on hold to be a mother, but this is a core part of who I am. I couldn’t just shrug it off for years; I would be miserable! I told this mother that if I couldn’t write, there was no way I could commit to something like homeschooling. She then asked how old my child was and I told her.

She laughed.

She told me that two was the year you never sit down, and, she was right.

Totally and completely right.

But, I know too that this isn’t forever. That at some point Eric will settle down into his own person. That, one day, the teething will end and I will one day, gloriously, sleep again.

It will happen.

(I really, really have faith in the sleep part.)

In the mean time, I’ll do what I can, keep being flexible with the writing, keep having fun, both for the writing and my little 20-month-old because this is only a small blip in his life and it’ll be over before I know it.

I don’t want to miss a second of it… but… I also want to stay sane and keep writing.

So here’s to our approaching two years and all the great fun as Eric does his very, very best to explore the world, and my, limits… wish me luck!

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