This past weekend, I went to AWP in Chicago. I took my 17-month-old son with me. He amused and, perhaps, annoyed people on the plane, on the train, and in taxis with his insistent “HI!” and “BYE!” repeated many times over. He likes to look over the back of the airplane seat and blow bubbles at the people sitting behind us. In airports, he insists on walking by himself (the stroller is at least useful for wheeling around the luggage, diaper bag, and jackets) and he doesn’t want to hold my hand, either, so this trip, I made him wear a little doggy backpack with a tail that functioned as a leash. He doesn’t want to sit around in the hotel coffee shop talking to my friends, certainly won’t let me sit through any panels, and would rather ride up and down the escalators at the hotel where the conference was held. During lunch, he amused some of the staid and academic writers by discovering the joys of ice. (Actually my friend Denise popped an icecube in his mouth and I about had a heart attack wondering if he could choke on it before I decided to relax.) He banged the table and smiled winningly at the man sitting across from us as icy water dribbled down his chin and pooled all over the table in front of him.
Starting at 3 months, my son has gone with me all over the country to library and literary conferences. I’ve felt like it was important not to let the fact that I was the mother of a baby interfere with my professional writing career. And if anybody faults me for bringing a baby along, I thought, screw ‘em. Most people love babies so it worked out just fine while he was very young, and I took care not to let him be fussy in the wrong place at the wrong time. The screw ‘em thought didn’t keep me from being very conscious not to let him interfere with other people’s ability to work or to listen or to enjoy what they had come for.
Nevertheless, starting at 7 months, it was clear that although I still needed to bring him with me on trips, I needed childcare while I was doing my writerly things. So the real reason it’s worked is because there are some really good people in my life. My in-laws drove to Tucson to watch Nesta for me when he was five months old. In New York, my husband’s cousin watched my son and her baby in my hotel room while I signed books at the BEA. In New Orleans, my good friend Holly drove down from Alabama and took Nesta all over the French Quarter or swimming while I signed books and gave a short talk at a breakfast that my publishers had arranged for me. At a booksigning in Austin, a friend Lindsey held him for me while he slept. At a booksigning in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, a friend Jason took him outside into the sweltering Louisiana night while I read and talked and chatted with the people who came. Jason sang him to sleep until the mosquitoes came out. My mother flew out to Chicago for an entire week of babysitting while I sat on panels, gave talks, and signed books. And this past week in Chicago, my friend Ann watched Nesta while I read on a panel. No, I didn’t go to any other panels this particular trip but I was grateful for the time I was given. It was enough.
I’m probably forgetting somebody somewhere who helped me, but I certainly wouldn’t want to forget mentioning how fabulous my publishers have been about letting me bring my son along to all my publicity events. (Remember this, moms, when arranging your book deals! How friendly is your publisher to the fact that you aren’t a single entity but there are some small people literally attached to your hip?)
Being a writer seems like such a solitary act. We sit in front of the computer alone. We work with words and characters and plots and rhyme and language and metaphor and symbol all alone. We think and we walk and we observe and we bumble our way through the tensions of relationships and people and our mixed desires and our fears and, for the most part, as writers, we do it alone.
Except we aren’t alone and we should never forget that.
The truth is–and I think this is true for all writers, not just writing moms–I wouldn’t be able to write at all if it weren’t for the good support system I have, starting with the most important person of all, my husband, but then continuting to all the people who, in big and small ways, do the necessary things to make it all possible. That includes my agent and editors and publicists. But it also really really really includes my friends and family. Most of my support system isn’t local. It would be so nice to be able to pop on over to my mom’s and leave Nesta for the day so I could write without paying for childcare. But the good part of that support system not being local has come in handy this past year when I travelled all over the country and people came to my rescue.
A big Texas-sized thank you to all the many people who have supported me and my writing, not just since my son was born but for the last fifteen years. I couldn’t do it without you.