“This is so Mom can get her book done": Carrie Snyder on being a mother who is also a writer

Book Cover The Juliet Stories

When my first book, Hair Hat, was published, I had two children, ages two and fourteen months. Immersed in a stay-at-home world of diapers and chapped hands, of broken nights and snowed-in sleepy days, I found it damn near impossible to identify myself with any confidence as a real writer. In the months leading up to the book’s publication date, I hid out in an upstairs bedroom to go over cover art and proofs while my mother babysat the children downstairs. There was a lunch meeting at a nearby restaurant with two publicists (my mother called in again to babysit). This was all very exciting, but it also felt utterly removed from the daily, nightly, milky, moment-by-moment mundanity of young motherhood.

Somehow I couldn’t imagine the existence of my book as a book.

Then one snowy January morning a package arrived, addressed to me. It was small. It was from my publisher. I carried it into the living-room and knelt down on the floor, because the floor was where I spent half my life helping the children with puzzles, or block towers, or simple crafts. I opened the package. Out slid a bound book. My book. It was such a moment. I experienced it happening while it was happening, thinking to myself: I will always remember this. My eyes filled with tears. The children clambered over me, their indifference complete. If they noticed anything, it was that their mother’s attention was distracted from the puzzle/block tower/crayons.

“Look, at this! Mommy wrote this!” I showed them and turned to the first page of my book and began to read out loud. One sentence, two sentences, three.

“Stop reading that!” said the two-year-old. I forged on, but he insisted, “Stop!”

“Don’t you like it?” I asked.

“No!”

He really, really did not like it. Neither did his baby sister. Well—it wasn’t a book for children; it was written for adults. I set the book aside.

I wanted the scene to be funny; but it was a little too poignant. Here I was intensely and voluntarily and with great enthusiasm absorbed in this sphere of domesticity and mothering. It was so important to me. But it reflected back at me nothing else. Its surface was flat, not mirrored. My children—so young—could not see me as a writer. I was mama, and nothing more. And because this was how I spent my days and hours, I found it almost impossible to see myself as anything other than mama.

The book got published—definitive proof, my name on the cover. Still, if I were to meet someone new who might ask what I did, I would say: I’m home with my kids. What I would not say was: Also, I’m a writer.

Run, jump, leap ahead eight years. I am preparing to publish my second book, The Juliet Stories. I am eight years older than the woman who knelt on the floor attempting to read her new book to her babies. Those babies are now ten and nine, and added to their number are a six-year-old and a three-year-old. I am past the diapers and chapped hands stage of motherhood; but of course I am still immersed in motherhood itself. It is a state without end, once leapt into.

Much remains the same. I still work just out of reach of the children’s play, subject to frequent interruptions. A publicity meeting in Toronto is an out-of-the-ordinary day away from the crockpot and the heap of laundry and the ferrying from soccer practices to swim lessons. And yet. And yet. And yet. How different this second experience has been—seeing my book through the stages of editing and production.

This time around, I do not feel at a remove from the process. I do not feel like an imposter moving between sealed compartments.

Ask me what I do, and I’ll say: I’m a writer. I might not even mention the kids (they’re usually around anyway; no need to point out the obvious).

I recognize this as a major shift in self-identification. It didn’t happen suddenly. I grew into my multiplicities. And I’m convinced this change has come about not despite my children, but because of them. Look at how they’ve grown. With me, they have gone through the creative process of researching and writing a book; they have experienced it intimately; they have travelled with me; we have all integrated what it means to be a writer into our daily lives. My children have seen me staring at this screen, typing away; they have seen me arrive at the dinner table with wild eyes; and they’ve seen me dash off suddenly mid-meal to jot down a new twist. They might not like everything that I do as a writer, but it’s part of our family’s life.

Last summer all four accepted extra babysitting, and soccer camp, while I worked on line edits. They didn’t particularly want to, but when one complained, an older one reminded the younger, “This is so Mom can get her book done.”

This time around, it felt like the book existed before it ever existed.

The advance reading copy of The Juliet Stories arrived on a cool January day, bound like a book with the cover art on the front. I was alone when I opened the package. There can never again be a first moment, and this wasn’t; but when the children arrived home from school and saw the book I was given a new first moment.

“Wow!”

“Cool!”

My book was held, examined, thumbed through. The moment didn’t last long, but it didn’t need to.

Carrie Snyder

I saw myself, as I am, reflected in their eyes—as their mom, who is also a writer.

Read Carrie Snyder's Books that made me want to write.

Carrie Snyder's latest book is The Juliet Stories, and she also author of Hair Hat. She was born in Hamilton and grew up in Ohio, Nicaragua, and Ayr, Ontario. She lives now in Waterloo, Ontario.

March 1, 2012
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