Parenting and Playwriting
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August presented a series of unfortunate events in my home: our roof sprouted three, unrelated leaks, the air conditioner stopped its whirling, and my youngest daughter broke her arm so badly, she had to be airlifted to a major children's hospital in Kansas City to be pinned and cast.
I also turned forty.
I didn't mind turning forty. I threw myself a party, and all my friends who happen to be gorgeous cooks brought food, my mother flew down from Chicago and helped me set up and clean, our neighbor the entomologist made key lime martinis, the dear Republicans who attended self-segregated in the study, and a merry time was had by all.
I did mind all the other stuff, however. It all turned out to be very inconvenient and more significantly, expensive, and like the state we live in, we began the new school year broke.
So with the turning of the leaves, we sheared our budget, and you know what was first to go? Remember that little childcare center in my husband's building, where I sent Laura last year? The one that seemed a little overcrowded but had a fish tank? That's the one. Well, it turns out a quick way to save money is to not pay your child's childcare tuition, and if you're a parent who works from home, keep said child at home with you while you work, which means you won't so much work as devise ways to work, which don't really work.
Nonetheless, I've gathered a few tips regarding ad hoc childcare for you:
1) Put your child in front of the television.
Duh. I mean, this one is pretty obvious. It's remarkably foolproof, except for the guilt, which will kick in around the second hour, and you'll have to turn off the TV for fear of melting your child's brain. Chances are, however, you've probably just used the first hour to shower and answer email, so you haven't actually gotten any work done anyway.
2) Timeshare childcare with some friends!
Sounds good, right? Like joining a Mommy coop will solve all your problems in an organic, earth friendly, community-building kind of way. There's a catch though. You will have to take care of other people's children. Also, and I hate to rain on your parade, but kids get sick a lot, and if you're cooping with say, that nice stay-at-home-Dad with four kids, chances are, on the morning he's supposed to watch your one kid for three hours the day before a big deadline, one of his four is going to be sick, and he's going to call you at seven in the morning, all "I'm so sorry, Kade has a fever, I can keep him in the other room, but I'd hate for your daughter to catch it!" (Subtext: if you insist on complicating my life with another body to tend with today, I will infect your precious darling myself!)
3) Take your kid and your laptop to the library.
This one isn't half-bad, actually. There are other responsible adults present you don't have to pay: librarians! And while these kind and capable human beings aren't technically trained in childcare, they can be relied upon to holler if, say, the building catches fire, or if your kid falls off a bookshelf and breaks her other arm. Librarians aren't, however, stupid, and after a couple of weeks, they may begin to intuit you're using the reference desk for reasons other than research and undermine your project in passive aggressive ways: "Why don't you take Laura to story hour? It starts in five minutes?" Story hour is, of course, the worst place in the entire library in which to get work done, because the happy clappy gal who runs that show insists parents participate.
4) Work after bedtime.
I guess this could work if your child, you know, went to bed.
5) Work when your second kid comes home from school and can take care of her younger sibling.
This is more theoretical than anything else.
So I have a few holes in my methodology. It is, admittedly, a work in progress.
The weird thing is, despite the lack of childcare, despite the lack of reliable alternatives, despite my abhorrence of getting up at 5am to write, which I have never, ever, ever done, I do, in fact, write. I mean, I haven't written this column, for example, but I do write plays. On weekends, on holidays, those fluke moments when Laura entertains herself with paints and dinosaurs for an hour or two, I write. And that's the great thing about writing; you don't actually have to write for extended periods of time to make progress. If you manage a mere forty-five minutes a day of writing, you'll have written something in a couple of weeks. It may be crap. It will probably be crap, but it will be a shimmer of a thing that in the next few weeks you can color and shape until it tells you that non-crappy thing it wants to be. A scene. A beautiful, glorious scene that, given time and patience and much tearing of your hair, will open up into a play.
And there's no better feeling than that.
Can I get an amen?
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Amen! I have no children but did have an elderly cat who died recently. And she gave me enough excuses not to write. This is a funny and wise column. Thanks.
You have my sympathies! My youngest are 14 now and I STILL feel guilty taking time to work (because I also do all my paid work from home) and I've been doing it for twenty years. My best tactic was to tell them to go clean the playroom. I knew they'd get caught up in everything they found and not get the room clean, but stay busy (with a bonus of not wanting to bother me because they'd have to tell me the room wasn't clean!).
Oooh, I like that idea. If I send them upstairs to "clean" their rooms, they will surely stay up there an hour.
Yes, and be sure to say, "And don't come back until that room is clean!" ;)
Having children didn't make me a better writer. But sticking with writing through the process of raising children (who are now 14 and 10, respectively) proved that I was serious about this whole writing thang. So in that sense, this trial by fire (the guilt of making my wee ones watch 14 hours of uninterrupted reality TV) was entirely worth it, irrespective of the kidlets themselves. I'm on the right road. And now that school has prevented that 14 hour TV marathon, so are they.
Salvation for all. Amen.
Mark Rigney in the house!
Keep at it, Catherine! When I work from home with my kids in the building, I accomplish approximately nothing. I can either boil my blood with caffeine after they go to sleep, or just accept the fact that nothing gets done when the kids are home.
When my oldest son was a baby, my wife and I had a deal: I got one hour a day to write. (Usually 6:00-7:00 p.m.) - I would close the door in a room in the house, turn off the internet, and try to write for exactly one hour. I had an egg timer, actually. I had a writing partner at the time, (we were working on a screenplay together) - who had no job except to write a lawyer wife who paid the bills and I still managed to write more than he did.
But magic happens and kids get older and eventually free schooling kicks in! So now my boys are in elementary school and I have writing time every day. Although, on most days I still don't get more done than I did in that sweet hour.
One more year til kindergarten...
19 years till empty nest. I mean, while we're counting down.
That definitely gets an amen.