Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On Writing Mysteries and Raising Boys

by Julia Buckley
I wrote this essay a year ago, but because I find that it's still equally true today, I thought I'd share it for those of you who might have similar life conflicts.

Writing mysteries and raising boys: these two things don’t always go together—at least not as smoothly as I’d wish. For one thing, boys will ask for all the attention you have, and then lots of attention beyond that. They want to wrestle dangerously near the coffee table, pick up the cat under his stomach right after he drinks milk, and see what happens when you blow in the dog’s face. (The answer to the last one is—he goes insane and bites your baby lip, whereupon you cry and leave gouts of blood all over the house like you’re auditioning for Macbeth). They want to tattle on each other and jump on the neighbor’s trampoline (blast the neighbor) and argue over one Lego even while they sit in a veritable sea of them, wave upon wave of unwanted Legos that are good only for adults to step on in the dark.

Naturally this does not allow one to sit at the computer for a long, leisurely time, at least not without yelling “Cut it OUT!” at regular intervals, and this rather breaks the concentration. So one must write when one can. And when one is me, that means I write in fits and starts. Not only am I sometimes called away by my boys; there is my mother guilt to contend with. It’s always been there, of course, ever since that first day when I allowed the doctor to circumcise my baby at the hospital and then felt miserable for weeks afterward at what I’d let those evil doctors do. By the time my first infant rolled off the bed while I was hunting for a pair of socks, my guilt was firmly and permanently in place. I called the hospital, weeping harder than the baby, and the doctor asked me in a bored tone if the baby was, perchance, vomiting. No, said I, and he said, “Babies have hard heads.”

Due to guilt, one cannot write all day long, especially not when cute children ask, “Can you read this to me?” You can’t ignore that, not unless you want Harry Chapin singing in the back of your mind all day about cats and cradles and silver spoons. Sometimes you can’t write at all. I’m about to embark on a lovely leisurely summer, but soon enough I’ll go back to work and night school, which I call Panic Attack Season.

Ironically, though, when one is inundated with non-writer responsibilities, one can develop writer guilt. Similar to mother guilt, it niggles at the back of one’s mind (also, ironically, to the tune of a Harry Chapin song) and asks why there is no new project in the offing and why the old project hasn’t been polished smooth.

So when I lie next to the boys at night and sing them a few lullabies—yes, I do it, but not in as Julie Andrews a way as I’d like—I find that my writer guilt is there, saying ‘Get downstairs and type something.’ But there’s always a boy with insomnia, always, and he’s not that thrilled with the idea of my departure. So I become half sweet lullaby mother, half grumpy military mother who wants to leave. It sounds like this:

ME: (soft and lilting) Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling—

BOY: How can pipes call?

ME: (not lilting) No talking. From glen to glen, and down the
mountainside . . . PUT YOUR ARMS DOWN! The summer’s gone . . . and all the roses falling . . . ‘tis you, ‘tis you—GET YOUR FEET OFF THE WALL!

BOY: Who farted?

ME: (Not even distantly related to lilting) That’s IT. I’m getting your

And the challenge continues. Not surprisingly, there are children in every book I’ve written so far. I’ve been told I write children very realistically. I guess it’s from being in the mother trenches. Does this help at all with writing mysteries? Well, writers who are parents deal with a daily mystery—how are they ever going to get anythi--

Gotta go!

(Image: my eldest son at age 5 (he's 12 now) in a Sherlock Holmes outfit made by my mom.)


Candy Calvert said...

Truly delightful post, Julia!
It reminds me of when I decided to start running seriously--but had small kids, and couldn't find a sitter. So I would switch the TV to "Mr. Rogers," open all the curtains, lock the doors from the outside and run around the perimeter of my house and yard. Counting laps, dodging Big Wheels, and waving at the kids who would press their noses against the windows and check in with me. Did 7 miles one day. That's a lot of house laps. And, trust me, there were plenty of neighbors who passed by, tapped their foreheads and rolled their eyes. But you gotta do what you gotta do--and as a Mom, we make adjustments and get creative.

Your son looks so much like you!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Absolutely charming post, Julia. And so much material for books in all that guilt and child rearing! I get guilty when I spend hours at the computer and my cats start whining and scratching the back of my chair. I don't think I could weather child-induced guilt. Hang in there!

Christa M. Miller said...

What a great post! I'm in the trenches with two boys - one almost 4, the other 6 months. Wanting to start a new novel, but unsure how I'm going to do it - I'm already refereeing! Thanks for the laugh (and the perspective) - I'm going to link to it.

Shannon said...

Great post! As a mom with twin boys (17 months) I can totally relate to the mommy vs writing guilt. A daily tug of war. Nice to see you made it!

Jess Lourey said...

You are an inspiration, Julia, and always funny. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, all of you. Candy, that is truly inventive--but now you've given me something else to feel guilty about--not exercising enough. :)

Sue Ann, don't get me wrong--my cat makes me feel guilty, too. I'll save that for another post.

Christa, in some ways I found it easier when they were little, because there was nap time or time spent playing with "guys" (action figures) or time spent watching Barney. The key thing was that I only worked part time when my second one was a baby, and I think that helped a lot. Don't give up!

Shannon, God Bless You. 17 month old boys. But I'll be they're as cute as can be. The great thing is that they'll give you things to write about!

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Jess! But you and I have a mutual admiration society. Maybe we should write a book about how we inspire each other. :)

PT-LawMom said...

Fantastic post! You had me laughing and nodding. I definitely agree that you just have to get creative and kind of go with the flow while keeping in mind your ultimate goals. (I thought I was the only one who heard that song every time I tell my kid no!)

kitty said...

My mother advised me to love this age because that each age gets progressively worse. Wiser words have not been spoken.


Meg said...

My daughter referenced your blog in hers, and I howled -- and nodded -- as I read it. Ohhh, go ahead and enjoy the boys. You will be glad you did when you see them as grown men -- and you will be horrified and stunned at how quickly they get there (I can already see my daughter rolling her eyes).

Julia Buckley said...

Oh, it's a haunting song. It never quite goes away, either. And my kids laugh because I cry whenever I hear it on the radio. :)

I know what you mean. My 12-year-old is starting to introduce us to some teen-type things that make us contemplate sending him to a monastery, or a military academy, or a military monastery. Don't laugh--I had a friend who actually DID send her son to a monastery for a few weeks of silence and prayer. And BOY did he shape up. He wrote beautiful letters to them, detailing all the reasons why he wanted to come home. :)

Julia Buckley said...

I already feel that way now sometimes, when I see little glimpses of the men they will be. My son just tried on last summer's shorts and his legs are about two feet longer. How does that happen?

kitty said...

julia: Lucky you that your son benefited from the monastery. One time my son performed a parody of the crucifixion of Christ in his drama class -- with the visiting school board members in attendance. He's grown and married now with three kids, one almost 16 (cue evil cackling;).


Julia Buckley said...

We can dress them up, Kitty, but we can't take them out. :)

And yes, they'll get theirs someday. I have never said "I hope you have children who do this to you someday," but I think I'm on the verge. :)

John McFetridge said...

Let me just say, father-guilt is just as tough. Since my sons were born (now 7 and 8) and I became the stay-at-home parent I've gone through all that stuff. People see me spending so much time with my boys and say, "You should write kids' books!" Yeah? There are no kids in my books. I write to get away from my kids (and then that makes me feel guilty, and the whole thing starts over).

Fun, eh?

kitty said...

I have never said "I hope you have children who do this to you someday," but I think I'm on the verge.

I got so mad at my son one time I began to sputter. He said, "Yeah, I know, you're hoping when I grow up I have a kid just like me."

I replied, "No, I wouldn't wish that even on you."

"God, you must really be mad!"

We laugh about it now cuz he's going through it, too.

It's amazing how many parents actually survive their kids' adolescence.


Christa M. Miller said...

Oh, pleeeease don't say it was easier when they were little! I've been hoping it gets easier when they're older - if only for the chance to write when they're in school. Sigh. Another fantasy shot to hell!

kitty said...

I've been hoping it gets easier when they're older - if only for the chance to write when they're in school.

If yours will be anything like mine were -- okay, just my son -- then you'll have lots of stories to write. Having the time to write them, however, is another issue.


Julia Buckley said...

I'm glad to hear that. I do think my husband struggles with guilt, but he was always far more able to stride away from a crying child (for his own good, mind you) than I was. Maybe he's just a stronger person. Maybe you need to write a 2007 folk anthem and become the new Harry Chapin. :)

Kitty, it's good to know you can laugh about it with your son--and Christa, you absolutely will find time to write. Lots of us on this blog are Moms and Dads, and you will find those moments of time and inspiration.