Published on June 29th, 2018 | by Connie Pertuz-Meza2
You Don’t Seem Like The Mother Type
Connie, I don’t doubt that you can do anything you set your mind to.
Nia’s words on yesterday’s group text flashed in my mind. Nia, a fellow writer, bonded by a week spent in a fiction workshop this past summer, through VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts, and held in The University of Pennsylvania. Nine fiction writers, bound by our love of words, endless hours spent dissecting short stories, providing feedback, and sharing more than characters and plots. Every one of us, ready to emerge as writers, but at forty I was the oldest of the group, and the only one married with children. Months since our week together, the nine of us speak almost daily, read each other’s work, and cheer each other on. At the moment when Nia’s words appeared across my screen, I smiled. But. Now, weighed down by the demands of my day, I had doubts. Could I really do this, become a writer?
Car parked, I turned off the engine, and pressed my head back on the driver seat. An almost quiet surrounded me, but the thump of car wheels on the road and the distant siren kept the night from being still. I sighed, Brooklyn, like me was never at ease. I swung my legs out of the car, reached for my backpack, and marched home. Almost nine in the evening on a workweek, I counted twelve hours since I had walked out of the building with my son to drive him to his school, and later myself to my classroom of fifth graders. Home most days before four in the afternoon, except on nights during parent teacher conferences, like tonight. A teacher seventeen years, long nights this one never ceased to be bone tiring. On these rare days, I relied on my husband to juggle dance class, soccer practice, homework, and dinnertime: To run the race I ran day after day, though mine included the sprinting and hurdle jumping of being a New York City teacher.
Ambushed by a mental to do list as I walked across the lobby of my building, I reminded myself to check my son’s folder for the birthday invite a mom texted me to expect, considered sorting laundry by the end of the night to shorten my list for the next day, and thought to ask my daughter about the argument she had with her friend the day before. I pressed the elevator button to the third floor, and checked my phone. Unable to check email at work, except the few stolen minutes during my lunch, and guilt ridden if too much time was spent on the phone at home, my fingers scrolled through email. I re-read the email I had found in my inbox earlier as I ran into my school building, announcing the acceptance of a personal essay into an anthology for emerging writers. Excited, I had sent my husband a screenshot of the email, and seconds later received an excited face emoticon. That felt like days, not hours, ago. Once inside the elevator, I rested my head against the wall, aching to fling myself onto my bed like a starfish and drift into unconsciousness.
Once off on my floor I remembered a promise to knock on the door of my friend and neighbor, Christine. Earlier in the day she sent a text: Come by, have good news. I looked at my apartment door and held my breath as I tapped the door with my knuckles. Waved in by Christine’s husband, I walked inside.
“I’m all the way back here,” Christine called out.
“I can only stay a few minutes,” I walked towards the back of the apartment. “Today was parent teacher conferences, you know.” I yawned. I noted the neat dining room table, and thought of my own. Unable to have an office, half of the dining room table, itself in my living room, had become my writing studio. Cluttered with my laptop, post its, drafts filled with notes, a few craft books, pencils and pens, my writing life was stacked and placed out of the way during family dinners.
Christine sat crossed legged on her bed, her hair wet from the shower, in patterned pajamas. “You look so tired. ” She pointed to the foot of her bed, “Sit.”
I flung myself down and smiled. “What’s your good news?”
“Matt is moving in with his girlfriend. I think she’s the one.” She clasped her hands and waited for my reaction.
“That’s so exciting!” Matt, an all around great young man, was Christine’s eldest, whom she raised as a young single mom. Now, remarried Christine had a son a year older than mine.
“I have news of my own too,” I clutched my phone still in my hands. Suddenly, overcome by a wave of excitement, the exhaustion of a few minutes before unclenched.
“Is it your writing?”
I opened the email, handed my phone to Christine, and grinned.
Her eyes scanned the screen, and her face broke out in a smile. “Wow!”
“I really want this Chris,” I looked at the clock on the dresser across from me.
“I know you do.” Christine studied me.
“It’s hard to balance everything… sometimes, it’s a lot.” I rubbed my face.
“When I first met you, you were alone in the lobby. Do you remember, you were reading a book?” Christine laughed. “It was before I realized you had moved across the hall. The next time I saw you, you were with everyone, the four of you.” Pensive now, Christine continued, “I was surprised, you didn’t seem like the type to have a family.”
Always a big fan and one of my loyal cheerleaders, Christine’s comment was more questioning than shade.
“Why surprised?” I asked.
“You are so smart, read all the time, and you knew what you wanted to do with your life at like eleven, right?”
I nodded, all the people around me knew writing was my dream, and had been since I was a kid. “I fell in love.”
“I know you did. Look, you are doing it now.” Christine offered.
“I am.” I pointed to the clock, and got up. “Gotta head home,” I jerked my thumb in the direction of my apartment.
“I’m proud of you,” Christine called after me.
Three years ago, my dream to be a writer had slipped far from my grasp. I had only a half completed manuscript, written in five page bursts, the page requirement set by my writing group for teachers. That group had kept my writing lukewarm for the first decade of motherhood, but I was choking on the multitude of excuses I gave to everyone for why I couldn’t write. And then, a twitter post on Junot Diaz’s handle caught my eye, a multi-genre, writers of color, week writing conference. Accepted, participated, and inspired, this dream felt possible again.
Almost three years later, a second time at VONA, and other writing retreats and conferences, a mentor, and a few published essays under my belt, I don’t see all that I have done, but what I have not, and what still needs to be done. Life as a mother, wife, daughter of two elderly parents, teacher, and writer, feeling like Lucy in the chocolate factory episode as I try to keep up with the demands in front of me. Finding cracks of time early in the morning or late into the night while my family sleeps. Crowdfunding to pay for the opportunity to take part in these amazing retreats. Asking favors from my mother in law and girlfriends to help with my children. Forgoing social engagements. Reading submission guidelines while I whip up a quick dinner. Listening to writing podcasts or favorite authors craft talks as I drive to work. Sitting across from my daughter in her bedroom, listening to her day, and pushing the thought of the latest rejection from my head. Reviewing for a science test with my son, despite the looming writing deadline. Choosing to sit and watch a movie with my husband, while revisions remain undone. And. Blessed to be part of a trio of Latina married mothers who write, who reach out to each other often, and because of these two women, I realize I’m not alone.
I crossed the hallway. My mind lost in thought about my novel’s main character, and those around her. Perhaps having a family has slowed my writing dream, and maybe teaching has too, but it’s my back-story. And, any writer can tell you, without back-story, you can’t get to know your character. Because the best character I have written is myself. My story. A mother, wife, teacher, daughter. A writer.