Hunchback of West L.A.

“Stand still,” my husband told me, staring hard at the back of my head.  “Lift up your hair.”  He ran his hand along my spine at the base of my neck.  “I think you need to see a doctor.”

“Why?” I replied in my can-we-be-paranoid-some-other-time-I-am-sorting-laundry voice.

“Osteoporosis.”

“I don’t have osteoporosis,” I told him, handing him cleaning rags to put away.  “I’m thirty-five.  I take a calcium supplement and drink milk.”

“Yeah, and it’s all going right back out to her.”  He indicated Lilah, our third child and a dedicated nurser.

The next day, I decided it was all the fault of the Baby Bjorn, which was Lilah’s preferred method of transportation/nap position.  I pulled out the back carrier, gave away the Bjorn, and figured I had heard the last of old Hump on My Back.  Except that the bump did not go away.  Over the next month, it remained, all the more visible because I never have time to wash my hair, which is perpetually pinned up.  Fine.  I’ll see the doctor.

Don’t worry: I do not have osteoporosis.  I merely have an acute case of Carrying Children Around.  It probably doesn’t help that I contort my body to reach my laptop with one hand while breastfeeding the baby.  How else am I supposed to get any writing done?

I’ve been juggling writing and children for over five years.  I revised my dissertation in Philadelphia when my first child, Zachary, was seven weeks old.  I would put him down for a nap, then rush into my study, where I would pump because everyone told me I had to make him take a bottle so that I would not be tied down.  Then, I’d ferry the milk down to the fridge, race back up to my study, pull out my dissertation director’s list of comments, implement three changes, and then go back in to get the baby who somehow needed to eat once again.

Perhaps I would have gotten more done had the child actually ever taken a bottle.  Instead, he would scream until my breasts appeared.  One memorable conversation with my dissertation director featured me whispering so as not to disturb the nursing infant while I took notes with one hand.  Now, that’s the way to makes a professional impression.

I started writing creative non-fiction in London while my second child, Benjamin, was still taking morning naps.  I’d drop Zach off at preschool, then skedaddle home, all the while hoping Ben would not fall asleep in the stroller and thereby deprive me of 45 minutes to write.

And what was I writing about?

My children were my muse.  I was learning so much about them and me and parenting that everything they said was an inspiration.  The time I spent with my kids was the flip side of my writing time.  Parenting and writing were part of the same creative act, inextricably linked with one another as I developed both my writer’s voice and my maternal identity.

It is two years later, we live in Los Angeles, and I have three children.  Firing off an essay before the children get up in the morning is no longer invigorating.  The days are long enough already, with far too much to fit in.  Every time I try to write, I am torn.  When the youngest two are napping, I could force out half-processed thoughts or I could work with Zachary on his reading.  When the boys are at preschool, I could revise lusterless prose or I could actually focus on their sister.  And sometimes, when I sit down to nurse, I don’t want to look at a laptop screen and type with one hand.  I want to look down at my last baby.

Even if I had the time, what would I write about?  I don’t go anywhere or see anyone, unless the playground and the preschool count.

My children have made my breasts limp, my stomach flabby, and they have given me a hunchback.  They are gorgeous, but their beauty has come at the expense of my own.  I do not begrudge them my youth.  I have passed it along to them willingly.  But, some days their young minds seem to be growing only by draining my own intellect, and that stings.

My lovelies, you may not be sucking all the calcium from my bones, but there are moments it feels as though you are drinking my creativity for breakfast.

14 responses to “Hunchback of West L.A.

  1. “…drinking my creativity for breakfast.”

    Yes. Oh, yes.

    Have you read Jane Lazarre’s The Mother Knot?

  2. She Started It

    Oh my. How you took the words right out of my mouth.

    I was just telling a friend the other day… When I had 1 or 2 kids, I could put them to bed, then find the energy to write until midnight — getting in 4+ hours a day of writing.

    Now with three kids? I pass out on the couch soon after they’re all asleep. It’s not so much the creativity they’ve sucked out of me. It’s the time to record it.

  3. Mine continued to do that in spurts (why, WHY do I use past tense? Optimism?). I only wish they had coordinated the attack… so I’m hoping I’m coming out the other end of a particularly egregious round of creativity destruction and, because I’m totally mad, I’m doing it by joining up with NaNoWriMo… insanity…

  4. Don’t worry. You’ll totally bounce back when they go to school. Sigh. I wish that were true.

  5. That last sentence?

    You took it right out of my brain.

  6. Cheeky Monkey

    I could offer some platitude about how it will get better when they’re older, how you’ll get your muse back. And maybe you will. Probably you will. But that doesn’t so much help how you feel right now, does it?

  7. I spaced mine out by five years- a longer total run of having to deal with small children, but less stressful than little ones bunched together. I *know*- I was born into a family of four with two years between each of us. It gets better, but you’re never really going to have your thoughts entirely to yourself again.

    You’re losing the curve of your neck from being forward for so long. Some gentle backbends to work both your upper and lower back will help greatly. Tell your husband to calm down.

  8. It sounds like you need a couple of days off with massage and a visit to an art gallery or lecture in the subject of your choice.

  9. I hear you. I really, really hear you. In fact, I am sort of hunched over with a sleeping baby on my lap as I type this. There’s only so much time in the day, and no way I can do it all. And when I’m stretched thin, I don’t feel creative or insightful, and the words don’t come easily. It’s the nature of small children, I fear.

  10. I reckon our eyes dim and vision fades as we age as a kindness to the flabby belly and tube sock breasts our children have left behind.

  11. Sometimes I wonder if I have used up all my parenting mojo in these first five years. I feel like the bucket is empty. I’m hoping for a second wind to come any day now.

  12. i feel like i’ve lost a good deal of my social skills since having children: an in-depth & sustained conversation? hard to do when you’re always keeping one ear out for shrieking, an eye out for electrical cord chewing…

  13. Hugs to you…as if you have two arms free.

  14. i realize you are trying to build a career, but i think you also realize that your children are only young NOW, and you have the rest of your life to write. so don’t give it up entirely, certainly, but allow yourself to focus on them more now. your muse will return. (and, if you’re like me, you’ll find that when you DO really focus on them… there’s your muse!)