With my working-class background, I fully intended to return to my retail job after my child was born. It was all I could imagine...
I am at the bar, working on a piece about kids’ books, while my wife stays home to mind the baby.
The lady next to me strikes up a conversation about this and that, and for a few minutes I chat happily. As the parent-who-works-from-home in our family, it can be a bit of a thrill to talk to other grown-ups in person. Then she notices that I’m still casually clutching a copy of Guess How Much I Love You?
She smirks. “Uh, so, whatcha reading there?”
“Oh!” I look down at the book in my hand and shake my head, “It’s for an essay I’m working on. I’m a writer. I write a lot about parenting.”
That word — “writer” — feels strange on my tongue. It’s almost like I didn’t expect to say it at all. For a second I question myself. Am I a writer? The last time I used that word about myself, I was probably a senior in high school, writing terrible short fiction about misunderstood 17-year-old girls.
Maybe I would write a book one day, but in the meantime, I had paintings to paint, and day jobs to hold down.
I wrote my first story in 1st grade. It was a project that was intended to be about spelling short words, sort of “Dick and Jane” style.
In my story, a young girl named Jane lived in a hut with her cat. She was considering getting a pup, but was concerned that they might not get along. The story ended happily: Jane got the pup, despite her misgivings, and the cat and the pup became best friends and they all lived in the hut together. (Coincidentally, I was also on a campaign at home to convince my mother that we needed a dog, immediately!)
I loved writing all throughout elementary, middle, and high school, but like the story of Jane in her hut, most of my stories were thinly-veiled autobiographical stories or wishful thinking.
It would be years before I heard of personal essays, and by then I was firmly identifying as a painter — any dreams I had of writing were put on hold. Maybe I would write a book one day, but in the meantime, I had paintings to paint, and day jobs to hold down. I worked in retail and split my free time between painting and going out to see local bands.
Pregnancy did a number on me. I had expected to keep going, keep on doing all of the things that I loved — but instead, I became stagnant. I was too sick to do much of anything at all, in fact; I spent most of my days in bed, wishing I could continue the creative work that meant so much to me and feeling disconnected from everything.
Our lease was coming to an end, and when we applied for an apartment, we were rejected: With only my wife’s income, we made about a hundred bucks less than their required income minimum.
Someone suggested that I write about my experiences, so I started a blog. Even that was difficult to manage during the pregnancy, but having a place to write out my thoughts helped me a lot, and sharing it with others became deeply important to me.
Even so, with my working-class background, I fully intended to return to my retail job after my child was born. It was all I could imagine — my family couldn’t afford to live off a single service-industry income. I set a date for my return to work (selling dog food, of all things) at a local store.
I had no idea how much bad luck was about to come my way.
After an infection in my C-section incision, and emergency gallbladder removal surgery, I could barely lift my 11-pound son safely, let alone the 40-pound bags of dog food I was accustomed to fetching for customers.
My boss generously agreed to hold my position for another couple of months, but then her husband lost his job and she couldn’t afford to bring me back on. Our lease was coming to an end, and when we applied for an apartment, we were rejected: With only my wife’s income, we made about a hundred bucks less than their required income minimum.
What does it take to make you reevaluate your life choices and question your assumptions? What gives people the strength to go after a creative life? Years and years ago, when I was single and identifying as a capital-p Painter, I thought that I would have a baby once I sold enough paintings to buy the required sperm.
I dug deep to try to find what skills I had that might be convertible into income — any income — but also compatible with the truly ridiculous circumstances foisted upon me by new motherhood.
But my life didn’t work out that way, and years of being broke had taught me that you need a steady income stream just to feed yourself and your cats, let alone a child.
What gave me the strength and courage to break out of the cycle of hating my day job and loving my unpaid work? Well, it wasn’t really about strength or courage at all. It was about desperation and necessity — I had to do something.
But what could I do when I wasn’t well enough to do physically-demanding work? When we couldn’t afford childcare? When breastfeeding kept me tied to my kid with no hope of getting away for more than a couple hours at a time?
I dug deep to try to find what skills I had that might be convertible into income — any income — but also compatible with the truly ridiculous circumstances foisted upon me by new motherhood. I didn’t think I’d find anything, but I did.
It turned out to be writing.
And that’s how I ended up sitting on peeling hardwood floor of our temporary room at our local anarchist collective, surrounded by all three of my cats, working on a borrowed laptop.
Having my son pushed me entirely off my course, and then bumped me onto a different one, which not only changed my sense of myself, but also the physical way that I’m able to provide for my own (and his) needs.
Thanks to pure luck and a friend who was much more serious a blogger than I was, I had a lead for my first regular writing gig. I completed my first edit test late at night while my wife minded our 4-month-old baby, who was currently in the midst of a major sleep regression. I typed furiously to the sounds of her shushing and singing, but I got it in on time.
Many parents say things like, “My children made me the person who I am today,” or “Having kids completely changed me.” But in my case, the change was more than just an emotional one: Having my son pushed me entirely off my course, and then bumped me onto a different one, which not only changed my sense of myself, but also the physical way that I’m able to provide for my own (and his) needs.
Simply put, without him, and without the completely hellish and life-altering work that it took to get him here, I never would have become a writer. I would have continued to dabble here and there, but I wouldn’t have had the guts to leave steady employment for the murky world of writing for a living.
But these days, when people ask me, “Oh, what do you do?” I like to answer, “I write for the Internet!”
And it’s all thanks to my kid.