Monday, 21 June 2010

Being a mum...and a writer - Savita Kalhan

Being a mum...and a writer - Savita Kalhan

June 14th to June 18th

As a mum, my working day is defined by the school run, after-school activities, and other general motherly duties. Drop off is at eight-ish, then it’s straight to the gym, as it’s on the way home so there’s no excuse, and then to work at my laptop in whichever room I feel like working in (usually one of the two overlooking the woods). It has been that way for a long time, almost a decade. The school day shapes my daily routines and working habits, just as it used to when I was a kid.

But what happens when you’re not required to be a mother for a week? A whole week! This is a real first for me. I’m sure it will be the first of many such weeks, but at the moment it is a novelty. This week, the Geography teachers are taking over. They’re in charge of 70 very excited kids, who, my son reliably informs me, have every intention of having a blast, whilst, of course, doing a rigorous study on coastal defences, another study on rivers and erosion, after the storming of Rochester Castle en route. I’m pretty sure there will be lots of stories that will be told at the end of this trip, and I’m hoping I’ll get to hear at least a few of them, or at least the ones deemed suitable for parents!

My first thought is – freedom. I can work for as long as I like. I can even stay in my pyjamas all day if I want. There is no pressure to be anywhere at 8 o’clock in the morning; there are no time limits, no constraints, no turning the computer off at 3.30 sharp and rushing to school. I usually aim to write a thousand words a day. Some days it’s double, triple that. On bad days it’s barely half. I wonder what will happen this week. Will all the extra time allow me to write more? Or will the lack of structure in my day mean that I lose my self-discipline?

It’s only the first day and already my routine has gone out of the window. The gym is now a special trip out. I still intend to go, but at some point when the flow of writing reaches a natural halt, or that’s what I tell myself. Suddenly there seem to be hundreds chores and errands that need to be done while I have this extra time on my hands. My mother-in-law phones: Selfridges sale starts today, and isn’t it only sensible to shop when everything is reduced to half of its original price? And there is no school run to rush back for.

So I have a lovely day at Selfridges – although I’m not hurrying back there on the first day of its sale again unless I’ve sharpened my elbows or prepared myself for serious battle first. After witnessing a few skirmishes, my mother-in-law and I take refuge in a coffee shop. So Monday comes and goes without a word being written.

I decide not to bother with a word count this week. Why should I? I still have four days. My novel is more than two-thirds of the way through, and zipping along nicely. I have time to write thousands and thousands of words should I wish to do so.
But it doesn’t work like that, does it?

On Tuesday I have promised my mother that I will take her to a doctor’s appointment. So after a brief trip to the gym, a quick check of emails, a glance at the chapter I am working on, I dash off. I promise myself I’ll work in the evening, only to remember a tennis doubles match that I’m playing in. So that’s it for that day.

On Wednesday I discover the fierce urgency of (long deferred) gardening, and I spend the day weeding, digging, and planting vegetables. I begin to get a guilty, nagging feeling....

Is there life after school for me, I wonder, or does the school day work so well for me that without it I am like a lone boat adrift on a calm sea? There are oars, there’s a rudder, there’s even a motor. But will I switch it on? Do I need to? The endless stretch of time and space is inviting, reassuringly tranquil, and although the first few days are odd, I’m enjoying it now. Boredom will creep in eventually, I am sure.

By Thursday, I’m determined to come to grips with a new, school-free, routine, and I decide to go back to doing my word counts. Of course, it’s not really about the word count. For me, as a writer, a little bit of discipline is essential. Usually, I really enjoy being immersed in my story so it rarely feels like a chore, or even like work. I quite like being the lone boat adrift at sea – but only in the hours between the school run. I’m breaking out of the mould I’ve created for myself, and by Friday I’ve realised that there is life after school and finally manage a productive day, working a double shift to make up for lost time.
The school coaches return well before kick-off time - no one wants to miss England! We have time for a lovely dinner and great catch-up, the stories of various antics and midnight feasts begin to trickle out. There is laughter and much hugging, and then the match begins - no comment needed.

But now it’s Monday again and that week is over, and for now, it’s back to normal, back to running the gauntlet of the school run, back to a proper working day. I breathe a sigh of relief.

The Long Weekend – Savita Kalhan


Anonymous said...

Routine is great. We just don't realise we need it. You need a long time to get used to any other arrangement of your time before it works well.

Katherine Langrish said...

Made me laugh, Savita! How well I recognise this.

Gillian Philip said...

Ha ha, Savita! I know exactly this feeling. I spent 12 years as an aimless expat NOT writing. It was only when I came home and had twins I discovered I had time to write between nappy changes. I swear at the school day, but secretly I think I love and need it... :-)

Nicola Morgan said...

Very interesting, Savita, and I think you've just nailed why I'm so useless these days - both mine have left home. I love my "freedom" and hadn't thought I wanted the school routine back (I don't, really) but your portrayal of your week has really shaken me up and made me realise, as i say, why I'm so useless at getting butt on seat these days. I frivel hours away. But, I should be able to conquer this, sholdn't I? After all, i have free-will...

Penny Dolan said...

Your post stirred some awkward thoughts, Savita! Children grown & gone, so structured productive days should be easy, but so often they aren't. And if there's one thing writing takes, it's TIME! (And if you, Nicola, are "frittering", heaven help the rest of us.)

Miriam Halahmy said...

Ha! Remember when I said I wasn't writing and couldn't understand why until I happened to mention the better half was at home for two weeks between contracts. There you are, you so wisely pointed out. As soon as he went back to work, the book restarted like a fired up engine. Great post Savita.

Leslie Wilson said...

It is a marvellous post, pointing up the paradox of 'the less time you have, the more productive you are.' I keep feeling I produced so much more when I was a Mum with 2 kids at home. And I seem to spend more time at my desk nowadays, too. So where the time goes is nobody;s business. Even if you sometimes find you're dropping with tiredness, try to enjoy these busy, productive days!!!

Savita Kalhan said...

And I thought it was just me! Nice to know I'm in good company. You'll be glad to hear that I'm packing in the work in between the hours of the school day, and fretting about how much more there is to do, and how will I ever get time to sort out all the other zillion things that need doing!
I think it all comes with the job description, but I'm not complaining.

Linda Strachan said...

Yes I too find that it is so much more difficult to keep myself writing now there is (supposed to be) more time, but there seems to be less time than when I had to squeeze it in between having three children to feed and run about after, the dog to walk and running the office side of our business, too.

No idea why it is, but I often do more writing just before I have to rush out for an appointment, than I have done all day!