How do mothers of small children write bestselling novels and build empires?
For me, working from home with a baby resulted in her spending a few hours ignoring her toys and rifling through the wastepaper bin while I retrieved passwords, paid bills and glanced nervously at the clock, seeing the three o’clock school run race ever nearer. I’d blow bubbles at her from my desk as I attempted to send one email in three hours. If she took a nap I’d find myself going into a The Baby Is Asleep And The House Is Silent spasm, where I couldn’t quite focus on one task, so just ate toast instead.
When the weekdays didn’t work out and I found myself hiding in the study office at weekends, it would only take the thrust of a fish finger sandwich through a gap in the door from a tiny hand for me to be overwhelmed with guilt. Nevermind, I still had Sunday morning when my brain would start to frantically finish off every thought it started during week, knowing it had run out of time and that Monday was nearly upon us.
But things are getting easier now that BUB.3 is three and at nursery and a childminder for some of the week. My 2017 New Year resolution list says everything about this fragmented new phase: ‘Write more. Read more. Sort out the sock drawer.’
I still struggle with wanting to do more. At 9pm my evening begins. Usually by 9.05pm I’m thinking about calling it a night. I do enjoy the occasional four-hour writing binge at my desk before I look up from my keyboard to see that it’s already tomorrow again. Other times I find myself perusing the Farrow & Ball paint chart, wondering which colour would help me write. If I get through that barrier, the world’s my oyster. When I’m up up late, I sometimes become momentarily over excited and think “Christ, I might as well stay up all night now.”
I know I’m not the only one. Late night text messages from friends who were bone-tired at the morning school run but who are still not giving up on the day just yet. It might be that they are trying to get ahead of tomorrow by packing school bags. They might be reading with a gin and tonic in bed. Or they might be trying to realise a dream that has been buried all day under a pile of dirty clothes, baked beans and tear-stained children.
Whenever I’m up late, maybe enjoying a glass or two of Prosecco and a sense of there being no school run tomorrow (the Prosecco having numbed the truth), the poem ‘First Fig’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay runs through my head. “My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— It gives a lovely light!”