Writing, with children

“Can I just sit here and watch you when you write?”

“No, honey. You can’t.”

“I’ll be quiet. I won’t say a word. I’ll just sit here.”


“Can I turn out the lights? So I can sit here in the dark? While you write?”

“Isaac: no.”

“I’ll just sit on your lap, okay?”


“And I’ll use this pen…”

* * *

Every so often — less often, these days, now that my kids are school age — I meet someone who hears that I’m a writer and work from home and assumes that I somehow write around the children. Like I just squeeze in space between making yummy snacks and waging Pokémon battles.

Um, no.

There is writing about children. There is writing about parenting. But there is, for me, no writing with actual children present, unless you count dashed-off notes to be used for later, when I have room to breathe and think and dictate. There is no writing with naked five-year-old boys sitting Gollum-like on the floor next to my desk (in the dark). (Or in the light.) There is no writing that happens while I am asked eleventy thousand questions about my writing and have to protect my hoard of Pentel RSVP fine-point black ballpoint pens from those who would repurpose them for weapons.

“The next book you write, Mama, can it be a book for kids?” Rowan asks me about this regularly. And it’s a hard question to answer. I mean, on the one hand, I adore his optimism and his faith that there will be not only this book, but another and another, and that I can write in any damn genre I please. And, who knows? Maybe the muse will strike and I will find myself the proud author of a kidlit or young adult novel. But chances are slim. And, given my current pace, it’s unlikely that either of my children will actually be kids should I manage to pull off that one. Still, it feels a bit mean to say no, over and over, to try to make him understand that that’s simply not what I do. That I love my kids, and love kids’ books, but have no urge to write a book for them — even if it’s no big deal to simply lay out a few thousand words in the right order, right?

“Can I have copies of all your books?” Sure. If and when that novel is ever published, you can have a copy of it, and I will trust that you will skip right over those sex scenes to the parts where the gravely ill mom fights with her teenage daughter. Better you should read that book on life insurance that I ghostwrote, or that parenting book I managed to squeeze out before I had squeezed out any of my own children.

“Can you put our names in your books? Like at the front?” What he means by this is that he wants me to dedicate a book to him. This, I can do. Assuming there are future books, I would be more than happy to dedicate them to him. And his brother. In fact, given my druthers, I will probably dedicate my books to something namby-pamby like “my family” and be done with it, which may not be exactly what he has in mind. I think he wants to see his name in print, and not just a pseudonym.

“Are you writing about me? Are you telling a story about me?” Yes, I am. Often, I am. I hope that’s okay with you. I mean, of course I stick with the adage that I am writing about me every time I write about you, but you’re still there, still playing a role. And for that I thank you.

“Are you famous? Because I told my teacher that you’re a famous writer.” Oh, Rowan: I’m so sorry that I laughed out loud when you asked me this at dinner. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, or — even worse — sully your high hopes for my fame. I certainly didn’t mean to ridicule you, but, honey, no. I am not famous. Not even on the Internet.

(PS: That said, I may be slightly more famous on the Internet than I was on Sunday: check out my HuffPo debut mention here.)