If I’m to tell you the story of me as a mother, then I need to start at the very beginning. I need to start on a warm, muggy night in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where a song came on the radio that drew “I love you,” from a good man’s mouth and poured it like honey into my ear. That’s the night my daughters were born, in every sense of the word. Because that was the night they became possible.
If I’m going to tell you the story of me as a writer, then I need to start in the middle. I need to start on a cold afternoon in February, when my girls-all but six weeks old-pulled me from my dead end job with their tears. A daycare worker held them as they squirmed, and when I got into my car almost fifty feet away, I could still feel the vibration of their screams over the motor. The next day, I quit my job. The next day is the day I was born, in every sense of the word. Because that was the day I became possible.
When I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with twins, I was not scared. I had waited my whole life to be a mother. The press of a baby against my chest was a weight I had always dreamed of. But money was tight. Money was nonexistent. So, I had to stay working, to keep my job, the only job in the house with health benefits. But dropping my kids off at daycare was harder than I had anticipated. Their cries ate away at the center of me, even though they were well cared for and in the hands of loving and capable women, they were not my hands. I sat at my desk and cried, every single day.
Then, something happened. It was as if the world cracked open like ice splitting over a lake, and everything that had been cold and dead just floated away with the tide. I don’t know what made me do it, but I rose from my desk, walked into my boss’s office, and I quit. I was going to stay home with my children, I announced. I had no back up plan to replace my income. I figured I could work at a local grocery store at night while my husband, who worked nine-hour days as a carpenter, watched the girls. I figured I could decorate cakes like I did in college, or work the register if I had to. Either way, something told me that I had to leave. I had to be a stay at home mom, the kind of mom I had, the kind of mom she had, the kind of mom I thought I wanted to be.
Here’s what is true: staying home with your children is amazing. Watching them wake up in the morning, dressing them, feeding them, spreading a quilt on the floor and flopping them on their bellies for endless tummy time, is invaluable. I learned so much about my girls from being with them in those early morning hours, into the late afternoons, and finally the magical bedtime. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Here’s what they don’t tell you: being a stay at home mom is the most boring job in the world. I can’t bake, I’m a pretty terrible cook, and cleaning is fun for about ten minutes, but I doubt I could do it all day. Oh, and if I have to watch one more episode of Max and Ruby, I may drive off of a bridge. So while my girls were thriving, I was dying inside. I didn’t know it yet, but the writer in me was withering, and if I was ever going to meet her, I had to do something drastic.
“I’m going to get my MFA,” I announced without hesitation one night at the dinner table. The girls were in dual highchairs sucking on something mushy and orange. My husband, covered in sheetrock dust and exhausted from a hard day’s work simply said, “okay.” I had always been a writer. I started when I was twelve and have volumes of journals filled with poems-cover to cover. But writing was always a hobby, it was something I did for fun. I never dreamed I could do it “for real.” Still, I walked into our local university in January, 2009, and never looked back. I attended a low-residency program which was perfect for my schedule, wrote and did schoolwork at night after the girls went to bed, and finally filled my days with something more than diapers and Sesame Street.
This dual existence wasn’t always easy. When, two years later, I was offered a graduate assistantship in the creative writing program at my school, I had to put the girls back into daycare part-time. They were a little older, but it was still hard. One of them cried, hard. I heard her sobs in the parking lot. Still, I got into my car and left. I kept coming, kept going, kept moving closer to my dream. The girls adjusted, they eventually thrived, and so did I. I finally felt fulfilled, not restless, not wanting for more or other, just content. I finally felt like the mom I was meant to be.
If I’m going to tell you the story of us-of my daughters and me, then I need to start at the end. A published book, five years of unattended PTA meetings, forgotten lunches, and missed milestones. Last week, the memoir I have been writing since they were three years old was finally published. Last week, the story I have been dreaming since that night in Wilkes-Barre with that man and that song, was finally told.
I am a writing mother, a woman who lives two lives: one with my family, and the constant narrative running through my head. My children have never enjoyed all of me, but no one has. Still I hope that in the end, they will be grateful for the part of me they do own. For that, is the biggest, warmest, and most honest part. What they have from me is not in a book or on a page, it’s in every breath, in every smile, in every touch of my hand: my eternal, undying gratitude. Because without my daughters, there would be no story, no writing life, no book. They are the mother of it all.
Our columnist Amye Archer has an MFA in Creative Writing. Her debut memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, was published by Big Table Publishing in January 2016. Amye is the author of two poetry collections: Bangs and A Shotgun Life, and is the creator of The Fat Girl Blog. Amye lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Tim, and their twin daughters, Samantha and Penelope. Follow her at @amyearcher.