On Navigating the Divide Between the 24/7 Mother and the 25th Hour Writer
Eighteen years ago, when I had six children ages 12 and under, I often longed for the 25th hour, that little sliver of time that was mine and mine alone. I wanted to leave the world of dirty diapers, dirty dishes, and dirty laundry, and escape to my writing nook where a piece of dazzlingly clean white paper beckoned, crying out for thoughts too long trapped by the demands of everyday life. Like a vast empty prairie at the end of winter lies dormant waiting for spring flowers to bloom, the vast empty page lay dormant waiting for new thoughts to blossom.
In Nebraska there is something called the “Divide” – the high prairie land where author Willa Cather lived as a child. Geographically speaking, it is a high tableland that identifies the separation between two watersheds: water to the south flows to the Republican River, while water to the north flows into the Little Blue River. In my life as a young mother, I recognized the distinct divide in my life, the two watersheds where love and words flowed freely; the two opposite landscapes of the 24/7 life of a busy full-time mother and the 25th hour of a hurried and harried mother trying to write.
As an early morning writer, I acknowledged and owned the 25th hour. I mustered the determination to wake up early and spend time in the creative landscape of my life. On this side, the “north of now”* landscape that I visited whenever possible during that busy season of my life, my creative energy flowed into putting pen to paper, to catching wayward words, that like the flimsy seeds of the prairie cottonwood tree, float through the air and are hard to capture and pin down. The creative river ran deep, the ebb and flow of words sometimes cascading down the page, and sometimes coming slowly, plop, plop, like stones dropped in the river.
I wrote because I wanted to record the growth and development of my children much as many of us record the height of our children on a wall in our homes as they inch higher and higher to adulthood. I wrote because I wanted to remember the funny things they said and the adorable things they did. I wrote because the joys and sorrows of day to day living called out to be remembered. I wrote because I wanted to discover who I was as a writer and a mother. I wrote because the 25th hour was mine, minutes to record moments, time to tally where I was and where I was going.
On the mothering side of the divide, where I spent most of my time years ago, my parental energy flowed into catching wayward toddlers and teenagers and attempting to raise happy well-behaved children who would grow into well-adjusted adults. My right hand rocked the cradle and wrote the long grocery lists and the never-ending to-do lists. The parental river ran deep with the ebb and flow of a new baby every two years. The fast-paced current brought about by the day-to-day demands of six children carried us rapidly into the future we envisioned and attempted to make for our children.
In her book My Antonia, Willa Cather wrote, “There was nothing but land; not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.” Paraphrasing her, on the mothering side of the landscape of my life, there was nothing but the open-ended days of my children’s childhood; not adulthood for any of them yet, but the days and hours and the moments out of which adults are made. On the other side of the divide, there was nothing but infrequent scribbles on blank paper; not a poem or a book at all, but the material out of which poems and books are made.
My mother first introduced me to the writings of Willa Cather but she herself met the author personally and always treasured the book Cather had signed for her after one of her speaking engagements. Perhaps that is why years ago my mother sent me the children’s book by Michael Bedard entitled The Divide that tells the story of Willa Cather’s childhood on the high tableland in 1883. But when I opened the lovely book illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, I knew my mother must have asked the talented artist to write a special message for me. Inside the front cover McCully had beautifully written in a combination of cursive and print the following words of encouragement, “For Lori, early morning writer! Keep going and good luck.”
And so I kept going. I kept carving out and owning the 25th hour. I kept entering that sacred time, that realm of peace and quiet and let the words and the love of writing flow. I entered the world of clean white pages, of blank paper to be filled with words, with thoughts, with dreams and desires. Unlike others who don’t feel compelled to write, the blank page didn’t scare me. It cried out for words. It gently beckoned me to capture my flimsy cottonwood-seed thoughts and to write my story for I finally realized that as mothers we live the story as we live our days.
On both sides of the divide, love and words flowed freely and the currents ran deep. The 25th hour, though only a small sliver of quiet, gave me time to write and to reflect and to see that the two landscapes of my life merged and the rivers intertwined. The busy days of the hurried and harried mother are the material out of which poems and books are made, out of which the book of life is written. When that epiphany emerged from the currents of my life, it was a watershed moment.
*Reference to North of Now: A Celebration of Country and the Soon to Be Gone by W.D. Wetherell
Columnist Lori Drake is the mother of six grown children and the founder and former Headmistress of Roseleaf Academy, the only girls’ school in eastern North Carolina. Her writing has appeared in Mothers Always Write, San Diego Woman, Daily Nebraskan, Gaithersburg Gazette in Maryland, and the Daily Reflector and the Farmville Enterprise in North Carolina. The recipient of three Honorable Mentions in the Writer’s Digest National Competition, Lori is currently writing a book about her innovative school.