Four years ago I entered the MFA program at Virginia Tech. I had spent most of the previous sixteen years raising five children and managing a fairly high-octane domestic environment which included music lessons (jazz and classical piano, violin, drums, marimba, trumpet, bass, and cello), sports activities (baseball, softball, football, basketball, soccer, swimming lessons, and karate), dance and related items (ballet, jazz, hip-hop, gymnastics, belly dancing, Afro-centric movement, and acting in two local theater companies), a number of years home schooling various members of the brood, and putting a home-cooked dinner on the table at 6:30 five or six nights a week, a dinner that often included bread I had baked from wheat I had milled that day. Is this the only way to raise a healthy family? No way. It’s merely the way I chose to do it.
But then I needed something else. Seriously. I needed to write. I have always been a reader and had done some writing through the years but not bothered to, been able to, figured out how to set aside real time for myself and the writing that was starting to push out.
And so I entered an MFA program in the fall of 2008 and stopped cooking. I also stopped doing the laundry, dropped out of the PTA, ceased all volunteer activities, no longer organized Christmas and birthday gifts weeks or months in advance, did not decorate the house at the holidays, and stopped cooking baked goods for team fundraisers. Granted, I no longer had young ones at home but the year I entered the MFA program I still had one child in middle school and three in high school.
One holiday season, after a half-baked attempt at putting up outside lights and no tree until the day before Christmas, the youngest dubbed our home “the little house that almost could.”
The sudden shift was a shock for my family and incomprehensible to some of my friends. I had been an at-home mom for many years and now I was barely home. I needed to work and write out of the house. I did not want the dirty dishes talking to me while I was reading nor the laundry pile calling out to be separated while I was writing. The emergency number on my children’s school files became my partner’s cell phone. I no longer knew the name of all of my children’s teachers. The first year, my spouse and I “split” the kids when it came to teacher and class awareness. After that, the kids pretty much took care of tracking their own deadlines and paperwork. They also did their own laundry and I no longer checked their bedrooms on Saturday mornings to make sure nothing untoward was growing in a dark corner. Indeed the general level of cleanliness in the house plummeted. I was never a very good housekeeper. But I’ll be honest, I haven’t scrubbed out a tub in four years. And I haven’t mopped the kitchen floor in that time window either. Is this the only way to enter the writing world? No way. But it’s the way I had to do it. I had been completely immersed in a world of domestic tasks and I needed an almost complete break, not from the kids, not from my partner, but from the “To Do” list in order to make a change in myself and to make room for writing.
What happened? Well, I lost some old friends, but gained some new ones. I wrote poetry. I read poetry. My children got older. I currently run a publishing company and a literary magazine. My partner and I weathered some growing pains but we continue to party on.
I’m back to cooking some. After all, I actually like to cook. And when I do make dinner or when my partner does or when one of the children does, we sit down at the table and talk about the books we are reading and the music we are listening to and what is the strangest thing we saw on the internet that day. And in the morning we dig around in our respective laundry piles hoping for a pair of clean underwear.
K.M.A Sullivan‘s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Forklift, Ohio, Anti-, Gertrude, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, H_NGM_N, diode, and elsewhere. She has been awarded residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in creative non-fiction and from Vermont Studio Center in poetry. She is the editor of Vinyl Poetry and the owner/publisher of YesYes Books.