My four-year-old daughter’s voice was a whisper in the dark. I sat quietly on a chair next to her bed, vigil against monsters and other worries.
“Mommy,” she repeated, with some urgency. “I take care of unicorns.”
Of all of my children–indeed, of all children I’ve ever met–she is the one of whom I could believe that to be true. She cares fiercely. When she walks into room, she spots the older person in pain, the lonely child, the uncertain non-English speaker. She goes to that person without hesitation, and offers a blanket, a stuffed animal, a small hand on the shoulder. She also lives a fanciful life. There is no snark in her world. Her room is pink, and so are her sunglasses.
If there are unicorns, I know she will find them, and protect them.
When I tell people I am a writer, as well as a lawyer and mom, they express amazement. “Three kids?” they ask. “How do you find time?” Advice on writing while parenting tends to be dire. You’ll need to squeeze in writing during naptime, or while sitting in the carpool lane. Don’t have more than one child. Motherhood will exact a heavy toll on your creativity and mental energy.
The message is clear that motherhood is a hindrance to a writing career. I cannot deny that the challenges are real. My own days more closely resemble a seesaw than a balance beam. But today, I want to speak not of the burden, but of the gift.
The reality for me is that if I were not a mother, I would not be a writer. My first book grew out of that late night conversation with my daughter. The book I am writing now sprouted from my realization in mother/daughter book club that all girls want to talk about in fourth grade is friendship. It turns out I have a lot of thoughts on friendship and fourth grade, too.
I am inspired by them all the time—the things that frighten them, fascinate them, make them laugh. I eavesdrop shamelessly. I steal their vocabulary and syntax.
In addition to inspiring me, my children give me the will to write. I strive for clarity and honesty because I want to show them a truth about the world. My commitment to my kids keeps me going through the long nights of toiling away. I want to create something worthy of them.
Their presence in my life is also a good salve for the slings and arrows of writing. This is not an easy business, my friends. Knowing that I have these three young ones keeps me grounded, and a snuggle on the couch cures most ills.
I would imagine many of you who write for kids do it for the same reasons. As middle grade writers, our audience is not our peers, but rather, children—our own, or those in our lives, those in the world. And aren’t we lucky?
Kate Hillyer lives, writes, and mothers in Washington, D.C. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen. You can also find her at www.katehillyer.com, on Twitter as @SuperKate, and on her book blog, Kid Book List.