Mothers and the “Books” They Write

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My daughter Sarah wrote this on Valentine’s Day for her children, but I think that it’s even more appropriate for Mother’s Day.

“I love you more than words” may seem like a copout phrase for skipping conversation, but for this mommy, it’s quite literally true.

You see, I love words. I love to read them, and I love to write them. It wasn’t love at first grade, but after the discovery of Nancy Drew and the advent of spell check, I was hooked. I decided to be an English major in sixth grade, and made good on my decision at college. The form and purpose of my pursuit changed from time to time—morphing from dreams of writing the great American novel to a passion for field journalism on the persecuted church to the aspiration to follow in my mother’s footsteps in crafting Sunday school curriculum—but the means of all these dreams stayed the same: written language. I could perform with academic excellence in a number of subjects, but writing was where I really lived. And then, I had children.

Most days I don’t look like a college graduate, let alone one who majored in English. The vocab around our house during toddler hours consists mainly of three words: David, no, and wait. If a phrase happens to pop into the scene (usually “come here”), it generally gets repeated in different vocal pitches and tones three or four times. Not exactly the picture of eloquence.

When I was pregnant with Elizabeth and suffering from migraines, I was sent to a neurologist. While she examined me and ran her tests, she asked about my education and work experience. I told her I was an English major and a former editor, a blogger and would-be writer. After her medical diagnosis was over, she began to talk about what they could do post-pregnancy to help with the eye strain so I could spend more time at the computer. When I told her I wouldn’t be returning to the office, she wasn’t happy. “You must not lose yourself,” she told me adamantly, again and again. I should pursue my career and be fulfilled. I shouldn’t let myself go.

There are moments when this wordless existence threatens to suffocate me, when I can’t sleep for all the unwritten words that are whirling around in my mind (though I don’t have the energy to type). Those times when I must type or bust, my husband will take the kids and send me away for some precious hour or two. Then the cloudburst comes, the words get out, all is once again well in the world, and we go back to the unrelenting routine of mommyhood for two or three more months. And that’s okay.

I have two little books I’m writing now, and they take all my attention and more knowledge and wisdom than I have. Each day we’re forming memoirs, learning words, remembering God’s promises, and uncovering new plots and adventures. They are noisy, unpredictable, laughable, lovable, and sometimes downright irritating protagonists to work with, but they are living and growing, and I’m growing with them. They may never be great or famous, but they are mine for just these few years, and how I help them with the first chapters of their lives impacts how they will direct the plot and finish their last chapters. It is the most urgent and important work I have, and it must not be pushed aside.

The truth is that, while I’ve lost my mind, I haven’t really lost myself. I’m finding out more about myself than I knew before—even a good deal I wouldn’t care to know—and it’s making me a better writer. Even as ideas wait in my head for that moment to be typed, they’re growing and maturing and taking on life and humor as I watch them lived out in that more extraordinary miracle we call normal life. Sometimes it is said we write to know, or we write until we know. I am just being forced to wait to write until I know. Surely that can’t be all bad.

In our house, Matt built a special room to house my twenty boxes of books I moved into our home after our wedding. It has been my library, my refuge, brimming with tea cups, breakables, and books. We never baby-proofed it, because it was mommy’s room. Alas, no more. The time has come to make it a bedroom for Elizabeth as we shuffle round the house to make space for people. Even though I don’t get to sit within its quiet walls and bask in the afternoon sun more than once a month, I’m mourning the loss of the library. I probably won’t have a “library” to call my own again at least twenty years. But then, words aren’t meant to be hoarded, but shared. And who would I rather share all those books with than my own little girl?

Elizabeth can’t read yet, but someday she will. Maybe when she is grown, I will write all those books that are forming in my mind. Until then, we’ll play blocks and jumping on the bed and even peek-a-boo, and I won’t regret one minute of the time I spend away from the computer. Not because life is perfect or easy, but because I’ve found something—someone—I love more than words.

(Excerpt copyright © 2014 by Sarah House.)

(Photo courtesy of Imagery Majestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Written by Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson is a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and author. She has taught Sunday School for over 20 years and writes God-centered curriculum for Children Desiring God.

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