Kate Heartfield – Juggling Babies & Partners, Partners & Babies

Hey! Once again, we travel to the land of parenting & writing! I really like this one. Kate Heartfield engages with the issue of having a partner and making enough time for him/her, and balancing time, whilst writing and parenting.

Because sometimes, the writing feels as time-intensive and committed as another spouse. Except, unlike my real spouse, my writing is always bossy and surly, and never surprises me with home-made bread or a chocolate bar.

I do believe that next week I may even tackle one of these posts, because these honesty-bombs of goodness are sparking my imagination.

Kate Heartfield is a fiction writer and journalist in Canada. Her stories have appeared recently in Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Lackington’s and Daily Science Fiction. Her website is heartfieldfiction.com.

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Before I had a kid, I probably thought of hours in the day as being interchangeable. An hour is an hour is an hour, and we all get the same number, no matter our life circumstances.

Ha. If only it were that simple.

These days, as a fiction writer pushing 40 with a five-year-old and a demanding day job, I’ve come to think of certain hours as being particularly precious – the hours when I am able to think. The hours between 6 pm and 9 pm, for example, when I’m no longer needed (much) by my day job, but my brain is not too tired to write. Or on the weekend.

All of those hours default to parenting time, not to writing time.

If I want to use them to write, I need to get someone else to be with the kid; usually it means asking my spouse to be the solo caregiver. He’s very accustomed to doing that, but it’s a favour to me, because solo caregiving is more exhausting than co-caregiving, and it pushes other activities (such as some chores) into the hours when the kid is asleep and we should be too. So I think of spousal goodwill as a kind of currency I can spend to gain a few precious hours of writing time when I’m not bone-tired. Although I am blessed with a supportive spouse who’s also a hard-working and very present parent, that goodwill is not, and shouldn’t be, limitless.

I do get some things done while my son is awake, especially now that he’s getting a little older. For example, I’m writing this post with my left thumb (I’m right-handed) on my phone, because my right arm is currently under my five year old for our evening cuddle while he watches TV. Blog posts, social media — all of that can happen while the kid’s awake. Even note-taking. I used to write short-story notes one-handed while I nursed.

But sustained creative work, drafting or revising, usually happens when the kid is asleep. That means it happens early in the morning or late at night, and neither is my brain’s optimum time. As I get older, I find I am just physically unable to spend a day at the computer at work, a few hours parenting, and then fire up the laptop to write at 10 p.m. I’m trying to become an early-morning writer but it not does not come easily to me, to put it mildly.

So those shining hours of alone time during the good-brain hours become precious indeed. Those moments when my tired spouse looks up at me over the field of Lego on a Saturday morning and says, “Why don’t you take your laptop to the coffee shop for an hour? We’re ok here.”

This is where my time management, as a writer, intersects with managing the relationships with the people in my life. When I respond with an eager “thanks!” to that offer of an hour to write, I make a mental note to extend a similar offer later so he can play guitar or read, while the kid gets his time one-on-one with Mama.

There has to be give and take. Both my spouse and I are introverts, so we both need plenty of time alone for our mental health.

We don’t keep score, or a schedule, or anything like that. But I try to be mindful of how much alone time I’ve taken for myself in any given week, and offer roughly the same amount to him.  For example, if I have a critique session on a Monday evening, I’ll ask if he wants time to see a movie or go to a concert on the following Thursday evening. Or if he just seems particularly tired or stressed, I’ll take the boy to the museum for a Saturday afternoon. Eventually the time-debt, or spousal karma or whatever you want to call it, evens out.

The need to not get myself into too much spousal time-debt means that I really can’t afford to use those golden hours on evenings or weekends for anything other than writing or writing-related events.

I almost never take time for myself to, say, go see a grown-up movie in the theatre. The cost of those three hours, during kid-awake time, is too much. I’ll save that movie for less valuable time. I might watch it on my iPad in bed a few months later, using my exhausted hours, when I’m too tired (or sick) to write.

This is why a few conventions, critique sessions and readings are pretty much the only social events on my calendar these days — they happen during those valuable evening and weekend hours. But they’re important to my craft and career, so I don’t mind spending some spousal goodwill on them.

I’ll go to the movies – once the kid’s a teenager.