The end of my life as I knew it began with a craving for McDonald’s French fries. I was at home with my nine-month-old daughter, watching with rapt fascination as she worked her way around the living room by holding on to various pieces of furniture. Clearly I needed to get out more if this was the highlight of my day. Nevertheless …
She had a gleam in her eye, as if she realized, “Wow, I’m upright and mobile!” Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed she was already eyeing the front door, weighing her chances at escape. As I clapped my encouragement and then held her tiny, dimpled hands, helping her stay steady on her feet, I suddenly had an overwhelming thought: Must have French fries. It was ten in the morning. I don’t eat French fries at ten in the morning. I hardly even eat French fries at all, maybe twice a year. The only time I had ever really craved McDonald’s French fries in particular was when I had been pregnant with my daughter. Oh, no. Oh, no. That couldn’t happen, could it?
As I buckled my daughter into her car seat, I decided that as soon as I had my French fries, we might (just for fun) stop at the drugstore and I might (just for fun) pick up a home pregnancy test. Then I wouldn’t have to think crazy, bad thoughts all day long.
It’s not that we didn’t want to have another child. We did—just not right at that moment. Maybe in two, or twenty years. Certainly not while the first one was still a baby. I was just starting to get this mothering thing down. Maybe some women just aren’t cut out to be mothers. Maybe I was one of them. I could muddle through with one, but two …
Well, the salty McDonald’s French fry test turned out to be as accurate a predictor as the $10.99 Long’s Drugstore home pregnancy test. On my now daily visits to the drive-through window, I contemplated what it would mean to have two babies. I had just started back teaching fitness classes a couple of times a week at the country club where I had been the fitness manager before my daughter was born. I had hoped to slide back into my old position, but that seemed unlikely now. I was too tired, and that type of work barely paid enough to cover a babysitter. I’d have to think of a way to work at home—something that would keep my brain cells from deteriorating completely. My husband had just bought one of the first Apple computers, and I thought, I know —I’ll become a writer! It would be perfect. With both pregnancies, I seemed to be brimming with an unbridled creative energy that had nowhere to go. I suddenly thought with great fondness of the two years I had been editor of the Golden Trident, my high school newspaper. At one time, hadn’t it been my secret desire to be a writer? Now I was stuck at home, and I had a lot to say about stuff. A hell of a lot. Like this motherhood gig—no one had really told the truth about it yet. Sure, there were all those glossy baby books with their pretty pastel drawings of plump, smiling infants and beatific mothers with all their sensible hints and glib suggestions. Nowhere did I see a picture of a red-faced squalling little monkey who just pooped right onto your Nordstrom loafer as you were carrying her naked and kicking into her bath. Nowhere did I see a drawing of a new mother, two months after her child’s birth, still in her maternity pants and one of her husband’s ratty 10K t-shirts, trying to eat a plate of ribs and drink a beer while rocking her baby’s bouncy chair with her un-pedicured foot.
Oh, yeah. I had a lot to say. So I sat myself down at the new computer and during the kids’ naps for the next two years, I wrote essays and sent them out to magazines and newspapers. In a burst of self-improvement I joined a writers’ group and read all the books I could on the craft of writing. I was like a woman possessed. My husband didn’t say much—he probably figured it was a weird hormonal stage. All my life I had lived intensely in the parallel worlds of whatever books I was reading. I had always surrounded myself with books and I had always thought in stories. It had just never dawned on me that I had the right, indeed the necessity, to put my own stories down on paper.
It took me two years to get published. By then my son had arrived and was now working his way around the furniture. But one New Year’s Day I woke up and opened the Los Angeles Times, and there was one of my essays. Right there on the front page of the View section. It was only six in the morning—my morning to get up with our son—so I didn’t have anyone to share the good news with except him, and all he did was burp up some formula onto my lap. I showed my husband when he woke up, but he too only seemed mildly impressed. I waited all day for the phone to ring. Surely all my friends had read my brilliant prose, and would call to offer me their congratulations and encouragement.
Not a word. And thus I learned a lesson about dreams and our little successes as we go after those dreams. They are your dreams. They are what make you happy. Like the rewards of motherhood itself, the rewards of my writing were intrinsically meaningful and satisfactory to me, and me alone. The two, motherhood and writing, woven so very closely together, became my entire life.