My path to becoming a writer has been a crooked one. My high school teachers encouraged me to pursue the craft, but I worried about the uncertainty of writing as a career. Since I also enjoyed science and biology, I chose instead to study nursing. I was happy working as a nurse. I liked my patients and the medical world. But I hung up my nurse’s cap when I became a stay-home mother.
I remember the first time I elicited disdain for my decision to stay home with my children. I was shopping with my infant daughter, and the young clerk at the checkout counter wondered what kind of job I had that allowed me to shop on a weekday morning. I explained that I stayed home and cared for my baby. She looked me up and down, curled her lip and sneered, “I could never do that. I would be so bored. What do you DO all day?”
I left the store feeling angry. I wasn’t sure what I was more upset about. I was angry that this waif held me in contempt, but I was angrier with myself for even caring what she thought. I was confident in my decision to be a stay-home Mom. I wanted to scream at this girl, “Hey, I’m an RN, and I’ve worked as a surgical nurse. I’ve held the hands of the dying and cradled newborns. Who are you to judge my decision to stay home with my baby?” But a part of me felt the pull to do something more. I tucked away a wistful dream that someday I might write.
When my children were young, family members encouraged me to write. They thought it would be something I could do from home while still caring for the kids. But there never seemed to be any quiet time when I could clear my mind to put words on paper. I can’t compose amidst pandemonium, and that was what life had become. To make matters worse, we lived in Homestead, Florida, in 1992. That August, Hurricane Andrew ripped apart the city. In the span of four hours we lost everything. It took a year to rebuild the house and another to put things back together. Write? Who had time to write?
As the girls got older and started school, my parents became sick. I would drop the kids off for class, then often deal with Mom’s declining health issues. Mom was a blind diabetic with kidney failure. Before getting her transplant she needed dialysis three days a week. The procedure was not always easy for her, and she would often suffer side effects. Mom always felt guilty that she was a burden. I loved her fiercely, though, and never felt that way. I would gladly do anything for her, but my life had become a roller coaster of kids, schedules, and medical issues. Write? When could I possibly do that?
One afternoon I picked up my girls from grade school, and we drove to get my mother from the dialysis center. She was sitting in the chair covered in blood. Her shunt had difficulty closing that day and blood had leaked all over her. My young girls were horrified, but I told them not to worry—Grandma would be fine. As we walked into our house, though, Mom collapsed. Her blood sugar had crashed. Sitting with her on the foyer floor, I sent the girls to get glucose and orange juice. Once recovered, Mom—still covered in blood—sat down to rest while I started dinner. Leaving it to simmer on the stove, I helped my Mom into the bathroom to shower and clean up. I left her for only a moment to check on the dinner, and I heard her collapse again. This time it was her blood pressure that had bottomed out. I immediately made her some salty broth, and we sat on the bathroom floor as she sipped it. The shower was still running, I smelled the dinner burning, the kids came in to inform me that the dog had escaped and was roaming the neighborhood, and the parrots were screaming to be let out of their cages. I sat there looking at Mom and wanted to cry. This was what my life had become—total chaos. Sitting on the bathroom floor, we were literally as low as we could go. There wasn’t enough Calgon in the world to take us away from that. So I started to laugh. And she started to laugh. Laughter is the antidote for tears.
Life was too crazy back then for me to string two coherent sentences together. But I knew that someday, somehow, there would be time to do something different with my life. I would compose all the stories that had swirled in my head for years. But not that day. It would have to wait. I had more important things to do. I had to help Mom, take care of the girls, wash the laundry, clean up the mess, track down the dog, and order a pizza.
I miss my Mom everyday.
I know she’s happy that I’ve found the “write” time.