My daughter started school in August, and I’m gradually getting to meet the parents of the kids in her class. It’s a slower process this third time round, but I’m finding that they’re a lovely bunch of mainly mums, plus a couple of dads, who do the dropping-off and picking-up of their offspring each day. I’ve hit it off with one mum in particular. Like me, she has three kids and, like me, her husband is away a lot of the time, leaving her to run the show on her own.
But there’s a bit of a problem. She’s so lovely with her kids, so calm and unflappable, she makes me feel … well, guilty. For example – one morning, she was worried because she and her eldest daughter had argued just as the kids spilled out of the car, and she hadn’t had time to smooth things over with her.
“I think I’ll drop a note in her locker to say I hope she has a great day, and that I love her,” she said.
Well, didn’t I feel about two-inches tall. My kids routinely leave the car screaming/yelling/arguing/debating with me and/or each other. Nothing diabolical, but we’re a fiery lot, and that’s just how things run, chez Walsh. But her approach – well, I found myself nodding sagely, yet feeling kind of … guilty. And she manages to maintain this serenity with a husband who spends only one week out of every four at home. Like I said, she’s lovely; but I tend to feel like Charles Manson in her company.
Until yesterday. I arrived at school in time to witness her absolutely blow her stack at her son for forgetting his violin. She was going home to get it for him (I would have waved bye-bye and said “suffer the consequences” to my little darlings) but still, it was the first time I’d seen that serenity crack. And then, after the school bell went, and before she trekked home for the forgotten instrument, she unloaded for a moment, saying how hard it was keeping the show on the road on her own, and that she just couldn’t wait to get the kids in bed each night so she could have a few moments to herself.
That’s when the penny dropped. She wasn’t making me feel guilty; I was giving myself the guilts, by so stupidly measuring myself against her. Assuming she had everything down pat, that there were no bumps and potholes in her life, was what made me feel bad, when in reality, her struggles are the same as everyone else’s.
Measuring yourself against others is as much of a hazard in this writing life, too.
Why can’t I write as fast as him?
My dialogue sucks compared to hers.
Ah, why didn’t I think of that turn of phrase?
His characters are so much more alive than the boring wooden dummies that inhabit my story!
Some look at other writers and are jealous of their writing progress and success; I’m more the type to beat myself up for not keeping up, telling myself I’m too lazy, too slow, too untalented, too unmotivated, and that everyone else is doing way better than me.
Measuring myself against other writers, expecting that I should have the same writing journey as others, is as ridiculous as expecting everyone to love pad thai noodles, or to have brown hair, or to be willing to sell their first-borns for front row tickets to a U2 concert. (Ahem.)
How counter-productive it is, to expend all that energy on all that hand-wringing! Not to mention being a big, fat damper on one’s creativity. All I need to measure is how things are with me. And to realize that the pace at which I write is unique to me, that my learning curve is unique to me – that my writing journey is unique to me.
Bottom line, I have to accept “what is”, while always striving to do my best. It’s all a person can do, really.
But I just might try screaming at my kids a little less. (g)
What about you? Do you measure yourself against fellow writers? Do you feel guilty? Jealous? Sorry for the poor suckers who are so far behind you, it’s not funny? (g) Or have you reached Nirvana and none of this phases you one little bit?