We who are about to breed: Sheila Squillante.
[In which WWAATD asks writers and other artist types about life as breeders/parents/kid-keepers.]
1. What are your kids’ names, ages?
Rudy, 6 and Josephine, 3 1/2.
2. How do you balance your time between parenting and writing?
I’m very fortunate that my kids are in a school/camp environment for 5 hours a day, so I use that time to install myself at Wegmans with an almond croissant and a cup of coffee and whatever piece I’m working on. I am not a very disciplined person and have never been able to keep a regular writing schedule, so when I became a mother, I knew I was not going to be a “rise before the household” sort who gets their word count in before breakfast. When my first child was born, we hired a sitter to come for only 3 hours a week–and I used that time to write, guarding it jealously against other obligations like laundry and cleaning and grading. I wrote more during those hours in that year than I had during the previous two years.
3. What is the best piece of advice about being a parent and a writer?
Hire a sitter for 3 hours a week and use that time to write, guarding it jealously against obligations like…
Also, a friend of mine, a visual artist, has a sign above her kitchen sink that says, “Art Before Dishes.” I love that! I don’t let the domestic stuff go completely, of course, but that phrase reminds me that my writing *is* a priority and that if it’s going to happen amid the (wonderful) chaos of kid-wrangling and house-managing, I need to consciously choose it.
4. How has your writing changed since becoming a parent?
Prose writing became somewhat easier for me after my kids were born (all that space to work out so much terror and wonder), and poetry became harder. Any new parent can talk at length about sleep deprivation, the constant, every-minute vigilance, the sudden requirement that you manage the minutiae of not only your life but the life and needs of the child, how you are forced to become a halfway decent multi-tasker, or else drown in an ocean of…well, never mind what you’ll be drowning in. But for me, the fragmentation happened not just to my life, but also to my art. My poems reflected it. I felt really unable to write a sequential narrative. The poems instead took on the shape of a three-ring circus on the page, with the trapeze artist, the lion tamer and the clown car all doing their thing simultaneously. It was nuts and disorienting but also, once I accepted that it was okay to write differently, a lot of fun.
5. Tell us something we don’t know about you and being a writer-slash-parent.
I think the construction of this question is hilariously telling: Breaking News! Writer Slashes Parent! Film at 11! And as a parent who writes sometimes ABOUT her kids, it makes me shiver a little, imagining the day my daughter, for instance, will be able to read about how depressed I was after her birth, and how that colored everything I felt toward her for a good long while. I guess it’s easy to imagine the ways parenthood can “slash” writer-hood–that’s the impetus for this interview, right?– but that it could be the other way around…well, that’s a fear I expect I’ll hold close and think about for a long time. I’ll probably even (yep) write about it.