I’m a dropout. No, not the stigmatized high school dropout. Not even the incomplete undergrad. I’m an ex-MFA candidate with little intention of completing that degree. Though this could easily be a piece criticizing the value or practicality of higher education in the arts, it’s actually about parenting.
I withdrew from grad school when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Was it a complete surprise? No, not really, since my husband and I had quit using birth control and decided to “not not try” to have a baby. From the moment I saw that little word “pregnant” on the pee stick, I knew I would finish my first semester of school, which ended when I was about 20 weeks along. I thought I’d then withdraw, take a brief hiatus for bonding with the baby, then jump back in school a few months later. I kind of figured once a newborn becomes a baby, you could just plunk that baby down with some toys and go about your adult business.
I quickly learned that however calm and content babies are when you’re cooing over them, they are equally as boisterous and demanding the second you divert your attention elsewhere. My sugary daydreams of writing short fiction for school with a sleeping baby nestled against me were, as it turns out, just daydreams. Forget going back to school anytime soon–I was still trying to figure out the basics like carrying groceries up to my second-floor apartment, how and when to take a shower, how and when to take a shit. Maybe my girl was just an unusually demanding newborn. Maybe I had stupidly high standards for motherhood. Whatever it was, it was weeks before I even attempted to write something again, and that first draft wasn’t even that great.
But being tied down with a baby just made me realize how precious my free time really was. When in my pre-parent days I would spend 15 minutes of downtime playing Spider Solitaire on my computer, I would now use that 15 minutes to research potential writing markets. When I would have spent an hour “warming up” my writing muscles by staring out the window sipping coffee, I would now wake up at five in the morning and spew sentences into a Word doc like I was staring death in the face. What has surprised me the most is that with having only one percent of the free time I used to have, I’m about 200 percent more productive.