COVID, My Kid, and a Conference

“One way that I know I am a writer is that either I am writing, or I’m wishing that I was.”
-Jericho Brown, Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, 2022

As I reflect on this in the wake of the conference, it occurs to me that this is also one way that I know I am a mom.

The Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference was an absolute delight this year. The weather in Homer was flawless, the faculty phenomenal, and the conversation among the attendees was a much-needed jolt in the doldrums of the pandemic.

Yet, amidst the sun and soft breeze, a small, dark cloud hung over me and still hangs over me, keeping the memory of those four days from perfection: missing my kid.

During the conference, with masks optional for attendees and airline passengers, I isolated from my kid, husband, and parents, forgoing the comforts of our camper, and instead sleeping in the back of my car. In the little time I had with my daughter on lunch or in the evenings, I watched her play or shared meals from a distance, always outdoors and masked as appropriate. I write this from the confines of a self-inflicted, post-conference quarantine in my parents’ guest room, waiting to find out if I got sick or am in the clear to return home and finally snuggle my panik.

So many—certainly the government, virtually all businesses, and most people—are starting to view the pandemic as a thing of the past, forgetting or blissfully ignorant that there are still 18 million children under 5 in the United States who are ineligible for vaccination.

As I reconnected with writers I knew before the age of COVID and connected with some for the first time in person, many inquired as to the state of my daughter, who recently turned four years old. I explained our situation with a longing ache. One friend was particularly kind and told me I was a great mother, a salve on my constant questioning if I’m doing the right thing keeping her isolated. She’s had three of her birthdays in the pandemic. She barely remembers playing indoors with other children, eating in restaurants, or visiting the homes of others. She talks longingly of all the things she’ll get to do and people she will visit with, “When I get my shot!”

Still, she thrives, and most importantly, she is healthy. She is one of the estimated 25 percent or so of kids who haven’t caught COVID, at least not yet. “We don’t want to trip at the finish line,” I keep saying, but that finish line keeps moving further away, and nobody seems to hear the pleas of parents to expedite the approval process. Delay after delay dash my hopes, and I am tired. So, so tired. I want my kid safe.

Selfishly, I want to go back to real life, too. Those four days of the conference, masked and anxious though I was, were the closest four days to “normal” I’ve had in more than two years. Despite my little dark cloud, I was invigorated, happy, reassured that I knew who my people were. I dreaded coming home to Anchorage, back to the environment that slowly eats away at my extroverted personality, poisons my mind into depression, separates me from so many and so much that I love.

I am a writer, because either I am writing or I’m wishing that I was. Right now, I am writing, but wishing I was momming. Sometime soon, I’ll be momming and wishing I was writing.

Why I Started Writing about Parenthood

I guess you’d call me an “emerging writer.” I also consider myself primarily a fantasy novelist, though I have yet to publish anything in the genre. It’s what I’ve been doing the longest—since I was in third grade. I have eight novel drafts in various stages, but just recently completed my first draft.

I only started writing poetry (aside from an angsty teenage phase and some school assignments) less than two years ago. My first published poem appeared in Alaska Women Speak last winter, and since then I’ve published three other poems.

For me, fiction is an escape. I draw on real life, sure, but I primarily write fantasy fiction and that’s an opportunity to imagine something, well, fantastic. Fiction is about being out there. Asking, “What if?”

Poetry, on the other hand, is a very internal experience. For me, it’s about processing my thoughts. It’s about connecting memories and revealing meaning. The overwhelming majority of my poetry is non-fiction, and many of my poems—at least the first drafts—are written in the first person. It is a place where I convert complex thoughts and emotions into words.

That I started writing poetry and became a parent in the same year is no coincidence.

At first, I viewed being a mom as something separate from my writing. A distraction, even. For months I lamented to friends, family, and classmates that I wasn’t able to write enough. On the increasingly rare occasion that I was able to sit down and write uninterrupted, I found that mom thoughts were crowding my brain. Stifling my imagination. Suffocating my creative energy.

So, I stopped fighting them.

You might have heard that mother-daughter poems are tired. Cliché. Lucky for me, I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know a lick about what made a good poem, but I started writing poetry about my daughter.

My kid and I have a strong bond. Duh, any half-decent parent is thinking. You parents know that being a parent completely morphs who you are as a person. It centered my gravity around my kid. It morphed my voice as a writer, too. And once I gave myself permission to write what was on my mind, I unblocked myself.

In my case, having a child brought up a lot of questions about my identity—particularly as an Iñupiaq womanand the legacy I will pass to her. Most of my poetry started to focus on these ideas. My micro-chapbook, Immuk and Cookies, follows these themes and is forthcoming from Kissing Dynamite Poetry.

My kid just learned to recognize her letters, but gave me my most important writing lesson: our strongest feelings make for the best writing.

What are your strongest feelings?