Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Starr Davis.
What recent writing accomplishment(s) are you most proud of? Was this accomplishment shared and supported by your children?
There are several key writing accomplishments I secured [last] year for which I am very grateful. First one: I became a writer for Race The Bronx which is a running company that creates races in Bronx parks. I wrote articles and interviews I conducted with runners in our community. Second one: I studied with Mitchell Jackson at the Kenyon Review Workshop in Ohio [last] summer. I engaged with new writers–BOOM, BOOM, BAPS–and returned to my writing practice after a bit of a hiatus. Third one: I launched a Substack account in November after running my second marathon of the season. All of these accomplishments were supported by my college-aged daughters. Whenever I shared the updates they simply replied: Mom, this is so you!
Tell about a time mom-guilt emerged (or emerges) in the midst of your writing process.
Mom guilt emerged when I was in my early years of motherhood. I was establishing a career as a high school English teacher, attempting to make time to write, and balancing being fully present for my two daughters. Sitting still to write for a moment felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my motherly duties. My writing voice was overtaken by academic writing or writing curriculum.
If you could go back and give yourself advice before becoming a mom, what would it be?
Sydney, you got this! Fill those journal pages. Carry those small notebooks. See the world in order to realize that you are ultimately your home.
What topics, artistic channels, or forms have become present that were not there before in your writing since becoming a parent?
There is an urgency now to write about my health journey which wasn’t present before becoming a parent. Running as a person who has chronic anemia or who is navigating a cancer scare has surfaced in my writing since becoming a parent. I didn’t find a writing community until more than a decade of being a mother. The local NYC writing community certainly provided artistic channels I have leaned on and helped build in recent years.
Do you ever find yourself dealing with censorship as a mom-writer?
I haven’t had to censor myself as a mom-writer. I take risks in my writing and show up as my authentic self. I am a creative non-fiction writer. As such, I center on emotional truths and perspective. My daughters have attended my readings. I know that how they perceive my writing at this stage in life will shift as they mature. The more acquainted they become with my work the more they will understand the socio-cultural history of our backgrounds.
How has parenting bolstered or inhibited your creativity?
Parenting is a motivating force to write but it also prohibits me from having the time to do it. I am a single parent and am the first generation. I work several jobs to afford to live in The Bronx and to support my daughters. The role of mother keeps me busy even while I have bursts of empty nest mode when they are away at college. Parenting means I maintain two lives other than my own. It keeps me busy with survival mode tasks. All the while writing beckons me to make it one of those top tasks. I have found ways to have doses of writing make their way onto the page or a screen. The reality is though that parenting comes first until my daughters are set and out of college.
Was there a noticeable shift in your writing before and after parenthood? If yes, how so?
Parenthood provided me with the urgency to write poetry and stories. I became a mother at 19. I have always written since I remember learning how to read and write. However, motherhood compelled me to turn to blank pages from the moment I learned I was pregnant.
How has the internet influenced you as both a writer and parent?
The internet provides access to resources and community. It also is a distraction and presents nudges now and then of how I should do more because I am capable of doing more writing. As a parent, the internet doesn’t play a huge role. I entered motherhood before social media existed on the scale that it does today. As a parent, I chose to shield my daughters from it for the most part. We are very media conscious and may send each other funny videos now and then but at the end of the day we steer away from the internet when it comes to our relationships.
How have other mother figures you have encountered in your community influenced your parenting? Your writing?
I always lean on the women in my community for assurance and support. I have a pair of friends whose children are of similar age to my own. We are all first generation and lean on each other to support the ways we continue traditions, change cycles, and hold each other accountable. My writing hasn’t been influenced by other mother figures in direct ways but when I think of it, the writers in my local community who are also mothers do inspire one another and share resources with one another. There is an unspoken understanding that we all need a nudge from time to time to take the time to write.
How do you balance motherhood/parenting and finding the space to write?
I balance motherhood/parenting and finding space to write with a mindset that heavily leans on having grace for myself in the times I do and don’t write. I understand there are times of the year that become more busy than others. I also create visual timelines and vision boards for where I am and want to be as a writer. It’s all about patience and trusting the timing of life.
Who are your writer-mama heroes?
My writer-mama heroes are all mothers who write. The ones whose names and work I know and those who I don’t know, yet. It is heroic for each of us to create the time and space for our voices. Thank you for doing so for mine.
Sydney Valerio is a creative non-fiction mixed-genre writer, performer, and marathoner. She daylights as an educator & moonlights as a creative. In 2016 she wrote and performed “Matters” a one-woman show at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Her poetry is in several anthologies including the BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: Latinext. She is a 2020 Volcanista and a 2023 Kenyon Review Alumna. A 2019 BRIO Award-winning poet and a NYSEC 2022 Educator of Excellence, Sydney is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at CCNY. She is the project manager for the CCNY MFA Archives as Muse: a Harlem Storytelling project and the creator of the creative digital archive project: Perspective Matters-NYC Kid Who’s Now a NYC Adult.