I GROW lives. Sometimes as a writer; always as a mother. And I grow my own. Ten years ago, when my 13-year-old daughter was 2 1/2, I sat down every afternoon during her nap time to grow myself into a writer by learning the daily discipline of sitting, scrawling, and discovering how much I didn't know.I lived what I believed: Every mother has the right to her own garden, even if she can only cultivate it in 45-minute segments, whether that garden be made of paper, soil, canvas, cloth, or numbers. For me, growing children, inventing lives, requires my availability, my presence when they are ill, sleepless, have snow days and vacations. But mostly, when they are well and rambunctious and we can run outside and picnic and read together. I know every choice has a price. For many years my husband and I accepted a lower standard of living so I could be home investing in family and my art. I lugged my oldest child around, strapped in a backpack when she was a toddler so I could clean guest apartments at the college my husband attended, take in office work, and whatever else I could find to help bring in money. Around this time my older brother asked me why I didn't work. I wanted to burst, but instead I calmly said, "My children are my payc heck," especially since I hadn't earned a penny writing yet. My life as writer, juxtaposing my life as mother, is a constant tug of war. I've had interviews interrupted by requests for "string cheese," and "more string cheese," and lots of "umms." I've learned dust has its own voice only a writer would envy, calling up from corners and invisible places, despite my champion attempts to order and clean before I sit down at my desk. After my second daughter was born, I had to juggle naps, coordinate schedules, and turn down lunch and coffee offers to write. I coveted those two half-days a week when my children attended preschool. Today my girls go to school full time and I write from 8:30 in the morning until noon, breaking for errands and exercise, only to return to my desk and flesh out freelance assignments. At about 3 I turn off my word processor and greet my youngest at the bus stop. It has taken me a long time to grow into a writer, and my first novel took me five years to write and rewrite and rewrite... . Over the last three years I've had over 60 articles published in between working on larger projects. In December I traveled to Saudi Arabia on a magazine assignment, and this September I'm going to Ireland. These are brief forays away from family, connecting me to the larger world, and granting me a perspective I can bring home. Synopsized, this journey may not appear so arduous and long; it has been, and it has grown me. I could earn a lot more money on staff somewhere, even dress in dry-cleaned suits, but I still believe it would cost me too much. My youngest is eight now, and my oldest, a teen-ager. I don't believe I can afford to be absent from their daily lives now, for different reasons. I've lived by Calvin Coolidge's quote, have it framed and posted on my wall where I read it daily. I think it pertains to a work one loves, but more important, to the lives we love and give ourselves to: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." And continuity. I want my children to grow up witnessing my determination and persistence for their lives and for my own so that they will grow their own lives, find and cultivate their own garden.