July 9th, 2008
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truthful things about being an artist and a mother, (for amanda)

this entry was prompted by a woman who wrote me, a fellow artist who is considering having children, though currently on the proverbial fence. she wrote me asking if i could offer my experience thus far on how one’s creativity is impacted by having a child. more specifically, what sacrifices are involved. in many ways I feel like this in itself is a daunting task, how does one even begin to talk about an experience that they are just beginning? i still feel like a beginner, wading through this new place in my wellies, looking for some dry ground to sit on to reflect. yet, after receiving this note I have not been able to stop thinking about my response. what would I say? ideas float in and around my brain as i go about my day. and so i feel i must write. even if for myself.
I was never one of those people who always wanted to have children. but for years I found myself talking to other moms about what it was like to be a parent. Something in my being was fascinated with the whole process and wanted to know everything. I particularly wanted to hear from other creative mothers on whether it was possible to maintain a creative life while caring for a child. I know that the experience is very different for everyone, but I mined each person for as much information as i could get. I think often there were answers that I really wanted to hear, to know that it was doable or in some cases easy and carefree. Many answers I did not like hearing, (you will have no time for yourself, it requires MAJOR sacrifices). All answers are true, and sometimes not true. how’s that for cryptic?
from so many mothers i have sensed a push pull energy, a feeling of loving parenting but at the same time wanting to be somewhere else. i myself grew up with a mom who absolutely loved being a mom and was fulfilled by it in many ways but seemed always to be craving time for herself. i sensed that there was another life that she longed for, which she fulfilled by doing small theatre and teaching dancing part time. that place of “what could have been” loomed there just on the outskirts of our existence and my sister and I could feel its constant presence. creativity going to waste, or being brushed aside for trips to the dentist, and the day to day tasks that motherhood demands.
as an adult I decided I would never live in a way that I would have any regrets about what could have been, I would do whatever I was drawn to, whatever moved me, and try to experience everything as fully as possible. If parenting was to be a part of it, I would have to be 100% sure that that was the path for me. Of course, as I got older I learned that my life is not about the things i’ve planned, and it’s much better that way. I no longer find it necessary to be 100% sure of anything. Planning just gets in the way of living well, in my opinion, but I digress…
and so to Amanda, (and all you out there reading this who might be in the same boat) here are some things that I want to share with you. it worked best to write in snippets, writing thoughts down as they come in.
…i still don’t feel like a ‘mom’, in the strict parental sense. I kind of feel like a girl who is taking care of the most amazing person ever. I see other moms and think I am not like them.
…I was so worried that I would change as a person in a negative way (read:irrational fears about losing my creativity.) That has not occurred at all. I am the same me, only with a TON more meaning in my life. I’ll get to that more later.
…I thought I would feel more like I know what I am doing as a parent. it’s like every other creative endeavor I’ve ever done…I’m just winging it most days, in a “let try this and see what happens”. I always thought you would know exactly what to do.
…I have lost all sense of being (or attempting to be) graceful in this role. I never feel entirely put together physically. I’ve given up on getting somewhere on time.
…on some days my creative life has become a series of “doing whatever possible in the time allotted to get the job done”. you know that game where the gophers pop their little fuzzy heads up out of a hole and you have to hit them as fast as you can with a large mallet before they pop back down again? It’s like that.
…but then on other days there are moments of calm where a kind of routine sets in, and on those days i often feel like, “this is a piece of cake”. my life and work feel seamless and doable, (and this happens fairly often if I am to be truthful). I want to have five more children and live in a big wonky house full of happy children with dogs and a pond and chickens, and maybe even a horse or two. And I will invite all of my friends who have children to come and swim in the pond and we will cook and laugh and drink wine together and I will be a kind of supermom. a mom powerhouse who can change 10 diapers at once, and calm a crying baby in seconds, a kind of amazing “baby whisperer” and people in the neighborhood will talk about me like I am some kind of baby god. and then usually the baby wakes up. and sometimes if he is screaming for a while I have found myself thinking, “How does anyone ever manage two of them?”
…i get into the most trouble when I am clinging to “needing” to get something done in the time frame that I want it to be done. It is a difficult shift to realize that you no longer call the shots. If I attempt to control how and when, I end up very frustrated. Even knowing this fact I still fight it constantly. It is strange to not be able to take a nap when I need one like I used to. You have no choice but to push through that fatigue. Most days i am lucky to get in two hours for my work, (and I am lucky to have a husband that works at home right now).
…something in my body feels more complete than I ever have before. complete in the sense that I feel a part of a family, there is a huge comfort in that for me. I feel connected to something very important. My life has a focal point now. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that. this is the sense of having more meaning that I referred to earlier.
…as I walked around the farmer’s market this morning holding my child people would look at him and smile. I actually got teary over the sense of pride I felt about being this person’s mother, or even just being a mother in general. It was kind of a “look at what I am doing, isn’t it great”, in the way little kids feel when they show you a painting. no ego in it, just pure enjoyment.
…there are moments/days that are so very trying it unbelievable, (and I have the sense that there will be many more of these in the future.) on the whole I believe that this discomfort is not only valuable, but what makes life truly fulfilling. For me life is all about contrast and if you are looking for a smooth and easy, maintenence free life then maybe having a child is not for you. Some days in the beginning I thought, “I have to get up tomorrow and do this all over again? wow.” …
but the rewards are plentiful. what no one can explain to you before you have a child and what you can never understand, (even if someone tries to explain it to you) is how you will love this thing more than anything you’ve ever experienced in your life. It’s like falling in love all over again, but on a new plain of existence. it feels a lot like getting the coolest present ever, something that you want to play with all day and show to everyone you know, (I know this sounds terrible but so what). you want to quit everything and give this little being the best life you can imagine.
and i believe one of the best gifts I can give to him is to allow my own creativity to flourish. Not necessarily in the all encompassing way that it did before. now I have to shrink things down a bit to fit it into the time I have. But it is still a huge part of me and I am excited to share it more with him as he grows. And there are definitely sacrifices that I am making for him, I can’t do all of the speaking engagements that I am offered, travel is MUCH harder with a baby (a fact that I did not want to believe before I had him), socializing with friends is NOT the same (conversation is scattered and haphazard and disjointed), it is MUCH better to socialize with other parents because they understand what it is like and don’t bat an eyelash when the baby pukes or screams for an hour during dinner, the house is often a disaster area (keeping it clean seems impossible, another fact i did not want to believe).
To be totally honest I feel like I could write a very long book about this and still not get out everything I want to say. So for now I will leave you with these things. I share them with you not as an attempt to persuade you in one direction or the other. I cannot tell you the thing that you want to hear, or give you the answer to the question you are seeking. for me it came down to a question. not “Will I have a child and still be able to create?”, but instead, “Can I live with not having had that experience in my life?” and for me the answer was “no”.
I’ll keep you posted on the rest.

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