I had another book interview this morning, with a woman who was funny and candid. She works fulltime from home (doing a job she’s good at but loathes) with a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a workday chopped up between taking her kids to and from preschool, feeding them lunch, and putting them down for an afternoon nap, with a bit of help from her mother-in-law around the edges. Oh, and the kids don’t sleep much at night–they go down around 8:00 p.m. (with one parent lying in bed with each child–at which point all four family members generally fall asleep), and, assuming the kids do actually sleep, they wake up at 5:30. How can this woman possibly find time for her creative pursuits–painting, sewing, and knitting among them–which increasingly keep her afloat in the face of a day job she hates?
As we were talking, we hit upon a complicated issue that has surfaced on this blog. I thought about it some more after our conversation, and then talked it through with my dear business partner over lunch.
Here’s where I’m getting stuck. On the one hand, if you don’t push yourself a little, and make creativity a priority rather than leaving it to the bottom of the list, it rarely happens. When you’re in the domestic trenches and in some capacity working for a paycheck, simply getting through the day takes so much effort and mindshare that creativity is not something that just “surfaces,” even though you might be thinking about it. Many of us are sharply aware of the speed at which our years are flying by, and that at some point we must pull our dreams down out of the treetops and fashion them into some kind of reality. Sure, there might not be any gaping holes in the schedule, glistening with creative promise, but there are a few slivers of opportunity in there somewhere. Others have made it happen, within similar circumstances. Why not us, too? Just roll up those sleeves and make it work. As women, if we don’t make our own needs a priority, it’s doubtful that anyone else will do it for us.
So we think, let’s add some structure, let’s add some tangible and achievable goals, let’s schedule some creative time, and let’s stick to it. Let’s add a little bit of pressure, both external and internal. (All of those things are good–and they are things that many creatively productive mothers do do.)
And then there’s the other hand. The friendly voice that says: hey, your kids are young. You have a lot going on. There are “only so many hours in the day.” Be nice to yourself–go with the flow, enjoy the scenery, don’t push too hard. Kids grow at lightning speed, and the quandary of making creativity happen while your kids are still in diapers doesn’t, in fact, last forever. (Though it often feels like it will last forever.) Sure, when your kids head off to school, there are other challenges, but they are different challenges. Your brain and your heart may actually get taxed at a higher rate–and you’ll invariably put a lot more mileage on your car–but parenting older children isn’t usually as bone-numbingly exhausting as parenting infants and toddlers. Slowly, as the years pass, the opportunity for creativity increases. And then, the kids are gone. (Unless, like some of us, you keep having more and more children, assuring a lifetime of offspring in residence.) Just love your children, whatever stage they’re at. Relax, enjoy your family, and live in the moment.
Figuring out where those two hands can meet, and share a high five, is the challenge. For each mother, finding the right blend will be different. For those of us who struggle with this seeming dichotomy, how do we make it work? I know my own fear: letting go, giving in to the domestic tidal wave, means that I get sucked under the breakers and spit out on the beach (if I’m lucky). I know, because it has happened many times. I’ve been a mother for nearly 18 years, and I know that for me, “going with the flow” means being dragged offshore by a voracious riptide. It’s too easy to be fully distracted by the life I’ve established. If I don’t swim hard toward my goals, the creative self will drown. Telling myself to take it easy and not to expect too much feels like a cop out–and tastes like the first gulp of sea foam. I panic.
How then to move closer to the place where I allow myself room to enjoy my “domestic bliss,” while being flexible enough to bend with the challenges–without feeling like I’m just fooling myself? Acknowledge my overflowing days, without giving in? Accept that every now and then, I have to set my creative goals aside–just for a while, not forever–not that I’m simply procrastinating? It may simply be my type-A personality, but giving an inch here feels like giving more than the proverbial mile. I’m not sure how to bend without breaking. The result, when I can’t do what I want to do creatively, is general crankiness, anxiety, and a deep fear that I’ll never get back to the beach.
Fishing line, anyone?