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Kerry: Sometimes the Universe reaches out and gives little hugs

I wish I had a brain that could juggle two babies and two teenagers and a husband that wants to chat as soon as I sit down to check my e-mail. But I don’t. Not lately. Multitasking is holding one crying infant while making dinner, listening to the newest teenage angst about how I ruined yet another child, trying to make my way across the room with the 22 month old attached to my leg and then the phone rings? What? It’s my other teenager, wanting to come over for dinner, and she needs a ride.

I haven’t been very positive lately. If one more of my well-meaning relatives asks me if I’ve painted anything lately, or if I’m still writing (gave up that gig after baby #1), I think I’ll run screaming from the house. I don’t. I say something snappy about taking care of babies…that’s what I do. That’s all I do. I usually have to say it two or three times during the visit, reminding them that I still have the little ones. Are they blind? Are they deaf? Do they not see the little boy, the most adorable baby boy, scrunching up his tiny face in rage when I try to put him down for one second to pick up baby girl as she tries to launch herself from the sofa? Do they not hear the constant shrieking? I don’t get many visitors. Too bad too. I love it when someone holds the baby so I can run off for a potty break.

I can’t write. I can’t think. I always have my ears fine tuned for the sounds of baby wails, and my reflexes ready to grab another bottle as I’m trying to persuade my darling little girl that the potty seat is not a hat.

Kudos to those of us who can tune it out, but I  need to get into that space, that zone, that meditative communing with my muse or I can’t hear her. Two minutes is not enough. I don’t know how to stop listening to the happenings in the house. I don’t know how to turn it off. When the babies are quiet, I fall into bed and sleep the blissful sleep of one who knows it’s short-lived. Usually one, if not both babies wake up every night. I’m tired and I’m frustrated and I’m angry, if the truth be told.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve become a traitor to my true self, to that artist and writer I was, I am, I will be. I look at myself in the mirror and think, Really? Is this all there is? What happened to the me that I was? And then the baby cries and it all fades into another day. Another day gone by.

But that pity party won’t get me anywhere. I still have babies to take care of. And sometimes there is a little glimmer of hope…like e-mails reminding me that once I used to write a blog, and that things will get better. I suppose they will. I’m still trying to live in the moment, in the now, as Eckhart Tolle would say. But my now sure is full of dirty diapers.

But a positive, a piece of synchronicity at work in my very own life, a little reminder, a kiss from beyond:

My significant other has been working on various projects around the house…since we bought it. I’ve been waiting for the building in the backyard to become my studio for five years. So far it has housed an assortment of tools, old furniture and Christmas decorations. My paints are in there too, somewhere. But in my husband’s defense, he has been working on it, actually working on it for the last few weeks. Reframed a couple of walls, rehung some cabinets, and in the midst of it, he comes to me with an old piece of paper. “Look what I found in the studio,” he says. Studio, I think. That has never been nor will ever be my studio at the rate I’m going. But I take the folded slip of paper from his hand and see the date March 1994 scrawled across the top. Curious, I open it. And my heart beats a little faster as I read: “I am an artist and this was my studio. I hope it brings as much joy to the next person as it has brought to me over the years.” Signed by the artist herself. And I think, how funny, that building that we named “the studio” the first day we viewed the house, was always meant to contain art. Like it was taken out of my hands. It doesn’t have to become anything. It already is.

And inside I danced a little jig and smiled. It is mine. Given to me. Just like that. I’m going to frame that note and hang it on the wall for everyone to see, but mostly for me to see, to remind me of possibilities waiting.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. E-J #

    Two babies and two teenagers! To me, you sound like a hero. The time for art and writing WILL come to you again, and how wonderful that this little message from the past with promises from the future has come to remind you of that. What joyous creativity to come! 🙂

    October 28, 2008
  2. Kerry, I’m so glad you wrote this. It’s wonderful to hear from you again. As you know, I can relate to your situation, with my own two teenagers, a tweener, a preschooler, and a 6-month-old.

    I know well that the urgent desire to create can interfere (or outright kill) the joy of being with your little ones when you feel like you’re just languishing creatively. You lose yourself, and it’s hard to feel good about family life, whatever the circumstances, when you aren’t practicing your art.

    For me, the solution is learning how to be creative within the snippets of time I can find. I realize that doesn’t work for everyone, however, and it sounds like you’re in that group. Instead of trying to paint, if that just doesn’t fit inside your current parameters — logistically, emotionally, mentally, physically — is there something else you can do now that will help prepare you for when the right time DOES come back (as it will, even if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel right now)? Are there other things you can do to prime the pump and feed the well? Can you read a few poems before you fall asleep at night, or browse through a stack of design magazines while you sit on the floor with the little ones? (Magazines are often a better bet than books, as you don’t have to worry about them getting stepped on or ripped.) Can you make a few notes about the paintings and writing projects you want to work on in future? Make plans for your studio (wow!)? Spend time connecting with other artists online? Browse the web for contests you’d like to enter? Just doodle for fun with markers while your toddler is making her own doodles?

    I think it’s vital to maintain your identity as an artist EVEN THOUGH YOU MAY NOT BE CREATING ART RIGHT NOW. If possible, shift your focus away from “I’m not painting and writing right now” and trying to eliminate or reduce your guilt and resentment about that and look at this hiatus from the paintbrush as a time to stock the pantry in other ways.

    It is important to keep your creative self alive simply for your own sanity — and because this will help you enjoy your kids and be a happier mother in general. Secondly, the more you do to feed that artist self and lay the groundwork for the future, the more you’ll be able to take advantage of a sudden opportunity that might arise tomorrow — and really hit the ground running when the deck clear a little bit in a year or two.

    Think of yourself as an elite runner who has been sidelined due to knee injury. Maybe you can’t go out and run a 20-mile loop right now, but you can do calisthenics, practice yoga, and swim. None of those things will satisfy you as much as running, but they will keep you in shape enough that you won’t be starting from scratch when you get the doctor’s green light to running.

    You are an artist, and you will paint and write again. Do frame the note you found — and know that one day you will be able to leave that note behind for the next owner of that house, as if you had written every word yourself.

    October 28, 2008
  3. Cathy #

    kerry, i’m glad you’re back. you sound a bit like i did when i first started reading this website, waiting 6 mos to contribute, eventhough i was on bedrest, pregnant. you also sound like the harried me that was going through a traumatic divorce with a 3 yr old with autism, a very sensitive 7 yr old, 3 jobs and managing the therapies for #2 and my ex… you sound like any of us in a particularly isolated bad stretch.

    what i learned, and often must remind myself of, back in ‘my bad old days’ is how to breath. when the kettle of screaming babies goes off, stop, turn around at least, if not go in another room. inhale deeply, touching your thumb to each pad of skin and muscle between each finger inhale and exhale slowly and deeply before you move onto the next until you’ve taken 16 slow, cleansing, heartrate slowing breaths. then you can get back to what needs to be done in a much better state of mind. really, it works, and i still use it.

    as for the note in the studio, you made me tear up. that is a true blessing and a sign that you are still valuable as yourself, as an artist – as you, and not just underappreciated mom. and kudos to your husband for recognizing that and doing what he can to make that happen!

    October 28, 2008
  4. Kerry,

    I see myself in your post, I really do. This past week I wrote a blog echoing your sentiments, but took it down after a day because I didn’t want to acknowledge just how angry I was at my two-year-old. It’s not his fault that he’s inquisitive and fearless and makes his cautious, introverted, peace loving mother insane. I, too, am struggling with how best to balance the demands of motherhood with the demands of creativity. I want to write. I am standing on the brink of success, looking at everything I’ve ever wanted–agents who are interested in my work, editors who find my novel an enjoyable read–but I’m not going to have any success at all if I can’t plant my butt in a chair at some point and produce.

    And to make matters worse, I’m giving up my office. The boys need a dedicated play space in the house, and it is the only available room. My desk, craft supplies, books, etc. will all have to go into storage. My entire creative life will be reduced down to the size of a laptop. I am incrediably angry about this turn of events. Resentful of my house-trashing toddler, and my husband, who certainly didn’t offer up his office as a playroom, or his side of the garage as storage.

    I feel like I have to take matters into my own hands and push past the gauntlet of obsticles that seem to perpetually pretvent me from living the productive, creative life I’d like to. Today I dropped the toddler off at preschool and took the baby with me to the local Panera, where I sat by a window with my laptop and pretended to be a real writer.

    I am jealous of your studio and congratulate you on being that much closer to the time when you can paint and write as much as you like again. I’m rooting for you.

    October 28, 2008
  5. Kristine #

    I’m amazed at everything you ladies accomplish with so many kids at home. I’m having a hard enough time with just one! My hats to all of you.

    Kerry, you will always be an artist at heart. I’ve found that the creative bug never leaves us. It just gets pushed aside sometimes when the reality of motherood and life gets in the way. You will get there again. I know it.

    I agree with Miranda. Refilling the well, even a drop at a time, will keep you in touch with your artistic self until you can return to your passion with full force.

    And the studio note? Priceless. What a wonderful gift.

    October 28, 2008
  6. Cathy #

    brittany, i think your dh needs another doot day in his office!

    tell him he has to give some leeway, esp since you have professional interest in your writing at the moment. maybe move over in his office?

    with that in mind, i’ll tell you about my office:

    it is crammed with a guestbed, playpen exercise ball, phys therapy tube and weights, my mil and her desk, loads of files, books, and the spinny entertainment center for the baby when she’ll deal with not being on my lap; the kids use my computer and mess my desk. my dh who does side jobs when he’s not at the office is squished to a corner of a kitchen counter with laptop and stool next to the toaster, eventhough he does bring in income with his side jobs on a fairly regular basis, unlike me.

    but i staked some sense of a bit of my space, even if it is crowded. please fight for your right, esp since just the thought of packing up everything that makes brittany independent is already being meted out on your family.

    October 28, 2008
  7. amazingly truthful and soul-searching post, kerry. and, wow! the comments have been just as amazing. i’m not sure i can add anything, but i’ll give it a shot.

    maybe this whole creative thing is different for me because it’s not my “real job”. i certainly wish it was my “real job”, but that’s not my reality, and realistically probably never will be. my world is so separated it’s hard to find the right mix. i can’t relate to having the two teenagers at home since i’m not there yet, but, having twins, i can most definitely relate to juggling two babies. and juggling the two little ones with a full-time job and trying to have my creative time really is my biggest struggle. i’ve started to write posts on my blog similar to the one brittany said she wrote and then deleted because she didn’t want to acknowledge that she was angry at her two year old. i would think that every mother has felt that at one time or another.

    i think for me, it’s been a reventing of self. i wanted children for so long and went through so much to finally have them that, while i do get frustrated with my lack of time to pursue my creative endeavors, i also get overwhelmed with them at the same time, if that makes any sense. i.e. i have a show this weekend i’m not ready for. i should be working in the studio late every night this week preparing. didn’t do it last night because i just wanted to sit down with dh and watch antiques roadshow. will i get anything done tonight? maybe much later….after i take my girls to their school fall fest. tomorrow? i promised a friend who’s coming to campus to speak that he could stay at our house. thursday? dh’s birthday. that doesn’t leave much, huh. so unfortunately, even with a deadline of sorts looming, the time i’d like, or need, to have in the studio just don’t come around….unless i just give up sleeping altogether, which makes me a very grumpy bear. i’m almost at the point where, in creative terms anyway, i’m becoming a slave to my jewelry. jewerly is what i jury into art shows with, so that’s the inventory i have to maintain. yet, there are so many other art venues i want to pursue. i’m actually planning to dramatically cut back on my shoes in the spring. it’s a catch-22. it’s all just a big juggle, isnt’ it? whether your juggling a full brood and creative time, or just a couple kids, a job and creative time. one day last week, my facebook status update said something like “kelly really needs an extra 4-6 hours in her 24-hour day”. if only it were that simple. it sucks to be an adult sometimes. 🙂

    and about that little note from the studio…that’s one of the most wonderful stories i’ve heard in quite some time. good for you. i’ve already like the word serendipity. that seems to fit there.

    October 28, 2008
  8. amy #

    Thank you for sharing this. It makes me feel better knowing there are people with more on their plate than me! I know that’s not your intent but you sound like you aren’t totally losing it yet and that you have the eye on the pie so to speak! Hang in there and try to find your “me” time every day. 🙂

    October 28, 2008
  9. i LOVE that ….
    i think that was absolutely the universe speaking to you …
    and i love that you are listening ….
    very cool ….

    October 28, 2008

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