Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how! And if you commented on last week’s Monday Post, let us know how things went: the hiccups as well as the successes.
Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how! And if you commented on last week’s Monday Post, let us know how things went: the hiccups as well as the successes.
By Emily Bennett
It was about two weeks after my son was born when I said to my husband, or maybe I wailed, “I am going to have to do something because this is SO HARD!”
Two weeks into motherhood and I was a poop-covered, milk-soaked, tear-stained, sleep-deprived mess. And I was losing it.
I always knew I wanted to be a mom someday. I always loved kids. They are pretty much the best humans, as far as I can tell.
I was always an artist as well. At the age of 5, I made the world’s smallest quilt — 3” by 3” in size. As a tween, I painted an ocean mural on my bedroom walls, including a cartoon octopus using each arm for a different beauty tool: comb, brush, lipstick, hair dryer. Just because. You know? In college, I studied art and made these drippy paintings of clothing on lines and hangers. Creativity always came easily.
But then I graduated from college. No more deadlines, no more critique groups, no more assignments to keep me working. That childhood spontaneity to just create was somehow gone. Huddled alone in my freezing garage studio rigged up with clamp lights and space heaters, I couldn’t help but wonder what on Earth I was doing.
Also, life demanded practicality. I needed health insurance. I needed a savings account. I needed to have a “real” job. So, I got busy being practical; I became a teacher. That channeled my love of young children, so it was good. And I had a steady paycheck, and I met my husband and got married and bought a house and had stability and all the things.
And I stopped making art. I gave up my studio. I might have even have told people that I was done with all of that.
Then I gave birth. I quit my job to be with my son, and faster than you can say, “post-partum depression,” I was in the middle of the darkest time in my life. My son didn’t sleep, or, if he slept, I couldn’t sleep. He had reflux. He wouldn’t nurse. He wasn’t gaining weight. We didn’t know what was wrong. My son and I spent days just bouncing on the yoga ball waiting for my husband to come home. It was mind-numbingly, bone-crushingly hard.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be with my son. I feel immensely privileged to get to spend time with my children. What emerged in that period was not just an over-abundance of time, but also the deep personal necessity to DO SOMETHING.
As the darkness lifted, I started to look around. I was bugged by how baby clothing is so stuck on gender stereotypes. I didn’t want to put my son in the “Mr. Tough Guy” onesie. Sitting around at a moms’ group with my friends, I said, “I want to put a dump truck on a pink onesie. What do you think?” And they said, “YOU SHOULD DO IT!”
That rallying cry fueled my desire to create. I began to draw again — teaching myself how to use drawing software, learning how to screen print from YouTube tutorials. I started to put my hands on fabric and ink and make something new. And it was awesome. It was a deep and rushing joy that I had forgotten existed.
Now that I have two children and a growing business, there’s hardly a moment to spare. I look back on my practical, pre-kid life and think, “I had so much time! Why didn’t I spend it creating!!??”
Before children, I had vague ideas of art I wanted to make but nothing I truly felt passionate about. With the dump truck project, I had an idea that brought together my love of children, textiles, and graphic design.
There was one more thing missing, though.
I needed more than just time to explore a project. I needed an avenue for sharing my work with others.
Within my group of new mom friends was a creator who helped me find my way. She made artisan bath products, and she knew all the things: how to sell at the farmer’s market, open an Etsy shop, and aesthetically arrange her wares in lovely piles on a folding table. She introduced me to a new world: the world of selling your stuff.
In all my time in critique groups and art classes, I was never taught how to bring my artwork to others outside of a school context. In my friend’s example, I saw how it was possible. She taught me the nuts and bolts of being in business (business license, sales tax, etc.) and I’m not sure my nascent creative practice would have taken hold without her help.
Suddenly, I had a critique group again (customers) and I had deadlines (holiday bazaar), and those two motivated me to Go and Do in a way I had not gone and done since college.
I didn’t set out to create again, it kind of just happened when time met passion plus an outlet for sharing my work with others. This experience has brought me back to a part of myself and an understanding of how to have a creative practice that I hope to never lose again.
How do we find time as moms? For me it happened because I chose something I could work on while my son was with me. What can you do while your kids are with you? What other dedicated time can you create? If you have the means, give yourself permission to hire a babysitter regularly. Schedule with your partner 30 minutes every evening. Can you cut back at work? Start looking for the little moments. I almost always work sitting perched on the toilet while my kids are in the bathtub. (At right: Me sitting on top of the couch to work with my son in the room — without him being able to bang on the computer.)
If you want to get back to creating, then you probably have your passion in mind. What does that look like? What do you want to say to the world? Put it down on paper! Tell someone! Something is there that you want to bring forth. You have a need, and it is such a precious thing! Cradle it in your hands as it begins to grow.
If you don’t have an awesome friend like mine, look up local art festivals in your area. Sign up! Don’t worry, because you will get in and you will sell things. Go visit local maker fairs to get inspired. Create your own free website, and then tell everyone that you did it! Share the link on your personal Facebook page. Check out local entrepreneurial resources. Sign up for a class on business basics. But most importantly, sign up! Go and do it. Once you have done one thing, sign up for another. Incorporate the feedback you get into your work for the next event. Make sure that sharing, scary as it is, becomes part of your regular regimen, so that your awesome creativity is getting out to the world and you have a reason to keep creating.
About Emily Bennett
Emily Bennett is the owner and creator of Baby Blastoff!, a line of baby clothing that honors the spirit and possibility in every child. She grew up in Portland, Oregon, and went to Whitman College, where she studied studio art. After graduating, she moved to New Mexico where she earned a master’s in education at the University of New Mexico. Emily came back to creating and started her business after her son was born in 2011. She lives in Albuquerque with her husband and two kids.
I came across this picture cleaning up and packing my office before our repaint and recarpet this summer and found it tucked in my calendar last week. It was taken at the beach wedding of a friend. Sarah and I were watching the wedding while DH and Olivia were off shell hunting, and the wedding photographer caught this shot. Such innocence. Where the heck did it go!?!
I was driving the girls to school Friday when Sarah asked, “Mama, how can teenagers have a baby?” Stalling, I asked her what she meant, and she said she saw a teenager on TV that had a baby. Wow! Didn’t expect to have the birds and the bees conversation quite this early. I tried to respond with, “Well, teenagers really shouldn’t be having babies.” And she said, “’cause you aren’t supposed to have a baby until you are at least 30.” See, I’m trying to train them well! I tell them that you can’t get married until you are 30, so therefore, you can’t have a baby until you are at least 30 because you have to get married before you have a baby. (Now, I realize that in this day and age, many women are having children without getting married, and that’s fine, but that’s a discussion for another post…) Anywho, Sarah continued with, “So do we have to start taking no-baby pills now so that we don’t have a baby?”
You see, when the girls have asked me about the little pill I take before I go to bed every night (they are far too observant), I tell them that’s my no-baby pill so that I don’t have any more babies. (Okay, so maybe I need to rethink that conversation.) I tried to explain that while, yes, no-baby pills work to keep you from having a baby, there are things that mamas and daddies do to make babies that you won’t need to worry about for a long, long, long time (like when you are 25, she says, as she sticks her head in the sand). “What’s that, Mama?” And I stupidly responded, “Sex.” “What’s sex, Mama?” I somehow managed to change the subject by responding again that it’s something they wouldn’t have to worry about for a long, long, long time, and then said, “Hey look! They mowed the cow pasture! What are the cows going to eat now!?”
I’m guessing the topic of “What’s sex?” has now probably come up at school amongst their friends. I can hear it now: “Destiny, do you know what sex is? My Mama said it’s what mamas and daddies do to make babies.” I am expecting a call from the school any day now.
This Mama stuff….when you don’t have your own Mama around, it’s very much a make-it-up-as-you-go-along thing. I guess even if you do have your Mama around, you might still be making it up as you go along. There are mornings when it just smacks me out of nowhere. I’ll be standing at the kitchen sink, washing up the breakfast dishes while trying to keep the girls on task to brush their teeth, pack their backpacks and get ready to head out the door, and it smacks me right across the face: I’m a mother. I don’t know why it sometimes hits me that way. From early on, I knew I wanted children. Heck, I wanted four children! Boys! I think maybe that came from seeing my college boyfriend’s family. They are a family of four boys who all absolutely adore their Mama. But still there are days that I find myself amazed that I am a mother…that I am worthy of this task…that I have been given this blessing…that I have the qualifications for this most wonderful of jobs… Maybe it’s because we had to go through so much to get where we are, who knows?
Take a peek over at Brene Brown’s post Monday. She and I corresponded a bit after this post and I’m working on doing a few things on campus related to this project. What does this have to do with being a mother, you ask, other than what should be the obvious that “perfect mother” is an oxymoron? In our e-mails, she directed me to a TED talk she did about vulnerability, and what she speaks of everyday, having ordinary courage, taking the time to realize the small wonderfulness that happens in our lives every day. The little things we overlook. That’s what it has to do with being a mother. I will remember the conversation Sarah and I had Friday morning hopefully for the rest of my days. And standing at the kitchen sink tomorrow morning, I will remember what a blessing it is to stand there and wash the breakfast dishes of two little angels. And I will be amazed and overjoyed that I am their Mama. And I will be incredibly grateful for that gift. How about you? Have you taken the time to think about what you are grateful for today?
[cross-posted from Artful Happiness]
Cross-posted from my personal blog. Warning: This is not my usual feel good, Happy Shack post.
For the last three days, I, like probably everyone else in the Jacksonville metro area, have been overcome with the story of Somer Thompson. The story made the national news, but for those of you out of the area who’ve not heard about it, seven-year-old Somer disappeared on her way home from school last Monday afternoon. She was walking home with her twin brother and 10-year-old sister when the trio got in a little squabble and Somer ran ahead of her siblings, disappearing into the cool fall afternoon. It was about 3pm. Her body was found in a dump in Folkston, Georgia, three days later.
Sadly, we hear more and more stories like these every day. I just learned this morning that another little girl, nine-year-old Elizabeth Olton, has been missing in Missouri since yesterday afternoon. All these cases are tragic, yet Somer’s story hit me incredibly close to home. I grew up in Orange Park, a suburb of Jacksonville, and lived less than two miles from where Somer’s family now lives. All my friends lived in that neighborhood, and we went to those neighborhood schools. One of my best friends lived on the same street as Somer’s family, and I rode my bike there several times a week. It’s unfathomable to think that a child was taken on a street that I played on many days of my young life.
The past couple of days, I’ve been talking with my girls more about stranger danger, a very important yet very difficult conversation to have with two six-year-old little girls. It’s finding that thin balance between wanting them to remain safe and make good choices while not scaring them so much that they want to turn inward and never experience the joys of childhood that all children deserve. It’s amazing how much the world has changed in the 30-35 years since I was a kid in that neighborhood. So many of us who rode the streets for hours on our bikes, staying out until dark or until Mom yelled for us to come eat dinner, now are faced with a world in which we are often afraid to let our own children do the same.
I can only imagine the devastation Somer’s family is feeling right now, particularly her mother. I’ve been on the verge of tears for her for three days, many times letting them just spill over. To bring the story even closer to home, yesterday I learned that Somer’s mother is a student right here on my campus. My students and I are working on a memorial for Somer that will take place on Monday, and I’m working with our Foundation to establish a scholarship in Somer’s name. My hope would be that the first scholarship would be awarded to Somer’s mother, and then in subsequent years, to other single mothers struggling to make ends meet while trying to make a better life for their families. If you’d like to make a donation to this scholarship once it’s established, just email me or post a comment below and I’ll send you the information as soon as it’s available.
So today, no, not my usual upbeat post. Today, I’m asking you to hug your babies, no matter how old they are. And think about our world, think about your neighborhood, think about little Somer and all the other kids out there who are missing or lost. And think about their families. Pray for them. Hope for them. And think about what little things you can do to maybe make this world a better place.
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” ~Mahatma Ghandi
This was posted on my blog before I retrieved my sons from their month-long visit with their father. I must have been missing them. A lot. I have them now and am not feeling nearly as wistful, typed with a grin.
I’m a Capricorn and I’m a parent. Capricorns are known for their penchant to give advice, and I have this penchant in spades. Being a parent, of course I give parenting advice all along, whether I really know what I’m talking about or not, but I’ve learned a few things over the years, including in the business of education pretty much since I left college. Kids are what I do. I even babysat from the time I was eleven years old. So if I know anything, it’s kids. Or to be more precise and professional about it, I know child development. As a parent of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, I know child development intimately, and what it looks like when it is skewed. Small advice on that, trust your instincts, mom. If you think something isn’t quite right, tell your pediatrician and don’t let him or her give you the “oh, it’ll all even out eventually” speech. Get to the specialists, get the testing. If your kid is ok, it’ll show. If not, early intervention is the key to your child’s success.
But that is a topic for another day.
Today’s spouting of advice is to let you know, whatever you are experiencing as a parent will end eventually. This phase of development will end, whether it is the constant demand of a newborn that exhausts you all hours of the day and night, the toddler exploration that drives every tiny piece of muck from the floor into her mouth or the destruction of your home environment in ways you never imagined possible, the I wants and whines of a preschooler to a preteen or the back talk and eye rolls of your pre-teen to teen.
The nursing that seems to suck the life out of you will end. The nursing that gives the special closeness you never dreamed possible will end.
The constant curiosity and amazement with everything around him will end. The nice spitty sucked fingers in the outlet guaranteed to give a charge will end.
The exuberant jumping on or off the sofa will end. The intense focus on dinosaurs, legos, drawing will end. Well, maybe not, you may have an artist, builder, archeologist or Olympian long jumper on your hands, but what an incredible place to start.
The eye rolls and flip flop of hormonal emotions, the sneaking and secrecy, intense friendships and heart pulled deeply in any direction away from you will end. So will the late night or car ride talks when you have your teen alone. Those times when you’ll get a glimpse of this young man or woman and who they’ll be, how they are likely to handle the world on their own, and whether or not you will think, alright, they’ll be okay, or have to let go even if you think they won’t be okay. Then hope they’ll at least be alright, eventually.
In every phase of childhood and parenthood, you and your child will rise to meet each other, negotiate the constantly shifting sands of your landscape together to rise into an adult. A day will come when the constant aggravation of his climbing the stairs when the gate is undone, or opening the kitchen drawers or inserting paper or bologna or puzzle pieces into the VCR, DVD, Wii slot will become family lore to share and look back on wistfully or in hysteria. Remember the time Junior jumped off the garage roof and broke one wrist and sprained the other? Yea, that was hysterical! And then he’d ride his bike around the neighborhood no handed, cast and splint up in surrender! Remember the time the police brought Junior home because he was riding his bike around town center at midnight? Yea, what was he, twelve? Yea, yea! Remember the time Suzy smeared poop all over her bedroom wall by her crib? Hahaha!
The seemingly impossible to survive times are survived, and eventually reflected upon or laughed about. But don’t forget to mark and hold the good moments, too. The intimate moments bed snuggling with the newborn, their sweet, warm, musky smell, their translucent skin and peaceful sleep. Don’t forget to hold the full–out preschooler laughs over farts at the dinner table, the spaghetti covered face, the midnight bad dream slip into your bed by the nine year old. The sofa snuggle and popcorn on movie night. The way the sunlight hits her hair in the off-shore beach breeze, the scent of salt and sunscreen on his skin, snow angels and snowball fights. The moment your teen looks at you in one of those deep conversations that appear to be on the surface, and says, only with his eyes, yea, I get it, even when the rest of his body language says otherwise.
Don’t forget the milestones and everything in between, because all of it will come back to mind, rise to the surface and you’ll wonder when that phase ended, when the sands shifted and created these new dunes in her life. The old dunes were so familiar.
This too shall end and you can hold it dear, or let it slip away. Let the tough stuff wear away with time. Keep it all close to your heart, because it’s not just your child’s life that is growing and changing. It’s yours.
After my prior complaints of not feeling like I am writing enough and my excuses-disguised-as-reasons blogs, I took a couple of pages from Christa Miller’s comments and Suzanne Kamata’s Breakfast interview. I squeezed in a little writing in my novel this week. Granted, it was a little, and I hope a little more today. Baby C was post-nursing soundly sleeping on my lap, and my back was achingly curved toward the keyboard, but I wrote. Exactly as I am doing now.
When Suzanne mentioned that her most creatively productive time of her life came after she had her twins who came bundled up with lots besides being twins, I realized I had to get moving. When Christa said:
I think it’s very limiting to say one “can’t” write a novel in stolen minutes outside tap class. Every time someone says I “can’t” I say, “Oh yeah??” OK, so maybe you can’t WRITE A NOVEL that way… but you can draft scenes. You can outline. You can brainstorm characters. All of it counts.
I drank from her dare-me spirit. Somewhere this week I began to feel if I don’t write now, when will I? Baby C will be graduating from high school when I’m 60 years old. Do I start taking myself seriously about the writing and publishing then? Will I even be around that long? I’ve learned to live in the now so much, especially because of and from aspie S, that I put off an entire lifetime of predictions and goals or the working toward them until I have “me” time. Well, guess what. My boys have been out of town for over three weeks, and what have I done? Not nearly what I thought. The time slipped away from me with so much openness about it. I’m such a procrastinating dreamer. Well if I think about it, isn’t that writing, too?
So I hunkered down. I remembered a movie I love in which Stanley Tucci’s character befriends a ‘great writer’ played by Ian Holm. It’s called Joe Gould’s Secret. If you haven’t seen the movie, my apologies but here’s the spoiler: his secret was he never wrote the book he talked about for years, decades. He died incomplete.
I don’t want to die incomplete. I want to finish this youth novel. I want to finish other projects: a couple of screenplays, another novel, organize a lifetime of poems into submissions and slim volumes. I don’t want all to be said of me at my funeral is that I was a devoted mother. Oh, I want that, too, but I have so much more to say now and I don’t want to take my time for granted anymore. Ok, it’s time to get back to the book. Please, Baby C, stay asleep just a little while longer.
An article in this morning’s Boston Globe has added to my anxiety about managing work, creativity, and a new baby. Last time I had a newborn (three years ago) I didn’t work as much as I do now, and I wasn’t quite as plugged into the internet. Even so, I felt guilty about the amount of time I spent nursing while typing with one hand, eyes glued to my computer screen instead of my beautiful baby.
I tried to tell myself that it’s not much different than staring at the pages of a book, but it is. When I’m reading and my kids talk to me, I hear them. When I’m staring at my laptop–either working, being creative, or goofing off–the machine seems to cast this hypnotic spell that enables me to tune out the rest of the world. Sometimes the kids have to jump up and down to get my attention.
Obviously, I’m not alone. The Globe article, entitled “Connection Failure?” discusses mothers of newborns who are glued to their computers much of the day. The article raises several concerns: time spent on the web is associated with depression; mothers of newborns may be satisfied enough with their virtual connections that they stop trying to get out and establish tangible relationships; and worse, that Mom may end up more connected to her computer than she is to her infant. Pretty much a lose-lose situation for baby:
Mothers have always multitasked, from foraging with babies strapped to their backs to sewing, engaging an older child, or even cooking while nursing. Is Internet use any different?
“If you observe women who, let’s say, knit, their gaze is moving back and forth from the baby to knitting,” Rich said. “The Internet demands a lot more attention. You’re receiving and sometimes sending communication, so there’s sustained concentration away from the baby.”
Habitual Internet use while nursing, especially if the baby’s awake and seeking the mother’s eyes, concerns Rich. “It can be a real rejection for the baby, for whom you fill his or her world,” he said.
Ouch. For me, this time around–with so much on my plate, including a nonfiction book in progress (and four other children), I’m worried. I don’t want my new baby (or any of my kids, for that matter) to think of me as inseparable from my laptop. I know that my goal needs to be boundaries, but I’m not sure what that looks like. I have childcare in my home three days a week for my toddler, but I imagine that for the first four months, my childcare provider won’t be doing much with the baby aside from changing the occasional diaper. This means a lot of nursing during work time/creative time, as in, nursing while staring at the computer.
How have the rest of you navigated this mine field? How bad is the guilt? (Like we need one more thing to feel guilty about.) Does your family threaten to cut the cord on your computer? When you’re sleep deprived and you want to keep up with your blog reading while feeding the baby, what do you do? If holding your baby while typing your novel is the only way to finish your book, do you bite the bullet and hope for the best?
So happy! Babygirl slept for like a whole hour in her playpen and I actually spent that time working on art. It wasn’t so bad. I’m experimenting with pastels on paper, and haven’t quite found what I’m looking for, but at least it’s a start. While I was digging out the pastels, I came across some watercolors I was once working on. Now, watercolor is not really my thing, I like oils, but when I was expecting Babygirl, I had to find another medium because the oils and associated thinners are extremely toxic and can be absorbed through the skin. So I checked out a book from the library and started playing around in watercolor. Mostly I made a mess, but I wonder if I can remember anything. It might be fun to try that again.
Mostly, I can’t seem to get my mind away from finding a bigger house. Maybe I’m doing that nesting thing, and with new baby coming soon, and no place to put him, I can’t help but dream of more bedrooms. So, I’m being positive and looking online at larger houses, although really we don’t have enough time to move before new baby comes, and I don’t think I could, being as pregnant as I am. Who wants that hassle on top of the backaches and heartburn? I can still dream.
And maybe tomorrow there will be time for art again, but I’ve decided that I have to stop feeling guilty about not dedicating more time to my creativity. I am a mother first, and there will be time again. It is what I love, so I have to believe that. Right now, it might be enough to rest when I can and dote on Babygirl before her little brother arrives. My children are, after all, my biggest and best creations.
Wow, isn’t it great being so pregnant…not really. The good thing, it’s almost over and I can meet my baby boy and get my body back. I can’t wait to bend over again. Picking up baby girl’s toys has become quite a chore.
I had a moment yesterday where I actually dug out my big sketch book and took out the oil pastels and stared at the colors…they smelled so good, and then I put them away… in a more convenient place of course. I told myself that baby girl would wake up any moment and I would barely get started, and the mess would not be worth the limited time, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do anyway. She slept in her playpen for about two and a half hours. Wasted time.
I spend so much time making excuses for not doing what I love, the biggest of which is no time and no space. But really, if I truly wanted to, couldn’t I make the time and the space? I battle myself over this constantly. I’m afraid I can’t get it back, that “flow,” that losing oneself in the art. The last time I tried to paint, there was nothing, just a sense of how much can I finish before baby girl wakes up? And I don’t like the painting. I was going through the motions. More excuses.
I think I need that studio space: a place to get messy and leave it all out if I have to. I suggested hiring someone to finish the basement room, and ironically, my husband spent a whole weekend day working on it. And then it stopped. Maybe he needs another nudge. Secondly, I need some dedicated time. My husband works evenings and is home most mornings, unless he can get overtime. We have discussed the option of him watching the baby so I can have some time. And he does, occasionally. I usually use that time for showers and cleaning, but I think my priorities must change if I want to preserve my sanity. I’m running out of time before baby number two arrives and I’ll look back on these days as filled with free moments (well, maybe).
Maybe I need to stop making excuses and do whatever I can to create. Use the kitchen table to paint on if I have to. Maybe it’s time to explore some new techniques…go really abstract…fast and furious, anything to get something new done. It might be worth a try. I might find inspiration there.