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The True Genius of Mothers

The piece below originally appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter.

By Suzi Banks Baum

frost doodleI strive for One Thing Only. But I was not doing one thing only last week at my 18-year-old’s ski race. I’m not sure exactly what I was doing when I left the sidelines and accepted my son’s invitation to step onto the back of his skis for a “little ride” down the mountain. He’d just fallen during his ski race — not badly, but a fall that disqualified him. I wanted to be near him, just to make sure he was okay. That was one thing.

The other thing, the idea of a “little ride,” is what gave me a black eye.

That ride on the slick skis of a slalom racer landed me face-first in the icy snow on the downward slope of a small mountain in the frigid evening air, where I never would have ended up if I’d listened to my inner guidance and stayed home to make soup, but I did not heed that thought, no, there I was on the slopes to cheer. (Something of the crowd’s response told me that cheering is just not done at races. Maybe that is why my boy fell?)

Well. I yelled anyway. I believe in my kids knowing they are being seen.

But I did not yell when I fell.

8452838039_db8de2fe8b_mNo, headfirst in the snow, then sitting up with my cold hand pressed to my hot cheek, I silently beheld the egg blooming under my skin. Now, doing one simple thing, but holding about 10 other thoughts in my mind. “Is anything broken? Why did I listen to my kid? Argh, he makes me nuts! Oh, but he fell too. How is he? Hurt? Embarrassed? Do I need an EMT? What about dinner now? I hate dinner! Will I be able to teach this weekend?”

This morning, I read: “True genius is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously without losing your mind.” Charles Baudelaire wrote that. I’d say he was describing the genius of mother-thoughts entirely.

Some days, I ace thinking one thing at a time. Quiet prevails, the phone is ignored, the Wi-Fi is off, and the laundry dries peacefully on the line, no one needs me, no one is hollering my name from another part of the house, no meal awaits creation, no ski race demands my yelling, just me. Here. With you, the little black tendrils that I coax into letters that make these words that give form to my thoughts.

It is a simple as that.

8348911559_0c808ed79c_mWhen I have been multi-tasking too much, I doodle to settle myself. Then, with my concentration engaged, I can write.

One little black thread of a line leads to another.

And of those thoughts, those layers and layers of mother-thoughts, I work around them, never truly shedding them, but today, I can see they are part of my genius.

Merci, Monsieur Baudelaire. Now please pass the ice pack.


suzi_banks_baumGrowing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan made author, blogger, artist, and fulltime mom Suzi Banks Baum a lover of winter. Not afraid of the blank page, blank canvas, or wide expanse of snow, she makes patterns and trails, worlds and visions with her work. Suzi is about to launch an anthology of writings by women on mothering and creativity entitled An Anthology of Babes: Thirty-six Women Give Motherhood a Voice. The book will be sold at her March 1, 2013 event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers called Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. You can find Suzi at  Laundry Line Divine or at the 10X10on10 Arts Festival in Pittsfield, MA, this month or better yet, out ice-skating.

Pages of Wisdom: Suzi Banks Baum

Suzi Banks Baum, writer and artist, is one of 13 contributors whose wisdom appears in the e-book The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years. If you’re not already reading Suzi’s blog, Laundry Line Divine, add it to your roster of regular reading, pronto. What follows is the gift of Suzi’s words as taken directly from the e-book. Enjoy!

When our son Ben was born, I was ready to simply focus on having a child. Prior to my pregnancy, I was pursuing my acting career and running a custom-made clothing business from our studio apartment. I would swipe away the fabric scraps to write every morning, then polish a monologue in the same space where we ate, lived, and carried on our married life. Adding Ben to the mix in that small space made it nearly impossible for me to do anything but care for him. I left off auditioning and doing readings completely. I wrote every morning. And, happily, had not much attention for anything else.

My husband Jonathan, from the first days of Ben’s life, made sure I took time to write. Journal keeping was my lifeline through the early years of mothering. If I did nothing else for myself, I wrote for 45 minutes. Jonathan’s support made it possible for me to keep those thin tethers to my private thoughts supple and alive. Without him, I might have grown resentful of the time I devoted to mothering.

I kept sewing small projects I knew I could do with a long deadline. And the most important thing I did was learn to knit. My best friend teases me to this day about her first visit to us when Ben was 5 months old. She would hold Ben and play with him and I would keep telling her, “Just let me finish this row.” Up to that point, knitting was one fiber art I had not studied. I leapt in fully and became an accomplished knitter. And I learned other creative things I could do with a child around me, like preserving, gardening, and other needlework.

The most specific mindset is to find things you can do in stages. Try projects — and this may be a new way of working as an artist — but do things that you can put down and pick up again a day or a week later. The newborn and baby years are not the time to start your master’s degree or commit to an engagement with immoveable deadlines.

My biggest piece of advice is this (and I know how hard this is to accept): During the early years of your kids’ lives, let yourself off the hook. Don’t try to accomplish so much that you make yourself nuts. As a new mom, you are susceptible to massive self-doubt. You will double your grief by holding yourself to standards you kept pre-baby. Just take a break. Nap. Dream. Navigate these waters of motherhood knowing that things will change.

As kindly and well as you care for your child’s needs, turn that same attention on yourself. Nap, feed, and clothe yourself with the same amount of care. Schedule art dates for yourself just as you schedule play times for your children. Choose your friends wisely. Spend time with mothers who are living as you’d like to live. Find common ground and dwell with them there.


If you’re an artist or writer with little ones, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years is the essential survival guide written just for you. Concrete strategies for becoming more creative without adding stress and guilt. Filled with the wisdom of 13 insightful creative mothers; written by a certified creativity coach and mother of five. “Highly recommended.” ~Eric Maisel. 35 pages/$5.99. Available for download here.

What are we doing, anyway?

Inspired beauty from Suzi Banks Baum of Laundry Line Divine. Thank you, Suzi!


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