Before there was Teddy and Sydney, before there were piggies going to market, drippy noses to wipe and miniscule adorable clothes to fold, I used to do things - things like draw. My favorite media was vine with black pastel, and I had the most fun with mark making. There's something about those purposeful slashes, jabs and squiggles - it was like kickboxing with a crayon. I loved the way my nails were never quite clean, and my hair smelled of charcoal dust, and my clothes were crusted with rubbery eraser bits. I would get so deep into projects that it was my sustenance - literally so - because I would forget to eat food. If I did eat, I didn't taste it. Sleep would not come until I got to a 'good place' to stop. Many times I woke up face down on the paper, in a panic that I may have drooled on the result of my 11pm inspiration.
Was I any good? Maybe? Sometimes? But that's immaterial anyway. The quality of work (or lack thereof!) never really mattered. What mattered was the act of creating something from absolutely nothing. Now you see a blank sheath of 80 lb. cotton rag . . . . but now . . . now you see stuff on it. It was really quite empowering. Maybe that's why I didn't drink in high school. Drawing made me feel high enough.
Like many people, I had many interests. I liked to run for the joy, and the challenge, and of the wrung-lung sweat of it. I would run in weather so cold it felt like needles were piercing the back of my nose. I also played violin. I played tennis. True, my only decent hit was a totally unintentional, but rather wicked, backhand spin, but it was fun! I sang alto and mezzo in various choral groups, and took classical voice lessons just to see if I could do it. I wrote bad lyrics, and even worse poetry. Not because I had to. Just because.
No matter where I was in life, I made time for enjoyable things that required nothing more than the volition, the compulsion, to create or do something. Not for praise or accolades or money. Just for personal fulfillment. I've always answered that sensory and visceral call. In fact, nothing has ever come between me and some form of self expression - not a failed marriage, a move to a big city, demanding jobs, situational depression, caretaking for my grandmother, going back to school as an adult, or marriage to great guy. Nothing.
That is, until I had two beautiful, sweet, funny, heart-of-my-heart kids. Wow. That sounds so unjust . . . as if they are the cause of this disconnection with myself. They are not. In fact, they have opened up new pathways of love and happiness I didn't know possible. But the truth is, I'm too tired to create the way I used to. And exercise? The very word gives me a headache. Raising children (with my helpful and involved husband) knocks me flat on my very un-tennis-y butt every darn day. Is this in some way evidence that I'm not a natural-born Mom? Others make it look so easy. Maybe I'm not that good at it. I don't really know the answer, but I try. I begin each day brimming full of optimism like a 1990's motivation poster: Live life to the fullest! Live, love, laugh! Today is the first day of the rest of your life!
Somewhere in the day, like around dinner time, the positive mantra changes to something like: "Stop telling me to live, 1990's Motivational Posters! I'm eyeballs high in living! "
Kidding aside, at the end of 15 hour home day, I'm an empty cup with the handle falling off. Don't get me wrong- I do my best, and hope the parenting books I'm reading will keep my children out of therapy. But it takes all I have to parent. There's really not much left of me for me.
All the books talk about the importance of 'you time' so that parents have other things to look forward to. So I have these good intentions for creative time. I've got the supplies. I have ideas. Oh I have tons of ideas. I even schedule creative time in my planner. But the most I can manage after the last child is asleep is an adult beverage, and a hot marinade in the bath tub. (A tub, that I wish with all of my being, was a sensory deprivation tank. I am not kidding about that.) When I feel sufficiently numbed by the water, I let it drain, and I imagine all the stress of the day going down with it. That feels good. Emptying with it is yet another opportunity to do something creative. That doesn't feel so good.
Just about every bath is bittersweet in this way for me. *sigh*
But then, there'll be a glimmer of what the future might be like. I compare it to a sun streak in a dark forest, or better yet, a sun streak in an abandoned building (the abandoned building is of course, a metaphor for my head.) Perhaps I got enough sleep the night before, or the kids were especially helpful and sweet to each other. . . . let's just say the planets were aligned. And the result is I crafted, or edited photographs, or wrote this. Very. Blog. When that energy rushes through me I feel like a rooster who needs to crow. I feel invincible. Confident. Worthy, like I have something of value to contribute. Do I have something of value to contribute most times anyway? Yes, sure, don't we all? But try telling that to the right side of my brain. It's very hard of hearing.
I've accepted that life is full of trade offs. I don't expect that it will be this way forever. In fact, if I want the best for my kids, then I would be doing them a favor by letting them see my most authentic self. I want to give them and my husband that. I want to give them more than paltry weak shafts of light, but high noon, in your face, Vitamin D springtime sun. If I can provide a good example, perhaps when they have families of their own, they will naturally reserve time just for them to do what they love. We all need this attention to ourselves to rejuvenate, to stay sane.
I've been reading The Fringe Hours: Making Time For You . The author has very convincing arguments in favor of doing a little for yourself each day - much more if you can swing it. At this chapter in my life, I can't do the things I used to do in the way I was used to doing them. But I can give myself a half hour a couple of times a week. Maybe there's a way to include the kids on a few projects. It's a start . . . . and hey look - there's that light again . . .