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Contemplations on being a mother and an artist

This is supposedly a blog about “living creatively”, but it’s mostly been about surviving pregnancy and the early days of motherhood. Now that Little Man is five months old, we’re getting a bit more sleep and I’m creeping back into the creative swing of things with a couple of mural gigs (which I’ll post about later).  I feel like I’m coming back to life, but it’s a strange new one where time and space for myself are extremely limited. I had a hard time balancing my desire to create with marriage, a social life, and work that pays the bills before I had a baby, but now it seems like a nearly impossible challenge to carve out some “me time”. On the one hand, I want to be there for my son as much as possible. I don’t want to miss a thing and I want him to know I’m there for him. On the other hand, I hope to teach him that the best thing he can do in this life is find what he loves and pursue it with passion, and what kind of example will I be if I’m too busy/tired/afraid to pursue my own dreams?

The majority of famous women artists and writers I can think of (which are, sadly, not many to begin with), did not have children. It seems they had to make a choice between their career and kids, and career won out. I could go on and on about sexism in the arts and how men don’t have to make that choice and blah blah blah, but it’s been done (the Guerrilla Girls do a good job of it) and I’m not out to get famous in the art world anyway. All I want is a fulfilling creative life and a healthy loving relationship with my family. Can it be done? Are they mutually exclusive?

I’ll be thinking and writing more about this topic in coming posts. I’d love to hear more about how you do it if you are an artist and a mama.

In the meantime, here are beautiful excerpts from an essay on this issue which gives me hope. It’s called “The Divided Heart” and is by Ruth Whitman, a poet and professor (one I had never heard of before reading her essay in a collection of women’s art and writing called In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts).

“Writing for me was and is an assertion of my identity. I never feel so much myself, with a great sense of relief and release, as when I stop somewhere in the midst of my daily chaos with pencil and paper.”

[On becoming a mother] “I was afraid to lose my independence, my person-ness. But the whole experience of pregnancy, which I found marvelously mind-expanding as well as body-expanding, followed by the experience of viewing this beautiful piece of life for which I was responsible, gave me a passion for motherhood.”

“Perfection of life or perfection of work? Which would you rather strive for? My answer had to be – both. I began to see that life was not static. It changed continually. And one could guide the change: children could be educated to see the equality of needs and responsibilities; I could become less rigid in my view of my needs…”

“I don’t mean to imply for a moment that there were not tremendous pain and division in my heart. I didn’t want to miss companionship with my children…on the other hand, I felt resentful at having to delay my own creative development…my third child was born before my first book came out. But by that time I was beginning to understand that my libido was strong enough to make both books and babies and that in fact one strengthened the other. Both together were the real total of my life. Spiritually, so long as I insisted on my right to a private life, there was no real division. The division was in the distribution of time.”

“More and more I see the parental function – not authoritative, but educative – as the responsibility of every human being who has found out anything by living. If civilization means anything, it lies in becoming part of the great chain of learning from those who have gone before us, and of teaching those who come after us.”

“A private creative person lives inside each of us. It is one’s basic identity, with all the symbols, images, and language that each of us has stored up since childhood. It is in these universal terms that the poet and parent begin to come together, that the conflict begins to subside and the divided heart becomes whole.”

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I’ve Got a Perfect Body

Ok, so not a perfect body in the Angelina Jolie sense, nor Catherine Zeta Jones even post-pregnancy (if I could look like anyone, it would be her).  No, I have a perfect body in the Regina Spektor sense. I love this lyric in her song Folding Chair:

I’ve got a perfect body/But somehow I forget/I’ve got a perfect body/’Cause my eyelashes catch my sweat/Yes, they do/They doooooo….

I mean, seriously Body, you are amazing. Not only do your lashes catch sweat, last year at this time you grew a human being in your uterus and it lived off you like a parasite from a placenta you also just grew out of nowhere.  You’ve been making milk to feed said parasite on the outside for five months now. You were a rockstar getting that little sucker out during the event you’d rather forget about (but others can read about here). You’ve even miraculously returned to your pre-pregnancy weight.

I know your back hurts and you are recovering from sleep deprivation and your “milk makers” will never be the same. I know I pick and pluck and point out all your flaws everyday in front of the mirror, but Body, you deserve major props. I think you are perfect just the way you are. Yes, I do. I  doooo…

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Cry Me a River

I haven’t posted in awhile and I wish it was because I have been out living such a creative, abundant, passionate life. But it’s mostly because I’ve become obsessed with sleep – reading about sleep, keeping sleep logs, daydreaming about sleep – trying pretty much everything to do with sleep, except sleeping.

I’ve always been a great sleeper. I used to be able to sleep through anything, which is truly a gift people who’ve heard my husband snore will attest to. But ever since the last uncomfortable trimester of my pregnancy to the first night in the hospital when I realized I’d just given birth to my own personal around-the-clock-wakeup call to now five weary months later, I have become a sleep-deprived zombie, one of those walking dead among you but not really with you.

I reached my breaking point last weekend after increasingly frustrating nights during which Little Man’s stretches of sleep got shorter and shorter and his demanding guttural screams got louder and louder. The straw that broke mama’s back was a night that he awoke every hour all night and then every half hour between 3 and 6 am, being comforted by nothing but mama, and specifically that human pacifier portion of mama. Somehow I made it until 10 am, allowing my oblivious hubby to sleep in that Sunday morning. As soon as his crusty eyes cracked open, I shoved Little Man in his arms and said “I have to get out of here” and left, leaving him to wonder if I was ever coming back.

Clearly something had to give. So after some solitude and soul searching, I returned ready to try the method I had previously dreaded and thought inhumane – “cry it out”. I knew Little Man was capable of a long stretch without eating because he’d had a blissful three week period at around three months old when he only woke up once between nine pm and eight am, but stopped after we traveled and never got back on track. His pediatrician said he was ready for sleep training if we were. Other parents told us how they’d done it. We tried everything else – sticking religiously to a good nap schedule, introducing solids, and creating a consistent and soothing bedtime routine – and yet his night waking was just getting worse. It was time.

So that night we did it. I put him down drowsy but awake after our routine, and walked out telling myself that falling asleep was a skill he needed to learn, and I had been doing it for him by letting him fall asleep on the boob. I was his crutch, and he had to learn to sleep without me. Cold turkey. Cry it out, kid, ’cause I’m not coming back in. I’ll just be out organizing the garage and sobbing about my terrible failure as a mother, while your dad watches the video monitor and makes sure you’re not dying.

He cried for half an hour. And less the next night. Three nights later, he can fall asleep on his own with minimal fuss. A couple nights in a row he goes an eight hour stretch and then three or four more after one feeding. It’s beautiful. I can do this. I won’t fool myself into believing this is forever because if there’s anything I’ve learned in life and especially motherhood it’s that everything changes and flexibility is the key to coping, but I can’t tell you how good it feels to get a couple decent nights of sleep. I feel like I’m coming to life again.

I was convinced he would be a different baby after that first night, that he would look at me with a cold, detached, resentful glare showing me how I’d broken his spirit and he would never trust me or anyone else ever again. But he wakes up in the morning peaceful, gurgling and cooing at his mobile, and then beaming up at me with that crazy beautiful dimple-cheeked toothless grin, all forgotten. He’s happier, it turns out, when he’s well rested too.

I remember secretly scoffing at a mom I know who hired a sleep consultant, and another who still puts her kids in the car to get them to take a nap, and the one who lets her kids sleep in bed with her. And now I officially apologize for my judgment. Because now I know whatever it takes to keep from leaving your kid on the curb or tearing the hair out of the next mom who says “I’m sorry I just can’t relate. My baby slept through the night as soon as we got home from the hospital”, whatever it takes for you to maintain a shred of sanity is what is best for your kid, because a rested mom is a happy mom, and happy moms can be there for their babies.

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A Season of Gratitude

It’s a little early for Thanksgiving, but I’m feeling grateful. And since these grateful moments often flit away in the face of fear and doubts and worries, I am challenging myself to spend more time in gratitude this season. Instead of dwelling on the dread of winter, sadness for all the pain in the world (both actual and potential), and wanting more than I have, I will be here. Now. In the present. And grateful for all the goodness in my life.

I’m grateful for big general things like food, shelter, health, friends, family, love, living in a country where I am not oppressed, etc.  It’s easy to take these things for granted and find myself complaining about things that just don’t matter. To combat this negativity, I will try to draw my attention to all the specific things I am grateful for as I go about my days. Here’s a short list of what I’m thankful for today:

-Amazing California sunshine before sweater and scarf wearing weather hits.

-A sweet sweet husband who makes sure I’m fed. If left to my own devices I would subsist on frozen Trader Joe’s food, but instead I have a man on a crockpot kick who just made me a hearty autumn butternut squash stew.

-The satiny succulent stomach skin of my beautiful baby boy. And his chubby little feet. And his smile. Ok, the whole dang baby.

-Living in a city where I can take dogs to the beach and run in the sand with a backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. Gorgeous.

-I have running water in my house unlike a staggering number of people in the world, and can take a nice, hot shower whenever I want to (or whenever aforementioned baby will allow it, and he’s finally sleeping, so off I go!)

What are you grateful for today?