An author friend of mine and i got talking a few weeks back, and he commented that he had no idea how I balanced writing and motherhood. He offered mad respect, which was awesome, but it set off a long train of thought about what it was like to be both a mother and an artist, and how the needs of those two things are so incredibly contradictory--and yet, how the two feed into each other so deeply.
If you'd told me, a little more than a decade ago, that I'd be the mother of two kids, and delighted to be so, I would have laughed in your face. I was going to be the Laurie Halse Anderson for queer girls, and I was going to take the world on.
But then I had a wonderful little kid, and the world's access tilted; I had another, and everything changed. Like the song says, there were planes to catch (buses, really), and bills to pay. I'd lie down in traffic for my kids, but I find that my life now is in constant tension between the real and sincere needs of my children, and the need to let out the words in my head and heart that would strangle me if I let them.
All conventional wisdom about writing, about art in general, says that you need time and space to be creative. There's something to that; it's extraordinarily difficult to write a novel or sculpt or paint or learn to dance when you're working two jobs and sleeping six hours a night, and ends still aren't meeting.
If there's anything parenthood universally deprives you of, it's large chunks of uninterrupted time. I work from home during the day as a freelance writer, and the hours when my kids are punctuated with other people's needs. The few hours a day when I'm home alone, I'm usually so busy with catching up on work deadlines that recharging and finding me-time, so necessary for art, is difficult to impossible.
My kids make me feel ever more driven to create art, but steal away the time I need to create it. They demand that I make the world a better place for them, but make it incredibly hard for me to do that, the only way I know how.
I don't have an answer. I don't know what the balance point is on this tension wire that I walk on a daily basis. Some days, the writing wins. I hide away in a secluded corner of our apartment and get the work done, bringing my laptop or notebook to a variety of appointments and events for my busy kids. Other days, the kids win; I close the laptop, cap the pen, and join in with the silliness of their play.
I do know that the men in my life, even the ones who have kids, don't experience this same tension between art and life. But that's the least of our inequalities.
Here's a way to wrap this up: the other day, I heard my older daughter speaking to one of her friends. They were talking about what their parents did. When her friend asked, my daughter said "My mom? Oh, she does writing."
That was one moment where I found perfect balance in this ongoing tension.