It’s eight in the morning and the dishes from taco night are still piled in the sink. I skate across a pond of spilled orange juice. I see Evaline, dressed as Belle and clenching a fistful of juice-drenched tissues. The kids had a sleepover last night and though I can see things, like blankets hanging from walls and draping across their bedroom door, bowls of half eaten hot cereal, torn packets of instant oatmeal, generic Honeycomb crumbs – my sole focus, my mission, is to start the coffee and then retreat back to my bedroom.
To work. To edit. To design. To write.
And heaven help the child who comes to my knee to ask me a question while I’m mid-paragraph, (writing about an experience at a homeless center, where I’m imploring others to consider compassion over judgement, no less. Of course. )
This week I have photographed a homeless center lunch service, written about it, spent an entire day organizing a website, shot a Just Minute: Moments in Motherhood session, blogged it, done a wedding consult, booked a different wedding, and shot family portraits.
It is Friday and I have spent the days of this week satisfying my own desire to create, to do, to be anything other than just a mother.
Here, I write and speak of loving motherhood and the stunning beauty of ordinary life, and then less than two beats later, I turn away and heave heavy sighs, shake my head and roll my eyes. Is it really time to figure out dinner? Again???
I love when parenthood gives me insight and wisdom. I love when parenthood is a sweet child, curled on my lap, just long enough to satisfy my need for closeness, but then drowsy enough to be laid down in her own bed so that I may have my own space. I love when parenthood is hearing the words of God spoken to my heart from the lips of my son, when he isn’t even aware.
I love when parenthood is profound.
I roll my eyes and huff and try to disentangle myself when it’s, well, just plain ‘ol parenthood.
When kids take ten years to do things that they did in ten seconds the day before. When fights erupt over the stupidest of things (Yes, you CAN both have two types of cereal, it doesn’t matter if she’s copying you!) When it’s six-thirty in the morning and they come to your bed to ask for help in opening the cat food can. When they want to read a stack of books with you, but then lose interest after three pages. When there’s so much poop or puke or spilled substance du jour all over the kitchen floor.
And so, I do. I disentangle myself. I pour my coffee. I close my bedroom door. And I work. With a feverish passion, as though any of it matters. At all.
Ten years ago, I sat at a reception desk in an office of florescent lights, where everyone in the building passed me on their way in, then as they walked out. We had just bought our first condo and money was always tight. We worked for survival. We carpooled, Vinnie and I. I sat at my desk and emailed myself chapters for the novel I was working on. I applied to graduate school programs for writing. Otherwise, I kept busy, answering phones, updating the database with numbers, smiling at everyone who came in or waving at everyone who left.
On my lunch breaks, I would walk out to my car and call my friend who was a stay at home mom. She was almost always seemingly busy, making turkey hand print art, decorating for the seasons, spending all this time with her daughter. It kills me now, looking back, how I had envied her so. As I would punch back in from my lunch break, I would think, if only I had the luxury of being able to stay home. How nice it must be to just get to be a mom.
I had only been at the job three months when I learned I was pregnant.
And somewhere along the way, somewhere between the idealistic, dreamy notions of my first pregnancy and this bustling morning of six children trashing my house like they’re drunk rock stars, somehow, I have gone from working solely for financial survival, to a point of working as a means for personal survival.
Having personal goals, creative outlets, a means to vent daily frustrations or to give yourself a purpose beyond Queen of the Spills, is good.
Trouble is, I think I’ve somehow started to let my very self worth begin to get tangled in the works of my hands, of my heart, of my mind.
I’ve started to take it as a point of pride when someone tells me, I don’t know how you do it all!
Look at me, Master of the busyness of life! Queen of putting off her children, but writing pretty enough words to garner a few likes and shares and a sense of personal accomplishment! Look at me, stirring emotion, helping capture little glimpses of family life, of humanity!
Look at all that I can do – for others, for others, for others (but also, really, deep down, for me.)
Trouble is, for every word that I write, the next looms overhead, waiting.
For every photography project I undertake, after a week, I’m restless again.
And what about those pesky, busy, brilliant and funny four kids? How about those little lives I’m in charge of raising to the best of my ability? How about them?
A friend commented on a recent Facebook status update to remind me to treasure what I have. It was so easy to quip, of course, I do! Of course I treasure my little ones, I treasure these moments of pajama-clad insanity, of OJ skating rinks and something sticky, always.
My children are my inspirations, my daily guffaws, my favorite human beings under five feet.
Still, her words have clung to my heart this week, as I’ve gently pushed the children away. As I’ve worked, edited, organized, arranged, blogged. As I have, one-by-one, shooed them from my side. Go, read a chapter in your book. Go, play Dragon Box on your Kindle. Go, I’ll come read to you when I’m done. Go, I just need five more minutes, and can you PLEASE stop singing?
Look at me, treasuring.
When it’s convenient for me. When it works for a blog post. When it works for my own need to feel their bodies close to mine. I treasure, on my terms, which isn’t really treasuring at all.
I can write words that inspire thousands of people. I can take a picture that changes how people look at the world, how people look at each other. I can do good things, in the name of doing for others. But, if I have not treasured my own family. If I have not made my own children feel the love and warmth they so rightly crave, any success I have or fleeting accomplishment I feel, is loss.
Loss. All of it. Any success. Any outside praise or justification. All this busyness, the works I feel so desperately that I must do, to validate something deep inside. All of this to assert to the world, I am not just someone who gives birth, wipes noses and drives to karate!
I am still me!
Ah. And there it is.
The word at the root of it all.
Isn’t it always?
Oh, February, you brutal month of gray skies and snow days and slush and too many hours for introspection and reflection. Thank you for this last punch-in-the-gut reminder.
But, I have never been so happy to see you go.