Earlier this week, I went away. On my own, I drove the long miles out to the Berkshires and doubted my decision as every mile marker blurred past. What was I doing? Leaving Vinnie to figure out childcare for three days and rearrange his overnight schedule to accommodate me, running off. Just going, to what? To a retreat? To share a huge house with fellow creative-minded souls…because, that was so necessary in the midst of my slow season?
I’m going to write, I told Vinnie.
I told myself.
Instead, I ran before nine in the morning, until my lungs burned with the icy breeze and my ears went numb.
Instead, I walked alone into the small town center and nosed through antique stores. I fingered through nineteenth century newspapers, through earmarked old cookbooks with faded notes along the yellowed pages. I picked up milk glass bottles and trinkets, knick-knacks and handkerchiefs, remnants of other people’s stories, the bits of life that collect after the last chapters have been written.
Instead, I hiked, alone. I stood in the middle of a forest…just stood. I listened, to the gurgling of a small brook, to my breath, to the sounds of my feet crunching over snow as I moved forward. I wandered in circles, along trails that wove around beaver ponds, through cattails and piles of wet snow.
All along my run, and in the meandering through the narrow aisles of the stores, and while standing and staring up to the tops of the tallest trees in the forest – I questioned myself. And I strained, in the silence, for any reply. From the universe. From my own heart.
Lately, a shift has been happening, both internally and externally, and more than needing to focus on my photography business, or even my writing, I needed this retreat, to focus on myself. I needed to remember the person I was before children. And I needed to start to figure out the person I’m becoming now, now that my children are these somewhat self-sufficient creatures who can slice their own oranges or do their own laundry, who can remember to shower or feed the dog without my nagging or prompting.
It’s not unlike waking up while it’s still dark out. Joints are stiff. Brain is in a veil of fog. You know in your soul, there’s a reason you’re awake, but you can’t quite remember.
And it’s amazing and disorienting, all at once.
There’s a reason I’m here, there are things I want to accomplish, and after twelve years of being swallowed by the shadow of all-encompassing motherhood…the sun has shifted and I’m starting to see myself again.
All of my writing during my master’s program, all of the writing I’ve ever published, has been fiction tied to the experiences of being a mom. It has been twelve years of fictional pregnancy journeys, birth stories, miscarriages, young motherhood, loss of a mother…and so on.
I stood in the forest, snow soaking through my sneakers and into my socks, and I just wanted to run, from all of it. I love motherhood, but, almost as a form of self-preservation, I want to try and write about something else.
And I want to take the time to make that happen.
This morning, I woke up to all of my children in the kitchen and the scents of breakfast wafting throughout the house. Bacon in the oven, pancakes and eggs on skillets, a rush of plates clattering and the table being set. All this while I edited photographs and opened a couple of short stories to (eventually) continue writing.
Evaline, the birthday girl, came in and snuggled beside me. She asked to see pictures of her birthday – the first birthday – the real one. And so, I pulled up the gallery of her arrival. Then, her first birthday cupcake. Then the birthday party where she had a photo booth. Then, she lost interest and wanted to know when I would be baking her strawberry birthday cake, and she bounded off to play with her siblings.
She spun around before she disappeared around the corner and flashed me a smile and called out, I love you super duper much!
I listened to my children in the next room, but drew my bedroom door shut. Above the sounds of their games, I thought of the woods. The quiet. The solitude. The movement of dark water, winding through a snow covered forest. And I wrote.
Admitting that we need space is not showing weakness, and taking that space, is not selfish. There are sacrifices we make, for our families. And then, there are sometimes moments that we have to make, for ourselves.
Without long rambling excuses and explanations, and without apologies.
It’s okay, no, it’s better than okay, it’s good, to retreat.