The door opens and closes. One boy and then the other come in, perch on my lap, and accept my ample kisses on their warm necks. I wrap them in my arms, hold them close, and then gently nudge one and then the other out of my studio. This is my hour. The one I’ve sacrificed sleep for, waking before dawn to come reluctantly to page while the birds lift up the corners of the sky in song.
When they were small, it wasn’t like this. I couldn’t just shoo them out and shut the door. Their needs came before mine for years; milk and comfort, laundry and the full-body demands of little ones, arms always reaching up. Hours felt spliced into impossible fractions. Half-hour nap times were never long enough. Everything took three times as long to finish. Leaving and arriving were forever activities requiring sheer force of will and extra bags: wipes, snacks for the road, diapers, extra socks. And it all felt so terribly permanent: the way the edges of my self had blurred; my identity smudged with motherhood. The way time always seemed to come up short, as though there was an accounting: a reconciling of unequal equations. Motherhood vs. livelihood. Guilt and craft and love and art.
Now though, at 8 and 4, my boys have their own perimeters. And though their lives are still in orbit with mine, we have our own trajectories. They’re becoming their own selves. They dress in the morning of their accord; pour cereal, ride bikes, and running wild in the yard. And when they come to my studio in the morning now, they go without question when I ask—understanding that part of what I do is a magic that happens only when I sit alone in a circle of lamplight, fingers moving across the keys.
They scoot off my lap, and pull the door closed. Their voices carry down the hall with the thump of their bare feet.
Somehow I had babies ahead of nearly everyone in my life, and so I’m again on the flip side, watching as many of my dear friends (and sisters) navigate the terrain new parenthood. They are sleep deprived, anxious, broken open, falling hard in love, inevitably remade by the small new person in their lives.
And even though I now have these two lanky-legged kids who spend hours doing their own thing without intervention (Bean reads street signs and technical manuals and builds complex circuits, and Sprout has suddenly started draw sky scrapers, and doing basic addition) I remember exactly how it felt then, when both of them were small.
I remember feeling like the equation would never reconcile. And like my art, and time, and leisure, and my barest truest sense of self had been exchanged for some other murky self defined by milk and moments of sweet heat and sobbing, blooming smiles, and the raw edge of desperation.
How I wish someone had taken me by the shoulders then and stared into my eyes and promised: It will all even out. Things kilter back to center gradually. And then you’ll be on the other side, looking back.
There is no way to talk of this without verging on cliché. They grow up so fast.
Of course I could have never really heard it then, and likely all I would have wanted was to punch anyone in the face who might have dared to say a thing like that out loud. I was in the weeds. The days an eternity of overwhelming hours. Milestones were marked in weeks. Years seemed like a forever of time when counted in diapers. Everything felt rarified: alone time especially. And time fo art most of all.
Jamie and I talked about this a few weeks ago, when she interviewed me for her Creative Living podcast. She asked me: What’s the greatest challenge that you face as a creative? The long and the short of my answer was about time. Finding it. Having enough of it. Balancing it. And how this looks like closing the door–and putting my work above them sometimes.
The thing about new parenthood in particular is that it’s a trick of time. It’s a fiction all of it’s own weaving. It makes you feel like all is lost and gained. Like you can never have it all, and like you have it all. Like you have given everything, and are everything with this other little person in your world. Like sacrifice is inevitable. Like who you were and who you are will never align with who you once thought you might become.
But, to all the new mamas reading, this is I want to tell you: There’s time enough.
To be a mother. And to be the creative, powerful, careerist that you are. To lean in, and also to lean out.
It isn’t a race. There is no finish line, other than the one that we cross when we leave our bodies behind. Sink into the moment and trust that the right time will find you again to do the work you love. To run the miles you crave. To make the art that makes your soul light up. To _______fill in the blank.
And I also want to tell you this: That in the instances or hour or days when you choose your work over your kids they’ll be just fine. You’re children do not need to be at the center of your world, to know that they are at the center of your heart. And when they see you do the magic of the work you love and come back with your own well filled, they will feel filled too. That’s a promise.
Navigating motherhood and a life of creative work has been like learning to swing: there’s a balance of movement that propel you away and then back towards the center of gravity that holds you here on this earth.