Time for one‚Äôs self

Mama enjoying a morning off

Trying to be an on-top-of-it person, I had the nerve to respond to an email yesterday. In the two minutes I gave it, baby A snatched a pen and scribbled all over a white chair for the second time this week. The first time it happened, I was wiping up food she’d thrown on the floor as a diversion.

This combines well with the fact that I recently diagnosed my 12-year-old dog with depression. I can’t say I don’t understand it: Two years ago I went from his best friend to the person who hurls food at him twice daily and otherwise yells at him to Go outside! Come inside! Stop eating the baby’s food! Get over here and eat the baby’s food! Yeah, I pretty much yelled at him for the past two years while I cared for my late-larval-stage human.

The dog is now on a strict regimen of no being-yelled-at, having his head patted each time I walk by, kibble set lovingly before him, and one full-body hug daily. It seems to be working.

In helping my dog I realized that the only way to avoid such scenarios is to be infinitely available to my family forever. I made it until 5 p.m., but as soon as my husband came home I ran screaming out of the house.

The scribbled chair, the doggie depression, all of my failings come down to one issue: I need some time for myself. People do. That need doesn’t disappear when one becomes a mother.

It’s like I tell my husband – If you are doing something autonomous that makes sense, then I am not.

“Doing anything for our selves feels like selfishness,” says my friend T, “but it is actually more like self-preservation.”

My main scarcities are two-fold: 1) professional opportunity and 2) “wellness,” which includes sleep, nutritious food, yoga, and outdoor adventure. A person needs to go for a walk once in a while without also extolling the virtues of mittens. Maybe if I just get up at 5:30 in the morning…

Writing is my proxy for professional effort. It is something I do during every nap time whether it lasts 15 minutes or three hours. It is something I can do while solo parenting or following my husband around as he commutes between towns. It is something I can do even though A does not yet tolerate child care. Without this time, my day is reduced to wiping things.

I squish writing into the interstitial spaces of the day, which is why I have pulled over to work on this post at the side of the road at the edge of cell phone service. Baby A sits in her carseat in the back. ‘Wheels on the bus’ plays on the car stereo on repeat. I will stay here until she bellows.

Here is the one benefit of parenting as it applies to any art form: When the spare time you have asymptotically approaches zero, everything superfluous is stripped away and what you have left is exactly enough time for the one thing you most need.

I need time away from parenting – to work, be creative, and exercise – for my sense of self worth, but also because it makes me a better parent. When I get it I am kinder and more patient with my child, and I have more fun with her throughout the day. And yes, the husband and dog benefit as well.

Well, another writing day achieves lift off. Now all I have to do is find someone to jump my car ūüôĄ.

The dog ate my homework: adult version

The baby is teething, we moved, my heart was sad from fighting with my husband, then the baby turned one but I never finished the video montage of our year, so my creative production got stopped up, then it was sunny and I hiked every day for a week, then I was tired and sore, then I had too many ideas and not enough time, then it had been too long since I wrote so I felt overwhelmed and got sucked into the internet vortex.

So, I haven’t posted in a while and it feels terrible.

Adult creativity is complicated, because it’s up to each of us to take this stew of ideas, imagine a form to shift them into, and conceive of a way to announce the words, the work, the idea, as finished, to the world. I almost preferred school, where teachers thought up assignments and I just completed them and placed them in the wire basket.

Why bother? The reward of creating is greater, though more subtle than a grade: something felt, a momentary alleviation of mental noise, renewed hope that life is not just a loose cycle of consumption and waste, a sense of relief.

So now it is Monday, and it’s raining, and tomorrow I turn 37, which feels like such a random age to become, and the house is a mess, but the baby is sleeping, so if I write fast, this could be as good a moment as any to get my life back on track, and start living according to my values and priorities, again. You have to start somewhere.

I have this (mobile) baby

I’ve had this baby for nine months. Generally it’s been dreamy; we think she’s great. But until now I mostly did what I wanted to do. The secret of being a stay-at-home, I’ve been known to say, is that you get to do whatever you want as long as you bring the cub. All of that changed around the New Year when she went mobile.

Suddenly (a slow, diaper-changing, banana-eating, dog-climbing kind of suddenly) I have to redefine my self-worth by something other than productivity.¬† All day I’m flooded with ideas: Become a great cook! Cultivate the most productive garden EVER! Write a book or two! Prepare some singer-songwriter sets!¬†Sleep-train the baby!¬† My mind makes wild,¬†ambitious leaps like it always did. But time moves differently with a baby in the house, and none of these projects are at all realistic.

The truth is, I wasn’t some uber-productive success story before I had A either. I’ve been writing for years now, but all of those words are still tucked safely away on my computer. It’s not that I’m afraid of putting myself out there (says my inner excuse maker), I’m just not done yet.¬†I used to at least work (a lot) on my impossible goals, but lately my ego has started to freak out.

My actual accomplishments this morning include that I have washed at least several dishes, ate eggs, fed A, made and drank (yeah!) a cup of decaf, and continued to unpack the duffles from last week’s trip (day 3 of this project). All this while A pushed the furniture around the house. But I also started this blog, which I’ve been meaning to do for a decade.

Right now, in order to finish this post, I’m allowing A to tear all of my books off of the shelf again, and I’ll intervene only to keep her from eating my favorite ones (not Barry Lopez! not David Sedaris! Here, have a DVD!). This is not the only place where my theoretical parenting deviates wildly from my actual parenting (i.e. sleep).

My only explanation for my unprecedented burst of exposition, is that while before I thought about starting an online presence, maybe even wanted to, it wasn’t until today that I¬†needed¬†to. Because today, amidst the squirrel games, the need to¬†dump my brain¬†took precedence over the safety of privately and endlessly preparing my thoughts. For better or worse, allowing my words out into the world is one small but important goal that I can actually get somewhere on right now – even though nap time never lasts as long as I wish it did.

My kid needs love and care, but so much more. I want to be the first of many to teach her that effort makes a difference. I want her to grow up knowing that each of us has the power to make our community more whole and beautiful through conversations that matter, and that what we do is not half as important as who we are.¬†I can’t raise her to be more than I am.

This essay will post at the end of the week, whatever state it is in. I no longer have time, or the necessary brain power (mom brain, it’s real), to agonize much over the details. I have just enough time to say what I have to say and move on. I still imagine that I will come back and agonize over every word, but I probably wont.

That’s all for now; she’s awake.