My first month off work didn’t have as much writing as I’d hoped. My time seemed to get nibbled by mother things: dealing with school, appointments, the 24-hour care of children. And I fed the free time that was left, crumb by crumb, to energy-sucking distractions. I probably need to get comfortable with some of that: responsibilities can’t often be neglected, and distractions are sometimes survival. But it feels like I surrender my creative energy to motherly responsibilities more often than anything else.
Every mother’s relationship to motherhood is unique. Every writer’s relationship to writing is unique. Mothers continue to write around, under, and over their responsibilities, both real and imposed. I recently read Motherhood by Sheila Heti, which explores the tension between mother and writer in the context of whether a woman is required to have children. Since I already have children, for me, that tension is in what I require of myself in any moment. What I’m doing with my resources. How I wander the imbalance of each aspect of myself. What must be shuffled and reshuffled.
I was a writer for nearly three decades before I became a mother. I’ve been a mother for not quite eight years. My experience of motherhood includes a disabled child. A second kind of tension exists there: his complex needs, my needs, the family’s collective needs, all pull on each other and are rarely held in balance.
I am a good, imperfect mother. I’m engaged, connected, responsive, except when I am disengaged, disconnected, lagging in my responses. I pour creative energy into my children, except when my creative energy is tied up in looking for a precise word to describe light shining through day lily petals. I love the sparks in their eyes and their small bodies tucked perfectly in my arms. Except that I miss the long evenings of nothing with my spouse, the mornings of calm coffee and uncomplicated decisions about breakfast cereal. As I said to my spouse not long ago, I love our kids, but I don’t love being a mother.
The true problem is the multiplicity of being, the impossibility of being multiple in a given moment. To be a mother now, I abandon a metaphor; to be a partner to my spouse now, I ask a child to wait their turn to speak; to be a writer now, I retreat to my room and snarl over interruptions.
Perhaps the idea of balance is the real problem. The idea that the tension must be resolved, that I can live tension free, that harmony will exist if I can perfectly tune the strings of my self. That there is a state I can achieve and hold, despite the dearth of proof that any living state can be eternal. Who sold me that idea? When did I choose to buy it?
It took me a long time to seek out words from other authors about how to be a mother and a writer. I’m still searching for descriptions of how it can be done. There aren’t enough words to say that I’m ludicrously far from the first, the last, the only writer mired in motherhood. I need all those voices—Rachel Cusk, Toni Morrison, Janelle Hanchett, Sheila Heti, the ones I’m still learning about—so I know my options.
But executing this balancing act comes down to the specific elements in my life, the peculiar existence of me. The choices no other mother could ever make. What I defend, what I nurture, what I set down. How I crash through some days. How I often find myself at the edge of another week noticing frost dusting the unharvested apples on the tree outside my bedroom window.
How I cannot resist an invitation for snuggles. How the world has my attention, whether I feel I have time for it or not.