“She was the mother to not only two children but a thousand poems. And there were times when they were all hungry and crying at once, craving her attention and compassion, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t keep them all happy.” from Elif Sharaf’s book Black Milk, describing Sylvia Plath.
The Creative Takeover
I, naively, did not realize that in mothering there is no escape.
So I have been surprised that at times I have an insatiable need to be alone. And that, at times, the edge of the Earth is not far enough away to get this space. Some days even when I am alone, the thirst remains. Like I am battling to reclaim my sovereign territory that is… my Self?
I wonder, “Is this an existential reaction to being forever linked to the thoughts and feelings, emotions and psyche of another being?” “The outcome of
attachment parenting gone awry?” or “a natural part of the process of carving a parenting path so very different from the models lain before me?”
I am not afraid of the responsibility of parenting. It’s not the long-term, eighteen year thing that intimidates me. It’s the day-to-day relentlessness and total consumption that finds my creativity a neglected dog hovering in a corner waiting and wondering when it will be fed or pet again. To get to the whispers of this inner voice and befriend that inner animal that wants to be heard, I have to excavate. I have to crack open the laminate that encapsulates my soul contents.
The laminate has layers. The first layer is occupied with logistics- meals, appointments, and schedules. The second layer stores all of the emotional considerations- mine and my daughters’ competing needs, hoping that some of the time they can both be met. The third layer houses my big ideas, and the inner battle of what is realistic and doable of them given current circumstances- note: this is a distinctly different conversation than before parenthood, when nothing stood in my way. The fourth layer houses my soul voice. She has to be coaxed out, each and every time I want to get closer to her.
Then if shored up by school pickups, swim practice, or emotional meltdowns, I have to re-melt the laminate layers. I don’t get invited right back down. My creative process doesn’t fit well in between things. It requires open-endedness. Then again, there is who I was before being a mom and who I am now after becoming one.
Before becoming a mom: To write, I needed a day with nothing planned or just a yoga class in the morning, and lots of time for everything to unfold. After becoming a mom: I have an hour and a half between dropping my daughter at school, and my first client. Write. Go.
It’s embarrassing to admit that I didn’t even know I had a burning need for creative expression before becoming a mom.
After becoming a mother, does personal space exist? Is it realistic to long for it? Any mom will tell you that she is no longer singular after she has a child. Even if she might like to be. Her body was divided, her heart divides, and a lot goes on in the unseen world that keeps us linked to our children. I am sure many fathers feel this way too.
I am going to tell you what no one told me. Motherhood is a spiritual path and therefore there is a burn.
Have you ever felt the burn? A steamy rise from the back of your heart up to the nape of the neck, that feels a bit like all the hairs are going to stand up on end. Pre-baby, I knew the burn as the feeling when I’d had just about enough sitting meditation practice. Of course this is usually the moment where something in the mind is actually about to change, and in its own self-protection the ego wants out. When you remain sitting anyways, you feel the burn. The burn is staying put. On the cushion or the mat, that is an option. As a parent, there is no escape.
As a single mother, this is what the burn feels like:
– a hot guy asks me last minute to go to one of my favorite singer’s concerts, but I have used all my last minute child care options, and can’t leave my 5 year old home alone.
– I am dying to make love to my boyfriend, but my daughter will not fall asleep. I know if she doesn’t fall asleep soon, that I can’t stay awake any longer.
– my daughter starts vomiting the night before I have to travel for the weekend to teach, which I have to do so I can pay my rent, so I have to leave a sick baby. (she was fine; turns out it was a strategic move on her part to see if I would stay)
– my babysitter is 10 minutes late and so I miss the only yoga class I can make it to that week.
– I have a deadline AND the motivation to write (prized combination), and my daughter insists on being in the same room with me.
Motherhood has pulled me like crazy to earthy material existence. I have had to learn to find my intuitive-magical-insightful voice in small windows. I realize there are lessons here.
Motherhood is, in itself, a spiritual path. That’s easy to say, but not uttered often enough. What other formal practice could teach me selflessness at the depth that motherhood has? The sheer ordinariness rivals any Zen meditation retreat. As one spirited yogini mother of two said, “PLEASE send me to a cave, I don’t even need food, silence for days, in a cave, that sounds like heaven.”
The healthy unselfish-ness, and at times dissolution of the self (one definition of Samadhi!), the total recognition that it is not my needs that come first has come as a lived truth for me via motherhood. I am in serpentine entanglement with another being’s rhythms, feelings, and psyche. That connection is a forever-thing, not an until tomorrow thing. Or a walk away thing.
Even if I could take a walk, that would take the edge off, but the entanglements would remain. Because this is my karma- at the center of the center of that word. This is my unique series of patterns and challenges specially configured and delivered to me, in the form of a child. This is for me to grow. And for her to grow. It’s designed to be hard, and delightful. Sometimes I feel like hard rubber when I need to be silly putty. And sometimes I feel like overheated taffy when I need to be a Sequoia trunk. It’s designed to push us, and stretch us. It is not just birth that is a rite of a passage. Motherhood itself is an ongoing rite of passage and there is no question that it is a spiritual path.
I am writing this to stamp it into stated existence, not because I think it needs to be solved or changed. I am writing this in solidarity with other women and mothers who have creative lives, who have thousands of poems written, and who feel the burn. We are not alone and the world needs our children and our poems, and our voices.