sacrificing creativity at the feet of motherhood


I vividly remember reading in Stephen King's memoir On Writing about how when he and his wife, Tabitha, were first married and struggling financially, he would lock himself in the laundry room to write whenever he had free time. I was 15, maybe 16 years old when I read that book, but the image has always stuck with me. I suppose it's because I found it incredibly romantic - the aspiring author dedicated to his craft, sacrificing everything to get the words out on paper. I wanted that. 

It's over a decade later, and here I am, sacrificing to get the words out of my brain and onto my MacBook Air, and the reality is far from glamorous or romantic. I'm stealing 5 minutes while the baby naps and the kids are actually playing nicely to bang out a paragraph. It's not even that there's a story inside of me that I desperately need to share with the world. In truth, the need to write is vain and selfish. It comes from a voice inside me that wants to be heard.

You see, I'm a mom of little kids, and most days that means my life is diaper changes, and nap schedules, and park outings, and chasing a surprisingly fast two-year-old who doesn't want his face wiped clean. But once upon a time I loved discussing Tolstoy and traveling the world and debating strangers about religion in another language. Once upon a time I used my intellect and had a job that stimulated my brain. And being a mom is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done, but man does it feel good to have a discussion that's not about what sounds various animals make.

And so I write. I write when there's no time left over in the day. And I write at 5:17 a.m. when the baby drifts back to sleep but my brain just won't shut off. I write when it's the last thing I feel like doing and I write when it's the only thing that will keep me sane. 

Some days I have to read my essay over and over because I can't tell if the words don't make sense or I'm too tired to comprehend them. I'm not writing novels that will shape our culture, or penning the next stirring memoir that will be read at bookclubs. Heck, I'm not even writing viral internet content. The essays you find here on my website are not works of art, but they matter to me. Writing is the way I process what I'm feeling, and I've never needed that more than I do as an exhausted parent who has no idea if she's doing it right. 

In those intense moments of chaotic child-rearing I often escape into a fantasy world. In this fantasy, I kiss my children on the forehead as they leave for school, and I am left alone in a quiet, clean house. I pour a cup of coffee, and drink it while it's still hot, as I diffuse some energizing essential oils to stimulate my brain and encourage creativity. I'll squeeze in a short but intense workout, then after a nice hot shower during which no one bangs on the shower door asking for yogurt, I will write the words that are on my heart for the day. I'll be witty and pithy, and I'll even get into the state of flow that Daniel Pink describes in his book Drive

(If you've ever been a parent of young kids, the idea of being able to focus on something long enough to achieve a state of flow is laughable; nay, absurd).

Back to my fantasy world. If writer's block should dare rear it's ugly head, I'll head out into nature, walking my dog at a leisurely pace without getting asked 37 questions about the length and direction this walk will take. I will not pack snacks for anyone, nor push a double stroller on this walk. I will simply enjoy the sunshine and blue skies, finding inspiration in the world around me. Then maybe I'll even go to a coffee shop and nod at the other creatives, acknowledging the joy and privilege we share of getting paid to do creative work.

Those days will arrive, probably much faster than I could ever imagine. I know from older ladies at the grocery store that I'll miss the sticky hands and the overbearing snuggles and the butt wiping. So I'll do my best right now to enjoy being the center of their world. I'll strive to teach them about Jesus, and the alphabet, and why "shmarshmallows" aren't one of the main food groups. I'll read aloud to them, even as I stare longingly at the untouched book I borrowed from the library that I know I won't finish.  I'll applaud their artistic efforts, watching their unbearably long performances and putting their drawings on the refrigerator door, because in motherhood, sometimes you sacrifice your own creativity to help them develop their own. 

And in the meantime, I will write. I'll write the incoherent ramblings of a sleep-deprived zombie. I'll write the cliched expressions of a mom watching her children grow before her eyes (How is she 4 already? and When did he get so big? and the like). I'll write the sponsored words that pay the bills and I'll write the autobiographical words that only my mom wants to read. I'll write and delete entire essays about how hard motherhood is. I'll write, and practice, and grow, and mature.

When my day comes, when it's my time to be creative, I'll thank God for the time I had with my kids to help them find their own creative voices. So much of motherhood is sacrifice. It's a pouring out of everything we are and everything we have. It's digging deeper than we thought possible on less sleep than we could imagine.

It's what we are called to do, and it is hard, and beautiful, and a crucible, and a privilege. These years are shaping the writer I will become; they are teaching me to be intentional about nurturing my creativity. Most days that looks like 5 minute increments of frantic typing at a crumb-covered kitchen table with a basket of unfolded laundry by my side. Because, yes, moms are called to sacrifice, but we are not called to give up our identity entirely.

So often writing and motherhood seem at odds in my life, vying for my time and attention, but I'm starting to realize that they are working together to shape who I am.