There used to be a time when I could wake up and work on my art without any issues. I would just roll out of bed, enjoy a small breakfast, and go for it – that’s all there was to it! Of course, isn’t that how everything works when you’re in your early twenties?
Now that I’m double that age (holy hell, when did that happen?!), I’m finding that everything is a struggle. And I mean…Every. Damn. Thing. Sitting in one position for too long hurts my neck. I creak and groan like an old ship. Getting supplies together when they’ve been strewn around the house is time consuming. Just when it seems I’ve kept a clean home – aha! – it’s always found to be a sham. And, of course, being able to focus on a creative task with kids in the house seems nearly next to impossible. It’s a complaint, though, that falls on deaf ears; one that most people in my bubble don’t seem to understand.
It seems like such a first-world problem, not having time to make art. And, when I cry about it – in my haze of darkness and frustration – it really feels to be the case. Especially in an era where the prevalence of disease and financial insecurities run rampant, I know how lucky I am to feel only sadness for a limited creative timetable. Even so, art is my ONE thing. It’s my outlet wrapped around decades and layers of my identity; it’s my sole defining trait that makes me stand out from others in my microcosm. And not being able to do it as fully as I would like is a pent-up hardship that few would recognize as real.
There are times in which I try to go with the flow and be patient about my situation of motherhood. I try and often fail. I’ve heard all the wise moms tell me how childhood goes by so quickly, and therefore, I should just stop and enjoy my kids while they are young. Their wisdom is spot on. I’ve seen it firsthand with my eldest - time does zoom by in a dizzying speed! But they failed to mention that my children’s youth escapes, hand in hand, with my own. Along with their growth, I’m also finding my years rushing by at lightning speed, which leaves me very tired! As the years pass, I find myself becoming more serious, less adaptable, increasingly unable to collect my thoughts and easily annoyed by everything. So, while having kids is easily the greatest thing I’ve ever done, it’s also the most depleting.
My dance with motherhood and art – the tireless waltz aimed at preserving both – is about as successful as my time at Zumba, which is to say not entirely at all. While I can keep up a few steps, here and there, attempting to master them both completely is impossible, and the act is starting to wear thin. I find myself feeling beaten up (or down - I don’t know which way I’m going anymore), out of sync and breathless almost every day.
Even when I try to carve out time for myself, I am bombarded with endless interruptions. If it’s not an external cry for “MOM!” being belted out from across the house, it’s an internal beckoning to check the dryer or add this to the grocery list or make that appointment for whomever. There’s always something that needs tending. And tending, if they didn’t tell you in school, is the quickest way to kill creativity. Well…that, and technology.
Because I crawl out of bed lifelessly in the mornings, and only briefly keep my eyes open once the kids are asleep, I find myself with just one conceivable island of time to work during the day: my three-year old’s naptime. But, alas, this magical window is growing slimmer and shorter with each passing month, and I can feel it drying up like the empty birdbath that once sat in my grandparents’ backyard. Barren. Bone dry. Empty.
Not just that, but every nap is a battle, one that is inching ever closer toward my surrender. To get my little one to submit each day, I have a whole battery of things that must take place first. Once I sound the alarm, I must start by chasing her around the house as she protests the very notion of sleep. No is her favorite word, so yes becomes my only response to her rowdiness. She fusses and I hold fast. She wriggles and I hold tight. Finally, I get her into her room, where she protests a little more until I remind her of the magical sticker chart, the one that awards her for being bent to my will. Her eyes light up and she says “Okay.”
We put on a sticker, and she climbs into bed. But don’t be fooled, it’s not that simple. From there, she will require no less than three separate stories, twenty hugs and kisses, a sip of water (or two), the removal of certain stuffed animals - ever-changing based on scariness - as well as a few minutes of inevitable tears and the need for crumpled blankets to be fixed. Then, the door is shut, and I duck away for a brief reprieve in my office. My time is finally my own if no one interrupts me to ask me about trash day or where certain snacks are located (which, they always inevitably do).
However, if I somehow miraculously get a solid block of uninterrupted time to myself – maybe a good twenty or thirty minutes before another kid/husband/dog/or my bladder interrupts me - I can make exactly 5% of something that might become pretty good. But it’s usually not so seamless. And it’s never NOT exhausting.
Thinking back to other artists, I look for inspiration on how they handled a life like mine, but sadly, I come up empty-handed. Gauguin had to quit his job and desert his family before he could focus on his craft. Mary Cassatt had no children, which was precisely how she had the time to paint so many! And Grandma Moses had to wait until hers were all grown before she could start making her masterpieces.
Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Edward Hopper – they were all unbridled by the kinds of tasks that invade domestic life. Their work became forever regarded, in part, because they could focus solely on it. Maybe their paintings were their children. Maybe no one is allowed to successfully have both a home life and an artistic one. But, if I wasn’t raised in the era that told youngsters they could “be anything they wanted to be,” perhaps I wouldn’t walk around feeling like there’s something wrong with me for not being able to successfully manage both.
So, what’s the answer? If anyone is looking for those (as well as Wi-Fi codes or missing socks), you picked the wrong person to ask. Frankly, I don’t have any answers – just heavy eyelids and a dwindling thread of belief in myself. My baser urges beckon me to curl up into a ball and drown my sorrows in sleep OR evict my family from my room and only emerge when I have created my greatest masterpiece, but, neither of those things are really viable. So, I do the only thing I can – find the intersection of continuation with perpetual hope, pack up my expectations of where I should be and just keep an eye focused on where I am. I mean…it’s not always great, but at least this life is mine.
My current station may not land me a gallery showing or a write-up in a magazine, but I’m still making art. And perhaps, if I can screw my head on straight in the days when my art-life seems so bleak, I should start to look at motherhood as the greatest form of sculpture/performance art that an artist could create…even if it’s not yet recognized as such.
From now on, if I can see past the haze of fatigue and the frustration of headstrong children, I promise I will think of Dali – and “The Persistence of Memory” – when the time seems to be dripping, dragging, melting slowly along in a day. I will remember Basquiat – and his moniker SAMO – when I am overtaken by the monotony of life as a stay-at-home mom. I will think of Mapplethorpe – and his controversial urine-soaked work – when a toy has been “accidentally” dropped in the toilet. And I will look to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” to echo my feelings as another bin of toys is dumped out right before bedtime.
Who knows - maybe one day I’ll get to rejoin these giants in my quest to make “real” works of art; but, until then, I will keep sculpting my kiddos, chiseling away at my attitude and working to perform the best I can with the canvas that is motherhood.