Potential

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Dried bits of rice from dinner two nights ago and curled clementine peels from this morning litter the floor and the kitchen table where I sit to write. One baby is in bed, another watches Dora, and the oldest baby is at his Tante’s house, due home for lunch. This morning I have made oatmeal, poured bowls of cereal and almond milk, and shuffled the dishes back to the sink. I have changed clothes, and diapers, and I’ve poked through poop to confirm that a little glass bead swallowed days ago has made its exit. I’ve dressed children as dragons, been chased around the house, taken the costumes off. I’ve arbitrated toy disputes, disciplined little scratching fingers, been kicked hard in the back as I sat on the floor, working a wooden puzzle. I’ve made a pot of lentil mushroom soup. I’ve eaten soft bread, piece after piece folded mindlessly into my mouth while I stand at the kitchen counter and stare at my phone, reading U.S. Election coverage.

Outside, it snows.

Internally, I wrestle with the looming decision to put Aedan in kindergarten. With feeling like a failure because I don’t wish to spend all of my days with my kids. I know that’s not true; I admire the women for whom childrearing is ultimate fulfilment, but I have to come to terms with the fact that it’s not for me. I need others to step in and take the wheel.

I think of Hillary Rodham Clinton, also a mother, and the fact that she is very likely to become the next president of the United States, and how that bears on my little life in this snow globe town. I’m no politician, I’m no HRC, but I watch the flakes coming down, Dora on in the background, and watch my sleeping daughter on the baby monitor and I wonder what I could be, given space and time. And although they drain me, exhaust me, frustrate me, these three new humans I’ve brought into my life and this world have made me take a hard look at who I am and where I’m going. Where I could go. For that I am grateful. It’s still surprising to me that they’ve shown me I don’t want to be a full-time mom. I still feel like I should want that.

Women like Hillary, women like those that fill my life, women like myself, have to find our unique path in this world. Once we discover our truth and our purpose, we owe it to ourselves and the rest of the world to live it fully, no matter how difficult, how uncomfortable, how challenging it might be. That includes everything from the challenge of being a full-time, homeschooling, stay-at-home mom to that of running for president of a country and everything in between.

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Self-Care and Mom Guilt

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Yesterday afternoon, I was texting with a mom friend who was feeling lonely and overwhelmed at home with her two little ones. I asked her if she could get a break today. She replied that it didn’t look possible; that she’d been to the gym a few days earlier so she shouldn’t be complaining, anyway.

Shortly after that, I saw an opportunity to go out for a run and I took it. And the day before, I’d been to a yoga class. And the day before that, I’d been for a run, too. I didn’t tell my mom friend that I was going for a run the day after I’d been to a yoga class, though. Instead, I texted a vague “gotta go, love you!”, threw on my sneakers and dashed out the door. As I ran, I thought about self-care and the seemingly endless guilt we mothers feel about it.

I know exactly how my friend was feeling: like we only deserve so much. Like asking for more, even a significant break on a daily basis, is selfish, is asking too much. So many times in my journey to better self-care, I’ve told myself I’ve already had enough for that day or that week. That asking for this one more thing is just too much. I wonder, do fathers struggle with this? When they decide to go to the gym or a drive or have a night out with friends, do they carefully weigh how many hours they’ve already had to themselves this week? Why do we, as mothers and, let’s face it, primary caregivers, feel like there is a limit to how much time we can give ourselves in a day or a week?

Guilt waits at every turn for me. I feel like we’re nearing a decision on whether or not to send Aedan to kindergarten. It’s something I began to write about here a few months ago, in a post about homeschooling as a writer. I am leaning heavily towards sending him to kindergarten, and his brother and sister after him, but oh my, is it wracked with extreme feelings of guilt and failure. This morning, I reached out to the doula I had when Aedan was born: I recalled her talking about homeschooling, five years ago, and I also remembered that recently she’d announced on Facebook that she was getting ready to self-publish a book. I wondered if she’d homeschooled and found a way to balance that with her writing. She wrote back that in the end, she sent them to school. She reminded me that in tribal cultures, there are 4 adults to each 1 child. She told me that school is a part of her tribe that helps her to raise her kids. I had never thought of school in those terms before, but those words felt so right, so affirming to me. They felt like permission to drop my guilt.

We are not meant to parent alone, but we do, so much of the time. It’s so lovely to think of our “tribe” as being made up of aunts and uncles, grandparents, older siblings and cousins, friends and elders who can all play a part in raising our kids, in caring for each other, in household work. But it’s just not our reality. Our tribe can also be made up of teachers, daycare workers, free childcare at the gym, or the teen down the street who hangs out with your kids for an hour on the weekend so you can go out alone. There should be no shame in pulling together the resources we have available so that we can fill ourselves to overflowing and be more present for ourselves and our families.

I’m going to try and stop keeping track of how much time I’ve spent on self-care. I’m going to try and stop thinking of it as too much, and instead think of it as always just enough of what I need to function. In these intensive years of parenting little ones, we do need breaks every day. And I realize it’s not possible a lot of the time. But we shouldn’t feel guilty for the wanting. We shouldn’t feel like we’re complaining or like we’re not enough because we’re struggling to do something we were never meant to do alone in the first place.

Limpets

Last night I saw Yvonne Blomer read at the Dawson City Public Library. It was wonderful. To hear new poetry, to meet some other local writers (they exist! they have a writing group! we exchanged email addresses!) to be reminded that yes, I am a writer and a poet. To say, out loud to people I don’t really know, “I’m a poet” was pretty special. And it didn’t feel nearly as awkward or nerdy as it does when I say it to people who aren’t also poets or poetry enthusiasts.

Yvonne read a new poem about limpets, and about the way young children cling to their mothers and don’t let go. And it got me thinking about my little limpets, all three of them, always clinging to me. It rarely feels anything but smothering, if I’m being honest. So after the reading was finished, I asked Yvonne how she balances life as a writer and as a mother. I asked if she found having a child to be a detriment to the writing life, or if it enriched it. And she said that absolutely, having a child enriches her writing life and helps her to see things in new ways. And we chatted a bit about how intense it is, when they’re just these little limpets suctioned to your legs, your chest. And then she laughed and said “but then they go to school, right?”

Right.

If you know me, you know P and I have talked about homeschooling the kids. It’s been the plan pretty much since Aedan was a baby. There are so many things we love about homeschooling: the kids can learn at their own pace; they can follow their interests, dig deeply into subjects they are passionate about; our family will be free to travel in the winter; the kids can remain close friends. These are all wonderful, positive things that have led us to make this decision. But since coming back to myself as a poet and writer, since reviving my dream of publishing a book (or books!) some day, I can’t help but fret more than a little over this particular choice.

It’s something I hear or read repeatedly from mothers who are writers: the early years are exhausting, but then they go to school. Then you can write. Carol Shields said:

“I didn’t start writing until [my children] were all in school. And I might say to writers with young children, eventually children really do go to school. I found, very gradually, that I had a little more time every year to devote to writing. The first novel I wrote entirely between 11:00 and 12:00 every day just before the kids came home for lunch, and I very seldom got any more time during the day to get back to that. I set myself a little task which was to write two pages a day. Now it takes me all day to write two pages. Then I could squeeze it into one hour.”
   [Interview with Diane Rhem for US Public Radio, March 31, 1984]

If I look at myself, my experience of motherhood so far, with total, brutal honesty, I would say I don’t love it. I love my kids, yes. But I don’t love spending all of my time with them. And I know that this is a trying age. That eventually they will be able to wipe their own butts, make their own snacks, read books or play computer games or watch documentaries themselves. But that is years away. I wonder if I’m really the kind of parent who is cut out for homeschooling, or if it’s another part of the “natural parent” persona I adopted when Aedan was a baby (along with: wanting to grow and preserve all of our food, have goats and chickens, extended breastfeed. I don’t want to do any of these things anymore. I’m tired.)

Maybe I would be a more effective parent if my kids went to hang out with someone else 5 days a week. Maybe I would feel most fulfilled if, after dropping them off at school, I went home or to a coffee shop and wrote for 2 hours, or 3 hours, or even 4 hours. Maybe I would yell less. Maybe they’d watch less Netflix. I feel like I’m still extricating the mother and human I actually am from this imagined mother-person that I invented from beautiful blogs like Soule Mama and other internet people like her, when I first became a mother. As much as I love the idea of a huge vegetable garden and hand knit clothes and fermented everything, and yes, kids happily following their interests at home all day every day, maybe that’s just not me.

Maybe there’s a way to balance it all, to find a way to be both published poet and homeschooling parent. Maybe I’m just having a bad day (the boys did break a really beautiful dish and bury the petunias in dirt, all before 9 am, so…)

I do know that I don’t have to decide right now. And as my littlest limpet clamors at my feet to be picked up and read to, I am reminded that even if I do send them all to school, it’ll be another 5 years before those blissful, uninterrupted hours of writing time. So I guess I should try to “enjoy it while it’s lasts.”

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