Parenting journal: The illusion of the myself/mother divide 

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything here, or felt the drive to. Well — it’s been almost two months, which is, in both blog time and baby time, enough time for much to have changed.

Owl is nearing a year now, and after some months of distress and exhaustion, there is a freshness in me: new perspective, like the first green seedling of spring, cliché as that image is. And it isn’t just that I see my thoughts with new eyes, but that I am, myself, feeling new.

I wrote on Facebook earlier this week that there is a similarity between how I’ve felt this year and how I felt as a teenager: frequent and stormy emotions, confusion, despair, the feeling of having moved on from who I was, without yet having moved into who I would be. I wrote in my post, “I thought it was the caring for the baby that would be the hardest part [of being a new mother]. I didn’t realize it would be a kind of rebirth for myself too.”

I’m feeling different and better these days, lighter, more exuberant, even when I’m tired. I didn’t realize it before, but I was holding onto my old ways, even though trying to be my pre-child self was causing me stress. I didn’t know how to be me and also a mother; it was as if every moment I was having to choose: do something I want, or do something for Owl?

Let me not hide: I needed to see a therapist for this. She mostly listened while I talked, but the few things she said made an enormous difference, like someone putting their finger on the string so you can tie a good knot instead of a loose thing that won’t hold. I went into therapy wanting to talk about something else but by our second session we were talking about my art. I suppose it’s the same as our bodies — did you know that often, the part that’s actively hurting isn’t where the problem started? You might have a sore lower back, for instance, but the real issue is super-tight hips. Tending the other stuff was also vital, but it was talking through my art that made me feel new and full of joy.

I’ve realized in the past couple of months that I need my art for me to feel whole, just as much as I need the people I love. I’ve chosen to care for Owl at home, because she and I nurture each other, but I have a similar relationship to my art. I don’t usually think of my art as my child — I don’t think I’ve ever referred to a painting as “my baby” or anything like that — but I’m finding this a useful metaphor at the moment. Or perhaps it isn’t a metaphor I could understand until I had a human child to care for, and found myself, for the first time in my life, committed with every breath, every moment.

Now that I think of it, maybe what I’ve gone through is not so much a rebirth as an integration, a new understanding that not only is it possible for me to be an artist and a mother at the same time, but it was never possible for me to not: I was always an artist; I am still an artist, just as a mother is still and always a mother, no matter where her child might be.

It is so odd that I can say this now, when as a non-mother I always had so much ambivalence about my right to declare myself as an artist. I was always qualifying it in some way, both to myself and to the world. But this first year with Owl has really brought home the cost of that ambivalence. When I pretend I can set my art aside — set myself aside — I may tell myself it’s an act of giving, but it’s just the opposite. Owl deserves a mother who is whole. And I deserve that wholeness too.

Baby with crayons on a large piece of paper with drawings and the words, NOW IS THE ART