Without realizing it, I have been making the place ready for his whirlwind to arrive.
Today, as I tidied up a corner of the kitchen, I realized it was for his eyes that I replaced photos on the bulletin board over the kitchen sink, a place I know he will gaze while he, I pray, washes at least one dish.
The feeling in my body is a mix of choked excitement lest I be too thrilled and scare the kid, flooding tears for the ache his departure has carved in to me, and happy dancing for all the playful light hours we can spend or I hope we will spend or if I am really truthful here, the minutes we will spend in between his visits to friends and going out and just leaving and coming and leaving and laundry, repeat, over the course of
I am happy.
Here is Leigh Strimbeck’s poem about her boy’s departure to college in August.
I recall my first visits home after the first leaving. And how those returns always brought with them a sea of emotion.
The Atlantic published an article that spurred a great round of discussion on the Internet over the past few days about motherhood and the creative life.
The original article by Lauren Sandler asks if the secret to being a successful writer is to limit the number of children one has. The article has drawn many comments, including authors Zadie Smith and Jane Smiley. Here is one of the literary responses on Melville House Books by Zeljka Marosevic.
Sandler’s article opens the idea that women writers would retain their peak effectiveness if they have only one child. She goes on to say more. Please read the article if you are interested. Marosevic’s response states that children are not a threat to a woman’s creativity and supports her points with some of the comments to the original article.
If you asked me,
Yes, having children does impact a woman’s creativity.
So does having a full-time job. So does having a marriage. So does having a life.
Creativity is born out of chaos.
It is a human response to longing.
It is fired by the passion we have to express our inner responses to this fascinating and complex world. We yearn to leave a mark, to discuss ideas larger than our back yards, we yearn to remember or simply to play.
It is vitally important to get to that expression.
Having or not having children is a choice most women get to make today. Women, in a historical perspective, only recently got to make this choice. But I think the discussion of children or no children, one or two or twelve, (as Ingrid Hill had and still managed to write Ursula Under, one the best books I have ever laid eyes on), is beside the point.
Creative work, good intellectually valuable work, is borne no matter what your life circumstances. It is up to you to make the choice to nurture that work. Many commenters on Sandler’s article suggest that the way our society values mothering, what services are available to a woman with children are forces that have the most impact on a woman’s creative work. A woman may or may not have a partner willing or able to support her creative work, she may struggle with time and budget and scheduling conflicts that no partner or day care center can completely ease. So, she adapts. She finds a way to work.
Here is a bit from an interview with author Ingrid Hill on Bookslut:
Hill had begun the writing process the only way she could: in her head.
“We had a huge, long table we got from the University of Michigan surplus, taken from an old library. It was 12 feet long, and every night we sat down to that table for dinner. I made dinner, everything. I baked bread twice a week, I made my own yogurt; it was Little House on the Prairie. And I wasn’t thinking about the celery I was chopping or the pajamas I was washing; I was writing stories in my head, and I was doing the writing and revisions in my head.”
Certainly we could ask the question, what would Ingrid Hill have written if she did not have 12 children? What would Emily Dickinson have written had she found her way out of her house and into a marriage with children? What would Anna Quindlen or Anne Lamott or Maya Angelou or any one who’s work has inspired you, what if they had more time? Fewer distractions? Maybe they would not have had the yearning to express that they have now. Maybe Barbara Kingsolver would have stayed in the jungles with Steve and never gotten to living a year of living Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that she wrote with her daughter.
The crux of this matter, for me, lies in what happens in your life that shutters you, silences you or tells you that your words, images, offerings are not important enough, not worth the time, money, space or effort. If motherhood makes you stumble, it also can make you stronger, just as any other struggle gifts us.
Motherhood affects you. Alters you. It changes you forever.
But you are still a human being with something to say, with work to do.
When I meet people who are considering whether to have children, I tell them it’s like eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The scales fall from your eyes, and suddenly you have this new magnificent wisdom about human existence. And then maybe it was something about the prolactin hormones nourishing my brain – I never was able to be so organized or disciplined as to get whole books down onto paper before my daughter was born. There was a year of mommy brain, where all I could think of was her, and then after that year, I started writing in a way I had never quite seemed capable of before.
In the stew of this discussion float some big chunks of ideas to savor.
Do you feel that your creative life is supported by your life choices?
Does taking time for your creative work feel like an indulgence?
What would do for you?
Can you begin to consider that, as Katherine Paterson wrote, “ the very persons who took away my time are the ones who have given me something to say”?
Is it possible to begin to look at the way you live your life as innately creative?
Are there spaces and places in your life where you could redirect your choices to provide for your own creative expression- to read, to day dream or to pick up a pen?
Whatever your place, children or no children, bringing forth your ideas and dreams is worth the time it takes to do that.
I am going to be with Jan Phillips this week at Women’s Voices for (a) Change. This conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY is a gathering of artists and activists looking to take our work higher, to celebrate the work of women who have gone before us and to circle, to listen and consider what is possible for our work. Jan, who inspires my creative work so much, has written a new book which I cannot wait to read.
I am so happy to know you are here, reading these posts.
Our guest today is Laurie May Coyle who is a mother, artist and life coach here in Berkshire County. I met Laurie long ago when we shared a table in an art class at IS183. Laurie inspired me then and she inspires me now. I hope you enjoy her post. This week Laurie launches two classes at Lifeworks Studio here in Great Barrington. Here is info on that.
This week I am preparing for the Amazon launch of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. If you have not yet ordered your copy of the book, or you’d like to send a copy to a friend, I’d love you to head over to Amazon to do that this week. If you happen to live in the Berkshires, please don’t order it-go to The Book Loft or The Bookstore in Lenox- always support your local indie bookstores.
But for most of you out there in the world, Amazon is your go-to place for this anthology. If you have connections to a bookstore or library in your area who you think might like to carry it, don’t hold back! Email me and I will send you a promotional packet of materials to share with your connection. Here is my address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Until then, enjoy what is blooming in your yard!
With love, S
Laurie May Coyle
Leading By Example
I’ve been a mother for just over three years now. I have written much about mothering, spoken much about mothering, discussed and discussed and discussed mothering and parenting and all its ups and downs — with friends, colleagues, family members and strangers, on my blog, in person, in my classes and in the grocery store checkout. I have parsed the words of many many authors who have written on pregnancy, birth, infancy, parenting and everything in-between, distilled down their meaning and read between the lines, and also followed some of their exact “plans” of action (for at least a week!) for everything from sleep-training to breastfeeding and everything in-between. I derive much joy from being able to tell others what to do, and show that I know what I’m talking about because-see-I-read-it-here.
As it happens, though, I am learning in my life and career, that it’s not so much about telling-what-to-do as it is about leading, showing-by-example and exploring for myself and seeing what works. That’s where the magic happens.
This is the case in parenting and in coaching, and in friendships and stranger-interactions. No one wants to be told what to do, whether from a book or a movie or an expert or a friend (or, gasp, a parent!). We all want to weigh in on what we’re being presented with, and find for ourselves what works. Especially toddlers.
I find this has been the case in my parenting and in my creativity, and in my new found career path as a life and health coach.
I can compare helping a client find her way to optimal health through eating more veggies to, well, leading my daughter to find her way to optimal health through eating more veggies. Neither of them wants me to tell them what to do. Though they do look to me for guidance, for example (I’d better be eating my veggies, too!) and for accountability. And sometimes for something to resist and argue with, but I’m ok with that. That’s my role.
I can see that my daughter would be very upset with me if I didn’t “know what’s best” for her — she even said that once, in her squeaky, adorable three year-old voice, “you’re the mama, you’re supposed to know what’s good for me!” (I’m pretty sure that was after she hadn’t taken a piece of my advice and had fallen off of something she shouldn’t have been climbing on, but who’s keeping track?)
So I don’t tell them what to do, the client or the toddler. I am charged with gently guiding, letting them discover for themselves how powerful and knowledgeable they already are. And when it comes to green veggies, if we keep mentioning them or putting them on the table and eating them ourselves, they’re both bound to take a bite. And then another and another until it becomes a habit.
And I can gaze on with satisfaction, knowing they’re doing what’s right for them and they feel like they came up with it all on their own and they figured it out themselves. And really, they did do it themselves, with a little help, a little push and a little encouragement. That is my job, now as a coach and definitely as a parent.
I think I was looking for that from all those books I read about parenting. I wanted some hand holding, some cheer leading and some instruction. I wanted to know which way was the “right” way. To feed my child, to birth my child, to toilet-train my child and so on.
I found this kind of hand-holding and cheer leading in-person with the amazing team of midwives that attended our home birth — and I remember eventually putting those pregnancy and delivery books aside when I met them, because they seemed to know everything I ever needed to know and I could call them anytime I needed them, and they would answer, with a thoughtful, knowledgeable answer and then a little question about how I felt and how my body was doing — giving me the opportunity to check in with myself.
That was my first glimpse of an accountability partner. They were there for me, encouraged me and led me through a very tough time (i.e. childbirth) and knew that I would make it through and have a beautiful and healthy baby as the outcome. They held steady in their visions for my future, and it was so powerful to have them on my side. I have used that example in my parenting and now in my coaching, everyday since I met them.
I see in my parenting that leading by example is the only way to go. I know I can get a little too up-in-my-heads about the “right” way to do things (i.e. parenting, learning, healthy eating, childbirth etc.), and I want to pass on all that I know to my daughter. However, when I lean back and let her take my hand and we just sit in the present moment and I’m showing her the way by being me, that is when the whole world opens up to the possibility of an easy, joyful way.
Time slows down a little bit and I’m able to sit with myself, accept myself for my flaws and truths, and really see the person in front of me, whether it’s a client or my toddler. I’m able to hold their hand, encourage them, and cheer lead for them. Without judgment and with heaps of compassion for the reality at hand — it really is easy, and it really is joyful, even when it’s also messy and challenging.
And I believe easy and joyful is always the “right” way, no matter what any book tells you.
To your artful life,
Laurie Coyle is a Life Design Coach, Artist and Mama, melding her passions for unconventional living, mothering, nutrition, art, design and personal development. She inspires creativity, abundance and health in the lives and businesses of artful entrepreneurs (while empowering them to stop doing shit they don’t want to do!). She helps overwhelmed, multi-passionate creative women find their true path and make money from their calling, so they can live more creative, fulfilled and happy lives.
She lives with her husband and daughter among the trees on a shady hillside in South Lee, MA, along with one dog and one cat, who mostly get along. She works with entrepreneurs and wannabe-entrepreneurs through one-on-one coaching, group programs and courses, both online and in-person, to create systems and strategies for busting through fears and soaring to the heights they only dream of. She’ll help you find the most healthy, sustainable and thrilling path to the life and business of your dreams, with ease, grace and heaps of joy.
“A baby is born in a few tough hours, but a mother’s birth takes years.”
For those of you who are pregnant right now.
For those of you who were once pregnant and then had a baby, and maybe the birth didn’t go the way you planned or hoped — that is to say, every single woman who has ever given birth.
For those of you who read all the natural childbirth books and blogs and stories and visioned the hell out of a birth just like that for yourself, only to end up in recovery with a lower abdominal scar that you never wanted.
Here is what you might not know, what might not come through clearly in all those natural childbirth books and blogs and movies.
When I was pregnant, I chucked out the window “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and read only Ina May Gaskin, Robert Bradley, Pam England. I watched movies filled with ecstatic images of women giving birth naturally in the Black Sea, dolphins swimming nearby. I would birth at home naturally, I would birth not only my baby but also my new self as a mother, and the way I chose to do it would set the tone for the rest of my life in this role.
They don’t mean to do it, these natural childbirth educators, but sometimes they convey the unspoken message that if your birth does not go this way, then you are a dud. Ina May Gaskin has a famous quote meant to encourage women in the middle of natural childbirth: “Your body is not a lemon.” Your body is an evolutionary genius. You don’t need all those medical interventions to give birth.
So when your homebirth turns into a hospital birth via cesarean section, the only thing you can hear is the inverse of her words, echoing coldly down sterile hallways in your mind: “But you? Your body *is* a lemon. Your body failed.”
Not only that, but the crowning moment, that unforgettable sensation of your baby slipping out of your body through your sheer effort alone — that moment whose alchemy would transform you into a mother… well, you missed out on that, too. You lost the rite of passage you dreamed of. Tough shit, kid.
What you might not know is that your birth does not define the kind of mother you will be. I still believe in natural childbirth. I will try for a natural homebirth again next time. But I also know that while birth is profoundly important for both mother and child, it is not the last chance. It feels like it, when you’re pregnant or caring for a newborn baby, but it is only the first of a million chances for you to bond with your child, to grow into your new role as a mother, to show your immense love for this new creature. I learned this through grieving the loss of my ideal birth. I learned this through the cadre of powerful mothers whom I met through ICAN, the group that saved my life over and over, starting with the first meeting I attended when my son was four weeks old.
What you might not know, but will learn: your birth does not define you as a mother.
And if your birth doesn’t define you, maybe there’s no single act or decision that will define you as a mother. Maybe it’s only the infinite daily work that you do as a mother that will define you.
Or perhaps you might learn that definitions are useless in the work of mothering. They’re the cold comfort that you reach for when you realize that your heart is broken wide open and will never stitch back together. When you feel your heart reach for the women across cultures and time and place who have also mothered, when you cry for children you’ll never meet. When you realize that you are wholly not in control of this wide world.
All of those books and theories and labels, they can bolster you or help you find a community of like-minded parents, which absolutely matters. But at the end of the day, there is only you, your child, and the other human beings around you who are helping to bring that child up into the world.
A mother’s birth takes years. A mother’s birth is never complete. A mother’s birth will last the rest of her life.
This is what I didn’t know.
(Thanks to Cristina Pippa for introducing me to Gogerty’s work.)
Jennifer Gandin Le is a writer, photographer, dreamer, and superhero. When she’s not telling stories with words or images, she’s saving lives through her company Emotion Technology, which works with social web companies to prevent suicide and promote mental health online.
When she was just 24, director Francis Ford Coppola commissioned her film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. Her non-fiction writing has been published in Wired Magazine, Time Out New York, BUST Magazine, The Village Voice, and ReadyMade. From 2007-2010, she also wrote the weekly Beauty in a Wicked World column on the group blog Crucial Minutiae.
Her short film, Small Changes, won the Grand Jury Prize in the 2009 Intelligent Use of Water film competition, and was screened at The Getty Center in Los Angeles in September 2009. In 2006, Gandin Le was selected as one of the “REAL Hot 100″ young women working for change in the U.S.
Jennifer is an alumna of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, a national organization of over 2500 women ethical leaders working toward social change. Gandin Le graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Jennifer Gandin Le offers a fresh perspective, illuminating the magical details of everyday life. Her stories often portray young women carving out room for their desires and dreams in a complex world.
In addition to her writing work, Jennifer is co-founder of Emotion Technology, a minority-owned business that prevents suicide and promotes mental health online. She lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and very bad dog.
Thank you Jennifer!
Celebrating mothers this month on Laundry Line Divine means we are Putting Motherhood on the Front Page. All month I will be sharing guest blog posts from the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series here on the front page. In this collection of writing, women who are artists, authors, dancers, filmmakers and quilters will be sharing their creative journeys. I am convinced that the stories these women share illuminate the territory of motherhood with a detail and expansiveness that is rarely found elsewhere.
I know very well that some of the readers of Laundry Line Divine don’t have children. For a myriad of complicated and intensely personal reasons, you don’t have kids.
But, you do mother in so many other ways.
Coleen Davidson’s post says it so well. Women, by nature, are ‘madres’ to others. It is in our female DNA to care for others. While I will never stand here and say that one choice or situation is better than another, since I am a mother, this is my perspective. I never, ever want what happens here on Laundry Line Divine to feel like a club, exclusive membership only. I know women who have become stepmothers at 45. I know women who have adopted at 43. I know women who are perfectly happy without children and get immense joy out of showering nieces and nephews with a standard of care and attention no mother could muster. I also know there are some great guys who read these posts. Thank you each! When I welcome the stories of mothers, I am welcoming the stories of all women who own their creative powers, whether you birth babies, books or business. Please let me know if you’d like to contribute to this series by writing me at email@example.com.
You can take some of this goodness home with you.
Consider buying a copy of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, which compiles some of the blog posts and writing from the live events I host for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers called Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others.