I was never convinced I was ready to be a mother. In part
because I used to think being “ready” meant you were prepared to give up too
much, to sacrifice and surrender most other aspects of who you are to make room
for your children.
I had formed this idea in part when I read a short story by Deborah Gaylon, "The Incredible Appearing Man"
“A baby transforms you, body and soul," she writes. "The moment you give
birth, your mind is instantaneously filled with styrofoam peanuts. Your past is
trashcompacted to make room for all the peanuts. As the baby grows, you add
more peanuts and the little tin can of your past gets more compressed.”
It sounded pretty grim. When my first child was born, I did
have a transformation—but not the one described by Deborah Gaylon. Having my
son made me feel brave and ready to take on other challenges that previously
frightened me. After 20 years as an editor, I started to write—something
I’d always really wanted to do.
I got my first byline when my son was 4-months old. It
was a piece about breastfeeding in public in our adopted city of Amsterdam. My
son and I spent a lovely day visiting everywhere from a ferryboat to a
bookstore, a church to an Irish pub, nursing and gauging reactions.
The article was published in a local magazine, a publication
about the nightlife and culture that, as a new mother, I worried would now be
beyond my reach.
It may sound overly indulgent to a busy parent, but I think it’s helped me maintain my sense of self in all the day-to-day chaos.
I started pitching more and more articles, pushing the
envelope of what being a mother in Amsterdam could mean. The cocktail issue? I
organized an alcohol-free drink-mixing workshop for kids. The museum issue? I
spent an afternoon visiting Amsterdam’s many galleries with the 7-year-old son
of a friend, amazed by his honest and confident reactions to the artwork.
Motherhood had not yet taken the chunk out of me that I so
feared—it was having the opposite effect. I was still myself and, if anything, was feeling more confident and branching out in new directions.
But when my son was 8 months old, I became pregnant with his
sister. When she was 8 months old, I became pregnant with my second daughter.
There was no time to think, only do. My life became mainly
about reacting to my children’s needs and keeping up with their schedules,
hopping from one activity or appointment to the next, ending the day like a
pile of laundry on the couch.
I stopped writing until an editor asked me to review a modern art exhibit. It was intimidating: what could I possibly have to say
about modern art?
I arrived at the exhibit—which took place in a vacant
parking garage—and felt a little out of my element. Had I not been there on
assignment, I would have given it a few minutes and just left—or, more likely, would not have been there at all.
But having a job to do, I started
walking around, exploring the installations. I didn’t rush a reaction, but took
everything in with a more critical and thoughtful eye. I asked: What do I think
about this? What does this provoke in me? What does it remind me of?
I decided my answers didn’t have to be smart or informed,
merely genuine. Who am I looking at this? What can I say about this that is
unique to who I am, my experience? What is the precise word I would use to
It felt really great, and I realized how valuable writing
was to me as a mother: it forces me to pause and think about how I really feel
about something. It slows my life down just enough for me to feel my presence
in it rather than just race through and hope I’m not late, or that I haven’t
forgotten diapers or that nobody will have a tantrum in the car.
It may sound overly indulgent to a busy parent, but I think
it’s helped me maintain my sense of self in all the day-to-day chaos. I cannot parent wisely
or authentically if I lose track of that. While parenting does take up the vast majority of my time these
days, it’s changed my schedule more than I’d say it’s changed me.
It felt really great, and I realized how valuable writing was to me as a mother: it forces me to pause and think about how I really feel about something.
“Me time” for moms is defined almost exclusively as time spent
without children doing things that are not appropriate or possible to do with
children. Spa visits, movies, nice restaurants. Wine.
And I do my share of those things, but that is time I make to be with my friends, my husband, my family. That is not “me time.”
Standing in front of a painting, sipping a coffee, listening
to music, reading a book or a newspaper: taking time to consider what you think,
what memories are triggered, what thoughts are inspired. Doing so keeps me connected to those “smashed cans” of my past and keeps me growing. That’s my me time.