By Reannon Muth
These days I write with two pens in my hand. One pen for is for writing and the other serves as a decoy for my 14-month-old daughter, Journey. Every minute or so, Journey will stop playing with her Mr. Incredible doll and fumble into my lap to pry the pen out of my hand with her teeny, saliva-sticky fingers.
God bless that decoy pen. Without it, I’d never get any writing done.
My daughter is at the age where she wants to be just like her mama. She mimics the way I nibble my toast in the morning and watches closely as I pull my hair into a bun and then tugs at her own brown hair, an adorable look of concentration scrunching her soft, doughy features. She loves to bang on my laptop keyboard, which is her best imitation of what mama does in her work-from-home job as a content marketer.
Right now I’m sitting on the floor of Journey’s nursery trying to write, a notebook balanced on one knee.
Journey is trying to write, too. On me. On the carpet. On her Noisy Baby Animals picture book. She’s stolen both my pens now. And it’s cute. But it makes my chest ache, too. All my grimy girl with the chipmunk cheeks wants to do is spend time with me. And all I want to do is write.
It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
I might be a mom and freelance marketer by day, but these are just roles I play. In my heart, I am an artist. I am a writer.
Many working moms talk about the guilt they feel when they have to leave their children at daycare so they can go out into the world and earn a living. But for artist moms, what we feel is guilt’s crueler twin: shame.
This is because so often our art doesn’t earn us a living, yet the pull to leave the kiddos with a babysitter so we can sneak away to steal a few hours of writing or drawing time at Starbucks can feel just as strong.
Unlike a traditional job, being an artist is not about the money or even the art itself. It’s about the pull to create; the pull to get lost in the comforting, candy-sweet wave of creativity.
I recently saw a post on Instagram by the poet Atticus that read: “Some write for fun. Others write because if they didn’t, the words would grow and fester and burst from the seams of their souls.” I can relate. On days when I ignore the call to create, it feels like something dies and then rots inside of me, decaying like mold growing on a bowl of half-eaten soup. I get irritable. I feel blistered inside.
In her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert describes a time she watched an artist friend attempt to host a party for a gallery opening of one of her new paintings. The woman had recently had a baby, and sleep deprived and leaking breast milk through her cocktail dress, her friend struggled to play the role of Polished Professional as she tended to the newborn. Seeing this, Gilbert fled to the bathroom in a panic. In her words, “Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.” And Gilbert wasn’t sure she wanted to commit.
She was a successful author. Having a child would mean putting her career in the proverbial mini van backseat—at least for those all-consuming baby and toddler years. Was that something she wanted to do?
I’ve been thinking about that story a lot recently. I turn 40 next year, and I’ve thought about having a second child. Part of me would love another one. I smile imagining a little boy with stick-thin arms and bright eyes chasing big sissy in the backyard or flinging a tennis ball to our dog, Bowser.
But another part of me fears that bringing another human to life would mean killing any hope of finishing my next novel. It would mean throwing a white sheet on that blog I’ve been meaning to launch or that creative writing MFA I’ve wanted to pursue. It’d be years before I had time again to focus on anything other than diapers and dance recitals.
Does that make me selfish? Maybe. But how many pieces of art are floating around in the ethers because the moms who were born to create them are buried in laundry and dishes and to-do lists? How many future masterpieces are being shoved into the “one day when I have time” category because a mother is too busy doing everything else but the one thing that makes her feel most alive?
Because it’s not about the finished product. It’s not about that book or record deal or having your art hung in galleries in London or New York. It’s about being your authentic self. And for many of us moms, our authentic selves and our artist selves are one in the same.
I cling to the hope that there is a way to do both. I once read that the author Toni Morrison was a single mother and wrote her first novel in tiny, 15-minute increments. Between a full-time job and two kids, 15 minutes a day was all the time she had. But as it turned it, it was all she needed, too. Her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, would launch a Nobel Prize-winning career.
As I write this, my daughter has just flopped into my lap with her Are You My Mother? book. How fitting. I put down the pen, open the book, and start reading aloud.
I am her mother—and happily so. I love being a mom. But I love being a writer, too.
I just wish I could find a way to be both.
Reannon Muth is a Las Vegas-based author, writer, and mother of a smart, sweet two year old girl. She still writes with two pens in her hand.
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