The Creative Mother
Once upon a time, I created stories.
Little People chatted along the bathtub’s rim in carefully-planned pairings, then were swooped up, splashed in, recoupled, retold.
Stuffed animals sat at attention or—rudely–slumped, as I stood upon my desk, pencil pointed toward the massive USSR on my world map, teaching them the finer points of made-up history.
When the toys migrated to boxes in the attic, I created back stories for the characters I played in theater productions. I scribbled down broken phrases. Even after law school, as my prose morphed into Motions to Dismiss and discovery requests, the words were there, on the backs of too-expensive bar receipts and in late-night emails to myself.
And then, motherhood.
My children are separated by less than two years each. They are stacked together like Russian dolls. Three of them in a row, each a head shorter than the next.
My energy went so completely into them that I was unable to create anything else. It was as if somehow, in creating life and the milk that sustains it, I was relegated now to the creation of minor things. Of teetering ten-block-high towers and peanut butter sandwiches.
I don’t doubt my best work is behind me. My grand opuses shimmer and pulsate before me, living creatures, with wild hair and stomping feet. They refuse to be outdone. And how could they be? How could I top the creation of beating hearts, breathing lungs, opposable thumbs?
Yet, the desire to create remains. Not children—three is enough for me. But also, not the highest tower, not the perfect ratio of peanut butter to crustless bread. Something bigger than me. Something other than them.
Lately I’ve found myself sneaking words, the way I sneak the good chocolate from its hiding space in the back of the cupboard. I create moments so I can create more. So I can move forward—not beyond—but onward. To the creation of life by other means. A connection, a spark, where once there was none.
These words, too, pulsate. They beat a tender rhythm. They accelerate and slow. They are deafening at times, filling my ears, my whole being. More often I have to stop to hear them. And then. A subtle movement in my belly. My skin becoming taut then loosening again. If I wait long enough, I will find them. Because above all, they persist.
There is tension in this need to tend to what I have created and the need to create something new. The already-here demands much more than the yet-to-be. They clamor and cling to me, their immediacy tempting the burgeoning words back in, back down.
Until now, the words have accommodated. They have existed only in these stolen moments. Because what else can I do? I do not want to slough off motherhood. I couldn’t if I did. Motherhood will not be discarded. It refuses to be wrangled into submission. It is more powerful than that, than us.
But they won’t be so patient forever. Because the desire to write, to create, cannot be truly confined either. Its presence may not be so constantly felt, so immediate, so loud, but it is all these things. It sneaks in, elbows for space, demands attention.
This story began once upon a time. But I’m not looking for happily ever after. I don’t really even want “after.” I want today, in its messiness and joy and startling, exhausting now-ness. But I also need to start making room for all of it, all of me. To find space for these imperfectly fitting, chafing parts. To allow myself to be not just consumed, but fed. I have to stop worrying about the place settings and just invite everyone to the table. It might be ringed by coffee mug stains and permalayers of jelly. But there is space. I will make space.
Alison Wilkinson lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and three children. She blogs for run.knit.love.