The cat plods onto my chest, all warm and steady breath, providing me with ample reason to stay in bed. Yesterday, things were reversed; I compromised his sleep when I lifted him off of my lap and relocated him beneath the drawers of my davenport.
He had been swiping at my keyboard and I still needed another brief drag on independence. That is, I needed freedom even from my pet. You see, my home is currently overrun by adolescents.
Though I regularly remind myself that this phase of my life is not meant for ‘stealing time’ from my partner, from my children, or from my familiars, I’m no model of altruism. When I spend the greater portion of any day away from writing, I become surly, even cranky.
Sure, somewhere, in the mystical Kingdom of Balance, there are women: whose kids go to sleep on schedules, whose significant others clean toilets, and whose publishers give them direct, effective, and timely feedback. Beyond that realm, however, the rest of us wade through our ‘growth opportunities’.
Outsiders mistakenly believe that given my lifestyle ie, given my emphasis on home-birthing, on self-weaning, on attachment parenting, on discipline via natural consequences, on education based on critical and creative thinking, and so forth, that my route through these years would be family-centric and that my approach to interweaving private and public roles would be conservative of even socially-acceptable avariciousness. Those persons miss the point.
Whereas I’d be delirious to pay down my debt, my priorities are not focused on collecting horses or houses. Rather, I’m trying to cede the role of doormat to fictitious beings and to claim for myself the job of ideational vanguard.
It is not so much that my professional aspirations leave my children foundlings as it is the case that I can’t give from empty baskets. In short, it is easier for me to make time for multiplication tables and for periodic charts, to check for lice, or to listen to peer-pressure related woes after I have spent long hours creating flash-length speculative fiction or multi-paged snarky ballads than it is for me to shovel over my personal requirements and to pretend that my services are available 24/7.
Just because modern women are more belabored than were their earlier counterparts, doesn’t mean that I must willingly become the family mule. In the past, women were literally blue-ribboned for baking bread or for raising goats. Today, we are assigned to cooking and to shopping while concurrently being obliged to favorably impact upon our families’ economic wellbeing.
Herbal remedies rock. Sun-dried linens remain wonderful. Old-fashioned viewpoints are among the best of the perspectives currently available. Yet, the same Internet that upped employers’ expectations of productivity created conflict for multi-tasking females.
It’s time to restore legitimacy to more aspects of Mama than her paychecks. Simply, it’s neither enough to be a parent and wife or a writer. I insist on claiming my humanity, as well. Although I contend that no international byline can compensate for missing an offspring’s dance recital, I also feel that no amount of changing dirty diapers can refire my soggy mental engines. If our culture was smart, we would stop demanding that women subjugate their needs to those of their loved ones or to the standards established by their professional peers. Responsible adults don’t release white tigers into shrinking forests. Why ought we to continue to waste other, more familiar, but no less wondrous, resources such as womenfolk?
By all means, in counterpoint, I could argue that even the most wild of women’s personal successes is as nothing compared to our jobs as wives and mothers. Likewise, our verbal creations, if read widely, might impact a generation or more.
Yet, in balance, I just wish my crew would stop asking me to monitor their warming up of leftovers and that some of my editors would either cease using form letters or would cease complaining when I respond with communication of kindred stature.
I’m not okay with having to completely forfeit myself for my family or for my career. My equilibrium is not poised between replenishing the toilet paper and pitching stories to the media’s gatekeepers. My stability is not only comprised of the successes I have when attending teacher-parent meetings or when gaining facileness through writing. I came into existence before my family was formed and before I began my decades-long relationship with words.
Sadly, like the other important players in my life, I, too, usually forget the value of my rudimentary parts. Often, it is only when I am sidelined with the flu, or worse ie, when I am not able to concentrate on my self-assigned or socially assigned roles, when I am laying among the sofa cushions, that I discover not only paperclips, missing socks, and rice cake remnants, but also bits of myself that too frequently get left behind. At such junctures, my healing is as dependent on my advocating for my basic condition as it is on the hot broths I sip and on the extra hours of sleep in which I engage.
Like each and every other individual, I am constituted uniquely. I have been made, as has been everyone else, in a particular way because that combination of qualities is meant to serve a Grander Design, an architectural plan for the universe, which overarches familial as well as professional considerations. Thus, it is not only the ‘literary me’ that must overcome the influence of family, but also the ‘innate me’ that must break free of the pressures of the professional atmosphere.
Honoring my deepest self is neither about fitting towels into closets or about fitting selections into publications, but about fitting my essential talents into good choices.
Patterning my creative work only with parenting and with loving my husband fails to excuse my accountability for me. Any scheme which rejects my personal nurturing is a scheme that necessarily defines my living a complex life as something bleak and exhausting rather than as something illuminating and energizing.
Next time kitty tries to cuddle me, I’ll allow him to share my lap, as long as his antics don’t interfere with my needs. Next time my husband asks me to spend a second week watching over our sick pre-teens, I’ll ask him to take a day off. Next time a publisher asks me to finish proofing galleys a month ahead of schedule, I’ll evaluate whether or not such a request will force me to give up my ceramics time.
I’m a galloping Mommy Writer who can best dash about when my entire domain is greened. I’m glad about my career and forever thankful for my family. Most of all, though, I’m grateful to be me.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem