Artist Marilyn Kalish (check out her artwork at www.marilynkalish.com, it’s pretty fantastic) recently told me that to help me become more disciplined with my writing I should create rituals. Every artists, author, creative, etc. should create rituals, she said. She referred to Maya Angelou’s own ritual: ” I go to a hotel and try to get there by 5:30 in the morning. I keep a dictionary, a thesaurus, a bible, a deck of playing cards, a bottle of sherry, and stacks of yellow sticky pads. I shut myself in for six, seven hours. I have an arrangement with the hotel that no one may go in my room. After three or four months, they might slip notes under my door like, ‘Dear Ms. Angelou, please let us change the linens. We think they might be molding.’ It’s probably true. I let them in if they promise not to touch anything other than the bed,” Angelou said in an interview on www.washintoncitypaper.com‘s Art Desk section last year.
Kalish also said, like herself and Angelou, one should transform his or her space into a creative haven. For Kalish, that involves surrounding herself with items that inspire her — orchids, vintage furniture, a ridiculous looking yet strangely appealing red bishop figurine. For Angelou, it’s a solitary hotel room and a few cherished items for her desk.
Currently, I am sitting at my kitchen island, surrounded by school forms and newsletters, dirty dishes and un-emptied lunch totes. Today, I am following neither piece of Kalish’s advice, yet I am still managing to get something on the screen. Surprising really, as I have a 12-year-old daughter sitting next to me begging me to “try to work something out” so that she may purchase a horse of her own. Earlier I was interrupted by an almost-10-year-old boy (only one month to go until my baby reaches the double digits) who informed me of his newfound distaste for school hotdogs. “Mom, you have to make me lunch,” he said, glancing at the school menu on the refrigerator. “I don’t want a hotdog on a bun.” My reply: “Dad forgot to buy bread yesterday, so you’re getting hot lunch,” when what I really wanted to say was, “Dude, I’m creating here, so give me some space. You want me to feed you, too? Really?” Any moment now my other 12-year-old will run in here, surely missing something he absolutely needs for school, disrupting the writing process once again. Bingo. He and his brother are arguing over a sweatshirt. Then before everyone scurries out the door, my husband will rattle off some request that I will only half-listen to because I am engrossed in this post, and it will probably be the reason an argument ensues at some later date during the week. “I already told you ….” “You never mentioned it. Maybe you just think you told me … ”
And thus is the life of a mom. You grab moments for yourself when you can. Sometimes they’re at the kitchen counter surrounded by morning chaos, sometimes it’s during those ten minutes after all the kids have gone to bed when you are cuddled up on the couch with your significant other, settled in for an evening of “Hell’s Kitchen” on TiVO, with a blanket and glass of wine, only to fall asleep five minutes into the finale, and then waking at midnight to a much-too-loud rerun of “Law & Order: SVU” and dragging yourself to bed. The other day I brought my kids to a local “pumpkin patch” fundraiser where my husband’s office was handing out free food and free jumps in a bouncy-bounce. The kids picked their pumpkins, put them in the car and I ran, leaving the kids at the fundraiser to help their father. I actually asked them if they’d rather stay and help or come home and clean with me , and guess what they chose? I had to pat myself on the back for that one. I felt it was a pretty ingenious move on my part. Of course I knew what they’d choose. I ended up coming home, glancing around at the mess before me and then grabbed a book, parking myself on the couch for a few hours. Ahh … heaven.
Though I enjoyed every second of my afternoon (it happened to be the same afternoon I was inspired to begin this blog) I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt (an all too common characteristic found among mothers). Should I have been a better mom and spent the day creating memories with my children? Maybe I should have taken a few hours to plan and execute a nice Sunday dinner for later that night? Perhaps I would have felt less scattered on Monday morning if I had spent some time decluttering the kitchen, thus starting my children’s week off on a better note (I get a little testy when I feel scattered). Maybe this indulgence, like my many years of finally honed procrastination techniques, was doing more harm to my psyche than I knew. Hmmmm.
I’ll have to explore this a little more in the future, but after 12 1/2 years as a mom I bet I already know the answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT. Far too many of us mom’s have developed the well-known syndrome I call “Mommy Martyrdom.” We cook, we clean, we shop, we cuddle, we read stories, some of us work full-time, we plan, we tutor, we craft, etc. etc., and as a result we have no time to exercise, get a hair cut, grab a healthy bite to eat, or simply enjoy an uninterrupted 15 minutes in the bathroom with our favorite celebrity gossip magazine (OK, this last one is probably worth whining about. When was the last time any mother headed into the l00 and peed without one child or the other opening the door or, novel idea, knocking to ask the all-important question that can’t possibly wait 5 minutes — “Can I have a snack?”). Over the years I have resolved to avoid falling into the dreaded trap of excessive “Mommy Martyrdom.” Yes, some days are more guilt-ridden than others, and I have been known to let the family know exactly how I spent my day serving them, but I’ve found that I’m a better mom when I let it go and when I’m doing things I love. Sometimes that means a healthy dose of reframing — I love doing laundry because my husband is in a better mood when he has clean underwear to put on. And sometimes it means ignoring the dishes in the sink and writing, or reading, or watching a Barbara Walters and the girls of “The View” battle it out on national TV. Feel good, do good.
To be continued . . .