Hello again. It’s been a while … again!
The picture above is of a painting I was commissioned to do last fall. I’ll write a bit more about that commission and the symbolism contained within it later this week – especially regarding the ‘tree of all seasons’ on the image-left, a symbol that continues to show up in many of my pieces, and has a lot of meaning for me.
Right off the bat, I want to say this article is a brief attempt to explain to myself what’s currently going on in my head as I’m living into a new season of vocation and motherhood. A few months ago, after our fifth attempt to find adequate childcare for our 1 year-old Kiwi fell through, it became clear to me that things just weren’t working for him or for me and I needed to make a change for both of us, for all of us in our little family, really. It was complicated and difficult for me, but I resigned from my position as Gallery Coordinator at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.
It was complicated for me, because I mostly loved the work, and totally loved the people I was working with – it was complicated because the job in part, represented a non-mom and non-spouse self-identity, which is still there, but sometimes, some days, feels a little buried.
I don’t really know why this transition from a perspective of this non-mom, professional, “self-identity” hit me so hard. I think in some sense, resigning felt a bit like being “resigned” – failing to live in to my own post-modern feminist sensibilities of myself as an empowered and independent woman – failing to accomplish that whole ‘leaning in’ thing feminist women are so bombarded about by the media now-a-days – but you know I’ve been thinking a lot about that and you know what I have to say about all of that?
That is BULLSHIT.
It’s BS to assume there is only one way of leaning in, or that choosing to focus on parts of your non-career life for a time is checking out. I work very hard, whatever I am doing, and I am in tune with my inner life and what I want to accomplish. I am not the ladder-climbing/multi-million dollar a year making/corporate/ executive-career type.
I think that is one kind of success. I am ambitious, and always have been, but define success differently. I am vocation centered, rather than ‘career’ centered and my vocation is as an artist. As such my career path has always been pretty fluid, even before having children. I‘ve tended to opt for flexibility and creative space over security and a 401K.
I will tell you this is a pretty foolish career path, but I have been at this long enough to know that if I am not artistically fulfilled and not feeding energy into my own creative well, I am not a happy person in the long run and I make every one else around me miserable too.
What fills that creative well for me changes over time. That is part of my process and struggle. My process always involves a fair amount of self-struggle. Years ago, I gave up the idea of achieving balance in my process and life, as it became clear to me that I am not a balanced person anyway and decided to try to focus on finding those moments of joy within the creative tension of my life.
I try to integrate creative expression into most aspects of my life, so that in a theoretical (and occasionally practical) sense, living is in itself a continuously reimagined and created work of art. And I mean ‘work of art’ in a messy, holistic and authentic sense – I mean finding the natural, raw, sometimes glorious, sometimes tragic beauty that is life – not the designed beauty, which I admire, but can’t quite live up to – and STARING it straight in the face.
A couple of days ago I met another mom behind me in a long line at the grocery store checkout – she was a bit younger, with a kid about Kiwi’s age. She asked me if I stayed home with Kiwi (I guess because it was the middle of the day). I said yes, but because she seemed to be going somewhere with this, explained that until recently I worked away from home too.
Boy, was she going somewhere, because she unloaded – the munchkin on her hip was her first child, she was about to go back to working away from home, and in the process of trying to figure out what to do about childcare, feeling guilty, and conflicted – of course having been there recently, I empathized. Not surprisingly, lots of parents are in this zone, with this particular variety of stress, all the time. She mentioned some daycare centers she was looking into which did not work well for Kiwi (I kept my purely subjective opinions about these places to myself). She laughed uneasily and said her husband told her “well you can thank feminism, now just because you have a baby you don’t get to stay home all the time.”
I know it was meant to be a joke, and since she seemed fairly miserable and stressed out, I didn’t add to it and say that actually, feminism just means you get to choose whether to work from home, away from home, or kick your husband out on his insensitive fat ass.
I didn’t tell her that the fact that it is still so hard for mothers and fathers to balance their away-from-home work-lives with their family-lives is an indicator that we need better solutions and systems of support for how to balance ALL of the important roles that make up our lives and self-identities – something that feminism actually recognizes.
I did tell her that however she worked it out would be okay, not to feel guilty, and to follow her gut – because those are all true statements.
I know I am really fortunate to have so many choices, to be able to work away from home if I want to, to be able to NOT work away from home if I want to – I also know this is another example of a ‘first-world’ problem of too many choices and my own privilege. Though a part of me grieves the passing of this last identity, which did feed me creatively in certain ways, I also know that there were many ways in which I was not fed – mainly that with two small children, and after curating other folk’s work, there was very little (if any) time or energy to produce my own artwork or to write. Moving on has felt like the right decision. I do feel like I have a bit more interior space now, to let my own creativity simmer.
Even so, there are moments when this new season still feels complicated – the transitions to and fro over the last four to five years since starting down the road of mommy-dom (of which this last job transition is just the latest) take their toll and mean once again getting used to new routines, rituals, monotonies and daily joys. There are some seasons in life which some of us, maybe even just because of the way we are wired, cannot have our cake and eat it too – for me this has been especially true when that cake is my nursing one-year-old mama’s boy!
And before I know it this season will also be turning and I do not want to miss it.
A few mornings after my last day at United, I was driving my 3 year old, Squiggles, to preschool and she asked me if I was going in “to do works” after dropping her off.
I said, “No, I work from home now, taking care of Kieran and sometimes making artwork.”
She said, “Do you do works anymore at the school in the gallery?”
“Nope, I don’t work there anymore, I’m with Kieran at home, sort of like on the weekends.”
She thought about this for a minute.
“Oh, so now you do works in the playroom?”
“Yes, you could say that.”
“And you do works in the kitchen?”
“And you do works in the living room, and the bedrooms and the bathrooms, ANNND your studio?”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“Wow, Mama! That’s A LOT of works!”
I just smiled – and my eyes teared-up a little – I mean, talk about leaning in.