When I was younger, being an artist had always been more of an obligation than a gift. I always liked to draw, but not as much as people expected. Every week in fifth grade my illustration of our class’s reading was chosen to be replicated in mural form on a giant roll of paper that hung out in the hall. I had to replicate the same drawing I had just turned in, except at 40 times the size, every Thursday. I wound up painting murals for every school I went to (plus a church I used to attend, plus a job I used to work) in one classroom or another. I think even at a young age I liked having a sense of purpose, but secretly, I could not stand painting murals. I’m talented at something that, unfortunately can be pretty boring when there are better things to do with so much time. And there usually was.
When I’m in the zone, I can really enjoy myself. It’s getting myself to want to be in that zone that’s a different story. At least, it used to be. Growing up, people would ask me to draw or paint things for them all the time. It started in second grade and never stopped. All through middle and high school, I made mall money sketching out portraits of people with their boyfriends for three-month anniversaries. Somewhere around seventeen, I realized I had started taking on the commissions solely because I knew that if I didn’t obligate myself, I’d stop drawing altogether.
Sometimes that made calling myself an ‘artist’ hard to do. What kind of an artist doesn’t live and breathe for their work?
Now that I’m an adult, with such a tight squeeze on time I can do anything for myself, that’s changing. For the first time in my life, I’m actually craving time to be creative. Like, wildly. It’s on my brain all the time. I want to sharpen my skills, I want to be covered in charcoal smears, I want to make something badass. I want to feel like I can do something cool and fun and hard and just for me.
And it’s because this year has sucked all the life out of who I am. No, really. It has and it is.
I’m a river run completely dry. In a word, and for the first time since I’ve started down this path of marriage and motherhood, I’m miserable. But, believe it or not, it’s a good thing — I can see that now. It means that there’s a me behind motherhood that I don’t think I would have cared to find without this.
It makes sense. I like the ‘me’ I’ve found through motherhood infinitely more than any other one I’ve ever been. It was like finally finding my color; that shade of make-up or cut of dress that set my eyes on fire and could hack away my every flaw. I suddenly loved who I was, because of what I had made, even if no one else did. I saw parts of me evident in my children, either through nature or nurture, and I realized that I really, genuinely, whole-heartedly like those things. Even when I made mistakes in my role, I had a confidence in myself that never existed before.
On the flipside, it made me never miss being naked. There was no desire to rediscover a ‘me’ independent of them. In fact, I could feel that becoming true, and I couldn’t make myself care.
When we decided to homeshool, I was already used to going above and beyond for my three kids. I had a hard time believing that essentially just adding a change to our routine could really be that much harder. As it was, my every waking hour belonged to someone else. I peed at the same time I settled disputes between siblings that couldn’t wait. Even during my long, rejuvenating winter bubble baths on the weekend, reserved for catching up on good books, Scarlett stood tubside, quietly stacking bubbles on my knee. I never minded.
Homeschooling was harder though. It was like going from a place where the air wasn’t as fresh as it used to be, to having the air sucked right out from my lungs. Everything I identified with: my soft-spoken, understanding nature; my easy-going attitude – all of it was gone. In order to keep any sense of control over our life, I had to become a bull. Nothing else would cut it. It was rough, and it changed me.
What’s weird is that I so enjoy the act of teaching. I enjoy the challenge of staying organized. I thoroughly enjoy being so in on the action during their “aha!” moments of educational discovery. I enjoy the immense benefits it’s provided my children. On a whole, I have a great respect for the institution. But it has been at the heavy cost of losing, I swear, the last drops of my youth. Grey hair, sunken flesh under my eyes, lines in places I shouldn’t have them yet and headaches that feel like they pause between onsets instead of ever really going away, are just all part and parcel. It’s gotten easier, but these first six months must have aged me nine years.
I’ll tell you this, I don’t feel twenty-seven. I feel like I’ve made my children proud, but that I’ve lost myself in the process, which was not the outcome I ever expected. I thought that being their mom was the end all and be all of what I was now. I thought that no matter how much this experience stretched me, that I could handle it, because that’s all I was now: a parent. There was no other place for me to put my energy. But apparently, that’s not true. There are other parts of me begging to be acknowledged.
And you know what? I like that.
I like knowing that I haven’t lost every part of who I am to being a mom. I like that there are parts of me, having nothing to do with them, that I actually miss. I like knowing that the old me hasn’t been replaced; she’s just moved over so that other parts of me had room to grow.
She moved over a long time ago for their birth. Then for their health. And this year, she did it for their education. No part of me – not the mom or anything else – can regret that. Time for them will always be time well spent.
I only know what next year is supposed to hold. Lord knows, that’s no promise. But I am greatly looking forward to a little elbow room, and the first chance in a long time, to really fill my lungs. The first chance in maybe ever, to really be an artist.