I often feel I have two women living inside me--the Mother and the Artist--and they are always fighting. They fight over resources--time, money, energy, attention. They are philosophically at odds, one believing that serving another is of the highest value, the other believing that expressing the self is what it's all about. For the past five years, the Mother has been almost completely dominant, the Artist locked in a closet in the basement, and drugged. Now that my daughter is moving out of the super needy infant/toddler stage, the Artist is BACK, and boy is she pissed. She wants what she hasn't been getting these past four years, with interest. And for better or worse, she's not going to get it. She knows this, and it makes her moody and petulant, mean as a snake sometimes. She feels dangerous, like she might run off to Mexico without notice, or smoke a cigarette, or not go to bed until 3 in the morning, just to be BAD. Keeping her in check, while giving her enough of what she wants to prevent a total disaster, is a balancing act.
In some ways, the Artist is good for the Mother, and the child. She sets limits the Mother does not set. She admits she has needs beyond eating and bathing. She takes space from her children whether they like it or not (they never like it). I have a friend who's a father and a songwriter and he told me recently that he has always taught his children never to interrupt a songwriter at work. This may be the difference between mothers and fathers, I don't know, but I suddenly thought, Sweet Jesus, why didn't I think of that? We no longer live in a world where "Daddy does lots of interesting things, while Mommy is all about you," but, when I am stuck in the Mother role, I still play by those rules a lot of the time. Our children need a lot of love and undivided attention from us, true, but they also need us to model, at the appropriate time, independence, autonomy, and self-actualization. In the end, if I do so, I send my daughter an important message: If it's okay for me to stake out my personal space so that I can write songs and paint, it is okay for you to claim your space from those who would stand in your way when you want to make art, or jump out of planes, or meditate, or pursue your dreams in whatever way makes sense to you.
I know not all mothers are artists, but I think every mother, at a certain point, has one of those days when, suddenly, she looks up from the peanut butter and jelly sandwich she's making, or the child she's bathing, and thinks, This sucks. That voice is the voice of a self that has seen no time, no attention, no air, no light, nothing, for too long. That self needs you. I am here to urge you to listen to her. Give her a shot. Give her half an hour at the end of the day, or two days every month. The sooner you do, the safer you'll be from waking up three years from now in a cheap hotel in Tijuana not even caring if your kid got to school on time. If you're like me anyway.