I was recently approached by an editor asking me to submit a story. She thought her readers would be interested in what I had to say. Today my oldest is in school (I miss her) and my husband is off work, running errands with the other littles. I’m alone in this quiet house, sitting in front of the computer, coffee in hand and instead of writing the piece, I check Facebook, chat with a fellow mom from school, check email, download pictures, visit a few blog pages for inspiration and wonder if I should mop the floor while everyone is gone.
Get it done girl! This is your chance to take advantage of peace and quiet. But I’m terrified, to put it mildly. What if I suck? What if they laugh at what I submit? Who cares what I have to say? I don’t sound academic enough. The discouraging voice in my head goes on and on, spewing negative words, causing me to doubt myself at every turn.
So this post stands as my motivation. I’m going to finish the work, forcing myself to do what is uncomfortable and uneasy. I think of my daughter, so nervous about her first day of school today. She cried, she didn’t want to go, she wanted to stay home where it is safe and predictable. Today I will stand in solidarity with her, stepping out of the safe and predictable, off to my first day of school, looking over my shoulder with tears in my eyes, but when I walk in that building baby, I hold my head up high. It’s a new day. Let’s do this.
It has been a busy summer for our family, it seems the weeks flew by and here we are again at the start of a new school year. My writing life has suffered due to hot, lazy days spent outside in the sun or running around busy, busy, busy trying to make it a memorable summer. I put so much pressure on myself to make it fun, full of activities and experiences and not a second wasted. I made a summer fun list of things to do and see. I ended up with 31 items; going to the spray park, the zoo, art museums and horse farms, picking berries, camping, visiting the bookstore, the children’s theatre and catching a butterfly show. I accomplished exactly half of what was on my list and that’s ok. Looking back, I’ve had the best time with my kids, spending time together as a family, relaxed and unscheduled, just the way I like it. Parts of our summer list will carry over into fall, like picking apples and going to the local farmers market, visiting the planetarium and the natural history museum and more parks and playgrounds.
With kids there is always more to do, to see, to experience. I’ve been busy, and so have you right? Yet here we are; me writing, you reading and the summer spins out its last days before our kids file back into school. The streets will be quiet. My house will fall still. And my writing life will once again come to life. My lists however will not stop. I will accumulate and cross out and add until once again our story will be recorded on the bright blue page hanging in the kitchen. Things to do. It never ends. Yet, this is the stuff memories are made of. This is life, the thick of it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I have days that I don’t like being a mom. Days I’m tired and I want to stay in bed past 7:00 am. Days I don’t feel like making lunch and dinner for anyone but me. Days I don’t want to go to the park or drive anyone around or play nice. Days I don’t want to share. Days I just want to say “NO” to everything. Days I’m a grouch and want to sit in front of the TV all day long eating chocolate cupcakes. On those days I have to step back and remember how lucky I am.
I have a friend who doesn’t have any children. She is physically unable to. One day I was complaining to her about how hard I had it, lugging three kids around, feeding them, putting up with their screaming and tearing up the house. She sat quietly and listened, not saying much, just nodding her head. Then she said, “But it’s good, right? It’s good to have them.” Like a punch to the gut, I realized how selfish I was being. How inconsiderate to complain about the very things my friend could never experience. I saw the pain in her eyes. I apologized immediately, but the damage had been done. She was hurt and I was a fool.
So the next time you are having a foolish day, a hard day, a day you don’t feel like hosting another stupid playdate or thawing chicken for five people or cleaning up spilled milk for the FOURTH time in an hour, remember how lucky you are to have little people to complain about. Then go find those little tots and hug them with all your might. There are many people in the world who would love to be in our place, to hold what we hold, to feel a tiny, warm hand in theirs.
I come back to this poem by Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) again and again. It helps me stay focused on the little things that mean the most and makes me feel a bit more forgiving when the milk gets spilled again.
I’ve been cramming in the reading this week. My bookshelves overflow with library books. I have over 100 books checked out. I thought that number sounded ridiculously high and decided I’d better start reading so the library doesn’t think I’m a book hoarder. (I am.) I just finished When Women Were Birds, Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams. She writes about the death of her mother and the cryptic books she left behind; all of her cloth-bound journals. But they were filled with stark white pages, blank, not a sheet tarnished with ink. Every single one of them.
I had never heard of this author before, but I fell in love reading her words, a sort of love letter back to her mother for the gift of hundreds of bare, white pages. Near the end of the book I came across a short chapter, just a few lines, but they were full of force. They spoke truth to me as a mother and writer.
Can you be inside and outside at the same time?
I think this is where I live.
I think this is where most women live.
I know this is where writers live.
Inside to write. Outside to glean.
Powerful words. Terry Tempest Williams, you have a new fan.
I recently finished a great book, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart by Tara Brach. She recounts a wonderful story about Thich Nhat Hanh. If you don’t know who that is, you should. Google him. He will inspire you.
When Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh was invited to the San Francisco Zen Center in the 1970’s, the students asked him what they could do to improve their practice. He had entered a monastery at age sixteen, was an ordained monk, and had endured the horrors of the war in Vietnam. I imagine they expected some rigorous prescription for deepening their spiritual life. Thich Nhat Hanh’s response: “You guys get up too early for one thing, you should get up a little later. And your practice is too grim. I have just two instructions for you this week. One is to breathe, and one is to smile.”
I think this advice can be applied to all aspects of our lives, as parents, as writers, as artists, and as human beings we would all be better served to adopt this mantra. Breathe and smile. Relax your standards. Approach your life with an open heart. Breathe and smile. Just breathe and smile.