There’s so much good stuff happening right now: books releasing, speaking engagements, book signings, school starting, toddlers talking – all of it is awesome. But it’s also all really overwhelming.
Currently, I am caught in the vortex of necessary work, which isn’t nearly as fun as spinning in the vortex of creatively inspired work. Launching books requires a different set of skills – the skills that don’t come as comfortably or naturally to this creative mama.
Marketing myself? Oh, how I hate it. And yet, it’s a necessary part of the writer’s job. Lately, however, I’ve been missing the art. I miss the craft of writing. But with little time in my busy days to dive back into it, I’m looking for other ways to feed my creative soul.
Because if the creativity doesn’t work its way out, I just might break down.
This is a common theme among creative mothers. We love our art, but the time in which to divulge in it is minimal, particularly when there are young children at home. I spoke to one creative mother a few weeks ago who confided that despite having consistent free time in her days with all her children finally in school, she still found it difficult to tap into the fullness of her creativity.
“I get them on the bus, then head to my craft room, and I just stare at the supplies. I finally have the time I need, but I’m feeling entirely uninspired.”
Oh, it’s a tightrope, this life of creativity and mothering. We inch our way along, at times completely unable to indulge in art at all, because motherhood takes up all the time.
And there are other times when the cracks of our days lengthen into wider spaces of free time, and the art won’t flow – such a cruel joke.
So what are we to do?
Here are a few tips for the creative who isn’t feeling creative
1.) Don’t Force It
The days that I most enjoy my family are the days that I don’t wake up demanding artistic perfection from myself. When I accept that there simply won’t be time to squeeze in the art, I can focus fully on the kids without an ounce of guilt.
I am a writer – that’s what I do. I’m not a decorator or a baker. I can’t sew a button on a shirt, and though I love singing, I cannot create music on my own. My gift lies almost solely in words. But what do I do when the words won’t come?
I look for other ways to let the art out.
I’m not a good photographer, but I like trying my hand at it. My favorite artistic expression outside of writing is through the camera. No one will be paying me for my photos anytime soon (or ever, for that matter), but the simple act of pulling my camera out and playing around can unlock the words in mighty ways.
Some days, inspiration hits and the time to create is magically present. Those days are a gift, and I cherish them. But they’re rare.
Most days are a little more parsed out. Wallowing in frustration doesn’t help anyone, so I simply take heart in my ability to do something. Maybe it’s post a picture on Instagram, or perhaps I have time to punch out a blog post. Maybe I can manage nothing more than a few necessary emails, or maybe I’ll have time to work on my next book.
At the end of this life, I want to look back without regret. I’ll see seasons of life that were all mothering, and seasons that gave way to the art. But I’m certain I’ll not look back and see a life that somehow balanced it all.
And that’s okay.
In just one short month, my second book hits bookshelves!
I didn’t realize how much I loved silence until I didn’t have it.
There is a cacophony of sound that thrums it’s way through the walls of my home from very early until very late. Laughter, whining, shrieks of delight, cries of frustration, music, television, arguing, playing, balls bouncing, and the list could go on. It starts often before the sun rises, and stops long after she tucks back below the horizon.
And I feel like I’m losing my mind.
Summertime means an uptick in the sound, and that’s okay. For the most part, I welcome this noise. It’s all signs of life. I’m not so overwhelmed as to miss the blessing in the messy music of my family, but every once in awhile I dream of running away. Far, far away…
We spent a full week on vacation. Six of us crammed into one small hotel room, one small rental car, one short window of time. It was truly a lovely week. My kids are growing into wonderful people, and I can look back on our week together and think of so much joy, which buried the few moments of stress. Yay us!
But we’re home now, and they’re still on summer break, and it’s just so noisy!
The irony of this is that I am currently sitting at my kitchen table in a completely silent house. Everyone is still asleep, and somehow I’ve been afforded these few solitary moments to myself…and I don’t quite know what to do with all this silence.
Of course these quiet moments came with a price, as I was awakened at 3:30 this morning by a fussy toddler, and I never went back to sleep.
Please send coffee.
As I sit here, I keep hearing little bumps and creaks as the house groans her way into a new day, and each time a noise pops, I look around wildly, waiting for someone to come out and shatter the quiet.
It’s sort of like motherhood PTSD – every little noise makes me cringe.
Maybe I’m not alone in this. Maybe you feel the same way? Perhaps you long for just a few solitary moments of quiet in the midst of bustling, nonstop days. Surely I’m not the only one who finds herself escaping to the closet a few times each day just to block out the noise.
So what do we do? Because the prevailing theme of motherhood is that we should enjoy these fleeting days because they go by fast. I don’t deny that. My oldest is a teenager now. I blinked my eyes, and he was suddenly as tall as me. I know these days are fleeting. But let’s be honest – a day that starts at 3:30 drags on forever. And ever and ever and ever…
And so, I write this one to those of you who are longing for silence amidst the fleeting days of parenting. What can you do?
Not forever, of course. Running away from home would be frowned upon. But you can escape for a few minutes, if not for a few days.
Turn off your phone. Eliminate the noise of the world. Close the door to your bedroom. Close your eyes, and just breath in the silence.
The children will find you, of course. It’s inevitable. But you’d be amazed at the calming power of a few moments of silence.
And when the kids finally go back to bed and you crawl beneath the sheets, embrace the silence for however long it lasts. Because someday, it will last much longer than you like.
I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in our household as of late.
My children are content with being simply mediocre. When asked to complete a task, they accomplish the bare minimum, pat themselves on the back, then ask if they can turn on the television.
I’d like to blame this on summertime, but I don’t really think I can do that. This was going on before the lazy days of summer vacation settled upon us. Everything from schoolwork to athletics has fallen under the category of mediocre.
A few weeks ago, we had a heart-to-heart, the kids and I, about this particular issue. I made a reasonable request of them – Clean out the minivan. Sounds simple, right?
Only what you must understand is that our minivan is like a tiny, traveling landfill. I think I’m doing okay in parenting until I step into the back seat of the van, and then I realize I’m just raising cave people.
WHY IS THERE A MOLDED SANDWICH BACK THERE?!
So, I asked them to clean it out, and they did. Barely. They cleaned out the obvious, easily visible trash, but never bothered to reach under or between the seats. I kind of didn’t blame them, because I wasn’t entirely sure creatures weren’t living in those dark crevices, but COME ON!
That was our first discussion about accomplishing tasks well. Doing things right the first time, and with excellence applies to everything, even cleaning out the minivan.
Of course, I said this after I had gone into the depths of the van after them and actually cleaned it. In the process I found a missing iPod, seven dollars, and a picture of myself from high school, which was a rather curious find.
It may have been the ghost of my past mocking me.
I realized that day that this life skill of doing things with excellence isn’t going to come naturally. I’m not sure this is a problem unique to our family. It’s something that has to be taught, and I’ve not done them justice.
I’ve avoided the confrontation, and now I’ve got my work cut out for me. Because this spirit of mediocrity has bled over into other areas of life than just their inability to actually clean a room (or van).
My athletic kids are suddenly less concerned with excelling. They want to win, and they long for the accolades that come with their accomplishments, but they aren’t working for them.
Schoolwork is equally challenging. They are content to do the bare minimum in order to cross things off their list. Going above and beyond what was asked of them provokes looks of confusion when suggested.
And while A’s are nice, B’s and C’s aren’t so bad, either.
Truthfully, I have no problem with a B, or with second place, if I know you put your heart into working for it.
But if you just settled for it? Now we have problem, kids.
In college, I spent a semester studying in Kiev, Ukraine. I was enrolled in a Russian language program at The Institute for Foreign Languages, and my teacher, Olga Yurevna, was one of the most terrifying people I’ve ever met.
The first day of class, I joined seven other students in her beginning Russian class. They were all from China, and I was the token blonde-headed, All American girl. That night, she told us to go home and translate and memorize a passage of text that she had written down on the board.
The next day, when we returned, she pointed to a boy in the corner. He had longer hair, and sat slumped down in his chair. He was begging for her wrath.
“Recite line 8 of the passage for me,” she demanded. He shook his head.
“I don’t know it,” he replied.
She didn’t speak to him the rest of the semester. THE SEMESTER!
That was the day that I learned what it means to do something with excellence. Never before had I been in an environment that demanded perfection. It was slightly terrifying, but after four months I was nearly fluent in Russian because of Olga Yurevna’s high expectations.
Now, I know I can’t freeze my kids out for four months if they don’t meet my expectations, but perhaps there’s something to be learned from my experience in Ukraine. I rose to the occasion because I understood the demands, and because it was obvious that falling short was not an option.
We’ve got our work cut out for us around here, and these kids of mine may be in for a few unpleasant months. But I refuse to raise children who grow into adults who are content with mediocrity.
This year, we are in pursuit of excellence.
So, you know…add us to your prayer list. *wink*
How do you cultivate a spirit of excellence in your home?
He turned the dial and the music cranked, pulsating my (smokin’ hot) minivan as we puttered down the road. Grabbing my camera, he held it out in front of us and snapped a photo, documenting the moment…and Landon’s apparent chagrin.
When we gave Sloan his iPod for Christmas, we loaded it full of music first. We wanted to make sure he had a wide variety of classics, so we downloaded Frank Sinatra, Coldplay, Lacrae, vintage Audio Adrenaline, Michael Buble, Patty Griffin and, of course, DC Talk.
Because we are good Christian parents.
Jesus Freak now blares boldly through the speakers inside our home, and our cars. We jam our way down the road, singing at the top of our lungs:
What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus Freak?
What will people do when they find that it’s true?
I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak.
There ain’t no disguising the truth.
We sing and play wicked air guitar, and Lee and I feel good about the theology we’re passing down to our children. I mean, c’mon man: People say I’m strange. Does it make me a stranger? My best friend was born in a manger.
DON’T PRETEND YOU’RE NOT SINGING ALONG!
And so it was that we jammed our way down the road when we passed a police car and ambulance stopped on the shoulder, reaching in to help an older man who had veered off into a side rail. Sloan immediately turned the music down and watched intently as we drove past.
“Oh man,” he said quietly. “That looked bad. What do you think happened?”
I glanced at the situation and told him I had no idea, then I waited for him to turn the music back up so we could go back to our jam. He twisted the dial and the car filled with the bass and drums and electric guitar, and I moved right past the man in his car. But not Sloan. He sat still for a minute, then turned the music back down.
“Sorry mom,” he said. “But…I just…um…can I pray for that man back there?”
I quit drumming along and nodded my head. “Of course you can!” I exclaimed.
“Okay,” he replied. “Good. I’m gonna pray. You pray with me. But don’t close your eyes, okay?! I mean, I think that you should keep them open while you drive.”
He then proceeded to pray the sweetest prayer for a stranger on the side of the road. Prayer for safety and healing. Prayer for wisdom for doctors, and for the man not to feel too badly about the accident. It was tender-hearted and generous, and it stopped me in my tracks.
On any given day, I am certain that I am failing this motherhood gig. I get frustrated with them. I nag. I yell. I overreact. I read with one kid, and let the other two down. I focus on the baby too much, and the older three feel neglected.
It’s easy to get lost in the faults, and to see every flaw in myself and the children. He loses his temper, she is stubborn as the day is long, and he can’t lose graciously.
(Nothing is wrong with Annika, yet. So far she is perfect…like a tiny Mary Poppins)
I get lost in all our shortcomings, and I miss the amazing little people that they’re growing up to be, and the good job I’m doing at being their mom. He gets angry, yes – but he’s also the first to ask forgiveness, and has a heart of mercy the size of Texas.
She’s stubborn, yes – but she’s also deeply empathetic and compassionate. She begs to buy groceries for the man living in a tent behind Target because she feels the weight of his circumstance.
He can’t lose a game without falling apart, yes – but he’s also a peacemaker, quick to smooth things over when arguments break out.
It’s easy to lose sight of the good things in our children when we get lost in the day to day, hectic living. We get swallowed up by all the hard and the long days all mold one into another, and we start missing it altogether. And then they do something that takes our breath away, and remind us that this motherly work we’re doing is a worthy and good use of our time.
You’re working so hard to teach them how to live generous lives, and it’s hard! The rough edges of their little personalities need so much refining, but don’t lose sight of the diamonds that are shining through beneath the surface. You’re polishing little gems.
You may not see the reward right now, but one day when you least expect it, you may just find yourself being reminded of the impact that you’re having on your children.
And they will also help you remember what it felt like to empathize deeply with the world around you. Untainted by life and adulthood, they see the world through innocent eyes. It’s in those moments you find them teaching you instead of the other way around. That’s what happened to me yesterday.
All it took was a dirty minivan, DC Talk, and the simple prayer of a tenderhearted twelve-year-old.
I was young, maybe nine or ten, when I first saw The Secret Garden. Upon finishing the film, I immediately traipsed out into the Wisconsin woods behind our home and looked for the perfect tree in which to sit and read. The trees were romantic and mysterious then. I wanted to soak up the rustle of the woods and see what kind of magic I could find.
I grew up, and we moved away from Wisconsin. No longer did I have the whimsy of the forest in which to explore my imagination, but the fanciful longing for a secret garden has never really left me. And I still find a sturdy branch the best place to read a book.
In college, I found a great tree with a low lying limb tucked back in Waco’s Cameron Park. On pretty spring days, before the oppressive Texas heat threatened to melt off my face, I’d go to that tree with school books, certain that studying in that place would result in all A’s.
There may have been something to my theory, because my last two semesters of school I landed on the Dean’s List.
And now here I am, living in Florida, surrounded by beautiful trees, but not one worthy of a good climb. I still wish for a secret garden to call my own – a place where dreams come alive in the quiet serenity of nature.
Granted, I’d probably need a gardner to tend to that magical space as I’ve proven to be much better at writing about gardens than growing them.
Dreaming is possible without a garden, though. Sometimes I still find myself lost in a moment of daydreaming, although those moments are fewer and farther between now than they were before. Life has simply grown too noisy and busy. And it makes me a little sad that my kids aren’t growing up with the whimsy of the trees.
The last couple of weeks have found me in a funny place: Often sad for no reason, and terribly overwhelmed in situations that don’t normally phase me. I’m blaming hormones, the end of summer, and a lack of quiet.
The funny thing, however, is that I don’t want to be alone. I want my husband and children with me, which seems to contradict my longing for quiet spaces. I long to escape, yes, but to a place where there are no sports, no schedules, and no electronics to distract us.
I want to kick those kids outside and see them explore.
I want them to climb a few trees.
School starts in two weeks, and while I feel a sigh of relief escape my lips as I type that sentence, I also feel a small pang of regret and sadness, because it’s over. One more under our belts, and life keeps trucking along without sign of slowing down.
I don’t have a secret garden in which to sit and reflect, and the quiet spaces I long for are likely mythological. But I’ve discovered over the years that these moments of overwhelmed a lot-ness (totally a word) are not the be all-end all.
There may not be magical stretches of quiet time, but there are slivers of time that are magical enough.
We kept all electronics off last night, and the kids went for a swim as the sun sank down below the horizon. I sat in a chair next to the pool, and I just watched them play.
I listened to the hallowed sounds of their laughter, taking in all the sounds, none of them quiet, yet the entire event feeling like a hushed song of praise. We were in the moment, all of us. Them in the pool, and me taking it in, and I knew that this was the moment I was longing for.
A moment to just be free.
A moment that says “This is enough.”
A moment in which I could breathe.
I was happy last night, despite my lack of a tree, a book, and a magical garden. Maybe someday there will be a time and a place for that sort of living again. Today, though – today was for popsicles and blue waters. Today was for giggles and flips in the pool. Today was magical with just a touch of whimsy.
Turns out the secret garden was here with me all along.
Tell me moms – how are you doing as summer winds down and school days ramp back up? How are you holding up?