Creativity for the Overwhelmed

People without kids often ask,”How come you don’t do that thing you used to do?” or “What do you do for fun?” Other than folding the top of the laundry pile as a feat of domestic accomplishment or the 3.5 minutes of a book before passing out, then, well, not much.

Yeah, I get it. Once upon a time, I’d get tanked up on coffee at some neighborhood cafe and read, write or edit without interruption – except to get more coffee or move away from the rowdy dudes over at the chess table.

The only way to Carnegie Hall is practice, say creative individuals worth their salt, like Julia Cameron and Elizabeth Gilbert. Nobody just swoops in, all inspired-like, once a year, and snags an Oscar or a book contract.

Now, as a working parent of two small kids, I find daily creative practice to be somewhere between “learn to braid the mane of a unicorn” and “fencing lessons” on the list of priorities. Just the thought of staying up every night to write or to sing scales feels as daunting as my pre-baby wardrobe, an ear infection or a man bun.

Add up the essential tasks, subtract those from 24 hours and divide the rest into two-hour sleep chunks, and there are just enough minutes left for very basic hygiene. It’s mom arithmetic 101.

Sure, overachievers like J.K. Rowling can draft Harry Potter at Edinburgh cafes with an infant in tow. You can beat yourself up for not measuring up in productivity, but Ms. Rowling didn’t have a full-time office job then to zap her creativity with fluorescent lights and I bet her baby must have been a super napper.

There are probably working parents of tiny babies out there who practice their craft daily. Even if they’re gone for 11-12 hours a day at work. They probably still make time for cooking, for reading bedtime stories and for keeping their iPads locked up in that special nightstand drawer in favor of non-electronic activities approved by European educators. They subsist on kale and yoga and maybe even have all-white furniture because their kids never bite, spill, throw, puke or stomp on things. Whoever these people are, they are better parents and human beings than I am. And I’m finally totally okay with it.

For the rest of us, carving out a chunk of guilt-free “me time” for old passions means giving up something else. What will take a hit? Teaching your toddler to cut out her first cookie? Seeing your baby smile for the first time? Reminding yourself and your partner why you liked each other in the first place? Sleep? What will you cut? Something’s gotta give.

Maybe, though, during those wondrous, fleeting moments when new life is blossoming  within us and before us and each minute is replete with something new, often is often enough. Those completed screenplays and solo art shows and entire Etsy collections can wait a little while, weaving themselves back in slowly, until the time is right.

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