We are at a Crab Feed, something that happens a lot in January when you live in Northern California and your kids go to a school that needs a new gym. Or a real stage. Or a sound system that doesn't make everyone cringe when a third-grader hits a high note at the holiday show.
Anyway, it's a lovely night. Chris and I are sitting with a great mix of parents and talking freely, loosened by the wine and the lack of small people hanging from our pant legs. We are all cracking crab and trafficking butter around the table, the pasta, the bread, more wine, until we are giddy. Parents of small children don't get out much and we are gleefully remembering what it feels like to be out in the world after dark.
One of the other moms and I get to talking about hobbies, about how we don't/can't have any. We both agree that having small children, while nothing at all like a hobby, takes up more time and energy than ten hobbies, thus eliminating almost all possibility of pursuing one.
Her husband leans in mid-crab cracking and says sagely, "I work, I sleep, I father." The mom and I look at each other, nodding. So true. So true.
It's a crab spear to the heart for me. I want what he's got -- the acceptance of the limits of this time and place. I want to embrace the selflessness needed by a life with small children. I want the Zen. After all, there are plenty of parenting "hobbies" to be undertaken: coaching T-ball, leading girl scouts, driving carpool, running bake sales. Grown-up hobbies appear to be for the childless, or for retirees.
Generally, it seems there is little "me time" in motherhood, in parenthood. "Me" quickly becomes "us" and there is the sense that if you hesitate to toe this line, you risk missing out. Your kids are growing up and away from you every moment and if you indulge in much personal endeavoring, there is the fear that when you look up, your little ones will be driving off to college, not looking back.
This writing thing of mine is a hobby, really. Granted, I write advertising for a living and that's no hobby. It's a good job, which renders any hobby-ness out of it. But writing for pleasure is my passion and since the birth of my daughter seven years ago, it has had to be practiced in the cracks.
My relationship with my laptop is carried out discreetly and often in the dark -- after bedtime, when they're engaged in play, before they wake up in the morning, during nap. There is the guilt, the worry that I am cheating on my family. While the time I spend writing feels as vital to me as breathing, it's time I could be reading Little Women aloud with Reese or playing superheroes with Finn.
There are only twenty-four precious hours in a day and all of them are moments my children's cells are maturing and moving forward. How can I dare miss them for such frivolity as this? My seven-year-old, even after a weekend spent with every moment curled around each other's hearts, playing, singing and being together, if I dare try to leave for a few hours Sunday afternoon to write, the announcement is met with tears. But how long, Mommy, for how long? As though I am going off to war, not simply leaving her with the father she adores for the afternoon. I keep hearing Nora Ephron's voice in my head: Any child would rather have their mother miserable in the next room than ecstatic in Hawaii.
I have the rest of my life to write, I tell myself. Someday I will have all the time in the world. Stop for now, I say. But like my addiction to cheese and dark chocolate, my affair with writing always nestles itself back into my arms.
I would give anything for my children, I would -- but writing, don't take the writing. Writing brings clarification, appreciation to my every moment with them. It is my scrapbooking, my baby booking and my knitting of tiny blankets.
Even though my writing takes moments away from my children, it also makes every moment I spend with them sweeter, clearer, mostly because I've taken the time to think about them in every word I write. It's my chance to gain perspective -- on them, on me, on us.
And I can only imagine that every mother out there has her "writing" -- whatever that is for her -- her biking or marathoning or crafting or playing cards or shopping the sales racks. For what kind of mothers would we be if we taught our children that to parent, you have to be less alive? To divorce yourself from the "you" that makes you, you? And if we are more alive, more present, more patient, more real, more loving after we bake or scuba dive or sing in a choir than when we don't, aren't the moments we might miss worth making the moments we have all the better?
Ah, 4:30. Time's up. Time to go home.
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