Dear Mothers and Artists,
I don’t quite know what to say to you because I don’t quite know what I am telling myself these days.
Over the past couple days, I’ve exchanged messages with women I’d like to have on the blog who have said they are barely keeping it together and others who’ve said they are finding great comfort in going ahead with plans as they are able. I understand both of these responses, I alternate between them seemingly on the hour.
This spring, I was supposed to be finishing my book. I have a sabbatical from my university job, which is truly a glorious thing. And while I am extremely lucky because that means my switch to work from home is much easier than others, I’m still mourning the loss of this precious writing time.
I’m sure we will all adjust to the new rhythms of these days at home with our offspring, but my new job at what I’m calling the Fusco-Watson Academy for the Humanities and Snacks is rather time-consuming.
And sometimes scary. This week, both babies have had a fever. Clementine often gets a fever with her colds, but Eloise doesn’t always, and the fact that she’s had a temp worries me. We’re monitoring them both closely, and our cabinets are well-stocked with Tylenol and cough syrup. When the pediatrician’s office opens this morning, I’ll be placing a call. Will we all develop the crud? When we’re better will we know whether we’ve had it? Seems we may never know.
It’s a time of uncertainty topped with flavors of fear and frustration.
In our house, we’re starting to rotate working shifts this week. One parent runs the academy while the other tries to work for two hours. Overheard during my working shift: “Is that soap in this baby’s hair? That is not okay!” A colleague on social media has suggested headphones as key to ignoring one’s partner’s parenting.
As I think about making it through a long shut-in with as much grace and kindness as possible and also the knowledge that I still need to find ways to nourish my own soul, I’m reminded of an image from the time Blake, my family, and I organized an elaborate at-home wedding. We had a calendar leading up to the event and a list of tasks, including painting my parents’ house as a thank you for using the house as our site (I was married with flecks of house paint still in my hair). At a certain point, as the day approached, it became clear that various decorations and doo-dads were simply not happening. As I recall, there was something involving wrapping strings coated in glue around balloons that was a total disaster. A day or two before the wedding, one of us, I don’t remember who, took a big marker and wrote the words “too late” across the calendar. From that point on, only essentials could take place.
That’s how I feel now and it’s how I’m dealing at the moment. Things that would be nice to do but are not essential? Nope!
What’s essential? Well, maybe this will change over time, but working with Blake to make sure that everyone in the house is fed and healthy, to start. From there, making sure that the space we’re hunkering down in is clean and beautiful and that the four people and one dog in the house feel loved and attended to. One way I’m approaching this so that I feel nourished rather than depleted by care taking is to make some of the kids’ activities ones that are meaningful for me, too. This involves cooking with Eloise and planting a garden. Doing yoga and going for walks.
What else is essential? Well, I think of this as my “don’t let Covid cause a divorce” list: I still need some things for myself, even if I think the “inspirational” calls to plague-time productivity are garbage. Ooh, Shakespeare wrote a play. Well, bully for him. Because I am a list maker, I’ve made and labeled a “Reduced Goal List” that includes both the small bits of work that I would really like to still do and that would make me feel better to do, as well as a new set of special, pandemic-time goals.
What are pandemic-time goals? For people without kids, or even with older kids, I imagine these might be bigger and grander. But for moms like me with very little kids, I think they can and should be quite small. They are things that feel controllable, nourishing, and, crucially, just for you. Here are mine: actually floss (I know, I’m gross), do runners’ stretches, memorize Emily Dickinson poems, read a Henry James novel. These feel accomplishable and “good for me” in a way that anxiety-scrolling on my phone does not, though I’m doing a lot of that, certainly. In some moments this past week, I’ve felt borderline hysterical about caring for my children and worrying about my older parents who live across the country. For caretakers, whether of children, of parents, or sick partners, it will be really easy to burn out without some attention to self-care that’s more meaningful than home manicures–though, bring those the fuck on, too!
I’d love to know how you are all doing. Are you reducing your ambitions for work? Do you have nourishing small goals to shape these strange days? Also, if you are a mother and an artist, please reach out. I’d love to have you on the blog.
Big, non-contagious hug,
P.S. Here’s a good starter Dickinson poem for right now. She’s pretty easy to memorize, if you’re into that sort of thing:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.