In 2003 I had a whole summer off. I was a sixth grade teacher, married, living in an apartment we owned in an interesting, upbeat area of Boston. In early June, just before school was out, I set some summer goals for myself: draw every day, dust off my old watercolors and paint, make a quilt with all that fabric I’d been hoarding.
The last day of school came and went, as did the first week of summer vacation, and I was just about ready to start in on those projects. Monday morning my husband left for work and I went to the bakery and then for a long walk and then I took a nap. And watched some TV. And talked on the phone with my sister. And suddenly the day was gone and I never did draw. In fact, week after long free week of that summer rolled on by and, yes, I did sew a few scraps together, but then laid them aside when I couldn’t figure out what to do next, and, yes, I painted a little still life of some lemons and gave it to my mother for her birthday, but then I put the paints back on the shelf. Even while I was living those weeks I could see that my lofty summer goals for productive creativity were not being realized.
But why? Why wasn’t I using all that free time as creative time? The desire was there, but something crucial was missing. Now I see that the missing element was a feeling of urgency. Urgency reframes time, places constraints on us, maybe forces us even, to use every single moment if we are to meet our goals.
By the end of that summer I was pregnant with our first child, a daughter born the next March. I left the classroom to be home with her and suddenly I was back in the apartment while my husband was at work, with long hours before me, a similar feeling to the one I’d had the previous summer. Visits to the bakery, long walks pushing the stroller, naps, some TV, talks with my sister – it was all the same. Except now it was completely different.
When the baby was up there was always something to do. Nursing and changing, comforting and cleaning, folding and cooking, and then cleaning and nursing again, and on and on. And when finally I could put her down for a nap and I could be me again. The old me. The me that wanted to draw and paint and sew. But now I only had an hour before the cycle of nursing and changing and comforting and cleaning started all over again. An hour and ten minutes if I was lucky. So out came the sketchbook and the pencil because if I was going to actually make anything I had to start right now!
And pretty soon I was making things, teaching myself to sew from old soft toy books I’d check out of the library after storytime on Tuesdays. And in May of 2005 I started a blog, WhileSheNaps.com to record all that naptime creative productivity. In the seven years that have passed we’ve had two more daughters (only girls so that “She” still rings true!) and I’m a stay-at-home mom with a creative business that I work on primarily while my kids are asleep or at school or camp.
When people peek into my studio, peruse my website, and see everything that I’m making, and then notice that I have three kids who are 8, 6, and 18 months, the first thing they ask me is, “How do you find the time?”
Having children has given me many gifts (and a fair number of headaches, too), but one of the greatest gifts of motherhood for me is the constraints it has placed on my time. Looking back at that summer of 2003 my first reaction is to feel jealous desire, dreaming of what I would do if only I had that time now. The reality of now, though, is that I never have time like that. And precisely because I don’t, I find the time to produce creative work every day.