When my son Taylor was little I used to rock him to sleep for both naps and bedtime. (That was when I only had one child.) I remember one hot summer afternoon in Minnesota when I was rocking my diaper clad little one on my lap. As I readjusted his weight on my legs our sweaty, hot skin stuck together. “Oh, you’re sticking to me, Taylor.” I commented.
He smiled and repeated, “I’m a sticker.” Man, he was a cute little… sticker.
When our kids are young, they act like they are a part of you, like a second skin. And if you’re doing parenting right, someday you’ll have to pull that “sticker” off of you and let it be a separate thing. After all, our goal in parenting is to raise them and release them.
But shortly after the first kid came along I found myself losing my personality to the identity of my child. Suddenly I was just a mom, like a million other moms out there. I think a lot of moms go through that. I didn’t give up much of a career to become a parent, but I did give up something that I valued even more than that. I gave up my privacy and my creative space. I quit painting and drawing. I just didn’t have the time or energy or creativity or the space to work anymore. I found other outlets for my creativity (like quilting and gardening), but it wasn’t the same.
For over 10 years, I didn’t do any art. Then one day when we were in Language School in Costa Rica, we decided to go to the children’s museum with our neighbors. San Jose has a pretty cool children’s museum. We all enjoyed our time wandering from room to room touching and experimenting with everything. Soon we stumbled upon the art room. They had child-sized easels set up around the room and prints of famous masterpieces mounted on wooden “canvases”. The idea was that the children would try to copy the masterpieces. None of our kids had any interest in this room, but as I picked up one masterpiece print, the whole world slowed for me.
As I starred at the Van Gogh in my hands, the stream of time slowed around me and I was aware… wholly and completely aware… of my soul. I was UNaware of the world around me, but my soul and this work of art locked together. It was like recognizing an old friend across a crowded room. I felt a quiet, closed door in my soul creak open. A lost room was found again. And then I knew. I knew that I had neglected my soul when I set aside my art. It was time to peel myself apart from the children and find myself again.
It took me several years after that experience to finally pick up a paint brush again. Language learning, international moves, health issues and cancer all blocked my best intentions. But I knew it was something I needed to do. In the same way that you peel off the hot, sweaty clothes before you climb into a cool shower, I needed to peel myself apart from my identity as a mom. I needed to refresh myself.
This required other kinds of peeling as well. I had to peel myself off the couch and go buy some new art supplies. I had to peel myself away from the internet to engage in my real life and cast about for ideas to paint. I had to peel myself off of the day and to decompress- setting aside work, laundry, chores, and lesson planning. And finally, I had to peel the onion around my feelings and get to the essence of who I am and why I want to… no, NEED to paint.
I love my kids, no doubt. So it took me years of peeling away the layers of guilt, and exhaustion, and good intentions that crusted over my unfulfilled plans to find the time and the place to say MY TURN! “You kids have had enough of my attention all day long, now it’s MY TIME.” I peel them off of me in order to find me again, just me. And though they take a layer or two of me when they peel away, I think my kids will one day thank me for peeling myself apart from them… and freeing them.