I was about to step into the shower a few days back when Abby rushed into the room, a dress-up lab coat askew across her back, a doll dangling from her hand.
“Mama, can you hold my baby?” she asked. “She’s sad and she wants someone to hold her, and I’m busy being a doctor.”
I relayed this story to Jonathan that evening, and he laughed.
“Welcome to the story of modern parenthood and the challenge of childcare,” he said.
The story of modern parenthood, indeed.
I’m in the middle of three books, and, as is often the case, they’re dovetailing nicely, gently pushing me toward the same thing.
First, there’s Dreyer’s English. Reading a book on grammar and style, even if it is a delightful and witty book on grammar and style, is a decidedly
nerdy writerly thing to do, and I find myself itching to practice the craft of words again.
Then there’s Garden City by John Mark Comer, which is a book about work and rest and vocation. In it, he encourages us to use our time and our talents to make this earth more like what God originally intended it to be. It has me thinking about my own love of writing and whether I’m using it to its fullest potential.
And last but certainly not least, there’s Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, Walking on Water, which encourages me to think about my faith and my art (confession: it feels pretentious, calling this thing I sometimes do with words “art,” but I’ll let it stand) and how the two inform each other.
Taken together, they raise the questions I keep coming back to: What role does writing play in my life? Where should I be spending my time and my energy? How do I work out this vocation of motherhood with the other skills and interests that I have?
I believe that, at this stage of my life, my primary work is to nurture and to teach and to grow with the young souls entrusted to my care, and to encourage and to maintain beauty in the home in which they live. It’s valuable, lasting, and (mostly) fulfilling work.
But it’s difficult work. It requires a plethora of mundane, repetitive tasks that feel neither valuable nor lasting nor fulfilling. There are days when I am frustrated and exhausted, wondering exactly how I ended up here, dealing with the mess and chaos and noise that come with small children.
It’s valuable, lasting, fulfilling, difficult work and yet, as time-consuming and important as it is, I’m not convinced it’s the only work I should be doing right now.
But many days (or weeks, or months, or years), it seems to be the only work I do.
I asked Abby whether she should put her baby in a carrier, perhaps, so that she could keep her doll with her as she went about the important work of being a doctor. Her eyes lit up and she trotted off to her room, then returned, beaming as she showed me her solution: The doll was jammed into a small gift box, doubled over with her head touching her toes.
Abby closed the lid and that was that.
Later, she must have deemed this solution to be unsatisfactory. I found the doll stuffed into a plastic grocery sack, forgotten, as her owner went about some important business of three-year-olds.
Her initial solution – the one where she asked me for help – was better, and perhaps this is a lesson I should learn from her (and from Jonathan, who regularly encourages me in this direction): I need to find a way to schedule space. To recognize when I need to do a different kind of work than the work of mothering, and then to do it.
To, on occasion, give myself permission to say, “Hold my baby, I’m busy being a writer.”