I had a friend once who called herself a Creative, like as a noun. “Well, you know,” she said to me, “I’m a Creative, so I really thrive in community with other Creatives.”
I tried it out on myself a couple times but it felt forced, so I stopped. I liked to be creative, to write and paint and draw and make music, but I didn’t feel like I could claim it as an identity. I was a receptionist. I was a girlfriend, at that point. I was a twenty-something. Those were labels I could stick to myself without feeling silly.
My boyfriend proposed and we got married, so i became a fiance, and then a wife. I quit my job and started doing piano lessons out of our house, so I became a music teacher. I was still a twenty-something. Lots happened over the course of a couple years, and my identity easily and fluidly shape-shifted as I poured myself into new molds. I still liked to write and paint and draw and make music and did some combination of those things every day, in my free time, but ‘creative’ was still a verb with a little c, not a noun.
I had a baby, so I became a mom.
This transition was less fluid, more abrupt. Less like water being poured into a new container and more like water freezing solid - changing state, not just shape.
Everyone has something that surprises them about motherhood, right? My thing was how much harder it would be to keep the house clean - and by ‘clean’ I mostly mean ‘livable’ and ‘non-toxic’ - while also keeping a baby alive, while also getting sleep and staying sane. These were all things I didn’t have to think about before, basic existence things. Now they were things I had to work toward and schedule in and prioritize. Tale as old as time, I know.
The house began to look overly lived-in and utterly abandoned at the same time. My paints sat untouched in the office and my blog grew virtual cobwebs. Now the term Creative, noun, was not only silly to me, it was ridiculous. Almost sinful. Who has time to be a Creative when one is a Mom? I couldn’t figure out how anyone could be a mother and have a clean house, let alone how anyone could be a mother and have a clean house and indulge in any kind of superfluous hobby. This was the first time I was able to acknowledge that, yeah, creativity was probably a major part of my identity. Maybe I had been a Creative after all.
Had been. Before. In the same way that I had been a teenager once, and was now an adult who would never be a teenager again.
I started to figure the housekeeping thing out when my son was about six months old. He started taking subnaps - something similar to actual naps, but on a much smaller, more precarious scale. He’d shut his eyes and I’d burst into housekeeping mode, like the Tazmanian Devil in reverse, whirling through my house with cleaning supplies in an antibacterial frenzy.
I’d start in the kitchen, which was always the messiest room in the house.
If the kitchen was clean, I would head to the bathroom.
If the bathroom was clean, I would vacuum the floors.
If the floors were speck-free, I might do some laundry.
If there was no laundry to do, which was practically impossible and at best highly improbable, maybe I would dust.
There was never, ever, ever no dust. Not that I ever made it that far down the list anyway; this kid was the lightest sleeper in the world. This, I decided, was my new life. I would embrace it.
A kind of universal truth about first-time motherhood, I’ve found, is that it’s amazingly easy to forget that everything is temporary. I remember laying in bed in those first few months feeling really sad that I hadn’t been more of a Creative, noun, when I’d had the chance. As though that window of opportunity had slammed shut and been boarded up with a thousand nails. As though I’d spend the rest of my life playing a harried, exhausted, mom version of Cinderella.
Then came a Friday in July when the window cracked open again.
The house was quiet and I’d just put my son down in his crib and pulled the door shut quietly behind me - a crucial moment in the nap-time routine which could make or break the whole operation. I stood there for a few minutes, holding my breath, staring at the room in front of me, ready to tackle the usual list as soon as I’d deemed it safe. Dishes on the counter, crumbs on the floor, etcetera. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
And then I surprised myself. I said out loud to the kitchen, which was sitting very still and listening very intently, "Not right now, Kitchen."
The kitchen didn't really care.
I went instead into my office, the room with the paints and pens and pencils and papers, and I sat at my desk and started painting. I painted faster than I’d ever painted in my whole life. I wasn’t even painting anything in particular, just literally putting paint on paper because it felt good. I didn’t know how much time I had. Back then, naptime lasted anywhere from five minutes to half hour, on a really good day.
That day though? He slept an hour. In hindsight, it was probably because I was painting quietly in the office instead of bumping around in the kitchen outside his room, banging pots and pans together and scraping a dustpan along the floor. It was the first semblance of a creative thing I’d done since giving birth.
My kitchen, bathroom, and floors were dirty, the laundry undone and the dust bunching up in bunnies behind all the furniture, but I did not care. It was such a sweet, quiet, refreshing hour.
I wouldn’t say I learned a lesson that day about priorities or about making time for myself or anything like that. It was just a pleasant discovery: nothing had slammed shut on me. I was just passing through a busier stage of life that didn’t allow for me to be a Creative, or whatever exactly it is you want to call someone who gets a kick out of making things. I also wouldn’t say that a switch flipped after that and that I got to chill and make things all the time like I had before I became a mother. It’s much more hit-and-miss, much more special when it happens, much more appreciated. And it ebbs and flows as my son goes through stages of napping more or less or playing independently or whatever. It’s just that now I’m far enough into this that I know not to expect anything to stay forever.
It’s one of the many things I wish I could holler back to my postpartum self: “Don’t worry! Your world will freeze, but then it will thaw again! Over and over and over! Promise!”
Words and photo by Elena Krause.