kids playing in surf
Motherhood

Punctuation

I am not taking myself as seriously anymore.

I mean, I am. Let’s face it, I’m a Capricorn. But I’m trying not to. If everything is a constant bid to better myself, it is a contest in which I am always the loser and the prize always sits on the horizon, barely distinguishable in the haze. I’m not even sure what it is, that prize. So fuck that noise. I’m tired.

I have two children now. The last time I sat down here to write, I only had one rambunctious one-year-old. Now I have a two-and-a-half-year-old and a seven-month-old (surprise!). I fell asleep one night and suddenly it’s been years since I’ve written. Time does that when you have children. When you’re a working parent. When you let your art take a backseat. When. When. When.

After my first child turned one last year, I ramped up my work on my career. Ten hour days became fifteen hour days; I went back to school for a certificate that would enable me to teach reading to adults; I got pregnant; I spent most of the school year sick, between the pregnancy and my son’s daycare germs that arrived mechanically at our doorstep every two weeks. Job interviews came or they didn’t. 

I teach writing, but I’m not sure I know how to write anymore. It feels uncomfortable: the words caught in my throat, like chunks of half-chewed carrot stuck back there. It’s okay, though. I tell my students that writing is a practice. You don’t have to be good at it. You just do it over and over and over, an unending series of sessions that never take you to the destination, because there is no destination. There’s just a McDonald’s on the side of the highway, two screaming children in the backseat because the toy in the Happy Meal is the wrong one, and—

…wait. Where was I?

I have two children now. One is four-and-a-half and one is two-and-a-half. One is learning to read and write, and the other is speaking in complete sentences, like a complete person. It’s been years since I’ve written. Time does that to you when you have children. When there’s a pandemic and you downsize your career to care for said children. When your art disappears like pixie dust you can’t quite see dusting your fingertips.

I put off my work for days at a time to care for my children. Oh, the guilt over their hours spent sitting in front of Disney Plus while I shoot off harried emails to students, scan grading sheets, remind students of upcoming assignments. I blow off a day of grading to take the boys to the park, so they can climb some trees. Childhood is short in metaphors I would have laughed at five years ago, before they became the truths by which I navigate all my choices now.

The essays sit, ungraded.

I am not taking myself as seriously anymore. I am tired.

Fuck that noise.

7 Comments

  • Ra

    “When your art disappears like pixie dust you can’t quite see dusting your fingertips.” – The nice thing about that pixie dust is how us readers can still see it all over you and every sentence. You’re magic no matter how long it takes for the next piece to finish, and because you are magic, I am convinced there will always be a next piece. <3
    Ra recently posted…lockdown mouseMy Profile

  • Asha Rajan

    Nat, I’ve already said something similar to you elsewhere, but I do want to say again how very much I love the structure of this essay. I adore essays that play with time in inventive ways, and this does that so nicely. Using your babies’ ages as markers worked really well to show the way life intervenes in our plans. Your writing is always a joy to read. This piece captures so well the exhaustion so many of us are feeling, the exhaustion of being a parent, of being in a pandemic, of being in politically uncertain times, on top of the usual demands of our lives.
    Asha Rajan recently posted…My Father’s Hands (nonfiction)My Profile

  • Danielle Dayney

    Natalie, I’ve really missed reading your essays! Your voice shines through every single one.

    This one in particular does such a great job of showing what a balancing act it is to be a working parent. Especially right now. Whew! This year has been such a roller coaster, and I think we’re all tired.
    Danielle Dayney recently posted…Animal InstinctsMy Profile

  • Michelle Hanley

    I really loved the message in this piece and you managed to make it speak directly to me as a reader without sounding preachy – because, I mean, who can preach with the Happy Meal situation happening. 🙂 The use of your children’s ages was a clever way to present a timeline but I struggled a bit with the sentence that said the oldest turned one last year because I started trying to do math in my head to put it in context. That said, I’m pretty sure the sentence with “like chunks of half-chewed carrot” is one of my favorite things I’ve read. I could feel that.

  • Arden Ruth

    Natalie, oh how much I love your work! Whether you literally started this essay years ago and came back to it or played with time simply in your writing, it works wonderfully.
    Arden Ruth recently posted…LegionMy Profile

  • Margaret

    I so related to this, not because I have little ones now, but because I tried and failed to pursue my art when my kids were small. Just don’t do what I did and talk yourself out of it until they are grown. But I did get back to it and you will too. Loved this and the masterful way you structured this while seeming random.
    Margaret recently posted…Leading to KindnessMy Profile

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