Having it all. Sort of.

Okay. You know how mama blogs are often celebratory, documenting small triumphs and beautiful moments? How we visit them to glean inspiration for a new crafting project or recipe, to look at pretty pictures of family life, or simply to be nudged into gratitude for all the things that go right for us as mothers? It can be especially helpful on a day that feels like little weights must be hanging from it, so slowly and dully are we dragging along. But sometimes – every once in awhile – I confess the gauzy beauty of it all can be oppressive. At least to me. Life with children is by nature messy and hard and I wouldn’t mind if more people admitted as much.

So in a small effort to correct that problem, I’m sharing the most recent post from my blog, Homemade Time, with a few minor adjustments. It’s not just that I want to tip the mama blogosphere into the realm of things unresolved and distressing; I also have a feeling that many readers of the All Things Mothering blog do manage to successfully balance creative, flexible paid work with the work of parenting and creating a meaningful and satisfying home life. At the very least some of you are aspiring to that kind of fragile (yet worth pursuing!) balance. I would like to hear about it, and I think other readers would too. So here goes:

I returned from a run through the heavy gray morning air today, slick with sweat, and was greeted enthusiastically at the door by Gabriel, who led me right back outside. He suggested that we do a little weeding together in the front garden. As we set to work, Gabriel quickly transformed into a superhero named XY who battles a bad guy, Lex Leafer, who is forever making weeds grow where we don’t want them to. Each clump of clover pulled became a kind of cosmic victory. And when all the evil weeds were pulled and Lex Leafer was finally vanquished, Gabriel took out his construction vehicles to build a house for the ants.

After a night of rain, the August air was strangely cool and thick. Droplets of water clung to every leaf, and the ground was satisfyingly wet and easy to move with a tiny bulldozer. For a construction site, it was darn peaceful. I sat beside Gabriel in my sweaty skin, feeling the cool stillness without and within, after my own small storm the night before.

I had been hit unexpectedly, after a seemingly inconsequential conversation with my husband about an ill-advised freelance writing possibility, with the same lost, unmoored feeling that has come and gone ever since my new home-focused life began when we moved three years ago. But it has been mostly gone these last few months, so I was especially discouraged to hear myself expressing hopelessness all over again about ever finding my professional feet here. I like being with my children and creating a home. I also like to contribute to the wider world in exchange for a paycheck. Both desires feel genuine and legitimate, and yet they inevitably conflict.

I swear there was more nuance to my distraught feelings last night, but in the light of day, it seems that simple. I’ve been trying to build my freelance writing work in the hopes of – in a small scale kind of way – having it all. (I have my MSW and worked in community health for the first three years of my daughter’s life. My social work identity is lying in wait, still scanning the horizon, still unable to detect a part-time expression for itself out there). I want the freedom to build an ant house out of mud on a whim with Gabriel. I want quiet and space enough to notice the rain clinging to the leaves overhead. I want to exercise my capabilities and participate in a wider world too – I want to know myself as competent. I’m trying to invent a flexible life of career-building, bread-making, picture-painting, community-creating. It sounds pretty good, but in practice sometimes I feel pulled in too many directions. Changing the sitter’s schedule, forgetting to call someone back, burning the granola. Stretched into a shapeless form with no assured place in the world.

There are mothers who work full-time who have sent their kids to day care since they were tiny babies, and there are mothers who are home full-time and have put their careers on hold. I know and respect both sorts, and for the most part, they are not a conflicted bunch. They’ve made a choice about how to do this, and it’s not up for re-evaluation. Yet I seem to be constantly tweaking and planning, sending out feelers, seeing dim potentialities everywhere, wondering how I could both add more meaningful work and balance all this better. This restlessness could wear a person out.

So I am left wondering: is this one-foot-in-each-world aspiration a misguided one? Am I making this moment harder than it need be? Your thoughts and experiences on this subject are so very welcome.

My path may feel shadowed and muddy, but as Gabriel joyfully demonstrated this morning, mud can be a lot of fun. So for now? I’m making an intention to be present with my kids and remain open to those impromptu construction site moments, which are surely precious. For today, that’s more than enough.

About Meagan Howell

Meagan Howell is a freelance writer and social worker who loves art, books, yoga, friends, music, being outside, and helping to build communities of all sorts. Meagan lives in Maryland with her husband and two children and writes about motherhood at Homemade Time.

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