Making Art and Mothering

Monica Schley - Pyragraph
Photo by Monica Schley.

She nursed on the muse at first,
then became her own mother
—Erica Jong, from Self-Portrait

Four years ago, I was digging deep into the music world around me. I was getting calls from jazz, classical and pop ensembles for a regular variety of work and I had just published a book of poetry. I was quite busy and planning for a near future of more of that. Four years ago, I also became a mother. I had no idea what I was about to get into!

Call me naive, but I just wasn’t prepared for the onset of colic in a newborn to last over four months. Every day from 5-8pm my little baby would scream her head off no matter what we did. I thought she was breaking. It was so exhausting that my husband and I began to dread the “witching hour,” as we later learned it is called. That type of mothering dipped severely into my creative flow. I was paralyzed by serious duty, and like so many other artists without an expressive outlet, I got depressed.

Life has definitely improved since that dark winter.

Time has expanded for my creativity to live alongside my mothering duties.

It might have taken me a few years to notice, but I am embracing the fact that though my time to produce/work on my craft has diminished as a mother, the quality of my work and focus on it seems to have increased and improved. I don’t get as much time as I used to, so I make better use of it.

When I was a brand new parent, I was struck with awe at how little time I had for self-care, let alone time to practice my instrument. I searched online for resources from other mothers who are musicians. Indeed, I am not alone out there, but it was difficult to find the self-help/buck-up-kid words I longed for. I needed a mother for my artist me!

About that same time, a mother/musician acquaintance of mine who was living out of the country, started posting on her Facebook page exactly what she did, hour-by-hour, with her two-year-old each day. It was her practice to write out a daily journal of time spent with child/art/family merged together. I thought that was beautiful, and looking back, reading her passages was sort of a turning point for me. I started to do the same in my own private journal—there were good days, challenging days, ideal days, disaster days, and goals to strive for. It also helped me see how I was actually spending my time.

Present day good news: I have a happy four-year-old. I consider that to be the supreme guidepost of any success. Also, my duties have eased up, as she goes to preschool and plays in her imaginary worlds at home. Time has definitely expanded for my creativity to live alongside my mothering duties and I am grateful. Every now and then, I still find it helpful to write out a daily log.

Here’s a recent example of one of our days.

  • 7:00—Woke before the others
  • 7:10—Wrote in my journal
  • 7:30—Made coffee and granola w/berries for the family and me
  • 8:10—Got kiddo dressed
  • 8:45—Prepared sheet music for a rehearsal, tuned and practiced (child playing by herself)
  • 9:30—Went to Musicians’ Union office to photocopy and connect with colleagues (with kiddo)
  • 10:30—Arrived home to rehearse w/ violinist who also has a kiddo—children played; adults played
  • 12:00—Finished rehearsal and hung out for a bit
  • 12:30—Friends left; hubby came home; we all ate lunch together
  • 1:00-1:20—Cleaned up dishes, kitchen and child
  • 1:20-1:45—Hubby took kiddo on a walk so I could message clients/make phone calls
  • 1:45—Got ready to thrift shop and run errands with kiddo
  • 1:55—Abort mission! Bee sting! Child stepped on a bee on the walk!
  • 2:00—Nursed wounded child; applied baking soda compress; ice cream; cartoons
  • 2:20-4:30—Kiddo said she wanted to stay home; worked closely on an activity book together
  • 4:30-6pm—Prepared dinner, ate and cleaned up
  • 6:00-6:30pm—More client emails, writing and invoices
  • 7:00—Drove downtown as a family to hear a musician friend’s house concert
  • 9:15—Dropped off semi-overdue children’s library books
  • 9:30—At home; kiddo fell asleep in the car and plopped peacefully into bed
  • 9:45-11:45—Typed up song lyrics and poems, worked on a writing submission, listened to Self-Employed Happy Hour (a Pyragraph Podcast!), practiced my instrument
  • 11:45-12:00—Read in bed

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