Ten months ago, my husband and I welcomed our daughter into the world. Before Emmylou was born, I contemplated how motherhood would not be a replacement of my identity, but instead, an expansion.
Nothing turns plans and expectations upside-down and backward quite like becoming a parent. Taking care of a tiny human put me into survival mode, just trying to make it to the next day, the next nap, the next time I'd remember to take a breath. Figuring out how to fit my daughter into my life has proved more difficult than me-before-kids could have fathomed. Rather than trying to bring my child into my own life, I find I am trying to make space for fragments of my life within hers.
Medical professionals believe about 20% of babies have colic (defined as crying 3 or more hours a day, 3 or more days a week, for 3 or more weeks). There’s not much quality scientific information or consensus on what causes some babies to experience these more intense crying bouts, though there is a lot of pseudoscience that claims to. Parents of newborns are vulnerable and sleep deprived, and parents of newborns who cry excessively are all the more so. The continued popularity of products associated with serious risks, like Rock ‘n Plays and amber teething necklaces, are a testament to how affected parents are by their baby’s cries. The desire to soothe is innate and incredibly powerful. I am without words to describe how it feels when the standard soothing techniques fail. But I’ll say it comes as no surprise the US military used recordings of wailing infants as an instrument of torture.
My daughter cried a lot. She still does, but now there’s smiling, laughing, babbling, crawling, standing, and longer periods of sleep for us all. The early days were rough though. I watched friends with newborns get out into the world with their babies. They looked sleepy and had spit-up on their shirts, but both baby and mom seemed pretty happy, even relaxed. I kept waiting for that to be me and Emmylou, but it wasn’t in the cards.
I took Emmylou to the studio a few times during her first six months. On rare occasion I could wear her in the carrier, rocking and bouncing until she cried herself to sleep, and then I would paint for 20 minutes. I’d pack up and drive home soon after, because by then, I’d have to pee. The bathrooms at the studio have a loud fan, and an even louder hand drier, guaranteed to send my babe into an inconsolable, back-arching fit. Sometimes we would come to the studio, and she would cry and nurse and get a diaper change and cry and nurse and then we’d go home. Or she would scream, and I would walk her around, bouncing and calmly talking or singing, feeling guilty my studiomates had to put up with the crying, hoping the spell would end, but each time, Emmylou would show me her incredible persistence, and I would eventually give up, and we would go home, for more bouncing and crying.
Emmylou is ten months old today. Now, I take her to the studio maybe once a week, but I’ve shed the expectations I’ll get work done. Sometimes I get 20 minutes of painting done as she plays in the enclosed mesh play yard I have set up beside my easel. But usually, I simply show up, take a moment to look at what I’ve been working on, say hello to the incredible women I share my space with, and then decide it’s time to head home for Emmylou’s next meal or nap.
I don’t get a lot of “alone time” as a stay-at-home-mom. On the weekdays, my alone time occurs when Emmylou sleeps. I use this time to do the dishes, eat a meal, take a shower, watch Netflix, and sleep. “Nap-length studio time” is a concept with a cute ring to it, but very little basis in my reality. I carve time out for my art on the weekends, visiting my studio solo. I enjoy the quiet, focus, and body autonomy that comes with that time.
I’m not sure when I’ll confidently feel that expansion of my identity I dreamed of, but I plan to get there by regularly carving out time for my own pursuits (anything that makes me feel like I exist as someone in addition to being a mom, like making art, reading, going to a yoga class, or talking politics while having a drink with a friend).
Things will continue to change, and the way I set up a successful studio day (with or without Emmylou in tow) will ever be in flux. I still entertain fantasies about her drawing or painting beside me one day, and only time will tell if that happens.