Finding Work in the Rest and Play

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We were walking down our porch steps for the millionth time. At thirteen months, Liam still needs a lot of help getting up and down steps, but he loves them. I held his hands as we walked down again, trying to maintain cheerfulness in my voice. But really, I was frustrated.

This was not one of those self-entertained afternoons–not by a long shot. Liam wasn’t content to play on the porch, which often allows me to get a little writing done. Rather, he wanted to be on the driveway or on the steps or doing anything and everything that required my attention. And I inwardly grumbled while simultaneously chastising myself for my bad attitude. It was humid outside, miserably so. At four in the afternoon, there was no hope for a nap and no real schedule for the rest of the day until we started dinner preparations at six.

As I thought of all that I wanted to write and to do, I told myself, “This would be so much easier if I wasn’t staying home with a baby all day.” But then a realization hit me: this is where I’m finding my voice. While I may only have thirty minutes to get it down, this is where I’m figuring out what I’m passionate about. This is where I’m having time to think and process my life so far. This is where the magic is happening.

It shifted my focus. Instead of wishing for elsewhere, I focused on my son as we neared the bottom of the steps. I played his favorite games, and then we went inside for the circus that is making dinner. And all the while, this exact life is my work and is giving me the material I need and the joy and healing, too. It’s giving me the ideas, the time to think, and even the break from thinking that I often need.

I read an article this morning by Megan Morton entitled, “Mommy, Somebody Needs You.” Morton talks about how, at first, she was so frustrated when her two older children said this whenever the new baby cried. She goes on to say,

 Then, it all started to hit me, they need ME. Not anybody else. Not a single other person in the whole world. They need their Mommy.

The sooner I can accept that being Mommy means that I never go off the clock, the sooner I can find peace in this crazy stage of life. That “Mommy” is my duty, privilege and honor. I am ready to be there when somebody needs me, all day and all night.

Morton realizes that one day, no one will need her. And I think about this, too. One day, there may be long stretches of uninterrupted time for me to write. The house may actually stay somewhat clean. I won’t be waking up all night long to feed and comfort a baby. But what I always longed for is here now. It doesn’t always look like I expected it to, but it is magical and beautiful and hard and requires depths of myself I didn’t know where there.

It’s like how, when we spend days on end with someone we love doing nothing but talking, we may run out of things to talk about. We have to venture forth into the world and have adventures so we have new stories and new topics.

I listen to lots of podcasts and read about amazing women, all focusing on how they accomplish so many things while being a mom. And I’m inspired.

But sometimes I find myself strategizing all day long about how and when to get my work done. I plan out what I’ll get done during naptime, consider when someone will be able to watch Liam, and dwell on all that I feel I should be doing. I wonder, “Am I wasting time? Should I let someone else spend more time playing with him while I work?” Sometimes it feels like a waste of time to walk down the steps one more time.

I just finished reading Allison Vesterfelt’s Writing to Find Yourself. I was struck by what she says at the beginning of chapter 8:

Most of us think work comes first, rest comes second. Rest is the reward for a job well done. But what if rest and play are the starting place, rather than the ending place? What if play is the place where we become?

Play: the word I chose for 2014. I think about it constantly because it’s what I needed after years of mostly work, years often marred by sadness and brokenness and questioning. I lived many years dominated by tasks and the clock. I’m not sure what to do when time doesn’t seem to pass and we repeat the same thing again and again. I need to relearn how to play, how to sit still, how to not have an agenda.

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The toddling phase is giving me this. Vesterfelt goes on to talk about taking yourself on Artist Dates–dates that nourish the creative side of yourself. And in some ways, this trek into motherhood has often been one long Artist Date as I’ve relearned to play, seen the world in a new way, and come to see time and myself and others and motherhood and eternity differently.

I’ve learned to be excited about a red truck going by and notice the way the ants march. I’ve marveled at how humans grow, how they learn to grasp things in their hands, how they learn to relate to others. I’ve had time for long, thoughtful walks. I’ve marveled at my own resilience and the resilience of mothers everywhere. I’ve been amazed by the strength it takes to raise a child and come to quiet the voices of judgment in my head that used to be so strong.

Yes, this can feel mundane or messy or just plain hard. But in this wandering down the steps again and again, I’m starting to find that this work–this play–is giving me the inspiration I need.

I’m watching the monitor now as he stirs from his nap and calls for me, looking for me over the edge of his crib. My tiny playmate grins as I walk in.

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Allison Vesterfelt’s book Writing to Find Yourself is free on Noisetrade, although they encourage a donation. I devoured this book initially and now plan to go back and read it slowly, as it is inspiring and informative. It reminds me why I love writing so much (partly cheap therapy and partly the story-sharing!).

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