mommy happenings: parenting as performance art

This morning was a particularly chaotic preschool co-op: it was pouring and blustery when we got to the park, so all the kids sat shivering on the broken picnic bench under the pavilion (this time the nails were facing DOWN again, as they should be, not up waiting to shish-kabob a toddler).

The project was potato stamps: the moms fussed, the paint dribbled and soaked through the paper, the kids--an unusually young group today-- poked stubby fingers into greasy paint mounds, moms swatted painted hands away from fussy tops and tiny jeans. Knives and potato halves abounded, and the kids broke rank relatively quickly, barricading each other into the tube slide and brandishing twigs.

I've noticed an inverse correlation with Parental Fussiness and Kid Engagement with these projects.

After I rolled up the printed paper with all the potato halves and paint smears inside and mashed the scroll into the garbage (art is transient, kids,) I was chatting with some of the other moms. The topic was sleeping arrangements, but really it was about personal space and boundaries in parenting. It got me thinking about the no-man's-land (another word for shared territory?) of selfhood vs. selfishness.

I want to be an artist-- a creator, a thinker, a contributer to the world; a part of a dialogue-- at least cognizant of the Big Dialogues going on in the larger cultural sphere. And being a full-time mommy-- fussing over booger crust and hand-washing habits, night-time waking, and disgraceful sinkfuls of dishes-- seems like the antithesis of all the bountiful, building, creative sorts of things I want to do When I Grow Up, in My Real Life. I imagine a vision of My Self-- accomplishing things, creating things, orchestrating things. And the life that I actually live every day seems to be a deferment of My Real Life. I imagine myself, an old lady, grayed and beaten into formlessness, trying to reclaim some spark of self-hood, after leaching all my life force into my children. A dismal vision!

So that's the self, the selfishness. And on the other hand is the self-lessness-- the corrosive giving of parenting with its deeply moving and important and fulfilling work. Becoming a parent has made me into an adult-- into a human. I'm a much happier, more secure and joyful person than I was before kids. I am free to be my silliest self (which is pretty severely silly). I enjoy reading every parenting book on the library shelf and learning about the growing brain and discipline and batiks. I am awed by the seriousness of my responsibility to my kids: how can I keep them alive and safe in this dangerous world full of speeding cars and wild boars?? I want to give my kids every possible blessing, every imaginable Good thing. Not "things"-- but true enduring things: lasting friendships with parents and siblings, patience, humor, curiosity, openness, imagination.

Driving between our house and swim lessons (with 1/8th tank gas, so no A/C, and saying: RJ, don't kick the baby's chair. Tapping with your foot is still kicking. Don't scream for fun.) some barrier between these two camps dissolved.

I can be an artist-- in my life as it is.
I can be creative and delicate and careful-- in the role that I am in. I can expand my mommy job rather than allowing it to contract me. I can allow the impossibly and transcendent job of parenting as well as the burdensome job of housekeeping to become artistic acts-- daily Happenings-- performance art.

I can claim the space that I am in, and shape it, rather than tapping my foot, waiting for the day when I have a room of my own. I can make my life my own.


  1. What a beautiful post of some inside light....shinning brightly. these are the busy years....all too soon these years will be past. you are doing WONDERFULLY. aloha, mama irene

  2. Yes You can be an artist what i felt after reading your blog in your life as it is Wonderful as well as beautiful.


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