What are you making today?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I joined Mothers Who Make, a peer support group for mother artists. It’s an online community and monthly meet up. And, I’m pleased to say, they are about to launch their first R&D at the National Theatre, in London. And I will be amongst them. Over the next four months, we will have monthly sessions to explore, with a small group of women and children, the shifting identities between mother and maker. How are they related and where do they diverge? And is it possible to meaningfully engage and integrate your children into your creative work?
The other day, on the MWM Facebook group, someone posted a clip of Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem MP, who stood up in the House of Commons and said she wanted to “celebrate the everyday achievements of women. The unacknowledged, the unrewarded, the unnoticed achievements.” She spoke about childbirth, and our inability to fully express and acknowledge that profound moment when we become mothers. She said, “we are so used to underplaying the work we do as mothers, and the work we do in the home, that we don’t think anyone will take us seriously if we talk seriously about it.” She recalled getting her son to brush his teeth that morning, and then travelling into Westminster “[to challenge] the Prime Minister in the Chamber about her spending priorities for education.” In many ways, she said, “getting my son to clean his teeth was the greater achievement. It took more ingenuity, more effort, and more emotional commitment. But nobody noticed, cared, or applauded me for it.”
I watched that two minute clip about 20 times, because I wasn’t sure why I thought it was so profound. But there was a moment, a glimmer, when I suddenly thought: the work I did today was work. And it had value. I felt empowered and important, for the first time since I signed up for this unseen job of mothering.
And so, in preparation for our R&D, and in celebration of that unnoticed, unrewarded work, I spent the day acknowledging that fine balance between artist and mother, by piecing together this list of THINGS I MADE, with the time-confetti I had to work with:
I MADE breakfast. Oatmeal with raisins, and a dash of brown sugar. It’s what we’ve been eating, almost without fail, every single day, ever since my children were old enough to eat breakfast.
I MADE it to school on time. Hooray! (In many ways, getting my big kid to school is the single greatest achievement of any given day. And it’s only the second thing I’ve done today. Things are looking up!) I even made it in time to ask the Deputy Head why they weren’t celebrating International Women’s Day, and if they wanted me to organise for my friend, a female documentary film maker and scientist, to come in and speak at an assembly, as a positive role model and advocate for women in science. (My friend is amazing. So, of course they said yes.)
I MADE it home, after a quick stop at the playground, and then my son Caleb and I MADE cookies. Oatmeal raisin cookies from The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread, which is usually incredibly reliable, except these cookies are always terrible. Oh well.
Next, Caleb and I MADE a puppet show, using his milk-bottle T-Rex and a floating head, called Puff, who is made out of cardboard, copydex, fabric and wadding. Mostly the T-Rex attacked and ate the floating head. Then the puppets played hide and seek. The funniest part was when the T-Rex was counting and Caleb covered his little milk bottle eyes, while Puff hid.
WE MADE music together, on our ukuleles. Some Baa baa black sheep. Some Row, row your boat. Some of the opera transcriptions I’ve written for ukulele.
Then, I MADE lunch. Cheese sandwiches (on bread I MADE), with one green pickle, pineapple slices (Caleb: “Mommy, you’re really good at cutting that!” Me: “Thanks Caleb. Who says no one notices or applauds the marginalised work of mothering?”) and milk.
While Caleb had a nap, I MADE (some attempts at creating) a community outreach initiative between the local PTA’s in our area. This is slow going, as moms on PTA’s are busy. And no one ever checks those yourschoolsPTA@hotmail accounts, so it’s been hard to connect. But creating community is something that is central to almost everything I do. I’m also trying to help create links in the new music community here in London, by creating a Facebook group for New Music Makers, and hopefully some events, eventually. (This is an ongoing project, which could do with more support. But I’m optimistic. And determined.) I also MADE some new Facebook friends, as I added all the people I met at the Rough for Opera event I’d been to the night before.
Next, I MADE some notes in my notebook about a solo show I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I want to do a show with music for unaccompanied voice, by female composers, which looks at womanhood, femininity, stereotypes and expectations, motherhood, isolation, and the need for community. If you know any rep for solo voice by women, let me know!
Caleb woke up and, together, WE MADE pillow land. This involves putting all the sofa cushions on the floor and then Caleb jumping off the furniture. (Usually I just pretend I don’t know he’s doing it and read The Guardian on my phone for ten minutes.)
Eventually, and despite refusing to ride his scooter over “the bumpy parts” of the sidewalk, WE MADE it to school to pick Aloysia up. On time! Actually amazing. You have no idea how much my day revolves around the school run.
After chatting with some other moms in the playground for a while, we came home and, in an uncharacteristically TV-free day, MY KIDS MADE t-shirt paintings, (thanks to a t-shirt painting kit Aloysia got for her birthday. Thanks fellow-mom!) while I MADE dinner. Frozen Pizza Express pizza, veggies and hummus, and blueberry-banana-yogurt smoothies. Normally I actually cook, but Gus was out late and I can’t bear sitting alone with them, while they refuse to eat the meal I’ve made.
Which brings us to the admission that something I do on a regular basis, as a parent and human, is I MADE MISTAKES, like when I screamed at them to “STOP IT” when everyone was yelling at me in the kitchen after school. And then I had to give myself a time out, when Aloysia was shoving her wet, freshly painted t-shirt back into the tube it came in and I thought she was about to smear paint all over the place (but didn’t) and I had to take some deep breaths and hide behind the kitchen island for about a minute. Then when I reappeared and put the kettle on I said, “Sorry I got mad about your t-shirt Aloysia. I thought it was going to get wrecked when you shoved it back in the tube, but it didn’t, and anyway, it’s your t-shirt and you can do whatever you want with it.” And Aloysia said, “It doesn’t matter. At least you didn’t yell.” So, ya. That also happened.
After dinner, I MADE some decisions about what to sing for the audition I applied for this afternoon – that is, if they actually ask me to sing for them, which never ceases to be a horrid experience. I then played some of this music for my children, and they had to run away and hide because it was “too scary” for Caleb.
Finally, I MADE my children go to bed, but, of course, there is no MAKING in making children go to bed. More like persuading, imploring, beguiling, (“who’s going to be the first one ready??”); on to pleading, begging, and coaxing, (“will you PLEASE brush your teeth…”); leading, eventually, to threats and desperation (“lie down and close your eyes or I’m going downstairs!!”) peppered, mostly, with some nurturing songs and stories and hugs.
And then, exhausted, I MADE this blog post. A solid 17 hour day of making. And mothering. And acknowledging.