Lowered Expectations

If you are of a certain age, you can probably call up the jingle for the recurring MadTV sketch “Lowered Expectations,” a spoof on a dating show that offered up dubious partners for the hopelessly single. The sketch was funny and mean, pointing out that you, the viewer, were a loser for watching television on a Saturday night before inviting you to laugh at some other goober who was also dateless.

This jingle runs through my head a lot these days, it is my mantra and rule to live by. If you see me at the daycare closer to 8:30 than 8, rocking just a little, or if you see me bobbing my head as I head to pick-up a sick kid in the middle of the workday, you can fill in the tune I’m grooving to.

There are lots of commonalities among the amazing women I’ve gathered in this blog, but one thread that unites them is the problem of time for artist mothers. It’s a problem for all moms, especially working moms, and maybe artist moms in particular. If you are an artist who has no other source of income, the days are your own to organize and protect from the turd-burlgars you are raising. And if you are an artist who has a day job, then you really have to carve out and safeguard time from the small beings in your house who you both love and fear.

Last week, I was very moved by some wisdom Ai Mizuta shared on the blog. She talked about the importance of continuing to plant creative seeds even during the harder times of motherhood so that we can harvest them later. Here she is explaining:

A woman’s life starts when we are 50. Many Japanese women I respect including my mother say so. My mother started her own business in Tokyo when she was 50. At 73 today, she is still on fire and her business is growing. My favorite female comedian Emiko Kaminuma also says when the women are in there 30s and 40s, they are so busy with their family life. It’s okay to take a break from the frontline during those years, but keep sowing seeds, one at a time. If there is a small job that you can handle, even if it’s not a glamorous job, just take it and do it well. You won’t be able to make a big hit or become successful overnight. But as long as we keep sowing, we will be able to cultivate these seeds later in our life. We can’t get frustrated and stress out, because that will kill us. We cannot enjoy the cultivation stage if we are not healthy. 

There are two important lessons I draw from this. On the one hand, you have to keep planting, because if you don’t plant now, there’s nothing to harvest later. It’s Aesop’s tale of The Ant and the Grasshopper–a story I kind of hate for its scoldy tone. BUT, this is only half of the story.

In addition to continuing to plant creative seeds, Ai also talks about working in a manner that doesn’t kill us, that will leave us some energy to enjoy life.

Like lots of parents, I’m often frustrated that I can no longer work the way I used to. Whether the level of work I did in the past was healthy is an open question, but I have it as a reference point nonetheless, so failing to measure up to past Katherine’s productivity feels frustrating.

I still, foolishly, set writing goals as though I do not have two children under five. As though one of these babies does not have still open sinus cavities, leading to disgusting medical events that mean a full week of daycare is a like a mythical beast. Five days to work without babies? I’ll believe in that hippogryff when I see it.

And so, I am inevitably disappointed. Embarassed by how very little I seem able to do. Which is why I now have to have a mantra drawn from a sketch television show.

When I’m thinking clearly, Ai’s advice seems wise to me. Even if I can’t work as I did in the past, I can plant little seeds to sustain my creativity for some future time.

When I’m thinking less clearly, I can mope about all I’m missing out on.

The flipside, though, of being self-pitying about my diminished capacity for writing is to remember what I have instead. Because my ability to have children was not a given (I have PCOS), it’s pretty easy to recall a time in which I was making alternate plans about how I might spend my time should children not be part of the picture. And, indeed, these plans involved lots of writing time.

photo credit: Deeana Creates

This time of early motherhood is funny. Both funny weird and funny haha. The weird feels like a kind of suspension, waiting for the time to pass so that I might grasp what normal looks like. The haha…well, the other night E called me into the bathroom to show off a bowel movement. She told me it was “huge” and asked to compare sizes to that of other household members. The humor in our house is mostly of the potty variety these days, but someday we’ll graduate to sketch comedy.

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