I read this quote maybe 10 years ago in an interview with Brooke Adams, an actress who had taken time off to be a full-time mother. I think about it a lot.
Let's be honest: my kids don't really see me as an actual person. They love me, but they know my priority right now is to meet their needs. In a way, this is good. I provide a healthy sense of security for them. I like being the mommy who is there when the school bus drops them off. I know that I am privileged to make afternoon snacks and show up at school for the pumpkin carving. I also am absolutely sure that I prefer being at home to the alternative, since I spent 5 frazzled years as a working mom with super-stressful jobs.
Yet. Often, if one of the kids is demanding my time when I am in the middle of a project, I find myself telling them: "I am a person." Sometimes I even have to remind myself that I still exist. When our new postal worker was delivering our mail, he asked if there were more than one names at our house. "No," I said. "Just Ross." He looked confused. "Not Kelly?" he asked. Oh yeah. Kelly. That's me. I am an entity.
One way I remind myself of that is by writing, on this blog, and for paying jobs. Writing makes me happy, when it isn't making me miserable, and I just need to do it. But my freelance writing doesn't bring in enough money to pay a babysitter, nor do I want a full-time babysitter. So I'm always fitting work in when they are at school.
That is usually fine, except if a child gets sick when I have a deadline (yesterday and Monday), or an editor wants to move a meeting to a time that makes it impossible for me to be home by 2:15 (this morning). Violet was feeling a little under the weather Monday, and I had an assignment interviewing someone I had talked to 20 years ago and was excited to speak to again, for a magazine for which I had not written in 15 years. I let her watch a tv show during the interview. I had no other option. Then yesterday, she still felt crappy. I kept her home, but I was really worried that the constant distractions (can I have some water? can I watch a show? will you play with me?) were interfering with the quality of the piece. I was resenting her, and also feeling guilty for resenting my sweet girl.
I filed the piece, and they liked it, so that all worked out. When Violet woke up this morning and said she wasn't quite sure if she should go to school--no fever, mind you---I acted super cheerful, helped her get ready and poured her onto the school bus. She wasn't really sick, and honestly, I couldn't take another day trapped in the house. Then I felt guilty.
At my yoga class, my teacher had to yell over the sound of drilling in the driveway. She talked about the concept of dharma, and following your heart. You don't neglect your responsibilities, but you need to find a way to your heart's desire. It's better to follow your own dharma imperfectly than someone else's perfectly, she said. It was exactly what I needed to hear.