Writing by Momlight

March 23, 2018 § 30 Comments

belskiBy Lauren Belski

Becoming a mother changes the definition of “moonlight.” How can I attempt to be a writer when I can barely stay awake? At almost-4 and 18 months, my children still do not sleep consistently through till morning. Someone is always cutting teeth or having a nightmare or just wants me close. I count my husband in this equation. I zombie walk between beds. And don’t even get me started on my cat.

If I want to do something for myself it can’t happen after the moon has risen. By then I can barely brush my teeth. But if not then, when? I am racing against an invisible clock. There is another woman, the woman who was me before the kids, who was on her way somewhere, and I wonder where she’d be. In another realm she still exists. She has sold a novel and can do crow pose in yoga and successfully follows recipes from complicated cookbooks.

I am not her. I have gone to yoga once in the last three years and after the class I could barely walk for a week. My novel is less than half done, not even ready yet for agents to auction off in my imagination. My most consistently edible creation is some sort of scrambled egg. And my teaching career – well, sometimes I feel like even my understanding of English literature is suddenly foreign to me, as if all these years of reading and all these degrees lost their contents and became empty Amazon boxes full of packing peanuts.

Here is the truth: I’m not good at any of the things I used to be — or at least that’s how it sometimes feels. The threads of my work blouses are coming loose around my top buttons from pulling my breast out to feed my daughter (yes, I’m still breastfeeding at 18 months), and that is the truth, but it’s also a metaphor.

I know, I know, everyone says it ends soon. And once it’s over it feels like it went so fast. But I’m in it and it doesn’t feel that way. And that other me was headed somewhere, and I remember her, and I just can’t keep up.

But just because I can’t keep up, doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I’m trying to absorb the fables I read my kids. “I think I can.” “Slow and steady.” Yadda yadda ya. Inside me there is still so much artistic heart. I walk around and I feel the same way I always felt, alive and attuned to the emotional current of the world. I overhear conversations and am suddenly struck by thoughts and I want to write them down. And so I do.

I am writing this one on the subway, in a blue marker I confiscated from my son last week as we were walking out our apartment door. I am using the backside of an unused exam from last semester. Me, the writer who used to never leave the house without at least three pens and two moleskins. I am making it work. I am doing what I can.

The other me is chanting Oms in a yoga studio somewhere in San Francisco before swinging by City Lights on her book tour. The me with this marker is rushing between teaching gigs on the one day of the week she is not with her kids.

Someone on the platform said the word “moonlight” into her cellphone as she was walking by. I have no idea why. Maybe she was talking about the actual moon. Maybe my own selfish mind drove her beautiful, quiet image of moonbeams in the forest into the traffic jam of my apartment at 3am, my novel crying in the corner while I comfort my kids. That’s ok. I spend a lot of time thinking about other people, so I’m allowed to turn beauty into self-pity every once in a while.

But now I’m done. I found my blue marker and I’ve snapped back in. Because I may not be able to moonlight, but I will momlight. Because I’m still an artist even if I spend a lot more time taking care of my kids than I do on my work. And I’m writing this in the hopes that other moms will momlight with me. I don’t want to give up, so please, other mama, don’t give up with me. Let’s paint and dance and sing into the crevices of time that appear. Serenade the sidewalk. Sketch the playground. Write with one hand and stir peas with the other. When they’re older, let’s tell our kids that taking care of them kind of sucked sometimes, but that we don’t regret it because we were always true to ourselves, because we never let the bulbs in our momlights burn out. Because our mantra wasn’t “I think I can,” it was, “Whatever fucking works.”

Lauren Belski’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Make Magazine, Matter, The Rio Grande Review, Black Rabbit Quarterly, and other little corners of the world. She is the author of the of the now out-of-print, hand-sewn story collection Whatever Used to Grow Around Here (Crumpled Press, 2012). These days, when she is not caring for the little people in her life, she helps run the Brooklyn Writers Space Reading Series, works on a novel, and teaches writing part-time at Brooklyn College.


§ 30 Responses to Writing by Momlight

  • betsywin80@aol.com says:

    beautiful affirmation. Thank you Brevity for publishing these.

  • wonderful, every mom could relate much to this, a mom/writer like you.

  • AmyLeigh says:

    I loved every word of this. As a mother of a 6- and 3-year-old, I get it. All of it. It is so frustrating to hear “how fast it goes” and “enjoy every minute” when it feels like every day is a slow and painful slog through minutiae (I once had a man at the farmer’s market try to tell me all about how sad I’ll be that kids grow up so fast, all while I was peeling a tantruming preschooler off the concrete and the baby wailed in the stroller and I tried to keep the giant box of peaches from rolling away). I’m going to save your essay for encouragement when I need it (which is approximately every day). I loved the ending especially!

  • Yes. “Let’s paint and dance and sing into the crevices of time that appear.” Yes, yes, yes!

  • I have been there. Exactly there. It was a period of madness, and I did not miss it when it ended, though mostly I enjoyed those tiny-child times while they sucked my soul loose from creating. I am a great believer in “having it all” but only by not trying to have it all at once. I muddled through, I made do, I did what I could in the tiny slivers of time left to me, and I tried not to beat myself up for not doing more.

  • I’m not even a mom, yet I enjoyed this!

  • Heart-warming and reassuring. You made me feel good about my motherhood and my work-life and hopeful for a bright future for the world because there are nurturers and creators in it like you. Thank you.

  • We writer/moms are so very lucky that you wrote this lovely essay and shared it with us…

  • Juliet says:

    A wonderful piece of writing. Loved it! I’m way past that stage and still don’t always take the time to sit down and write. Thanks for the inspiration. This phase will end, really, even if it seems like light years away. Keep stirring those peas and writing with that blue marker.

  • So beautifully voiced. Thank you!
    Gosh, this struck a nerve with me. I thought I was the only one who felt this way years ago. It felt like life was flowing by me and I would be stuck forever in the “early years.” I had so many creative impulses that were dying to break out and I thought it would be 18 years before my youngest would be out of the house and I could once again pursue my own creative interests. But like you, I found little moments of creativity that gave me outlets for that energy and I learned to just do what I could quickly. And I dreamed. How I dreamed.
    Those days are finally behind me. All I can say is: You are doing important creative work in your head, even if it doesn’t make it to paper or canvas or wherever. I dealt with it by spending long hours in museums with my kids and those hours were not wasted. I was stimulating my mind and I engaged my kids in the things that interested me from a very young age and we developed such a wonderful bond. They are now adults and they love spending time with me and we share so much. Use your talents every way you can. Hang in there!

  • Wonderful! I think that some of my friends and family who are caretaking aging or infirm family members will agree, as would practically all I know who have little ones at their breast–figuratively or otherwise. So, yeah, make it work however you can! Find the time and snatch up those crevices of possible-moments-of-more-of-you!

  • Dana says:

    Oh, I love this so much and can relate, though I am several years ahead with kids ages 9 and 6. It’s a lonely trek, motherhood in general, and perhaps especially for mom artists who feel out of touch with their old selves (well, all moms probably feel that way). I’m so glad you’re keeping on as best you can. (Also, I love the Bklyn Writers Space and used to write there, once upon a time before kids.)

  • stelloej says:

    Beautifully put! Please check out my blog 🙂

  • chrissy says:

    Whatever fuckin works. Love it! thanks for sharing

  • I don’t have kids, but I can relate to this. Chronic illness is like a toddler that constant demands attention. “But just because I can’t keep up, doesn’t mean I’m giving up.” Love this quote.

  • marlenelee says:

    I still have my precious copy of Whatever Grows Around Here. My memories of you are vivid and happy. Seeing one’s children become adults with integrity and self-respect is marvelous. Your piece in Brevity is very good! Tell you mom and your aunt hi for me.

  • Cat says:

    I loved this article. Thank you – I thought I was alone! I’m in the same situation.. a 14 month old that doesn’t sleep consistently through the night/a job/a husband. And a desire to write that pulls at me all day, every day. But by nightfall I am braindead with exhaustion. I’ve been getting up in the early hours of the morning instead, just so I can write/have some silence to at least think about writing. It was working well for me, but then the exhaustion caught up with me, again. I still get up and try my best, or steal a few minutes throughout the day to write. Its very much “whatever fucking works” most days.

  • Yes. Heart warming and breaking and wonderful and so hard.

  • Darlene Mueller Morse says:

    When I was in your shoes, or slippers, or most likely barefoot, I did not have Internet or any of the resources we have now. All I had was my little royal typewriter which had paper always in it ready for me to type in my thoughts however random. Once my children got old enough for school, I thought I would have more time. No. It was only after the youngest one left for college did I sit and contemplate who I was before children and if that person was still there. The answer was yes, she was still there but she now had such a depth of understanding that wasn’t present before. It’s been 15 years since I became reacquainted with myself and am more focused and clear in what I am doing. My first grandchild was born 8 months ago and brought back memories of how all-consuming that time was. If I were in the advice-giving business, I would say: don’t fight it. Let yourself get immersed in all aspects of babyhood knowing that you are not only learning things you never even knew existed but you are also tending to the very most important job of your life. Of course, make sure you have Mom’s Night Out, Mom’s Weekend Off, and every other diversion available to you. This is a passage of life and I can see those of my age (66) who never had the experiences are wondering just what it is all about. Still. You will know and I know. And you can (eventually write about it.

  • yogahive says:

    This is lovely, I have a 2 kids and am a previous artist / teacher and yoga teacher and really relate to this. It’s the moonlight hours that I feel this too. Thanks for your words of inspiration! X steph (UK)

  • Thank you for this. It was exactly what I need to read.

  • beingachange says:

    Haha. It is my story too. With a daughter and 14 months old baby who is very demanding, it gets difficult.
    But again, somewhere from backside of my bed,hope pops up smiling at me, mentioning that- Don’t worry darling. Enjoy this phase. Soon, the kids be grown up and then, you will miss all this. Meanwhile, keep doing what you can and when you can. Just don’t stop!

  • We are soul sisters! Somewhere there is a tennis player who could stay up all night and get up the next day super early. Gone are those days! I am waiting on the day when we aren’t in survival mode with the three year old and eighth month old.

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  • spalukaitis says:

    As a parent myself, I can totally relate to the utter lack of time a parent needs to pursue their writing–it seems the sacrificed time always comes from my designated sleep time. Only after I’ve taken care of the full time job, the kids and other daily regiments do I make the time for my writing–all the while, telling myself it will all be worth it…it will all be worth it.

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