A Space Of My Own: Motherhood & Creativity

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt

~ Sylvia Plath

After seeing the success I was having with my writing and the positive changes in my self-worth that came with it, my husband surprised me one weekend by giving up a lot of sleep and time to disassemble and empty our walk-in closet and mark out a new space that would become a hidden office and writing hideaway for me. I came home from a weekend away and walked into a transformed room — it was the most beautiful gift he’s ever given me.

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As is the way when raising young kids, the ongoing renovation and steps to completing that space were long and drawn out. But every one of those steps, like when he chose the wood that would become my desk top and then sanded and stained it or the window he found someone to cut into the brick wall so I would have natural light, were tokens of love and appreciation extended to me by him, and I felt each one as a vote of confidence. I had every intention of showing him that it mattered to me and would make such a difference in my productivity and creativity.

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But for the past few months, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my fear that I’ve lost my creativity. I worry it’s been buried under my responsibilities and the grind of parenthood. And I don’t mean that in a way that implies resentment; I’ve made my choices, and I know they were right. But I do feel a sense of loss, and pretending otherwise is not fair to me or anyone one else who is trying to parent while finding the space to create.

I feel like I’m failing to show him how much it meant to me and that’s taking up a lot of space in my brain, too. What does motherhood do to creativity? It’s a different experience for everyone (read this article for a good start). For me, writing began as a justifiable way to escape and now it threatens to smother me with its expectations — and that’s the simple answer. I know there are a lot of factors playing tricks on me, and some may have nothing to do with being a mother.

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Right now, I’m stuck somewhere between guilt and frustration. It’s important for me to continue to do work that helps support our family, and because I’m doing that work at home, I feel responsible for all the other day-to-day business of family life. But it’s hard to do all those things with purpose when I don’t give myself time to focus on what inspires me as an individual, separate from those responsibilities.

Around and around I go, shaking my compass and willing it to show me which way to go.

I don’t know why it was easier for me when the kids were younger. I’d look forward to being relieved by their dad and taking a couple of hours to do some writing or explore others’ written words. Somehow, when the work of parenting shifted away from hands-on care to helping my kids find their way in the world outside our home, I got lost.

Two weeks ago, I had a pocket of time hidden in all the other things I needed to get done, and it happened to be in the neighbourhood where our town’s record shop is located. Knowing I wanted to get a gift for my husband’s birthday, I went in determined to check it off my to-do list. There was a long lineup at the cash, so I wandered over to the vintage record bins. Nothing is in order; records are placed there as they arrive. It takes time to flip through each one, lifting any that catch your eye. I found Tapestry by Carole King and knew I had to have it. When I got home and played it, it took me back to the girl who sat on her bed filling journals and notebooks with words. And I wondered why I let her get away.

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I have wanted (for a long while now) to share photos of this incredible gift, as both a thank you and reminder that I am deserving of my own space. Initially, I imagined it would come together as a feel good home decor post about a cluttered closet becoming a bright writing space — but that doesn’t feel right anymore.

It’s a story about a transformation that’s waiting to happen. And I’m the only one who can tell that story. It’s waiting for me.

And you have treasures hidden within you — extraordinary treasures — and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small

~ Elizabeth Gilbert

So today, on the morning after my birthday, I looked at it with new eyes and I let my compass show me where I need to go: through the door, to my desk, and wherever the words take me.

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The Big Picture

The Big Picture

I don't want perfect or curated photos anymore. I want to look at these photos and remember who we were in that moment. I want to see what someone else saw when we tumbled and stumbled in front of their camera, like our family always does. I want to feel love and pride for the many ways we came through another year of struggles and triumphs together.  

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Like A Fish: A Review of Goldfish Swim School

 When you enter the school, it feels like you're on an island getaway, which is the perfect antidote to winter swim lessons

When you enter the school, it feels like you're on an island getaway, which is the perfect antidote to winter swim lessons

If I was to describe our youngest child in a sentence, I'd probably say something like she does life her way. And by that I mean she knows herself, what she likes, and how she wants to get things done

It serves her very well in her day-to-day, and we couldn't be more proud of her confidence, but sometimes she needs a nudge to help her see things from a different perspective. How we deliver that nudge determines how well it will be received. And trust me when I tell you she has given us plenty of opportunities to practise our delivery.

In the past year or so, I've spoken a lot about being in the sweet spot of parenthood with our four kids. They're all school-aged now. They can eat, dress, and participate in extracurricular activities independently. We've finally retired the bulky baby gear like diaper bags and strollers, which means vacations actually feel like vacations — except when it comes to being in the water.

Our little dynamo decided at some point in her early years that swimming — without clinging to a parent the entire time — wasn't going to happen. So my husband and I always end up at the bargaining table with the winner staying dry and the other getting into a bathing suit for the hotel pool. We've tried swimming lessons and made very slow progress — as soon as there's any mention of going underwater or jumping in, she holds her ground (literally). 

We are in the planning stages of our annual summer road trip, and this year's journey will take us oceanside. All kidding aside, water safety and swimming skills are extremely important to us. We want all of our children to feel confident around the water. So when the opportunity came to try a new swimming program, we crossed our fingers and went for it.

Goldfish Swim School has just opened its first Canadian location in our town. The program has been successfully running in the U.S. for several years, and they've established very family-friendly systems and a program that has thought of everything. I booked an appointment to go and see the facility without her, and as soon as I walked in I knew she'd be easy to convince. It's designed with kids in mind and so well-suited to the age they teach (infants to 12 years old). 

When we arrived for her first lesson, I watched her face light up with excitement. She could see that the space was built for kids her size and she immediately felt comfortable. When I say they've thought of everything, I'm not exaggerating. Instead of being in a chaotic, open concept change room, each family can use a gender-neutral room with plenty of space and hooks to keep things off the floor. The temperature is perfect and keeps the shivering at bay. Cold and swimming lessons do nothing to convince a kid that it's going to be fun

 The change rooms are fantastic for privacy and usability. 

The change rooms are fantastic for privacy and usability. 

After getting though one day of lessons, she wanted to head into the change room to get herself ready independently. Like I said, she likes to do things her way. There are plenty of large cubicles in the main area to keep things dry and safe until the end of the lesson. 

The head lifeguard comes out and calls the students in for their lesson, by leading them through the open concept shower area. Swimmers take a shower before entering the pool, and parents can observe from the other side of the glass (where it's warm and dry!). 

 She felt so grown up doing this on her own

She felt so grown up doing this on her own

Then it's time for parents to head to the observation area and make themselves comfortable (did I mention that you're still completely dry?). There are snacks and coffee/tea/hot chocolate available for parents, and free wifi too!

 Comfortable seats, coffee, groovy tunes and free wifi. It's a parent's paradise

Comfortable seats, coffee, groovy tunes and free wifi. It's a parent's paradise

The pool itself is heated to a balmy 90 degrees and is one consistent depth of 4ft, which helps to keep the nerves calm (for her and me). She was immediately comfortable because she knew she wasn't going to be swimming in the deep end. And the side-to-side lanes are much less intimidating than being in a more open space. Each lesson (after your child's appropriate level has been determined) follows a step-by-step program with specific swim requirements. And parents are invited on deck for the last few minutes to hear about those skills and observe their child demonstrating something (s)he's been working on. 

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In addition to your child's swim instructor, there is also a qualified lifeguard on deck for every four kids, which provides a safe level of supervision for everyone in the pool. It also meant extra high fives and words of praise for my kid and she just loved hearing that she was doing well. She absolutely thrived in the lessons and counted down the minutes until the next one. 

 It was so wonderful to see her confident and happy in the water

It was so wonderful to see her confident and happy in the water

What I noticed more than anything else was how the set-up of the program at Goldfish Swim School really encourages and fosters independence. I think she easily made progress in the program, because she felt like she was in charge. It suits her personality, but would also work well for kids who need some extra support.

 Taking care of business on her own. She also loved using the automatic bathing suit dryers

Taking care of business on her own. She also loved using the automatic bathing suit dryers

We started out at the school in one of the Jump Start Clinics, which allowed us to come every day for a week and really get comfortable. It was perfect for figuring out whether this program would work for us longterm. The program is set up as a month-to-month payment and it's a perpetual lessons model that let's you choose a schedule that works for your family (including easy to schedule make up lessons). 

We are officially counting down to the start of our summer vacation now and it feels like we'll be at a new level of independence this year. We feel confident that with continued lessons, we'll have taken measures to make sure our kids are safe and happy in the water. And knowing that makes our time at Goldfish Swim School time well spent. 

 Showing off one of her new skills

Showing off one of her new skills

Because I'm a local parent and blogger, the wonderful staff at the Goldfish Swim School generously invited my daughter to enjoy a week in their Jump Start Clinic in exchange for my honest review. I was not otherwise compensated for this post and my opinions are genuine. 

For a review by my dear friend about their experience with her extraordinary kiddo, click here (there's an adorable video that you'll want to see!)

Back To Basics: Bento Lunches

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If you've been in this space before, this post is not surprising. 

What is surprising, is that I waited a whole week before bringing up the word that sends waves of despair through our standing-in-the-kitchen-gulping-caffeine selves: 

LUNCH.

Throw this word into conversation during the months of September-October-November-December-January-February-March-April-May-June and hair-pulling, dramatic sighing, and foot stomping is the norm (and I'm talking about the adults, not the kids). 

I GET IT, YOU GUYS

I've been making lunches for a full decade now. I have kids that are temperature-sensitive. I have kids that are texture-sensitive. I have kids that are mixing-of-foods-sensitive. I have kids who can't stop looking around the room and talking-sensitive. I've faced all of it.

And OH BOY, have I ever become an expert in predicting hangry levels by the weight of a lunch box at the end of a school day. 

It wasn't until I switched to the bento style lunch box that I started to make progress in solving all of the above problems for all of my kids. With the flip-open-top and individual containers, all the food is on display, it's easily accessible, it's separate (!).

This lunch box is often accused of being a display case for showing off. But that's not how I see it at all. For me, it's like packing a mini-buffet or picnic of sorts. And most kids in their early years, prefer to eat this way anyway — nibbling and snacking throughout the day.

Just think about how much attention they need to invest in getting through a school day. Having to pick up individual containers, peel open lids, decide whether they feel like eating what's inside at that particular moment, only adds more "thinking" to a time of day that's meant for recharging and re-fuelling and, yes, socializing.

In short, this lunch box was a game-changer for us. And since I've started blogging and instragramming about it, it's become a game-changer for other families, too. 

Here's a recent post I wrote offering some of the tips I've picked up over my five years of using this system. I promise, there's nothing I'm putting into those lunch boxes that's worthy of a museum. It's just food. I do my best to keep it healthy and the four containers help me (and my older kids, who like to help) remember to follow a system of: veggie, fruit, protein, snack when packing it. 

How To Bento Like A Boss

To see older posts, I've written about bentos, click here and here.

I share photos on Instagram and other helpful pages on Pinterest. I also love the book The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches On The Planet.

If you've ever thought of making a change, let me help you get started. I've once again partnered with my favourite online store Fenigo to give one lucky reader an amazing bento start up prize. 

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Leave me a comment below letting me know how the lunch-making is going at your house, and you'll be entered to win. Canadian residents only. Contest will be open until Friday, September, 17th.