Obstacles and Inconveniences

"I really am your gift. I am not just a little person who needs to be "raised" and taught, and taken to activities....I came to the people in my life to bring a message: slow down. Feel. Be. Over and over again. When you do, you will notice immediately, that I am not an obstacle to your work, or inconvenience to your daily life. Instead, you will come to appreciate my honesty, humor, presence and love."-- Bruce Scott

A "Facebook Friend"/acquaintance posted this the other day. It's one of those daily affirmation kind of posts that makes my blood curdle, but I read it anyway . . . mostly because the woman who posted it is a woman who is homeschooling her children and definitely following the beat of her own drummer, which I admire. Also, I have a lot of (hopefully polite) curiosity about her life, which is so different from my own. I may not always agree with the parenting techniques she espouses, but I respect her interest and concern and her intellectual curiosity.

This excerpt, however, touched a nerve. And maybe that's what she intended for it to do -- in her Facebook posts, she seems fairly open-minded, but she's not above preaching her truths. She seems to want to motivate people to do what is right, and right by kids. Anyway, when I began reading the post, I actually liked the first part: "I came to the people in my life to bring a message: slow down. Feel. Be. Over and over again." I recognize that it's a little preposterous for this grown man to appropriate the voice of children everywhere. And what's being expressed is cheesy and sentimental and more than a little new age-y, but I liked being reminded that *I* really need to slow down. That I need to take more time to observe, and listen, and feel more connected to what's going on around me. If you want to be a writer, this is essential.

I took exception, however, to the line "I am not an obstacle to your work, or inconvenience to your daily life." I bridled. I know that this was a defensive reaction. One, I didn't like the author of the piece assuming that I see my children as obstacles or inconveniences. Two . . . he was partially right when he made that assumption, and I didn't like being called out.

The thing is, I would never NAME my children as obstacles and inconveniences. (That's just rude and callous, and who would actually do that, anyway? Who with good sense, and an awareness of how the rest of the world might perceive such a comment?) That line -- and in fact, the rest of the article, which I found via Google, reposted on another blog -- seems designed to shame parents into acting in a particular way. But more thoughts on that later. I want to address the obstacle/inconvenience language.

My children, themselves, their physical and emotional and intellectual selves, are not obstacles. But my relationship with my children requires maintenance, my role as parent mandates very specific actions, and my very desire to do right by them pushes me to put their desires before my own interests -- on the whole. That maintenance, those actions, and those desires that they have (not necessities, just the things they want to do), create obstacles and inconveniences.

All of the relationships in our lives, those with our children and those with our spouses and parents and siblings and friends and coworkers, create obstacles and inconveniences. The demands of one relationship will often interfere with the development or progress of another relationship, and I would call this interference an inconvenience or obstacle. It happens to friendships when new romances enter the picture. It happens to marriages when children enter the picture. It happens to the relationship one has with one's art when both spouses and children enter the picture, certainly. To create art, any type of art, one needs time alone. Relationships, while crucial and essential to one's happiness and satisfaction with life, interfere with, or are obstacles to, the time one can spend in one's own head. And that time inside one's head results in art that is -- to the artist if no one else -- essential and crucial as well.

It's a strange thing, how another person's confidence in their own beliefs can inspire us to be insecure about our own. I listen to the conviction in the voices of others and I lose some of my own -- voice AND conviction, that is. The more I attempt to juggle children and being married and my academic career and my writing career, the more I doubt whether or not it's "right" to be this ambitious. I doubt whether or not I'm actually successful at creating art, which is my goal, and then I wonder if the time and sanity I sacrifice is worth it. I often feel irritated when my writing life is inconvenienced or stymied by the demands of parenthood, but the demands of my bouncing, loud, alternately happy and devastated-by-some-action-of-the-sibling children usually win out despite my irritation.

I guess the quote above, Mr. Scott's appraisal of my perspective, annoys me because it's an obstacle to my search for balance. It makes me doubt that what I'm doing -- as a writer, as a mother, as a working mother who also attempts to write -- is the right course of action.

For example, I've been writing this while my little boy and my little girl have painted gifts for their daycare teachers, played board games, played on the computer, watched some TV, run laps around the ground floor of my parents' house, and generally created havoc and mayhem. Throughout it all they've peppered me with requests for food or random questions, and interrupted my train of thought numerous times.

You might ask why I attempted to write this when they're active and awake. I've wondered about that myself -- several times this morning in fact! Actually, I do try to write when they're asleep -- in the mornings, and sometimes at night (but usually I'm too wiped out to think straight by the time night falls). I make earnest attempts to be "present" in their lives, physically and mentally. But I also fail miserably quite frequently. I have a hard time being invested in our 13th game of UNO. My children often have to repeat themselves when I attempt to steal a few minutes to work on a poem. Some mornings, I just want to write. And on those mornings, usually, they just want to be in my face. They want attention, and I want to direct my attention elsewhere.

They usually win. Not always, because I'm no saint -- but usually. Most times, I will stop what I'm doing to satisfy their requests or just hang out and hug them. I do that because my relationship with them requires it, because I want to have a good relationship with them.

But I think it's ridiculous to imagine that you won't be road-blocked or inconvenienced at some point by your children, or that you shouldn't mind when it happens. I think it's okay to be irritated by it, or even a little angry. The key is to just shrug off whatever irritation you have, extinguish any anger as best you can, and then move on. Get the cup of juice, the bag of crackers, pick up the UNO cards, and just play. At some point they'll take a nap, or draw a picture, or become absorbed in a game of make-believe restaurant/doctor's office/school, and you can sneak out the legal pad or open the laptop and begin again.

My children are not obstacles and inconveniences in and of themselves, but they create obstacles and inconveniences in my writing life. Likewise, my dedication to my writing life creates obstacles and inconveniences for them quite frequently. The trick, I suppose, is to not let one aspect of one's life inconvenience or stymy the others too greatly.


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