Uncomfortably Numb

Mothering two young children is sometimes like novocaine. It numbs my mind and makes me talk funny. On the toughest days, crafting a coherent sentence can be challenging. Not to mention holding a conversation about something complicated, like education policy. Once upon a lifetime ago, writing and editing stories about education policy kept me up at night. I was fulfilled, challenged, content. These days, I'm lucky if reruns of "Beverly Hills 90210" keep me awake long enough to fold the laundry. Though reliving the Brandon-Kelly-Dylan triangle may be fun, it's hardly fulfilling.

I used to be sharp. To dull my senses, I had to drink a few glasses of wine.

What happened?

My best guess: I decided to have more than one child.

Since Syma's arrival, enjoying daily life is often elusive. I pine for the days when it was just Noah and me. It was easier to get things done with one baby--simple stuff, like grocery shopping, working out and making dinner. Talking on the phone was doable, even when my son was awake. I tackled trickier tasks, too; like writing an in-depth story on the culture gap among new teachers.

With two, I spend my days stepping on food and sweeping it up. Emptying the dishwasher. Changing diapers. Cleaning the toddler potty.

Over and over.

I remind Noah not to bonk his sister on the head with his toy trucks. I pry hazardous items from Syma's hands--sharp mystery objects she digs from the crevices of our increasingly sticky carpeting.

Again and again.

I get so mired in the rote of daily living that I might forget to take my vitamins or get the mail. I am, in short, a zombie.

Hindsight renders perfect vision. I could be suffering from that. Glennon Melton said on her wildly popular post on the Momastery blog that she loves having parented, in the past tense. Loving it in the present is more difficult. Maybe I love having mothered one. Maybe it was harder than I recall.

But I don't think so. Life certainly seems emotionally and mentally more challenging. I can go days without talking to friends or family. My only adult interaction is with my husband, or clerks at the stores we frequent. Is it because I'm juggling diapers and potty-training, teething and toddler tantrums, and often-disparate naptimes? Maybe. More likely, though, is that I'm setting the bar too high for myself, and getting lost in a quest to reach it.

The Writer as Mother

My unreasonable expectations are toying with my identity. What if my decision to go part-time with my freelancing career means I'll permanently lose ground? And what about my book proposal? If I can't finish a manuscript by the time I'm 40, what good am I as a writer? If I fail as a writer, I fail in life, because writing is who I am.

Chasing perfection burns me out. Constant speculating about my success renders me numb. Unlike Pink Floyd, I'm not incredibly comfortable with being numb. I'd rather be sharp.

So I'm writing this piece, to get the blood flowing again. The process means I do three things: Analyze. Research. Pray.

Speaking of my identity, it expanded when I became a mom. I'm a writer and a mom. I don't feel more one than the other. Perhaps it'd be politically correct to say I'm a mom first, writer second. But that's not true to my heart. Just because I'm lately spending more time mothering doesn't mean I'm less of a writer. Even if society labels me that way.

I'm not alone in my penchant for pursuing perfect. It's the curse of my Generation X. According to the book, "Good Enough is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood":

"Girls born in the mid-1970s were more than three times as likely as women born at the beginning of the twentieth century to pursue their fathers' careers;1 it didn't seem odd or unattainable to model our career paths after theirs. The bounty bestowed upon us by the women's movement was vast and we were the first to reap its full benefits. As children, we may not have understood advances like Title IX, which gave us gender equity in public education, including sports; or the Pill, which made it easier to delay having children; or the ascent of women into corporate boardrooms and governors' offices and behind television anchor desks. But we felt the ripple. Or tsunami."

We were raised beneath a splintering glass ceiling, and the deafening thunder of expectation that accompanied it echoed to our bones. There was an implicit message: You can succeed, so you must succeed.

That's me, alright. I was a latch-key kid of divorced parents. I was raised mostly by my dad, who taught me to invest in myself, in my studies and my work. I overachieved, and surrounded myself with hyper-educated friends who did the same. As a journalist I was constantly surrounded by people, chatter, busy-ness.

When I became a mom, the chatter stopped. I decided to invest more of my time parenting than writing--at least while my kids were small. I surprised myself with that decision. Throughout my pregnancy with Noah, I had planned to take a brief maternity leave, get a nanny, and return to full-time freelancing. But the complications after his birth shook me into a new sensibility. I needed a longer break than I had planned. I couldn't hand my child over to a stranger, especially because I've been motherless most of my life.  My mom's early death cheated me of my most important relationship. If I can help it, my kids won't feel that same bitter loss.

Keep Moving

I don't have much extra time to pray these days, so I squeeze it in while I'm driving. And I listen for the voice of God in those around me. My husband speaks God's truth into my life better than anyone. In a recent conversation with good friends, he said that to hear from God, you can't stop what you're doing. You must keep moving. Whatever it is you're doing, push forward. I like that. As Winston Churchill said, "If you're going through hell, keep going."

My existence is far from hellish. In fact, it's full of love and grace. In many ways, it's better than my mom's life was. But I'm myopic, and I need to get over myself. I also need to remember that God has been faithful, blessing me in ways I never expected. And that He's bigger than everything, including the zombie zone of early motherhood.

So my analyzing, researching and praying leaves me with this: From a young age, God gave me a burden to write. Through that burden, He's helped me achieve and experience great things. The burden is still there. But now it's complemented by marriage and motherhood. Just as I ask for God's help in parenting, so I hand my writing career to Him. I'm not sure where it's going, or if I'll write a book before I'm 40.

But I'm sure God's got it figured out. Thankfully so. In the meantime, I'll keep moving.

About the Author: Kristina Cowan has 15 years of experience as a journalist. She's reported on everything from a prominent mass-murder case in Chicago, to higher education in Spain, to 9/11. Her latest projects include writing about motherhood and women’s issues, and launching one of the first Christian writers groups in the Chicago area, Word Weavers Naperville.

She's the wife of a Frenchman, and the mama of  two impish-and-ebullient babes, Noah and Syma. Together they live and love in Chicagoland. You can find her on the web at http://www.kristinacowan.com/