Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Erin Lyn Bodin’s Even In Winter. We asked, “What passions, interests, or activities do you reserve time for amidst the varied landscape of motherhood? How do they serve your personal wellbeing?” Below is Leigh April Knight’s response.
To Tell the Truth
In the long list of ways that I am not living up to my potential, the gold standard of motherhood stands out, mocking me like a chimera that I know does not exist yet plagues me nonetheless. With every imperfect moment of mothering I fear I am letting down not only my children but the feminists before me and all the other callings that have taken a backseat to this holiest of grails. Even now as I write this, my inner critic tells me to just give up because my thoughts don’t flow; each word is squeezed from me like water from a rock and squeezed, too, from time that should be spent on other things.
This morning my daughter’s hair was again unkempt, sticky with cream cheese from the bagel she ate on the way to school. My son left, crying, because a kid made fun of his shoes and I didn’t buy him another pair because I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, and, frankly, because I forgot to.
When I return to my house after drop-off, the familiar presence is waiting for me: a little green monster in the corner of the room, feet dangling, antennas drooping like the stems of tulips that need tossing. I pretend he is not there, my depression, but he shuffles around after me as I move between rooms, straightening up, mentally listing the things I need to get done before pickup. Do I have the time or the energy to write something? My mind floats back to college, when I used to have potential, when my poems received minor recognition and women I respected had big plans for me. My little green monster sits in the corner, his mouth pursed into a whistle, twiddling his three thumbs. I crack the windows to let him out but cold sunlight only filters in, making me feel worse somehow.
“What do I have to be depressed about anyway?” I ask the monster. “I have a comfortable life.” He looks at me curiously, but he does not answer. I sit down across the room and open my computer. I feel as blank as the beginning and the end, though I am in the vast middle where the exciting meaty stuff is supposed to happen. I am about to give up when I hear the voice of Audre Lorde from somewhere deep and far. “What’s the worst that could happen to you if you told the truth?” she asks. I look at the little green monster. He just shrugs, so I start by writing about him. Then I write a poem for my therapist. Then I write about losing my best friend before I realized I loved her. I write about Sylvia Plath’s shrunken head in the bell jar and the tears fly out of me like a wheel through water. I write about my miscarriage and the twins I never met.
I write about all the loves and losses I have been carrying around in my body. I feel them start to move around, start to notice I am here in the room with them. I don’t know what will happen but I keep writing and feeling and crying until I am soggy and spent. It’s time for pickup. The dishes are still where they were and a million other things undone, but today I don’t have to wonder if I have wasted my precious hours alone. I know I have not.
Leigh April Knight is an award winning poet and short story writer. She lives in Connecticut with her partner, three children, and large dog. She leads creative writing workshops out of a restored barn in her backyard.