Out of the Mouths of Babes

Ali Smith

Well, as you can tell from the fact that it’s taken me months to get back to you with this. Combining my creativity and my motherhood is constantly challenged. Getting other things done, for anyone who parents their kids actively, is a challenge. Sometimes I hit a low point where I feel like parenting is the only thing I can do well since I’ve become a parent, not that I always feel I do a great job of it, but sometimes I feel being a mom isn’t good for any other part of my life except for being a mom. That is profoundly depressing.

But then I wake up.

Those are just low points we can all hit as creative people.

These are the biggest challenges I think I’ve faced since becoming a mom:

1. I have less time and energy for things. At first it freaked me out to loose touch with things I’d once valued ,like going out to see live music. or socializing more. Now I realize that most of the things and people that fell away weren’t actually soul satisfying for me and were replaced by other things that are, like a better home life and really experiencing my child and son, which is intense.

2. Even though I have a partner who believes in equal parenting between mothers and fathers (as I do), it’s still hard, as a mother, to not feel your identity slipping away for various reasons. Not the least of which is your own desire to give so much to your child. that’s been a challenge. Also I’ve felt physically less attractive from being consistently tired for two years and not exercising much and oh yeah having pushed a baby out of my vagina and from often finding much needed solace from stress in chocolate and booze. Oh, and from aging, which is something I would have been doing anyway (if all went well), child or not, but which can be an insulting process.

And there are lots of physical challenges to motherhood, especially for moms like me who are reminded from the start that we are of “advanced maternal age”. So there have been these identity and image and ego challenges that have been substantial. To that I say that I think it’s really good for every person to face the fragility of their own ego as they age. this is just one-way to get there quick. It’s healthy for us to turn inwards and away from so much constant need for external validation. But it’s hard, especially in a society that doesn’t really value that much at all. If you’re investigating the self or women’s issues or maternal mortality, the world sits up and listens much more readily if you look like Christy Burlington than Bella Abzug. Of course, I think this is ridiculous, but the pressure is always here to remain “relevant” within society’s narrow, youth and beauty-oriented parameters. We all have to come to terms with that.

3. As a photographer, I naturally want to document the motherhood experience photographically. But I usually can’t logistically, because when there’s a shot of me and him that I want, I’m usually pinned under him or he’s asleep in my arms or something else is going on that means I can’t get to my camera and capture the moment. That’s frustrating. I need to invent a machine that helps me solve that one. In the mean time, I ask my patient photographer husband to take the pictures that I see.

These are the ways in which I feel creativity affects my parenting:

1. I am truly appreciative of every revelation I see in my son. Every tiny observation he has, every new understanding, and all of those that I know I’m not around to see or that I’m too adult to actually recognize in real time. I think valuing this kind of observation of the minutia in life is not unique to me. I’m not the first mother to think her child is a genius because he can feed himself. But I do think that’s it’s inherent in the psyche of an artist to really consistently pay attention to these things and to value them highly and nurture them with encouragement and a genuine attempt to relate and understand their child. I’m in it, neck deep, not just with my time but my attention. That’s exhausting and sometimes depletes me, sometimes maybe too much. I hope that attempts to relate well now will pay off in the future when I’m trying to understand this creature as he grows further and further away from me every day.

2. My husband and I are both photographers. Our photography has been an amazing passport for each of us into rarified situations and life changing experiences. He got to photograph the President intimately and is now working on a story with a man in hospice care. I’ve photographed women with their children in prison and I’ve photographed celebrities that I grew up admiring. Photography can take you to the extremes and let you in on a lot of varied emotions. Now we would like to let our two-year-old son Harper in on that potential as well. Our most recent plan is to devise ways that we can travel as a family while photographing for work. We want to travel to a variety of exotic locations while concentrating on stories about causes we care about, like environmentalism and women’s rights. I think this will end up being the best way to integrate these two areas of our lives, because not only can we bring Harper in on what we love in our careers and work life, but we can expose him to the issues we are concerned about too. We have no desire to dictate that he becomes a photographer, or even an artist. but I think it’s a natural for us that we’d like him to feel like a world citizen, concerned with things outside commercialism and his immediate scope. If we can influence him in that direction, we’d like to. Watch – he’ll have the Alex P Keaton syndrome and grow up to be a conservative republican banker. That’s when my creativity and motherly acceptance will really be put to the test. 🙂

The culmination of my interest in parenting and my creativity:
For the past decade I have been pouring my blood, sweat, and sanity into a book project that is a boots on the ground. It is an unflinching look at how women are living their lives as mothers in this society. It’s called The Mother Half and it will FINALLY be released for Xmas 2012!!
Societies need healthy mothers in order to survive, but they rarely take care of mothers’ needs properly. The goal of The Mother Half is to communicate those needs and rights in extremely personal stories and portraits. The mothers featured range from an Oscar nominated actress considering how to be a mother in the image obsessed Hollywood world, to a survivor of sexual abuse working to piece herself back together so that she may parent her son well.





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