“Creation is forever individual and it always involves an accumulation of small acts as well as decisive strokes and sweeping integrations.”—Shaun McNiff, Trust the Process
On Wednesday, the kids and I will be boarding the flight to Brussels. We are participating in the benefit conference dinner where I will sell my paintings in support of a Foundation for kids with HIV in Kigali, Rwanda.
I am excited, thrilled, and more than a little nervous! I have not shown my work in this way in quite a while. The last couple of years, I have focused entirely on my children, adjusting to life and relocation (integration!) in Europe, learning new languages and cultures, and surviving as a mom of two.
But at the start of 2015, I decided to open my heart.
I allowed myself to get back to myself. To just be me.
That was something crucial I had to ask myself at the start of the year:
“Who am I?”
Who am I, without the kids? Who am I, without my husband? Who am I, without my works? Who am I in my most vulnerable, yet true self?
What makes me happiest?
What makes me come alive?
Parenting opens up a whole new world that grows you, casts a load of responsibility on you, but it also does something else:
It opens up your own heart. Makes you more capable of loving—of giving, beyond yourself.
The mistake that, in my opinion, many new mothers make, is we lose ourselves too quickly.
And then we forget to get it back.
We may focus on getting our pre-baby bodies back, work on being good wives, partners, and mothers, concentrate on tending to all the details that make up a functional household. We build a new life, we create a family unit; we love uncontrollably, unconditionally. And that is all okay.
But what really happens when our own SELF gets a little forgotten? What happens to our SOUL on this journey?
We may give up our own dreams, hopes, and desires.
We may tend to stop loving ourselves, stop giving ourselves what we in fact truly need.
How then, can we really give the best to our children, when we ourselves are lacking? How can we be the best for them?
I have seen it happen so often: the sacrificial parent, who struggles and strives to give his or her children the best—each time, to their own loss.
So in essence, asking myself how to give my children and my partner the best, I wanted to know how I could be the best sense of me, for them.
That is really what I wanted to answer myself.
The restlessness that every new mother feels in her heart is something put there for a reason. And I had to find out mine.
My mind flashed to a conversation I had had with someone when I was the managing editor of a major magazine. Busy with a career, all grown-up in the adult world.
“I used to be an artist,” were the words I’d used. “I used to paint.”
And saying so, scared me!
Was I born an artist just so that, when I grew up, I would remember creating and painting as a distant memory? Would I forget that I had been given gifts and talents which had the power to create something positive? That, having never gone to art school, I could somehow paint portraits that would allow others to visualize the world in a new way? Could I still make an impact? Could I still make art that mattered?
That was the scary thought: I used to be.
That was when, at the start of the New Year, I intentionally DECIDED I would BE the artist I was born to be. Little by little, I started to create. Got back to painting, got back to the things I loved. Rediscovered many forgotten senses—including my sense of self.
In the weeks that followed, I silently took this artist journey, surprising and delighting myself with the world. Creating just because it made me happy; painting to please nobody but me.
(Journal, 17 March 2015): Since giving myself permission to enjoy, live, and love, all those things have been coming naturally. I open up my hands and heart to an abundant space, one uncluttered by things. One which enables me to live more freely, more adventurously. To love unconditionally. The joys are found.
Soon after, we took the kids on a trip around Germany, visiting Leipzig, Berlin, and other big cities.
From the impressive Babylonian architecture in the Pergamon Museum, to the top of the Berlin TV Tower; from the dimly lit Indian restaurant where we enjoyed samosas and curry with a dear friend from Manila to the Magdeburg Boat Fair and the Magdeburg Dom, Germany’s oldest Gothic Cathedral.
We space-rocketed to the moon at the planetarium in Jena and stopped in at the original Rittersport Chocolate museum in Waldenbuch. We also watched a rare Solar Eclipse and marveled at the universe, before heading to the movie theater for an hour of “Shaun the Sheep”.
And as we traveled, I felt the sheer wonder of discovery.
The joy of childlike awe—without childlike tantrums.
As we took our little ones along, I took my artist self along—not passing judgement; not feeling judged. Things flowed. Everything had its place and space and time.
(To be continued)
“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer is to have kept your soul alive.”—Robert Louis Stevenson