I am an artist.
I am a mother, but I am also an artist.
When I was in college studying fine art, I was having a meaningful conversation with a close friend about what it means to be an artist and how do you go about managing your artistic career alongside your family life and how do you make it financially feasible to do so. My professor overheard the conversation, and, with a heavily condescending tone, dripping with snark and malice, she laughed and said, “Oh, Kirstin, you will never be an artist.”
I was 19 years old, desperately trying to find my way in the world, and this person who was charged with guiding and instructing me had just delivered a blow that cast a shadow of doubt that I would proceed to carry with me for the rest of my life. What I didn’t realize at the time was that you don’t become an artist; if you are an artist, no one can take that away from you. It’s in you. It's who you are and it's in everything that you do.
I spent my young adult life working towards a goal. I needed to grow up to become something, and I wanted above all things to become an artist. I studied hard, I looked for “creative” jobs, I hung shows, I started a small business. I was doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing. Life seemed to always get in the way, though. I fell in love, got married, bought a house, started a family. We had bills to pay, dinners to make, and life to live.
Becoming a mother was many things for me. It brought my lifelong battle with my body to an end and allowed me to embrace the parts that I was born with. It gave me an overwhelming sense of duty and obligation. It handed me a beautiful tiny creature whom over time I would grow an attachment to that I never knew possible. It was also painfully isolating, mildly traumatic, and overwhelmingly confusing. I was now faced with consequences of my decisions and began to feel a sense of loss: loss of the life I had thought I wanted for myself. Somehow along the way, I had traded in my dream of becoming an artist to become a wife and a mother, and I had completely lost myself. I no longer knew who I was. I had traded my entire identity and life’s work for what felt like someone else’s calling, and the words of my mean-spirited college instructor echoed through my bones.
It took a while for me to find my bearings. Once the smoke cleared and the darkness lifted, I started to explore the complicated journey of self-discovery. Like the adolescent experience of puberty, it was awkward, messy, and painful. After coming out of the other side of this journey, I have learned that despite having felt like I had lost myself, I had not. I was still there, inside of me. I just had to look. My identity had for so long been wrapped up in becoming an artist, and then in the fraught-filled journey of becoming a mother, that I didn’t realize there was no need to choose between them. Not only were the two identities not mutually exclusive, but I was already there. I had been there all along.
I never became an artist; I was always an artist. Now I am also a mother and a wife. These three parts of my identity are forever inside of me, living together, and being expressed in everything that I do. Each of us has to take on our own demons as we brave the path to and through partnerships and parenthood. All too often the world--and sometimes ourselves--pressures us to sacrifice and make choices that cast shadows over who we are, asks us to put our desires or goals on the back-burner. It's ok to make decisions based on your or your family’s needs, but don’t let anyone steal your joy. Don’t think for a second that you are anything less than the magical creature you used to see in the mirror because life has taken its toll. You are still in there. You are still just as magical, just as powerful, just as fun, just as “you” as you’ve always been.
Parenthood doesn’t erase our identity, it enhances it. The artist inside of me shows her hand in everything I do. She is in the rainbow sprinkles on our quesadillas, she is in the papier maché unicorn in my living room, in the mismatched socks, in last yea's birthday bunting still strung through the halls, in the chalkboard walls, the hastily done nail art... She is in the laughter and in the magic that I share with my son and in the way I that I love my husband. I never became an artist. I was born an artist.
Dorothy Gale said it best when she said, “If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it in the first place.”
Kirstin Martinez is a mother, wife, artist, puppet-crafter, and vet tech in Louisiana. She blogs at Regular Person Being Regular.