Up for Air

I am often losing myself in things, in seasons, quicker than a phase of the moon. I am able to be swallowed entirely by a single turn of events, or a string of such. Sometimes, all it takes is a song.

Once, as a child, my swim coach pulls me aside after practice, holds the door to the locker room. Erin, she says. When you’re in the water, it’s like you’re somewhere else. Where do you go?

I’ve never found an answer to the question, although it haunts me from time to time.

My swallowing began in the deep waters of parenting, in the thick responsibility of it all. I wanted to get it right – no, perfect – and I wanted to be every good mother I could conjure to mind. No-nonsense and firm, still tolerant of raw emotion. Playful, kind. Up for anything within good reason. Knowable. Armed with a smile. Comfortable with a mess – whether metaphorical or Legos.

For nearly six years, I have placed high efforts in practicing such. I have put my head down in deep focus, in desperate prayer.

Some days go better than others.

It occurs to me that I haven’t come up for air in a while, haven’t focused on much else. Haven’t trusted there was enough strength in the reserves.

What do you do when you’re drowning in something worthy? When the muchness of it all is suffocating, when you want to come up for air so badly but when you do, your heart beckons you back to the waves? Are your gasps of breath a rescue or an escape?

Is motherhood the water? Or is it the air?

I suppose it depends on the day.

Yesterday, a friend brings over kombucha and apples. We stir almond butter at the counter, dole out spoonfuls for the kids. Half fruit, then quarter it. Quarter it again. Tinier still, for tiny mouths.

So what’s new? we ask each other in different words.

Neither of us have a response – same old, just doin’ the kid thing – and for a moment, we fall silent in comfortable irony. Months ago, our answer was the same, but the silence far less deafening. Months ago, we were unable to finish the sentence – any sentence. Months ago, there were only needy babies and fussy cries and bouncing knees, and now, here we are, slicing apples for grown limbs that have just decided to gather their boots and head out to build a snow fort.

It is quiet now, here in the water.

For what it’s worth (and it’s worth much): I don’t think motherhood is the singular identity in which we dip our toes into the waves only to find the tide soon sweeping in over our heads. Whatever our commitments, the same current runs beneath the surface:

Who am I, apart from this thing over here? Would I recognize myself without it? Would I want to?

We are all human, it seems. Entirely swallowable.

Last year, I accepted a short-term, part-time consulting project. I’d missed the creative rush of design deadlines and marketing deliverables, ached for the shuttered sense of productivity. The before, the after. The unanimous applause for something other than remembering everyone’s favorite flavor of Lara Bar.

I loved the challenge of it, was just giddy over those early morning hours where the little ones were deep in dreams and I was deep in another kind. When the project wrapped two weeks later, a ping in my brain: Is this what it would be like to go back to work? The kids awake, dressed and feeding themselves at the dining room table, toast crumbs and Uno deck where your Pantone swatches were just hours before?

And yet, full time work stirs up so much murk in the waters – that ambiguous tread of loyalty. It’s difficult to devote full efforts to a project and not see 4am cries and requests for duplicate bedtime stories as an inconvenience.

Difficult to offer attention to the baseboards and produce when the contract needs signed.

When you’re in the water, it’s like you’re somewhere else.

I wonder sometimes if this – among primary reasons like necessity and frugality – is why some of our mothers and our mother’s mothers took up sewing, gardening, homemaking. Work that might busy her hands but not divide her heart. Interruptable. Something useful to add to her day that wouldn’t subtract time with her child.


Perhaps this is why I so love writing here every now and then, snapping photos of strewn-about toys and sticky fingers and slept-in braids. It is an undivided heart, my early morning garden – merely something fresh to breathe in when the waters get rough.

Something cool to dive into when, from time to time, the air feels stale.

Sometimes, when I attempt to explain why I don’t scale up and hire help for this space, I think of my own stammered-out reply to my swim coach all those years ago – convictions laced with doubt, a pseudo-apology – and her long-kept words:

Oh honey, don’t be sorry. It’s not a bad thing. Sometimes losin’ yourself looks a lot like findin’ yourself – and you know what? I’m not just talkin’ water.

This morning, I hear footsteps down the hall, the switch of a bedroom light. I know my kids have woken, earlier than usual, and I begin the process of shutting down my computer, rinsing out coffee grounds, scrawling plans onto paper. Happy to greet a new day. Later, there will be whites to sort and stories to tell. Walks to take. Soups to stir.

Plenty of work to be done, I think, the waters waist-high.

Plenty of air all around.

  • Reading your blog this morning, Erin, I sensed a profound sadness that emulated throughout. It seems to me, that you are not where you want to be and question yourself where you should be. Hey, I might be totally not getting it, but perhaps this distorted curveball that seemingly has fallen on your calm days of mother hooding has made you question yourself what truly makes me happy. Is it Motherhood, or is it your job, or is it trying to accomplish it all or is it not being able to accomplish it all. Is perfection in your way? I don’t know Erin you, but I do know that when you eventually do things that YOU yourself wants to do, life does seem to fall with grace and joy. Maybe your guiding fairies are hinting to you that you are doing a bit too much and it is time to step back and re-group. Just maybe you are doing a bit too much. And when it seems to be not fun anymore; there could not be a better sign to stop and shift gears.

    • Oh Fredie – I so appreciate your kind thoughts. I fear I may have missed the mark in tone here, as I can assure you I am so, so very certain that I am precisely where I want to be. I realize now that I often like to give voice to my doubts in order to process them, to find my way through them, and sometimes the thread doesn’t look very tidy after I hit publish. :) I suppose I meant only to say that it’s easy to lose yourself in hard, all-encompassing work, and to question if it’s the right path, and sometimes we can be pleasantly surprised that the hard was really the good all along. Still, I know your words come from a place of thought and care and I so appreciate your gentle encouragement. Thank you!

  • I have so many words and none that would really express, but I can say this – I get you. I get this. Happy Friday.

  • It seems as if you are saying that one cannot work without subtracting from your children. As a working mom, I struggle with this, yet work isn’t about coming up for air, and work is also not the water. It’s simply what it is and the way life is. Middle of the night wake ups (as I’m still in that stage) are part of the bargain, not a nuisance or an inconvenience. It’s me being there for my baby, but still getting up the next morning and putting in a full day’s work, while she spends time with friends and people that also love her, and coming back together at the end of the day and being present with each other.

    Being a parent isn’t work! It’s a privledge. But being a parent that has a mom who loses herself at the expense of raising kids probably would feel like work.

    I usually love what you wrote! I hope I missed the boat here, but this felt a little like a slam to working moms and like you accepting that you lost yourself a bit and maybe won’t get it back..

    (I posted this previously but did not intend to post anonymously!)

    • Hi Allie:

      It is very possible that I’ve missed the boat as well, and I’m so sorry my thoughts were perceived as a slam to working moms. I am, too, a working mom, and I’m cheering for you as you thrive through those middle-of-the-night wake-up calls while putting in a full day’s work — it’s not easy! You sound like a wonderfully loving, present mother, and I’m so in agreement with your perspective that children are an incredible privilege. We’re the lucky ones to be granted an opportunity to lead, model and shape the lives of these littles, and I pray I never once take that responsibility lightly.

      Sending so much love your way. :)

    • I agree Allie…this piece for me hit a (clearly unintentional) note that full-time work “divides your heart” (and thus that being a stay at home parent would mean you loved your children more?). I have a deep ambivalence that Erin you caught so well in the statements about needing some air, yet your heart beckoning you back… “Is it a rescue or an escape?” Yes! But my problem is not that my child has become an annoyance or a nuisance (I doubt stay-at-home moms love 4 am wake ups anymore than I do). Stepping back from work, when I love to work, because it makes motherhood more complicated can’t be the answer. The questions are so much more multifaceted than that. Erin, you usually write with so much grace. I think this one might have been better as a personal journal entry…

      • I struggle with this so much as well. My second was just born last week and I am in the thick of days that look like nights and nights that look like days (when did I last brush my teeth?). I also work full time outside the home and enjoy so much of what working provides me and my family. I recently read something about “working mom guilt” and how that phrase implies that we should feel guilty for not spending all of our time with our littles. There are so many occasions where I do feel guilty, but so many occasions where I see my oldest loved by her teachers, other parents, kids in her daycare. I come home and she has learned so many new things that I may not have been able to teach her. She is excited to share with me her songs and tales of playground adventures (“I swing Mama!”). These things also fill my heart in a way that I cannot describe. I will be struggling with this in a few short months when I have to return to work once more. It will be a difficult transition, but I do not want to feel like it is me dividing my heart.

      • Hi Vicki: Blessings as you recover, and congratulations on your one week old(!!!). Thank you for sharing your experience — I think we’re all the better for reading stories, thoughts and ideals from all perspectives in all circumstances. p.s. My heart is melting over “I swing Mama!”

      • Andrea: Thank you so much for your honesty here, and I love that you’re addressing the more complicated, multifaceted questions that are so often left unanswerable. Please keep digging in and sharing what you’re finding to be true to your experience! I promise to do the same – and will pray the next one offers grace in spades. :)

  • I can relate to exactly what you wrote. It describes my heart. I know, too, that it does not describe my sister’s heart. And neither is wrong. And neither is right. We are just different. Your post a while back about being the person in the room who reads the temperature and follows along with it vs. the person who MAKES the temperature in the room – that post hit me the exact same way. Whoa, that’s me! Not my sister. Neither of us wrong. Neither right. Just different. I often feel as an “empath” that nobody gets me, yet I ‘get’ everyone else. ‘When’s it going to be MY turn to be understood instead of understanding?!’ Sometimes I am frustrated by that. And so your words remind me – that’s just who I am. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability in your writing. I feel like you are describing who I am and who I could be. That’s what art does. Good art.

    • I can’t thank you enough for your kind response, Katie. I love so much of what you said here! So appreciative that you took the time to send a bit of encouragement my way. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Erin: Yes. Your style. Your message. Your ponderings. Yes. Thank you for your gift of words. So excited to connect over at Hope Writers soon.

      Katie: Beautiful summary. I fully relate as an empath. The oldest of four girls, I am often the one offering understanding. Although in recent years I have seen a shift. I have allowed a shift. Are you a writer of words? I suspect so. I’d love to connect as I suspect we wil understand each other.

      • I’m nodding along with both of you! Love that you’re connecting!!! (And thank you so much.)

  • Beautiful. Honest. Vulnerable.
    I really appreciate, and love, that you share slices of your life here. You don’t present a perfect apple, you slice it, reveal the fibers and seeds and soft spots that make it an apple. Here’s to losing & finding ourselves.

  • Thank you for this, Thank you for your vulnerability, your writing to me is as if you were having a conversation with someone.
    Instagram photos are only a snippet of time in someone’s life and we need to figure out what we can handle, what are our gifts and stop trying to “do it just like so and so”. I hope this makes sense, I love your writing and look forward to reading more.

  • Erin, I have been reading your posts for about a year and half. I found your blog after googling a topic that I had hoped would encourage my daughter who had recently had a baby. I’m a 63 year old grammy, and when I read your “words” I’m moved by my remembering and recognizing things that I didn’t know I was doing when I did them, as I loved and watched my daughters grow into really special, strong, fine and kind women. I’ve thought, ah the picture of life at the stage you are in, and realized that I’m not done living yet, and can enjoy and implement some of your very thoughtful wisdom even at this age! Thank you for the transparency of your writing, and the joy it gives me to read it.

    • Oh Carole, welcome! Such a joy to have you here, and thank you for sharing this with me! Although we’re in different life stages, it’s such a treasure to be reminded that our work is never finished here. Your daughters are so blessed to have your guidance and wisdom!!!

  • I loved this. I never ever comment , but you offered me immense kindness via email when I was stuck in a winter funk and I’ve been wanting to comment ever since! It’s so interesting thatwhen parents (mothers) reflect on their thoughts, feelings (souls) around parenting and working, it stirs up enough emotion for others to call your thoughts and feelings “wrong”. For me, it feels like another marker of inequity in mental load, as well as, let’s face it, all the other loads. Our own thoughts of how we are doing – so intensely unique but needing to be shared for so many reasons – become grounds for critique… for me this makes me feel we are still not “there”, where we can share difference and vulnerability without inviting labels of right or wrong . But, you are helping us to get  « there » by sharing your load with kindness and grace. Parenting is the hardest gig around, no matter how you do it. I’m grateful for anyone who shares how they are getting through it mindfully. Thank you for this and everything. X

    • This is such an interesting note, Kate – thank you for commenting! “I’m grateful for anyone who shares how they are getting through it mindfully. ” -> Yes – me too!!!

      And oh, I’m quite familiar with the winter funk. ;) Hope the sun has shined your way this week!

  • thank you for this. i’m sorting through the same types of feelings as my kids get bigger and more independent (both 2.5 now). you’ve said it so beautifully, what it’s like in this stage of life and how it’s hard to know at times what the “right” path is. xx

    • Oh, 2.5 is such a full age, isn’t it? Blessings to you, Jacqueline. Thank you for your note!

  • Erin – your writing has met me in so many places. I always leave this space refreshed and newly aware of those niggling thoughts that I so rarely am able to name. I needed these exact words today. I’m grateful!

  • Erin,
    I’ve been following along on your blog and listening to various podcast interviews you’ve done for several years now. I also read your incredible book, Chasing Slow. I am not yet a mother, but your words move me and make me think. This post especially moved right through me and when I finished reading I thought “wow. That was a work of art”. Then I started reading the comments and I saw the variety of responses this piece brought out of your readers. Some in agreement, others not. Isn’t that what real, raw art should do? Draw a real, human response from the real humans who experience/hear/read/watch it? This is what makes you a true artist with your words. You have something special and I just want to encourage you – keep going strong. This is good stuff. And thank you for keeping it real.

    • I agree with this comment. I was swept away in the feelings and ideas you expressed, Erin. I hope to read more of what you write.

    • I agree and couldn’t have expressed my thoughts better. Keep writing your heart, Erin.

    • Oh goodness, M, this perspective was such a balm today. Thank you for taking the time to share it with me. What a gift!

  • My children are now in high school and I remember some of the monotony of these early years and feeling the same way you describe. Although I LOVED being at home and being the one who made every decision and read every book – there were times I felt like I was drowning. When I went back to work it was because I couldn’t breathe. I got to the point where I felt like I was under water all the time. What transpired over that first year back was the realization that I had jumped at the chance to work full time – and that it had been a mistake for me. But through that experience I was able to find part-time work that nourished me and allowed me to be the kind of mom I wanted to be at the same time. Like someone else said, we are each unique in our personality and in our parenting and I would add – in the bandwidth and energy levels we have. I know so much more about myself now and what I need in order to thrive – and it’s a little of each – air and water. This was a beautiful expression of that. Thank you.

  • I so appreciate this post Erin!! Reading through it I was agreeing with you and could totally relate. With three children under 5 I often feel like I’m drowning in motherhood and don’t know who I am outside of being a full time parent. There is a pull to go back to work and do something else. However, I’ve discovered for me my tolerance for spinning lots of different plates is low and I do become more stressed and less emotionally available for my children when I take on work. Reading the negative comments about working Moms made me sad as I don’t think you were intentionally trying to talk about them in a negative way. I know lots of Mothers who are doctors, lawyers and business women and their tolerance for stress is a lot higher than mine. I respect them and applaud them for having the strength and energy to do both but I wish they would acknowledge that what I do at home is also important work. It’s my choice to live a slow and simple life and stay at home with my children. Neither is right or wrong. We are all created differently; different talents, personalities and strengths. Thank you for sharing xx

    • “We are all created differently; different talents, personalities and strengths.” –> Amen!!! Thanks, Rachel!

  • Loved this post. After my daughter was born, I tried to continue working full time from home. I found it wasn’t the work that was hard, but the constant tugging in different directions and feeling like I was never doing enough. My husband and I decided I would be a full-time mom and it’s worked wonderfully for our family so far. It’s hard to talk about it without feeling like I’m betraying other women or something, though. My husband’s career has taken off during this time and I’ve been able to be proud and feel like my support at home has allowed him to focus on what he’s doing. He travels a ton and I’m honestly not sure how we’d function if I were working outside of the home as well. I want women to be able to make the best choices for themselves and their families, but sometimes i feel like we now just have different choices that are the acceptable ones. I know I’m lucky to even have this option, but we also worked hard so that it is an option. We live somewhere with a cheaper cost of living while my family live on the west coast. We’re also in a small Home that we gutted and fixed up ourselves. We always banked my income before we had kids so we’d have the option of me staying home without being set back by losing an income. I do freelance here and there, but it’s nothing we can really count on.

    I’m now pregnant with baby 3 and I’m shocked how quickly these years are going. I look forward to a time where I’ll have the space to really pursue my other passions without feeling like I’m dropping all my other balls. Motherhood is important to me and while I know I’m imperfect and I would be whether or not I was working a job, I’m grateful for the opportunity to give it my focus. I’ve never been good at multi-tasking. But I also think about how much thought and prayer has gone into how we’re raising our children and I assume that’s how we all are. We all want what’s best and it’s different for everyone. It’s also a moving target. Kids grow and change and so do circumstances. What’s right today may not be next year. Thanks for sharing how it can feel as a mom. It’s so hard and so personal.

    • This is 100% me, Mary (well, except the pregnant with baby 3 — congrats, btw!!!). I so so appreciate you sharing your experience with me! Nodding along all the way…

  • Thank you for this post. I have just been feeling some of these feelings. Just last night, I had an hour or so to myself while my children went out with my husband. In years past, I would have seized the time for some project I couldn’t get done with kids underfoot, but last night, I found myself tidying their room, arranging their covers and their stuffed animals just right. Especially now, with three kids, I often don’t know what to say when the question “What are you up to?” comes up. I don’t have anything exciting to say. But, I’ve been realizing that even though it doesn’t make for good small talk, this work of motherhood of constructing and maintaining a safe place for little people to grow and question and struggle, this work is the most important, most fulfilling thing I have ever done, even when it looks like teaching a three-year-old to do laundry, admiring a bug on the sidewalk, or just staying calm when emotions explode.

    • This feels so so so SO true to where I am as well. Thank you for sharing it so beautifully, Phoebe.

  • My goodness. So beautiful and so true. I struggled to quit my career – it took me 5 years and I have regrets of time lost with my babies. But God is good and merciful and gave me an opportunity to homeschool. I do struggle daily to find balance with my freelance design work and schooling. And recently I have realized that doing something like learning to sew and quilt or cooking with my daughter, or sketching or calligraphy is quite necessary for me… and those little people in my household. It’s like a mini retreat and fills my soul a bit with something the Creator intended for me, as a creative. It’s how he made me and it IS air at times. I”ve also found, it can swing to feeling like drowning as well – when I let any kind of work/hobby take priority over my family. Balance. It’s hard for me.

    I love how you write and how it reads. It’s a little journey I seem to go on that always brings me to conclusion in my own life. Well done.

    • Right there with you, Stacey! I’ve found that homeschooling has offered so many opportunities to use my creativity that I hadn’t yet considered. Nature walks, “architecture” plans, painting portraits. I’ve been enjoying so much of it – the joy of art without the pressure of what materializes, I suppose. These kids have much to teach us, don’t they?

  • Your beautiful essay immediately took me back to my early days as a mother with children at home. That of coursed moved on to driving them everywhere, then watching from the audience, and eventually packing them up and waving goodbye. I’m a grandmother now. You expressed perfectly so many things I felt back then but I had long forgotten. I wish I could have known you then to share a virtual coffee break and chat. It made me think about how all that connects to how I feel now as a grandmother. Everyone says, and I agree, that it is so much better than being the parent. It is all dessert without having to eat your vegetables. But it is all good. All that you described underlies my perspective of joy now. And I wouldn’t want to change a thing.

    • Oh Panda, what a sweet and encouraging note. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (And thank you for mentoring the rest of us in the thick of it!)

  • Erin, love the essay and I can relate to it. I write, paint, and take on interior design projects from time to time. I have four children, three teenage boys, and a three- year old daughter. My days are full. I totally understand your reflections. There are days I miss work, but I know if I had a formal full- time job, I would constantly be questioning what I was giving up. I like that I can use my talents alongside being a stay at home Momma. God has given me those talents so I can have moments in my day to remember who I was before I became Momma. I love being Momma, but we do need to come up for air once in a while. I recently finished an interior design project that took so much time away from my babes. I felt a proud of my accomplishment, the before and after, and so happy I still had it, but I was also relieved to plunge back into the waters of motherhood. It gave me the reassurance that my children are my priority right now. I really enjoy your essays and much of what you write about resonates with me. Thank you.

  • Erin,
    I always love your writing. You thoughtfully and gracefully describe your personal journey down the path that many of us are on. I’m saddened by the judgement I hear in these previous comments. We are all in a different place, on a different day in this journey and we all deserve an extra helping of grace and love to help us along. Blessings.

  • Erin,
    I love how you write. Your writing is clear and also poetic…I can “see” the picture you are painting. I also sense a genuine and gentle soul trying to figure things out while at the same time confessing to your readers that you don’t have it all figured out. You are mindful and analytical. You are navigating the waters of your life. Love the metaphor.
    Thank you so much for sharing! Keep it up!
    Misunderstandings will happen. It’s the first rule of communication. What you write is leaving your laptop and passing through a filter of another’s life experiences and thought processes that have more to do with them. Sometimes as a reader we take your words and fold them into how we are feeling at the time. Thanks for letting us do that, by the way. It takes great trust on your part to allow us to do that and provide feedback. :) You sure are loved!!

    • Dear Erin,after months of reading you it is my first comment.What you wrote feels so true!
      I am a mother of two and I have tried working part-time,full time,I also working entirely
      when pregnant with my second child until she turned one.And I could have asked the same question as you ask for every period of my life:which is the air,which is the water?
      One of my friends has just had a baby and I told her :’wecome to the magical/terrifying world of parebthood!’ That’s how it feels to me, the proportions of magic and terror varying depending on the stage you have reached with your kids and the events you are going through.
      It’s like big waves, like sea tides.And sometimes being at work feels like a breath of air and some other times you feel like you’re drowning and going back home to see big grins makes you feel like you’re breathing again. Anyway you said it better than me.
      Thanks for writing words that are so raw and honest and sincere.
      Best wishes from snowy France x

      • This is so true, isn’t it? –> “And sometimes being at work feels like a breath of air and some other times you feel like you’re drowning and going back home to see big grins makes you feel like you’re breathing again.” I love your gift of perspective, Amandine — I have felt so much of your words!

    • Oh Marilyn, this was a salve! Thank you for taking the time to encourage my heart today, and I agree, it’s always an honor to allow others to fold themselves into my own experiences. Connection doesn’t have to mean agreement, and I’m so grateful for the many perspectives here. Yours was such a kind, uplifting comment. I can’t thank you enough.

  • “Enough strength in the reserves”, I relate to this insightful piece of truth more than I care to admit. I work outside our home full time, my toddler daughter is in great hands (grandmothers) but those hands are not my own, which is a point of contention between my soul and our reality. I’m an idealist, a creative, but so bent towards being a perfectionist. Honestly, for me it’s long held fears that cause me to cling to these tendencies and anxieties from my early years all muddled together like the least appetizing cocktail-but I keep on drinking it because if I change too much I’m afraid I’d be unrecognizable to some. I’m learning that I’m so drained because of the emotional aspect of motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, my child is high spirited, strong willed and does not sleep through the night still, however, it’s the emotional energy that flat drains me. I’m learning that these old mindsets are the toughest to overcome, these soul deep roots.

    I have no answers only that I relate, I think the truth is that despite us working in or outside the home or in whatever quantities we are all in this thing together and the ties that bind are so much stronger than those that don’t. I’m thankful for your transparency, please keep showing up and being honest, I read your blog like I would talk to my sister, only I’m the oldest and we’re in very different phases of life. I appreciate that this blog is a breath of fresh air all the time, but I appreciate even more the honesty. Any writer knows that’s all she’s really got-being brave enough to tell the truth.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve found that sometimes the energy reserves can only be replenished by creative work and though I rarely make the time it softens the rough edges and helps me be better for my people.

    I don’t know if you read hands free mama, I’m sure you have at some point, but one of her latest posts and this post are oddly similar not so much in content but in the feelings, it’s shown me that my desire to write and try to make a living from home will be met with circumstances that I had never considered and while I’m not elated to consider those things, I’m thankful for the perspective.

    • I can so so so very relate to so much of what you’ve said here, Erica! Thank you for reading as my older sis!!!! :) Cheering for this: “I have no answers only that I relate, I think the truth is that despite us working in or outside the home or in whatever quantities we are all in this thing together and the ties that bind are so much stronger than those that don’t.”

  • Seasons go quickly and you will never regret the reflection you are taking time for right now. I think that evaluation and reflection and awareness have a way of sweetening the bright spots and soothing the painful ones when handled correctly, and I so appreciated your words as I move out of the baby phase and into the school phase. At the same time, my life seasons right now are full of my children, but they are not only about my children, and I think your post recognizes that as well. Enjoyed your writing and the thoughts it provoked.

    • Thank you so much, Mandy — your words are so encouraging to me! “that evaluation and reflection and awareness have a way of sweetening the bright spots and soothing the painful ones when handled correctly…” <-- such a beautiful way to put this! I've definitely witnessed this in my own life. Biggest hugs to you!

  • SO beautifully written. Thank you, Erin. I totally see now, why our mothers and mother’s mother engage in tasks that are interruptible. Because those interruptions are beautiful — not an obstacle. Not an inconvenient. It’s all the fabric of a day – all of it. The intensity of it all. Sometimes it can be air and sometimes it can be water. Thank you for this.

  • Erin-

    Your willingness to speak about the internal struggle of being a mother is such a gift to us, your readers. As a mom, newly back to working outside the home, I have those same feelings of divided attention. It’s not a judgment, just a noticing of the shift that occurs when you have specific responsibilities outside the realm of your home. I was taken aback by the commenters that felt judged by this essay. In all your essays and writing, I feel grace and kindness. Thank you again for sharing your real, messy, not easy to categorize thoughts and feeling with your readers.

    • Thank you so much, Susan, for reading this with grace and kindness. What a gift your note was to me.

  • Hi Erin,
    I have been following your blog for a only few months … but find it refreshing, honest, funny and truly illuminating. I am sure I was led here even though my conscious search was for design sites.
    This post in particular … including the comments section, I found really interesting … so much of what I have thought, heard and even experienced (via being the aunt babysitter and even the child of a mom who did both … stayed at home (real work as you know!) AND then went back to work when I was four or five.
    I DO realize too that it is somewhat of a luxury to even be able to have a choice … most mothers I know HAVE to work (outside of the home/children) for financial reasons and in the U.S. are even ‘pushed’ back to work much sooner than they truly want to, by a system that does not support working families or even new parents in general! … so yeah, I know a ton of mothers who have two jobs (one inside the home and one outside … even if they honestly and truly would rather not. I have so many friends and family that are then literally forced to make peace with the situation. The most supported it seems by a collective village of other mothers seems to work the best (where children are cared for by women who are ‘at home’ or who out of need themselves, now provide this safe space and big support for mothers and families. I think it can also make ‘all the difference in the world’ to many mothers when their workplace includes a real understanding of how supporting mothers is most often really helpful to the quality of her work and even the morale and bottom line of many businesses and organizations.

    I only pray that women find real peace and clarity about this journey of ‘no rights and wrongs’ by reading your post. (I am sharing it with many!). As for those mothers who feel it is somehow an affront to working mothers, I have grown up in a community and culture that recognizes ALL mothers are WORKING mothers. Many of my friends are reawakened to this reality when they begin to list on their resume the many skills they have developed and strengthened and learned directly from their experiences as mothers!

    But if and when or for whatever reason a mother finds she needs or wants to work in addition to or ‘outside’ of the home; including for her own spirit and self (who is afterall more than ‘just’ a mother, I think then it is truly important as women … that we all support her emotionally as much as we can … and being honest about our own experiences and how we felt along the way is key to being true and honest to women.

    I see no judging in your post, and urge any woman who feels this, to maybe consider looking deep inside at why she feels you (or others) don’t understand. I think there is room for a lot of self forgiveness and releasing of guilt and I do believe reading blogs like yours (and the many comments, will illuminate the reality that they are not wrong or ‘doing it wrong’ … (perhaps a deep feeling they have inside of themselves right now). I have worked specifically in Mothering programs and with tons of mothers (employees and the many mothers and families our agency served) and I see this blog and subject as such an important part in helping mothers feel at peace … or the path to peace on the journey of parenting.

    But I do think it is very very healthy and important to be able to get in touch with how you feel every step of the way, realizing that will change as the babies grow and that there is no ‘right’ way to parent. Much of this I was not clear on over many years of the ‘wrong’ man/potential father and mate, extreme loss of many women/mothers in my own family and community and more … all that led me to not seek out the support that may have had me considering motherhood in a more supportive light in ‘my era’ … vs what used to be or what was there for so many I knew in my mother and much older sister’s generation.
    Your heart as you probably already know is the one to follow! I pray for huge creativity and power and deep support from community, family and any other magical safe sources … to raise children … a healthy village and country to surround mothers, families and children. I also pray for this for myself.

    Looking at the possibility, (a truly surprising one!) … to parent for the first time … in my early fifties (maybe through adoption), I am filled with a deep respect and love for my own mother and many of the other mothers I have had and known along the way. Sacred, Powerful, Deeply Creative, Physically and Emotionally Exhausting and Messy work can be challenging and blissful all rolled into one. When I think of mothers I think ‘Courageous’ ‘Experimental’ ‘On the Job Training’ sacrifice and love … but also a reminder to honor the need to nourish and mother ourselves as well.

    • LemLem — what a beautiful, thoughtful comment. Thank you for encouraging so many of us here with such a loving perspective. When I read your note, I couldn’t help but think of Louise Erdrichs’ words on the blessings of aunts and a child’s greater network (just googled to get it right!) –>: “Women without children are also the best of mothers,often, with the patience,interest, and saving grace that the constant relationship with children cannot always sustain. I come to crave our talk and our daughters gain precious aunts. Women who are not mothering their own children have the clarity and focus to see deeply into the character of children webbed by family. A child is fortunante who feels witnessed as a person, outside relationships with parents by another adult.”

      Thank you for being this witness for so many, and sending blessings at the possibility to parent for the first time!!!!!! :)

  • Thank you for sharing your heart here! You put into words what I so often feel. I just wanted to say thank you and I get it!

  • Wow! Erin I love all your posts but this one was like a soothing balm for my soul. I read it while cradling my 3 month old and contemplating all the tasks left un finished today. Even though I’m definitely struggling to stay on top of my work obligations I know how blessed I am to be present with my baby as this time with him is so precious and fleeting. You captured the beauty of this passage in time perfectly.

  • All of this. And then there is the energy. Do I have anymore? Can I start all over? Is there air for me? Am I young enough still? Am I too old? Will this be all that is left of me, wrung out of me? Did I miss something? Or was this the everything?

  • Erin – I have to disagree with Fredie. In reading your post, I felt both impressed by you and your contentedness with where your life is at; and also understanding, as though you were telling me exactly what I need to hear right now.
    Life is overwhelming – I have a part time job, and two littles, and my older one is home today not feeling well; I have the guilt of not being at work, and cancelling and rescheduling and “dumping” work on colleagues, and yet I know, home with him is where I want to be. I could have sent him to school, probably, but how does that help anyone? He feels lousy, he would pass on germs, and I would feel guilty being at work, with my mind on him and how he is feeling.
    I am so grateful to have found your blog, some time ago, because so often when I am doubting myself, my choices, my ability as a mom, I go to your site, read your words, and feel reassured, feel better, feel love. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Monica. I can relate so so much to your thoughts here, and am just so encouraged that you’ve found a nice resting place in this site. Sending big hugs (and get well soon blessings to your sweet son!).

  • Oh my, this was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heart so beautifully. This resonated so deeply with me today. Don’t stop writing, you have an amazing gift.

  • I enjoyed reading this Erin, even though I am not a mother yet. After reading i was thinking to myself that, “Being in the water” can be any other situation like when you are stuck in a rut, those stagnant phases where you feel like you are withering away or even a job you love and give all of you, but you don’t know who you are outside this job.

    I’m these scenarios stepping away from the job that has taken over your identity or making some changes to bring some life back until your routine (and ljfe) after being stagnant for so long can give that much needed air we may be knowingly or unknowingly craving.

    Well, this is how this piece spoke to me. First time on your blog and I like jt:)


    • I enjoyed reading this Erin, even though I am not a mother yet. After reading i was thinking to myself that, “being in the water” can be any other situation like when you are stuck in a rut, those stagnant phases where you feel like you are withering away or even a job you love and give all of you, but you don’t know who you are outside this job.

      In these scenarios, stepping away from the job that has taken over your identity or making some changes to bring some life back into your routine (and life) after being stagnant for so long can give that much needed air we may be knowingly or unknowingly craving.

      Well, this is how this piece spoke to me. First time on your blog and I like it:) I see that different people received different messages from this piece which I think makes it a great piece of art! (Sorry for double posting…I’ll figure out soon how to delete the previous message which escaped with all its typos haha)

  • This is beautiful and deep and true. As a mother for 21 years now, devoted as I know to be, your words resonate. Thank you for your authenticity. I’ve kept this window open to read later to my husband. I feel like I’ve tried to express these types of thoughts unsuccessfully at times, and I have hope that this will help communicate my profound gratitude for my life and responsibilities and joys even it is more in retrospect now on the parenting of young ones. It all feels so complicated and so simple at once, the water and the air, and you somehow breathe these words that make me look back and say yes.

    • What a kind note to share with me, Amy – I’m so happy these words resonate with you as well. Biggest hugs your way. :)

  • So many of these words resonate with me in every way. I’m nine months into motherhood and I have often told my husband that I feel like this journey has been the hardest, scariest one yet but it’s also my favorite. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done with my life while at the same time seems to have stolen away what my life once was. It’s a beautiful juxtaposition that I crave after my babe finally finds sleep at night.

  • I am in the transition of closing up my business and finishing up with my last clients in order to be undivided at home. Oh, goodness, these words speak everything that has been on my heart lately. Thank you for saying all the things I’ve been thinking (in a much more elegant way ;)

    • You’re so welcome, Bri, and I can’t wait to hear of your next adventures! Blessings on a new season. :)

  • Reading this a few days after it was posted, worn and tired from signing a larger contract this year than I ever have. With two in school and one at home, I thought it was time to step it back up in the work department. I wanted to. Feeling lucky that my contract allows me to work from home, I had this grand dream that I could be all in mommy by day and all in the graphic designer by night. And then this …

    “And yet, full-time work stirs up so much murk in the waters – that ambiguous tread of loyalty. It’s difficult to devote full efforts to a project and not see 4 am cries and requests for duplicate bedtime stories as an inconvenience.”

    Ugg, tears actually fell from my eyes. I felt this way last week, and I feel so guilty about it. I want both so badly. As I finish writing this I hear my little waking up from his nap. Time to shut down the computer until the sun goes down and the moon goes up – I know without a doubt I am doing what I am supposed to be doing (working almost full time from home, while still being full-time mommy to my 2-year-old for one more year) but I have not found that air part yet, only the water ….

    • Oh Jenn, I’ve been there, and I pray that until you’ll find a gust of wind, little air pockets will form throughout your day so you can catch your breath. This might sound crazy, but do you have a bird feeder? It’s made a big difference over here (for me at least). Wrote about it here. Sending love and blessings to you.

  • While motherhood has been a challenge, I wouldn’t change a thing.

  • “Is motherhood the water? Or is it the air?”

    Oh, Erin. This is it. How do you know exactly how to articulate this push/pull in motherhood? This question will haunt me, in all the good ways. Makes me want to put brush to canvas, needle to thread, and pen to paper all at once. Thank you.

  • I had a ballet teacher once berate me for not being “mentally present” in class. He yelled “i can’t figure you out! it looks like you’re always listening and paying attention, but you aren’t! you aren’t here! you are NOT paying attention!”. It still haunts me to this day…

    Thank you for sharing!

  • My heart resonates with this so so much-the dichotomy of where I am today as a stay at home mommy, to where I was yesterday (figurately) when I tried so hard to juggle being a present mommy and doing a job I loved. The deep dive into motherhood isn’t a sad thing but there’s a weight to choice and there is a deeper understanding of the joy, that may come across as sorrow or sadness-but it’s not. It’s a mature, resounding joy. I think your tone hits this complex but beautiful season (for me at least) season so perfectly; thank you!!

    • Oh Sally, thank you for this encouragement – so appreciate that this post resonated for you in tone and in words!

  • Erin,
    Thank you for sharing your heart and being vulnerable as you plod through the waters of motherhood. Your honesty and love for your work and your littles shines through. I am grateful for your words and how they softly speak to my heart in a way I didn’t know it needed spoken to. Keep writing, keep sharing. You encourage me.

  • I’m not certain I can find the correct allotment of words to express my profound gratitude to you this morning.

    You found the words I’ve been lacking for so long. Thank you, kind stranger on the internet.

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