The well-groomed house as a work of art. The five-course meal as sublimated art. The well-behaved child as objet d’art.
– Carmen Giménez Smith in Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work and Everything Else.
In a matter of months, what had been the centre of my world — namely, my passion for art — became so flimsy and irrelevant it seemed close to total collapse. I didn’t know if I had what it took to demand all that I had to demand of myself, and of everyone around me, in order to write. I had to rail against my own instinct to admit defeat.
Sometimes a thrilling sense of lightness washed through me: finally I was being given permission to retreat into a ‘normal’ life, free from the burden of the artistic imperative, of that constant desire to record everything almost before it’s happened. Together my babies and I floated around the house, equally delighted by their small discoveries, me vicariously reliving my own babyhood and feeling humbled by the insight that someone had cared for me with this same constancy and devotion.
As they got older, I became more and more aware that those days when I sank into my children’s routine without resistance — when I spent hours building sandcastles or reading the same book over and over again; when I let them cook with me no matter the mess, or turned off my ‘adult’ radio station in favour of Raffi and Patsy Biscoe — were our happiest. Not just their happiest, but also mine. But it was a state reliant on the denial of that niggling compulsion to always be turning my experiences into something else, something more.
A year after my first child was born, I wrote in my journal (the same ‘writing’ journal that has as its first line on its first page in red texta: ‘Whole house — clean!!’):
– Rachel Power in The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood.
But I was struggling to bring my life into focus. I had never really given up on poetry, nor on gaining some control over my existence. The life of a Cambridge tenement backyard swarming with children, the repetitious cycles of laundry, the night wakings, the interrupted moments of peace or of engagement with ideas, the ludicrous dinner parties at which young wives, some with advanced degrees, all seriously and intelligently dedicated to their children’s welfare and their husbands’ careers, attempted to reproduce the amenities of Brahmin Boston, amid French recipes and the pretense of effortlessness – above all, the ultimate lack of seriousness with which women were regarded in that world – all of this defied analysis at that time but I knew I had to remake my own life. I did not then understand that we – the women of that academic community – as in so many middle-class communities of the period – were expected to fill both the part of the Victorian Lady of Leisure, the Angel in the House, and also of the Victorian cook, scullery maid, laundress, governess, and nurse. I only sensed that there were false distractions sucking at me, and I wanted desperately to strip my life down to what was essential.
– Adrienne Rich in Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution.