Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Christie O. Tate's essay, Tornado Drill Position, and Odeta Xheka's essay, At the Kitchen Table Where Miracles Happen. We asked, "How do you, as a mother and a writer, make space for all the things that matter and get to a place where you can live out multiple versions of yourself on the page?" Below is Melissa Kutsche’s response.
In the Margins
by Melissa Kutsche
"What are your hobbies?" reads the questionnaire, part of an icebreaker at a "Mom's Night Out" event at our church. I respond on autopilot: dancing and writing. I've loved dance for longer than anything else, taking weekly classes and performing on stage since the age of three. My passion for dance cannot overcome the sense of fraud I feel, however, for listing it as a hobby; I haven't danced formally in years. I review what I've written and realize that, like dance, writing could hardly be called a hobby. The only stories I've crafted lately are bedtime stories about unicorns and dinosaurs.
Before having children, I carved out room for creative pursuits without compromise. I have failed to do the same since becoming a mother. I see beauty in my role as a mother, yet it leaves a cluttered wake of unpredictability and chaos. I'm at a loss as to how to clear the melange and make space again for creativity.
The questionnaire is on my mind later that week as I help my three-year-old into her ballet slippers. That night after the kids are in bed, I dig my own ballet shoes out of retirement and try them on. Flex, point, flex, point. How do I find space for hobbies again? I know that my daughter’s instructor runs an adult class and that the first time is free. If I can make time to take my child to dance once a week, perhaps I can find an hour for myself as well.
Battement. Assemblé. Échappé. I have forgotten much of the French vocabulary and instead rely on mimicking the instructor's movements to keep up with the choreography. Although I lack the litheness of my youth, I am invigorated by each leap, no matter how low and labored. I am paying double for this lesson in humility, once for the class tuition and again for the babysitter watching my two young children. I wonder if it will be worth the cost, knowing I am probably going to pay a third time in the form of physical pain. On my walk home, though, I recognize a part of myself that I haven't felt since becoming a mom.
As my ballet classes continue, I find myself ready for another creative movement, this one of words and stories. I fill journal pages with the joys and challenges of motherhood. I find catharsis in the stories that pour out, along with a desire to share them with others. I take a writing workshop and join a group for mother writers. I take the advice of these women: "write in the margins." I keep a notebook with me at all times, writing while my children play in the bathtub, jotting down ideas while they run through the backyard. I move Lego bricks and coloring pages off of my desk so I can edit an essay during nap time.
Underneath the chaos of parenting littles, I uncover gleaming bits of pain and beauty, morsels to chew on with pen to paper. Motherhood takes up a lot of room, but it also gives. It has given me a new identity as well as the courage to open up on the page in the way that I once did on stage. Writing about motherhood has opened up parts of me long dormant, just as that ballet class did several years ago.
The scales are never balanced; motherhood always weighs heavier, stands larger, crowds other pursuits into the margins. But somehow, even in the margins, I have found enough space to dance and to write again.
Melissa Kutsche is originally from Michigan and currently lives in Las Vegas. A former educator and academic advisor, she now spends her days at home with her young children. Melissa's essays and poetry have been published by Mothers Always Write, Coffee + Crumbs, and Walloon Writers Review, among others. She enjoys afternoon lattes, bookstores, and sweater weather.