Before I became a mother, people were always trying to warn me about how much my life was going to change. In particular, they loved to tell me how they (and, by extension, I) would never again have enough time. “Whether I’m at home or at work, I feel like I never have enough time for anyone,” they’d say. “Never mind finding the time to clean the bathroom.” And time for themselves? “Forget it. I haven’t had time to read a novel since my oldest was born. Ten years ago.”
As someone who has been on a lifelong quest to balance a dizzying number of passions, I found these warnings daunting. Even though I knew I was ready for the shift in roles and priorities, I wondered: how would I find enough time for all of the wonderful pursuits that fulfill me and make me the person I am? Of particular concern, how would I find enough time to express my artistic self while trying to balance motherhood, marriage, and a part-time job? What if the vital creative part of me suddenly went missing, and worse yet, what if I didn’t even notice that part was missing before waking up one day to realize that I couldn’t breathe without it?
I spent a lot of time thinking about this during the last few weeks of my pregnancy, when I could barely walk down the basement stairs on my swollen legs, never mind tap dance. And I spent some time thinking about it while I was recovering from the birth and blissfully nesting with my new family. But it wasn’t until the first time I put my tap shoes back on that I realized: I don’t have time anymore. It’s just that it’s not the dancing I don’t have time for.
Now that time is more compressed and more valuable than ever before, I don’t have time to be a perfectionist. I used to spend hours in the studio fretting over a piece of choreography or reworking a new time step. Studios all around the city are haunted by the ghosts of my abandoned ideas, ideas that were worthwhile but never allowed to live a real life. I can’t get back those abandoned ideas, or the time I spent with them. And given the fraction of that time that I have now, if I don’t settle on an imperfect dance phrase or hit send on this blog post, I will end up inadvertently retired from my beloved dance and writing careers. This doesn’t mean every idea of mine can or should make it out of the studio or off my computer screen, but it does mean that I have a compelling reason to silence my inner critic and to let even imperfect work have a chance to speak.
I don’t have time to conform to others’ expectations of who I should be as a dancer. This has always been a tricky one for me, because the art form with which I have fallen in love has both a rich historical tradition and a very specific popular face. These ground our art form, but also sometimes limit us as artists (more on this in a future post). For many of us, they give rise to worries about whether we look and sound the way we’re “supposed” to, whether we’re doing the right tricks, whether we’re wearing the right pair of shoes. But when I was ready to abandon my pregnancy shoes (the half-priced ones I bought when I could no longer stuff my sausage feet into any others), I reached straight for my favorite tap shoes: the ones that aren’t trendy but that feel and sound most comfortable. And I pulled out of my pocket (as we say in tap lingo) my favorite steps, not the flashy ones that other dancers of my generation do, but the ones that feel most like me. My feet don’t have time to belong to anyone else.
I don’t have time to worry about what size my pants are, or how flat my stomach is. Many of us women get caught up in these so-called values, but their importance is often magnified for dancers, because our bodies are the vehicle through which we display our art. However, after a few months of not dancing, and a few months before that of dancing with a body that obviously (and joyfully) proclaimed another great purpose, it had become clear to me that my body has so much more to express than a scripted, two-dimensional image of beauty. This body is my instrument, and it has well worn grooves and banged up parts and subtle sweet spots just like a guitar or a trumpet. And if I’m going to continue to express myself as a dancer, I don’t have the time to worry about whether or not the wood is perfectly smooth or the brass is perfectly shiny.
Every day, it seems, I’m finding something else I don’t have time for. And I’m simultaneously finding that I am more focused, more present, and more fulfilled than ever before, both as a mother and as a creative being. Because I do have time – I make time – for the things that nurture me as a person, which in turn allow me to nurture my family. It’s only by making time for those precious creative moments that I can be the person they need me to be.
The truth is that, whether we’re mothers or not, none of us have time for the distracting and destructive thoughts – our own and others’ – if we’re going to own our creativity and ourselves. What don’t you have time for? And if you got rid of it, what other priorities could you make time for?
Savoring the time,
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