Feverfew Tea, Task Switching and Decision Fatigue
Charlie has wondered over to where I sit on the porch with a handful of feverfew flowers. "Can we make tea from these, Mom?" she asks. Now that's she's four, she doesn't forget what I tell her, and she's curious about everything in the garden. That's why she knows and remembers what I told her about making tea with feverfew leaves, and she wants me to do it with her.
The problem is, I've finally sat down to write. I already have a draft going, and Charlie's question is the latest of a string of interruptions. I've already changed a diaper, applied sunscreen, stopped a ruthless flower-picker from decimating the dahlias, settled a few disputes, rescued the toddler from the top of the slide... (the list could go on). I'm used to it as a work-at-home mom and a freelance writer: this is how I work. Most days, like now, instead of being "productive" and writing, I'm on a rabbit trail within a rabbit rail, so it's not unusual for me to find myself searching the internet for feverfew tea recipes and making sure what I have growing in my garden is definitely feverfew and ensuring Charlie's request won't make us sick and debating whether to tell her no or wait or yes. There's competing guilt on both sides of my yeses and no's; on the one hand, I hate to deny my daughter's inquisitiveness and miss an opportunity to connect. On the other hand, I feel a tug in the back of my mind every time I put down my creative work. That's why work work—my writing that pays the bills more consistently—wins most often. It's hard to say no to my kids so I can sit at a computer and write for pennies and personal satisfaction.
When I write for work, my audience is usually an entrepreneurial one: they're business leaders who are concerned about the bottom line and bang for buck and optimization and all those other buzzwords. Because of this, I've read more than my fair share of productivity articles. Every single one of them makes me want to throw a nearby sippy cup at my laptop or cry or yell or all three. Stay focused and don't try to multitask, they tell me. Task switching decreases your productivity by three billion percent.* Simplify your day and reduce unnecessary decision-making to avoid fatigue. It sounds nice—and it all makes sense. It's not in the cards for me.
I'm careful not to complain too much about my lifestyle; I know I'm privileged to choose a smaller income in exchange for working from home and spending more time with my kids. And for the most part, I like the balance I've found and am grateful for this life. I wish, though, that motherhood didn't make my creative life suffer quite so much. The sensory overload of parenting young kids—of the constant interruptions, requests, noise, and needs—makes my writing brain shrivel up and demand a nap. As much as motherhood has fueled my writing by inspiring, teaching, and pushing me, it has also deprived me of the one thing my creative life covets most: blank space.
Even with my best intentions and planning, the demands of parenthood often steal blank space from my life. Today is perfect example: I had scheduled child care so I could spend the day at a marketing event investing in my professional growth. By the wee hours on the morning of the event, I already had a feeling I'd have to cancel while I held my feverish daughter and measured out a dose of Tylenol. I spent the morning in urgent care instead of in an office, sweats instead of a blazer, gulping coffee instead of networking over lunch. I'm grateful I have the flexibility to say yes to staying home with my kids—I'm also disappointed to have to say no so often to work and writing. It's a both and situation: I am both grateful for this season and struggling to navigate it.
I like to imagine that I'm developing valuable skills during this season. Maybe being forced to calm my mind and write during the sensory overload and chaos of mothering young kids will be the equivalent of training for a marathon at elevation. Maybe when my kids are older writing will feel somehow easier, like I've trained with an impediment and now I'm free of it. Either way, I know I'm in the years of squeezing writing and work in between runny noses and feverfew tea. Writing is here for me now, and it will be later on, too.