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When motherhood happens

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A change has gotten over me these past few years. I am no longer quite myself. I am no longer the prolific writer that I used to be. Nowadays, I hardly write. Except for the self-imposed weekend breaks, I used to produce one article every day. But it’s getting harder and harder to try to explain to my editors why I can’t meet my deadline. I think of the mountain of laundry waiting for me, a First Holy Communion banner that is due in a few days, and the Easter Egg hunt that needs to be organized. These reasons sound lame.

I was the writer that editors can always rely on to deliver. I hardly ever turn down an assignment. Doing so makes me feel like I am missing out on something. But these days, I find myself turning down assignments more often. And it’s okay. There is a sense of liberation, knowing that in the morning, when I wake up, I don’t have a deadline to worry about. There is now more time to play.

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There is also another reason, and it’s simple. The fact is, I can no longer write. I was never the one to ever run out of ideas or stories to pitch. But lately my ideas have been uninspired. The muse, who once was my constant loyal companion, has abandoned me. Perhaps it is jealous of the time I spend with my children. Maybe she loathes the fact that I find more pleasure in capturing magical moments with my boys over the joy of finding a line to start another journey on paper with. I rejoice over the fact that I’ve finally found – after days of digging in boxes of toys – the long-lost giraffe from a wooden puzzle. A blank page, what used to be a promise of possibilities, is now just that – an empty page. I am now more excited by the fact that the baby is now wearing his big brother’s first pair of shoes. These now are the things that make my soul sing. The jumble of words in my head effortlessly finding each other to make music and meaning has lost its tune.

My life has become the mundane. I used to explore different worlds every day, worlds that not everyone has the means or the courage to explore – in food trucks or holes-in-the-wall to find the perfect tacos al carbon, 120 feet under the sea to commune with clown fishes, or in the Red Planet to look for evidence of life. My stories – fact or fiction – bring me every where, and it is always something different that makes the blood rush.

But today, the adrenaline comes from a mad rush to get everything done as soon the littlest one falls asleep. I have about two hours to eat, shower, and clean without a toddler hanging on my leg, demanding something. If I was lucky, I would have a little time to catch up with family and friends back home on social media, maybe a little photo processing, my form of adult coloring. Before long, I would hear some rustling. Occasionally, I would hear him sing to himself, and I would reluctantly pull away from the computer. But when I walk into the room and his little head pops out of the soft cloud of covers, I am overwhelmed with warmth. I slide under the blanket with him, and suddenly I forget about the unanswered email or the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. This is where I belong.

Bedtime is a different story with the older one. Lately, I have been feeling him slipping away. He is growing up too quickly. He thinks he’s twelve, not eight. And bedtimes, when I tuck him in with a book to read, is my way of holding on to the last few shreds of his childhood, when he is most vulnerable and sidles up close to me or puts his head on my shoulder as I read. This is when he forgets that he is too cool to kiss his mother goodbye at the school drop off. After we turn out the lights and say our prayers, I lie next to him for a bit, thinking of what fun little note will I slip in his lunch box this time. It must be something cute but cool that he would proudly show off to his classmates. My mind runs off as I go down my mental list of things that I have to do that I never have enough time for. It is not long before I hear his even breathing and I carefully sneak out of bed, but before I reach the door, I hear him say softly in that sweet voice that reminds me of when he was three, “goodnight, momma.” My chest swells.

How has my life become so trivial? How have I become so domesticated? What has happened to me, I often wonder, although I already know the answer.

Love is what happened. But it’s not the kind of love that sends shivers down the back or a tickle in the gut. It’s the kind that pushes you deeper into the covers to revel in the little one’s warmth, hoping to get a whiff of his baby breath. There is no rushing of the blood or the mad thudding in the chest.

It’s not the kind that makes you bloom or blush either, rather it sucks the youth out of you, leaving you with dark circles under the eyes and lines on your forehead, because of the many sleepless nights, because between soccer practice and playdates, there is little time to take care of yourself. Never mind a facial. How about a haircut that is at least a year overdue?

It’s the kind that gives you a crick in the neck and an arm half asleep as they both try to crawl in bed with you early in the morning, snuggled up so close, squishing you right in the middle, that you can hardly breath. It is not the most comfortable of positions, but you lie still. You take in the smell of the sun on the little one’s hair and listen to the other one softly sighing in his sleep.

It is the kind that makes you want to grit your teeth, biting down the scream or the cuss word wishing to escape from your mouth because the youngest has broken the terrarium that you’ve had for over a year now, a feat in itself, considering you can hardly grow anything. But then he looks up at you with his big bright eyes fringed by dark lashes, and you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. You pick him up from the floor littered with broken glass and think, this one will flourish better than the succulents already starting to wilt on the floor. But first, the floors need to be swept. The crayon scribbles on the wall can be scrubbed later.

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This kind of love no longer makes me feel reluctant to leave my camera at home. A friend had once noted that the DSLR is my left hand; I never leave home without it. Nowadays, I have mastered the art of capturing memories in my heart, of being in the moment instead of obsessing over the perfect light. And this kind of love is the kind that doesn’t leave me sad because I am no longer writing. My boys are my unpublished novel, the book that is always in progress. Every day I write our story.

And just as it makes my heart flutter, it also breaks my heart on a daily basis when the older one runs out the door to play with friends, without bothering to look back. And then again when the younger one breaks free from my embrace to run to his daddy’s arm’s instead because there is a fistful of jelly beans waiting. But then I am comforted by the fact that when night comes, they will return to me, the older one wanting to be read to, and the youngest one expecting a lullaby while he stares up at me like I was his universe. At that moment they are mine again, completely, if only for a moment.

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The Philippine Daily Inquirer is the publication that gave Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes her break in journalism over 15 years ago. She has been a widely published magazine editor and writer here and abroad since then. After all these years, she comes full circle and returns to writing through INQUIRER.net. And it is only fitting that she writes about love, she believes, for the art and for her beloved ones who took her away from the art. She said, “I always come back to what I love.”

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Posted by INQUIRER.net on Wednesday, February 13, 2019

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