Look at me! Can I Do It?

This month I am delighted to invite Heidi Hollis, mother, writer, dramatist and Bristol MWM hub facilitator, to write our ‘Question for the Month’. Over to Heidi…..

I’m deep in thought, trying to communicate with someone via my mobile phone about an issue at my house while 60-odd miles away. 

And then the voices tintinnabulate. (Yes, I used the internet to find that word – a light clear ringing sound like bells. The unmistakable peeling of children’s voices multiplying as their chirps resonate in my already full head.) ‘Mummy, look at me!’ 'No Mummy, watch me! Watch me do this!’ and 'Mummy will you help me?’ 

My just turned seven-year-old twins are climbing around on the playground structures. The notice at the gate says this playground is for children 8 and up, but my two feel capable in themselves at the outset, and want to have a go. 

And some of it is challenging. My eldest is short for her age, and so her legs don’t reach quite so far as her sister’s when attempting to traverse up a triangular frame onto a platform. She struggles. And if I divert my gaze back onto my screen, she is quick to express her need for my attention, even though we are all pretty confident that She Can Do It. I watch and praise, ready to suggest alternative footing or handholds. She is working it out. And yes, she does it. Without any real assistance. 

Except my gaze. I’m watching. This is essential. Her sister regularly interrupts with insistence that I watch her too, and I know this is not just sibling rivalry – they are setting themselves the test of doing something under the pressure of an audience, not knowing yet if they are capable or not. They want to test themselves, how quickly or effortlessly they can do it. It’s the watching they want. 

Later the eldest tackles a set of high bars requiring balance to shift back and forth in order to get across the length of the apparatus. 'Can you help me?’ she asks. But it’s clear she needs no help really. She doesn’t need me to hold her hand or coach her. She needs me to watch. To witness, to honour her effort and be ready to help if she does need it. To invest my attention in her learning and doing. Mostly, just to watch attentively. 

For me this connects directly to so many conversations I’ve had with other Mother Makers recently. They say so many things about not being sure of their capabilities, despite knowing deep down that they are capable. But are they capable in the context in which they find themselves? I know for me it feels very daunting territory. 

Some things I hear, or have said to myself: 

I’ve been out of the studio since she was born – that’s nearly 2 years now.

I’m worried that when I go back to my work, I really HAVE to produce something. I can’t just muck around. 

Am I any good at it anymore? 

Will I have any ideas for my next project? 

Will I have time to do anything justice? 

How will I manage to focus on the creative work when all I can think about is how he’s getting on with whoever is looking after him?

How will I know if it is any good? 

Some of this is the natural territory of the creative, particularly the creative freelancer. But all these questions take on a heightened status after children are in the context. And children are of course not the only part of life presenting challenges – there may be housing issues (seems like this is a current theme), elderly parents, health issues for children, parents, self or spouse, and not forgetting the spouse and all the things he/she may bring as another human facing challenges. 

In these contexts, it can be a very awkwardly brave thing to say 'I am capable! I Can Do It!’ 

It seems to me that the pressure to produce professional standard work when we feel we have not enough experience of doing so within the current context sets us up for all those self-doubtful conversations we might have in our heads. 

Is this so different to stretching physically and attempting to scale a new structure with which we have no experience? 

So … what if my kids have got the right idea?  What if being visible during the making process is an essential part of the creative development of a piece or project? Especially when it’s territory we’ve not been in before. 

Here is a possible conversation to have together with other mother/makers, with yourself in your own space, or with a close associate. 

·      What about your work needs to be seen and witnessed? 

·      How would this visibility help? What effect will it have on you for part of your process or work-in-progress to be seen? 

·      What audience (person, group, institution) can you trust to show the raw, unfinished, messy stuff that you are working with? 

·      What kind of visibility do you crave? Can you create that? 

·      Do you see connections to others who might need visibility, and can you provide it to each other? 

For me, I feel some comfort knowing that it’s ok to not have everything polished and perfectly presented. In fact, the idea of 'finished’ work seems quite alien somehow… more and more of my work feels just like more work-in-progress, sometimes further along and sometimes less. It is the visibility that matters. Marketeer Seth Godin calls this 'Shipping’ – yes I need to do my homework, hone my craft and create my product, but at the end of the day I have to Ship It. Make it visible. The only questions are about when, and how often, and to whom I make it visible. 

I don’t want to let invisibility become an option.