What is the Ennui-mom life?

At first, motherhood is an endlessly fascinating state of being. There are those first few years of discoveries: first smiles, first laughs, first solid food, first steps–your children bring a rainbow of novelty to your life as you hold their chubby hands and experience the newness of the world with them.

But then, at some point, the gray tedium of parenting sets in.

ennui-mom life
Forty rounds of Go Fish had Sue reach for her bong.
Tess’s brain exploded from the Disney theme song.The endless, Sisyphean tasks of feedings, bathings, launderings–oh, the infinite launderings.The matter-of-fact removal of enough body fluids off the carpet to qualify you as a one-woman crime-scene clean-up unit.

The extensive discussions about naps and nursing with other women who are similarly drained by the exhausting day-to-day of child-rearing.

Your every spare moment, when you aren’t at work, is devoted to intense training to become a Gold Medalist in the Mom Olympic.  In your quest for maternal perfection, you desperately consult Pinterest for “creative” ideas on how to make bento boxes for your children’s school lunches, and you realize something: this is someone else’s idea of creativity, not your own.

None of this is helping you to feel whole. None of this is helping you stop the boredom.

No, it’s hurting.

Like a mother.

Kate was held captive when attachment parenting went too far.
Fights over homework made Leigh re-enact The Bell Jar.

We’re going to let you in on a secret: the humdrum mundanity of modern motherhood isn’t your enemy.

You aren’t bored because you aren’t doing enough for your family.

You’re not boring because you lack creativity.

You’re bored because you’re not finding something fun and fulfilling for yourself.

According to creativity expert and all-around clever Aussie Genevieve Bell, boredom isn’t a symptom of not having enough to do, but a symptom of being overwhelmed with choices that simply don’t motivate you. For us, ensconced in the doldrums of modern parenting, boredom became the mother of creativity.

Here’s how we made that discovery:

“An abundance of snow days deflated Mary’s esprit.
Browsing parenting books, Neve died of ennui.”

The mom-ennui. That’s what it is.

That was the text that I (Jennifer) sent to Lauren—my friend for close to 30 years– while waiting outside my son’s saxophone lesson.  I’d trained my ears to tune out the squawking from the practice room, but I couldn’t avoid the unease that had been growing ever since summer vacation ended and September had returned.

Here we go again: back to the routine. Back to the early morning struggles to get out of the door, the buying of school supplies, the fights over homework—just kill me now.

I realized that I needed something else to do, something creative–something fun just for myself.

Filled with ennui as I waited outside The Neverending Sax Lesson, it reminded me of Edward Gorey’s morbidly amusing alphabet book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, in which children meet ghastly ends, such as Neville, who “died of ennui.”

And then it dawned on me that while Gorey’s classic hit the perfect mix of macabre adorableness, he had failed to capture a profound truth: childhood is dangerous, but parenthood is the ultimate state of simultaneous horror and amusement.

So I sent the Gorey-inspired couplet to Lauren.

She received this text while waiting for her daughter’s cross country practice to end and within a few minutes responded:

“Ingrid was electrocuted when her breast pump shorted.
With the family bed arrangement, Jane’s sex life was aborted.”

Twenty-six text exchanges of rhyming couplets later–one for each deadly letter of the alphabet- we had the beginnings of a book on our hands

More importantly, we had the beginnings of a creative partnership that went beyond our jobs and our kids. Something fun–all to ourselves.

We knew that there will always be chewing gum to pick out of hair; there will always be tedious PTA meetings in which the finer points of nut allergies are discussed ad nauseam, but those things are much more palatable now that they aren’t just dull moments to live through anymore–they’re creative material.

And that’s when we both discovered the first rule of regaining one’s creative mojo after spawning offspring:

Embrace the boredom and let it lead you to something fun–just for you.

Embrace the boredom and let it lead you to something fun--just for you. #momlife Click To Tweet
Go ahead: dive into whatever creative idea pops in your head while you languish from the boredom of it all. Luxuriate in it. Examine it with the same intense focus you give to checking your kids’ heads for nits.Then share your discoveries with someone who gets you–someone who will hold you accountable or who will want to collaborate with you. Creativity, like lice, is highly contagious.Protect that newborn idea with the same ferocity that you do your kids. Because that idea–that project–that passion–it’s all your own. You gave birth to it. Now have fun with it, and bring it to life.

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Jennifer Weiss and Lauren Franklin have been sharing dark humor for 30 years.  They are the authors of the recently published Hurts Like A Mother: A Cautionary Alphabet (Doubleday).  You can go to their website to see their book trailer featuring Florence Henderson www.hurtslikeamother.com. ; They also are the cofounders of babyPolitico, a clothing line for activist kids www.babypoliticoclothing.com

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