I sat in the forest on a fallen, moss-covered tree, watching my ten-year-old daughter and her friend dig in the mud of a creek bed. While shovels shaped the earth into new pathways, my attention turned to the sound of rushing water a couple feet away. Immediately, I felt my head tilt reverently toward the sky, the forest awakening something inside me.
It felt as if mother nature was speaking straight to my soul, like there was a secret waiting to be uncovered. As I watched my daughter and her friend immerse themselves in worlds created from their imaginations, I was reminded that it’s in the moments of unbusy when the magic unfolds. A quote I recently read from r.h. Sin’s book, she’s strong, but she’s tired, came to mind – “There is a wild magic living within your heart’ – and a memory surfaced of a time in college when my art professor posted a picture of graffiti on the classroom board, insisting that humans are hardwired to create and innovate, that we naturally have this need inside us that bubbles up in the most unexpected times and places.
At the time, I had bought into the myth that I had no time for creative hobbies, so I nodded along, agreeing but not fully experiencing. But in recent years, I’ve made a point to carve out time for creative expression, and as I sat in the forest listening to the gentle nudge from mother nature, the same feeling that arises as my fingers graze the piano, as music blasts from the stereo, as words create meaning on a page — that same feeling arose in the woods, and an overwhelming sense of calm radiated from body to spirit.
In the woods that day, I heard the birds conversing in the tree branches above and saw the slugs sleeping below, and I walked away with a new resolve to nurture, cultivate, and protect opportunities for creative expression at all costs. With a busy schedule, this is a constant uphill battle. However, as I ponder on my most meaningful moments, both with my kids and alone, I know it’s in the stillness of nature, in the feelings of budding creativity, in the soul-filling minutes of wonder — it’s those moments when we experience magic and uncover what it means to be truly alive. To me, there’s nothing more important than experiencing this feeling and sharing it with our children. If you wish for more moments of creative expression for yourself and your kids, here are a few tips from my own experience that might help.
Break out of your comfort zone.
About a month ago, I lay on a hard, black bed as a tattoo artist crafted a purple tulip on the back of my shoulder – my very first tattoo. After five years of hesitation, I finally decided to go for it, and I was both excited and terrified. With negative stereotypes from my childhood clouding my expectations, I was pleasantly surprised as I found myself in a beautiful conversation I never expected. Surrounded by framed moths and witch spells, drawings of flowers and skulls, we discussed motherhood, religion, and politics. Eventually, the conversation turned to my tattoo, and with body shivering from almost two hours of needle on skin, I admitted the tattoo was a manifesto. Crafted with pain, blood, and ink, the tattoo stands as a reclamation of me—my worthiness without religion, my power as my own person, my strength as a woman and mother. She nodded in understanding, then said, “Anyone willing to permanently ink what they love on their body is a passionate person worth knowing.” Her love for her art showed in her words and craft, and after she etched meaning into my skin, her words lingered. Now, when I see the black lines and purple hues of my tulip, I’m reminded of the beauty and passion awaiting me outside my comfort zone.
Align your choices with your values.
A few days ago, I stared flabbergasted at the weather app. After months of rainy days, Friday’s forecast was 80 and sunny. Excited, I ran to our calendar, hoping we could go on an outdoor adventure with our friends to the coast. Disheartened, I remembered I had planned a troop sleepover—an event I was very much looking forward to but knew would require every ounce of energy from me. My eyes then moved from the sleepover to my work schedule, showing I would close the night before the sleepover and work all weekend after. The timing seemed daunting, and immediately, my gut started to churn. I simply didn’t know if I could pull it off, but a nudging told me I should try, so I texted a tentative schedule for the trip to the dad, wondering if he could work around our schedule. He wholeheartedly agreed to adventure with us that day, and as I sat on the beach, breathing in the salty, coastal air, my heart filled with gratitude—for friends willing to bend their schedules, for the courage to speak our needs, for the strength to choose the harder path that day. Today, I’m tired as hell, but the exhaustion doesn’t even compare to the content filling my heart, knowing we aligned our choices with our values that day.
Take advantage of the little in-betweens.
Sun rays spilled through our living room windows as my younger daughter and I ate lunch after school. A long to-do list looped in my mind as we ate, and I fully intended to finish folding the never-ending pile of laundry upstairs when my younger daughter excitedly yelled, “It’s sunny!! Let’s play outside!!” Stressed with the sheer number of responsibilities I had that day, I wanted to say no, but her cute, pleading face made the words, “Sure, let’s go out,” slip from my mouth. After chalk and bikes, I noticed the daffodils sitting on my front porch, waiting to be planted, and immediately, my hands craved dirt. I picked up the daffodils at the same time my neighbor started to walk into his house. He saw me holding flowers, and knowing how much I love to garden, he yelled, “Is it gardening day?!” I used to spend hours in the garden when I had a more open schedule, but my schedule doesn’t allow that anymore, so my reply was a sad no, that I had to pick up my older from her activities in a few minutes. My younger and I quickly picked a spot and planted them haphazardly, then ran off to the demands of the day. But now, I think about that short conversation. Yes, it might’ve not been a gardening day, but it was a gardening moment — a little in-between when my daughter and I bonded under sun and in dirt, when we stopped the rushing and the back and forth for just enough time to craft a memory together. We have a saying in our house: “It’s the little things.” It’s the little things over time that build a lifetime and bring just as much meaning, magic, and wonder as the woods.
A mom friend recently insisted she didn’t have time to do the things she loved, that being a working parent meant she couldn’t make space for herself. At the time, I didn’t know how to respond, but now I can say: yes, no matter if we work full-time, stay home, work from home, work part-time, homeschool, unschool, have a toddler or a teen, it can feel absolutely impossible to make time as a parent for anything other than the kids and life’s obligations. But being creative, doing what enlivens the soul, isn’t a luxury for a select few, but rather, intended for all. It’s as vital as breathing.