Framing Life

Words by Liz Bell Young & Photos by Alex Davis

On any given day in our house, there’s a tea party that begins at 5:45am. A football match with howling aftermath. A list of chores, writing gigs, homeschool lessons, tears. Meals. Dishes. Dirt. It’s a lot of noise and grit-your-teeth patience and wondering how on earth we’ll all pan out. If you take care of others, especially little ones, you know every bit of this. You also know how magic will eventually surface (!) as you look over your sleeping darlings or when they catch you in a bear-hug as you walk through the door. But then there’s another pre-dawn tea party, an endless day in the office, or a bag full of emotions you hadn’t counted on. You wonder where all the fairy dust went. You wonder what’s wrong.

Your cabin fever skyrockets.

You hide in the shower.

You hold your breath.

As a current stay-at-home mom with freelance work squeezed into the cracks, I wanderlust my heart out. I imagine terrifically open roads and riding in vehicles that can barely make it from Point A to B so that I’d be forced to hole up in a motel, read stacks of novels, and whip up gas station eggs on a hot plate until it’s summer again. I’ll romanticize loneliness—some days I am that desperate to shake up an ordinary day at home. But I have a moment I cling to these days, when truth spilled out of my mouth and my world split into brilliant pieces.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It was a tongue-in-cheek question from our professor—we were already, mostly, grown up. Gathered around a beat-up conference table in grad school with book drafts and paintbrushes and ambitions hanging out of our pockets. With gusto, we went around the table to announce our unapologetic ambitions. I felt my heart quicken and hands sweat. I had always been desperate for the infamous writing life, the blissful creative endeavors, that hot heat of creation. But as my turn came closer, I knew I was going to tell the truth.

Spills out: “I want to be a mother.”

Here’s why it scared me: I finally had the cloistered writing life—and it wasn’t enough. Not even close. I wanted a family more than air. I wanted to tumble out of my house with ten children in tow, kiss their sweaty foreheads and promise them they were the stuff of dreams. Because they are...they really are. But there I was (and here I am) trying to reconcile my ambition to be a dead-serious creative who wants endless space to make whatever pops into my head whenever it pops into my head—with my fierce desire to nurture, to create home, to be a mother.

In that moment at school, I had a clear window into the rest of my life. It wasn’t going to be as polished and perfect as I wanted it to be. No one’s is. Likely, I was going to feel torn wherever I was: at school, at home, at work, alone, surrounded, adrift. No matter where or how I chose to be, I would wanderlust—at least a little—in the other direction. Life was going to be a gigantic mixed bag of longings, wants, sacrifices, too much selfishness, repeat confessions, and powerful re-centerings. I would need to pivot and learn how to do that with wild grace, not resentment. I would need to ask for a lot of advice and learn how to laugh more quickly, shrug more easily, and take more vitamins. I would need to allow days or years or mornings to just. be. hard.—and trust that the refining process is worth it and that everything will all be OK, in the end. And the magic will resurface.

It always, always does.

The other day, we hauled our campervan out of storage and parked it on the driveway. Just stationed it there like a goofy orange cartoon in the middle of the suburbs. We weren’t going anywhere. We didn’t have an adventure planned. To us, to me, it is simply a symbol of possibility. A symbol of someday. A symbol of the days when we did whisk away and hit the open road like a bunch of carefree banshees. I swear it holds our laughter and love in its seams. So we park the van, and I ask my friend to come over and take photographs. To frame the life we’re living. Not in a studio, not in special clothes. Just us being the gigantic mixed bag of who we are, parked there in the midwestern grass on a regular Sunday afternoon.

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Liz Bell Young

Liz Bell Young is a writer and experience designer who wandered a half-globe before finding home. Now in Cincinnati, she's the author of "In the Wide Country of Love," publisher of Haven Magazine, and a contributor to Magnolia. Follow her life at @lizbellyoung.