On motherhood and messes, creative process and apple pie: / by Christina Rosalie

Today there is rain and the final splendor of leaves the color of the summer sun, sumacs flutter with fronds of flame, the poplars are already bare. There is wood for stacking, bulbs to be put into the damp, still-soft ground, and the last of autumn's apples for picking: small and hard, with thick skins and the sweetest nearly wild fruit, perfect for pies and apple butter.

Yesterday I made a pie with the boys: each one of them armed with a pairing knife; cutting the slices with gusto and irregularity. There simply wasn’t anything else to do, even though, like every other day, there always is.

Rain was falling and I took one look at the way they were spinning around the kitchen, after having arrived home from their various destinations and I could tell: things would meltdown all too soon if I kept on writing, hunching over my laptop at the counter like some long-legged bird. And so, apple pie.

So we set to work: the boys cutting up apples while I stirred the sugar and butter and spices in a pan. I’m always a little surprised and terribly pleased by how earnest they are in the kitchen! How they just want to be helpful, and how, given real tools and real responsibility, they both are. They formed a team almost immediately, Bean cutting the apples into manageable wedges, and then Sprout following through, chopping each into as many small pieces as he could, and tasting nearly every one.

I let them lick out the bowl of course. And later, when the pie was ready after dinner, we ate it warm, in bowls with a little heavy cream the way my father always used to.

This is part of it: each night as I gather Sprout year old to my chest in the dark, as we sit in the rocking chair in the room he shares with his brother, as I gather his small solid body close and press my nose into his sweet hair, he says, “I want Nonna.”

The first time he said this, I felt my heart hit my ribs, heat spreading across my cheeks with the anguish of this small betrayal.

But what I have begun to understand in the process of making this work, this book, this life, is how to inhale the ache and intensity of these moments, bitter-sweet, and then to release it on the exhale, and say yes to all of it.

To realize: yes, he loves his Nonna. How lucky are we all that this is the arrangement. That he has this tribe of love, and I do. That this work I am doing is possible.

And so I kiss his warm forehead and say, “You’ll see her again tomorrow, my love," and he burrows into my chest and hums along as I sing "Speed Bonny Boat" in the dark.

I’m telling you this because all of this is part of the process. This is the real, messy, frustrating, bittersweet stuff of being a mother and a pioneer/artist/writer/creator. And it is also absolutely the only way I would want things to be. This duality. This love. This creative life.

There are days I don’t see my boys until 4 in the afternoon or sometimes 5, and there are days that even when I’m here, I’m preoccupied with the work I’m in the midst of, and I sit in the middle of the stirring living room, in the middle of the ruckus, writing while they build marble towers or ride their plasma cars around like hellions. And there are days like yesterday, when the pieces all come together: apple pie, thesis abstracts, client deliverables, tickles, brown sugar and cinnamon licked off of fingers. And for the hundred-thousandth time I think to myself, Whatever way, this life is the only life I want.

Tell me, how many of you navigate this tenuous line? What is it like for you?