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I am no mother hen. By Zoë Phenix McCandless

My name is Zoë.

I exist somewhere in between artist, wife, mother and cook. I have three boys currently aged 5, 3 & 1.

Together with my husband we enjoy taking our camper-trailer on adventures, piled in with wellies, wetsuits and food. We've travelled throughout North & South Ireland over the last two years but spend our domestic life in Bangor.

In my few spare minutes I facilitate art workshops and run alternative infant art sessions through my business, Creative Natives.

Motherhood is a kaleidoscope for me, a blend of precious moments, character stretching challenges, and those happy memories being made amongst a fog of sleepless mundanity. I've chosen to embrace and not hide the colourful realities of life with three children under 5, and within that intensity - I choose to ear mark the good stuff. We have everything we need, and we keep moving forwards, usually on wheels.

Finding a way to continue to be a creative being when I can't easily escape to create, is a continuous wrestle for me, significantly, I'm still breastfeeding and am sole carer for my kids 24/7. Combining our lives and needs, for one big creative home, is sometimes the only way we can exist.

I wrote the following prose this October, as I struggled with my identity as a mother. Judging myself against my own ideals of being a patient and wholesome mother made me feel like I was failing daily. I wasn't who I thought I'd be. Then I found an affinity with an animal mother, and in connection with her, I soon believed I was all I needed to be and more. The judgement and expectations don't exist in the animal world and that made me feel relieved and fully acceptable, an interesting revelation.

In writing this, I discovered that I knew what I needed and would resolve to make more time to nurture my own heart, but I was also encouraged that as the words fell out, although coming from a state of pain, I revealed an unflinching dedication to my loved ones.

I am no mother hen.

Six years of time since the first image of a cub in my womb and now here I am,

mother of three, fully saturated and smothering in love. My cubs about me in my den. Curled so close we breathe together.

I am a wolf mother.

I snarl and I toss, I battle and defend, to my wits end.

I am fierce and strong and I take pride in my pack. I am soft and sincere, I love and hold dear,

I stop in my tracks and rain down affection I can’t hold back.

I am painfully scarred. I have battled with my motherhood like I never knew I would.

I am injured from my fears and disappointment that brought tears,

I limp on days when I can't find a way, any-way back to where I know is on track.

I am wolf mother.

I take this role so seriously - I am one and all to them,

I left myself behind and had to find me again. I dig deep to find an ounce of stability, breathing in, my aching ribs.

Breathing out, eyes facing forwards, always waiting for the dawn. Committed to the relentless searching,

to find in myself a steadfast and nurturing, gentle, spirit.

The pack are together and I am assured of our bond,

I take stock of my wild connections and I continue along,

the road ahead full of ravaged weather and wakeful nights

but I will always rise fierce, and try with a brave heart, to do right.

I stand on cliff tops and howl, with the aching of love and protection,

and hoping to be perfection.

I lay my weary head down, I must care for my own wolf heart. Although I am tired, each morning again I start, these days my gift to them.

We will stand in seasons of pain and seasons of play,

we will wrestle on sunny mountain tops, but we must dance in the winter snow today.

Words and images by Zoë Phenix McCandless

For more information on Creative Natives workshops visit:

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