Thursday, December 12, 2013

Janelle Alvstad-Mattson: Actress and All-Around Creative Mom

Janelle on the set of Parent Stories.
I came know Janelle Alvstad-Mattson through marriage; her husband, Neil, was one of my husband's best friends in high school. I've only met Janelle in person once, but she has been an incredible source of encouragement, support, and creativity through our online friendship. I am particularly grateful to her for her tender heart and good sense advice through many struggles and questions with my first baby. She's one of those moms who makes you feel better about yourself and reassured. Janelle is very creative, particularly with theatre and with art. I hope you enjoy her thoughts!

What are your primary outlets for creativity?  Tell us a little about your background and how you developed these creative skills.
I'm kind of an artistic dilettante. I've always been pretty good (but not great) at lots of things. Theatre is my favorite creative expression (I grew up in community theatre and studied it in college), but it's also the most difficult to do while juggling "real life." I sing A LOT, both real songs and silly songs with made-up lyrics. For the most part my kids like this, but my daughter went through a phase around 18 months where she didn't like it when I sang. "No mommy sing, please!" was her favorite phrase. I paint, I sew, I write, I take pictures. About the only thing I don't do is scrapbook.  

Do you think creativity is important as a mom?  Why or why not?
I think everyone needs some kind of creative outlet, mothers included. Having some way to express yourself or create something is good for the soul. Some people write, some people craft, some sing, others garden. Finding time to be creative in my own way is difficult, but necessary for me to feel fulfilled. 
Having some way to express yourself or create something is good for the soul.

What is a time in your life when you felt most fulfilled creatively?
Most recently I was in a play called Parent Stories. It was a community-based play written and performed by local parents with many of the scenes based on real life experiences. Even though I discovered that I prefer doing shows that are already written, it still felt fabulous to be up on stage after an 8-year absence.  

How did time or energy for creativity change after you became a mom?
I'm a stay-at-home mom and always feel like a salmon swimming upstream: housework, cooking, cleaning, committees at church and schools, etc. I don't get a lot of me time in general, and when I do I often want to turn off my brain and veg in front of a TV show. I've found that the creative projects I do end up doing tend to be projects for the children or with them. Instead of painting, I decorate birthday cake. Instead of sewing a new purse, I make "moon dough" for the kids. It still fulfills a creative need in me, just in a different way. If I'm doing a long-term project (like a painting or sewing project), I found it's much easier to leave it out so I can work on it when I find a moment here or there.

Do you ever feel guilty about making time for creativity?  How do you cope with that?
I try not to feel guilty about it. I think it's important for my kids to see me doing things that I enjoy in order to inspire them to do things they enjoy.

Have you ever felt pressured to express creativity in exactly the same way as some other mom (maybe a friend or a mom on Pinterest or a blog)?  In what way?  Have you found any ways to get past these pressures?  How?
I know some people do, but I don't really feel that kind of pressure. I'm usually just inspired by Pinterest and other places where people share ideas. 

Have you found any ways to use your creative skills with your kids?
When my kids were very young, our town didn't have a preschool music class, so I created one I called "Toddler Jams." Last spring I taught an Intro to Theatre enrichment class at my daughter's school. It was so much fun to teach kindergartners and first graders! At the end they performed a few short scenes for their parents, including "It's a Hard Knock Life" from Annie
One of Janelle's birthday cakes.

I also make cakes. Someone told me I was a really good mom because I custom-make cakes for my kids' birthdays. Ironically, the cakes are really more for a creative outlet for me than to please the kids. That's just a nice side effect. I couldn't do it as any kind of job though, as I'd eat my weight in buttercream on a daily basis! 

Tell us what you love about the unique ways you express creativity. 
Because I'm kind of a "jack-of-all-trades," I find myself sprinkling creativity all around the house. I feel good about what I've made every time I see my son's hot-air balloon shirt, my lime green wall mural, my woodblock photo, etc. 
Try to find easy creative boosts that give you some "immediate gratification," even if it's different than your normal creative endeavors.
What advice would you give to a mom who feels that since having kids, she has “lost herself”?
Try to find easy creative boosts that give you some "immediate gratification," even if it's different than your normal creative endeavors. If you knit, rather than knitting a sweater, make a flower brooch. If you write, find a moment to challenge yourself with a poem of a certain meter. If you paint, paint your own picture when you set up painting for the kids. Tempera is a totally legit medium.

A mural Janelle worked on.
Janelle Alvstad-Mattson is the Coordinator of Domestic Affairs at Mattson Household Enterprises. She created and maintains the Ithaca Family Fun website, a labor of love and another creative outlet. She also has a blog, Living Gorges  in conjunction with the website. Janelle lives in Ithaca, New York with her 4-H sweetheart, Neil, and their 2 towheaded children. 

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