I have always known that I wanted to be a mother. And I have always known that I wanted to stay at home.
And I do.
You see, in addition to being a stay at home mom to two toddlers, I also run a theatre company.
It happened almost by accident. Having dinner with two girlfriends from theatre school in the late spring of 2012, we got to talking about our frustration with the lack of artistically fulfilling work for women in our twenties (which it is almost hard to believe we ever were!) and, by our second round of drinks, decided that instead of complaining that we couldn’t find the work we wanted to do, we would make the work ourselves.
By the summer, we had mounted a spectacular one night only production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” for an audience of more than 500…and two of us were pregnant.
Now, four years later, we just closed our seventh production. The show that was intended to be my swan song. We spent two years developing the script, knowing that I would act in the leading role with the promise that, after this last hurrah, I would do what was “best” for my husband and kids by stepping back and giving them all of me.
(Or, I suppose, all of me that would have been left after sacrificing one of my greatest passions in the name of motherhood.)
It’s funny, really, that no one would dream of questioning my husband’s commitment to fatherhood because he has season tickets to the Dodgers, enjoys nights out with his friends, and takes international golf vacations. In fact, I push him to do those things because I see how much better of a father he is when he has time for the things that bring him joy.
Not really funny, when you think about it, but the culture we live in and one that made me feel unreasonable for wanting a taste of the same – to preserve a piece of the woman I had been before children.
So there we were. One last show and then I would do the right thing.
But something happened during this rehearsal process that I hadn’t anticipated: the Bug understood what I was doing.
Yes, I sent emails from the bench at the park, looked over my script while the kids ran circles around me in the backyard, and dumped piles of Goldfish crackers on the ottoman in the play room to buy myself time to return phone calls about ticket reservations. Yes, I missed bedtime for our final dress rehearsal and our three performances.
But the Bug watched rehearsal out of his bedroom window with delight. He laughed as he tried to walk around the house in Mr. Snow’s size 13 cowboy boots and Babygirl looked on, wearing Mrs. Deming’s hat. He helped me tape off the prop tables and was able to respect that the things on top of them were for Mommy’s play, no matter how tempting they appeared, day after day, sitting out in the yard. He loved visiting the venue with the team, using discarded script pages as a canvas to paint when they were replaced with rewrites, and sneaking out into the back yard with Babygirl on Saturdays after dinner to listen to Mr. Gill rehearse with the band.
Having the children share in the joy that I find creating theatre made the experience that much richer for me. But, somehow, the #momguilt kept nagging (as did a whole host of people who relentlessly asked about my husband’s “babysitting” burden, always with a heavy sigh). I couldn’t shake the idea that feeding myself was selfish.
And then, near the end of the rehearsal process, the Bug said to me, “Mommy, when I get bigger, I want to come see your play,” and, in that moment, everything changed for me. I had this glimpse of something I had never been given permission to even imagine – my children sitting in an audience, watching me onstage. Seeing me, their mother, as a full and complex person with talent and ambition and courage, someone who challenges them to find and follow their passions by cherishing her own.
In so many ways, this play and this experience have changed me forever. This character will be with me always and the end of this production is a loss that I am still deeply grieving.
Toward the end of the play, as my character said an emotional goodbye to the cowboy whose world and whose love had made her feel more fully herself than she had ever dreamed, she knelt down to place his hat on the ground beside him and, unsure of how she would survive walking away, asked, “What am I supposed to do now?”
On Monday morning, as I dove back into my “real life,” the kids and I made a quick detour after Starbucks so that I could drop that same hat on my lead actor’s porch. As I walked up the front steps with Gene Stewart’s hat in my hands and set it down for the very last time, I wanted to ask the same question that Madeline had in that climactic scene.
What am I supposed to do now?
And, honestly, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.
But I know what I will do. I will make the bed and then laugh as we un-make it to fashion a trampoline out of pillows. I will play in the dirt. I will do the laundry. I will pick up dry cleaning. I will hunt for bugs, give kisses, and go through a criminal amount of band aids. I will paint and I will read “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site.” I will make dinner for my husband and serve the leftovers to our children for lunch. I will cherish these everyday moments and the privilege I have of being a mother and a wife.
And I will know, in a way I didn’t before, that these moments can be my greatest joy without being the sum of who I am, that I can be more than a mother without being less of one.