I began drafting this post on Mother’s Day. As I searched for what I wanted to say about mothering on this first Mother’s Day for me, I kept coming back to the unexpected fact that very recently, I finally started to redefine or rediscover the edges of self. Ironically, the past few weeks have been the ones where I have finally seen and heard and inhabited someone who wasn’t just “mama.”
It started about two months ago, when I was offered a role in a local four-woman show about motherhood. The script was funny and also emotional, and part of me really wanted to accept. However, I dug in my heels. I didn’t want to miss bedtime with the hobbit or throw off his sleep schedule for evening rehearsal. I also didn’t want to miss his first stretch of sleep for rehearsal, as it has always been my own best shot at getting more than two hours of shut-eye at a time and thus my best chance at retaining the fragile shreds of my sanity. The concept of committing to anything during evenings (even as he approached the eight-month mark) felt like a nonstarter. The director said she understood…but she resurfaced within a week to inform me that the rest of the cast had agreed to weekend afternoon rehearsals, I could bring the baby if I needed, and would I please consider it?
I did. I knew that dress rehearsals and performances would throw a wrench in bedtime, but I also knew we’d only be looking at a handful of nights. It seemed like as good a time as any to start something my husband and I had been planning for some time: letting my husband take the reins on bedtime in order to start moving away from our hobbit always drifting to sleep while nursing (and thus needing me to get back to sleep throughout the night for each of many wakings). It also felt good to tackle a creative project. I said yes.
Then, two weeks ago, I went to a commercial casting call in a nearby city. It was a lark; each year, I determine to take on something new and uncharted, and significant enough to give me a sense of accomplishment for having tangled with it at all. Comfort zones get left behind. Boundaries get pushed. It’s the unofficial New Year’s resolution each year—I never know exactly what I’m going to do, but I’ve got my eyes peeled all year for something that feels right. This casting call included a variety of “types,” but the client was looking in part for moms with babies. I was a mom. I had a baby. So, without further ado, I made an appointment, printed off a head shot, and headed to the talent agency with my babe for the open casting call. The following day, we got a call asking us to return the following day to meet the client at an official callback. The day after that, I got an email confirming the two of us for a shoot to take place the next Tuesday and Wednesday. I had secured a lead role, and the hobbit was an extra, which really means he was on hold in case the principal baby in one of the scenes had a meltdown; he didn’t actually have any on-camera time. (When we retell the story, however, his dad and I may or may not say that the hobbit was the stunt baby.)
Suddenly, there I was, scheduling fittings with wardrobe, watching my pores vanish under a makeup artists’ brush, standing in on set for lighting adjustments, snacking at a craft table, and doing take after take chasing someone else’s walking baby. (The hobbit currently only scoots backward accidentally—not quite the look they were going for in the shot, sadly.) And I was getting paid for it.
Fast forward to this week and the opening of the four-woman show. Friday and Saturday sold out. The audiences were warm and vivid and incredibly fun. They laughed uproariously in all the right places. They cried at my closing monologue. They were generous with their praise after the show. We were even invited to take the show to a much bigger venue for a special event in the fall—one that would mean getting paid.
On the home front, my husband had absolutely no problem getting the hobbit to settle and sleep without me. In fact, when I came home after dress rehearsal and heard just how well it had gone in my absence, I cried. I was so glad that we’d done such a good job ensuring that our babe was securely attached to both of us, but it felt sharply like a clear step on the endless path of our child moving slowly and inexorably toward independence, toward not needing me. It was a bittersweet success, as I suspect much of parenting is. At the same time, I knew that this successful change would help me figure out how to start incorporating other parts of myself—parts other than “mama”—back into my life. Eight and a half months out, I’m ready to start emerging from the new baby haze that descended immediately after the birth of my son. He’s still the center of our family’s solar system, but I’m ready fill in the boundaries of our little star-filled galaxy with more points of light.
Something else crucial happened over these past few weeks. Being on that commercial set, performing in front of a live audience, expressing myself creatively, I was reaffirmed as a creative person, something which hasn’t happened in…well, a long time. And this is a Very Big Deal.
One of the reasons that my husband and I decided I would cut back on paid employment when the hobbit was born was to allow space for some creative pursuits I’ve been neglecting for years. New babies don’t allow oodles of time for…well, for much of anything, really, so I have been skating by these past several months without looking too closely at the dreams I’m supposed to be living right now. I’ve done a reasonably good job of living in the moment and learning to move at the pace of my babe. I’ve found new opportunities to do many things I enjoy: being outdoors with him on long daily walks, reading stacks of books as I lie down with him as he naps, just soaking in the world as he discovers it for the first time. I’ve been unambitious and present. I’ve gotten comfortable in a slower-paced, smaller world. And then I discovered that this slower, smaller world was still one in which I was able to make space to attend rehearsals and memorize lines. It was a world where my creative self could be positively affirmed. And that discovery has completely changed the game. I am ready to begin something new and slippery and terrifying.
My husband’s schedule is changing for the summer. We’ve agreed that part of that means I will carve out sacred time just for my creative pursuits when he will be on full-time hobbit duty. I cannot ever remember feeling so illuminated with energy for this project. I am thrilled by this feeling; it is exciting and terrifying at the same time, because I’ve never felt closer to actually committing to the dream, never felt so close to being willing to invest and perhaps to fail. And yes, I am doing this for my Self, but I am also doing it for my son. As my world has become more compact, more simple to allow me to be here and care for him during these early years, who I am has been very much on my mind. As my child starts to see me in sharper and sharper focus as he grows, I want him to see the person I have always wanted to be: someone soft and gentle in words and manners, thoughtful, funny, intelligent, generous, just, curious, consistent, compassionate, dependable. Someone with integrity and dreams and passion and the determination to reach and reinvent. Someone who he looks up to as a parent and as a person. Sometimes I feel almost overwhelmed by all the ways in which I want to be somehow “better” than I am now, for him. Yet today, sitting on this side of an unexpected and amazing few weeks, it all feels so attainable.
Like many new mothers, I have spent an awful lot of time over the past year feeling exhausted, inadequate, unprepared, and flawed. But right now, in this slice of time, it is as though I am living in a golden envelope of light. In so many ways, as I watch my son, love my partner, and learn to be still in myself even as I take bold steps down a poorly lighted path, this year is a miracle unfolding.
This is what it means to be blessed.