–Thelma, Thelma & Louise
I thought I knew what kind of Mom I was going to be. Or at least what kind of Mom I wasn’t going to be.
When I was about 6 months pregnant, I had a conversation with one of the women in my theater company, The Antaeus Company. She’s a fantastic actress, and also happens to be the charming, nurturing mom of 3 lovely kids. Let’s call her Thelma
“How are you feeling, Tamara?” she asked, giving my newly evident bump a gentle pat.
“Much better, now that I’m in my 2nd trimester. Of course, now I’m starting to worry more about what happens after the baby actually gets here than about the pregnancy. Do you have a few minutes to chat?”
I asked Thelma how she’d handled juggling her creative life with parenting, and she was very open with me. She told me that much to her surprise, for the first several years after her kids were born, she took a break from theater work. The time commitment was too demanding, and she found that she just didn’t want to be away from her kids for most of the day when they were that small. She eventually came back to it when her kids were older and more self-sufficient.
The story of her choice to take time off was a surprise to me, for I’d only known her as a busy, working actress.
She then went on to say that not every new mom has the same reaction that she did. She brought up another woman in the company – we’ll call her Louise – who had done a play at South Coast Repertory just 3 months after giving birth. For those outside of Southern Cali, SCR is a great regional theater known especially for its work developing and premiering new plays.
“She was ready to go right back to work, to jump into the craziness of rehearsal schedules and long days,” said Thelma. “I just couldn’t do it, though – my head wasn’t there. I passed up on some good opportunities, but I don’t have any regrets.”
As Thelma relayed these stories, my own vision of ‘Life With Baby’ became clear. Without question, I was going to be a Louise. Certainly, I’d be a good mom. A devoted mom. But I’d also remain committed to continuing to build on all the hard work I’d put into my career thus far. And I definitely wouldn’t put opportunities on hold. I would move forward in my life as both a mom and a performer. I was Absolutely Certain about this.
And then Curly Girl arrived, and all former assumptions were shot to hell.
As I fell head over heels for my newly arrived bundle, time slowed down and my world became incredibly small. Feedings. Naps. The softest baby skin. Cries and gurgles whose meanings only I could decipher. Endless nights with multiple wakings. The warm curve of the Husband’s arm as the three of us nestled on the couch together. The ever-present smell of Desitin. It was a surreal mix of exhaustion and elation, as perhaps for the first time in my life, I focused fully on just one thing.
Ensconced in the Mama Cocoon, I couldn’t imagine not being there most of the day, every day, for all of the “firsts.” But even more than the milestones, it was the intimacy of the relationship with my daughter that seduced me. The combination of complete dependence and unconditional love was addictive, and the strength of that addiction was one of the biggest surprises of becoming a mom.
Occasionally, I’d surface for air and be reminded of the rest of my life. I’d get Facebook updates about friends booking TV and movie roles. I’d leave the husband with a bottle and sneak off to see a play. I’d read the magazine articles that were written by those temporarily taking my place while I was on maternity leave.
And I’d feel bad about myself.
Because I’d turned out to be much more of a Thelma than a Louise.
During these moments, the gremlin voices in my head easily made themselves heard over Curly Girl’s cries. If I was really and truly dedicated to my craft, wouldn’t I already be back out there practicing it? If I could be so easily distracted from my career by something like childbirth, did I really deserve to have a career? So many of those I know in entertainment don’t have kids. Was I now living proof of the reason why? After all, I’ve been told so many times that this field demands sacrifice; by committing to family life, was I sending the universe a signal that I wasn’t willing to do all that was necessary to be successful in it?
Three years later, the demons have quieted a bit (or maybe my daughter’s tantrums have just gotten louder so they are harder to hear). On certain days this list of questions seems downright ridiculous – my daughter brings an inordinate amount of joy into my life – how could the time I choose to spend with her ever be a bad thing? I now totally get where Thelma was coming from. But on other days, these destructive thoughts still gnaw away at me. And in a strange twist, one of the ways I’ve found to combat the gremlins and gain confidence in my choices is by going back to the basics of my acting training.
Notice what’s in front of you.
Don’t anticipate how it’s going to go – be open to the moment as it unfolds.
Stop judging the work. Stop judging yourself.
I’ve realized that applying these ideas to my own personal life is just as important as it is in my work as a performer. These days, I try to pay attention to what my head and my heart are saying in the moment, instead of stubbornly sticking with a preconceived idea of ‘How It’s All Supposed To Go’. I’m trying to be aware of the things that actually, truly make me happy; to make decisions based on those values; and then to stop judging myself for the kind of mom as well as the kind of professional I have turned out to be. It involves learning to be present in my own life in an entirely new way, open to the full spectrum of emotions that the puzzle pieces of work and mothering each bring with them.
There is guilt when I go away to events like South By Southwest and the Consumer Electronics Show, but not enough to keep me from going or from kicking back with a cocktail while there. There is joy in introducing my daughter to Singing in the Rain and Bye Bye Birdie, as well as when I hire a babysitter so I can go see a show myself sans kiddo. And there is a mix of satisfaction and regret both when turning down work to be with Curly Girl, as well as when accepting work and spending an entire day away from her.
One of the books I’ve found most helpful with the process of learning how not to judge my choices is Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson. If you’ve got resources of your own for coping with self-judgment, please let us know in the comments!