July 29, 2006
July 26, 2009
May 9, 2011
April 14, 2014
May 8, 2015
Those are the dates that changed my life, the way I define myself as a woman. I will forever remember those days as the ones that challenged me to open my heart in ways I never had before.
My wedding day
Pittsburgh’s inaugural Listen To Your Mother performance
Yes, that’s right. I’m putting LTYM up there with the day I took my husband’s last name and the birth of our children, and you wanna know why? Even though I didn’t push a human baby out of my body, I shared my word babies with Pittsburgh and it felt goooooood. Actually, it felt terrifying. And exhilarating. And kinda sorta like I was going to puke on the first row of our audience, but still: goooooood.
The most emotional part of the show, at least for me, was knowing my incredible cast members’ back stories. I always wonder what goes through an actor’s mind during a particularly intense scene, or how people maintain composure during a tragedy or tough times. Maybe it’s shock, maybe it’s experience, maybe it’s an incredible poker face. At any rate, the back stories have always fascinated me, the why’s, the how’s, the what else’s.
When I asked my cast mates if they would allow me to share their intimate details, I was humbled at how quickly they jumped on board. Since the day I met these women, I have been–and continue to be–in awe of their strength and empathy. They are willing to expose vulnerability despite fear of judgement and rejection all in the name of motherhood, of womanhood. We all took a chance and shared our stories, knowing they were more than just words; they were pieces of ourselves, and we threw them out there to a sea of faces to be devoured or attacked. It was scary, yo.
Even scarier? The realness of it all, and the ladies in our 2015 Listen To Your Mother cast are nothing if not real. Here’s a sneak peek at what inspired some of their stories, or what was going on the night they shared them.
Danielle: This warrior battled a severe case of PPD after the birth of her first child, yet on performance night, she stood and read a story about the darkest part of her life while pregnant with her second child. Listening to her brilliant (and hilarious!) hindsight, it was almost easy to forget about the ugly beast that Danielle fears will again rear its ugly head upon the birth of her new baby this summer. Talk about strength.
Kristen: Kristen and her wife celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary on the day we rolled out Pittsburgh’s inaugural Listen To Your Mother performance. Kristen’s “creation story” included 5 vials of the heaviest sperm in the world and the kind of laughter that substitutes as a good ab work-out. Though hilarious on stage, the tumultuous times that still surround legalizing gay marriage, and the excruciating labor of love for a same-sex couple to have children, is anything but comical. But I’ll save that for another time; I’m planning to feature Kristen in all her glory in a separate blog post.
Tamara: When I first heard Tamara’s fears of what it’s like raising a girl, I connected to them instantly. Her words were my thoughts: “I was working on my daughter’s birth story for her one year birthday and processing what my fears really were. It took almost an entire year of being her Mama to come to that realization.” Solidarity, Mama.
Jen Pelling: Jen’s story was about a chicken. Yep, a chicken. And we’ve all come to know and love that chicken, Shadow, because she is a bad ass who wanted nothing more than to have babies, but a rooster wasn’t available so FedEx had to knock her up. It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek adoption story, right?! Shadow went to bat for her chicks one night and paid the price: a near death experience. Today, that brave Mama is still living, one year post-surgery in June, and all of her feathers grew back, but in a really wonky way, so they stick out all over her back. I imagine her feathers as the sharp quills of a porcupine, which is appropriate because if you mess with Shadow’s babies, she’ll cut you.
Ilene: I’m straight-up using Ilene’s words because they’re gorgeous: “(Listen To Your Mother) happened nearly 15 years to the day I have been with my husband, and my daughter turned 19 months old. An intersection of my new and old life, one that’s incredibly messy, slightly tattered, almost ready to fall of the shelf and shatter, but somehow still together.” See? So pretty.
Dawn: Dawn’s daughter Kate took three days to deliver, and when you hear the story about this feisty gal, it’ll make 72-hours of labor seem like a cake walk. When I asked Dawn why she chose that story for LTYM, she confessed: “I hadn’t written it down or blogged about it. And although I had told it a few times, it wasn’t until LTYM that I realized I had a story that other parents of feisty children could connect to.” And this mother of a feisty female says AMEN!
Jen Hicks: Our producer, our do-er, our Head Bitch In Charge, shared my dual-concerns, but she had nothing to worry about regarding her piece. Her poetic and hilarious and heartwarming take on the classic poem “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” was fan-friggin’-tastic. And as a mother? She is fan-friggin’-tastic times two. She actually loves being around teens, which gives me hope that maybe one day, I, too, can turn the stereotype on its arse and embrace my teenagers rather than be stressed out by them: “(The teen years are) easily my favorite ‘season’ of parenting–seeing and hearing their sense of humor, their perspectives on the world, their opinions, and watching them insert themselves into the world as individuals looking to find their path. It’s a fantastic time to parent. As we look toward the next step for my son (only two years away) I’ve noticed a little bit of a shift from excited to see him grow and spread his wings, to being a bit nostalgic looking back over the years. I wanted to write it down and capture that feeling.” If I loved Jen any more, I would have to leave my husband and marry her. And I still might.
Natalie: Our quiet leader, Natalie read first in our show, which I thought was so appropriate because her first story was about her first-born and about his first adventures. As she was reading, the rest of us were holding back the tears because in a few short weeks, her first-born is going to graduate from high school and embark on another first: college. WHEW! Talk about water works!
Gina: Every show has a powerhouse; a voice that is both literally and figuratively BIG. Gina is that voice. Though her job requires her to speak to thousands of people each year, “this LTYM thing…it challenged me more than anyone will ever realize or could ever understand. Mark Twain said that there are two important days in your life. The day that you are born – and the day that you discover why. Participating in LTYM required me to share my why. The why I exist. The why I became who I am.The why he is. The why I keep falling and getting back up. The why I breathe. This was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done publicly. And I am and forever will be grateful that I could share my why.”
C’mon! Does it really get any better than that?!
And then there’s me. I was in a unique position as the co-director and a performer, so the stress was two-fold. I was worried about the sound, the videographer, if the bathrooms were clean. I was also preoccupied with my story. Though I had written it for/about my 4-year-old, I would be lying if I said my baby girl and all her recent health concerns weren’t on my mind. I was holding it together fairly well until I got to the part in my essay about my daughter being a fighter. My voice broke a little, there were tears (and a little snot that was hopefully stealthily wiped away, lest an eventual thousands of viewers see it…), but like my girls, I fought through it. The whole cast knew what was in my heart as I read my piece, and I could feel them holding their breath for me.
After my Listen To Your Mother experience, after having women who used to be complete strangers hold my hand on stage and permanently etch themselves into my heart, I know I am theirs for life. You need a babysitter? I’m yours. You need a kidney? I’ve got two. Listen To Your Mother has changed me, just as having my children and marrying the love of my life have. I bow down to the incomparable Ann Imig for her vision and commitment to Motherhood; Ann, you have changed my life. Thank you.