A guest post from recent performer JJ Keith.
Driving home from the last show of Expressing Motherhood, I listened to “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers on repeat. I’d adopted the song as my unofficial anthem of Expressing Motherhood, despite the fact that Expressing Motherhood has an official anthem.
For weeks I’d been jarred by commercials for that new Clint Eastwood movie, the one that’s about baseball. Whenever it came on, I’d look up, thinking that that I was about to see an ad for something good. But alas, not only am I not a fan of Clint Eastwood, I despise baseball, and, as I am the mother of two toddlers, I rarely go to the movies. That’s three strikes and you’re out, Clint Eastwood Movie Whose Name I Can’t Remember. (That, there, was the most advanced baseball reference I could muster.)
At the first rehearsal for Expressing Motherhood, one of the interstitial songs stopped me. Each time it came on, I’d think, “What is this and how do I get it on my iPod? And why am I thinking about baseball and Clint Eastwood right now?” Clearly, I am a simple creature, easily trained by the most root Pavlovian influences. I eventually put it together that it was the same song in the commercial as in the show and gathered the wherewithal to search for it on iTunes, and then, as is my way, listen to it approximately 246 times on repeat. Gradually, I broke the association with Clint Eastwood. Instead it came to represent the experience of performing in Expressing Motherhood.
“So show me family / All the blood that I would bleed”
Throughout the run of the show it didn’t escape my attention that I was performing an essay about my inability to connect with mothers…in a show in which I shared the stage with a dozen other mothers, all of with whom I now feel genuinely and unreservedly connected. The other performers were kind enough to not call me out on this dick move, which was just one of many acts of graciousness I enjoyed during the run of the show.
“I don’t know where I belong / I don’t know where I went wrong / But I can write a song”
Contrary to what I said on stage, mothers have more than one thing in common. Sure, it doesn’t aways feel like we’re one big, global village, especially in the beginning stages when mothers often cordon themselves into camps according their chosen parenting methodology. The power of Expressing Motherhood is in highlighting the commonality of our experiences. The other women’s pieces were either highly relatable or a window into my future as a mother, the terrifying future in which I’ll have to tell my kids about sex or, oh dear, drop them off at their college dorms.
“I belong with you, you belong with me / You’re my sweetheart”
In anthropological terms, mothering is a liminal space where we are neither the same person before we had kids, nor have we emerged at the other end. I don’t know what marks “the end,” certainly not dropping our kids off at college dorms. That’s a freaking long liminal space to be trapped in! But, as liminal spaces go, motherhood is a rich one, one worth exploring, or, er, expressing.
And thank goodness all us moms belong to one another, that we can craft spaces in which we can deal with the uncertainty of our lot. Because isn’t what all this comes down to is our lack of surety? The excruciating ambiguity of our role as mothers? We don’t have to divide ourselves according to how we discipline our children or whether or not we sleep train as many of us do at the beginning. Instead we can acknowledge the uncertainty and just sit with that until it feels normal.
I was unsure about Expressing Motherhood and what I’d get out of it given that I’m not a performer. But there is worth to standing behind my words, in person, and owning my initial discomfort at having been thrust into a community of mothers just by virtue of having a kid. Now, finally, I accept that I have more in common with other moms than the simple act of mothering. I am certain of few things, but I know this.