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04/23/2014 11:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An All-Too-Familiar Scene: One Working Mother's Journey to Theater

By Deb Banks McIntosh

"An All-Too-Familiar Scene"

A play in which, a woman has a plan, the woman has a baby, the plan disintegrates, and she goes on to completely reinvent herself.

Act I:

Scene: Halcyon days of life before baby

At age 34, I had my life all mapped out. I was living the life of a newly-married, deeply ensconced graduate student. I had earned my preliminary teaching certificate and was on track to be the best science educator New England had ever seen. I even had a great gig as an adjunct at the local community college. It was a perfect time to have a baby! What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, a whole lot. But I digress. This play has a happy ending, so let's just skip to that.

Act II:

Scene: Eight years later, one healthy and happy kid, one steadily employed husband, one over-educated and chronically unemployed mama.

It happened in the December of our daughter's seventh year. Unable to find a job, I looked at my husband one evening and said, "That's it. If I don't do something I will go insane. I am going back to school." And that is how I came to be, one month later, on a stage in front of my beginning acting class. I was flinging my MS in Geosciences across the stage and telling my classmates, who looked on in horror, that I was no longer a scientist--that I was having a mid-life crisis and that I was going to study theater.

It felt good! I had overcome two years of debilitating postpartum depression and nine years of working on my thesis. Our child had successfully made it to second grade and I was finally doing something wild and crazy for myself.

ACT III:

Scene: Three semesters later, a stage manager is born

My re-invented self has chosen to study stage management. Why? Because I like it and I am good at it. It took a great deal to convince myself that I could go back to school without destroying everything I had worked for in the past eight years. Sure, our family schedule would change, but that's why we've worked so hard to raise a resilient kid! Most importantly, if having a child has taught me anything, it is that life is short and it helps if you can find a way to be true to yourself.

So, here I sit, two days before opening night of our spring production Living Out by Lisa Loomer. My stress level is at DEFCON 2, I am learning this job on the fly, my family has hardly seen me these past few weeks, there is barely any food in the fridge, and yet somehow I am having the time of my life!

Living Out is a story of motherhood with a capitol M. It parallels the lives of three wealthy, white women living in LA, and their nannies from Central and South America. For me, the play speaks to the catch-22 that so many mothers find ourselves in no matter where we are from: how to be our version of the "perfect" parent vs. how to be our version of our "perfect" selves. Can we really have it all?

For the nannies in Living Out, it is sometimes just a matter of survival. For Ana, a nanny from El Salvador, it has been eight years since she left her oldest son behind in war-torn El Salvador to come to the United States. She is trying desperately to earn enough money as a nanny so she can be reunited with him. At the same time, though, she is struggling to do her best as the mom of her younger son born in the States. She is pulled in completely opposite directions. How will she earn enough money to bring her son from El Salvador yet at the same time be a parent to her younger son living with her?

"How else am I going to do it?" Ana yells to the audience in frustration and desperation as she stands between both her employer and her partner, Bobby. I was shocked the first time I heard this line. There was my life being played out on stage right in front of me! Most of the time, I have no answer for this question and just carry on and do what I can do. Sometimes I do my best; sometimes I do a really lousy job.

Nancy, Ana's employer, hires a nanny for their three-month old daughter so she can go back to work as an entertainment attorney. She has run out of maternity leave and faces being either fired or put on the "mommy track."

"I do like to work! I like to work--and I love my child! Is that so horrible of me?" yells Nancy to her husband, Richard.

Again, here is an all-too-familiar scene from my own life being played out on the stage. Could my family survive me being unavailable for significant amounts of time? I have spent eight years as a stay-at-home mom; is it too late for me to find meaningful work? Do I go back to work and put our kiddo in childcare just to earn enough money to put her in childcare so I can go back to work? Where is the balance to it all?

It is tempting to try to categorize struggle on a vertical scale, but that is a trap. On the surface, it may seem that Ana's struggle is harder and Nancy's struggle is easier. But does it really matter in the end? A struggling mother is a struggling mother, end of story.

Have I really found a way to have it all? No, not even close. I am, however, adjusting what I define as "all." Our house is still a mess, my family is eating more take-out than I would prefer, my daughter has been giving me the puppy dog eyes and saying she misses me, and my husband and I practically have to re-introduce ourselves to one another as we tag in and out.

But, I feel like I'm living a pretty good play. My daughter gets to see her mama struggle and overcome, my husband gets a chance to hone his skills as primary care giver, and the cats? Well, they continue to not care about any of it as long as somebody feeds them!

2014-04-23-debpicDeb Banks McIntosh is a creatrix of adventure and opportunity. She holds a MS in Geosciences and is currently switching gears to study Communication, Media, and Theater Arts. Her work focuses on stage management and science journalism. She has served as president of the board of directors for MotherWoman and firmly believes in the ripple effect of global change beginning right here at home.

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