“I think I’m going to try out for Beauty and the Beast next week. You should do it with me!” It was 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night – and auditions were the next Tuesday. My best friend Beth pitched the idea during a late night visit in our sun room. My husband was catching up on work in the living room, and my four-year-old daughter was asleep in her bed. I should have laughed and waved away the idea . . . but instead I practically leapt across the couch. “Are you serious?!” I asked. “Are you really going to do it?”
I had dreamed of pursuing musical theatre for years, but somehow the timing had never been “quite right”. I’d always had a million legitimate excuses – and in that moment, I knew there was absolutely nothing logical about trying it now! After enduring a lengthy and traumatic international adoption process, our first nine months home with our daughter had been much more difficult than we’d expected. Our precious girl was just starting to bond to us, and she was not ready for daycare or a nanny. The business and non-profit organization we ran from home were both struggling. My husband and I were caring for our daughter all day, every day and staying up until 2:00 a.m. working every night. We were exhausted in every way that a person can be – physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
But something in me leapt at the idea of auditioning for this play. Because something inside me knew that for the first time I didn’t just want to perform . . . I needed to.
I was sure that my husband, Rusty, would bring me back down to reality when I ran the idea by him, but instead, he cheered me on. Just four days later, I found myself in an audition room, belting out a heartfelt rendition of “Home”. Within a week, my name was posted right beside my best friend’s on the cast list. We’d both been given principal roles!
I felt equal parts excitement and fear. As soon as I was offered the role, I knew I was insane for even trying to get it. All the “what ifs” began to circle in my mind . . . What if this makes things even harder on your daughter? What if this hurts her attachment to you? You’re going to be gone to a LOT of rehearsals. What if Rusty can’t handle her alone for all these nights? What if this hurts your business and non-profit even more? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, ERICKA?! I had talked myself out of accepting the role pretty quickly.
Luckily, our incredible adoption therapist stopped me in my tracks by asking one simple question – “When is the last time you did something for YOURSELF?” The amount of time I sat, silently, attempting to remember, answered her question. “Ericka – you need this. Moms NEED self care, and it looks different for everyone. I think this could be really good for you. You should do it! I’m telling you to do it!” And with her “permission” and encouragement, I accepted my role. (Thank you, Kelly!)
My therapist knew that when our daughter came home, my life went completely on hold. As it is with many new moms, I felt like I’d become “just a mom” and nothing else. I struggled with my identity – but felt so much guilt and shame for struggling. After all, I’d waited and prayed to be a mother for five years! Why couldn’t I just be happy?
No one tells you that becoming a mom means losing yourself. No one explains how much you’ll miss your friends and your freedom. No one tells you that you won’t have time to emotionally process anything anymore (because you won’t have time to breathe, or think, or sleep). No one tells you that you’ll be an anxious wreck as you watch your heart walk around outside your body (in the form of a tiny person that you love more than life). No one tells you that you might really miss the sense of accomplishment that work gives you . . . or that you’ll struggle to feel that same accomplishment in taking care of your child. (You should . . . oh, you should! It is vital, sacred, beautiful, meaningful work. But it’s also almost impossible to measure.)
To those typical “new mom struggles”, add the fact that we adopted a grieving four year old — who was too big for childproofing, didn’t nap, and also didn’t speak English. She was struggling (understandably!), and she needed me every second of every day. I adored her, but I felt like I was drowning.
I knew I needed a break. As someone who sang competitively for years, I also knew I would enjoy performing again . . . but I never imagined the impact theatre would have on me. Twice a week, I met up with my best friend Beth at rehearsal – along with an enormous cast of extraordinarily talented performers. I got out of the house, hung out with *real people*, wore beautiful costumes, sang, danced, and laughed. For a few hours, I forgot everything hard that was happening in my life.
Beth (who was struggling through her own difficult season) and I started calling it our “theatre therapy”. You can’t really think of anything at rehearsal except what you’re supposed to be rehearsing! And so, it became a much-needed mental break for us both.
I still remember our first full dress rehearsal. I had no idea if I could do it. Who decides to be in their first play at 33?! I was extremely nervous, but I was performing with one of the warmest, most welcoming community theatre groups you’ll ever find. That night, my castmates showered me with compliments each and every time I ended a scene . . . and I went home and cried tears of thankfulness. After working from home for almost a decade and “cocooning” with our daughter for nine months, I’d gotten more compliments in that one night than I had in more than a year. I didn’t realize how isolated I’d been, or how lonely I’d become. I had no idea how desperately I needed someone to tell me, “Well done!”
And so, what were supposed to just be “rehearsals” became reminders of my identity. Somehow, along the way, I’d forgotten who I was and what I was capable of. But when I finally stepped out into the spotlight for our first performance, I remembered. For the first time, in a long time, I felt fully alive. Those nights at the theatre helped me find myself again. And when the audience cheered and I took my final bow as “Babette”, I could not hold back the tears.
“Musical theatre can save you, even if only for two or three hours at a time.” — (Michelle Knudsen)
My daughter missed a lot of time with me over those two months of rehearsals and three weeks of performances . . . but somehow, it made us even closer. I believe it’s because she was finally being mothered by a woman who knew her worth. I’d remembered how to sing again . . . I’d remembered how to dream again . . . I’d remembered how to care for my heart and soul . . . and my precious girl was responding to a mother who was fully alive! I will never forget how her eyes lit up the first time she saw me in my costume or hearing her tell me, “I want to be in a play just like you Mama!” What I thought might be the worst thing for my relationship with my child, ended up being the very best thing.
The most powerful lessons your children will learn, are those they see lived out in front of them. I want my daughter to grow up believing that she has worth – and I want her to know that becoming a mother doesn’t change that. I want her to know how to take care of herself – not just her body, but her mind, heart, and soul (yes, even when she has children of her own to care for, too!)
I want her to marry a man who will support and encourage her, the way she saw her father support and encourage me every step of the way. And I want her to grow up seeing and believing that you’re never too old to try something new . . . and never too far gone to chase your dreams.
[I’m still dreaming! I am currently in rehearsals for Peter Pan, along with my wonderfully talented castmates at CharACTers Entertainment in Gadsden, AL. We would love for you to see our beautiful show! Performances run from June 21st – July 1st, and tickets are available here!]