Recently, I had dinner with my friend Jeff. We’d been trying to schedule this dinner for weeks, but there are always things, mostly my things, the wonderful, impossible, messy juggle of my four-year-old and my job and my husband’s job, plus the art we both make when we’re not with our kid and/or working—“You’re out on Monday? I’m out on Tuesday, are you out on Tuesday?”—and there’s never any time. Inevitably, though, I hit the proverbial end of the proverbial rope. It had been building for a while, this overwhelming need to explode like a fizzed-up two-liter, and Jeff is my go-to in these situations. He knows I have to sit with my back to the room so no one else can see me cry. He knows when to ask for the bottle, instead of just a glass. He knows how to listen. This particular night we were at the Hopleaf, a delicious, edgy little bar on Chicago’s Northside full of good booze and beautiful people and swanky comfort food like duck reuben sandwiches and octopus carpaccio, both of which I ordered along with some wine.
“Actually, can you make that a bottle?” Jeff asked the waiter, and I immediately started to cry.
How to explain this? It wasn’t any one thing. I was exhausted, stretched everywhichway, too much stuff to do any of it well and in the middle of everything was my little boy. Didn’t he deserve more? Should I quit my job, mail the housekeys back to the bank, and move to a farm? With like… goats? We could plant a garden, I could finish my novel—I had a novel! Wasn’t I a writer?—and maybe even see my husband occasionally. I’d have a to-do list that read like blue light saber, red light saber, organic apples, instead of curriculum development, book contracts, student work. I’d slow down, engage fully in every moment instead of using the time I was supposed to be living to plan what happened next, but on the other hand—always another hand!—there’s the fact that I love my work. I’m good at it, too. It’s who I am, and it’s important for my son to see that part of me, right?
I went on.
I went on and on.
Jeff listened, waiting for the moment when the words and tears stopped, and when it finally arrived—when my breath came relaxed and quiet instead of gulpy, gaspy sobs—he said, “Are you talking to any, like, mothers?”
I reached for my wine.
“’Cause it seems like lots of mothers go through this. Mine did, I know, and my sister-in-law, too. And maybe if you talked to some you wouldn’t feel so—”
“Batshit crazy?” I said helpfully.
“—overextended,” he finished, leaning back in his chair. “Honestly, I don’t think any of this is a you thing. I think it’s a mom thing.”
Over the past four years, I’ve learned that there are many mom things : indescribable love and indescribable fear; lots of laughing; lots of weird bodily fluids and bourbon and crying to our best friends about being overextended; guilt about being overextended; times of utter loneliness; feeling totally connected to any mother in Target with a screaming toddler and if anybody gives that mother a nasty look I will come over and cut you because you know what? If you have a problem with crying children, don’t shop somewhere that sells diapers! It’s common sense, people! Not to mention that no one—no one—wants that toddler to stop screaming more than his/her mother in part because it hurts us to hear our children cry but also because OH MY GOD WHY IS THIS KID STILL CRYING?!; exhaustion; crazy libidos; guilt about working and writing and going out when we should be building super ramps on the carpet 24/7; watching episode after episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer free-streaming on Netflix because killing vampires is sometimes the only thing that can quiet the noise in our heads; lots of noise in our heads; feeling what Stacy refers to as Mother-induced-anxiety; feeling very calm and level-headed in a crisis even if we’re crazy the rest of the time; knowing the U.N. should be made up of mothers ‘cause if we can balance the insanity in our google calendars, why not the f’ing world, and P.S. if I am expected to juggle raising children and educating this country’s children and keeping this country moving with my money and my vote and my hope and faith and perseverance, than you can be damn well sure I have the intelligence to decide what happens to my own body—Dear Washington: LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER!—and I’ve only been a mother for four years! I haven’t even begun to experience the mom things! I’ve just scratched the goddamn surface!
When I decided to auditon for Listen To Your Mother, a national reading series in honor of motherhood and benefitting moms in need, I had no idea what—of the many mom things I’ve felt/experienced/written about—to audition with.
Through my work with 2nd Story, I’ve been lucky enough to tell stories around all sorts of themes: heartbreak, politics, faith, sexual identity, dodging bullets, fear, marriage, fantasy, and regret, to name just a few. Usually, I’m commissioned for these shows. I’ll get the theme assignment and then, for a day or two or three, I live with it, reaching down the line of my life to find the moments, experiences, and lessons that fit the idea. I write about it in my journal, talk about it with friends, talk about it with myself when I’m stuck in traffic—
Sidebar: stuck in traffice is an essential part of my writing process. It’s when I think things through and figure out what I want the work to—as they say—say. One time, my son was in the backseat and he said, “Mommy, who are you talking to?” This was it: the moment when I explained to my child that I hear voices, not voices like Sybil Dorsett and all of her alters or The United States of Tara, voices like characters. Like, as perhaps more graspable for a four-year-old, imaginary friends. Many, many imaginary friends. “I’m talking to myself, baby,” I told him, and you know what he did? He leaned forward on his booster seat and said, “You don’t have to talk to yourself, Mommy. You can talk to me!” Imagine a huge tidal wave crashing over Lakeshore Drive and engulfing our car—that’s the pride I felt for this little boy. Pride and gratitude and awe. He is Just. So. Awesome.
—Anyhow. I’m stuck in traffic, thinking about stories. I’ll think of one or two or five connected to whatever theme I’ve been assigned, and then I’ll grab whichever one is most taking my attention, that big proverbial YOU ARE HERE sign, and on from there. But motherhood? Motherhood shook the living hell out of me, not because I couldn’t come up with anything; rather the opposite. I couldn’t stop. My usual one or two or five ideas was now twenty, twenty-five, forty, all those mom things I’ve written about in some way or another for the past four years suddenly clogging my brain: stories about Caleb’s infancy, turning one, turning two, the many times I’ve questioned myself, the many times I’ve felt literally breathless with joy. Which one to walk into the audition for Listen To Your Mother? What were the producers looking for? How on Earth was I supposed to choose?
In the end, I didn’t. Auditions were held in the back of Uncommon Ground on Clark, and I arrived with six stories in my bag. At the bar, I had a glass of wine and narrowed the six down to four. Then my name was called, and as I walked into the room, I cut it to three, then two as I introduced myself to the two lovely, hard-working, visionary women producing LTYM Chicago (Hi, Melisa! Hi, Tracey!). “What will you be reading for us today?” they asked, and I did that thing where you open your mouth without knowing what you’re going to say, just trusting that it will be the right thing, and what came out—very fast and nervous and slightly wine-induced—was this:
“Actually, I brought two stories. I’m not sure which one you’d rather hear? One of them is about this tumor I had but maybe you’ve already heard like two thousand tumor stories today in which case can I buy you a glass of wine? ‘cause that’s a lot of tumors and I don’t know about you, but I had a lot of wine with my tumor. P.S. I’m fine now! I also brought this other thing about trying to get pregnant, but I wrote it in the present tense so maybe it wouldn’t work ‘cause it’ll sound like I’m trying to get pregnant now which totally isn’t the case, thanks, I already have one kid I can barely keep up with plus our condo is the size of a closet so where would I even put another baby let alone like taking care of it? Hi. I’m Megan.”
These two lovely, hard-working, visionary women? They didn’t even flinch. It was eight p.m., they’d been there all day, had seen Lord knows how many mothers telling Lord knows how many thrilling/beautiful/awful/hopeful/hilarious stories about motherhood. They must have been exhausted. Their ears must’ve been exploding already. And you know what they said? They said, “Let’s grab some more wine and hear them both.”
I am grateful for their kindness. I’m grateful for the trust they’ve placed in me to be a part of this amazing performance, one of many Listen To Your Mother shows happening all around the country in honor of the many diverse yet utterly relatable mom things that we all experience. I’m grateful to stand on stage tonight at Victory Gardens  with our lovely, hard-working, visionary cast. Turns out, I didn’t need to worry about choosing a single story that would exemplify the many facets of motherhood.
All of us, together, make that happen.
I’m also grateful to have all these new mothers to talk with. About time I gave Jeff a break.
 I use the word mom because that’s what I am, but I think this can also apply to Dads and Grandparents and Foster Parents and any Significant Adult working with great love and commitment to raise healthy, happy, awesome children.
 The show tonight is sold out, but all the Listen To Your Mother performances both in Chicago and around the country will be filmed and up on youtube.