A mother who is a playwright / A playwright who is a mother

The two most empowering choices I ever made were choosing to be an artist and a mother. Against all odds and by sheer determination, I am both. It is a heavy heaven! I love both these identities. Mothering is vital. Creating art is vital. Children and art are the souls of any culture.

In between sticky plates, finger-painting collaborations, and a front lawn sprinkler disaster, it has taken me about four hours to get to writing. I finally get time for myself to think about the larger question of who I am and what art I want to give the world.

Mothers, unlike all the writers I learned about in English class, don’t get to Walden Pond. We have to manage inside the noise. Art and parenting require an intense amount of focus and attention. Most often, my attention is pulled between my two loves. I’ve learned to live with interruptions.

But full disclosure, PBS is babysitting right now. I will probably be interrupted in thirty minutes in which I will have to start again at another time. However, the interruptions can be motivational. I wrote a children’s book out of one of my daughter’s early morning questions. I got the image I needed for a play by watching my twins play on the carpet while another mother of twins and I picked up massive amounts of Cheerios. So at times it seems hard to separate the two: what is creation? What is parenting? My art and my mothering live side by side. It’s my life and I love it! I wrestle with it. And like my precious twins, there are days when they co-exist beautifully and there are days when each one wants more attention than I can give.

When I first became pregnant eight years ago, everyone said I would stop writing. “You’ll be too tired and drained.” But the opposite happened. I wrote my most personal play shortly after giving birth. While I was tending to newborns and in between nursing breaks, two characters started talking to me. So I nursed my babies, wrote, and then went back to sleep. Because of all the emotions I felt as a new mother, I had a well of creativity that wasn’t open to me before I became a parent. This wellspring has never ceased.

To put it bluntly, my heart broke open and I wanted more: more for the world, more for my children, more for myself. As my son and daughter discovered things for the first time, like a walk in the woods, I discovered things too. Had I really stopped noticing the texture of green moss and the lacy glisten of a spider web? I had to get down. Down with my twins, down with the weight of the earth, the gravity of duties and notice the joy. By doing that, poetry poured through my pen. When I gave birth, both my art and my life was never the same. I now write from a place of love and non-urgency rather than cynicism.

I wrote my most personal play shortly after giving birth. While I was tending to newborns and in between nursing breaks, two characters started talking to me.

a mother and her two children
Jennifer embracing her twins. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Berry.

I cannot imagine not being a mother. I cannot imagine not being a playwright. Mothering and theatre both involve conception, a gestation period, birth, nurturing, and finally letting go what you cannot control. The way mothers and artists function in society is similar. To do both you have to be responsible, hardworking, resourceful, flexible, and disciplined. An artist’s work and a parent’s work are the same. The process goes unnoticed, but the product has to be outstanding. My son will never remember the hours of physical therapy I did with him every morning so that his body would be properly aligned. Nor will my daughter remember the countless research I did for her food allergies. Yet, the doctor expects them to be in good health, the teachers expect them to be well behaved, and society expects them to be productive.

Although my twins might be my best creation, they are not my only creation. They are beautiful, smart, sensitive, and bold, but they do not satisfy my artistic ambition. Therefore, I write at stolen moments on borrowed time. What I can get done in fifteen minutes now is what I used to accomplish in two hours. There are plenty of unreturned phone calls, missed opportunities, messes, and mistakes. Nevertheless, there is magic in the mistake. And several happy accidents have led me to finding unexpected resources and friendships. Because I really believe in my work, sometimes I have to say no to my children. My days are both internal and external—working out the plot of a play while waiting in the carpool line.

Sometimes the days hanging with small children are like going down a river slowly. Most days I love the river. I float gently with my twins avoiding the desire to paddle upstream. Motherhood is just like art—it takes all of your rigor and surrender. For a while I fought it because I wanted to cling to my old life before my kids. The life where most things go as planned and your productivity shows. Things are documented by output and completed tasks. But you can’t measure breast milk. You can’t measure memories. My life is a composition of compromise. There is repetition and rhythm. I find my rhythm and then lose it in the same day. I try for a perfect concerto, but settle for a groove. And guess what? I like having a groove with children on my hips, floating instead of flailing, and noticing things I would never notice if I was by myself.

Perhaps, mothers with one child can paddle a bit faster with their other hand. But I have both hands full. So I have to float, wait, and enjoy. I have a rich and meaningful life. I’m the luckiest woman alive. I’m a Playwright and a Mom! I’m a Mom and a Playwright.

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This article is very uplifting, Professor Berry! In my opinion, it is hard to follow your passion and be a mother at the same time, but you did it. I am happy that you are able to balance your passion and your duty as a mother. I have seen a lot of mothers who stop chasing their dreams once they become mothers. They think it is difficult so they give up. But you are very brave to take the risk that many mothers would not imagine taking. And I bet that you are much happier than they are because you get to do what you love and fulfill your duty as a mother. My passion is playing and writing music, but I become discouraged sometimes because I think I will have to give up on it in the future. I am more motivated after reading this article. It makes me believe that I can always do what I love even when I become a mother. Thank you for sharing a beautiful story and your inspirations!

I think this piece is motivating to all women who are mothers and who soon will be. Nobody would want to give up their life of "luxury" before having kids, but the sacrifices that have to be made would result with more benefits because women choose to be resourceful and responsible - not only for themselves but for their children. Priorities shifts, but its worth the shift; and it is a great example to set for our future generation of motherhood. Being able to pick and choose what needs to be done and was is "wanted" to be done is a juggling act that any determined women can do. This is a part of life and adding children can change that, but doesn't mean that those choices must be disregarded entirely.

This is very inspiring, it just shows that no one should be limited to do anything. Everyone should follow there dreams and do all the things they desire. The fact that you are able manage both being a playwright and a mother just shows how strong you are. I feel like there should be more people who do now let others opinion affect what they will do in life after they have their child(ren). And thank you for sharing your story.

It is a true testament that the journey is the destination. We have the choice to push on and struggle or make excuses and throw in the towel. To have a rich and meaningful life one must overcome those struggles, that is what gives our life meaning. Crossing the finish line is great, but it without a challenge, it is meaningless. My old-school father said, "learn form your mistakes." But I thanks to you, I will now say, "learn from other's success." Thank you

I felt like this gives a positive outlook to those mothers who sometimes feel discouraged when they are at work instead of spending time with their kids or those mothers who need that extra push to do what they truly love. I love when you say that your twins are your best creation but not your only creation! I believe that women are capable of doing so much and this article proves it is possible.

This is honestly a motivational and inspiring read. You give so much love and even though you are always busy it seems that you enjoy every busy minute of your entire day. You didn't let the negativity get into your head like most women do after they have their children. I admire that. Your children are your motivation which brings your art to life. It is beautiful how both things you love can come together and make something greater. People are quick to give up when things get tough. However, do not see the outcome. Hopefully if I ever become a mother I would like to follow these footsteps as well. This is a great piece for women to want to do the same and not give up.

Professor,

I too feel that as we grow up, we start overlooking the simple beauties in life. Like the glistening spider-web and that tender green moss scattered across a lush landscape. I am glad to hear that this experience reinvigorated your creative drive. It serves as a reminder to myself that when I am old enough to take on the responsibility of being a father, my dream can co-exist as well. But until then, I will have to continue to learn, more and more each day as my mother yells at me to do clean my room. This was an inspiring piece!

A terrific piece. I wish I had a mom/writer friend like you in my life! You capture the joy and complication, the struggle and surrender so well. All best wishes to you, your children, and your work!

I love this Jenny! Thanks for expressing how this duality does not need to be limiting but can actually be inspiring and rewarding. As artists, the worst thing we can do is limit ourselves with the rules about how we write. All of us have to find the ways to squeeze it into the reality of our lives.

This was a very inspirational article Professor Berry. Although I a am not a mother I can definitely relate. I am constantly told that I won't be able to do the career I want with kids. Since I am told that constantly sometimes I think it is true. However, after taking your class and reading this article, I am glad that I am constantly reminded I can do it. It might be hard in the beginning however it is possible. Thanks again for this amazing and inspirational article as well as constantly reminding me it is possible.

This is a very sweet article, Professor Berry! I loved the part about clinging on to life before the kids because the productivity shows but you can't measure breast milk. That part really got me. Amazing piece and very inspiring.

This is great Professor! I love how you did not give up and you made people see that things wouldn't stop you from being a writer. This demonstrates that there are strong women and very passionate about what you believe.

Professor Berry, as a mother myself, I can completely relate with you on many levels. When I had my children, right after graduating from high school, I really thought that was it for me. Didn't think I would be able to be more than a mother, but my children gave me the ammunition to be more. I was able to do much more than when I was single and childfree. Since I became a mother, I returned to school and got a job with a wonderful employer. Learned to be more efficient and multi-task, I had to with so much to get done. And although I live a very busy life, it is rewarding to my children, husband, and I to see how much we have accomplished together. Thank you very much for being such a wonderful role model, it is very empowering to all us women.

This article is so deep and interesting Dr. Berry!! I liked how you informed us that being a mother and an artist to you is a heavy heaven. I can relate to the part that PBS babysits because, although I'm not a mother, I have experienced that in the past with my baby brother.

Jennifer is an amazing person, wonderful mother and a creative inspirational writer. I loved the article and you have inspired me to write again.

Who says women have to give up their career and dreams when they become a mother? That's what I was afraid of if I were to ever start a family and become a mother. Your article and your story challenges that stigma & it was truly an inspirational and motivational read. I've been debating whether or not to follow my dream career or settle down for a stable job in order to raise a family, and your article inspired me. Where there's a will, there's a way!

This article is really interesting professor Berry! Not only has it really opened my eyes to the struggles of raising children but made me more appreciative of my mother. I didn't realize how hard it is to keep your child happy and cared for while juggling what is of interest to you . This article is nothing but inspirational.

All those well-meaning, loving people who tell you you can't write after you have children! All those mean-spirited, destructive people say the very same thing. And they're all wrong, and they've always been wrong. This was lovely to read. I don't see how reproduction has to steal your words--but then I'm a playwright and a mother, too.

This is a very powerful article Professor Berry! It is truly inspirational. I have the privilege of being a parent myself so I know the struggles of raising children while trying to keep a bit of yourself. It is truly amazing to see how you can juggle the love for your children and your love for art with such equilibrium. You really make me appreciate all the mothers in my life, there is no comparison for what mothers do, although us fathers are trying to give you a good run. Thank you for all you do.

Beautiful article Professor Berry! I love how you weigh both identities equally because of your immense love for both - being a mother and an artist. Even though I am not a mother yet, reading this article and hearing the women in the women's panel, makes me see that children shape your life differently! And when you become a mother, that didn't stop you from creating art because you tend to both identities. While becoming a mother changes your life, it's important to do other things for yourself, having an outlet or multiple. Children are a blessing and they grow up to be strong yet sensitive individuals with the values and moral principles they are taught with -- the process of life.

GREAT ARTICLE!! Could not stop reading this amazing piece. Just shows how powerful mothers can really be. However, you are very right when we do forget how it feels like to touch something simple such as a spiders web because were so high up compared to kids. they see a different world "down there" compared to us "up here." Every mother or soon to be mother should read this pice of art because it's a very warm welcoming to mothers and the beauty of the title.

This article is amazing! It shows how your identity does not have to be one single component of your life but rather a combination of all your loves and interests. Although it can be difficult to manage both identities, it is like you said empowering and worth it. Many mothers that I know (including my own mother) have found the best and strongest aspects of themselves once they became mothers. The love of a mother to her child or children, in my opinion are the most inspirational. This article is motivating for not only mothers, but for women in general. Although I am not a mother myself I can relate to the difficulty of keeping my career steady while dividing my time and attention to other aspects of my identity such as my love for dancing, friends, and most importantly my family, especially to my mother who needs close care due to her illnesses. It is very important to find inspiration in the times that can be most difficult for us and use that to better ourselves and the people around us.