Parenting & Playwriting

What I did for Love

This post is the fourth column of a regular series on Parenting & Playwriting. Find the previous columns here. Here’s what my advice column will offer you: a place to ask questions and share grievances about juggling life as theater artists and as parents. Here’s what my advice column will not offer you: much actual advice you can use. For those of you masochists longing for some truly crappy advice, email me at

Dear Catherine,

How do you take advantage of out-of-town development and production opportunities when you are the primary caregiver to small children and can't afford full-time daycare?

This is an absolutely true story.

It starts with an oyster.

After a busy fall that took me to Southern California and London with the help of lots of ad hoc daycare, I found myself in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I planned to leave my children with my Mother, while I opened a new play in New York.

This departure fell nicely against Thanksgiving, and my whole family was assembled around a kitchen counter laden with raw oysters, which my Mom had bought on a holiday whim. Now I love my garden life in Kansas, but living so far from the coasts doesn't lend itself to raw seafood, which manifests as a huge, gaping hole in my life, so I was happy to see these oysters. I was so happy, in fact, that it didn't occur to me that raw oysters in Arkansas are probably no better than in Kansas.

I ate like a horse.

There was also alcohol involved and some sort of beet salad, and throwing up that night was like disgorging myself of bloody, ground-up guts. I felt no better in the morning, Thanksgiving morning, which I spent in bed. As I lay there moaning, I asked my Mom to pick up the remote control three feet away from the bed, so I could watch that Goldie Hawn masterpiece, Overboard, on TBS, which my Mother did. But as she was reaching for the remote control, her foot caught on a suitcase and she fell to the floor and tore her ACL.

Her knee ballooned purple and she didn't walk for weeks. Needless to say, she didn't cook Thanksgiving dinner, I didn't watch Overboard, and she was no longer available to watch my kids.

Finding full-time daycare on Thanksgiving is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, so I canceled all my plane tickets, we loaded up the car, and the Professor and I drove the kids seven hundred and fifty miles to my Mother-in-law in North Carolina, who agreed to watch them while I was in New York. The Professor then drove fifteen hundred miles back to Kansas the next day, so he could be at work on Monday for, you know, the job that provides our health insurance.

Since I had to be in New York for both the first and last weeks of rehearsal and our travel budget lay shredded on the floor, we deemed the most sensible path was for the kids and me to remain in North Carolina.

For six weeks.

Finding full-time daycare on Thanksgiving is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, so I canceled all my plane tickets, we loaded up the car, and the Professor and I drove the kids seven hundred and fifty miles to my Mother-in-law in North Carolina, who agreed to watch them while I was in New York.

My in-laws are loving and generous to a fault. I love visiting them. They adore Lizzie and Laura, and my Mother-in-law, in particular, is a saint when it comes to childcare. They are also hoarders, and trying to reach the printer in the guest bedroom involved all my modern dance and mountain climbing skills combined.

Finally, the winter holidays passed, the show opened in New York, my Mother-in-law was still speaking to me (barely), and the Professor and I were driving the fifteen hundred miles back to Kansas, when we smelled the unmistakable smell of disaster on the Cimarron Turnpike, no man's land, just south of the Osage Indian Reservation in Osage County. It was not, however, August in Osage county. It was January, and it was cold, and there I was shivering, standing on the side of the road with a child dripping diarrhea out of her diaper.

I had paper towels and wipes and cleaned her off best I could. I did not, however, have a trash can, or a plastic bag, or a closed receptacle of any kind, and after the bad oysters and the swollen knee, the miles driven and the six weeks at my in-laws with all their stuff, I did what any good environmentalist would: I left that soiled diaper on the side of the road.

Don't believe me?

Fact check me, baby. The evidence will be there for another three hundred years.

What crazy things have you done for love of the theater? Share them with us in the comments!

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A series on balancing responsibilities as a working playwright and as a parent.

Parenting & Playwriting

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Only you, Niece of mine. This is so funny- now that it is over with. You're the best. Sorry I have no stories to share.

I can't tell you how I HOWLED with recognition, reading this blog. The number of times I went to board meetings with baby dribble down my back or desperately tried to write a grant and rewrite a script while a tiny nap was happening... so it goes... you captured it all beautifully-- make it a play!

Hilarious. I recall locking myself in my office at the Taper in order to pump breast milk and making the mistake of answering the phone whilst I was still in progress. I was so sleep deprived I don't know how I explained the sound or whether I managed to turn the machine off. But looking back, I realize that was quite a commitment I had to be a working theatre professional!

Yes, Carol, it was for HTWB. Tara and Victoria, it’s good to see you here! Thanks for sharing. Hearing other people’s vomit stories make me feel not so alone in the world.

Here's the thing about being a parent and a writer, or any other kind of artist probably: either you try to make ends meet as a writer, in which case you don't have much time to write because you can't afford much child care, or you find a job that pays enough to cover quality full-time childcare, in which case you don't have much time to write because you're working your day job and when you come home you miss your kids and you really don't want to lock yourself away from them even if you could.

HILARIOUS. And so reminiscent of a moment two summers ago when my daughter projectile vomited orange juice onto the back of my head (and all over her, the car seat, the seat belts, the gear shift) as I was driving to Bard college for a new play workshop (and bringing her with for rehearsal to boot). No napkins, paper towels. Nuthin. So I made Keith take off his shirt to clean her up as best we could, and we too left it on the side of the road. But poop trumps vomit, don't you think? So, yes. I believe you too.

Having gotten a bout of food poisoning right before a draft was due on one of those blessed CHILD CARE DAYS where I CAN FINALLY GET S*@# DONE and having to spend the day in bed instead, I feel you. Amazing. Congratulations on the success of your show in New York through all your travails!