I knew I was going to like Amy Wilson, star of a new one-woman show called Mother Load, within 10 seconds of speaking to her on the phone. Wilson, 36, was home alone with her two sons on a rainy Friday afternoon. The first thing she said to her kids was: “Hey, guys, want to watch Pinky Dinky Doo?" And then she confided in me: “My first parenting secret is Noggin.” A woman after my own heart.
Mother Load, which Wilson also wrote, examines one mother’s quest for parenting perfection. The show echoes many of the sentiments expressed in the recent firestorm set off by fellow blogger Anne Tergesen’s post, The Elusive 50/50 Division of Labor.
Here are edited excerpts from my interview with Wilson, who previously appeared on Broadway in the Tony-winning play The Last Night of Ballyhoo and in the films Kissing Jessica Stein and Kinsey.
Q. Where did the idea for the show come from?
A. It did come out of my experience. I worked as an actress for 10 years before my sons were born. I was in L.A. a lot, and I was doing stuff, but I’ve basically been pregnant or trying to lose baby weight for the past five years. The decision was made for me. I couldn’t be in L.A. doing sitcoms, especially when my husband had a stable and better-paying job here. My job left me. Then the opportunity came up for me to write something. I thought I’d write about being a mom.
Q. What is the Mother Load?
A. Being a mother always has been hard, but these days it is harder than ever, and it is our fault—I call it the mother load. We take motherhood on excessively: There is a right way to give birth. There is a right way to feed your kids. There is a right way to look. There are books and experts that are very absolutist. There is no middle ground. If you stay home with your kids, you are doing something wrong. If you don’t stay home, you are doing something wrong. If you give your baby a bottle, it’s wrong. No matter what choice you make, someone is telling you that you are doing it wrong, or that you could be doing it better.
It’s never ending. Moms think it is their job to figure out who needs new socks, and when they will find the chance to buy three birthday presents. It fills up your head. I wish I could be my husband. If he was planning my son’s 3rd birthday with 35 kids, he would open a bag of Doritos, and he would be fine with it. So would everyone else. Men don’t worry about this stuff. I wish I could live like him.
Q. What is the show about?
A. The show is about me at home cleaning up the apartment after the kids go to bed. You know how it is. You close the bedroom door, and you sigh. Then you turn around, and the house is a mess. You can’t just sit down and watch American Idol.
As I clean up, I go through the journey of how I got to this crazy place and how I over-think everything: what it’s like to have newborn, how to deal with acid reflux, whether or not I will breastfeed right, all the way up to nursery school applications. Along the way, I come to the realization that the more time I spend worrying about whether my kids eat organic vegetables, or if they get enough sunscreen, the less I am enjoying them. None of that matters. That’s a very old realization, but I had to make it for myself.
I also talk about our journey. We struggled with infertility with our first. I talk about the childbirth. I poke fun at everyone, mostly myself, and also my husband, David Flannery, who has a great sense of humor about it. He ate his way through my first labor. He was nervous. He must have read somewhere that you need to tank up before you go to hospital because you might not have a good meal when you get there. I was in labor for 20 hours. He started with everything in the house—a half box of pasta, the carcass of a rotisserie chicken, and bits of Ben and Jerry’s in the freezer. When we got to the hospital, he had packed a bag of Power Bars and peanuts and other snacks like we would be in the wilderness for a week. I couldn’t stand the smell of any of it.
He also brought all these CDs. The first song he put on was U2’s “Beautiful Day.” At that point, I had been in labor for 12 hours. I said, “Turn that off.” Then he opened a bag of trail mix, and I wanted to puke. He couldn’t do anything right.
Q. Why can’t we let go?
A. Even though my husband is a very healthy eater, another hubby might let his kids eat Fluffer Nutter, and say it is fine. Well, it is fine. But it’s frustrating for me to watch him not sweat the small stuff. If I go out on a Saturday morning and come back at noon, I might find my son Seamus still in his PJs with last night’s diaper, and there is cereal stuck to the bowls. But everyone is having a great time. They are all relaxed. The house is a mess, but who cares?
Q. Who watches the kids when you are working?
A. I had a college kid in the afternoon, but he quit on me on last week. I’m usually home with them more, but, of course, working on the show, I’m really busy. The good thing is that my sister lives 10 blocks away. So most nights when I’m working, she watches the kids. I also have a babysitter about 24 hours a week.
The good thing about working nights is that I have quality time with my kids in the middle of the day. The show starts at 8 p.m., but it is still in previews so I’m getting there early. Eventually, at some point, I’ll be able to show up at 7:20 p.m. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I’m also pregnant, which is another interesting and complicating factor. I’m 16 weeks. This is the right stretch to do it in. It’s the second trimester so I’m not as tired. It gives me authenticity, I guess.
The Mother Load is at the Sage Theater in New York City’s theater district through June 16. If you can’t make it to New York to see the show, check out some of the video clips on the Mother Load website.