The Joy of Motherhood? // by Nicole Alifante
Actor Nicole Alifante takes a frank look at what it means to be both an artist and a mother.
Irene Jones and her husband Joe Jones murdered their twins, Harriet and Homer, because after becoming parents they couldn’t dream anymore. They forgot who they were and why they loved each other in the first place. They did everything as usual in an oppressive sea of monotony to keep the mortgage, the car, the kids, the neighbors, all in line with THE dream which was no longer THEIR dream but closer to a collective, socially constructed nightmare.
I walked out of Irene’s body after the final performance of cul-de-sac written by one of my dear friends, John Cariani, who played Joe Jones, and I unknowingly said goodbye to Jack Cummings lll, Transport Group, and theater. I have not returned since. I was thirty-five and hadn’t started a family yet. It was time. (Um, says who?) The curtain closed on May 16, 2006, and by July, I was pregnant. Out of Irene’s body and very much in my own, now inhabited by a growing human.
Maybe I’m too honest, selfish, or jaded but I don’t see motherhood as a space where I find joy. Yup. I just wrote that for all of NYC to read. Had I played Irene Jones after having my son, who is now going to be 15 years old, I may have come at it from a deeper, richer place. I definitely would have understood the murder part…better. Not that actors have to live the experiences of the people we play but boy…it can certainly support the effort!
I try to explain my personal experience as a mom like this: If before I got pregnant, I had a crystal ball and someone showed me my son Leo, I would have done it! I would have made that kid! He’s intense, handsome, wicked smart and artistic. He also has ADHD, whatever the HELL that is and he is the most difficult human being I’ve ever been in a relationship with from the day he showed up, all 9 pounds, 6 ounces of him.
However, if the crystal ball never showed me the kid but showed me a day in the life of MYSELF as a mom…5:00 a.m. wake-ups, the wondering if the day could possibly go on longer as the clock struck noon, the endless hours of standing in a playground listening to cicadas screaming while I worried about when he’d have a meltdown in between him telling people that his name was Bono or Ringo and me having to tell them, “Sorry, his name is Leo.” The boredom, anxiety, worry, judgment, and regret. The attic full of dusty dreams stuffed to the gills, bursting at the seams, screaming for me to return to the daydreamer, the singer, the actor, the lover. She was dead. Murdered as soon as she gave life. Had I seen THAT in the crystal ball, I would have run far away from motherhood.
The genius of cul-de-sac is that John understood that. Joe and Irene killed their twins. The other couples in the piece, Jill and Roger Johnson, forgot to have a baby and woke up feeling unfinished and alone, and James and Christy Smith lost their baby (never to be found) in the vastly oversized Super Center Market and couldn’t function in the world anymore. What is it about the threshold some of us cross from being an individual roaming the planet to being a parent that holds such power over us? Of course, Jack Cummings understood this too. Only Jack would direct all three couples playing out their scenes on stage together for the full two hours with a manic dance number in the mix no less. He built this existential tension on stage for us. Our map each night was controlled and meticulous like a suburban, PTA mom’s spreadsheet. It was hard to breathe. What we birth together, in the theater, these experiences, these magical moments, they defy time. These stories are our children too. Making theater rides on ego, unconditional love, and a calling that can’t be explained.
When my son was three, riding in the back seat of the car, he said, “Mom, you make the rules. But I make the deals.” I knew from the moment I got pregnant that I had signed a deal, a contract that I could never run from. I never feel like I want to murder my son, but I fantasize (still) about leaving him, my husband, and my dog, Chet Baker. Maybe even just for a few years. I’d get a studio in the West Village and be in Transport Group plays. Or I would finally have time to shop the over 80 songs I’ve written since leaving NYC and becoming a “suburban mom.” Or I would fight to finally get a workshop of my musical produced, after the first staged reading was swept up by the pandemic and hasn’t seen the light of day since. I would book my jazz band at sexy night clubs and get my rock band into festivals. And we’d open for Martin Sexton. Or I would finally build the team that my nonprofit needs so I can have more freedom and more support in my passion to end systemic racism.
But wait! I’m doing all of that anyway. Just more slowly. Perhaps more mindfully. And maybe even with more intention. In this relentless state of motherhood, I’ve learned self-care, mindfulness, dialectical behavioral therapy, and restorative justice. I’ve learned to let go and to set boundaries. I’m a better friend, wife, writer, and community member. I’m still exhausted and scared but VERY hopeful and frankly, a lot of it is because of that F&^($#G kid! Sometimes I don’t even like him, but I always love him in a way that is inexplicable. And if I wished him anything, it would be that he never stops dreaming. I haven’t yet. I know I never will. Maybe if I looked into that crystal ball now, I’d see what I was incapable of seeing before I became someone’s mother.
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