That Tall Blonde at the Callback — Mom Guilt

Susan Tonkin
Apr 12 · 5 min read

“Mom, do you have a show AGAIN tonight?” my 10-year old grumbles from the back seat. “You are doing too many shows!” I KNOW, I know. But Mommy loves to do theatre — it’s my passion. I tried not doing it for a while (9 years!) but that made me sad. Happy mom/wife, happy life, yes?

Yes, and no. It’s constantly a struggle. One of the big changes most first-time mothers note they didn’t really understand or anticipate, and now really struggle with is the “my life is no longer my own” issue. When you are childless, you call the shots on the little things in your day. Now, everything is now planned because you’ve got a kid in the mix. There is no “I think I’ll run to the mall this afternoon in between such and such”. That gets a little easier once they are in school, but it’s still the case post 3pm and all weekend. And theatre does the SAME THING to you. “I can’t, I have rehearsal” — there is no flex in your schedule, you have FIRM commitments both at home, at the theatre, and for many of us also in the workplace. Not gonna lie — it’s stressful.

My daughter & I performing together.

I know my husband and kids would like me home more, and I’d like me home more. But theatre is sometimes unpredictable, so when you land the roles you want, you take them. Even when they end up back to back to back to back (as has just happened with my two shows for 2018 and two shows for 2019). I tried to do some of these shows WITH my daughter, but such is the unpredictability of show business. Last summer, we auditioned together and she got cast and I didn’t. This summer, the opposite! We’ll try again. This weekend I’ll do three performances of “Company”, then Sunday night I’ll drive straight from Altarena to West Valley Light Opera and attend the first rehearsal for my next show “Will Rogers Follies”. I’ll rehearse during the week and run Company for four more weekends (including this one).

Company has been a fantastic experience so far for MANY reasons, but one of the best is a community of moms in the show! I literally have never had this before. Most of my female theatre colleagues are either childless or have grown children. It’s a passion that demands so many hours that mothers of children under 18 generally avoid it. In all the shows I’ve done since the end of my theatre “break”, even the bigger casts of 30+, there has never been more than one or two other “kid” moms in the cast. Company, in a cast of 14, has 8 women, and 4 of us are moms of young kids! I can’t tell you want it means to have a group that knows exactly why you won’t be going out after the show because you want to get home and get a few extra minutes with your family on a Sunday evening. And who can commiserate about struggling to figure out who was babysitting Thursday night because Dad is still out of town on business. MY TRIBE!

MY TRIBE of ladies in Company (plus Bobby)

Our director commented recently that he’s really proud of what our cast has brought to this show and he mentioned that our life experiences were a big part of that (he has directed Company before). We aren’t an “old” cast per se, but there are several of us in our 40s and there are marriages and long-term relationships of 10–20 years. People with divorce and heartbreak in their past. People who know that relationships are super hard work and aren’t always rosy. We see the truth in Sondheim’s incredible lyrics in songs like “Sorry, Grateful”*. And we are better storytellers because of that. It’s really lovely, and I’m so thrilled to be a part of it. And I think it’s worth time away from my family to tell that story.

There are many who say “you’ll never get that time back with your kids!”, and I hear them, and I feel that every day. We say it to working moms of every type. Is it only “worth it” if we get money in return? That places an awful lot of importance on money. I’m after a different benefit. I’m firmly in that camp that our daughters AND sons need to see their Moms in the world. Doing work they are passionate about. Excelling in something important to them and demonstrating how hard work pays off. Don’t leave this lesson just to Dad. Mom should be in the picture doing what she loves to do. It’s my number #1 hope and dream for my children. Find what they are passionate about and do it. I count myself so lucky that I have a wonderful family, a passion I can still pursue, a “day job” I also love, and enough time that I’m still the person who drops and picks my kids up at school, accompanies them to nearly every activity they are passionate about, cooks dinner most nights, and has a husband who does what all dads should — plays a very active role in his kids lives, makes some lunches, checks homework and more. My life is full of guilt, but also full of joy and love.

*Sorry, Grateful Lyrics (first verse only), “Company”, music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

You’re always sorry You’re always grateful You’re always wondering what might have been Then she walks in

And still you’re sorry And still you’re grateful And still you wonder And still you doubt And she goes out

Every thing’s different Nothings changed Only maybe slightly rearranged

You’re sorry-grateful Regretful-happy Why look for answers Where none occur?

You always are What you always were Which has nothing to do with All to do with her

Susan Tonkin

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Musical Theatre actress. Jazz singer. Product Marketing/Analyst Relations professional. Mom.