Good example… It is 5am or thereabouts. I am typing this article one-handed, whilst feeding my 6 month old baby girl Melody some pureed parsnips that I cooked myself earlier this morning (not organic, but give me some credit, I did check them for mud).
I am wearing sweatpants that I slept in and my hair is not so much an updo, as an updon’t. I need a wee. Desperately. I am also starving. I would eat the parsnips, sneak a mouthful in when she isn’t looking but I have enough maternal guilt AND Jewish guilt to stop me from doing so, plus like an idiot, I am on this stupid 5:2 diet to try and get back to my pre-baby best. Apparently mainlining ice cream and pizza for 9 months DOES catch up with you eventually. Even my computer screen is a juggling act; there are far too many windows open, all baying for my attention. I love the terminology; actual ‘windows’- imagine it, windows to other universes, other places I can escape to from my sofa with only a misplaced chubby little parsnip-covered finger to potentially stop me… I’ve got windows to other worlds where I can be more productive, such as industry websites with which to crew my latest short film, or Final Draft scripts of my first comedy series, ‘Always The Bride’ (based on my play of the same name and sort of like ‘Homeland’ meets ‘Loose Women’), as well as windows to other worlds where I can be even better informed, such as ‘Momsites’ where I can reinforce my feelings of inadequacy (why AREN’T my parsnips organic?), as well as the usual suspects: YouTube, The Daily Mail rail of shame etc…All of these windows, just waiting for my focus, filling up the background of this, my new life as a mum. Actually, when I say, ‘in the background’ I don’t really mean that because, quite frankly, everything is ‘in the background’ at the moment. Everything but baby. Baby comes first. Life comes second. And despite being a smart girl, no-one and nothing prepared me for this…
As someone who delayed motherhood both consciously, due to my relentless work ethic and self-employed status - maternity breaks are EXPENSIVE – and unconsciously, due to a need to do all the necessaries such as actually find someone amazing with whom to ‘consciously couple’ (which I did, thank the Lord!), I was terrified, literally terrified about how motherhood would affect my productivity. How sad is that? I have wanted to be a mum since forever but I knew that I would have to get all my ducks lined up first so that I would have the machinery in place to get back to being me once baby was out.
Pregnancy wasn’t just a chance to stop and enjoy the experience, to enjoy my body, it was a chance to write a play, to finalise treatments for the sitcom, that BBC drama (that the BBC haven’t ACTUALLY asked me to write yet, but erm… they WILL!). I even got myself a new acting agent with the words, ‘Just imagine ME, but without the bump’. The plan was to make sure that even if baby brain struck, I would have irons in the fire ready and waiting to cushion the blow of self-imposed unemployment: I like to call it mumemployment! I stocked up on food, ideas, premium beauty products and waited for her to arrive. And she did. And it moved me and changed me in ways I never knew possible… And then I wanted to go back to creating again. I think I lasted a week.
Whilst recovering from a c-section in hospital I started getting that niggle: an idea for a play, and it niggled and niggled until a week PB (life is now measured in BB (Before Baby) and PB (Post Baby)), I asked my mum to take the baby for the day and hashed out the first draft of what is now my drama, ‘Volcano’. There was no choice for me. I had to get the idea down and quite frankly, babies sleep for around 16 hours a day at this point. Why punish myself for writing during this huge amount of ‘down time’? Granted, I have denied myself many naps I could definitely have done with, but for me, her sleep time is Mummy’s writing time. Simple as. Well, sort of. There is quite a lot of baby admin to do as well, such as prepping infinite bottles and pureeing vegetables I don’t recognise and am definitely not on first name terms with.
A few weeks ago I dipped my toe into filming again. As someone who makes comedy sketches online, I had an idea for something involving my comedy alter ego, Denise. I set the camera up in the front room, put Madame to bed when she was ready and spent most of my performance with one ear listening out for her cry. It wasn’t my best work but it was a start. And it was fun!
Acting and writing for me are a compulsion. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t that way but it is. I envy mums who revel in their title. Who don’t feel the need to say ‘but I was a… INSERT TITLE before’ as we all say in the beginning. Like we’ve emerged from a war or a zombie apocalypse. ‘I was a doctor/lawyer/teacher before…’. But I want to make films, tell stories. Without sounding like a d***, I want to create roles for women that I would want to play, to create characters who aren’t archetypes, who ‘just happen’ to be female, to inspire other women, to inspire my little girl, ultimately.
My first play, out this month has six female leads. Count ‘em, SIX! BUT motherhood and filmmaking/writing is hard. Anyone who says it’s easy is lying. Taking Melody to rehearsals yesterday at The National was fun but it isn’t like taking a handbag; a baby accessory is fully interactive and a day of meetings with a baby in tow is like a game of Russian roulette, but with a higher risk of explosions (bum-related). Also, I really, really missed acting when pregnant and starting to audition for roles again is fun but pretty humbling – not that I need further humbling with my current level of confidence (nil). You’d think birth would have prepared me for the familiar horror of auditioning, but not so much. However, my new ‘Tiger Mom’ attitude works wonders. If I want something, I’m sure as hell gonna go for it now. And I can’t wait to start playing ‘mums’!
I have to go now because Melody likes to go and sit by the window (a real one that is, with a view of the garden) and do nothing but look out at the trees. She will sit and do that for minutes (which in baby terms is HOURS) and just watch. One day, when I grow up, I hope I can learn to do the same.
Alexis Strum’s debut play, ‘Always The Bride’ runs from 24 to 27 June at New Wimbledon Theatre Studio with all profits from ticket sales going to Samaritans Waltham Forest.