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  • Jenny McKay

A Single, Childless Mother

Growing up in a conservative Christian community, motherhood has been celebrated and praised often. Though encouraged, I never felt drawn to motherhood as my only longing and calling. I’ve been quite the visionary, you see. In spite of an absence of that motherly longing, I felt like a mother. It’s been as if this ball of soul in my gut was telling me I already am a mother.

As the years went by, I became more and more aware of the aching that single or childless women in my community experience on Mother’s Day. So, as a single, childless woman in my community, I was confused. Those same pangs didn’t pinch at my heart in the same way for me because I sensed I was a mother. Oddly, that soulful feeling in my gut told me so and I believed.

This summer I was reminded of my internal motherness as I portrayed the role of Marmee in the musical, Little Women. Marmee was the most significant role with the most lines I’ve had to learn and perform in years. As we started reading through the script on the first day of rehearsals, I felt the soulful mother in me braid itself through my voice like a ribbon of love. Many may feel differently about motherhood and this post could feel insensitive to some. But, for me, I am so glad this little mother corner of my soul exists to empower and teach me.

When I auditioned for Little Women at the beginning of the summer, it was on a whim. I was pretty sure that my size would discount me for one of the sisters and I wondered if my young age would cut me out of the running for Marmee. But I hopefully auditioned anyway. And then, by some miracle, I was cast as the beloved Marmee, mother of 4 little women, wife to a Civil War soldier, and, as I’ve since discovered, a feminist extraordinaire.

Marmee and Louisa is a biography about Louisa Alcott and her mother, Abigail May Alcott, that I read as I prepared for my role this summer. I think that a bit of Abigail’s story is worth sharing here:

Abigail longed to be educated as her brothers were. Her brother sent his books from school to Abigail so that she could learn along with him.

She once wrote a letter to her father telling him she wouldn’t come home for the holidays unless he promised not to push suitors on her during her visit.

She was a part of one of the first abolitionist groups in America.

She fell in love with an unmotivated philosopher (#relatable) and proposed to him because he couldn’t get his poop in a group.

When that philosopher husband couldn’t keep a job, she kept her family together and managed multiple moves per year.

She endured depression throughout a pregnancy and post-partum without a therapist or modern medicine.

She raised a bada#! feminist writer for a daughter.

Now, if she isn’t the most relatable woman, I don’t know who is.

Never before has a role felt more natural (though still really stupid hard). It was a privilege every rehearsal and performance to ground myself, as Abigail had centuries ago, and encompass everyone on stage with Marmee’s metaphysical arms. And, even though I could only do my best to portray Marmee, Marmee and Abigail’s strength, courage, and compassion have somehow become a part of me.

This kind of strength and compassion isn’t foreign to me. I have generations of strong women in my blood who I want to learn so much more about. Someone I already know a lot about is my own mother. I have recently grown a lot of understanding and compassion for my mother. It has surely taken me long enough to realize her example of strength, sacrifice, feminism, and compassion. Better late than never? In my own ever changing, ever challenging life, she has stayed a pillar of understanding and patience. She is a fierce advocate for her children and for that I am forever grateful. I am also grateful to have inherited her curious soul, her brave heart, her resilience and her motherheart. Oh, and maybe her propensity for silly faces.

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