My little boys are my whole world. Being their mommy is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, but it is also challenging at times. It is really easy as a mother to get lost in the daily grind. Let’s face it, life is consuming. I’ve learned a few things in my almost 6 years as a mother. First, the days are long but the years are short. Enjoy every minute of the journey. Second, in all the chaos of life I try to find time to not just be Mommy, but be Emily.
It is not often I can sneak out on a Saturday night. The bedtime routine is sacred: bath, books, bed. This routine includes mommy tucking them into their beds, rubbing their backs and singing the “goodnight song.” On the evening of February 2, 2018, after a delicious dinner my girlfriends and I watched 2000 Skidmore graduate Sara Juli perform a one-person show at Skidmore’s JKB Theater. The show personally details her own journey of motherhood. It is a journey uniquely her own, but is a story that is relatable to all the women in the theater. As Juli notes, her journey focuses on motherhood, but the taboo topics she broaches (depression, anxiety, isolation) are not reserved solely for mothers.
When Juli was a new mother she was diagnosed with urinary incontinence. She found humor in her diagnosis and treatment, and translated this into her hour-long solo performance, “Tense Vagina: an actual diagnosis.” Referring to herself as a dance comic, Juli uses dance, movement, sounds, songs, and audience participation as she weaves the “truth of motherhood” with the “realities of the early years of raising children and the loneliness no one tells you about.” The show is honest and personal. She explores everything from doctor-ordered kegel exercises to being attached to a breast pump.
“The core of all of my work is personal. I like to focus my shows on where I am in my life,” Juli said. “I like to read my diary to the audience because I can peel away the layers exposing the real topic.” Although her day job is in arts administration, Juli’s passion is dancing. She started dancing at 3 years old. “When I was a child I would go to my neighbors’ houses and perform on their front lawns with my boom box,” she said with a laugh. She is trained in modern and improvisational dance, graduating from Skidmore College with a degree in dance and anthropology.
She created the show after taking a 5 year hiatus from dancing to have her two daughters, now ages 6 and 9. In 2015, the show premiered at the experimental SPACE Gallery in Portland, ME and she has been touring ever since. “I made this show for selfish reasons,” Juli said. “But, the responses after the show make me realize that I am doing this for more than just me. Women are coming up and telling me it feels like I am reading their minds. The gravity of the challenges of motherhood are so hard. It is beautiful and the greatest accomplishments of any life, but it is really hard, too. And that is OK. That is the truth.” This is a show for all women. Juli says that women in their 60s will come up to her after the show and whisper that they’ve had urinary incontinence since the births of their children and didn’t know there was a treatment. Young women in the early stages of motherhood seem to resonate the most to Juli’s show. “All their energy goes to the baby. But, where is the dialogue about a woman’s body?” Juli asks. “There is this unattainable theory that a woman bounces back after birth. What does this even mean? A woman’s body is not the same after giving birth and it has changed forever after. I get on my soap box to give women a voice and a platform thru the power of humor to say this is the truth of it all.” Women that have not given birth also find the show engaging. “Every women is bonded not just by motherhood but by womanhood,” Juli said. “Every woman has felt lonely and isolated during her life and these feelings don’t discriminate by age or background.” Men have come up to her afterwards and have expressed a better understanding of the gamut of emotions their wives, girlfriends, and daughters are experiencing. “The show is like a window into the soul of womanhood and motherhood,” she said.
Juli is always creating and dancing. She calls her show on motherhood part of a trifecta: motherhood, marriage, and menopause. She cites marriage as being a topic that many people like to keep private, but this is all the more reason why Juli wants to tackle it. “A challenge of motherhood is that no one wants to talk about the difficult parts of it. Marriage is no different. Motherhood impacts marriage. There is pushback from people saying that we shouldn’t talk about problems in a marriage. I say we need to talk about it. We need to explore it,” she said. It is the taboo topics that empower Juli. She notes that even her own marriage has suffered the effects of motherhood and this fact alone is a trigger point for her to create a dance. “I thrive on taking topics that are bothering me and I use it to heal myself while connecting to other people,” she said.
Juli encourages girlfriends to go to her show together for a ladies night out. “Use the hours away to enjoy, relate, appreciate the opportunity to bond with each other,” she said. I did that. I had a much needed night out. I laughed a lot during the show. I cringed during the show as I remembered my own experiences of the sleepless nights and constant pumping. I bonded with my girlfriends. I was just Emily for a rare Saturday night. When I got home I checked on my sleeping boys. I had a great evening out, but I felt a pang of guilt. Motherhood is tough. Juli is right: “Motherhood is abstract. It’s about more than diapers and snacks. It’s about love. Love of self and family.”
For more information about Sara Juli, including her upcoming performances, visit her website: http://www.sarajuli.com/.
Photos are credited to Arthur Fink; Grant Halverson
Emily Marcason-Tolmie, a Saratoga native, is a writer, researcher, wife and mother. Emily and her husband, Ryan, are the parents to two wonderful little boys, ages 4 and 1.