Tony Winner Laura Benanti Has a Message For All Moms This Mother’s Day
“This is hard. You’re doing great.”
I've thought a lot about what I can possibly say this Mother's Day that isn't already contained within a multitude of other "parenting during a pandemic" op-eds. We know that this time has disproportionately affected women, especially moms and, most egregiously, women of color. We know working moms are struggling. We know stay-at-home moms are struggling. Moms. Are. Struggling.
Like many of you, I've stared into the light of my phone absorbing the exasperated editorials as they beg for change. I've responded to the maddening "But what about dads?" comments while trying to pee in peace with my 4-year-old, Ella-Rose, on my lap.
The day the pandemic hit, my family and I were set to fly to Chicago so that I could film a TV pilot. We were on our way to the airport when we heard that filming would be delayed "by two weeks" (ha). We asked our cab driver to reroute us to my childhood home in New Jersey so we could spend time with my parents. We ended up living with them for seven months.
The typical joke would be that my parents drove me crazy, but I assure you it was the other way around. They are angels who welcomed us into a beautiful home that we turned into a jungle gym covered in pretzel crumbs and dog urine.
Ella was so thrilled to be on this sleepover at her nana and grandpa's house that the first few weeks of isolation didn't seem to bother her. In fact, she was delighted. It wasn't until the third month, when she introduced me to her "best friend" (a dead caterpillar), that we sensed the toll it was taking.
In the absence of friends, Ella grew increasingly obsessed with "playing pretend," which, as an actress, you might assume I'm good at. I assure you I'm not. There is truly nothing I dread more than playing pretend. Trying to raise a feminist who is obsessed with playing princess poses another challenge:
"Mommy, pretend you're the prince."
"Hello, Princess! I deeply respect your intellect."
"No, don't say that."
"OK. Um, I appreciate how deeply kind you are."
[Furious] "Mommy, the prince doesn't say that!"
"OK, what does he say?"
"'You're beautiful. I'm going to wake you up with kisses.'"
"No one should EVER kiss you while you're asleep."
Basically it's this on repeat for what feels like an eternity.
But who knew you could be blindingly lonely while simultaneously never having a moment alone? I entered into lockdown determined to be of service. I was very aware of the privilege of being able to work from home, having secure housing and food, and having the invaluable help of my parents and husband. And yet…I have still grown weary.
Today my daughter got up, angry that I wouldn't give her chocolate for breakfast. I made her a healthy alternative that she deemed "disgusting" while she screamed like the entitled Karen I will not raise her to be. My (incredibly supportive) husband charmed her into eating oatmeal while I pretended to be an evil queen, the first of approximately one million characters I will be forced to play throughout my day. And I will play them, because while this time is hard for me, it is even harder for Ella.
And that, if I'm forced to name it, is the single "silver lining" of this pandemic for me: empathy. I've always been sensitive. I liked to think that I put myself in other people's shoes before I judged them, but I probably didn't. Now more than ever I feel that we are all just doing our best, and everyone's "best" manifests differently. Today my "best" looks like this (see above).
All of this is to say that whatever your "best" is today is enough. Maybe you don't need some actress to tell you that, but I'm telling you anyway. This is hard. You're doing great.
So this Mother's Day, I hope you're celebrated. Perhaps you'll be relaxing on an island sipping a drink while you read, uninterrupted, until you fall into a luxurious sleep from which you naturally awaken, your freshly colored not-at-all-gray hair smelling of the sea while your gloriously manicured hands run smoothly over pants that are definitely not old leggings.
Or maybe you'll just get a card. Either one.
Benanti's self-titled album and her book, M Is for Mama (and Also Merlot): A Modern Mom's ABCs, are out now.
For more stories like this, pick up the May 2021 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download now.