From the editors: Can women continue to be creative post-children? Can they be prolific? The creative and funny Leah Gotcsik says, “yes.” Read on to learn how she does it!
When I was pregnant with my first child I was performing improv and sketch comedy 2-3 nights a week in addition to working full-time as a writer at an experience design firm. I liked to think that my son was inside my belly going, “Dude, my mom is hilarious. And look at the example she is setting for me about pursuing dreams and having a family. Wait, was that a fart joke? Classic.”
Even though I always knew I would keep performing while pregnant and afterward, the choice to perform, and even the choice to get pregnant were hot topics for my fellow performers, especially the ladies. If you’ve missed the cyclical “are women funny?” rehash from the last infinity years, a lady in comedy is already fighting for her right to party, and a mom in comedy…well let’s just say that the dismissive “good for yous” from bros 25-and-under were not quite part of the “we are all just comedians” vibe I would have wished for. What began as some softball questions in a stairwell that served as a green room—when are you due? Is it a boy or a girl?—often snowballed into intense lady comedy conversations. How was I going to do it and why? How did I know that if I had a kid now “my career” would be okay?
My response then was that first and foremost, I wanted a kid. Key factor. And biologically it was something I had to be thinking about because I wanted to try and create/carry my own child. I had comprehensive health insurance for the first time in 10 years (because I took a full-time job in order to get it). And…I didn’t want to look back 20 years later and say, “Oh yeah, I could have had a kid, but I was really trying to get this 10:30 pm Tuesday slot at this comedy theater where they don’t pay you, so it didn’t happen.”
Almost 5 years and exactly two kids later I have this to add. And it’s pretty simple. If you want to have kids, and your life presents you with the opportunity to do so, have them. And if you want to keep being creative and successful you will be.
My son is now 3 ½ and my daughter is one. I still work at that experience design firm during the day, and while I still perform occasionally, I now write for children’s television at night (and during naps), for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Creative Galaxy, and Odd Squad. My husband is a teacher—which is key for childcare purposes—and he is also a playwright. He is workshopping a play right now that has a residency at the New Victory Theater and is supported by the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
Dare I say it, and really I shouldn’t because as soon as this is posted we’ll be attacked by crows or something, our creative life is better than before we had kids, or at least more quantifiably successful.
How do we do it?
- We sleep less, and less well, than we used to. My husband wrote the book that became his current play during the first five months of my daughter’s life…in the middle of the night while she slept on his shoulder.
- We get things delivered. Amazon Prime. Instacart. Laundry. Anything we can do to use the time we have when the kids are asleep to do the work we’d like to do.
- We don’t watch that show you love. I also probably haven’t seen you in a while, incredible friend who I love. Thank you for reading this. Let’s have a drink!
- Our house is never as clean as we would like it to be, in case that wasn’t already obvious.
- We help each other out. If one of us has a creative deadline or a project we are really focused on, the other takes the lead on childcare.
- We have full-time creative-type jobs that help us get our other creative stuff done. My husband has summers off. My job starts at 10. Oh, and money.
- We work with collaborators. We are naturally prone to that anyway (improvisers!) but it also helps to share the work.
- We try not to get too freaked out. Are we working too hard? Shouldn’t we be spending all of this time with our kids even when they are sleeping? Did we just gain 10 pounds? Why the f&*% did my son just look at the dishwasher and say, “What’s this thing called again?”
- We just do it. I have told people that I write more and better with two kids than I did with one, and way better than I did with none. I have a limited amount of time. So…FOCUS! And I am tired enough that I am pretty much always the equivalent of two drinks in, which means no filter and no worry that what I am writing will suck. Gotta be real ruthless with the spell check though.
Reality check: If you’ve read this far you might be thinking…who are these people? Why are they doing this? Don’t worry, I ask myself this question every night as I look longingly at the unread copy of “Yes, Please” by Amy Poehler collecting dust on my bedside table.
So here we go: Why do we do it?
- We can’t stop/won’t stop. We have had ample opportunity to throw in the towel. Sometimes I wish we could—hammocks! Binge-watching! But any time either of us has a creative lull we dive right back in.
- We know that the way it is now—two small children, multiple jobs, never enough time, endless amounts of hustle required on all fronts—won’t be forever. This is the long game, friends.
- We’re still fun. When we got married, I cross-stitched one of our catch phrases, “We have fun, don’t we?” onto a sampler (Cross-stitching?! I guess because I love Anne of Green Gables?). The answer is still, “yeah, we do.” And so do our kids…unless we are singing, which my son cannot stand.
- We’re proud of the example we are setting for our kids. When I watched my son run around the set of my husband’s show after my husband took a bow wearing our sleeping daughter, I was so proud. Our children will grow up in a house where doing creative work is encouraged and normal. And where working hard at something you believe in and that makes you happy is a good thing to do.
And if you are someone who likes to scroll to the end, here’s the gist: We’re not trying to be heroes, we’re just trying to make stuff we like with people we like and have a family we like at the same time. I knew a stand-up comedy couple with a 2-year-old. They were both getting up on stage 5-6 nights a week. Who was watching the kid? They figured out a way he could sleep backstage and they took turns watching him. Would I do that? Maybe not. Would you do what I am doing now? Who knows? However you approach creativity and parenthood is how it’s going to work for you. It can work. It will work. And your kids are going to roll with it.
The other day I opened my laptop in front of my son, and he asked: “What are you writing, mama?” When I told him, he said: “I want to watch that one.” And after multiple rewrites and 8-plus months of animation in Canada, he will.
Leah Gotcsik writes children’s television (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Creative Galaxy, Odd Squad) and designs experiences with ESI Design. She coordinates the Writers Group for the Children’s Media Association and was recently named the most aggressive bird in her son’s naptime story. She is always looking for more creative opportunities. Find out more at leahgotcsik.com.
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