The lights dimmed until the room was dark. Projected on a large screen was a silhouette of a breast pump bottle. Written across it in pink, cursive letters was the title The Pump and Dump. Over 200 women packed the comedy club to the rafters unleashing a wave of feminine energy. Untethered from their babies for the night, their chatter bounced off the walls as servers scrambled to refill their cocktails. I sat in the booth next to my wife with folded arms.
I have done many awkward things for women: browsed Victoria’s Secret, purchased female hygiene products, transported breast milk, and carried large purses. But at the top of my list is attending a moms’ night out comedy show. As a stay-at-home dad, I spend my days surrounded by moms at the zoo, on the playground, and at the library’s story time. The last thing I desire is to spend free time at a mommy social gathering. Yet, yearning for a night out, I found myself entering the club with my spouse on a weeknight.
MC Doula, a blonde-haired woman with a glowing smile, strutted on stage to applause. She sat down at a small table draped with a black cover and kicked off the party with a push of a laptop button. Music and slides played as the ladies clapped and screamed. MC Doula’s partner, Shayna, followed her on stage with guitar in hand. I anticipated a deluge of mommy jokes.
Shayna, with long brown hair and matching eyes, launched into a song titled “Swings” describing pushing her child on the playground as her “cross to bear.” Her voice mimicked the back-and-forth monotony as she playfully listed the activities she would rather do than push her child. I found myself relaxing in my booth and chuckling. My own dreaded parenting activity came to mind, which involves tiny fingers in my belly button. My toddler son has turned it into a painful game we play on a daily basis.
My guard dropped as I realized the aim of the show. I was not at a “girl power” rally or a husband-bashing session. MC Doula and Shayna shifted away from a prudish, perfectionistic image of parenting and dared to take an unflinching look at the reality of raising small children. Topics ranged from staring at your child’s butt hoping they poop, to confessions of embarrassing parenting mistakes, to frustrating food moments at the table. Of course, they dished out their fair share of jokes directed at men, but I must say they were warranted.
On stage, a remarkable space opened to share the burdens of parenting. Sitting in the sea of women, I laughed throughout the entire show and found myself struggling to catch my breath during a song titled “Mama’s Boy,” a song about the bond between mother and son and the inevitable tension with a future daughter-in-law. In the song, the mother expresses her hopes for their relationship, including a wish for her son to be gay. The crowd roared.
During a break, I used the restroom. While a line extended from the women’s room along the club wall, I entered an empty men’s room. I thought I was alone until the latch clicked on a stall and a man exited. We made eye contact, smiled, and nodded as if we both agreed not to acknowledge our presence at a moms’ social event. Standing in the narrow bathroom, maneuvering around one another, we were two guys out of only a handful of men at the show.
After returning to the booth, the room darkened again, and I laughed equally hard during the second half. As the night progressed, I became less aware of the gender differences in the room. Although the show was geared toward women, I felt like the common denominator was the fact we were all parents—adults doing their best to meet the exhausting demands of children. It dawned on me that part of the problem is we really do focus too much on society’s gender roles instead of the common challenge of parenting.
Parenting small children is hard and isolating. They turn your world upside down and leave you scrambling for balance. My moms’ night out revealed to me how much parents need a space to acknowledge their experiences. Our culture tends to pressure parents into wearing a badge of silence and smile as if parenting is a walk in the park. We perform a disservice to each other when we don’t allow room for honest discussion about child rearing. The worst thing we can do is keep silent, grinning and bearing it, pretending we are not drowning.
The Pump and Dump show offered me a lifeline. It was honest. It was raw. And it was damn funny. It inspired me to tell the truth about parenting, not only for my own mental health, but for the sake of others. MC Doula and Shayna declared 2016 “The Year of the Mother,” a year for moms to commit to being kinder to themselves and other moms, a year to exit the mommy wars and acknowledge parenting is hard for everyone and we are better off supporting one another.
I agree. Although, I believe the same can be said for dads. In fact, I think all parents are better off when we support each other and acknowledge we are doing our best to nurture our children.