When I became a mom I was surprised by quite a few things. For instance, I was surprised that I could still function enough to walk down the aisles of Target on just 30 minutes of sleep. Of course, I didn’t remember why I was there or how I got there, but I was there, nonetheless. Another surprise: how much poop could come out of a tiny, adorable baby body. You know the chocolate fountain at Golden Corral? Yeah… it’s like that. But with poo. Exploding poo. However, nothing surprised me as much as waking up from a years’ long parenting-induced fog, realizing that my whole identity had to be rediscovered and redefined.
My Name Is…
I didn’t lose myself over night. Like the proverbial frog in hot water, my sense of identity died a slow, sneaky death. I used to know exactly who I was and what I wanted out of life. I mean… I was ERICA! Short in stature, tall in sarcasm, with the misplaced attack instincts of a chihuahua. I was the same Erica who did exactly what was expected of me until my first abnormally large tramp stamp tattoo at the age of 21. The same Erica who moved to Italy by myself for the summer after I graduated from college because the idea of going back to my hometown made me feel like I was suffocating. The same Erica wanted nothing more out of life than to make everyone laugh.
Who Am I?
Yet, there I was, holding my new baby boy, my three-year-old little girlie by my side, a supportive husband, and I had no idea who I was anymore. My confidence was gone. I felt like an empty shell. Nothing that I used to enjoy made me happy anymore. One day I stopped singing in the car at the top of my lungs. One day I stopped watching Napoleon Dynamite on loop. Don’t get me wrong: I adored being a mom and still do. But in my mind, I was not good enough at it. Good moms spend every waking moment with their babies. I had to leave my babies every day. I had to pay my bills. I had obligations. I had to go to work. The career I used to be so proud of now made me cringe like the creepy guy in high school who followed me around trying to smell my hair. The career I worked so hard to build was now making me deeply and painfully resentful and I didn’t know how to fix it.
A switch flipped. The demands of my new family construct AND trying to excel in my career were suddenly overwhelming. I was no longer the person who I used to know so assuredly that I was. I couldn’t manage the simplest tasks without crushing exhaustion. I just wanted to close myself in a room with my babies and lock out the world.
Who was I? A mom? A wife? I was a person without a first name. I was no longer Erica. I was Roman’s mom. I was Bella’s mom. I was Rick’s wife. Erica was invisible. If I happened to have five minutes to myself, what would I do? Scrap book? NO! Cry in my closet. That’s what. I had no hobbies. Outside of my daily routine I was lost. How long had I been like this? I felt like I’d been in a time-warping fog and now the fog was lifting and I had to reorient myself to my surroundings like an alien abductee dropped in a crop circle naked and afraid.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was at a crossroads. I could have stayed in my fog, accepted it as my new life, and moved on without my sparkle. I could have wanted to change but done nothing about it and become bitter and mad. Or I could have done what I DID. I took a step. Then another. Over the next seven years I just took steps. From the outside looking in I’m sure I looked like I was grasping at straws. I wasn’t. I was on a quest.
I opened an Etsy shop making jewelry. Had I ever had any jewelry training? NO! Was I terrible at it? YES! But it taught me elementary business ownership skills. It taught me how to market online. It taught me social media networking. It occupied my curiosity for a year or two until I decided one day on a whim to start my first blog.
I knew nothing about blogging. But I knew I had a message and I knew I wanted to give other women a quick escape of funny and happiness. I wanted to give other parents a place to mentally go to for 10 minutes while they’re hiding in the bathroom and laugh and relate and not feel so alone. And I started to learn to write. And writing led to my passion.
After two years of writing and posting and joining groups of other writers I discovered what I should have been doing all along. Comedy. One day I realized that nothing was standing between the dream I’d always had in the back of my mind and my reality. I always idolized comedians. But people didn’t do that in real life! People graduate from high school then go to college then become accountants or engineers or whatever pays the bills. Not COMEDY. But… if my idols could do it, maybe I can, too.
Erica. Erica Benefield.
So, at the age of 36 I started a new career. Me. Erica. Wife, mom, comedian. It’s not easy. I work my day job, take my kids to practice, have dinner with my family, put my kids to bed, kiss my husband and go to my shows. There are a lot of nights when my anxiety sets in and I try to talk myself out of performing because the safe thing to do would be to stay at home with my family and be normal. But when I get out on the stage, I remember why I do it. When I hear my kids tell their friends that their mom is a comedian, I tear up. My kids have no idea what I do for my day job but they know what comedy is! I get to help other grown ups forget the demands of their life for a few minutes a night and it’s the best job in the world.
If you’re still reading this painfully long, rambling post, here’s what I want you to take away: Life has a way of throwing off your plans. It’s ok. It doesn’t mean you’re failing. It could be your greatest success. You don’t have to give up your dreams because you’re a parent. Being a mom or a dad doesn’t mean YOUR life is over. If you feel stuck, do SOMETHING, anything to get “unstuck”. Take a different path home. Go to a new restaurant. Make a bucket list of things you’ve always wanted to explore and cross each one off the list. Kids need to see their parents happy and healthy with their own joys. Just take a step. It’ll lead to another step. And don’t use your family as an excuse. Take them on the journey with you. It’ll make the ride so much more fun.
What’s your step gonna be?