Mother of The month
1. What’s your name, and your children's names and ages? Where are you based? What kind of making do you do or dream of doing?
My name is Liz Allum, I have a 2 year old called Arlo and I live with my partner Danielle, who affectionately calls herself the ‘other’ mother, in Reading.
I always struggle with the question of what kind of making I do. Currently, I’m producing a dance festival, but this never really feels like ‘making’. My passion, but the thing I never have time for is writing, creatively and practically (yep, funding applications). I’ve written for and about theatre for quite a long time now and I really love being part of an organic creative process, writing short elements of something for the devising of a new work. My partner and I run Beautiful Creatures Theatre, we make visual theatre, often outdoors, and there’s always a need for words even in shows without any. I have been known to make the odd octopus tentacle here and there as well, but that’s another story.
2. How do you do it?! How do you make it work?
Before having a child I was working full time for an education charity, running a theatre company with my partner, freelancing as an equality and diversity trainer and designing and delivering critical thinking programmes for education. I was no stranger to multi-tasking. I think I anticipated slowing down once I had a child to care for in the mix as well, but that hasn’t happened. In fact, I’ve added a few more things to the list. Someone told me recently that it’s called a ‘portfolio career’. I just call it being confused and exhausted! But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For the first 18months of mother-life I worked with my child in tow wherever possible. It was exhausting and frustrating and because of the nature of our theatre work (large scale outdoor arts) I was often in extremely child-unfriendly places where I couldn’t even put him down on the floor. I felt as if I was doing all the jobs badly, including mothering. Then I took a short term contract as Cultural Development Officer for Reading (because clearly, I needed another job on top of those) and being in an office 9-5, three days a week forced me to reconsider both the way I was working and the way I was mothering. My child had to be with someone else, (to paraphrase the words of Matilda Leyser, thank goodness for Grannies), and as a result, I have carved out dedicated time for my career. It’s not everyone’s way of working, but I needed to value my making as much as my mothering, and I had to acknowledge that my child did not want to spend his time following me around. As a two year old, Arlo has no qualms about vocalising his feelings on that.
So now I try to only work when I’m working and when I’m not working, I’m only mothering. And yes, there are some necessary overlaps, when I go to meetings with a multipack of Pom Bear, a fully charged phone and a very apologetic look on my face.
3. How has your mothering impacted your making?
Becoming a mother completely changed the way I see the world, so the impact on my making is infinite and immeasurable. I see vulnerability where I didn’t see it before, and beauty and injustice. I am angrier than I’ve ever been, and also more filled with joy and the capacity for love. The continued role of mother impacts in more practical ways; time, energy, capacity, memory, patience, all of these things are tested, sometimes to their limit., sometimes far beyond. But I have learnt that I can do less, and I have been forced to make my peace with the word ‘no’.
It’s a cliché to say that you really don’t ‘get it’ until you have children of your own, but I definitely see the needs of parents far more clearly now in the work that we make and I hope that has only made the things I do better for others. My friend Fi and I started a support group for mothers when our babies were just 6 months old. It’s a space where women could talk about themselves and their mothering journeys honestly, in a completely non-judgemental group of peers. We often have creative sessions alongside these conversations, and we are about to launch a programme of movement, dance and mindfulness for mothers across Reading. I see the impact of this space and the Mothers Who Make space that I co-run with two other ridiculously busy and incredible mother makers, on the confidence and strength of the women who attend. Imadethis organisation with my colleague Fi, wemakepositive, safe spaces for others, she makes incredible cake, and the whole thing makes a difference.
4. And vice versa?
My child has seen some pretty exciting things over the past two years, including the creation of our current touring show Big Blue, which centres around an 11m long whale puppet, lit up from the inside, that moves through a town, calling on the population to save her oceans. He has been inside that whale, he has toddled in to the metal workshop whilst angle grinding was going on, he has climbed on the mobile lighting units and rolled around with the dancers in the show. His existence has brought a new joy to making this kind of work, work that was joyful anyway. I took him to see the World Beaters’ Spark! Drummers, and there began a year long obsession with drumming. He learnt their every move. His latest love is the fire demon from Moana and re-enacting rocket launches. I’m certain that my making will shape who he is, and in turn it continues to shape who I am. My making enables me to show him how we can build something beautiful and send it out in to the world, how he can express himself, no matter how strange or intangible the feeling. As a family, we laugh and sing and dance every day. I utterly fail on play dough and painting, but what we lack in visual arts, we more than make up for with performance! I’m proud of that. It is our creativity that makes people say to us ‘he’s such a lucky child to be growing up in your house’. They haven’t noticed that he’s almost never in matching socks, they don’t know how long it is since I’ve changed the sheets, or that I still haven’t fixed the broken window in the spare room. But none of that matters. And in a world of violence and uncertainty, I want to make sure that my making makes a difference, even just a tiny one, to him, and to everyone else.
5. The best thing? The hardest?
The best thing about being a mother maker, is the other mother makers. In fact, not just the mother makers, but the mothers full stop. I had never underestimated the power of women, but since becoming a mother and seeing what these women around me have achieved and overcome, how much they create and do and what amazing good they put out into the world, I’m further awestruck.
The hardest parts have been exactly the same thing. Seeing these incredible women struggle in a society where they are undervalued, invisible and often, in my experience, mistreated. It breaks my heart every time I hear a new mum say she can’t bear to talk about her birth experience because it was so traumatic and she wasn’t listened to. Or an artist who comes to a Mothers Who Make session and says she doesn’t feel like she’s really an artist, because she’s just been a ‘mum’ for the past few years. I’d like to eradicate the use of the word ‘just’ in anything.
6. Future dreams?
In these current political times, my future dreams are about survival. Survival of the creative spirit, survival of positivity and patience, survival of freedom and justice and human rights.
I hope that my son doesn’t grow up in a world where his lesbian parents are vilified or punished, or live in fear. We have been spared so much of what those who came before us endured. The fear of slipping back there is real. I hope he never suffers any of it and that he will help tear down the systems that create and perpetuate it.
I hope also for a place where women no longer have to prove their worth just to get a seat at the table. I hope that we can carve a space for ourselves outside of the system that oppresses us and so many others. I hope that we can use art, in any and all its forms, to reframe the narrative instead of simply trying to join in the broken conversation that is currently happening.
I also hope that I might get more than 5 hours of sleep at some point soon, and that the stain on my top is in fact chocolate.
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