ITHACA, N.Y. — In the spirit of Mother’s Day, community members celebrated the vital and often underappreciated role of mothers in American society over the weekend with a night of mama comics, live music and S’mores, all while following COVID-19 safety protocols such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
The event, Motherhood is a Joke, took place at Firelight Camps on Saturday, May 8. Eight local moms performed stand-up comedy about motherhood struggles, touching on topics including childbirth, empty nest syndrome and the coronavirus pandemic. Over 100 people attended the event, which also featured a singing workshop, live music, and food and beverages provided by Mama Said Hand Pies, Ba-Li Cravings, The Piggery and Firelight Camps.
Motherhood is a Joke was organized by Yael Daphna Saar, founder of Mama’s Comfort Camp (MCC), a project of Cornell University’s Center for Transformative Action. The goal of MCC, which is in its 10th year of service, is to offer “emotional and practical support to thousands of mothers around the world and across the street.” Saturday’s event was part of the organization’s Listen to the Mothers initiative, which is a series of programs inviting community mothers to share their motherhood stories through creative outlets such as comedy, poetry and songwriting.
“The idea for Motherhood is a Joke has been with me for a few years,” said Saar, who is also a mother of two. “A lot of the work that happens at Mama’s Comfort Camp is attending to the person while they’re in this struggle, helping them find their footing, not by trying to fix them but by walking the hard path with them… Right now, it’s a time when we stomp together and walk this uphill path together, but someday we’re all going to look back and laugh about it.”
By inviting local mothers to share their stories through comedy, Saar saw an opportunity to help empower parents while also putting on an enjoyable show for the community. “The act of storytelling is not only entertaining to the listener, it is healing and empowering to the person with the story… When struggles don’t have an outlet they fester and they become anxiety and depression, so this is a mental health service, it’s not just an artistic endeavor. It’s a first rate healing process that has a beautiful side product that is art.”
As a postpartum depression survivor, Saar is a passionate activist when it comes to the wellbeing of nurturers and believes the daily struggles must be normalized and addressed in order to create a better society not just for mothers, but for everyone.
“We can’t expect flowers to become fruit if we don’t water the roots,” she said.
Saar founded the organization PPDtoJoy (which is now MCC) in 2011 to provide mothers with a support network and its Facebook group now has over 3,000 members. After years of helping to foster this supportive community, Saar decided it was time to help people get out of their comfort zones and later launched the Listen to the Mothers initiative as a way to elevate the voices and stories of mothers in the larger community.
“We create the space where the struggles are attended to lovingly, but it was really time to also create the vehicle for the stories of those struggles to transcend our protected safe space and be told in ways that the healing is heard and seen by an audience.”
Preparation for Motherhood is a Joke began in the fall of 2019 as a collaboration with the Ithaca Kitchen Theatre with a performance set for March 31, 2020. 15 mothers came together over the course of four months to turn their struggles into comedy in workshops facilitated by Saar, Alison Fromme, Elbonee “Trece” Stevenson, Kenneth McLaurin and R.J. Lavine. However, the pandemic derailed the sold-out show a week before it took place. Since the pandemic started, some of the mothers continued meeting over Zoom to modify their acts for a future performance date, which was ultimately able to happen in person over Mother’s Day weekend 2021.
Lillian Yavits, one of the mama comics, said this experience created a safe space that helped make parenting easier during the pandemic. “As a nurse working in the Ithaca community through the pandemic, the past year has heightened all of the stressors of everyday life and parenthood. Motherhood is a Joke has offered a sanctuary to make meaningful connections and find light and humor in the dark places. It has been wonderful to have an authentic outlet at a time when it has been most needed.”
Shira Evergreen, who is currently producing a documentary about MCC, agreed that the organization provided community during the pandemic. “Yael’s work to embolden and create a space for mothers and nurturers is profound… Little did she know that I have been wanting to take a stab at stand-up for years but never thought I would have the time or opportunity. This series has renewed my love of writing and performance, and brought me into community during a time of isolation caused by the pandemic. My hope is that the completed documentary will capture not only the performances, but some of the very hilarious and poignant behind-the-scenes process of moms coming together to get creative during turbulent times.”
Funds from the event will be used to edit the documentary and for operational costs for Mama’s Comfort Camp. Further donations can also be made here.
The next program in the Listen to the Mothers initiative will be Songs from the Abyss, inviting community mothers to write poetry about their motherhood experiences and collaborate with local musicians to create original songs, which will take place this summer. Anyone interested can find more information and support on the organization’s website.
Featured image by Kate Frazer