Becoming Maman: A 24-hour Mother and Part-time Comic Tackles Motherhood à la...

Becoming Maman: A 24-hour Mother and Part-time Comic Tackles Motherhood à la Française

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Two expat moms, Sarah Donnelly and Amber Minogue, on stage with the comic show Becoming Maman. © Christine Coquilleau

Have you ever asked yourself ‘How did I get here?’

When I moved to Paris from Washington D.C for the love of Frenchman, little did I think I would still be here six years later; our plan was to move back to the States. But not only am I here, but I’ve also added to the population. Our daughter has just turned two, and if I thought that cultural nuances were tricky before becoming a parent, I had no idea just how much my upbringing would influence bringing up my bébé.

I like to say my comedy show, Becoming Maman, is about the ultimate expat experience: birthing a French person, because really nothing brings you deeper inside French culture than birthing one of their own. It wasn’t until I got pregnant that I realized how the experience of having a baby and raising kids in France is so deeply defined by our cultures. In some ways, now I feel more like a French Maman than an American Mommy.

My daughter has never eaten one Goldfish cracker, much to my chagrin, but definitely cut her first teeth on the heel of a fresh baguette. As much as I try to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to her, “Petit Escargot” remains her favorite nursery rhyme and frankly, her favorite animal because the French really do love snails. And well, she calls me Maman.

Let’s face it, everyone, I’m just your average Kardashian-watching, Diet Coke-drinking Parisian Maman.

Sarah Donnelly (left) with her writing partner and comedy wife, Amber Minogue. © Leah Chernik

My writing partner and best friend, Amber Minogue, and I both read Pamela Druckerman’s hit book about French parenting “Bringing Up Bébé” or “French Children Don’t Throw Food” when we were pregnant. I wanted a manual about having a baby in France. Bébé seemed like the closest thing in English, so I dutifully ordered a copy off Amazon. I remember feeling that Druckerman was too celebratory of “French parenting” and her experiences were limited to the well-heeled Parisian set. I also felt like she described how much better the French were doing it at the expense of all American Moms out there, and I didn’t like that. Finally, I remember finishing the book going, wait a minute, her husband isn’t even French – this can’t be the whole story!

The real dirt on my Paris story

I decided that I wanted to tell my story, giving the real down and dirty about having a baby, while laughing at the ridiculousness it is to become a Mom. So once I finally had daycare secure – not the crèche because we didn’t get a spot (#parisianproblems) – mon amie Amber and I set out to debunk the myth that French parents do it better; they aren’t magicians or baby whisperers, they’re just people! And I should know because as amazing as my French husband is, he proved to be equally useless as I was in the baby whispering department. As stand-up comedians, it made sense to talk about it on-stage and thus our show, and podcast, Becoming Maman was born.

Being a Mom is tough. Creating a show is hard. Being a Mom and creating a show with another Mom was incredibly difficult. At the same time, we both very clearly understood each other’s time constraints. No, a 5:00 pm tech rehearsal at the theater is not going to work for us. We had to explain to our very lovely, yet very male Theater Director and Producer that we couldn’t work during the hours of Mommy primetime – essentially from school pick-up to bedtime. What’s great about being a comedian is mostly being able to go to work after the kids are in bed, but also the morning comes a lot quicker when you’ve been at a comedy club until 1 am. Amber and I really support each other because we understand each other. I think it’s so important when you’re foreign to find your friends who can really understand you and relate to the difficulties.

becoming maman
Full-time maman and part-time comic Sarah Donnelly. © Christine Coquilleau

Living in that cultural in-between zone

Becoming Maman isn’t just a show about becoming a maman. At its core, it’s about navigating the unknown through the eyes of a foreigner. About missing the “obvious” and not understanding what 67 million French people seem to understand flawlessly. About how we threw up our hands and said ok, we can’t do it the French way nor the American or English way – we’ll just have to live in the gray area and forge our own path. This is why our show isn’t just for Moms, it’s for anyone who has lived in that cultural in-between zone and isn’t afraid to own it.

Becoming Maman plays every Thursday night at 8:15pm at the Théâtre Bo Saint-Martin in Paris through the 20th of December. Follow Becoming Maman on Facebook or Instagram @becomingmaman

Sarah Donelly
Sarah Donnelly is an American stand-up comedian, writer and actress co-created the comedy show and podcast, Becoming Maman, about raising French kids in Paris when you aren't French. Sarah recently toured with Gad Elmaleh, and worked as a writer and actress for the hit Canal+ series “What the Fuck France." Originally from Washington, D.C., she has opened for comedians Ted Alexandro, Tom Rhodes, Brody Stevens; and has performed comedy at venues all over the U.S., Europe, and Asia. You can find Sarah onstage with her writing partner and comedy wife, Amber Minogue, every Thursday evening in their show Becoming Maman at the Théâtre Bo Saint-Martin in Paris.

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