Funny mummy laughs her way through the tough stuff
Diane Flacks on losing her edge and beating the odds
by Erica Ehm
Diane Flacks, Janis Purdy and their boys Eli and Jonathan (in backpack)
THERE’S A THIN line between tragedy and comedy. When comedienne Diane Flacks became a mother, she experienced this first-hand.
I met Diane five years ago when she released her book Bear with Me — a hilarious account of being pregnant. Flacks’s career as performer and writer was turned upside down by her unexpected pregnancy. Unlike other women who get knocked up after a night of unprotected partying, Flacks’s surprise was more complicated.
Flacks is in a same-sex relationship with Janis Purdy. (I asked Flacks what the politically correct way of referring to a lesbian partner was. She said with a laugh, “Janis is my Beeotch!”). Flacks explained, “Janis was supposed to get pregnant, but she was having a hard time, so I decided to give it a shot.” Kapow! Suddenly mummy.
I recently saw Flacks bring her book to life with a one-woman show produced by Nightwood Theatre. The performance was filled with laughs, but by the end, most of us were wiping away tears, from the heartbreaking truths of mothers’ incredible love and sacrifice she left us with.
“I’ve always been an outsider,” she explains referring to her sexual preference. “I was privileged, looking at motherhood from a distance — it gave an almost journalistic perspective.” Transitioning into mummydom was hard for Flacks. She was surprised at the huge personality shift she experienced when her son Eli was born six and a half years ago. “I became like my mom. I was anxious. I used to feel physically strong, but once I had a baby, I felt vulnerable and nervous that I wouldn’t be able to protect him. My cockiness was gone.”
And according to some in the theatre community, so was her cool. “Years ago, I did a series of skits at the International Gay Comedy Festival all about being a mother. I remember Maggie Cassella berating me about how I’d lost my edge.”
But Flacks sees it differently. “I think it’s edgy to talk about postpartum depression,” she states. “Mothers have marginalized voices, and they need to have their voices heard. I don’t like when women who stay home with their kids are ‘just mothers.’ What’s wrong with being just a mother?”
Three years ago, Flacks and bee-otch Janis found out they were pregnant again. The good news: Janis was able to conceive this time. The bad news: at 20 weeks in utero they found out their little boy had a rare disorder in which all his major abdominal organs — liver, bowel and stomach — were growing outside his little body, with the added complication of an associated serious heart defect.
They had no idea how serious the condition would be. Over the next nine months, the family basically lived at SickKids Hospital. It was harrowing. They almost lost their little Jonathan several times. Plus, Flacks and Janis were struggling to pay extra attention to big brother Eli while healing his little brother. But the nightmare did end, and Jonathan is doing well, sitting beside Flacks while we chat. He’s now referred to as the “Beat the Odds Baby.”
The life-and-death rollercoaster ride with Jonathan had a profound effect on Flacks. The worrying she felt as a new mother is gone. “After seeing what my son went through, I had my nose rubbed in it and learned that worrying doesn’t help. I understand lots of things out there I can’t control. I let go now which makes things easier now.”
Little Jonathan interrupts our chat and asks his mom to put on a Dora video. Flacks tells me with a laugh how her little guy is now obsessed with Dora. On a recent shoe shopping expedition, he picked up a pair of light-up Dora slippers and begged to have them. “I turned to Janis and said, ‘He’s two. This is the only time he’ll ever be able to get away with this.’”
And so little Jonathan wins another battle. And Flacks just laughs. Motherhood can do that to you.
Post City Magazines’ parenting columnist, Erica Ehm is the voice of yummy mummies with her playful website yummymummyclub.ca. After all, mommies need to play, too.