Sunday, May 2, 2010

Survival Skills for a Production Wife

I met J Widney at 1:00 am when he was crashing at his aunt’s house after volunteering all day for a Christmas production at his church. We soon became best friends. I subsequently worked alongside J on several productions and projects. In fact, 3-1/2 years later, my "marriage proposal" was cut short because J had to get back to a graduation production he was working on.

Knowing all of that, I still wasn’t prepared to be a ‘Production Wife’. When J and I married, he worked full-time for his dad. It was a great gig – no late nights, no weekends. Within a year, J was on staff at our church. We both were. And it was fine. We didn’t have kids so working late at night was easy.

I liked hanging out at the church with J and the guys. I quickly became the designated production wife who took care of getting meals for the guys. I would take everyone’s orders, pick up the food and setup the table. Then I’d clean up after them. Usually, I stuck around reading or doing work in my office. Basically, I hung out and avoided being home alone for hours on end. I’m pretty good at sleeping stretched out on a row of chairs.

It should be mentioned that I am not a cook. A more domesticated production wife would have fixed home cooked meals for the guys. In fact, the senior production wife (of J's boss) did this a number of times. I did what I was capable of doing.

I couldn’t help J as I didn’t know anything about lighting or sound or set design or videos. I was pretty good at giving my opinion. Still am, really. Sometimes, I was able to unpack par cans (basic stage lights) or untangle strings of Christmas lights. And I could tell if something was centered or not.

Sitting in conversations with guys talking shop was not fun when I didn’t know what they meant. So I started reading Lighting Dimensions, Church Communications and other trade magazines. Jason kept them in our master bathroom so it wasn’t like I was wasting time reading. Soon, I found myself understanding the conversations and able to ask not so dumb questions. It made me feel more connected to my husband and his world. Dinners with the guys became more fun too!

And I did listen to what the guys were saying. I’ll never forget the first time I commented that a song sounded ‘open’. J and his boss stopped and stared at me. I was right and they were shocked. It made me want to learn more about their world of sound.

Another thing I did to draw us closer was to volunteer in the sound booth with J. I started running the words for songs and putting up slides, starting videos. Then one day, a camera guy didn’t show up. I ran camera and loved it!! Soon, I was on the rotation. I’m Miss Organization, so it was natural to be stage manager for a couple of productions. So much fun!! For the most part, it was a great experience. And I got some cool things to add to my resume. More importantly, it drew J and I closer together. It showed that I had an interest in his life and career.

Then our son was born. At first, I just brought Motor Mouth with me. It did get a bit crazy when I realized I had to get a baby carrier, 4 large pizzas, 3 bottles of pop, cups, plates, and napkins in the church building. In the snow. Uphill. When Motor Mouth became mobile, I stayed home more. I would bring Motor Mouth by the church so J could spend a few minutes with his son. And so we could see the progress being made.

When our daughter was born 3 years later, it was increasingly difficult to attend church on a regular basis, much less commit to volunteering or spending hours hanging out in the church auditorium late at night. I had to stop being the designated production wife. That’s when I transitioned to ‘Production Widow’.

Suddenly, I found myself as a single mom that happened to be married. It was hard at first and hard not to resent my husband’s career choice. Fortunately, I had family and friends to hang out with. And, with the busyness that comes with being a mom, I started to really enjoy the solitude after the kids went to bed and it was just me.

When we moved to Chicago, I found myself alone. No family. New friends, but no developed relationships. J hit the ground running when he started. The new church building opened 3 months after our arrival. I was lonely. That summer, I drove to visit my family in Canada 3 times. Just me and the kids.

Production husbands might miss out on important events in their kids lives - like their daughter's first tap or ballet class. In his defense, J was very purposeful about his Friday day off. It became Family Friday. We went to a different museum every Friday. Often, J would take the kids to do something fun and let me have hours of me time. I implemented Widney Wednesday, a themed family night. We created family moments and memories when we could. Our pastor was amazing and always asked how I was doing. If I wasn't okay, I knew he had our backs.

During that season, I learned that I needed to get busy. I started homeschooling our son, put both kids in swimming, put our son in Awana, karate and baseball and our daughter in tap and ballet. I took a couple writers workshop classes then learned to crochet. Before I knew it, I was so busy, I didn’t even notice J wasn’t home. And I didn’t mind because I had my own thing going.

Sometimes, the kids and I hang out in the Green Room or the Parent Room, watching movies, napping, reading, playing. We are just down the hall from J and it feels like family time. J walks over every hour or so to check on us and get hugs. We get visits from staff, too. Our kids have become everyone’s kids. They know most everyone on staff and have developed special relationships with many. (Like Uncle Schraeder below)

In this newest season of our lives, our kids are now old enough to go to church with J and run around the auditorium. It is their playground. They get excited when they hear they are going to church because it might mean they get to watch a movie on the big screen or the back wall of the stage. Motor Mouth has played Wii on the wall of the auditorium. How cool is that?!

I don’t have as much time these days to read every trade magazine. But I do skim them and ask questions. When we go somewhere with production value, I get an earful and I ask questions about how things were done. I read every one of J’s blog entries and I follow most of the trades people J follows on Twitter. I attend all the conferences I can with J so I can understand his world. Daily, I am in awe of the level of creativity that flows from my husband. I wish I had a pinky worth of his creativity. In the meantime, I’m learning, interested, and engaged.

And now, our kids are pretty skilled at falling asleep on a row of chairs in church, too!


Felicity said...

Your advice here for wives to find ways to understand their husbands' work is excellent. Dan and I shared most of his work pre-kids, too. Now our kids love to hang out at worship team practice!

Liz Mouse said...

His contribution at church IS AMAZING. Not sure how many people tell you guys that, but we've been at Park for at least 7 yrs, so we've seen the long distance this church has traveled. His contribution has taken things to a whole new level.