Chat Room: Sandra Tsing Loh is Using Comedy to Lower the Bar for Moms

By Elena Epstein

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Author and radio commentator Sandra Tsing Loh, with daughters Suzy Miller, left, and Maddy Miller, is bringing The Madwoman in the Volvo to the Pasadena Playhouse. PHOTO COURTESY SANDRA TSING LOH

For years, I’ve enjoyed Sandra Tsing Loh’s hilarious commentary on public radio and witty writing about juggling work, life, marriage and parenthood. The Pasadena mom of two teen daughters is known for her books, including “A Year in Van Nuys” and “Mother on Fire,” as well as her weekly 89.3 KPCC radio segments “The Loh Life,” and “The Loh Down on Science.” I was excited to chat with her about her new show, based on her memoir “The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones,” coming to the Pasadena Playhouse. The show, which premiered at the South Coast Repertory, is a wild ride through midlife madness sparked by a girlfriends’ birthday trip to Burning Man.

Loh is a lot like your super-smart friend who always says it like it is and consistently finds the absurdity and humor in the most mundane life moments. She has, with her signature raw candor and self-depreciating humor, chronicled her emotional pain, extramarital affair, divorce and midlife crisis in her memoir that has now been brought to the stage. Being part of what she calls the “Triple M Generation – menopausal, middle-aged and a mother,” she’s not afraid to expose her feelings to create a space where all of us can feel safe not being perfect.

What are some of the pressures that moms in particular are facing?

Moms today wear so many hats. We work, drive kids to soccer and ballet, are expected to do Pilates and stay slim, make dinner from scratch only with organic fruits and vegetables from the farmers market and leave little notes in our kids’ lunches. Who is doing all this?

Share with us one of your own breakdown moments.

I was on the freeway to pick up my kids from school and I remembered that I had promised them homemade pizza, and I started thinking about going to Trader Joe’s at 4 in the afternoon, the crowds in the parking lot, the lines. It was too much. I pulled over and started crying. I started thinking about every sad thing that had ever happened to me. We all do it. We start super-processing the bake sales, our work, everything we have to do – until there is a total crash.

How should moms respond to the unrealistic expectations?

Let’s lower the bar across the board in favor of us. Sometimes my kids eat only white food – mashed potatoes and rice. I have farmer’s market vegetables rotting in my fridge. Don’t worry. Any day you haven’t stuck your head in the oven, that’s a win. Pour yourself a glass of wine and celebrate a good day. And thank God for power-stretch mom jeans.

Why a play about menopause?

First, because laughing is always good. And I want to talk about the grind of parenting, working and the messiness of life. This is the anti-happy-face Facebook post. We’re always putting our best face forward. But, real life is so much more messy. I went through depression, my mother went through depression, I blow up my marriage. It’s true and it’s awful. It’s life. Women’s lives get complicated in our 40s. We start forgetting things, we can’t sleep, we grow chin hair, we can’t zip up our pants, we’re angry all the time. And all the books are telling us “the solution is simple, just cut out alcohol, caffeine and sugar.” Just cut these out! That’s literally what’s getting us through the day.

The Madwoman in the Volvo is playing at the Pasadena Playhouse (39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena) June 2- 26. For more information, visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org

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