Monthly Archives

February 2015

Dreams

Best Supporting Actress? Mom

New DadvMom post on HuffPo parents today.

As a child, I was a bit…theatrical.

I tap-danced at nursing homes, directed talent shows on the front porch, and composed original works for my recorder club. I memorized songs from The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, and repeatedly staged Annie in my upstairs bedroom.

But it was not until high school that I actually auditioned for anything. In my first play, Working, a musical about Americans and their jobs, I sang backup for the factory worker and the housewife. I had no lines, and no costume changes, and I spent roughly eleven minutes on stage pretending to either weave fabric or clip coupons. I spent so much time off stage that I could make a McDonald’s run during the show and still be back for curtain call.

My hopes were higher in our next play, a French comedy entitled The Miser. Indeed, I was rewarded with my first line. Well, not a line so much as a word. And I didn’t exactly deliver the line in the show. I was cast in the Troupe de Comédie, a fancy name meaning, “kids who did not make it into the actual play.” We wore funny hats and tumbled onto stage to announce important information like, “Act 1, Scene 3,” or “The Play is Over Now.” I spoke my single word, “tock,” during Intermission, when we informed the audience that they had a ten-minute break, and the clock was ticking. And tocking. We were the human equivalent of the playbill.

And so it went. I had two lines in Bye-bye Birdie, but I delivered them in darkness during a scene change. (“I found a lock of somebody’s hair. I wonder if it’s his?”) In Carnival, I played a puppet that helped talk a young girl out of suicide. It was not exactly Singin’ in the Rain.

By senior year, I got my big break with a solo in Godspell. Except my boyfriend and I broke up a week before the show, and I was so distraught that I caught a cold and lost my voice for opening night. I had to lip sync my own number while another gal sang for me. That one was actually quite a lot like Singin’ in the Rain.

As I look back on these bit parts and botched scenes, I find it amusing that I grew up fancying myself a singer, dancer, and actress. It is utter poppycock. I am no more an actress than I am a snake charmer. But the things we try as children stick, even if they don’t turn out to be true.

Which is why I am so proud of my daughter, Katie, tonight. It was the opening night of our community production of Peter Pan, in which – failing to follow in her mother’s footsteps — Katie was cast as Wendy. At 4:30, I applied her make-up. At 5:30, I dropped her at the theater. And at 6:15, I received an urgent communiqué from the stage manager: “Wendy needs you.” I found my little girl hyperventilating near the snack bar, insisting she could not play the part. Situations like this were not covered in the parenting books I read, though they most certainly will be when I write one. Chapter 1: Preventing 5-year-olds from Calling Heavyset Women Pregnant. Chapter 2: How to Remove Poop from Furniture. Chapter 3: What to Say When Your Child Threatens to Flee the Theater Fifteen Minutes before Curtain.

Poor Katie had the flu last week. She missed the tech rehearsals and costume fittings, and never had the chance to become at ease with the lighting and live music. As the audience was being seated, she became more agitated. What could I say to make her feel better? I considered, “Don’t be nervous,” but Katie was clearly petrified. “Try to calm down,” seemed likely to have the opposite of its intended effect.

I pulled her into an empty rehearsal room and wracked my brain. When in my life had I been truly scared? And what had people said to ease my fears? I was robbed once in a parking lot. It was terrifying, at first. But I turned out to be as broke as my assailant, and all the guy got was six bucks. Some crooks broke into my house a few years back, but I slept through the burglary, and only felt afraid after the fact. Truthfully, the most alarmed I have been as an adult was the night my daughter was born. For months, I worried I would not know what to do, that the pain would overwhelm me, that the baby would suffer because of my mistakes. How had I made it through that fear? I vaguely remember people encouraging me to breathe.

As a rule, children do not like to hear their birth stories. They do not want to be reminded of how you wiped their private parts, and held them to your breast, or how they were once fully a part of you. I spared Katie the intimate details. Instead, I told her the funny stuff, and reminded her to breathe. The doctor was annoyed to be working that day because the Super Bowl was on. Breathe in…2…3…4. Breathe out…2…3…4. During the contractions, Daddy said he was “getting tired,” and I yelled at him when he leaned on my bed. In…2…3…4. Out…2…3…4. Sweet baby Katie did not cry for the first week at home, and fooled us into complacency about “what a breeze” this parenting thing would be. In…2…3…4. Out…2…3…4. Then that same baby shrieked inconsolably every night for the next four months. She cried so much she threw up. We had to pull the car over and bounce-walk along the highway to try to quiet this tiny, furious angel. “You were one of the worst babies I ever met,” I told Katie tonight. “But you have grown into a spectacular kid. You were dramatic from the get-go. You can do this. It’s in your blood.”

She had stopped crying by then, but was still unconvinced that she should take the stage. “Mom, what if I’m not any good?” I thought back on my years of theater and realized that I had never been much good at any of it. I learned confidence and poise, experienced playfulness and joy. But I did not learn to act.

“Katie, you are performing this show for an audience of your family and friends,” I told her. “Even if you walk out on the stage, say ‘Meow,’ and pee, everyone is still going to love you.”

In the end, I am not entirely sure what did the trick. Maybe she just decided it would be less dramatic to stay and do the play than to deal with the fallout of leaving. But when the lights came up, Wendy took her first cue, and Peter Pan sailed on from there.

I did not take my own seat in the audience tonight. Instead, I stayed backstage while the principal actors, my daughter among them, sang and danced and flew. The feeling of watching from behind the curtain was a familiar one. Hidden in those shadows, I realized that my years of waiting in the wings had actually prepared me for this moment, for the biggest theatrical role I will ever play: the chance to be someone’s Mom.

 

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Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

ReLent

When I was growing up, Lent was bleak. There were no donuts. The Girl Scouts delivered cookies that we could no longer eat. Once again, fish reared its ugly head at dinnertime. We went without things we loved (usually sweets) and were grumpy, or we cheated and felt guilty until Easter came, when Jesus rose, and there were jelly beans for all.

This time of year can be tricky as a parent. The holidays are over, winter is dragging on and on. We could all use a little infusion. A little reminder that spring will come again. Call it Lent. Call it Random Acts of Kindness. Call it Love. But if you are finding yourselves or your family in a slump, try some of these. I’m going to post the list and have the kids check one on those days we just need a little boost.

 

*Make your own ashes. Let go of old habits, sad stories that no longer serve you. Write them down or say them aloud. Watch those ideas go up in smoke. (Thanks, Glennon Melton, for this idea http://momastery.com/blog/2015/02/18/stardust/ )

*Get bundled up and go for a walk together. If it is daylight, look for signs of spring.

*Call someone you love.

*Exercise together. If you are snowbound, pop in a workout video. Or bundle up and go run around the house. Or have each family member pick an exercise or two and everyone else can try it. Have fun being active together.

*Call a local food bank or meal provider. Donate canned goods and non-perishables. Or volunteer to help prepare or serve a meal to those in need.

*Plan and cook a simple meal together. Let the kids pick the foods even if they don’t “go together.”

*Gather for a compliment circle. Tell one another something you value or admire.

*Bring someone flowers ‘just because.’

*Put money in a tip jar.

*Fix something around the house that has been broken for a while. (For kids, this can even mean changing light bulbs.)

*Have a FREE stand – free donuts, or cocoa, or lemonade, or poems, or art work, or songs, or toys from your house you no longer need. If anyone insists on paying, give the money to a local charity.

*Have a family game night.

*Plant – garden vegetable seeds, flowers, herbs. Enjoy seeing green during the winter.

*Try a new sport or activity – ice skating, roller skating, trampoline, kayaking, library book club, knitting, yoga, swimming, karate, piano. Dare to do something you’ve always meant to do.

*Write a letter or draw a picture and mail it to someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Let them know they are special.

*Offer to babysit for another family.

*Visit an animal shelter. Ask if they have a list of needed items. Pick something and supply it.

*Bring a box of Kleenex, markers, hand sanitizer, or glue sticks to school. Teachers often purchase these items out-of-pocket this time of year.

*Snuggle on the couch with the television and computer turned off. Instead, read books aloud or tell stories.

*Have a donation scavenger hunt. Walk around the house and fill a bag with items to give away.

*Look at old photographs. Share the stories they capture.

*At dinner tonight, tell one another three things you are grateful for.

*Bake together. Share some of your cookies or muffins, etc. with your neighbors.

*Sing today.

*Dance today.

*Clean today. Scrub the toilets inside the house. Pick up trash outside the house. It does not matter what, just pick something and make it shine.

*Be affectionate today. Smile at one another for no reason. Say, “I love you” for no reason. Hug.

*Share memories of favorite family recipes. Pick one to try to recreate today.

*Wash each other’s feet.

*Whether it is for church, brunch, or your next family gathering, select a nice outfit to wear. Have everyone know what they are wearing to de-stress the process of getting a well-dressed family out the door.

Revised Feb. 9, 2016 — I started Lent a day early this year.  My To-Do List has been growing of late, and I noticed a trend:  I notoriously skip appointments related to my own health and well-being.  I am 14 months overdue at the dentist.  My teeth have begun to feel furry.  We have a family history of breast cancer, and I’ve still never been for a mammogram.  The dermatologist, my hairdresser, the guy who does the brakes on my car…all received calls from me today.  Sometimes, in our desire to care completely for our families, we forget ourselves.  Feels good to be entering this season with balance.

Also, I ate the rest of the girl scout cookies.  It made sense at the time.   

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Uncategorized

My Father’s Keeper

New DadvMom post at the New York Observer today.  For Grandpas past and present.

Father Holding his newborn daughter. (Photo: Dean White) Read more at http://observer.com/2015/02/my-father-flew-to-california-to-see-my-daughter-in-a-play/#ixzz3RqO4wcoT Follow us: @newyorkobserver on Twitter | newyorkobserver on Facebook

 

Holidaze

VD

February 14.  The one holiday when it is impossible not to think just a teensy bit about the L-word.

Lima beans.

Wait, that’s two words. Okay, then. LOVE.

If you have not yet read Mandy Len Catron’s New York Times article entitled, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” please go do that now. Seriously, it is better than anything I am about to say.

However, if you have already read it, or have just returned from reading it, please continue. I have a thought or two on the subject.

I have just finished helping my kiddos prepare their Valentine’s cards, a process that began with excitement, was hindered by crying and dishevelment — not unlike most projects around here – and ended with a sort of weary pride. This year, the prevailing argument centered on why I never let them buy the pre-fab boxed cards.

“Because that is cheating,” I said.

“Cheating?” said the Katie, the oldest. “But Valentine’s Day isn’t a test.”

“Besides, Mom,” complained my 5-year-old, “I can’t even draw a good heart.” It was at approximately this point in the evening that little Lizzie fled to her room to cry in her closet.

I had told the kids that hand-made cards were more thoughtful, and that Valentine’s Day was a chance to share our kind feelings with those we loved.

“But I don’t love most of these people, Mom,” Katie complained. “They are just kids in my class.”

Later, after the cards were completed and the kids were tucked in bed, I looked over Lizzie’s pile of professed mess-ups. There were more than two-dozen attempts to draw a heart. All of them lovely. So earnest. So sweet. So much like her. But she had had an idea in her head about what the perfect Valentine was to look like, and no amount of cajoling by me could bring her around to the idea that all of her hearts were wonderful.

Once again, I think I failed to teach the lesson I thought I was teaching.

Here’s the thing: Valentine’s Day is kind of stupid. Kids sending meaningless cards to other kids is stupid. For most of us, Valentine’s Day is just one more excuse to eat more candy than we should, drink more wine than we need, and argue with the person we love about why he/she didn’t buy us something better.

But, as a kid, I freaking loved Valentine’s Day. I would look carefully at each card I received in my brown paper lunch bag. Had Todd signed Love, Todd to everyone or just me? Did Jeff purposely give me the card with a red heart instead of a pink one? Everyone knew red hearts were more romantic. Of course, now that I have children of my own, I am certain that neither Jeff nor Todd nor any of the other half-dozen or so boys I professed to “love” on those Valentine’s Days gave much thought at all to their cards. They were doing what my kids were doing: just trying to get them done.

These days, teachers are smart. Both of my girls were asked not to put the recipients’ names on the Valentines. “Just pass out one to everyone,” Mrs. M. encouraged. That way, no one got anything special from anyone else. And, of course, no one got hurt.

Except we lose something, don’t we? when we treat everyone exactly the same. If Valentine’s Day serves any purpose whatsoever, it is a yearly reminder to demonstrate affection, to allow ourselves to know and be known.

Which gets me back to Mandy Len Catron’s piece. Catron referenced a study conducted twenty years ago by a psychologist, Arthur Aron, that purported to create love in a laboratory. In the study, two strangers were simply asked to answer a series of questions together. The end result: affection. Catron tried this same “experiment” herself, and described the strange intimacy of passing an evening puzzling through Aron’s questions with a person she barely knew.

It seems to me that all of us, whether we are in a relationship or not, could benefit from an infusion of laboratory-tested intimacy. Maybe this Valentine’s Day, instead of dinner or a movie, just sit and talk to someone you love (or are hoping to love). Not fake talk, of celebrity gaffes or television plots. But real talk. Find someone you love and answer some questions together.

This Valentine’s Day, allow yourself to be known.

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For those who need extra encouragement, I’ll start:

Question # 4 – What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

Years ago, this probably would have involved lying on a beach in a far off land or attempting to sing and dance on a Broadway stage. But these days, my perfect day is simpler. I would awaken feeling rested, having slept more than enough. I would eat breakfast in a chair, a proper eggs and bacon on a plate situation, rather than toast balanced on the washing machine or chips munched as I pack lunches. I would tell my kids I love them and see them walk safely into school among friends. I would exercise hard — run and lift and jump — and not hear a peep from my wonky knee or Achilles. I would bathe afterwards, and wash and comb my hair. I would remember to wear deodorant. I would write, read, and laugh with people I love. And then I would sleep some more. [As I read over this answer, it sounds so DULL, but honestly, most days, I don’t manage any of this.]

Question #30 – When did you last cry in front of another person?

Last Thursday. At Target. In broad daylight. And much to the chagrin of the lady working in Customer Service. To be fair, it had been a difficult shopping excursion. I had a sick kid. I was late for a party. I couldn’t find the tablecloths. No one would help me. Looking back, I don’t even know what triggered it, except that the lady in my checkout line was roughly the seventh person who had failed to help me that day. Raising kids takes a village and, that day, I was a shoddy solo act. I had all kinds of keenly mean things to say – about decency, and dignity, and the kind of women we should be to one another in this difficult world. Instead, I cried. More on that here.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Laugh. Cry. Go let yourself be known.

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