Monthly Archives

February 2016

Dreams

Best Supporting Actress? Mom

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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(Originally ran in Feb. 2015 on DadvMom.com and HuffPo.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awesomeness, Birthday-mania

Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Week

Once again, the job I love had me on the road last week. It was a quick trip, a day transiting through Istanbul and three more in Germany for a half-dozen meetings over beers and bratwurst. It’s the kind of jaunt I would have loved before kids, when I did not have to worry about them missing me, and me missing them. Plus, my departure was set for a couple days after Katie’s birthday, which is never ideal.

My brother, who lives in Germany, said, “Why don’t you bring her?” I poked around online, found cut-rate airfare, and made plans to meet up with my brother’s whole family in Munich. On Katie’s birthday, my present to her was an envelope with plane tickets, her passport, and 100 Euros (thanks Grandma). Two days and 10 time zones later, we were feet-dry in Deutschland. Between my work meetings, we saw castles and museums and ate pretzels until we were stuffed.

Most of all, we talked, about the kinds of things that only come out when you spend hours and hours with someone you love. We staggered through our jetlag together, and spent one too many midnights watching bad movies on German Netflix. Towards the end we began plotting our next adventure. Thailand?  South Africa?  Vladivostok?  As a father, it’s easy to bemoan the fact that my little girl is growing up. Too often, it happens while I am gone. But there is an upside. She’s becoming an awesome wingman.

Ice Cream and Nostalgia

Be My Galentine

I heard from Tori, an old friend of mine, the other day. She was cleaning out her childhood bedroom and stumbled upon a note I had written to her. After all these years, it was still expertly folded. She and I spent a good chunk of junior high perfecting our signature note origami. I liked my correspondence to look like a miniature envelope, while Tori preferred the time-honored football fold.

In case you have not had the opportunity to revisit your 13-year-old self this Valentine’s Day, here are some of my takeaways:

    1.  My handwriting was much better back then.
    2. My judgment, confidence, time-management, punctuation, and taste in men are all better now.

In the page-long overwrought letter, I blather on about the classic two-guy conundrum: Which fellow would be best for me? I bemoan that Boy #1 is “the only boy I know, who I can really open up to…I’ve told him things that I never told anyone before.” But Boy #2 is “gorgeous” and “popular.” At age 13, I had clearly mastered the plotline of even the most forgettable Rom Com. That Tori did not immediately set this note on fire is a testament both to our junior high school’s anti-smoking crusade AND to the fact that she was a pretty terrific friend. One of my best, in fact. Though you would never have known it from the way I spent so much time trailing around after boys and ignoring her wise counsel.

So, I know you are breathless with anticipation. In the end, who did I choose? The good guy? The hottie? Spoiler alert: Neither. The relationship that lasted was the one with my gal friend, Tori. Though we are separated by time and miles, she is the one who now leaves me breathless. She has traveled extensively, negotiated with foreign dignitaries, and hiked mountain ranges from China to Appalachia. When I see her Facebook updates, I am besotted with the gorgeous photographs of archways and sunsets. Her zest for life makes me want to be more adventurous and outdoorsy. If we lived any less than sixteen states apart, I would meet her more regularly for coffee just to listen to her talk.

It is tempting on Valentine’s Day to be obvious. By all means, celebrate today with flowers and chocolate – Lord knows I have never said no to either. But especially if you are a person who feels a little blue on this day of pinks and reds, I urge you to look up an old friend. Fall back in love with someone who taught you about love along the way. As I was writing this, I thought of more than a dozen other girlfriends with whom I have shared my heart – Stephanie, Rebecca, Michelle, Emily, Christine, Maggie, Beena, Meg, Jenny, Jen, Kim, Irem, Sarah, Abbie, Colleen, Terri, Jessica, Shannon, Sam… and I could go on and on.* All of these fine creatures taught me more about love than Boy 1 or Boy 2 ever did. Ladies: I thank you from the bottom, top, and middle of my nonsensical, note-writing, frequently misguided heart. Everyone: don’t ever underestimate the power of a Galentine to make you feel young, breathless, and 13 again.

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*Annette, Melanie, Beth, Tonya, Becky, Gale, Bridget, Christy, Sue, Caroline, Allison, Kelly, Michal, Yasmine, Alana, Jennifer, Debbie, Chantel, Eugénie, Kris, Maria, Erin, Kristy, Angie, Chris, Eraina, Lisa, Angie, Lara, Kim, Ashley, Toni, Leah…and I could go on and on.  Thank you to all my Galentines.  Both listed here and held in the silence of my heart.  We are all of us so very blessed.

Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

ReLent

(Originally posted February 19, 2015)

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 a modicum of balance.

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

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Awesomeness

Dear Girl Scouts: Yes, I Will Buy Your Cookies. However…

Resolutions, shmesolutions. It’s Girl Scout Cookie time.

Who doesn’t love those Samoas with their chocolate and caramel chewiness? You have not lived until you’ve dunked Trefoils in your cocoa or chased a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a Tagalong or two. Downton Abbey and a sleeve of Thin Mints? That is a pretty great evening. And if you are craving comfort food, you can always crumble some Do-si-dos in a bowl of milk and call it cereal.

I will admit it: when it comes to Girl Scout Cookies, I am an easy mark. I am happy to plunk down $6 – yeah, six bucks – for a box of fourteen gluten-free Toffee-tastics.

But even I have my limit. The self-proclaimed neighborhood Girl Scout Cookie crazy lady has her line. And it is this: I will not buy cookies from your mom. That’s right. I will purchase cookies out of wagons towed by girls in sashes or beanies. I will buy boxes off of folding tables from kids shivering outside of Rite Aid. I will snack on treats sold to me by entrepreneurial little sisters at my daughter’s basketball game.

But if I am purchasing Thin Mints out of a minivan, someone’s kid better be the one saying please and thank you and counting out my change.

Which is irritating for the moms, I know. Because as magical as cookie February is for the rest of us, it is super-annoying for moms. Moms have to tally those cookies, and sort the boxes, and accompany their kids to those sleeting Saturday morning troop sales. I get why they advertise, when they take to Facebook to help boost sales on their daughter’s digital cookie platform. But at least have your kid write some thank-you notes when your Twitter friends buy a box or two of Rah-Rah Raisins.

Because as much as I am a GSC aficionado, I also realize that the cookies themselves are ridiculous. They are one of the last societally approved forms of sugar-addiction. We all know to cut back on pasta, potatoes, and Juju Fruits. These days, a grown woman can hardly order a hamburger without a side of matcha and Brazil nuts. But nobody gives me the evil eye when I toss back a lemony handful of Savannah Smiles. It’s for a good cause.

What that cause is, I confess, I am not entirely sure. I never was a girl scout myself. As a kid, I thought piano lessons were cooler. My oldest daughter only made it through a single season as a Daisy Scout. She marched in a couple parades, earned her roller skating patch, and learned to make trail mix during a mock campout held one Saturday morning on the local softball field. We bailed when we discovered there was little, if any, scouting involved.

But when it comes to cookie sales, I am told the girls are not just scouts, but emissaries. These transactions promote self-confidence, worldliness, and a healthy spirit of competition. Moms: you already possess these traits. But some of your girls, they could use the practice. They should speak clearly to grown-ups and look them in the eyes. If they want to win the cookie sales piggy bank or the key chain or the journal and pen, they will probably need to answer questions about nut allergies and dairy. They might even summon some courage and knock on a few doors. Though I am never able to help with this part, it is good for them to be told no thank-you from time to time, so they can practice dealing with life’s small disappointments. But Mom, if you just flog fifty boxes after Pilates class, the whole child self-actualization model crumbles like, well… a cookie.

So kiddos, if you set up your table outside the taco stand or drag your duffle bag over to the swim meet on Tuesday afternoon, you can put me down for a box of Samoas and one box of Tagalongs. And if Mom is with you, have her read a magazine, catch up on Candy Crush, or just chit-chat with me. Because I will buy over-priced, chemical-laden, nonsensically delicious cookies from you. But I won’t buy them from your mom.

This DadvMom.com piece appeared today at the New York Observer.