A mom who…

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Gratuitous photo of darling baby toes. Taken by his big sister.

There are a lot of gifts that accompany a show opening. Everything has come together and is soaring. It’s a celebratory time. The New Colossus has opened! The cast, the direction, the design, the stage management are all amazing. Hurrah!

For me, one of the gifts of TNC‘s opening weekend, is a more personal one. And I feel a little embarrassed admitting it. The opening of the play has given me the opportunity to talk about more than just my kids. It’s strange, but that’s a real gift for me. Like, I’ve got other things going on that make me a multi-dimensional person and that feels really nice.

I’m so much a MOM these days. I’m MOM-ing constantly and vigorously. Leading up to the opening of TNC, I was on antibiotics for mastitis (Again. Sigh.) Most nights, I was pulling ice packs out of my bra before entering rehearsal. And my usually chilled out baby had major sleep issues. He. Would. Not. Stay. Asleep. Argh. So I was even more sleep-deprived than usual. At the end of rehearsal (and now, after the show), I rushed home to get friendly with my breast pump. No one wants engorgement, nope. Then there’s the end of school year chaos and piano lessons, swim lessons, etc. etc. Anyway, you get the picture. I felt my MOM-ness very much, even though I had sweet pockets of time when I was in rehearsal and felt my creative-self assert herself, and my mom-self take a little rest. My mom-self needs a rest sometimes, you know?

Please don’t get me wrong, I am crazy-grateful for my family. I love my kids, and I love to talk about them. Go ahead, ask me, you won’t be twisting my arm. It’s easy and often necessary at this time in their lives to make them my everything. It’s very special to witness the growth of such wonderful spirits.  So, I’m in love with my life, but there’s not much space for me in it right now. I’m MOM before anything else. I’m a “A mom who….” — A mom who writes, A mom who works, A mom who acts, A mom who makes theatre, A mom who is always mom-ing.

But now! But now, the show is out there in the wider world and people are coming to see it and wonderfully, amazingly, they are talking about it. And this past weekend, for a few days anyway, I really felt like a writer first, an artist, “A writer who moms….” And it was cool to have that experience, and I’m grateful for it too. Honestly, I think it was a damn f-ing miracle that I was able to write TNC while I was pregnant and then continue to work on it with an infant. I’m really, really hoping for another miracle as I start work on the next project too. (Writing with a toddler and an 8-year old — hold onto your hats!) Since I don’t know if I’ll get that next miracle, I’m enjoying the ever-loving sh!t out of this one. I really am. I don’t feel my usual murky mix of anxiety and awkwardness about my art. I just feel grateful and present and happy.

Please come see The New Colossus if you can. I’d like to talk with you about it. After that, I’ll tell you a funny story about my kids. Hee.

*Speaking of children, this Thursday, May 26, is Red Nose Day for TNC. Come support this worthy cause and get yourself a ticket discount. If you attend wearing a red nose, pay just $6 (half-off regular price). Good for door sales only the night of the show. Read more about Red Nose Day.

**This post is the third in a short series of posts about TNC. Here’s the first one. Here’s the second one.

 

 

A discussion about death over orange juice

“You’ll die first.”

My five year old daughter said that to me about two weeks ago. It was 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I was leaning into the fridge reaching for some orange juice. She was between bites of her cereal, sounding chirpy and chipmunky as she usually does.

“You’ll die first.”

Do not underestimate the creepiness of hearing your kid say that to you. Even on a bright Saturday morning while you are in your bathrobe and she is in her snowman pjs and all is right with the world — it was super creepy**. I admit I laughed, snorted and gulped at the same time wondering if I was about to have a kindergartener-exorcist-experience and marveling at how unexpected this parenting stuff is.

I aimed for an attitude of nonchalant curiosity as I emerged from the fridge with the oj. “What do you mean, honey? Can you tell me more? Do you have a question?”

Turns out that she was just confirming a logical sequence that she’d worked out in her head….it goes a little like this:

When people get really old, they die. Mom is older than me. Mom will get really old before I get really old. Therefore, Mom will die before I will die.

Mom will die first (before me). Right, Mom?

Yeah, and it was only 8:00 a.m. 

I agreed that she was right, that I would die first. Yep, yep, you bet, don’t worry about that. Knowing my kid as I do, I know she was looking for comfort and the standard assurance that if I did something first than it wouldn’t be so scary for her. That is her clear preference for how things work in our little family world — her dad and I pave the way, act things out, model behaviors, act as examples, then she feels safe enough to try for herself. On that Saturday morning, her little brain whispered something unsettling about her own mortality; she wanted to make sure that someone else was on the hook to figure that out first. That would be me….on the hook.

It is a sobering thought that your kid is looking to you to model how to approach death — even in the simplest-five-year-old understanding of that concept — yes, that is a sobering thought over Cheerios and coffee and orange juice and slippers and snowman pjs. I didn’t know I was signing up for that when I saw the double pink line on the pregnancy test, you know?

It’s not surprising though, when I consider that this kid is watching me all the time for clues about how to live in this world and how to interpret the events and the people in it. She is all the time looking for indications about what is frightening and what is not, what is safe and what is not, how to treat people/guests/family/friends/neighbors/strangers, how to express herself, the rules of society, the rules of being female, the rules of being a child, and more…She is looking to me and the other adults in her life to model very complicated ways of operating in the world — so she knows how to be and, more importantly, what to expect.

What can she expect? What should she expect? She wants to know. Geez, so do I.

So, death. It comes up from time to time. We see dead birds or dead animals in the woods – we attended my grandmother’s funeral – her grandparents’ dog died – she hears some snippet of news or adults talking or conversation at school about people dying or getting killed. Fairly often, she comes to me with questions about people who died and what that means for them and for us and for her.

I don’t know the answers to any of this. I don’t know what it all means. Once she learns how to read my blog, she’ll know that.

So, we talk about death. We talk about how the body stops working when you die — no more breathing, playing, moving, eating, sleeping, etc. We talk about the permanence of that bodily change (she doesn’t believe in the permanence — not one bit — that’s ok). We talk about our souls and what a soul might be and where it goes after death. Once we get beyond what happens to the body, I answer almost all of her questions about death with my own question “What do you think happens?” Because I’m curious. Because I want her to think it through in a way that makes sense to her five-year-old-mind. Because I don’t know. Currently, she is certain that all souls go directly to Mars to hang out after death. Alright by me. Alright for now.

Mostly, when she comes to me with questions, she’s really asking if she’s safe, if we are going to leave her, and if anything bad is going to happen in the immediate future. I have spent a great deal of time googling ‘age-appropriate conversations about death and dying’ — what the hell, I don’t know how to talk about this — and I’m doing my best to comfort her without feeding her misinformation. I’m doing my best not to make it all sound scary (like how much it scares me) and instead to frame death as a transition, as a mystery, as an aspect of life that we all have in common. I’m doing my best to make sure that she understands that no discussion topic is taboo whether it’s dying or sex or bodies or whatever, and that emotion-laded topics are not to be feared.  In this family, emotions are not to be feared, they are to be shared…even grief, even fear, even confusion, even courage, even love.

Even as I try to comfort her and remind her that she is safe, I know that life and death cannot be controlled. Bad, sad shit happens — wrong and out of order and out of tune and way too soon. I know this. I can’t control it. I can’t anticipate it. One day, she’ll come to me with more questions that I cannot answer about life, death, meaning, fairness, fate, and the f-ed up turning-wheel-of-fortune. In those moments, I will try like hell to hold space for her and her questions, and trust that she will find her own answers over time, as we all must. (Deep breath, deep breath)

In the meantime, I guess I’m showing her how to approach life as well as death (even as I’m figuring that out for myself in real time). I’m engaging what is frightening and what is not, what is safe and what is not; I’m considering how to treat people/guests/family/friends/neighbors/strangers, how to express myself, the rules of society, the rules of being female, the rules of being a child, and more…I am wrestling with the very complicated ways of operating in the world in the presence of my daughter knowing that she can see me and she is watching me live my life. 

We talk about living during this living-alive-portion-of-my-life. Daughter, let’s talk about life! I do my best to comfort her without feeding her misinformation. I do my best not to make it all sound scary (like how much life scares me) and instead to frame life as a series of transitions, as a mystery, as something else that we all have in common.

Like death, life still happens, even if we ignore it. I don’t want to ignore either one.

Yes.

Yes, I want her to be right about me ‘dying first’ (there’s something I never expected I would say).

Yes, that is ok with me.

I plan to live to hit the triple digits. If my soul goes to Mars when I’m 100, she’ll still be a spritely 65. As far as I’m concerned, ‘first’ doesn’t mean anytime soon.

Triple digits, baby.

** Unless you are a five-year-old innocent, please be cool and refrain from repeating this statement to me.

Meta Mette Metta

Last Saturday was the closing performance of Little Green Pig’s production of Celebration. (Below you’ll see some links to reviews for this production, fyi.) I miss the show. I miss the generous, talented people associated with it. I miss my character, Mette. Celebration was a theatrical roller coaster ride seeded with major family dysfunction and deep brokenness (secrets, abuse, racism, violence, denial, repression, control, suicide) combined with the family’s desperate refusal to abandon the façade of perfect-family-happy-party-time. Amid the mayhem were moments of great affection, humor, courage, and love.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot to write about with this production, but Mette has been weighing on my mind this week. I’ve been trying to make sense of her – Why do I miss her? What can I learn from her? What was the experience of sharing her skin?

Yes, getting meta with Mette…hee.

Below, is a snapshot of Mette as I lived her. (She wasn’t like the Mette in the movie; she wasn’t like the Mette that another actor might portray. She was mine.) Some of her personality I was aware of during the performances and some of it I pieced together after shaking her off. The audience and my fellow cast members wouldn’t have noticed most of this — there was so much going on and I certainly wasn’t the star of the show and there so many über-talented actors to track — but that’s as it should be… this was my acting thing.

I wonder if you’ll understand my affection for her.

First, a photo to give you the flavor of my gal:

Mette in action.  Photo by Alex Maness

Mette is leaving! Photo by Alex Maness.

Yeah, Mette always has a little blood in her mouth (metaphorically speaking). That’s why she drinks so much, why she wears red lipstick, makes so much noise. She has a big mouth. She is a BIG MOUTH and she has fangs. She generally thinks people are “hilariously full of shit”- especially the family around the table – but she doesn’t mind as long as she’s having fun. She likes to have fun.

She loves to touch people — grab/grasp/poke/push people on the arms and on the face. She thinks it’s funny when other people get in trouble.

She’s a straight talker. She’s a heavy drinker. She’s self-involved. She’s a volcano, that Mette. Sex, for her, can be a transaction, a weapon, or lots and lots of fun. She’s cool with her sexiness. She shouts. She gets very angry very fast. She flirts purposefully and wickedly; she mates for life. She loves her husband.

Mette gives as good as she gets. She never apologizes for herself even when she’s gross or inappropriate. There is nothing to apologize for.

She loves her child. She wants to be a good mother (better than her own!) Sometimes she treats her daughter like a baby and sometimes like an adult.  Mette loses track of her kid often — Where did that kid go now? — but she is very clear that her daughter is ‘the best thing she’s ever done’ and the best part of her life. Mette raises her daughter in an environment with violence (overt and suppressed), verbal abuse, racist songs, and dysfunction, but she wouldn’t describe it that way.

Mette does not define herself as a mother or a wife, she is always “Just Mette.”

Sometimes she cries at night because life isn’t measuring up to her expectations…neither is her husband… and neither is she.

After a performance, a friend said, “I bet it felt good to be so angry!”

Yes. Yes, it did.

After a show on another night, a friend described Mette as “icky.”

Yes. But geez, I loved her.

I'm through with you. Photo by Alex Maness.

I’m so through with you, dude. Photo by Alex Maness.

So what did I learn? What am I taking with me from Celebration via the vehicle of Mette?

The most obvious is an affirmation of how satisfying it is to be an actor and to create theatre in community. There’s something deeply enjoyable about the bifurcated mind on-stage — the tightrope walk of surrendering completely to the reality of the play and at the same time tracking technique, staging, ensemble, and audience. It requires deep concentration. It’s being in the zone, baby, and it feels great. Being in the zone with a tight ensemble feels even greater. Being in the zone with a tight ensemble while playing an interesting juicy character feels knock-out-awesome-greatastic.

Mette and all of the characters in Celebration reminded me once again that given a particular set of circumstances, given a particular context, people can be capable of anything — bad decisions, beautiful sacrifices, horrible mistakes, mortifying missteps, and heart-breaking courage. Life teaches us/work teaches us/theatre teaches us this: I have the potential for all behaviors and so does everyone else. I am you and you are me, you know? In order to play a character on-stage, I need to understand where she’s coming from and buy into her choices. Over time, that ‘buying into’ increases my understanding and respect for her decisions even if I don’t think I’d make them myself. It’s cool, but I don’t know how it works. Maybe it’s as simple as walking a mile in someone else’s high-heeled shoes.

In fact, I’ve been thinking that if I could love Mette and the rest of the f-ed up people around the dining room table of Celebration (and I did!) then surely I can love and accept the real beautifully flawed humans in my life. Surely I can soften my judgement and open my heart to the real folks walking around this planet with me.

Yes, for all of you good Buddhists, I’m getting metta with Mette….

Ok, ok, ok, this is what I learned and what I know…if I am intentional about noticing and implementing the lessons, acting and theatre-making are opportunities to increase my ability to love. Admitting that makes me feel like the biggest-silliest-rainbow-sparkles-and-unicorns-theatre-geek in the entire world — “acting and theatre are opportunities to increase my ability to love!” — GAH! —  but I really think that’s true. I think it’s true for anything that people are passionate about whether it’s making model airplanes or saving the whales or running a marathon Our passions connect us with the greater human experience — and connection is the conduit to love. Love breeds love. “All we need is love“…..and that’s how art can save the world.

As for little Mette, I hope to hang on to wisps of her personality — a sprinkle of her zesty-ness and her straight-talking, a tad of her crackly electricity and her this-is-who-i-am-man-take-me-or-leave-me. Though it’s likely that will fade as I regain my Tamaralibrium. Really, the greatest gift she gave me was learning that I can do some things I wasn’t sure I could do. So, it turns out… I can raise my voice in anger. I can attack. I can be a wife and a mom and be sexy. I can snarl, and be unapologetic, and make noise, and take up space. I know I can do those things if I want to… because I did.

She gave me some of her power after all.

Now I know.

Links to Reviews:

The Five Points Star

The Indy 

News & Observer

I want pizza: Losing ourselves in the Atlanta airport

The mother of all tantrums. You know, the one when you and your kid totally lose it? The one that you fear as a parent?

THE GIANT LENGTHY EXTENDED RE-MIX OF ALL THE PREVIOUS TANTRUMS TURNED UP TO ELEVEN ON THE VOLUME KNOB — THE MOST PUBLICLY HUMILIATING SCREAMFEST COMPLETE WITH VIOLENT FLAILING TO HIGHLIGHT AND UNDERLINE YOUR INEPT PARENTING – IN THE AIRPORT AND THEN ON THE AIRPLANE WHERE YOU CANNOT ESCAPE – DURING WHICH YOUR USUALLY LOVELY CHILD GIVES HER BEST IMPRESSION OF THAT KID FROM THE EXORCIST WHILE SCREAMING “GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME. DON’T TOUCH ME. I WANT TO GET AWAY FROM YOU. I DON’T WANT AIRPLANE. NO NO NOOOOOO AIRPLANE” – AND YOU TRY ALL SORTS OF CALM AND LOVING SOOTHING MOM-TRICKS BUT NOTHING THAT YOU TRY WORKS TO CALM YOUR CHILD AND STOP HER SCREAMING —  PEOPLE STOP AND STARE AND WONDER IF YOU ARE KIDNAPPING OR HURTING THE KID AND THEN THEY WONDER WHY YOUR FOUR-YEAR OLD CHILD WHO IS NOT A BABY ANYMORE IS COMPLETELY LOSING IT AND THEN PEOPLE GET OUT OF YOUR WAY AND LET YOU CUT IN LINE SO YOU CAN HAUL YOUR CHILD (WHO IS KICKING AND HITTING YOU) INTO HER SEAT AND YOU HOLD HER DOWN AND BUCKLE HER IN. AND SHE KEEPS KICKING YOU AND SCREAMING UNTIL YOU GRAB HER LEGS AND ARMS AND SAY IN YOUR SCARIEST MEANEST TEETH-BARED SQUINTY-EYED MOM WHISPER, “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. STOP IT.” And then your kid stops screaming because you scared her speechless with your violent-sounding whisper. Then she starts quietly crying with very sad eyes. She says, “Mom, you scared me. I didn’t like it when you said bad words to me. You hurt my feelings, Mom. You broke my heart, Mom.” You unbuckle her seatbelt and she climbs into your lap for a hug. And everyone feels like crap.

You know that tantrum? Yeah, that was last Saturday. Apologies to the people in Terminal A of the Atlanta airport and to my fellow passengers on the flight from Atlanta to Raleigh-Durham. I would have beamed us the hell out of there if I could have. And I tried everything I could think of to stem, re-direct, or wrap up our mutual misery, but this tantrum was a boulder rolling down hill — it kept picking up speed until it hit the bottom.

Upon reflection, on the scale of No-Big-Deal to Completely-Awful, I’d say that experience was 100% Completely Awful. Yes, she’s had tantrums before. God knows, ‘the year of living with a two-year old’ was full of fits, but this was definitely the biggest. And it was the second part of a horrible tantrum double-feature because the night before she had a massive meltdown during bath time. So, on airport-day we were starting with a rather depleted emotional reserve.

Next time we are in the airport, I will miss our connecting flight so that we can buy pizza for lunch instead of opting for the snacks in my back-pack. The decision to get out of the Pizza Hut line (which wasn’t moving at all and they didn’t even have the pizza that we wanted in the express area so they were going to have to cook a fresh pizza just for us and our flight was boarding!)…um, the decision to leave the Pizza Hut line was the precipitating and unacceptable incident that set us on the wild ride to Crazy Tantrum Town. Thanks for nothing and screw you, Pizza Hut.

Right, it wasn’t Pizza Hut’s fault. We’d just had a wonderful and exciting trip out West to see cousins with lots of fun activities and little sleep. We were both off our routine, tired and sad to leave family. We’re both introverts who’d engaged in a lot of extroverted behavior, and we both have some challenges transitioning from one thing to the next. Can you see what this adds up to in the Atlanta airport when we were starving for pizza but we didn’t have time for pizza because our flight was boarding and one of us is a four-year old who doesn’t understand the concept of time but does understand the concept of not having food? Yeah. I totally botched the transition from pizza line to airplane and then botched trying to explain it in a way she could understand and then it was too late so I had to drag her onto the airplane and scare her into silence. Bad bad Mommy.

My experience of parenting = one humbling experience after another.

On the airplane, in a calmer state of mind and firmly buckled in once more, my daughter began to repeat, “But if I got lost, then I’d miss my mommy,” and she’d cry a little. I couldn’t figure out what getting lost in the airport had to do with the hell we’d just gone through, so I asked her about it, and she’d cry and repeat again, “But if I got lost, then I’d miss my mommy.” [One handy thing about my kid is that she just keeps repeating herself until I figure out what’s going on. She gives me lots of chances.] Finally, I got it. “Oh, you were so mad at me in the airport that you wanted to run away, but you didn’t because you were afraid that you’d get lost.” She nodded.

Oh wow, even four-year olds want to run away and get lost…and are afraid that getting lost means they will not be found.

“Honey,” I said, “if you get lost, I will miss you right away and then I will find you. Don’t worry about that. It’s ok to be angry at me sometimes. And if you get mad or if you get lost, I will find you.” The the airplane took off, and we were on our way home.

Sigh. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

I get lost a lot and it’s scary. I don’t know if I find myself or she finds me or if I just wander around until things start looking familiar again.

My experience of parenting = losing and finding myself, my kid, my mind….over and over and over again.

A letter to my daughter after the passage of Amendment One

Look up! There’s a video of me reading my letter. Below, you’ll see the transcript if you’d prefer to read instead. What are your hopes and expectations for this next generation? What’s next for you?

A letter to my daughter after the passage of Amendment One

My darling daughter,

You gave me a sweet memory the other night. You were all snuggled in your bed. We’d just wrapped up our ritual of ‘a lotta kisses and a lotta hugs’.

“Wait, Mom,” you said, “Say, no matter.”

“Oh, I love you no matter what.”

“No, Mom. Say it with your eyebrows up.”

“Like this?” I said, with my eyebrows raised. “I love you no matter what.”

“Yes!” You said.

And I thought you are so funny and I love you so much. And then I went downstairs and watched as Amendment One was passed. And I was shocked and distressed and really sad. I thought, how could I explain this to you? I mean, you’re only three now, we can’t have an in-depth conversation, but if you were older, how might I begin?

So I’m writing this letter to you and to some future version of you kind of at the same time.

Here’s the deal, kid. Right now, we don’t know if you are straight or gay or somewhere in between. We don’t know if you will get married one day or not, get pregnant one day or not, get divorced. We don’t know what choices you will make about who you partner with and how you live your life.

But I want you to know that these are my hopes and expectations for you… I want you to be happy and safe and kind and true to yourself. I want you to treat others with respect and with a generous spirit. Be responsible. Love yourself and lead a life filled with compassion, wisdom, authenticity, possibility and creativity. Those are the family values that your father and I are trying to instill in you.

Althought it’s hard to imagine now, one day you will be a grown-up person, and assuming we don’t back-slide as a country, you will be able to make grown-up choices alongside other grown-ups about your grown-up life. Love who you love. Create the family you define for yourself. Don’t let other people take control of your body. Never let anyone tell you that you are worth less. You are worth everything.

But here’s the important part… you are worth-full, and so is everyone else. All your little friends, all the grown-ups, all the people you know and do not yet know — all people are worth-full. You and everybody else.

Since you were born, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I live my life, how to live out the values that I profess to have. When I look at your sweet sleeping face and I think of you or one of your little friends being discriminated against, my blood boils.

As your mother, it’s my job to protect you and fight for your rights always, and as your mother, it’s also my job to lift my head up out of our beautiful family bubble and not just think about your future rights, but also the rights of all people now. To advocate now and to walk this talk I talk to you about freedom, about choice, about equality, about love.

And this is how I’m doing it: Repeal Amendment One. I voted, now what’s next?

I love you, Mom

Sign the petition on Change.org.