Who understands this kid

My toddler has a motor speech delay. He’s been working with an amazing speech therapist for about four months now. My guess is that we’ll continue to make that weekly appointment for at least another year. Unless we need to step it up to twice a week which we might need to do. We don’t know yet.

These kind of speech delays are difficult to diagnose in little kids, and they can manifest differently for each individual child. Don’t Google motor speech delay (I did, and it was a mistake). A motor speech delay for my toddler means that he has a very hard time forming syllables that other kids seem to naturally voice. He has to look at my mouth when he’s trying to imitate me, and then he has to concentrate really hard to make his mouth do what his brain is telling him. It’s hard work. His vocal substitutions aren’t the usual ones that kids make and don’t make a lot of logical sense. He uses one ‘word’ to signify almost all other words regardless of what they sound like (‘da-da’ means ketchup, waffles, firetruck, and turkey). We are working to give him new and consistent motor maps for his mouth. His therapist gives him physical cues to make sounds, like touching his nose for the nasal n sound. He doesn’t seem to have any other challenges that delayed speech often signifies. He’s making improvements, but it’s slow going and no matter how fun we try to make it, it’s not super fun for any of us. One day this will be behind us.

Please note: This is not the time to tell me that your cousin’s neighbor’s roommate had a kid who didn’t say a word until he was three and he turned out ok, and don’t tell me about Einstein, and don’t tell me about how boys develop more slowly than girls and how he’ll talk when he’s ready. I appreciate so much that your words are coming from a place of love and reassurance, but 47 other people have already told me that. And it sounds sweet but…dismissive and like I shouldn’t be worried about something that I am worried about and like I don’t know my own kid.

I know he will learn to talk. I am certain of it. It’s just going to be more work than we thought. In the scheme of things this is a itty-bitty, teeny-tiny deal — I know parents and children who have lives full of appointments on top of appointments and daily therapies, and THEY ARE MY HEROES because just this one appointment each week in addition to the accompanying stress and all the other commitments that we have is about all I can manage. Maybe that says a lot about what I can manage. And what my priorities are. Sigh.

Here’s something embarrassing: when we’re out at the playground and other parents ask me how old my toddler is, I think about lying. He’s 25 months, but I want to say that he’s much younger. His gross motor skills are tops, so he seems older until he opens his mouth and a stream of incomprehensible sounds come out. Other kids his age are putting together sentences and saying “dinosaur”. At his age, my daughter was singing songs with lyrics. “He just turned two,” I say, “He doesn’t have a lot of words.”

I’m an introvert. I like quiet. But my work-life has been almost exclusively about talking. I’m an actor and a director; I have a podcast; in my long-ago life, I spoke with college-students about career counseling, and individuals about journaling, and I’ve led workshops for hundreds of people. Even the writing that I’ve done has been with oral speech in mind — as a playwright writing for performance or a poet writing to be read aloud. How can I have a kid who can’t speak and be understood?

After blaming my old eggs and ancient uterus (see: Advanced Maternal Age) and wondering if I’ve been too lax with this second-and-final child (maybe I should have pushed him more, talked to him more, given him more attention and vegetables), I’ve settled on “SCREW IT!” (well, a more profane version). Screw it, who cares why. Screw it, this is small potatoes. Screw it, we can handle this. Screw it, this is what we’ve got. This is who we got — a really wonderful wouldn’t-trade-him-for-anything  sweet little stinker — and this is what we’re dealing with. And aren’t we lucky? We really are. Honest to God, he’s about as cute as can be.

Communicating with my toddler is a full body experience. He acts out what he’s trying to say with his body, so most conversations are like playing charades with a two-year old. He uses sign language, facial expression, pitch and tone to convey what he means. Often, he’ll take my hand (or anyone’s hand!) and physically move us to see what he wants to ‘talk’ about. And when he finally loses his patience after I can’t understand him over and over and over, he screams at the top of his lungs in frustration….and gets over it. He moves onto something else.

Obviously, this blog post is me screaming….and getting over it and moving on to something else.

Of all the people in my toddler’s world, I am the one who understands him the best. That is special. I’m grateful for it. I spend the most time with him, but I also listen to him the hardest… the most carefully. So  yesterday when he finally said ‘boo’ for blue, instead of ‘bow’ and instead of ‘da-da’ and instead of ‘uhhhh’ — I HEAR it. I hear him, and we both rejoice. ‘Boo’ is on the right track to blue.

It’s the little victories, right? Boo never sounded so good.

 

Teeth extraction, boot-strapping, social media-mania and other announcements

Announcements like bursts of confetti for you.

#1: [Not exactly an announcement — I just need tooth-courage STAT.] I gotta get my wisdom teeth removed in October, and I’m scared of the sedation. Cuz I like to control when I go unconscious, and I don’t like to wake up bloody. I’m not alone in that, right?

#2: There’s a Facebook page for Artist Soapbox podcast. It’s new. I’m telling you, I am soooo technically challenged. This podcast and it’s ancillary marketing needs have required me to jump in with both feet while holding my nose. Thrilling and terrifying. I’m cool with ‘just trying things to see what happens’ but these last few weeks have pushed me to my limit. I’m sure trying a lot of things — hope they work. Who’s a big imposter with Imposter Syndrome? Uhh….not me….? Would you like my page ….and stuff?

#3: Episode 003 of Artist Soapbox is up! John Jimerson is a wonderful conversation partner. (He even read me a story from the Velveteen Rabbit!) We went deep on a range of topics and had some goofy laughs too. Give it a listen and let me know what you think. Keep a lookout on the Facebook page and on the Artist Soapbox website to learn about new podcast episodes as soon as they are posted — I have lots of awesome interviews already scheduled thru the fall!

#4: On October 8, I’ll be launching a Patreon campaign for the Artist Soapbox podcast. I believe Artist Soapbox can add real value to our conversations with/around/in support of artists in the Triangle and help promote a thriving community. Right now I’m boot-strapping the heck out of this podcast, but I need support to take it to the next level. I’ve put together a bare bones preview site on Patreon, and I’d deeply appreciate feedback from you. I would be grateful if you’d take a look and share your thoughts about things like:

Do I really need to make a video to motivate people? Is the ‘about’ text confusing and not specific enough? Am I presenting this in a way that highlights its value? Are the rewards sufficient or would you like something else?

What would you like?

Better graphics? A different message?

Will anyone give a crap about this and if not, how can I make them? What else?

I’ve clearly buried the lead at the bottom of this post because I’m nervous about the Patreon campaign. I have big plans for this podcast and lots to share with our community. If you’ve read this far into the post, then I’m guessing that you and I are already partners in our desire to support local artists and (new!) podcasters. So thanks for ‘Getting on the Soapbox’ even before this campaign is launched! Love.

**If you don’t know what Patreon is, then this page will help.

Previous posts about the Artist Soapbox podcast:

Post #1

Post #2

 

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.

 

 

Baby Sarah

My daughter is telling everyone that I am pregnant with a baby girl named Sarah. (I’m not.) After the third person at her school congratulated me on this fictitious pregnancy, I asked her why she was telling people this. She replied, “Because it makes people happy when I say that.” Yeah.

My daughter loves babies. She draws pictures of them all the time. Her second word, after ‘hi’, was ‘baby.’ When I told her I wasn’t having anymore babies, she cried big fat tears and asked angrily, “How would you feel if you wanted a baby sister and someone said you couldn’t have one?”

I told her I would feel sad.

So. There won’t be anymore babies in my belly. The how and why of that is long, complicated, and personal, but unless a baby arrives Moses-style on our doorstep (speaking metaphorically), my child won’t have any siblings who share her last name. I feel grief about this. I feel relief at finally being able to let go of the two tons of baby-parphenalia in my house. I feel down-on-my-knees-heart-swelling grateful for my daughter and the life we have together.

So, I’m working on trust right now. I’m casting out trust into the universe, into the cosmic web of connection. At this juncture, I’m trusting that if our family grows (if we even have the time and space to grow!), then it will grow in another, surprising way — perhaps even in a way that doesn’t include babies. Perhaps our family will expand to include animals (rescue pets? chickens?! goats!!), or neighborhood kids, or my daughter’s friends, or adult friends, or people united by a cause, or wise elderly folks, or amazing teams of people working on creative projects. My sweet friend told me, “you will be surprised at the ways souls come into your life to fill up the spaces in your heart.”

The spaces in my heart are waiting to be surprised.

I’m going to trust that my daughter will find her ‘soul sisters’ and ‘soul brothers’ in her lifetime. I’m going to trust that she will find and choose a ‘sister’ like my sister and a ‘brother’ like my husband’s brother. She will find and choose a sibling-like relationship if she needs one, and people will find and choose her. Already, she is lucky to have some wonderful (though faraway) cousins.

We’ll just have to wait and see how she creates and lives into her extended family TBD.

These days, as I’m trusting-trusting-trusting,  I’m also working with the notion that we create our families. I’m considering the idea that the families we are born into, the families we chose, and the families who chose us, are a construction built by the people involved.

And I am comforted by the thought that there is some latitude in thinking about how this will work for us — for the current three-people-in-a-household-family that I have.

(Yes, I know I’m really late to the party on this.) These days I’m percolating on the idea that my-little-three-person-household might loosen up our narrow thinking around what a family can be. We can make the rules; we can tell the story. We can identify the players and the relationships and the boundaries. We can choose the words we’ll use to describe each other. We can make a compact (explicitly or implicitly) to love and care for those souls in our extended family of choice, as well as in our ’traditional’ family. We can locate our village (“it takes a village”) and choose to participate in that village-life too.

We might still have a ‘baby Sarah’ in our lives — she just might be someone else’s baby we love or she might not be a baby at all (see above). We can fill those spaces in our hearts in surprising ways. This is possible. There are possibilities I’ve never considered before.

And I love possibilities.

What possibilities do you see? What is the composition of your family? What kind of a life have you created together?

One more thing:
This post is a meditation for me and a challenge to confront my blind spots. It’s an effort to dive deeper in my Year of Clarity and dig into the life I want to actively create for myself and for those connected to me.
Currently, there are legal and cultural definitions of ‘family’ that constrict and impinge on people’s freedom to fully, legally realize the families they have created. This post isn’t meant to compare my family’s situation to families who are facing shameful laws such as  NC’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. My family and I are privileged in many ways — in this case, my husband and I are legally recognized as a married couple and we receive those associated rights and benefits (including parental ones). It is wrong and deeply disturbing that these rights/benefits/legal recognition are not extended to all consenting and committed adults. Hopefully, 2014 will see that change.
 

Beauty fail, beauty win

A few weeks ago, I freaked out and bought some cosmetic spackle to “fill + seal” my frown lines.

Yeah.

I was killing time in the Barnes and Noble, and I wandered across an article in a fashion magazine about my ‘elevens’. I didn’t know about these until I read this article — ‘elevens’ are the two frown lines between your eyebrows.Yes, ELEVENS.

Thank you, staff beauty writer, for pointing out this problem to me. Another potential flaw with a special name that I need to vigilantly guard against. I’ll just slot that into my lexicon next to muffin top, bat wings, bra rolls, cankles, and menopot. Fab.

I first noticed my lines in college – they were easy to smooth out then — but over the years I’ve done much concentrated thinking (and ok, some frowning), and they’ve become permanently etched in my brow even in my most serene moments.

I always kinda liked mine until I read an anxious reader begging for help, “Emergency! Please help! My frown lines are terrible. WHAT CAN I DO?”

“Oh,” replied the advice columnist (well, my interpretation of the advice columnist’s reply) “you mean your ELEVENS? Your horrible vertical stick-like elevenish frown lines? Holy crap! Go immediately to purchase this spackle and that illuminator and this concealer. The spackle will fill in your cavernous wrinkles with a paste-like substance, the illuminator will create a shimmering mirage of young skin while redirecting the eye, and the concealer will smooth everything over so your wrinkles blend in with the rest of your makeupped face. These three products together will cost you over $100, but you must stop the ELEVENS! No wrinkles no matter what the cost. And, always wear bangs to hide the evidence of your thinking and frowning so you never look OLD or MEAN or SEVERE or SERIOUS…. or OLD. Your goal for the rest of your life is to appear 30 years old. Color those grays poking out from the top of your head. Drink two Diet Cokes and call me in the morning.”

Wow, I fell for it. I took that bait. I don’t know if I was having particularly low-self-esteem that day, but I did not blink, I did not pass Go and I did not collect $200; I marched myself to the Target with my daughter in tow and grabbed that recommended spackle off the shelf. In fact, I seized the remaining two boxes in a scarcity induced mania fueled by beauty desperation. On sale! Hooray! Wait, the sticker says they are discontinuing it?! No no no this always happens I find something I like then it’s discontinued what am I going to do when I run out of these two boxes oh my god my wrinkles everyone will see that I am getting older…must. have. this. product….

Never mind that the spackle comes in a toothpaste-sized tube, and you need apply only two centimeters of it to your frown lines. My two tubes will last at least a decade. And never mind that the company was probably discontinuing this particular product because IT DIDN’T WORK. Excuse me while I wipe the word ‘sucker’ off my forehead.

So, I raced home and spackled myself. Yes, very nice. Oh, yes, much younger now! My elevens are fully camouflaged.

That evening, a propro of nothing, my daughter reached up and traced my frown lines with her lovely little index finger. Then she traced each of my eyebrows and rested her hand on my forehead like she was checking for fever.

“What are you doing, honey?” I asked.

“Tracing lines,” she said. Then she skipped away.

She didn’t seem to have a particular point of view about my lines. To her, they’ve been part of my face since the day she was born. Just lines. Completely unremarkable, really. And good for tracing. Apparently, despite my best efforts, they were still in plain view. Huh.

Shortly after my daughter was born, I stopped buying all of those fashion/women/beauty mags. I didn’t want them around the house for her to see and for me to try to explain. I’m a feminist, ok? I’m trying to raise a four-year-old feminist. Victoria Secret ads on the coffee table muddle things up. Even still, I’d eagerly look for opportunities to thumb thru magazines in the grocery store or bookstore. Furtively, joyfully, gluttonously. However, since the Spackle Incident, I don’t read them at all anymore – Mademoiselle, Glamour, Marie Claire, Vogue, Self, Harper’s Bazaar, O: Oprah Magazine, etc. — despite how much I LOVE them. Because I love them so much – so glossy and gorgeous and fantastical and young and sleek and inspirational and full of promises and comparisons and gossip and full of answers and possibilities and the BEST stuff I NEED to make myself HAPPY. I love those magazines like I love a hot fudge sundae, but they make me crazy.

I don’t need any more crazy.

I need to be myself — which is plenty hard enough, right?  I’ll trace my lines, get over them, and then spend my time, my money and my life on something that really matters. At this point in my life, as I march toward 40, I am finally waking up — waking up to my voice and my body and my self in this world. Finally, at long last, the picture of ‘what really matters’ is coming into focus. I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste my life f-ing around with my wrinkles.

Because also, this happened…

During a peaceful car ride last week, my daughter chirped from the backseat, “When I grow up, I’m going to be beautiful.” [My internal monologue = I failed to protect her from our culture’s obsession with physical attractiveness as the ultimate achievement. She is four years old and thinking about being beautiful already. Is that all she wants to be? Wait, does she have low self-esteem? Does she think she’s ugly?]

“I think you are beautiful now,” I said.

“No, mom,” she laughed, “I’m just a kid. Kids can’t be beautiful. Womans are beautiful.”

“Oh. Who’s a woman you think is beautiful?” I ask. [My internal monologue = She’s going to say one of the princesses.  Oh, here we go with the princesses. Now I’m going to have to deconstruct the Disney Princess.]

“You, Mom,” she said.

[Internal monologue = silence]

“Thank you,” I said, “Who else is beautiful?”

She listed all of the women we know — all of our friends, her teachers, babysitters, grandmothers, and the moms of her friends.  No ‘womans’ from books or DVDs or pictures. None of her favorite fantasty-play-acting characters like mermaids, princesses, fairies, ballerinas. Just real live women in her world.

My daughter’s simple formula was WOMAN = BEAUTIFUL. She didn’t rule anyone out. She didn’t mention clothing, shoes, size, shape, skin, hair, job, money, age. She believes that when she is woman, she’ll be beautiful too. Just like all the rest of us.

My heart leaps at this thought.  A reminder of the beauty in all people, not just women, but everyone. A generous application of beauty, a blanket and universal acceptance — yes, we all can be that. We are all beautiful. All of us in our different ways. Beauty-full.

What or who is beautiful to you?

Click on it

My child has been playing a lot of (too many!)  Sesame Street computer games, and watching too many (ehem) intellectually stimulating TV programs, and eating cereal for dinner on a regular basis. This is what happens when I’m in a show. And, you know, I’m cool with that. She’s fine. I’m fine. We’re all fine. It’s temporary, and when I get really honest about it, it’s not that much different than when I’m not in rehearsal.  Less TV, but probably the same amount of iPad or Sesame Street computer games and cereal for dinner…and yet the world still turns on its axis. I am a nicer and happier mom when I am making art and to me that’s more important (and that’s another post).

Anyhow, the over-saturation of computer games has become really apparent recently because the phrase, “just click on it” is now part of almost every make-believe game she creates. In a Sesame Street computer game, Grover might say, “if you see a green star, click on it”, then my kid will mouse over the green star, click the button and fireworks will appear on the screen. Magical technology! Or Elmo says, “if you want to see Elmo dance, just click on Elmo”.  Now, when my daughter and I play Babies and Monsters (a new favorite make-believe game), she’ll say, “If you want to hear the baby cry, just click on her” or “If you want the monster to stop scaring the baby, just click on it.” Full disclosure: I might be encouraging this behavior because I laugh every time she says that stuff.

It is true that I felt guilty the first dozen times she mentioned ‘clicking’ on something. Now there’s proof that I let her have too much screen time! Everyone will know that I am a terrible non-nurturing beastly mother! But I have a new rule about guilt that I’m trying to follow: I refuse to feel guilty about things that I do not intend to change. If I feel guilt coming on, then I make the decision to do something about it or make a decision to let it go, but I don’t want to carry around a backpack full of guilty distractions about stuff that I don’t really care enough about to fix. Know what I mean? Either I’m going to choose not to eat the brownie for breakfast because I know I will feel like crap an hour later or I’m going to choose to eat the brownie for breakfast and enjoy the daylights out of it. I’m not going to eat the brownie for breakfast and feel terribly guilty about it too. That feels like a waste of time and energy.

‘Click on it’ falls into the category of stuff that I have decided not to feel guilty about because really I don’t care if she plays age-appropriate games on the computer. I care what other people think about that, and I worry that I’ve been more tired or distracted than usual during our ‘quality time’ (issues that I am actively working on), but www.sesamestreet.org is not going away in our household. Sometimes I need to take a nap, and God bless Elmo. So click on that.

Actually, I’ve begun to appreciate ‘click on it’ as a way to signal decision-making points and active opportunities in my life. Now, I have Sesame Street voices in my head: “If you want to drink another cup of coffee and stay up all night, click on it.” “If you want to show your kid that you are paying attention, click on her.” “If you want to have stronger abs, click on some sit-ups!” “If you want to waste another 30 minutes spacing out on the internet, then just keeping clicking on it.” I often convince myself that I am a kind of passive victim of circumstances, that I have so little agency, but when I break it down, I begin to realize that I am clicking on things every moment. I am making little choices to do or not do all the time.

Other reasons I’m embracing “click on it”:

*’Click’ is such a great word so saying it often is aurally and orally satisfying.

*Telling someone to “CLICK ON THAT!” (even if it’s just in my mind) makes me smile.

*The idea of ‘clicking on something’ feels like a discovery or opening a present. Like, “What’s behind Door #1? Open it and see!”. When playing a game on SesameStreet.org, kids don’t always know what will happen when they press the button — it’s a great surprise for them. I like the idea of carrying that over into life. Oooo, what will happen when I click on that?

*And finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone needs to be ‘clicked on’ sometimes – to be intentionally seen, recognized, chosen, touched on the shoulder, paid attention to – even for a moment. “If you want your employees to be happy, click on them.” “If you want your friend to think you care, click on him.” Maybe this is something that only works in my brain, but the days seem happier when I intentionally set out to ‘click on’ everyone. I’m happier on those days too.

So, what about you? Thoughts about the guilt rule? Thoughts about clicking on things? Just click on it. Come on, really, click on it.

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.

My heart is haunted: silent, spoken, sung

I’ve been haunted by a story all week.

The story sits in the room with me, trails behind me as I walk, hovers over my spooned-in oatmeal, perches on my nightstand as I sleep. When I wake in the night I see it gazing at me hazy and shimmering. Waiting. My neck-hair prickles. My fingers feel numb. It’s wonderful. Wonder-full.

This is a true story, heard on a recent NPR podcast, Krista Tippett’s On Being. Tippett interviewed Terry Tempest Williams, an author of creative nonfiction, activist and naturalist. Before this week, I’d never heard of Terry Tempest Williams. Now I am obsessively reading her book, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice. Me, caught up in her writing and her stories, the way I was caught up in Jeanette Winterson’s Written on The Body (oh, so many years ago). I feel feverish, tasting words as I read like blood in my mouth or ash or tears.

In When Women Were Birds, Williams explores the gift of her mother’s journals. Here’s an excerpt of the podcast transcript from On Being:

Ms. Williams: When my mother was dying, I was in bed with her, rubbing her back and she said, “Terry, I’m leaving you my journals.” And I didn’t know she kept them. And she said, “But you must promise me one thing: that you won’t look at them until after I’m gone.” And I gave her my word. She passed. A month went by. My father was gone, my brothers were out of the house. I was cleaning and I thought, “Today. Today’s a good day to find my mother’s journals.” And I found them exactly where she had said they would be, hidden in the closet. Three shelves filled with journals, each one handpicked, each one bound in cloth, gingham, denim, flowered, so on and so forth. And I took a deep breath — my mother was such a private person — and I thought, “Finally, I will be able to know what she was thinking, where she was.” And I opened the first journal and it was blank. I opened the second journal; it was blank. As was the third. All of my mother’s journals were empty.

Ms. Tippett: How do you understand that?

Ms. Williams: I don’t. And that’s the mystery, that’s the, you know, I don’t know. And that’s what’s got me thinking about voice. You know, what is it? How do we find it? How do we keep it? How do we use it?

Does that blow your mind or what? Does that make you feel faint? Your imagination is off running and spinning in all directions, struggling to make meaning? Me too! Oh, me too! Less than half-way thru Williams’ slim book (on variation twenty-four), I already find her journey into voice to be broad and deep enough for diving, and refreshingly, without answers. We are left only with questions like the ones she mentioned in the transcript above. She doesn’t know the meaning behind her mother’s gift. No one living ever will. The beauty, the gift, is in the struggle to make meaning, to understand, to frame the concepts of voice and legacy and relationship – to find the meaning we make for ourselves and to position ourselves in relation to that.

We know her mother gave her a gift. The way you explain that can tell you a lot about yourself.

I think often about my voice in relation to my daughter — how I express myself to her and in her presence, how I define myself as her mother, as a woman, a person, an artist. What am I saying, why, and how? What do I share and what do I keep private? Do I need to document my life in order to make it real, to be remembered, or I can trust my friends and family to remember me as they will? How do I encourage, stifle, ‘manage’ my daughter’s own voice? What is she learning about speaking and about keeping silent? How do I make myself known to her — is that something I even need to do? Can I let my child make her own decisions about who I am? What legacy of self-expression am I leaving behind? Is this all-consuming effort to nail down and declare who we are really a worthwhile endeavor? Maybe the worthwhile endeavor is looking out rather than looking in – spending time in relationship and letting others define the edges of ourselves, and what’s ‘inside’ is simply a mystery? I don’t know. I really don’t know.

The not knowing feels heart-breaking and beautiful.

This book makes me dream of a series of short performance pieces – variations on voice – inspired by When Women Were Birds. Perhaps drawn from multiple performance mediums – visual art, dance, film, theatre, music. Perhaps as a result of collaborations between multiple artists. Perhaps framed as a festival. Perhaps an opportunity for a community to come together to explore voice and silence, legacy and relationship.  I’m dreaming about all of this accompanied by the haunting of Williams’ story. What does it mean? What will it mean?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions…

Press fresh

Recently, my husband did something unexpectedly old-fashioned and sentimental – he pressed a rose for my daughter. He slid the rose we gave her for her first dance recital between the pages of an enormous volume of William Shakespeare’s unabridged works, stacked a dozen heavy books on top of that and let it sit in a warm dry closet for two weeks. The rose emerged dime-thin and lovely. It’s framed in my daughter’s room with a little note that says, “Your first performance. June 2012.”

Because we aren’t in the habit of pressing flowers (or making potpourri sachets or needle-point for that matter), he fired up ye olde internet to research the DIY of smushing petals.  As you can imagine, there are many variations and dos and don’ts associated with the art of the flower press.

For example…Tight buds don’t work as well as opened blooms. The flowers must be dry (picking them in the afternoon is better than the dewy early morning). And, most importantly and interestingly to me….flowers should be pressed when they are fresh.

Make sure you press flowers when they are fresh, and preferably without moisture.

For us, that meant my daughter’s rose resided in a vase for a day or two and then disappeared into the homemade book-press. Honestly, I was surprised to see the rose reappear preserved and framed in her bedroom; I thought my husband had thrown it away.

Since then, my imagination has been captured by the ideas of preserving mementos when they are freshest, and pressing memories at their peak before they lose their bloom. Switches and levers are being pulled in my imagination about… The physicality around pressing a moment in time, pressing it into my body, my heart, my mind. Pressing a memory by breathing it in, stamping it on, layering it fresh between the pages of my conscious mind and squeezing so the color remains.  Intentional snapshot-taking. Recognizing that something wonderful is happening in the moment and fully taking it in. Leaning into life, pressing into life, being present to life, remembering life….as it’s happening.

Generally, I am a future-oriented person. I don’t pay attention to the present and can’t remember the past. There are some great upsides to being future-oriented – planning ahead, being ahead, moving ahead and thinking strategically; seeing new possibilities on the horizon; getting excited about what’s coming; etc. However, there are days – whole days – when I’m simply not present in my life. I turn out the light at bedtime and think, “What did I do today?” and I won’t be able to remember. Or I feel like it happened at a distance to someone else.  Often I’m in such a rush to get thru one day so I can get to the next day, to get thru with that day to get on to the next thing. I hear myself saying, even about experiences that I really like and look forward to —  “I’m gonna do it, get thru it, and then it will be over.”  Cross it off the list, onto the next task/moment/experience/commitment. Sure, this can be a result of over-scheduling and having tough, challenging or unpleasant tasks to slog thru. But for me, pushing hard thru life with blinders on is often about self-protection (if you can’t catch me, you can’t hurt me), maintaining iron control, and the desire to ignore what’s really bubbling under the surface of my mind (doubt, confusion, guilt, regret). And there’s the very real and secret fear that I am too small – too small to survive a full-on embrace with the beauty, awesomeness and awfulness of life.  But none of us is too small, right? We are all just the right size. And our spirits, our selves are enormous.

I want to change the way I experience my life. It’s not a race to the finish. I don’t want to spend all of my time in some detached head-space of ideas, future occurrences, phantom anxieties, and hyper plan-making. Life is too short not to live it, right? It’s time to acknowledge that life is happening…right…now.

Especially now that I have a wee one who’s changing before my eyes.  She will never be 2 days old again, 76 days old, 365 days old, or 1446 days old again. The size of her hand in my hand will change; the way she sings to herself, holds her pencil, jumps into my arms, uses my shoulder as a napkin, asks me for help – all will change. Her childhood will bloom and fade naturally, like mine did, like all adults.  Do I really want to miss that? Or can I make the decision to press all of those memories into my body, heart, and mind, as they are happening? Can I pause, take a mental snapshot and savor the essence of that time? When those moments are freshest, will I recognize them, breathe them in and press, press, press into life?

How are you at pressing moments?  How do you press into life?

Yearning for all

You’ve likely heard something about the article in The Atlantic Magazine by Anne-Marie Slaughter. It’s titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. It received so much attention that the website crashed. Cool. If you haven’t read it, then please do. It takes awhile because of the length, but it’s worth it. After my trek through it, I feel like I’ve been dowsed with a bucket of ice water and handed an open can of worms. Whew! Periodically, I’ll be dropping in posts that have been stirred up as a result. (Don’t worry, in between, my posts will be just as random as ever). Here is my first musing related to “Having it All”.* (see little footnote below).

Since I’ve become a parent, my creative life has suffered. My professional life and my relationships have suffered. My identity and the opinion I have of myself have suffered. (Perhaps, I should say they have all ‘transformed’ or ‘decelerated’. The fact that I judge these as ‘suffering’ is telling anyway.) I’ve declined exciting opportunities because of the way the world of work and theatre-making is structured, and because I want to be present and available to my child and my husband. When I tried to maintain the pace I’d set before having a baby, my parenting and my marriage suffered. I couldn’t figure out ‘how to do everything’ so some things had to go. That’s what moms do, yes? That’s what people do when their life circumstances alter dramatically, right? That’s life.

I’m grateful I still have a job. I’m grateful for what I can do. I am always aware that this is my choice. It was my choice to have a baby. It has been my choice to spend time with her that I could have spent making art, making money, advancing my career (or going to the gym, visiting friends, taking a shower, dating my husband).

And yes, it has been worth it. For me, being a mom is mind-blowing, soul-shaking, beautiful, awe-full, and metamorphosing. I haven’t exactly transformed from a caterpillar into a butterfly over these last few years, but I do know that I am not the person I was before I had my daughter. And all of that is my choice. So, yes, I chose that and I’ll stand by it because opportunities will come again and when a door shuts, a window opens, and it’s all worth it and suck it up and take responsibility and make the hard choice and get over it and be grateful and all those other things that I say when I don’t think I have the right to complain about whatever it is that I’m complaining about. I know to do all of that. And, thankfully, as my daughter gets older, the work-life balance becomes easier (hence, the blog!). In many ways I am finally coming up for air and re-entering my creative-work-groove. That’s great.

However, for the last three years, I’ve felt terrible guilt as I alternated between blaming myself, blaming my husband and blaming my child when I couldn’t do everything that I wanted with my life since becoming a mom. I still do this, and it feels terrible. And I tell myself that I have no right to be upset and no right to complain about anything because I am so lucky to have what I have and to be a mom and etc. I still feel that way. And I remain uncertain about how to sort out ‘my rights’ from this tangled mess.

But after reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, I’m questioning the way I think about this. I’m tweaking my assumptions a little. Is it really complaining when I say “I wish I could be part of that creation/conversation/project/opportunity/experience”? To say, “I want to participate, but I don’t feel like I can”? To say, “I’m sad because I can’t figure out how to be the mom I want to be and the professional I want to be, by my definition, on my own terms”? Because that’s really what I’ve been saying. I want to be at the table with the movers and shakers. I want to indulge my creative imagination and make more art faster, higher, harder. I want to accelerate, not maintain. I want to be included in the things I was included in before I was banished to Motherland — banished by the choices I’ve made. Because like many women, I believe I have something to add to the conversation, creation, experience, project, opportunity, and because I enjoy the work. Oh, and I want all of that in addition to building, nurturing and participating fully in my family life. Sigh.

Is this yearning really the same thing as complaining? Is it acceptable to feel gratitude for what I have and to yearn for additional fulfillment at the same time? Can I have compassion for the way I feel about this complicated situation?

As a community, can we have compassion for moms, dads, women, all people who feel the pain of giving up what they love for something else they love? Saying yes to one, means saying no to another. That choice-making is painful no matter how much it feels like the right choice. We all know sacrifices must be made as a part of life. That is reality. But I wonder if we could offer compassion, tenderness, support, and dare I say it, make accommodations for people confronted with the reality of choosing between their family-life and professional-life, rather than offering what they already offer themselves — “You can’t compete. It’s your fault. Suffer the consequences.” I wonder if I can do that for myself.

To be continued…

How do you talk to yourself around choice-making? What’s really underneath the ‘complaining’ you do? What comes up when you must “say yes to one, and no to another”?

*Anne-Marie Slaughter states very clearly in her article that she is writing from a position of privilege. Although not nearly at her level, I am aware that I write from a position of privilege as well. My husband and I are a dual income, middle-class family. My friends, co-workers and family support me in the work I do inside and outside the home. I feel grateful for those things, for the luxury of choice that I do have given my circumstances, and for the opportunity to have this conversation.