Thursday, May 31, 2012

June Photo-A-Day

A friend of mine has been doing a monthly photo-a-day challenge, and she recently posted the list of photos for June. I decided to take on that challenge and make it a part of my blog. Each day, I’ll post a photo I’ve taken for that day’s assignment, and then my blog entry will explain what that particular photo means to me. I plan on letting the spirit move me each day to some degree, but I’ve also looked ahead at thielist and thought about a few ideas of what I might use to represent each concept. Here’s the list, along with some of my ideas. I look forward to looking back at the end of the month to see how close my final results are to my initial ideas!

1.      Morning: Depending on what time the kids wake up, it might be a photo of the sunrise, or my coffee cup, or a sleeping child, or a rumpled bed.
2.      Empty: This could be anything from the gas gauge of my car, to a clean plate, to (once again) my coffee cup.
3.      On Your Plate: I try to be creative with making lunches for my son, so there’s a pretty good chance this one will be some food item in the shape of a gingerbread man: peanut butter sandwich man, toast man, sliced turkey man, pancake man, scrambled egg man.
4.      Close-Up: If something pretty is blooming in my garden, it could be a flower or an herb. Or maybe a zoom into fuzzy baby hair. Whichever one is sitting still long enough for a close-up.
5.      Sign: This will be a good one to recruit some help from my son. He loves pointing out road signs, so we might just have to go for a walk until we find a good one. Unless the local Catholic church posts something witty on their signboard, in which case they’ll definitely win.
6.      Hat: Everyone in the family has at least one great hat, so it might depend on who’s posing most nicely that day. Although since my son has a collection of toy hats (a hard hat, a policeman’s helmet, a fireman’s helmet, etc.), there’s a good chance it will involve one of those hats instead.
7.      Drink: My husband is an awesomely creative bartender and will be recruited to assist with this one. It might take several drink options to get the right photogenic result. And it’s wrong to waste alcohol, so I’ll have to drink all the rejects. Let’s just admit right now that this photo is not real likely to be in focus.
8.      Six O’Clock: If we assume PM, I’ll be at the end of a long day and will probably have locked both kids into their high chairs for supper just as Daddy gets home, so Photo #8 may be very similar to Photo #7.
9.      Your View Today: On June 9th, we will be attending my brother-in-law’s graduation from War College. No doubt my view will include a number of men wearing military dress uniforms. Yep, nice view.
10.   Best Bit of Your Weekend: On June 10th, we will be visiting the husband and daughter of a dear college friend of mine who passed away recently. I suspect this photo will be a bit bittersweet.
11.   Door: Coming home after a weekend away, my front door will be a beautiful and welcoming sight!
12.   From a Low Angle: I have small children. A large part of my life is spent looking up from the floor. The possibilities here are endless. And probably all include dust bunnies.
13.   Art: I have a few favorite pieces of art in my house, including a soapstone sculpture of a pair of dancers and several hand-blown glass vases. We’ll see which piece inspires me on June 13th!
14.   Time: I will probably be at Dartmouth College on June 14th, and I know there’s a clock tower somewhere on campus. I love clock towers. I wonder if I can bribe someone into letting me climb inside and take a photo of the interior workings?
15.   Yellow: Will the golden day lilies still be blooming at Dartmouth? Will I spy a goldfinch on a bird feeder? Will a yellow sticky note on my husband’s notebook catch my eye? This is one I’ll just have to wait to see what I see on that day.
16.   Out and About: Going “out and about” with two kids is always an adventure. Could be as mundane as Costco or the grocery store or as cool as the local water park or playground.
17.   In Your Bag: My handbag tends to contain things like emergency diapers, baby rattles, snack-size bags of raisins or Teddy Grahams, and used Kleenex. Be very afraid.
18.   Something We Don’t Know About You: Now, if I told you about this one in advance, you wouldn’t not know about it any more, would you?
19.   Imperfect: This category is much too broad to choose in advance. Most of the things in my life are imperfect. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Perfect is boring.
20.   Fave Photo You’ve Ever Taken: Since my husband is almost always the family photographer, there aren’t a lot of recent photos that I’ve taken myself. But I do have a fairly hilarious one of my daughter sticking her tongue out that might just have to be the winner.
21.   Where You Slept: It will definitely be a bed. It will very likely not be made.
22.   From a High Angle: My kitchen window has a nice view over the back yard. I wonder what interesting thing might be going on in my back yard that day? Come to think of it, since the neighbors took that big tree down, I have a nice view of a lot of people’s back yards. I wonder what interesting thing might be going on in THEIR back yards that day?
23.   Movement: I have a 2-1/2 year old son. ‘Nough said.
24.   On Your Mind: I don’t know, because whatever it is isn’t on my mind yet.
25.   Something Cute. I have a 10-month old daughter as well as a 2-1/2 year old son. They’ll be duking it out for the cuteness award. Come to think of it, my husband's pretty cute, too. Might be a three-way tie.
26.   Where You Shop. I live at the grocery store. The one place I always have to go in the grocery store is to the lobster tank. (I mentioned that I have a 2-1/2 year old son, right?)
27.   Bathroom: Creepy Elmo faucet cover. Absolutely has to be the creepy Elmo faucet cover.
28.   On the Shelf: This one has a lot of possibilities – will it be clothes, books, cans of soup, detergent bottles, show T-shirts, liqour bottles, miscellaneous tchotchkes?
29.   Soft: My daughter’s crib is full of soft stuffed animals, but then my daughter herself has the softest skin in the world. It might depend on which of them is willing to stay still for a photo op.
30.   A Friend: I think this is another one that I’ll wait to reveal. Who knows – it might be you!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Perfect 10 - or 6 - or 4.0

Rating, judging, scoring. People love to put a numerical value on things. As early as kindergarten – or even preschool – we get a report card with grades on it. Back in my time, the grading system was check, check plus, or check minus. You were either average, above average, or below average. These days, most schools use an H-S-U system: highly satisfactory, satisfactory, or unsatisfactory.

When you get into grade school, the grading system gets more complicated, with five different levels: A, B, C, D, and F. Five is actually a very popular scoring system. You can review vendors or products on websites like Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy using a five-star system. Chances are if you look up a movie review on line, it will have a rating based on five stars. Many travel guides, such as AAA, rate hotels and restaurants on a five-star (or five-diamond) basis.

Some scoring systems are based on 4 instead of 3 or 5. Grade point averages at most high schools and colleges are based on a 4.0-point system. Unless, of course, there are advanced or accelerated courses involved, which then bumps the base up to a 6.0-point system.

Speaking of 6.0-point systems, until recently, competitive gymnastics and competitive ice skating were also both based on a 6-point system. But both events also take into account the degree of difficulty, which made it impossible for a perfect but simple dive or routine to score as highly as a perfect but complicated dive or routine.

Both ice skating and gymnastics have been judged on a ten-point scale in the past – who could forget the Olympic Games with Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 in gymnastics, or Torville and Dean’s perfect 10 for ice dancing? Ten points is one of the most common rating scales. The 10-point scale is the unofficial way that men rate a woman’s attractiveness (and vice versa).  Television shows like “Dancing With the Stars” use a ten-point scale – but the scale is multiplied by having three judges.

Other television shows with three judges, like “America’s Got Talent,” don’t give a score but simply a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” Of course, one of the earliest thumbs up/thumbs down ratings on television was Siskel and Ebert’s movie reviews. And one of the most popular thumbs up/thumbs down rating systems is surveys of politicians’ approval ratings. But in the case of approval ratings, the surveyors collect hundreds or thousands of ratings and determine a percentage approval rating.

Percentage is another popular rating scale. Jumping back to grading in schools, although the grade on a report card is usually either one of five letters (ABCDF) or a grade point average out of 4 or 6, individual exam grades are usually scored as a percentage of questions answered correctly. 90-100 percent correct is an A, 80-89 percent a B, and so on. Unless, of course, the teacher grades “on a curve.” Since a grade of C is considered average, the teacher may use the actual average score to represent a grade of C rather than arbitrarily considering 70-79 percent as a C. So if the highest grade in the class was 80 percent, and the lowest was 40 percent, a score of 60 percent would be a C and a score of 80 percent would be an A.

And as if all those systems weren’t complicated enough, some ratings are based on multiple factors that are all graded independently, then weighted and combined. For example, on the television show “Iron Chef,” three judges grade each competitor’s dishes on the basis of taste, plating, and originality. Taste is rated on a 10-point scale, plating and originality each on 5-point scales. So each judge’s score is based on 20 points, and since there are three judges, the total score is out of a possible 60 points.

Confused yet? Hmm, how would you rate your confusion on a scale of 1 to 10?

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Seven Mom Myths, Debunked

When you’re a new mom, everyone and their mom wants to give you advice. Do this, don’t do that. Don’t do this, do that. You’ll get so much conflicting advice that it’ll make your head spin. So I put together a list of the top seven “mom myths” that I heard as a new mom, along with an explanation of why I think they’re wrong. (Yes, I recognize the irony of giving advice on not taking advice. But I’m doing it anyway.)

1.      Germs are evil.

Yes, some germs are evil. But a moderate dose of germs are actually good for you. I certainly wouldn’t advise bringing your two-week old baby to visit your nephew with chicken pox or your aunt with the bad cold, but don’t be afraid of a little dirt. Research shows that exposure to a few germs while a baby’s immune system is developing makes it stronger. Think about this: The parents of a first baby sterilize the binky every time the baby drops it. The parents of a second baby give it a quick rinse before giving it back. The parents of a third baby wipe it on their pants. And the parents of a fourth baby hand it right back, dirt and all. There is no particular difference in how many sicknesses those four children get.

2.      You are a bad parent if you don’t nurse/co-sleep/teach your child sign language/practice attachment parenting/let your baby cry it out.

There are probably as many theories of how to raise a baby as there are babies themselves. (Probably more, judging by how many people who don’t have babies have an opinion on the subject.) There’s nothing innately wrong with the vast majority of them. So if you find one that works for you and your baby, use it. But don’t let anyone bully or shame you into using one that doesn’t feel right for you. A lot of love and a little bit of common sense go a long way in taking good care of your baby. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to experiment.

3.      Your child needs the newest, most technologically advanced (and expensive) toys in order to be properly stimulated.

Hogwash. An electronic drum that makes different noises and talks is an exciting toy for a little one. So is an empty oatmeal box and a plastic mixing spoon. For that matter, so is a rock and a stick. Children will play with just about anything, and will use their imaginations to create whole worlds with whatever happens to be on hand. Go ahead and buy a few fancy electronic gadgets, but don’t forget the great toys you already have on hand: Tupperware, empty yogurt containers, toilet paper tubes, cardboard boxes, blankets, old hats, rocks. With those bits of “junk,” your kids can create a pirate ship, a rocket, a racetrack, a fort, a marching band. There will be stimulation aplenty!

4.      Sleep when the baby sleeps.

There are definitely times when this rule is true. With your first child, you will feel a depth of exhaustion that you have never felt before. You may go for several months without sleeping for more than 3 hours at a stretch. You will crave sleep like a junkie craves heroin. So most of the time, getting sleep whenever you can is a necessity.

But every once in a while, when your baby is sleeping, stay awake and just watch her. There is nothing in the world so peaceful as a soundly sleeping baby (especially if there was a long battle to reach that stage). Marvel at the tininess of her finger- and toenails. Be in awe of her perfect skin. Touch the unbelievable softness of her downy hair. Admire her long, thick eyelashes. Try to decide whether she’ll have your smile, or her nose will look like your dad’s, or her hair will get curly like your husband’s, or if she’ll have your sister’s freckles or your brother-in-law’s dimple or your grandfather’s crooked pinkie finger.

You can always make up the sleep later, but your baby will only be a baby for so long. Soak it in.

5.      You can do it all yourself.

You’ve heard the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child”? Once you have a child, you realize that the village is not just for the child’s benefit – it’s also for the parents’. Raising a child seems like the most natural thing in the world, and it is. But it is also exhausting, frustrating, and never-ending. Sometimes you just need a break. So when your mother-in-law offers to come watch the baby so you can take a nap (or go grocery shopping, or get a haircut, or read a book, or take a shower), let her! And if she doesn’t offer, but you need a break, ask her. Or ask your mom, or your best friend, or your next-door neighbor. It’s not a sign of weakness to need help. And it’s definitely a sign of wisdom to ask for it and to accept it when you do need it.

6.      Poop, snot, and vomit aren’t gross when they’re your baby’s.

Wrong! Poop, snot, and vomit are always gross. They’re gross when they’re someone else’s, they’re gross when they’re your own, and they’re gross when they’re your baby’s. But they’re gross for the baby, too. So you clean them up because you love your cherub more than you hate bodily excretions. Yes, it’s gross, but you deal with it and you move on. It’s good training, because a lot of parenting is like that: distasteful, but transitory.

7.      They grow up so fast.

This one is actually not a myth, although there will be times when you are convinced that it is. Some days seem like they will never end. Some phases seem like they will never end. You wonder when you’ll ever stop buying diapers and formula. You wonder if your house will smell like Desitin forever. You wonder if a weekend trip will ever require less than an entire carful of baby equipment. You wonder if you will ever again get to pee without an audience. But then suddenly your baby is a year old – or 10 years old – or 18 years old – and you wonder when that happened. I think it’s best summed up by the saying, “The days last forever, but the years fly by.”
So when you’re in the throes of a “Will this ever end?” stage, convinced that your children will never grow up, remind yourself that no stage lasts forever and that this is one saying that is not a myth. And if you have a hard time convincing yourself, just ask your mom. She still can’t believe you’re grown up enough to have a baby of your own.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Play Nice

With a title like “Play Nice” in a blog that’s mainly about motherhood, you would think that this blog entry would be about teaching my children to share their toys or not hit each other. But it’s not about children learning to be nice to each other. It’s about adults being nice to each other – or sometimes not.

Several months ago, my doctor scheduled me for my first mammogram. I wasn’t having any problems, but I was 43 and had been busy having babies since I turned 40, so I had never had one. I was still nursing at the time, but the doctor assured me that as long as I pumped right before my appointment, it would be fine. I am quite medical-phobic, so between that and the fact that I had a new baby and hadn’t slept more than 3 hours in a row for several months (not to mention still being completely hormonal), I was pretty much a basket case when I arrived at the office. With shaking hands, I completed an absurdly extensive questionnaire in the waiting room that asked me pretty much everything EXCEPT whether I was nursing. The technician called me in without introducing herself or making any pleasantries. I attempted to make a bit of small talk in order to ease my own anxiety, and mentioned in passing that I had a new baby. She made a face and grumped, “You’re not NURSING, are you?” I told her I was but assured her that I had pumped before I came, like my doctor had told me. She literally rolled her eyes and told me in a very annoyed voice that they couldn’t possibly do a mammogram on me. She never offered to call my doctor and check if there was a reason she had ordered the scan now, she never apologized for the miscommunication, she never even offered to reschedule my exam. She just kind of stared at me blankly like I was an idiot. Needless to say, I left the office in tears.

This morning, I went in for another try. This time I had a different technician (thank God), who immediately introduced herself and asked me how I was doing. She made some small talk that put me at ease and carefully explained what she would be doing. When she asked if I had had a mammogram before, I gave her a brief summary of my previous experience. She clucked sympathetically and told me it was too bad I’d had to go through that, and reiterated how important it was to be able to get a clear baseline image. She assured me that she would be able to get a good clear scan this time. She was gentle but firm, apologized for my discomfort, and just generally made the experience as not unpleasant as possible. In other words, she was NICE. And that made all the difference in the world.

Now, it may be that the first technician was having a lousy day. It may be that I was the third patient that week who had been incorrectly told by a doctor that a scan could be done while nursing. It may be that her hemorrhoids were acting up. But whatever her problem was, it would have made both of our lives a lot more pleasant if she had tried to be a little nicer. A little nice goes a long way. If she had put me at ease, it would have made her life a lot easier, too. A comfortable patient is a cooperative patient. After all, nice is contagious. When you’re nice to people, they’re more likely to be nice to you. And conversely, when you’re grumpy and unfriendly, the people around you become grumpier and more unfriendly as well. It’s a vicious circle.

So let’s all try being a bit nicer to each other. After all, if 2- and 3-year olds can learn to “play nice,” can’t we all?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thing 1 and Thing 2

My husband is a huge fan of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. Geisel was a fellow Dartmouth alum and a member of my husband’s fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon. So when Geisel visited Dartmouth while my husband was a student, he made sure to introduce himself and even get a photograph, which his father later sent to Geisel to have it autographed.
Geisel’s inscription reads, “It’s very flattering to have my picture wanted…especially with my mouth stupidly open like that. – Ted Geisel”. It is one of my husband’s prize possessions. So naturally, the last time we were up at Dartmouth, he bought the kids bright red T-shirts reading “Thing 1” and “Thing 2”.
For those of you may not remember Thing 1 and Thing 2, they were the fluffy blue-haired cohorts of the Cat in the Hat, always making messes and getting into trouble. Other than the mops of blue hair, my children are very similar to the Things. They specialize in making messes and getting into trouble.
My daughter, at 9 months, is on the verge of walking, but even without that skill, she has become a master of climbing. A few days ago I left her in the playroom for literally 90 seconds while I used the bathroom. When I came out, she had climbed all the way upstairs into the kitchen and was happily opening and closing the cabinet doors. Another time, I left the room to answer the phone, and in the 30 seconds I was gone she had climbed up onto the seat of the couch, then pulled herself up onto the back of the couch, and was standing on the back of the couch, hanging onto the stair railing behind it and grinning at me. If there is a door within her reach, she will open it. If there is a button nearby, she will push it. If there is any kind of small object on the floor, she will pick it up and eat it. If there is any kind of large object on the floor, she will pick it up and bonk herself with it.
And speaking of bonking, her big brother, at age 2-1/2, can give Thing 1 and Thing 2 a run for their money in the world of bonking. Sometimes he bonks himself, sometimes his sister, sometimes another toy or the wall or the television set. But if he can lift it up, he needs to try bonking something with it.
He’s also at an age where he needs to test his will against his parents’ at every opportunity. If I tell him to put down something that he’s holding, he’ll look at me and hang onto it for a few moments, until I raise my voice or warn him about a spanking, before he puts it down. Or he stares at me blankly as I pry it from his hand. I’ll tell him to do something (sit in his chair, get into the car, take off his shoes) and he’ll calmly say, “No, thank you.” (At least he’s often polite about his defiance.) He is mischief personified.
Thing 1 and Thing 2, in the Cat in the Hat books, are often infuriating, and yet the reader is still always delighted when they make their appearance. Likewise, my children are often infuriating, and yet I am still always delighted with them. It is one of the mysteries of life that children can drive you absolutely bonkers but at the same time you’d still throw yourself in front of a bus for them.
It reminds me of a comment Jeff Foxworthy once made: He said he never understood God’s relationship with the human race until he had children. And then he understood how it’s possible for God to love us even when we drive Him absolutely crazy with our disobedience and our mischief.
Yes, I sure do love my Thing 1 and my Thing 2, even when they’re destroyed my house and getting on my nerves and just generally driving me nuts. Because they’re still MY Thing 1 and Thing 2.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Kids Keep You Humble

There are times when your kids totally build up your self-esteem and puff up your ego. Like when my son sees me wearing lipstick or a dress and announces, “Oooh, Mama, you look so pretty!” Or when my daughter hears my footsteps coming down the stairs to the playroom and she drops everything to crawl over to me as fast as she can and give me a huge grin. But there are other times when kids have a knack for bursting your egotistical bubble and cutting you right down to size.

The reason they do it is that kids notice everything. And they’re curious about everything. So when they see something new, or something they haven’t noticed before, they want to check it out and ask questions about it. You often don’t realize the kinds of things that polite adults ignore or at least pretend not to notice until there’s a small child pointing it out and asking questions about it. It could be a pimple on someone’s chin, a birthmark on their neck, a streak of grey in their hair, a dark mole on their arm, or some kind of a facial tic. In my case, it’s my hairy toes.

Yes, I admit it. I have hobbit feet. Every one of my toes sports long, unladylike, thick black hairs. I trim them, I even shave them occasionally. And if another adult happens to notice my hairy toes when I’m wearing sandals, they would never dream of calling attention to them. But my son has no such compunctions. He was looking at my feet the other day and announced, “Hey, Mama, you have hair on your toes!” He was fascinated by it. He tried pulling the hairs out (ouch!), he tried combing them (yes, they’re that long), he spent several minutes stroking them this way and that. I was a bit embarrassed. But you know what? I have hairy toes. It’s a fact. They aren’t hairy because I’m a bad person, or because I don’t take good care of myself. They’re just hairy because they are. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In my son’s opinion, it’s actually kind of cool. But it’s still a bit humbling to me to be reminded of the fact.

So I hope my son restrains himself from pointing out my hairy toes in public. But if he does, that’s okay. With all the hugs and “I love you”s and open adoration I get from him, a little humility to keep my ego in check is probably a good thing.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Someone's in the Kitchen with Mama

I spotted an article in Slate Magazine this morning about cooking with children: It made me feel very proud of the cooking I’ve done with my 2-1/2 year old son. I always loved cooking with my own mom, although I started at a much later age, maybe 9 or 10. But what really spurred me on to get him involved in the kitchen was when I was taking care of my then 11-year-old nephew, who happened to be a very picky eater. He was in rehearsals for a show right around the corner from our house, and my sister-in-law asked if I could pick him up for his dinner break so she wouldn’t have to make a 1-1/2 hour round-trip during rush hour. I was delighted to help, but concerned that he wouldn’t eat anything I made. But then I read an article about how children are much more willing to eat food that they helped make themselves, so I decided to recruit him to help me make homemade meatballs and marinara sauce. For a kid who generally only ate bread and cheese, he ate an impressive amount of “his” meatballs. So I decided to do the same with my own son.

At age 2-1/2, the majority of his contributions are cracking eggs, pouring milk or sugar or flour into a measuring cup, and stirring, stirring, stirring. But I can already see that he will be ready to make more significant contributions very soon. Knives and flames are still on the forbidden list, but there are plenty of recipes that include very little of either that he will be able to manage with just the tiniest bit of help from me, very soon. In fact, he has already made shepherd’s pie with my help only in browning the beef, pouring the boiling water for the mashed potatoes, and pointing out the right line on the measuring cup. My son spooned the meat into the baking dish, poured on the frozen corn, measured the milk and butter for the potatoes and stirred them up, spread them carefully over the top, and sprinkled the whole thing with shredded cheese. He was so proud of his creation! And I can imagine him making his own meatloaf the same way – cracking a few eggs, measuring out the bread crumbs and herbs and salsa, squishing everything together with freshly-washed hands, and then pressing it into a pan. In fact, every time I make a recipe, I think about what parts of it he will be able to do and how soon.

I know he will love making chicken parmesan, whacking the chicken breasts with the little mallet, carefully laying out the squares of mozzarella, and pouring the sauce over the top. He’ll love pouring oil onto his hands to slather over a whole turkey. He’ll squeal with mock disgust as he pulls the guts out of a whole chicken and replaces them with some chunks of lemon.

But the best part will be when I break out my mother’s chocolate fudge party cake recipe that I remember learning to make with her. Or when I teach him all the different options for my grandmother’s 3-bean salad recipe. Or when I show him the intricacies of slicing my grandfather’s favorite Swedish tea ring just so. Or when I pass along my mother-in-law’s tortilla soup recipe, the one she made for me when we brought my son home from the hospital. I will love sharing all the family stories and traditions. I look forward to teaching him that Christmas means making Kinderpunch for when we decorate the tree, or having hot mulled cider simmering on the stove while the trick-or-treaters come around on Halloween. Or the first time he helps me decorate the bunny cake we make every Easter, or the gingerbread man cake we make for his dad’s birthday every year.

Food is more than food. It’s family tradition. It’s a link in a chain of family, and love, and laughter, and story-telling. And I can’t wait to carry on those traditions with my own children!

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Going Up

For those of you unfamiliar with theatrical lingo, the expression “Going up” refers to putting on a show. It also happens to be the title of a song from a musical called “A Man of No Importance.” It also happens that last night the production of “A Man of No Importance” that I am performing in went up.

It’s difficult to explain to someone who has never performed on stage exactly what the emotions of an opening night performance are like. Standing backstage, waiting for the house lights to go down and the overture to begin, is a bit like standing at the front of a line to get on a roller coaster. You’re excited, you’re terrified, you’re suddenly wondering why the hell you thought this was a good idea in the first place. But you realize that it’s too late to back out so you take a deep breath, step out with a leap of faith, and let the ride take you where it will. And right afterwards, that rush of adrenaline gives you a high like nothing else in the world, and you can’t wait to do it all over again.

And just like roller coasters, the experience of performing is not for everyone. Some people get on a roller coaster and never get that happy, excited rush. They just feel like throwing up. And theater is the same way. Some people just don’t enjoy being on stage. They only experience the terror and never reach that euphoria of connecting with an audience, that delicious terror of teetering on the edge of disaster at every moment. And I’m a bit unusual, in that I have a bit of both extremes. Up until performance time, I am completely neurotic. Anyone who has ever performed with me knows that I always have a cheat sheet with me, I don’t deal well with any last-minute changes, and I completely freak out with nerves during tech week. But come opening night, I’m cool. I know that I can manage anything that happens. And, in live theater, anything can – and will – happen.

My mom was always impressed with how composed I am on stage. She definitely fell in the “only feel like throwing up” category of performing, and she told me that my composure definitely came from my grandmother, not from her. My mom told me a story of how, when my grandmother was in high school, she was performing in a play and just as the curtain began to rise, she felt the elastic band of her underpants snap and her panties fell down to the ground. (This was in the early 1920s, mind you.) Without missing a beat, she stepped out of them, kicked them under the couch she was standing in front of, and went on with the scene. Now THAT is a performer who knows how to roll with the punches.

So although last night’s performance went beautifully smoothly, as with any show, there were a few glitches, and I like to think that I managed them in a way that would make my grandmother proud. When I came onstage for a scene and found that someone had accidentally cleared the chair I was supposed to sit in, I calmly went backstage, grabbed another one and walked right back into the scene as if that was supposed to happen. When I started to exit another scene and saw that an apron had fallen in the middle of the floor, I nonchalantly scooped it up on my way by and tucked it out of sight behind a set piece. When I noticed that someone had left a prop on a table that wasn’t supposed to be there, I simply took it with me when I exited the scene. When another actor closed a door but it didn’t quite catch and swung back open, I surreptitiously closed it behind her. If those things had happened during tech week, my mind would have been spinning: “Did someone mean to leave that prop there? If I clear it, will someone kill me backstage? Is someone else going to come through that door so it’s supposed to be open? What if I hide the apron on stage but then someone else needs to pick it up backstage?” When there’s no audience, I overthink things so much that I get scattered. But when there are people out there watching, I somehow know that I can manage anything. If someone needs that apron, I know I can figure out an ad lib to take me on stage for a moment to grab it for them. If someone needs to come through that door and can’t open it themselves, I trust that they’ll know to knock with an elbow and I’ll open it for them. And if I can’t figure out how to fix it, I know that someone else will.

The beauty of theater, for me, is how deeply you come to trust not only yourself, but your fellow actors. Even if you’re alone on stage, if you blank out and suddenly find yourself staring at the audience without the faintest idea of what you’re supposed to be saying, you can trust that someone backstage will either hiss you a cue or find an excuse to come onstage and get you back on track somehow. My favorite actors to work with are not necessarily those who are amazingly brilliant actors, but those who can be trusted to save your butt if necessary. They’re the ones who’ll figure out how to say your line for you if you screw up. Who’ll roll with whatever happens. One of my favorite theater “oops” stories is from a production of “Cabaret” that I did a number of years ago. In one particular scene, we were in a nightclub and I was supposed to cross the stage and then begin to dance with someone. As the lights went up, I looked up to see the man I was supposed to dance with standing in the wings, wearing the wrong costume, staring at me with a horrified look on his face as he realized he’d skipped ahead and there was no way he could come out for the scene. Thinking quickly, I crossed the room and grabbed another actor that I knew I could trust to go along with whatever I did, and pulled him up to dance with me. He looked a bit alarmed and whispered to me, “Um, I don’t know this dance!” even as he followed my clumsy lead. I whispered the steps a beat or two ahead and he gamely obeyed. When I exited the scene, the director ran up to me and literally threw himself at my feet, he was so thankful that I was able to cover the mistake. But it wasn’t that hard, because I knew there were other actors onstage who had my back.

Good theater is nothing if not teamwork. Actors need to read each other, to trust each other, and to help each other. And when that happens, there is no feeling in the world quite like going up!

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Far More Precious Than Jewels

Today, the website posted their annual estimation of what a stay at home mom’s work is worth ( This number is based on average time spent per week on jobs such as laundry operator, facilities manager, housekeeper, cook, van driver, janitor, and psychologist. The study calculated a base salary of about $37,000 for the first 40 hours, plus roughly 55 hours of overtime pay at about $76,000, for a grand total of $113,000. According to a radio interview I heard about the study, this number is a national average so, adjusted for the Boston area (where I live), what I do is worth around $120,000 dollars a year.

Now, I don’t deny that’s a nice, fat paycheck, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if someone offered to pay me that amount. But I do beg to differ at the article’s definition of “worth.” Being a stay-at-home parent cannot be defined simply by monetary worth. And this is a job description that is, by far, so much greater than the sum of its parts.

The time I spend as a day care teacher is worth about $9,500 of my salary. But hearing my son use words like “humongous” and “actually,” or count to twenty, or point out letters that he knows, to me, is priceless. Actually being there to see my daughter stand without support for the first time instead of getting a report about it from someone else is priceless.

The time I spend cooking for my family is worth nearly $10,000 of my salary. But cutting sandwiches into gingerbread men, letting my son be my sous chef when I bake cornbread, and watching my daughter’s funny expression as she tastes a piece of something I just made and rolls it around in her mouth is priceless. Being able to tailor my menus to the tastes of the people in my own family is priceless. Watching my children grow strong and healthy on the food I prepare for them is priceless.

The time I spend driving my son around to things like gymnastics and church and the playground is worth $6,000. And the time I spend as a psychologist is worth nearly $15,000. But the value of just getting to talk to him – and, more importantly, to listen to him – is immeasurable. Discovering how and what he thinks about the world around him has a value that cannot be calculated in dollars and cents.

And let’s not forget that, as with all jobs, there are always “other duties as assigned.” How about nurse, when the baby is running a fever of 102 and the preschooler is coughing up a lung in the middle of the night? Or conflict mediator, when both kids are determined to play with the same toy at the same time? Fashion consultant, photographer, travel agent, personal shopper, manicurist, hairdresser – there are truly too many components to list.

It’s nice that someone has calculated a tangible, numerical value for my job, something that in some way recognizes and attempts to validate what I do every day. But I know, and my family knows, that what I do, and what all stay at home parents do, is worth far more than can be defined by a paycheck.

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

- Excerpted from Proverbs 31

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