A Modern Girl's Musings

My earliest political memory is of my parents laughing at me when I asked if we were voting for Ronald Reagan. Even I could tell poor Carter wasn't looking so good. I was about five. I think the laughter was accompanied by something along the lines of "for crying out loud!"

Nevertheless I consider myself a Reagan Baby. Those eight years of my childhood were spent realizing that there was still a lot of work to be done, despite Dr. King, in addition to the Kennedys (a lot of them were still alive then), and hopefully including me (if my Quaker education by the hippies was teaching me anything at all).

So after Reagan, after Clinton, after hiding in those Bushes, I am still hopeful, I am still working on my addition, I'm still on my way to a new way of living in this world.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Give the Tots Their M---F--- Toys

Over the weekend, someone stole some of the most expensive toys from the Toys for Tots drop off center in Burlington.

If you don’t live around here, Burlington is kinda nice.  You can tell cause while there are buses out there, there aren’t always sidewalks.

Perhaps I got so upset about this news because this Christmas is proving to be a challenge.  The end of my show (I am always sad after closing, even if it is just a reading), my busted tooth, trying to get shopping done on a very very tight budget with two very active people under the age of four, and bills, bills, bills.  So perhaps my inclination to burst into tears when my beloved Channel Five “Eyeopener” (me and Channel Five both start our day really horridly early) reported this is because I am stressed out.

Or perhaps it is because it really did make me sad.  Authentically so.

I have never been the beneficiary of Toys for Tots.   And truth be told, I have never donated to Toys for Tots.  My sister has, and does every year, even after the time she got mugged for her Toys for Tots gifts while walking home from shopping.

But if there is one thing my heathen self is sure of, is that this is the season of giving.  Even if you hate the holidays: you’re Aunt Clem hid your Candy Canes when you were five, you were nobody’s favorite and got slipper socks each year, your parents nag you about your divorce over the roast beef, or your brothers and sisters always seem to get in digs about how you never finished whatever it was you never finished while they zoom about in SUVs complaining about taxes, if there is one thing all of us adults can do at this time of year it is give to those who need it.

The first time I relished this idea was the first Christmas after my parents got separated.  We were rather short on cash that year, and we’d been told Christmas was going to be a little tight. 

A few days before Christmas my mom got paid.  This was before direct deposit, so she cashed her check and we headed to the A and P that’s now Walgreens in the Heights (of Arlington).  Going into the store, we stopped at the ubiquitous red kettle.  We smiled at the bell guy as my mom slipped a bill in and the bell guy looked down, smiled very wide, and bellowed “Merry Christmas!”

And in we went.

Since it was pay day and Christmas we got a lot of foods we’d learned, that fall, not to ask for anymore.  Things aside from what needed to go into dinner and lunches.

When we got to the check out my mom pulled out the bank envelope and gasped.  An entire fifty was gone. 

An entire fifty was in the barrel of that red kettle. 

Which explained the enthusiastic response.

Which explained why we put back our extras.

Somewhere someone else needed that fifty more.

My mom and sisters and I think about that grocery store trip often.

And we thought of it for sure the next Christmas as we did our Christmas shopping.

If money is tight, you do your shopping in cash last minute. 

So there we were, at the mall with the other poor people and the husbands.

As we left, we saw a very unusual sight for Burlington.  (Yes, the aforementioned Burlington).  A pan handler.  Sitting right there in army fatigues (this was when wearing army fatigues had nothing to do aligning yourself with the missions of soldiers, they were what you wore if you were a little maybe funkier than others.  And this guy, pan handling on a traffic island in a suburb on Christmas Eve, was a little funky indeed).

His sign said he was hungry.

He looked very young. 

He had a duffel bag next to him.

It was inordinately cold.  Frigid.

“Please, can we get that guy McDonalds?”  we asked our mother.  “Yeah, Big Macs.”

There wasn’t much else on that strip then.  I think Howard Johnson’s was already shuttered at that point.  So to McDonald’s we went.

When we circled back through the parking lot and dropped off those Big Macs, and apologized it was just McDonalds, I don’t think we’d ever seen a person look so hungry before. He thanked us over and over and he tore into the hamburgers.  He didn’t look up, only down into the meat and bread most of the rest of us make fun of, and he ate.

So I guess I was so upset because it hurts to know it is true that someone’s heart is sizes and sizes too small.  To be downright Mother McCheesy about it.  There’s a very warm place, I think, waiting for that person who took the time to drive up that hill, pick that lock, and thwart the meaning of this time of year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brute Force Meet Tooth

My son fucked up my tooth.

My writing group chuckled when I said I was channeling my inner six year old, and was having trouble speaking, but I realize now, after another half week of sounding like Cindy Brady, that I meant it less as a joke and more as a plea for compassion.

Truth be told, my teeth have been sliding towards trailer for years.  I’ve never ever liked them.  Well, maybe I think I liked my baby teeth, but those all fell out, so there you go.  These adult teeth, which have been with me (well, some of them have.  Others were not so fortunate) for going on three decades have been a royal pain, and every dentist I’ve been to has agreed.

My sisters have great teeth.  I am not sure how I ended up in the shallow end of the gene pool on this one.  For it is true they are not the lovely pearls male poets like to write about in love poems.  I remember one dentist, when I’d gone in to have a broken tooth fixed, got very excited at the prospect of “a project”.  Actually, he was not really a dentist quite yet.  That was the year the University of Iowa offered dental for the first time, and to save money on what I knew was going to be a very large job, I went to the University of Iowa Dental clinic.  (And my fellow patients really were trailer.  More gaping holes in that place than in a block of Swiss cheese). 

My dentist was from Jordan.  He himself did not have very great teeth.  I assumed maybe he was working on that, at night, with other dental students, because how could he honestly expect to get work with his own mouth jackety jacked up like that?

My dentist also liked lame club music.   Where would one go clubbing in Iowa City you ask?  I mean, if you are not twenty, but say nearing thirty, which this guy was?  I am really not very sure. He would sing the songs as he poked around in my mouth.  If you have never been to a university dental clinic, then you are unfamiliar with the way these visits work.  Basically every procedure can take up to three visits.  I had a root canal that took up three or four afternoons as the dentist to be worked on what she called my “groovy anatomy”.  She was Columbian.  Perfect teeth.  And very happy explain part of my problem was my very windy roots.  She seemed to work alone, stealth like, in an empty floor.  But for most of these clinic visits, if the almost dentist even changes a brush setting on that electro tooth brush, she or he has to have a supervisor come and okay it.  So I got to know club music very well.  His favorite went something like this “you’re my butterfly, sugar, sugar” at which point, even after several visits and a mutual understanding that I did know that song from the radio, he would ask, for the millionth time, if I knew that song.  Did I like that song?  He loved that song.  Sugar, sugar….

After the fifth or so visit, my club dentist got very excited.  He’d been thinking.  What I’d like to do, is this, he held his hands like a mouth, his fingers standing in for teeth, and pulled all his fingers in like hermit crab legs.  Oh!  I said.  Um.  Okay!  He’d been thinking, he said, and after the root canal (maybe one, maybe two, yes?) he’d like to really get down to fixing things.

This struck a cord.

From fifth grade on I had dreamed of braces. 

I, too, had been wanting to really get down to fixing things.  For a very long time.

I’d gone to private school and basically the rich start whipping their kids’ teeth into straight lines right after they let their full time nannies go.  Okay, no one in my class really had that kind of nanny, but by junior high everyone had very nice teeth.  Except me.  So it was my delight when finally, despite being basically homeless (we lived with my grandparents, so saying this was obviously met with contention because we were NOT homeless, we just didn’t, say, have our own HOME), and loosing all our furniture in storage, and coming to terms with my father’s mental illness, my mom made an appointment with an orthodontist. I was overjoyed.  I made it through all the impressions (horrible!) and teeth pulling (four!  to make space which I did not understand because I have gaps.  And they gave me too much gas and I was convinced I would be kicked out of my honors and AP classes because I’d lost brain cells. You, too, would be convinced of the same if you could recall coming back into consciousness while biting the fingers of one of your dentists while hallucinating everyone is laughing at you as you guest on Oprah and you hear another dentist say, as you see him watch you gnaw on latex, “Oh, maybe that’s a bit too much, give her less!”) and finally got my braces, only to have things go a little south in our house and have my mother forget to take me back for subsequent appointments.  The orthodontist was understandably upset and yanked them out a few days before I left for college. “Maybe you can come back when you are more responsible”. 

So I nodded vigorously when this club dentist said he wanted to help me.  He slipped out of the cubicle and came back with his supervisor. He explained his plans.  He did not ask him if he knew the Butterfly/Sugar song. The supervisor sighed, finished looking in my mouth, looked at club dentist and said “that might make her look a little funny”.  “Funny?” Club dentist seemed sad all of a sudden. “Funny. Like a horse.  If you bring her teeth in like that, she’s gonna look like a horse.  You don’t want that, do you?”  Um, the obvious answer is to shake your head no, as the other students prod around in there, too.  No, no I do not want to look like a horse.  Butterfly, sugar, butterfly, sugar, no horse, no horse, no horse.

I was not yet twenty-six and I had been deemed a dental disaster. 

Which made me paranoid I was not, along with all the other hang ups many girls have in their twenties, deserving of good teeth.  Sometimes I wished I lived in England, where I hear no one has good teeth, so I’d fit in. 

One of my biggest fears about my teeth is that they will crumble out.  Which I have looked up and is supposed to suggest I am afraid of growing old, but I really think I am really afraid of losing my teeth.

So two babies in two years has not helped with my teeth phobias.  Those suckers take every last vitamin and nutrient and use it for their own little selves.  Apparently, I’ve learned through this debacle, they’ve leached the calcium from me, day by nursing day.  Lovely.

So the tooth my son fucked up was already a weak link. 

But when he chose that particular one to continually head butt, over and over, in October, I knew it was a goner, even if it had been less of a loser at the time.

It all began the day after I got my hair rebraided.  After months of letting it go, I finally looked like some semblance of a person who recognizes the importance of personal hygiene. And it was only a matter of a few hours before my son made his mark, by head butting me during a middle of the night wakeful because I am teething session.  I remember grabbing my mouth and saying to my husband “It’s cracked!  I finally got my hair done and now my mouth is messed”.

I had no idea how messed it could become.

Despite being so dismayed, I was due at rehearsals in New Haven and could not go to the dentist.  Or, could not commit to  finding a dentist.  I think relatively few writers have dental, and I am one of those not few.  So I waited.  My son, however, did not.  Over the course of the next two weeks, he proceeded to head butt me over and over.  In the same tooth. Until during one trip to New Haven I remember eating nothing but McDonald’s chocolate shakes in an attempt to keep my calories up to keep my milk up to keep feeding this crazy beast of a child who was hell bent on my being as dentally compromised as he was.

One head butt, as we folded him into his car seat dressed as a very reluctant tiger for Halloween, produced the type of hole through which you can feel air.  I spent my time at the following Halloween party convinced the parents with real jobs, and, therefore, dental, could see down into my throat.  I also spent it shivering. Since the party was outside and the wind went right past my lips through that hole and up into my forehead.

About a week later I knew I had to act.

As I sat in that dentist’s chair (finally!) I gripped my hands, certain the diagnosis would be to remove each tooth and I could come back for more only when I was more responsible.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” was the verdict.  Along with an estimate of a twenty three hundred dollar bill.

So I did not quite act.

But my kid is not a quitter.

In fact my kid seems to like a challenge.

And butt his head continued to do.

The biggest hit came the day before my opening night, when I tried to dance with him to that Mariah Carey Christmas song, and I guess he’s not in to Mimi cause bam went his very hard head into my bedraggled mouth.

I toasted my play, the next evening pre curtain, by sipping my proseco through the side of my mouth, hoping none dribbled out of my mouth as all those donors and subscription holders who’d been invited to the opening night wine reception watched me.

I spoke at a Humanities Lunch sipping my iced tea through a straw and demurely declining the sandwiches and chips offered me. 

I lost five pounds and was a royal B for days.  Skinny girls aren’t mean because they’re beautiful, they are mean cause they are fucking hungry.

And it was with a whimper that the tooth finally quit me, after only the slightest of butts, about a week later.

Leaving my mouth looking like I am a professional hockey player.

“Don’t worry about it,” my daughter’s preschool teacher chirped.  “My husband doesn’t even have any teeth!”  And she went on to say her boys used to head butt her so much, that she had a constant bloody lip for years when they were small.  “It’s boys!”

And I can’t really disagree.

He goes at life with an entirely different energy than my daughter.  I write so very much about my daughter.  Disney and hair and beauty and senses of self that don’t involve eating disorders and cutting and feeling less and less and less.

All my fem theory and I am not quite sure I thought I’d have to think as much about boys.

Ridiculous, I know.

But he is moving through the world with a different force than I am used to. 

I come from a family of women, of girls, of strength in spite of, rather than strength because. If that even makes sense.

For here is a force that is determined and fierce and dangerous, if you ask my teeth about it.

Here is a force that I was taught could be tamed and should be tamed, and, perhaps, it is a force I was not sure really existed.  Testosterone?  Ha, I think I would have said a year ago.  He just needs hugs and kisses and oh shit, there is my tooth in my hand, shit.

So if you see me between now and tomorrow when I am due to have my front tooth replaced, just know I am a mother of a boy, who was once foolish enough to think brute force was a product of nurture, not nature.

I am pretty sure I was wrong.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And Someone Listened: Thoughts on the 2010 Wasserstein Prize

Sometimes people get heard.  And change occurs.

In my previous post I wrote an open letter to the 19 female playwrights who were all rejected from the 2010 Wasserstein Prize.  Since that post, the internet has been afire, and theatre artists came together, via Facebook Petition, to protest the Theatre Development Funds' decision not to award the 25,000 dollar prize.

Yesterday I was asked for my comments about the situation by blogger and playwright Callie Kimball.  Her article appeared today on npr.org.  In it, she cites my email to her.  Below is my email in its entirety.


Thanks for the email.

And this is wonderful you will write about the "debacle", although that term trivializes the matter a bit, I do admit.

Over the weekend, as the outrage gained steam, I began to think about the award and awards in general.  I was surprised by the responses I got on my blog post.  I was away for the weekend for rehearsals for a play of mine, and kind of just got riled up in the moment possibly because I was charged up from my time at Yale Rep, where I feel very very fortunate to be, and for some reason, the idea that this award had been kept from possibly a deserving writer, made me, obviously, very upset.

Sometimes in this business, the gates get kept in ways that are rather painful.  Who gets produced, who gets good reviews, who gets to keep doing this because they have the means (be it family money, access to health insurance, access to a pay check, access to housing, access to the gatekeepers...sometimes these things are just so arbitrary it's almost unfair.  So what got me hopping mad was that an award that should be helping to ameliorate these gate keeping practices didn't open the gate to ANYBODY.  Very curious, especially after Julia Jordan's study.

I was telling a colleague this afternoon, as we discussed the Wasserstein, that when I've adjudicated awards, the spirit of the process has often been rather generous.  In most instances, while there may have been dismay at the plays that sometimes ended up at the top of the pile for whatever reason, there was usually always the feeling that we did indeed WANT to give the award to someone, and were happy to give an opportunity to someone who was just starting out.   Did we have to wade through some plays that should not have ended up in the final rounds?  Yes.  Almost always.  Were there sometimes plays or writers who needed much more time and many more years to grow?  Yes.  Almost always.  But awards such as these (especially the ones I was judging, cause let's face it, I am still emerging myself) are meant to see promise and the start of a career.  And we saw so many different kinds of starts.   Or those who were starting again.  Or starting despite great odds (some of those personal statements are, indeed, very personal and revealing in a surprising way).  

And I am under no delusion I was the best adjudicator.  In fact, I know I flaked out on more than one process.

But in the end, my job was to give out the award.  Not shut the gate.

I was also surprised, quite happily, by how many female writers wrote to me, either through my blog or through Facebook, and said they'd received similar awards (those of about 20,000 or 25,000 for new and emerging writers) and those awards changed their lives.  Perhaps not financially (25,000 for writing a play is fabulous.  But if you told someone you MADE! 20,000 a year, and got all excited about it, many people would look at you funny. While I am sure many writers do things like pay off student loans or credit card debt or perhaps? invest, I think there is another camp  of writers that use the money to breathe a little and not have to work as many day jobs or teach so that they can write or research. And when you do that, that money does not go as far as one would think), but just about every person who wrote to me said getting an award like the Wasserstein made them think of themselves as real writers for the first time.  You can't put a price tag on that type of confidence, and once you think that and believe that about yourself, you never go back. It profoundly changes how you think of your work and your self as an artist.  I know it did me, when I received an NEA Fellowship.  Sadly the money got sucked into having to move because of the residency requirement, but for the first time in my life I was paid to show up to work to be a writer on a regular basis, and it altered me.

What's been happening today, too, is people have been (mostly on David Adjmi's Facebook page) citing female writers they felt were young (under 32.  why 32?  we're still not sure) and talented.  Many people named Annie Baker which is so wonderful, but this is what this business LOVES to do: choose one player and place ALL the burden of whatever on that one person. Let Annie Baker be Annie Baker (because she is wonderful) and let other young women ALSO flourish and shine. We can do that.  We really can.

Okay, still on my soap box obviously but will stop typing now.

Thanks for emailing me.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

To Those 19 Playwrights

This week it was announced that the 2010 Wasserstein Prize was not awarded because its judges felt that no woman playwright who is 32 or younger in America is worthy of the prize, which is supposed to honor promise in emerging  playwrights(newsflash, though, you could have raked in 500 thousand in prize money, commissions, advances, and house sales, be 57, and STILL be considered emerging in this business).

So this being the age it is, I just signed an email petition to let those who decided such a matter that this is absolutely ridiculous.  My colleague Michael Lew voiced many of our playwright community's concerns brilliantly in his blog.

And I must admit, when I first clicked on the link to his post, the first thing I thought was: 32?  Seriously?

At 32 I think I was only beginning to realize what it means to be a playwright who is also female. 

Here is what I thought it meant:  when I began to think I wanted to be a playwright, I had no idea women could really do such a thing.  I was a senior in high school and had just plowed through TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED, AND BLACK, but Lorraine Hansberry had died young.  I did not want to die young.  So I pushed her out of my mind and just thought about all the other playwrights I was not like at all:  men playwrights, white playwrights.  I had not yet met the works of Shange, Nottage, Parks, or Corthron that made me think: OH!  I could do this.

I also thought being a female playwright just meant  that usually girls don’t do this kind of work.  I didn’t realize that they do, and when you look around any given conference, workshop, production experience, or fellowship opportunity and do not see someone who resembles one of your demographics, you should wonder why.  You should not always be the only.  And if you are, you should not accept that you really ARE the only, but that there are others (female, black, poor, or what have you) who are not there for a reason, not because you are so much more talented than they are.

I had an inkling being a female playwright was considered “different” when I got in to Humana and Marc Masterson said, early on, before I even got into the rehearsal room, ‘be prepared for people to call this the year of the woman, since all the plays are by women this year except one’.  I am pretty sure, when there is only one woman in a line up of plays being done, that people do not call it the year of the man.

But then I experienced something that really only women experience.

I had a kid.

Then another.

While boys have kids, too, I am pretty sure they do not complete commissions for rent money while breastfeeding.

And given how so many developmental programs are geared towards LEAVING your home for weeks on end, I am pretty sure that while most  male writers in our modern age are more aware of childcare issues than they were fifty, twenty, even ten years ago, most probably do not lug their kids around the country to work on plays. 

All this is to say that, at 32--since I had my daughter at 32--I had no idea what the full extent of being a female playwright could possibly mean. 

I had no idea I’d have to place many writerly things on ice while I went about the kinda messy dealings of learning to be a parent.

I had no idea I’d have to say no, at times, to a career I’d spent over a decade and a half creating.

And yet, something continued to burn, something continued to make me need to write, even when my self was at odds with how and who was celebrated as a writer.  In this business.

So to those 19 who were rejected:  your beginnings are burning.  Your need to do what we do is real and right and necessary.

Fold that letter carefully and put it where you will not be tempted to read it or believe it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Me and the Duggars: Full Steam Ahead

I am sitting on my hands and knees on the slightly dusty parquet floor of the Company Housing apartment that has been our other home for almost a month.

K is in a cot, purchased especially for this trip, covered in blankets and one of her sheet sets from home. H is asleep after having thrown all the soft things I tried to set in his pack and play for him over the side. 

Okay, the floor is very dusty.  More than slightly.

Each time I try to sweep it, the kids go absolutely nut bag.  They go to the front closet and pull out all the cleaning instruments the theatre has provided.  They sweep and dust and try to mop with abandon, narrowly missing the flat screen TV, the glass coffee table, and the wall of windowpanes.

I would clean when they go to sleep, but I am just too tired.

Truth be told, I lie on the floor at home like this, as K “drifts” to sleep.  It started as being better than fighting with her about bed.  She is a clingy one.  Now it is just our way.  And it is not entirely bad.  I get a lot more writing done this way than when I was mean mommy taking her begrudgingly to the bathroom over and over (potty training really makes one second guess oneself) and yelling IT IS  BEDTIME!  NO MORE TALKING!  which is not really conducive to sleep. 

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about mothering and work.  Last night I saw a program about Amish weddings.  It was not the best documentary.  I came in late, since I was, yes, lying on the floor for its first half, so I must have missed the part on why true Amish people would allow themselves to be filmed.  And, granted, one couple was not allowed to keep on filming as their wedding date approached; however, it was engrossing, as are most programs about people who live so far removed from the mainstream that, well, people with cameras go and get all up in their faces, trying to make them tell us more about themselves so we can examine the gulf between our worlds.

During the program an elder Amish man spoke about his community’s feelings about family.  No surprises here.  He explained a woman’s duty was to her family and that things work better when wives don’t work.

My feminist self might cringe if it weren’t for the fact that another larger part of myself agrees.

Not that women should not work, but that, the way we’ve created workspaces makes it very difficult to both be a very good mother and a very good worker, whatever the work part of us happens to be.

I can say with absolute certainty that our house runs more smoothly when I am not working regular hours. 

I can also say with absolute certainty that I would cease to feel I had much of a worldly purpose if all I knew how to talk about was poop, teething, potty training, and breastfeeding.

There is a schism.

Today I tried to take my kids to my work. 

“Mommy’s work” is a mystical mythical place.  Because I am a writer and field emails in fleeting five minute increments and do rewrites after I’ve peeled myself off the floor next to my daughter’s bed, often “mommy’s work” is located on the living room couch.  But, at times, it is located in a classroom or a rehearsal hall or a theatre, and I actually have to get up off the couch at odd hours and go away.

Such is my life currently. 

Each week, sometimes once, sometimes twice, although really it should be more, I feel, we make the two hour trek so “mommy can work”.  It is a herculean effort.  Trust me, sometimes I say this to myself in the shower “this is a herculean effort”.  Because this requires me to pack up house,  move all the stuff that is toddler world with us, buy food for two households, and procure childcare.  To make sure my kids don’t completely flip out on me and feel more confused than necessary, I also make sure everything is done in the same way at the same time in each “home”.  Dinner equals 5:15.  Bed equals 7.  There are still time outs and kisses and hugs and sweet treats.  But, yes, this is all herculean effort.

When I have done this in the past, it has been for a week.  The longest was for three when I took my then only child to Sundance.  But this current stint will last, when all told, for two months.

People like to commend these efforts until I explain what usually happens to me physically in order to accomplish them, which is that my body, in someway, at some point, just stops working.  I spend the entire time tending to two very needy humans and rewriting and by the end, I am exhausted.  The kind of exhausted nineteenth century writers talk about, when they go to someone’s country estate to rest or something.

I do not know anyone with a country estate and even if I did, I am sure I would not be able to find a sitter so that I could go there and walk to moors or whatever while I “rest”, so I make do with reality TV and ice cream.

Okay, it’s liquor, not ice cream.

And while every single theatre has always been more than helpful to me and my family, I keep wondering: what if?

What if this were seventy years ago. When you did not have to get that much childcare, just a comfy hotel drawer, so your baby feels like it is in a cradle, while you go do your theatre work so all you all can eat for the next month? 

Then I thin of Eugene O’Neill and how that is how he grew up and look how fucked he was.  The first great American playwright, sure, but the guy was a hot mess and then some.

So then, what if more of the jobs we do were like the circus?  Cause the OTHER show I watched last night was CIRCUS on PBS, and IT was all about The Big Apple Circus, and I thought, mmm, what if we just trained our kids from very young ages to be AROUND us as we worked?  Some of these brilliant circus artists are ninth and tenth generation performers.  That means circus is all their families have ever done for hundreds of years.  And while I am sure not all of us want to be accountants like our dads or lawyers like our moms, I know that when I look at what my family and relatives say they choose to be, we all end up being similar things.  For the most part we are all writers or teachers or social workers or some off shoot there of. 

Cause this Circus show reminded me of an author I once heard on NPR’s show THE CONNECTION, years ago as I waited in the pick up line when I was a nanny.  He mentioned that if you ask an indigenous person how much time he spent with his kid, he’d look at you funny.  Cause the kid was just always expected to be around, learning how to live from his or her parents.  And this all makes me think about old times.  Maybe cause it’s Thanksgiving soon and so I just read a book about the Mayflower to K and it had historical interpreters in it dressed up like Pilgrims—awfully clean ones, though, I guess cause yeah, it is a kid’s book and showing everyone all pukey with their collars all browned would be gross and scary for children—and the main characters were child apprentices and I thought, mm, no childcare here, these kids are just THERE.  Soaking it all in.  I mean, I know they were probably maybe in reality not really enjoying the best crust of English life, but still.

And THIS all made me think of The Duggars, that Arkansas family with the nineteen kids.  Today the daughter in law announced she is expecting baby number two.  If you are unfamiliar with the mothering set, baby number two is a huge deal, and here she just announced it on TV and is very calm with it because the life she leads expects it.  If you are unfamiliar with the mothering set, then you do not know that  If you don’t want baby number two, there is the pressure you feel every time people look at the already pretty f n cool being you ALREADY are steering into the world, and say “will you have another one?”  That, or every time you say you are tired, people ask if you are pregnant with baby number two.  Or, if you know you’ve always wanted to pop out babies til Mother Nature says your time is through, there is the pressure of when and then how many more and then how do we pay for all these freakin’ kids and then what happened to my so called life anyway?

But here was this twenty two year old person very calm with the idea baby number two was on its way and you could knock her for it, but I know I can’t.

The Duggars are an obsession with me.  They do a lot of things I just don’t or won’t do.  They home school.  They don’t use birth control.   They don’t read conventional literature. They are evangelical  to the point where the girls don’t wear pants and the boys don’t wear shorts and they perm their long hair in that way people such as that seem to do. They are not just Republicans, but are pretty much the kind of right leaning set that wants to ensure as many white, their brand of Christian, non pant/permed out/no mainstreaming people populate the United States before other browner less Christian people do.  And it’s my understanding that they feel the other browner less Christian people are doing just that very quickly so they’d better get on it.  But this is hearsay, their website makes no mention of this non brown person thing.

I just can’t get enough of these people.  My sisters laugh at me.

At first it was the nutter factor.  One would like to believe anyone who does all the things listed above is a fruitcake with extra walnuts baked inside.  What woman would choose to get pregnant every year of her adult life?  I mean really.  If you only have one kid and you had a lovely pregnancy and your baby sleeps and you don’t even know what colic is and all your relatives are just the best babysitters and your boss said oh just take as much time as you need and I can just send these checks to your home address, right?  and your husband does dishes and laundry and wakes when the baby wakes and does not dress your kid in mismatched clothes when you are not looking and when you specifically grouped matching things together so your kid looks like she comes from a home cause you drive a Toyota, not a fancy car that people can look at and say oh they dress their kid like that cause rich people can pull off the mismatched thing AND you’ve already lost the weight, then don’t answer that. 

Over the years (yes, I have been watching them that long) I have realized a lot of what the Duggars believe is not that very far off from what I believe, when it comes to family.

That does not mean I do not think women should work outside the home or we should all start perming our hair.

What I realized is that like the Duggars, I would like to believe that there is something so special about children and family and parenthood, that the lines between all these things should not necessarily be easily defined.  When I watch Michelle Duggar, the mom, after she has had a baby, I am amazed at how regulated the addition to their family is.    Usually Michelle Duggar has the baby on one of those Brest Friend things you can use to breastfeed, with a modesty throw over her shoulder.  This woman who wears three layers of clothing in summer in Arkansas, is very forthcoming about the whole breastfeeding/new baby in the house thing.  And it makes me wonder.  It makes me think what if.  What if we did not have to compartmentalize ourselves in our workaday world.

Granted, I know I can’t take my kids to rehearsal.

I tried tonight and their voices were so loud, even as we sat outside the room, waiting for a break so I could check in, that I basically had to banish us, with my three year old stating “WHY?  MY VOICE IS NOT SO LOUD!”

And my fifteen month old growling at fever pitch at a picture of the college’s stuffed mascot from 18 something or other. 

As I tried to hightail it out of there (the assistant stage manager had come out and so yes, indeed, it really was loud) I dropped my daughter’s babydoll, all our coats, and the two cups of water I’d tried to keep them quiet with.

Not very graceful.

So despite my dismay over the Republican sweep, there is something to be learned from those Duggars, whom I am sure are not very excited about Obama, although they were mildly respectful of him when their reality show sent them all to Washington DC once.

Perhaps there is a Shangri La where I do not lie on parquet floor wishing my work life and home life met at less jagged angles.

Until then I can be seen dragging two kids, a babydoll, and many cups of water that did not work as they were intended from the rehearsal halls I hope to be asked to attend to in the future.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

3, 3 Buzz, Buzz

It is trendy, when writing a post about your kids, to refer to the age of your kid and refer to it in the third person and expound about how horrible this particular age is.

I have resisted writing these kinds of posts.

One, I don’t like the idea of being trendy.  I didn’t buy Crocs until this summer and even when I did, I bought the ballet flat looking kind, not the kind that make your feet look like some kind of modern art museum.  I don’t have an I phone or an I pad (okay, mostly cause I can not afford an I pad),nor do I download anything onto an I pod and listen to it while I “work out”.  I resist trends not because I am too cool (cause if you’ve met me, you know that isn’t true) but because it all just takes too much energy.

But I can no longer resist writing this post.

I have a three year old. 

And just in case you are listening 3, you are really getting on my nerves.

I love my daughter.

I am not a fan of three.

Sometimes my husband and I, as we pass each other while one takes out the garbage and the other is wiping someone’s dirty poopy butt, will quip, “don’t you just love this age?”  And the other will retort “I just LOVE this age!”  Then one of us laughs while the other, who is usually the one neck deep in 3! at that moment, usually does not.

3! came early to our house.

You know 3! 3! insists she can do it herself, then dissolves into tears because she “can’t do ANYTHING!”  3! Is very sweet at preschool.  While whining about needing to eat ice cream for breakfast and then asked if she speaks like this to her teachers at school, 3! looks genuinely horrified.  NO!  3! declares.  There’s no whining at school!  3! decides she is too stubborn to blow her nose, so walks around with snot literally bubbling out of her nose and acts as if you are Joan Crawford when you try to come at her with a Kleenex. 

Perhaps 3! is so challenging because you are out of the magical Black Forest that is babyhood and are now called on to really get in to the nitty gritty of socializing a person before she or he goes on to become a homicidal maniac.  Because we’ve all met kids who kinda hang out around 3! for too long.  Chances are one of your friends has one of those kinds of kids.  That’ll never be ME! You say when you watch your college friend who used to do a mean jello shot be reduced to pleading with her offspring to please put on his shoes or else Santa and the Easter Bunny and even Christopher Columbus will never ever come and bring presents again.  Who’s Christopher Columbus well just you keep this up and you’ll find out who Christopher Columbus is and just put on your freakin shoes because I said so that’s all you need to know!

What is exciting about 3! is that we are watching this tiny being become a person, with likes and dislikes, with preferences and strange aversions.

Our 3! has decided she will only wear skirts and dresses.  This means no pants, no jeans, no sleepers, no pajamas with bottoms (unless they have ruffles, but that is a whole other post entirely).  This also means no sneakers or shoes that are not ballet flats. Because, of course, those go with the skirts. 

Sometimes these skirt ensembles will be accompanied by a costume.  This could be a pair if fairy wings or, as was the case last week during grocery shopping, a fuzzy bee costume.  She sat in the car shaped cart wearing it.  If I was stopped a beat or two too long in an aisle, she would jump out (the safety belt was torn off.  Trust me, I tried to strap her in there) and yell “I’m buzzing, I’m buzzing, I gonna STING YOU!” 

One fellow customer found this delightful.  He was one of those fellow customers who comes in around the same time you do and you just can’t shake.  They’re with you near the lettuce, in front of the juices, beside the dairy case.  Usually I feel badly for those people, having to be subjected to my very loud grocery goings.  But this guy ate it up.  “There’s that BEE!”  “Oh, don’t sting us, BEE!”

But what often usurps the excitement of watching someone come into being, is the fact that 3! is often irrational, demanding, rude, and annoying.

“It’s hard because you’re socializing a person from scratch,” is what my mom has pointed out.  And unlike two years previous, when you’re just so charmed by anything the little darling does, you think to yourself, this could be the moment when it all goes down hill and I raise a brat.

And often, that is what 3! seems like.

Let me repeatL we love our daughter.

But 3! is kicking my ass.  3! Is stinging us over and over and it’s lucky she is so cute doing it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One Up, Two Down

We’ve all done it.  I know I have.  Maybe it is a byproduct of living in this computerized age, this tendency we have to cut down, rather than support or build up.

Nowhere does this prevail more than between mothers. It’s actually a bit frightening, even though I think most of the time it occurs the same way a ring of dirt appears during bath time.  It sneaks up on you and then it is there, in plain sight and offensive.

I belong to several mommy groups.  They each have their own hallmark of membership.  There’re my breastfeeding groups (yes, plural) and my born in 07 groups (again, plural), and my paranormal lover’s group and my mother’s to boys group and my “mixed” babies group and my c section mama and proud of it group…the list really does go on and on. And on.  And with the exception of one group (it knows who it is), what all these groups have in common is the way the moms in each have the uncanny ability to go right for the jugular.

“What is it with these MOMS”?  My sister often asks.  “Why are they like this?”

For these mamas are far removed from the warm and gentle milk and cookie toting June Cleaver types.   They are more likely to call you a dirty ho bag than invite you in for sanka and a shared smoke.  Perhaps this is the best case for persistent feminist thought to pervade our culture further: rather than advocate for the blending of the domestic sphere—which has always been considered to be feminine and therefore the “logical” place in which women should exist—with the dominant and male centered public sphere of the workplace, perhaps we should admit that that gentler, warmer, domesticated space that we expect should be filled with gentle waves and soft pastels—you know, like on those old feminine hygiene commercials—is as biting and about as nurturing as a tank full of piranhas.

Maybe we should rejoice that the stereotype has been shattered.  After all, mommies are people too.  Who just happen to be female and can’t all happen to be nice, or in command of a sense of humor.  But to be honest, a lot of what I see on these mother boards horrifies me just as much as it does my sister.

Part of this relates to this book I read for one of my mom’s book clubs (yeah, I belong to a mom book club, wanna make somethin’ of it?) called THE MASK OF MOTHERHOOD.  Basically the premise is that as mothers (or, parents, too) we hide behind a mask.  A large, community condoned mask of “isn’t this WONDERFUL?  I LOVE being a mommy SO much, ALL the time every MINUTE, to be precise, because every second is so fulFILLING and REWARDING! And to admit anything else would be saying I do not love my family or my baby or myself, because really I was MADE to do this, if you don’t feel this way the moment you find out you are about to be a mommy and stay this way through every moment of your baby’s childhood, then, well, I feel sorry for you because there is something wrong with you and by the way my baby sleeps twelve hours a night and eats very well and never cries and is hardly ever sick because well that would mean I am a bad mommy, letting germs get to my precious lovely, and that is not me at all, that is not me at all because I am a very good mommy.  I am a very very very good mommy.  All the time.  This is exactly how I knew it all would be, my partner helps whenever I ask and my mother in law says all the right things because she knows, she knows how good at this I am, and I have no second thoughts about anything because I am a good mommy, right?  Anyone?  Still listening?  To me?”

And perhaps the people at Hallmark are still listening because they need inspiration for their overpriced greeting cards, but by that point in the mommy game, the only other people still listening are parents who also have marshmallow sweetness coursing through their veins.

Because to admit to the confusion and chaos and sleep deprivation that is parenthood during the early months and years, is to admit, somehow, that something has gone wrong with you.  To vent about it is akin to admission that you really feel you should have left your children in some Baby Safe Haven drawer like the grotesque parent you are.

Because what often happens when we as parents participate in the one-up-manship that is often at the core of our playground and dance class interactions, is a swift and sure dismantling of affirming that the person who has just admitted their baby only eats chicken nuggets or only sleeps two hours at a time or still wears diapers…at 4! is able to be, has within them, the ability and tenacity and determination to be a kick ass amazing parent, even if her kid still craps himself, can’t self soothe to sleep, and has the eating habits of a person with a severe and acute eating disorder.

And that is what a simple “I am so sorry” does.  It affirms.  It whispers that you are not the freak of the natural world who does not know how to parent.  (And modern parenting is, actually, a learned behavior that changes and changes and changes, even when we’re doing it right). 

A few months ago a friend* whose oldest daughter is on “the spectrum” updated her status on Facebook at that desperate hour of four AM.  “Four hours of sleep,” it read, “Jessie up all hours and the other two due up soon.”  Obviously, this is a terrifying status update.  She is more of an acquaintance so I did not recognize her other so-called friends, but the long list of mommy admonishments in the comments boxes made me cry.  And made me get very angry.  I am a know it all, so the how to posts were understandable.  It was the posts that basically said this night from hell was somehow all my friend’s fault and that she should suck it up that got me hopping.  Within them was the sentiment that if she did not glory in the splendor of parenthood when she was shaky with fatigue that she was somehow spitting on the blessings she had been given.

And they are blessings. 

But somehow it seems a “friend”, and certainly another mother, could maybe cut the girl some slack and just say “It will get better”.  As opposed to: “Oh, I don’t have that problem, Micah sleeps through the night!” Which translates into: I am better than you at this parenting thing, sorry you are such a sap and in need of so much couples counseling that you can’t rouse your husband up to deal with you.  Which is often a cover for, now that you mention it, just last week three of mine were in my bed all night and for the life of me I couldn’t get them out, they were all over me and my husband who just slept through the whole thing, like those bed bugs the hotels can’t get rid of, so they’re at my mom’s for the weekend because there is something growing in my fridge I need to bleach out and I can never do it cause I am just too tired all.the.time.

I’ve done, we’ve all done it, that one up man ship.  But when I can jump out of the piranha tank for minute and remember we’re all human, I  hope I always do that instead.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Twitterpated On Nantucket, or Perfect for Halloween

One date I would like to go on with my husband is the Boston Ghost Tour.  There are several but the one we’ve picked out is the one where, in the promotional brochure, there is a goulish looking woman holding a small deformed baby, perhaps? That looks as though it has been borrowed from the Mutter Museum for this photo shoot and costumed by some goth kids.  The guides for this particular tour make up their own characters.  Their costumes are not so much period as passably olden days looking.  For this tour you hop on a bus and they take you around to haunted places in Boston and aside from the cost being the same as outfitting our kids for boots and winter jackets, the reason we probably will not go on this ghost tour is because ghost tours and me have a past, a past that is not very pretty.

I went on my first ghost tour on Nantucket.  Ron and I had been together a year, but he lived in Boston and I was in school in Iowa, so our relationship had the excited, frenzied feeling of a couple enjoying a soldier’s shore leave together (minus, of course, service in the armed forces).  I was never in classes when we were dating, so dating was really that:  dinners at the Top of the Hub, weekends in Rockport, sangria by candlelight accompanied by tapas our future kids would spit out and declare “BESCUSTING!”  It is safe to say we were, in the word of that Owl from Bambi as he discussed true love, “Twitterpated!”

But after a year of dating, my husband had not seen many of my neuroses in full force.  I have quite a bit.  Quirks, really.  I’ve grown to embrace them cause I’m not about to let them go any time soon.

One such eccentricity is my fascination with ghosts and scary things.  I kid you not, I’ve spent many a night awake while at writers retreats or in workshops, wondering what might get me when the lights went out.  My blood actually ran cold when Lloyd Richards told us, during my first time at the O’Neill Theatre Center’s New Play Conference, that there’d been a sighting the night before and for all of us to respect the ghosts, that this was their home and we were their visitors.  I was not warmed when during my next visit, a year later, I was housed on the very hall where Lloyd Richards had said the ghost had been seen.  I was not warmed but I was not surprised because it seems many development programs like to house writers in creepy places.  I remember being accepted to one program and the literary manager saying “OH! And you will love where you’ll be staying.   A lovely old hotel we’ve got here in town.  Maybe the ghosts will inspire you!”  But actually, the thought of ghosts really just made me need to pee my pants.

So perhaps my affectation with this subject is a way to tame the beastly imagination within.

At any rate, when on Nantucket, I thought it might be FUN! to go on a ghost tour with Ron.  I don’t know why.  I should have known better.

Our tour guide took ghosts very seriously.

There were many children on the tour because it was us, a few other couples, and a large family group who also thought a ghost tour might be FUN! during their family reunion.

The kids tuned our guide out, though, when he told the story of a sighting on the street where we stood, and asked us how we thought this could be, how could someone dressed in old fashioned garb not be a ghost, did we think? 

“She was an actor in a play?” one little girl offered.


“Maybe she just got dressed up in a costume from another play.  From before,” ventured another kid.

Our tour guide leveled his eyes on this kid and said “There were not any plays that day or any other day. It was: A GHOST!”

Then he proceeded to recount Einstein’s theory of relativity and  ruminations about bands of time and alternate spatial and spiritual planes—the kind of stuff my mom says “well if you explained this weird thing you have with  ghosts like that, honey, it doesn’t seem AS crazy, then it’s SCIENCE.”

He lost the kids after his conspiracy theory-can-we-play-World Of Warcraft-at-your-house-cause-I-still-live-with-my-mother tact, and come dark those kids spent the rest of the tour shining their family reunion emblazoned laser lights in his beady ghost loving eyes.

The tour criss-crossed the commercial sections of the island.  Nantucket is one ghosty place.  It’s the sea, the ghost books I read about it explained.  Or perhaps it is “something else” the tour guide intoned.  Whatever the hell it was, I spent the rest of the week scared out of my ever-loving mind.  I kept vigil for orbs of green and blue light.  I tried drinking more than anyone else in our cottage, hoping I’d just pass out and not notice if, while sleeping, any ghosts would come around and try to wake me up—one ghost we learned about liked to have sex with people in the middle of the night.  This would prove very embarrassing since Ron and I were sleeping in the middle of the living room.  Passing out from too much gin and tonic began, with so little sleep in my system, to seem like a logical way to combat this problem.  But, as I learned on that trip, Ron’s friends, with whom we were on vacation, can drink more than me any day of the week and this was not a good or viable plan.  In the day I scanned the beaches and streets for apparitions.  At night I lay next to Ron, poking him every twenty minutes or so, asking if he was awake and had he “heard anything?”

These were also my pre mommy days, where I had the habit of peeing every two or three hours at night.   In my post ghost tour haze I would seriously weigh the idea of making Ron get up with me to go to the bathroom, in case any ghosts were in there near the toilet or waiting to catch my gaze in the mirror when I washed my hands.  They like mirrors, those ghosts.  But it was a week of hard partying, and many of those nights Ron just snored off his Knob Creek loudly beside me, as I scanned the cottage and wished the owners had invested in larger drapes for the sliding glass doors, where I was certain I could make out figures out on the porch.

By Friday I was a basket case, if my condition earlier in the week had not already deemed me so.

I spent our last night sitting up in bed, watching the local cable Nantucket access channel, wondering how the ghosts felt about the TV coverage.  I thought of the nun ghost I’d read about, who would appear on the stairs of one young girls’ home when she was too late coming in from dates.  I thought about the rum runner ghosts I’d read about, who apparently hang out at Nantucket’s Chicken Coop, running barrels of rum underneath people’s cars in the parking lot.  I thought of the little black girl who wanted to go to school, but instead got pelted to death and now the school house –on NANTUCKET! and home to the Black Heritage Trail People [my name for them, my sisters were Park Rangers for them]—is witness to the sound of chalk writing against a blackboard and stones hitting walls.   These stories are not to be confused with sightings of orbs and strange lights, which often have people calling in to the Nantucket police station, so said our guide.

Around four in the morning, Ron told me I had to go to sleep, since we were leaving on a very early Ferry back to Hyannis.  Reluctantly and against my better judgment, I closed one eye and lay back.  For better or for worse, Ron was in twitterpation with a girl who was obsessed with ghosts.  And for some inexplicable reason, he did not run away.

Ron does not believe.  He listens to my stories, all my ghost stories, waits a beat, and then says, “Kirsten, that’s just ridiculous.”

And yet I’ve watched his eyes when I rattle off my latest tale.  He always waits that beat before he speaks; because some little part of us always believes, if only for minute, if only for a second.  It’s a tiny little pull in your stomach.  It’s that little catch of light in the corner of your eye.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

And What Village Are You From Again?

It has been a very long week.  Rewarding and exciting but very, very long.  Sunday we packed up and headed to the land of Packies (known as liquor stores in other states)  and Huskies (go UConn!) so I could start rehearsals for a new play.  Once there I promptly left for a one day reading process in Philadelphia (land of the “pay six dollars to get into our city by car”).  The whole six days has left my kids hella crazy.  Which I completely understand.  So while my husband and I know we can’t let them be nutters (meaning, whiny, demanding, freak of nature children, you know, the kind that fill up Chuck E. Cheese’s) just because mommy has to work, we’ve cut them a little bit of slack this week.  Just a little bit.  We ain’t goin’ soft up in here.  There’s till been plenty of time outs doled around, even for Mr. Huggy Bear, aka Hunter-man (30 seconds tops for the little guy.  I know. I am a mean mean mommy).

So when we rolled back in to town this afternoon, I was determined to make the hours between lunch and bedtime “easy” for them.  I did not insist everyone “just try” his or her lunch.  Just one spoon of yogurt, hun?  Oh SURE!  No PROBLEM!  Waste away on the toddler diet, I have absolutely no misgivings about that in the least.  Not wear a sweater under your coat?  Oh CERTAINLY!  No PROBLEM!  I will just put four extra fucking sweaters in the already stuffed to the gills diaper bag and happily lug it all over the place.  Play “your music” in the car?  Oh FanTAStic!  I love Laurie Berkner so much, it’s my pleasure to play this freakin CD over and over and over after having listened to it in the car all the way back from Yale.  LOVEly!

My Stepford mom approach included a trip to the playground, despite my wanting to start the ten loads of laundry that is waiting for me or make a dinner with spices other than the four I bought for our Yale apartment.  Two of those are just salt and pepper, so you can imagine it was a pretty bland week for the Nigros. 

We went to the Davis Square Park, my new park of choice.  It’s got that rubber ground that makes the whole operation seem safer, although truth be told Katia has wiped out almost every time we’ve been there.  It also has a nice offering of sand, but not too much.  Don’t get me started on sand and parks.  You’d never know I adored that combo as a kid to hear me lament about them now.  But now all I think about is: how dirty can they get and how long will it take me to get their skin and their clothes and their shoes clean enough so they don’t look like they don’t have a home?

Once there I scoped out the other parents.  Despite all the mother’s groups you can join (online, offline, at the Y, at Isis, with people you’ve known for years, with people with whom all you share is that you happened to get it on in the same week a year and a half ago and now are linked cause your kids are the same age) motherhood can be a lonely experience.  So I usually look around to size up the other parents and see who might be willing to talk to me.  Desperate, perhaps, but until you have stared down the next six hours of your life and realized you will not utter words to anyone with an emotional vocabulary that does not resemble that of a mental patient (not the Hollywood kind but the 48 hour hold I guess I need a new roommate kind), don’t knock it.

At first it was slim pickings.  A mom and her toddler and two grandmas:  anyone could see this new mom had her hands full, negotiating between a one year old, her own mom, and her partner’s mom.  Maybe this is an ideal Saturday afternoon in the magical land of in law love, but from the weary way they were all just sitting there, I guessed perhaps not so much.

Then there was a dad and his three kids, the third of which took forever to coax out of the Dodge Caravan.  “Fine, you stay in there if you’re going to whine like that”, and magically a little four-year-old head popped out from the recesses of the last van seat.  The dad carried an official looking binder and proceeded to read from it for the rest of their time at the park.  Katia immediately took a liking to the kids, but the dad was a no go.  My guess was either his wife made him leave the house so she could clean or knock back some pre supper margaritas, or this Saturday afternoon of fun was part of his custody agreement. 

I kept looking.

Next was a mom whose darlings were the same ages as mine, roughly: a preschool seeming daughter and a baby son.  But she was the type of mom I probably would avoid if in my right mind.  She wore a long skirt, very large wide brimmed hat, and booties.  Not the type Kim Kardashian would wear, but the kind my sixth grade teacher would have worn:  quilted looking and mud brown and possibly made by Isotoner.  I will admit I was intrigued.  And later when we did get to talking, I found her to be very very nice and also very very funny (“Duncan!  My, my, my you are very aromatic!”  she exclaimed just before she had to strip the poor kid from the waist down and use half her supply of baby wipes on his butt).  While at first peek it would seem she might be a holier than thou mommy, ready to pounce on my disposable diapers and prepackaged non organic snack raisins, I was proven wrong when she pulled out a huge bottle of coke and downed it in large meaningful swigs.  We were also similar in our choice of generic baby products and the way we both narrate everything—kinda a bit too loudly—so that both kids have a clue as to what the hell is going on and not have one of those toddler style panic attack shriek fits.  But a mommy with two kids who are not yet four is a distracted mommy, so our conversation went something like this:

“How old is yours oh come back honey, okay, mommy—.  Sorry…”

“…Oh, no worries…”

“…Is she three?  Oh!  Akk.  Come back sweetie—.  Sorry…”

“…Two years and two months apart.  I’m so tired all the come back, come back please—.  He’s a quick one.  Sorry…”

After about an hour of my Stepford mom park experience, I was ready to pack it up and head to Foodmaster so we could have that more than four spice dinner.

This of course entailed leaving the park.

Which takes a certain amount of finessing, unless you have Stepford children, but those are sold separately from the Stepford mom model.

To leave the park with most children you must first give “the warning”.  This includes a time limit.  It can’t be too long, because the non Stepford kids have no idea what the hell time it is.  And it must be exact, because the non Stepford kids will never have any chance of learning about time if five minutes turns into thirty while you discuss babysitters with the new parent who just walked in the playground gate.

I usually dole out a five minute, a minute, and a thirty second.  I make sure I make eye contact so Miss Lovey knows I know she heard me.

This afternoon my five minute, during which I mentioned Foodmaster and STEAK!, was met with “But that’s BORING!” from the divorcee’s oldest, who had befriend KK during a game of tag.  “I know.  It’s very boring.  But we have to eat!”  I had the Stepford going on Go-OOD!

“Got that, Katia Kai?”  I chirped.

No answer.


She reached into her pocket and placed her sunglasses on the ground.  Which was distressing.  As this is a gesture you do when you are planning to STAY in a place, not merrily follow your mother to Foodmaster to buy STEAK! and whatever else your mom will bribe you with to make the night remain in the cheerful category. 

“Did you hear me?  Katia?  KK!  Lovey?”


“You heard me?”



“I heard you.”

“Good.  You know, how about I hold your sunglasses for you?  Okay?  Off the ground?”





And as I stepped out of the playhouse where she and her new friends were cooking pails of sand, she said, in a rather chipper ring “Can you take my glasses?”  It was a sweet request.  Not the demanding parentally demeaning growl of the THREE year old that makes my husband and I feel like we are raising a brat and keeps me in particular up at night doing google searches about normal preschool behavior and then slinking to bed sadly when it seems this IS normal preschool behavior and the only way to deal is with limits and boundaries and consistency and set bedtimes and set meal times and and and all those things we all do but still at the end of the day, have THREE! to contend with in a way that makes you very very sleepy.

But while I was basking in the sweetness, someone else was decidedly not.

I’d noticed him a bit earlier. 

He looked a little ridiculous.

He wore a felt semi cowboy/semi Indiana Jones hat and kick ass beer guzzling boots but since he was in a playground, it just looked like this was an outfit he did not get to wear much because now he was a dad and could only go out in the daytime like the rest of us, and yet still he wore it anyway.

His own kid could not yet walk.  Maybe he had more kids at home.  Maybe he felt he knew how to commandeer THREE!  Or maybe he’d just read so many parenting books and websites that he felt he could utter what he did, despite probably not even having to really child proof his house yet because his kid was still a BABY!

“Say PLEASE!” he said to Katia, and I immediately smirked and thought, you are an asshole.

I took the glasses and said “Thanks very much, lu lu.”

Uber-parent looked up at me (cause, you know, he had to hold his kid in the upright position cause um SHE is still a BABY! and so was on the rubber ground) and smiled.

Which is when I felt a torrent of emotion.  You don’t tell my kid to say PLEASE!  I I  tell my kid to say please.  And after a week of crazy bed times and pizza two days in a row those first days which is a sign things are wonky cause mommy did not cook and hours upon hours of no mommy and not being able to see her beloved Albie at school, a sweet non please prefaced request when I am about to yank her from the one spot of bright fun she’s had all day works just fine for our family, Mr. my kid still uses a bottle and I have not given one time out in my entire life yet.  I don’t live in your village, you do not get to discipline my kid.

This torrent of emotion surprised me.

I like to think I might do well living in some communal housing situation.  I’ve even looked into it.  My husband and I were thinking, since we don’t belong to a church and dropping two kids off at a friend’s, even one that offers, seems intrusive, that living in a co op might be um nice…?  But the ones in Cambridge have pictures of these shared dinners on their websites and my husband and I agree there’s only so many gluten free  vegan no nuts no meat no dairy free rangey Sunday dinners one should eat in a life time if one enjoys bread and nuts and meat and dairy in an almost obscene way normally.

But after this afternoon I am realizing I don’t think I could handle having someone in my shit in terms of child rearing.

And I agree, years ago when all the neighborhood parents had license to tell you which way was up, there was more community accountability.  I remember making a disparaging remark about the housing project next to my private school—something like how that was why we had plastic windows at our school, because of the poor people next door, and my friend’s mother saying “So!  Those people are just as good as anyone else!”  I will never forget it and she was right and I am thankful for it.  My snotty little eleven year old self needed that and right quick.

But my friend’s mother knew me.  My friend’s mother had respect for me and my family.

In the car on the way to Foodmaster I thought about it. 

Cause what this guy lacked was knowledge of our context. And to be fair, I was not very open to learning more about his context, either.

Perhaps this guy just saw another newish parent and thought, oh, we’re in the same boat, we live in the same area, we have similar values and so I will tell her kid how to ask her mother to do something for her.


Or, maybe, this guy saw a youngish looking mom with two kids she is narrating to like a crazy person, and thought, she needs help disciplining her child, I can be that help!  (It’s that you look so small and like maybe a teenage mom or something and that’s why people want to help you, my sister Kaitlyn has said to me more than once.  But if I am so small how come my size fours won’t fit any more, I’d like to know).

So I look like a teenage knock up in need of parenting classes as opposed to a mother of two kids under four, maybe.


Or, what if this person is just as judgmental as I can be, and went about assigning his own context to the situation.  Youngish looking mom (he can’t see the grey, but it is there, lemme tell ya), two kids close in age, black, kinda, cause the daughter seems not but her hair really is, so black but maybe white, too, and that little girl is pretty, and she can’t get away with treating people like this just because she is a cute kid, and maybe this cat thought, hmm, it is up to me to instill what I know on to this family because I know what is best for this family even though I never met this family.

And a torrent of emotion flooded through me because I do not know what exactly was behind this moment.  It was probably harmless from his point of view, but I do know it felt wrong.  It did not feel like a warm village hand was patting my daughter’s forehead while gently showing her another, kinder way to be in this world.  It felt like a yahoo was denting the easy afternoon we were having because I had to drag my kids to another state so I can work and finally I was saying “just BE. We’re back home and you can just BE, for a minute, before I start in on the Pleases and the Stop that’s, and the this is your warning 1, 2, THANK YOU!  GOOD JOB oh don’t oh okay oh this is your warn--.  GOOD JOB. I LOVE YOU.”

‘Cause I don’t think that guy loves my kid.

Maybe it was the way he said what he did but maybe it was also the way he stared, smug, as I buckled my screaming kids into my double-wide. After the thirty second was issued.  See.  Those kids ARE bad.  She should say please.  I pictured him at dinner, his baby girl quietly eating mashed something the way serene only baby children do.  Happily.  Eagerly.  Not the chaos that descends when there is more than one and both are toddlers and want to run away.  “You should have seen it honey there was this mom at the park and her kid, well I told her to say please, Bethie’s not gonna behave like that.  Kids have to learn.  I told her to say—“

And I’ve been there, I’ve told Ron how some kid at dance class was a real stinker and no way were we gonna raise a jerk like that.

But it still does not feel right, that interlude in the playhouse on the rubber ground.

Cause I don’t think that we live in the same village.

I don’t think that guy loves my kid.