Monday, February 27, 2012

Bad Mom

Everyday there are a dozen or so things that make me feel like I’m a bad mom. At the pediatrician last week, after Lennon’s exam, he lay there on the rather large examining table shaped like a fire truck as I discussed next steps with the doctor. The bed was deep and wide and pushed against the wall. Lennon was in the middle of it and I stood about two feet away trying to understand what the doctor was telling me. Our pediatrician has only slightly more English than I have German so these appointments are always a full immersion language lesson for mommy and more than a little stressful. As we chatted, a nurse practitioner entered the room and went straight to Lennon. She began by playing with his toes and then tried bringing him to sitting. I knew what she was doing because, while I was speaking with the doctor, I had one eye on my child, as all Good Moms would. As the nurse attempted to pick Lennon up, he began to cry.

“Sehr müde,” I said to her referring to Lennon, which I understand to mean “very tired” from my developing German vocabulary.

As I went in for the rescue, she handed him to me with a look of concern and said something to me that I didn’t understand. The doctor then gave us the signal that all was well and we could go on about our day. Out in the waiting room gathering all of our things, I replayed the session in my mind, as I often do in foreign language situations, correcting my German post mortem. When I came to the bit about the nurse practitioner, it occurred to me that maybe what she was saying as Lennon was being handed over was that I was negligent: My son was on the big red table unattended. Perhaps that’s why she went to him in the first place. I was so preoccupied with understanding the German doctor that I neglected to monitor the goings on of my near six month old who could easily surprise us all and roll of the table. I consoled myself with the reminder that I have keen mommy instinct and at two feet away I can tell the next move my child will make. I’m also tuneful of his temperament and rolling is not customarily an option when a nap is in order, as it was this midmorning. But I suppose a good mom would never take chances such as these and would instead remain directly by the big red table, arms splayed, ready for the next milestone of danger. I felt a little sick as we left and I began cycling through all the other ways I was coming up short. I thought I’d been Good but maybe today I’d been a Bad Mom. Then I wondered: Did that really happen? Maybe the look the nurse gave me was apologetic for having made my baby cry. Maybe she said something like “I tried playing with him but he wasn’t into it. So sorry!” Maybe I am so hyper sensitive about my inadequacies at this job that I assume I’m always a step away from catastrophe and the judgment of far more experienced professionals.

It’s a bit of a transition time in Lennon and my relationship. When he was first born, he needed me twenty-four hours a day between feeding, sleeping, and changing. Even though we still sleep with him in our bed, he’s much more independent during the day. I take advantage of that independence. Several times a day I get out of his hair, let him play, and do housework, sew, or write this blog. Later that time will be spent working on my PhD. I wonder if a Good Mom plays with their baby full-time, save the occasional break to eat or go to the bathroom? I don’t live in Downtown Abbey so I have to tend to the cleaning and cooking myself, at least until my husband comes home. As I said, though, I do more than just the maintenance of life: I also enjoy activities that enhance it, frivolous stuff for fun. I know I feel recharged after I complete something solely for me, like a blog post or a braided rug. It’s important that Lennon has an enthusiastic and energetic mom. This has been fortified by new studies on the dangers of over-parenting and the importance of independent playtime. Still, I find it impossible on a day-to-day basis to determine if I’m doing it all correctly, if I’m a Good Mom. I usually let instinct be my guide, but as I found out in the doctor’s office, insecurity and the German language sometimes swoop in to mess up my game. When I relayed the nurse practitioner incident to Nicholas, he assured me that I’d committed no foul play. Looking back with time to reflect, regardless of what her German words translated to, I knew that my child was safe on that big red table. Good Mom.

Nonetheless, Mom Confidence for me is a struggle. I’m new here. As a new mom, I found the post following by Josette Crosby Plank comforting. You may be able to relate to this particularly if you’ve read anything about Pamela Druckerman’s new book, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. It’s funny because it’s true:

French Parents are Superior—Just Like All Other Parents

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Psalm

I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The astonishing light of your own being.

One morning last week, I looked at my baby boy and silently declared that were I to have only one year to live, there is no where I would rather be than here with my family, doing just this, being my husband’s wife and raising my son, savoring every single second, not missing one drop of love and magnificence. My bucket list is very short. Talk can be cheap, but on that morning, I more than just said this, I really felt it deep in my heart, how truly and miraculously beautiful my family is. I bathed in happy and lucky and blessed.

I mostly spend too much time in longing. I think I abuse longing. I long away for ‘more’ or ‘other’ instead of enjoying ‘have’ and ‘mine.’ That morning, though, my longings had nothing on me and all that was left was a ridiculous amount of love. It was holy. I did in fact ‘seize’ that moment, if not the whole day. Not to boast of my wealth, but I know that I am living amongst intense gorgeousness and I am beholden to recognize it, whether I die in a year or in fifty. Incidentally, I later told Nicholas about this and he asked that I not mention anything of it further as I was strictly forbidden to partake in such activities as ‘having only one year to live’ or ‘dying.’

Maybe it’s Lennon having been sick last week, a never-ending lack of sleep, or general Mama hormones that have made me so maudlin lately, but I’m still gushing. My little family is so wonderful that I’m nearly jealous of myself. All I want to do is to stay as healthy as I can so I can be with them for as many years as nature will allow. Sometimes when I’m in bed and I’m watching Nicholas and Lennon sleep, I try to imprint them into my hands, onto my eyes, and commit their scent to memory so when I’m too old to remember anything else, these will remain.

Before Lennon was born, I had a dream about him as a young man in his twenties. He sat next to me and put his arm around my shoulder. He was much taller than I and I leaned into him and rested my head on his chest. Lovely, sweet, magical. God, please let that dream come true.

Information on quote found here.
Photo Credit: Humboldthain Park, Berlin, Amy Cole Farrell, 2011

Monday, February 13, 2012

Looks Like We Made It: A Braided Rug Pictorial

Nearly everyone I know in Berlin furnishes their home with fixins’ from Ikea. We do the same but we work really hard at making it look like it’s all been pieced together from more interesting places. One of the ways I contribute to this is by making stuff to accent our Ikea swag. An area of our home that’s been bothering me recently is under foot. We’ve purchased more than several rectangular cotton area rugs from Ikea because A) you can machine wash them, and B) they were inexpensive, the smallest of them costing just €1.99. As other areas of our home have a more ‘cottage’ than an ‘inner city apartment’ vibe, those rugs stand out looking strictly utilitarian and decidedly Ikea.

Remedy: Last week, I decided to try my hand at making a braided rug. These rugs remind me of ones my parents had in the 1970s when my mother was going for an “Early Americana” decorating scheme. I enjoy more than my share of Early Americana and thought this look would be fab in our inner city cottage. Finding some tutorials online and in books, I discovered the best rugs can be made from scraps of fabric and old linens, giving them their common name, ‘rag rugs.’ This speaks to my inner recycler and budget minded crafter. There are few things more satisfying than making super cool things out of forgotten or discarded materials, no? To top it off, I was able to use one of those €1.99 Ikea rugs as a backing for my braided rug. Waste not want not, I always say.

The following is not intended to be a complete tutorial. The tutorial I took the most advantage of can be found here. While its narrative is a little confused, the pictures are clear and directive. I plan on making a larger braided rug for my living room at some point and will use Amanda Soule’s lovely tutorial from her book Handmade Home. Soule’s tutorial is more earnest and involves ironing the strips of fabric and hand sewing the braids with a carpet needle—things I didn’t want to mess with my first time out.

Note: My finished product has more of a ‘rag’ profile than the tidy, glamorous rug in the 'Beeline Fashions' photo above. I’ll take the extra time when making the larger one in my living room per Mrs. Soule’s instructions.

The tutorial I followed had used old sheets. I found these three cotton duvet covers at a second hand shop for €1.50 each! Using pinking shears, I cut the fabric into strips about two inches in width, eyeballing the measurement. The length of each strip was inconsequential.

I wrapped all the strips around one another to form these awesome spheres, really end products in and of themselves.

I took a strip or strand from each of the three spheres and stitched one of their ends together. Safety pinning the stitched end to my ottoman (or any soft furniture) so I would have something to pull against, I began a basic three strand braid, like one does with hair. When I came to the end of a strand, I cut a small slit into each adjoining strand and threaded them together—this step is explained in more detail in the online tutorial I reference above. Cautionary Tale: As much as I wanted to join several strips together at once to make them longer so I wouldn’t need to continually stop braiding, I found it more annoying and time consuming to manage the longer strips while weaving.

I spiraled my braid atop my Ikea rug and sewed the edges together with a zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine.

Next step was to cut off the excess Ikea rug and sew the end strands beneath.

Voila! This little oval rug (or slightly bean shaped rug?) will live in front of my son’s changing table, which happens to be in our hallway. My fabric strip spheres are still plentifully round and I plan on making a circular version for his play area.

Beeline Fashion photo source can be found here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Motherhood Matters

Throughout my pregnancy, I imagined having time on my hands while raising my baby. I’d get stuff done while he napped. “What was the big deal about breastfeeding?” I thought, “Surely I could work on other things while he nurses. I could do sit-down things like reading, or computer stuff, or sewing.” I saw how busy my sister was with her newborn but I was sure that wouldn’t be me. I had spent years multi-tasking, running a theatre company, working a day job. The only thing on my plate now was being a full-time mother. The hardest part would be figuring out how to spend all the extra time I’d have—“but, wait,” I thought, “I’ll have my PhD work, that’ll make it so I’m not so bored during the down times.”

Oh, Hubris, why you gotta play me like that?

The other day as I went through the daily emotional roller coaster of ‘tearfully joyful’ to ‘dream-crushingly overwhelmed,’ struggling to get things done around the house while trying to be singularly present for this incredible new person, I had a horrific self-realization:

I’ve spent most of my life under-estimating and under-valuing the work of child rearing—It’s no wonder I have a less than enthusiastic attitude toward it.

I have an incredible friend with a large brood of wonderful children. She has been raising them as a stay-at-home Mother for the past thirteen years. For her, I’ve only ever had words of admiration and awe for the countless hours of self-sacrifice, love, and energy she’s given to her work. I’ve agreed with her that she is doing the most Important job on earth. But looking back, I didn’t really believe that. I used to believe the Important work was that of Art and Commerce and Medicine and World Peace. Humbled by the firsthand experience of being a Mother, I’ve finally caught on that good Mothering is the foundation upon which Art and Commerce and Medicine and World Peace stand. I reckon that anyone who’s ever had a spouse, a boss, a partner, a co-worker, a friend, or an appointment at the DMV will testify to the unparalleled Importance of a Mother’s work.

Acknowledging that I’d spent so much of my life believing anything otherwise was a first step in adjusting my perspective. I’m working on letting go now of the subtle resistance I’ve had toward this matter-ful work. I relish the beauty, the play, and the blessedness of mommy-hood, but I’ve been shamefully guilty of sighing through the burdensome bits, wishing I could be doing something more Important (as if that existed.) I’m now interested in approaching parenthood as a holistic, dynamic thing and managing the burdensome moments as I would those in any Important project that I love and want to see flourish:

By cherishing the Process.

Just today, I looked down at my five-month-old son, naked on the changing table, and wondered how soon I could start potty training him. He looked back at me with the most beautifully open smile I have ever seen and a magical voice from the purest place in my heart asked, “What’s your hurry?”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Stage Fright, Part II: {J}oy

“You just have to not care,” she said.

Callous words? Maybe, but they are true and helpful. After an entire year and a half of grad school, performing nearly every day and night, I was still nearly paralyzed with fear that one of those times the words that I had rigorously and thoughtfully memorized wouldn’t be there for me. I only found happiness after a performance, after the show had closed, knowing I was done for the time being with my pre-performance ritual of repeating every line in one long, frantic monologue over and over until it was my time to enter the stage. Not that that it ever helped my jitters, as you know.

The idea that I could simply not care about what I was presenting was absurd. These people paid money to see my very best and how dare I not deliver on that promise. Maybe she meant that I shouldn’t care about Failure, which I think is different than caring if a thing is good. Being human and working in a dynamic, live medium, there are a thousand unforeseen things that can cause the best-laid plans of mice and men to fail. If they should…so what? I am terrified of Failure, but let me attempt some reason: If I put forth my best effort, I am delivering quality, even if a well rehearsed line is forgotten along the way. If only logic could cure me.

Before the Traumatic Terrible I didn’t care about Failure. I didn’t take myself so seriously as I do now. Before, theatre was just my passion. Now it’s become my life’s Work. It’s not just about me doing something I enjoy; it’s now a thing I bring forth to the world. It’s heavy, Man. That bulk, that effort—it burdens what should be a free-flowing expression. Calling it my life’s WORK really is telling, no? That word is filled with drudge and toil and tiresome must-dos. I’m getting rid of that word. I really hate it now. Work is ironing dress shirts, filing taxes, putting on a duvet cover, moving house. I’m involved in artsy stuff. There must be a more inspiring word for what I do. By the way, I’m not touching on what we all know about art—that it takes skill and practice to honor its creation and that does take Hard Work indeed. This is not what I’m negating here. Once one has achieved a level of expertise, however, Joy must come in to play.

In talking about the first solo piece I’d created in grad school, I told my colleagues what a joyful experience it had been.

“I mean, making theatre is always joyful,” I explained, “but the ‘J’ is usually silent.”

This was the first time a piece had been fully imagined, built, and realized by me alone and with what I was experiencing in that moment of my life, however messy. I brought my expertise to my Joy and the process became effortless. That’s what I want to harness. That’s what will help me replace the word Work.

But how is all of this a solution to the moments where I’m standing backstage cycling through lines like an automaton? How does it make me love being on stage? I suppose I could only create theatre pieces that are text free.

(Incidentally, the solo piece I refer to above had no text, save some letters I read on stage. There were no lines to memorize and then remember. Brought me Joy, that.)

Not caring, not Working, and involving Joy are about the best possible words of advice I can offer myself regarding this problem. The trick is to get them out of my headspace and into the nerve center of my body. I need to live them to make them real. I reckon this means I’ll need to make and do, be messy and fail, in order for this to happen. Until then, I remain stuck in Part II of the saga. I’m hoping to get to Part III over the course of my PhD. What worries me most about where I am at the moment is the concern that my fear is coloring my decisions as an artist. More and more I’m interested in the directorial, educational, and academic side of theatre. I have the worst feeling that terror is subtly pushing me off the stage.

Photo: Fellow sufferer, Sir Laurence Olivier, Source found here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


For the past week, my son has been teething and has woken to nurse every other hour throughout the night. This has afforded me an envious amount of nighttime organizational thinking. The unfortunate side effect of this is that sometimes I unearth a pressing thing, tragically misfiled in a forgotten corner of my brain, keeping me awake until the matter is resolved. The other night, as my mind wandered through so many disparate memories and should-dos, it landed on an ancient fear that unexpectedly sent a bolt of panic through my bones:

How will I stay RELEVANT as an artist?

I’ve seen this one before, thought I’d made peace with it. But it looked different this time because now it found me in my new role as a mother. It had only ever known me before as a dedicated artist. Now, it approached a woman who was questioning her degree of dedication. I imagined an extreme scenario, ten years into the future: My career has left me behind because I’d spent the last ten years solely focused on family and raising children. I’m no longer creating IMPORTANT work and whatever I’d made before has become outdated. My skills have become rusty. My colleagues have forgotten me. My industry no longer cares. I am irRELEVANT.

I searched my internal trouble-shooting guide for answers. I was pretty sure this subject was covered there, but what I found were just more disturbing questions:

If I don’t stay RELEVANT, how will I face all the people who’d been my competition all those years? If I don’t stay RELEVANT, how will I face my mentors who’d written me letters of reference for serious pursuits of theatrical academia? If I don’t stay RELEVANT, how will I justify all those hours of work and study? If I don’t stay RELEVANT, will I still be an artist?

At a moment like this, my husband is the best sounding board, but he was asleep, and while his generous soul probably wished I’d have woken him, there is no way I would have. The Interwebs became Plan C:

I started reading a post by Glennon Melton. Her blog, Momastery is my secret, dirty habit. For my money, I find her trademarked catch phrase full of spoon-fed inspiration and her writing to have such a broad relatability that I sometimes feel like I’ve just wept my eyes out over a phone company commercial when moved by her posts. Regardless, I am moved by her posts and often. However she differs from me in style, she pretty much nails in heart. She is articulate, kind, and unapologetic and for this she has my respect. What I read that night was a letter to her readers where she offers an alternative to self-destruction:

“When you start to feel . . . do. For example – when you start to feel scared because you don’t have enough money….find someone to give a little money to. When you start to feel like you don’t have enough love. . . find someone to offer love. When you feel unappreciated, unacknowledged . . . appreciate and acknowledge someone in your life in a concrete way. When you feel unlucky, order yourself to consider a blessing or two. And then find a tangible way to make today somebody else’s lucky day. This strategy helps me sidestep wallowing every day.”

Wallowing—I’d found a name for what I’d been doing that night. After reading the above, I found my ego cowering in the corner, shamed by the bigger issues that had just entered the room. I shut myself up and I went to sleep.

In the days following, I tried to write about that night and faced a lot of confusion. Truth be told, I’ve struggled since the moment I became pregnant with how to be the very best mother while still being IMPORTANT to my art. IMPORTANT means that I want to work in a way that contributes to the DNA of theatre. I know there are other ways to participate without giving so much of one’s soul, but that’s not been my calling. My son and my husband make it surprisingly effortless to see where my heart wants to be, but it doesn’t erase my charge as an artist, however much I wish it did some days. Nonetheless, I think maybe I stumbled on an answer the other night (thanks, Glennon.) Bare with me now as I try to be coherent:

If I can let go of the to-impress, to-please, to-satisfy parts of being an artist, what is left is just the GIVING part. Glennon’s post reminded me that GIVING is BEING RELEVANT.

The solution still lives in the esoteric and I don’t actually know how it all will work, but I did create the below steps as a map for myself. A three-pronged approach to staying artistically RELEVANT (working title.) I reckon it could also be useful in my role as a mother, especially given that Lennon is an expert at making his wants clear:

A: I’ll know what to GIVE by listening closely for what is needed from me.

B: The only thing that is required of me is to respond.

C: If I do so with truth, love, and energy, I will stay RELEVANT.

Then there’s this excerpt from a letter that Martha Graham wrote to Agnes DeMille:

“There is a vitality, a life-force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.”

Good night and sweet dreams.

Photo source found here.
I first read the excerpt from Martha Graham's letter here.