Saturday, July 30, 2011

On Husband Bashing and Other Sports

The topic of husband bashing has been on my mind lately.

But, let us call it Indirect Spousal Criticism, or I.S.C., instead.  Husband bashing sounds petty and violent, like hitting your hubby over the head with a grill pan because he doesn’t make the bed.

This is probably a little dangerous of me to write.  And probably a bit stupid.  My husband will read this at some point.  But I know there are readers who agree with me, and others, especially single moms, who might think me an ungrateful so-and-so who should get back in her handbasket and make a return trip to you know where. 

Let me say that I love my husband dearly.  He is a great guy and a fantastic father. Barring work obligations, he is home every night before 6:30 p.m. to help with the witching hours.  Yep, just gets home for the point in evening when the kids act like they are on crack and you have a strong urge to survey the scene from the sofa, drinking wine straight from the bottle. He regularly takes Riley for super fun outings like riverboat tours, museums and to the lake.  He’ll grapple with Aria’s 19th nap put down of the afternoon.  When I am sick he picks up the slack so I can sleep.  He continually compliments my ability to seemingly do it all.

So what is my problem?  I ask myself the same thing, as I prepare to hop in that handbasket.

Like most mothers, I am the C.O.O.; I want things done a certain way.  My way.  I remember seeing a gentleman on the Today show promoting his book.  His premise was that today’s Dad is a far cry from the do-little father of the 60s.  Today’s Dad makes an effort, so even though he might not do it your way, Mom, you should let him do his share.  Children benefit from seeing partnership and different ways of going about things.

Okay. Makes sense. I’m not perfect and my systems may need some tweaking.  And I’ll admit that the baby has fallen off the bed on my watch, too.  But when John decides to watch a game and Riley draws on the wall, or when our home smells like one giant diaper because of delayed garbage removal, this different strokes stuff is very hard to swallow. 

So running to the phone I go, to vent. 

My problem is I want another me. I want someone who once he’s home lives by the fast food rule.  Not the one in The Happiest Toddler on the Block.  The one that goes, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”  Being home these days is constantly supervising, cleaning, cooking, straightening up; it’s a perpetual game of whack-a-mole. Going out is no picnic either.  Just getting out of the house with two little ones can be an ordeal, and no trip out is complete without bringing stuff in - diapers, wipes, milk, something we ran out of between big shopping trips.  Sometimes it’s too much to have to ask, delegate or negotiate.  I want someone who picks up where I left off, and who knows my system. Someone who does something about the fact that the contents of the kids’ hampers could fill a Mini-Cooper.  Someone who sees what needs to be done and just does it.

I might sound a bit petulant, but here’s the thing.  We both work. I work part-time.  When I come home I’m instantly plunged into mommy duty as well.  Yes, I do spend more time at home with my children than John does, and while there are some fun, sweet, silly times, there is constant vigilance in terms of maintaining safety and schedules.  Frankly, it is easier to be at work, where I am only responsible for myself.  Resentment brews because I feel that my share of the housework is like pushing a boulder up a hill, while John’s duties have a sanctioned cut-off because he has to work. 

And yes, his losing his job would be a debacle.  I KNOW this, but sometimes, when I feel particularly overworked, I would love just the pretense of being asked if I need help.  Is that so wrong?

Everyone knows the classic line, “You complete me,” that Tom Cruise says to Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire. When I was younger, less of a snarky cynic and looking for HIM, this line made me yearn for my soul mate, the one who began where I ended.  Perpetually finishing each other’s sentences (in a good way), we’d be in each other’s heads and live happily ever after.  Of course, this is totally unrealistic.  And the "you complete me” idea is just as unrealistic where housework and childcare are concerned.  We have different things we need to get done, different ways of seeing the house (where is the pill that makes you blind to dirt and clutter?), and we are both exhausted. But completing domestic tasks should be more feasible, not to mention more practical and obvious, than fairy tale love, shouldn’t it?  Perhaps that’s why in a marriage where little kids are the focus, unfinished chores can be far more disappointing than the absence of constant earth-shattering romance. 

Now, as far Indirect Spousal Criticism is concerned, it would be better to confront the problem directly.  But that would mean constant fighting.  Instead, I choose my battles with hubby, and save the small stuff for my girls.  It’s my pals who give me perspective - letting me know whether I should get over it or get on with a “talk.”  Personally, I think I.S.C is a godsend. Otherwise there might be a lot more hasty calls to lawyers and movers because of some unwashed dishes.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mom in the Spotlight: Katie La Varre

Photo: Cheryl Mann.
Jeff Hancock and Katie Saifuku La Varre in Mantle, SPDW 2004.
Katie Saifuku La Varre was a founding member of Chicago's Same Planet Different World Dance. She received a BFA in dance from SUNY-Purchase, studying with Kevin Wynn, Larry Clark, Neil Greenberg, Bert Terbourgh, Kazuko Hirabayashi, and Sarah Stackhouse. She spent a semester abroad at the Rotterdamse Dansacademie in the Netherlands and was on scholarship at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. She was a company member of Melissa Thodos and Dancers, and has danced independently for The Dance COLEctive, Cerulean Dance Theatre, Christy Munch, Emily Stein, EduardoVilaro, Shelby Kroeger and Randy Duncan. She served as Rehearsal Director for Melissa Thodos and Dancers for one season and was a guest artist for Capacitor Dance in San Francisco. Katie is a licensed massage therapist and is certified in Bodywork for the Childbearing Year.

How many children do you have? How many boys? How many girls?
I have one boy, Leo.

How old is your son?
He’s 2.5 years old; he was born in November 2008.

Sleep is a hot topic for parents. This can be a question that makes some proud, and others completely discouraged. How many hours of sleep did you get last night?
I went to bed at 11:30 p.m. and woke up at 7 a.m. I usually try to go to bed earlier, definitely by 10 p.m. during the week.

Sounds pretty good to me! When does Leo go down?
He eats his dinner at 6 p.m., and has a bath at 6:45. From about 7-7:30 we watch a TV show, followed by a whole bunch of stalling. By 8 we are in his room, for stories and brushing teeth. Yes, believe it or not, we brush teeth in the bedroom, and by 8:30 it’s lights out. Mama needs her personal time! He wakes up at about 7 a.m.

Where were you in your dance career when your son was born?
I retired from performing in November 2007 from Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre after being with the company for over ten years as a founding member. I was also the Co-Artistic and Executive Director, and continued this position before and after my son was born in November 2008. I resigned my duties as of May 2009.

Has motherhood changed the course of your career? If not, how are you staying on the artistic path you originally set out on?
I chose to retire as a performing dancer for many reasons,but starting a family was definitely at the top of the list. Since the company was celebrating their ten year anniversary, it was the perfect time to retire, and I felt satisfied with my performing career. I was leaving without injury, still felt like I loved dance and was excited about the next chapter in my life.

As director, I wasn’t sure how motherhood would affect my career. I “inherited” the directorship - I didn’t start the company and never dreamed that I would be running a non-profit dance company. I quickly realized that having a newborn, and managing a company for zero pay simply wouldn’t work. Also, my co-director was out-of-state earning her master’s degree so all the responsibilities were mine. It was no problem to run rehearsals, as I could bring Leo with me, and even carted him along to some school shows. But it was another thing to try and find time to write grants, attend performances, participate in board meetings and oversee the details of running an organization like that.

I struggled with the idea of letting the company go, but when I finally decided to resign, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders! I now longer had to deal with twenty-something dancers, didn’t have costumes all over the house, and could focus on being a mommy.

I see you are a massage therapist. What drew you to that line of work?
I started massage school while I was performing and running SPDW Dance, working full-time as Special Events Supervisor at the Park District of Highland Park, and teaching three modern dance classes in the Chicago suburbs. Clearly I was looking to make a change! Dancers need jobs that pay great hourly rates, but full-time positions are often not practical due to rehearsal schedules and performances. I loved learning about the body, and always had willing dancers to practice on when I was still in school. It was a great career as a dancer, and is the perfect career for a mom. I work two days a week at the Elysian Hotel Spa and schedule private clients around Leo's naps and activities. People are very appreciative of massage therapists, and they gush about how great you are- something I wish my son would do!

Biggest piece of advice for new moms, especially creative, career-driven types?
The thing that has saved me, from pregnancy until now, is the love and support of my girlfriends. I NEEDED to hear that I wasn’t the only one experiencing all the strange things that happen to your body when you are pregnant, or how terrible the first three months with your baby can be, or how you have moments when you hate your husband and wish that he would leave, or the overwhelming joy your child can bring. Motherhood can be really lonely and isolating, so make a new friend!!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Home is a Four Letter Word

I was watching The King of Queens the other night.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I grew up there, I get a little homesick, whaddaya want from me? Anyway, for those of you who don’t or won’t watch it, the show centers around the hilarious exploits of a child-free Queens couple and their friends. In this particular episode Carrie Heffernan, the wife, was lying down on the sofa, her feet resting up on the sofa back cushions, reading a magazine.  Her husband, Doug Heffernan, bursts into the living room, makes an announcement and they begin arguing.  Now the arguing after a declaration, I get.  But seeing someone lying around reading a magazine in the middle of the day was like watching someone go to Saks and pick out whatever she wanted price tags be damned.  Simply amazing!

And then I realized that when you have little kids, you very rarely get quality downtime at home.  Home has a whole new meaning.  Home is a four-letter word. 

Now of course, home is our family headquarters.  Beyond providing mere shelter, it is a refuge, a place that provides security and comfort. A place where love exists as a spirit, as well as in the choice of furnishings and decorations. It is where we gather to eat and sleep.  It houses our belongings, those both ordinary and sacred. 

But it ain’t no place to relax.

When I talk to mothers of young children, I hear things like, “If we stay home, he goes bonkers, and then I go bonkers.”  “We simply had to get out of the house.”  “Staying at home is hell.”

What happened?

Home used to be a place to chill or to get things done. With children, however, home is a place to be rushing out of or rushing home to.  The rush home is often followed by hustling into a meal or into bed.  Home time necessitates almost constant entertaining and supervision.  I might be able to check out for a few minutes – to clean something, talk on the phone or (gasp!) check e-mail – but this little break usually doesn’t end well.  Hearing nothing, I might merrily check back in to the shock of Aria walking atop the dining room table, Riley having gone Jackson Pollock on the walls or Aria having a touchy-feely session with the toilet bowl.  And that’s if the break isn’t interrupted by screaming because of a fall, bump or sibling smackdown (really fun when nature’s called). In the house, an innocent oversight like forgetting to close a door or drawer means a child stuck hanging over the ledge of the tub or walking around with a stapler. Am I starring as the black female lead in the Myth of Sisyphus?  I finish packing a diaper bag and find the contents all over the place; I’ve folded laundry only to catch one or both kids gleefully flinging items to the floor; I finish giving bath and discover Riley sliding naked on the unswiffered floor.  Back up the hill again.

At home it seems that the kids and I have contradictory agendas.   Mine is to try to maintain order and safety.  I don’t consider myself a neurotic, rule-bound sort of mom.  But I do hyperventilate a little bit when the place starts to look like some kind of toddler frat house/jungle gym with stuff everywhere and kids jumping on the furniture.  In turn, my children, in developmentally appropriate fashion, are trying to discover new things and test boundaries.  Aria should be experiencing what it’s like to walk out of the room and away from everyone.  Riley should try to do as many things for himself as he can, such as open the fridge and change his own diaper (hello potty training!).  Modern homes probably offer too much temptation to little ones.  All they see is so much interesting stuff, stuff that mommy and daddy use regularly and they can’t; in addition to furniture that is ideal for pushing and climbing and jumping on -  ideal for inappropriate use.  At home, the kids seem to walk around with a mischievous twinkle in their eye, a twinkle that translates to, “B---h, you get in my way, and it’s on!”

That’s not to say that we don’t have some wonderful and regular rituals at home.  Making muffins with Riley on weekend mornings.  Tumblebacon, Riley’s word for flipping and rolling on the bed after bath and before sleep. Tickle fights.  Living room dance parties.  Snuggling up together reading a book or watching yes, Caillou.  It’s not that home is never fun, it that staying inside for indefinite periods is almost always hellacious.

Being outside, however, is completely different. It’s like leaving well, Queens, and finding yourself in Paris.  Life is beautiful. We can breathe again. We are all free.  I am free from ever-present chores and straightening up, and the kids are (relatively) free to roam. The children enjoy so many new sights and sensations, and I gain some insight into what they’re experiencing as I explain things.  There are people who smile at us and want to say hello, as well as other moms and kids to hang with.  The kids are far better behaved, and almost never have meltdowns outside.  It’s almost a shame to have to come inside for the obvious and inevitable.

Being a mom in Chicago, I thank God it is currently summer. Even when it is crazy hot, we can find some sprinklers on a lawn, or we can head to the lakefront.  When the weather is decent in Chicago, you take advantage of it, especially with kids, because for much of the year, being outside is anywhere from questionable to impossible.  Talk about needing that Survival Delivered app.  Or maybe just a way to make winter a verb for us, as in, "No, I'm afraid we won't be able to attend your Super Bowl party. Our family winters in Turks and Caicos."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

TOP TEN TUESDAY: The Top Ten Apps Moms Wish Someone Would Invent

1.  The Whine Converter
Few things annoy parents more than whining.  A persistent whine could make the Dalai Lama a Lexapro addict.  This brilliant app turns whining into music - literally! As soon as the microphone detects whining in close range, one of the most frequently played songs from your I-tunes library plays automatically. And talk about smart, this app knows to exclude children's songs, so you don't have to worry about being assaulted by a whine followed by I Love You from Barney.  

2.  The Sleep Predictor
It has been years since you woke up naturally from anything.  As soon as you wake up you are plunged into duty.  It's not that you're not excited to see your children, it’s just that it’d be oh so nice to have some time to pee and get your thoughts in order before you have to be ON.  The Sleep Predictor app knows exactly when your child is going to wake up, and gently rouses you from slumber before his babbling, cries or shrieks.  Program the Sleep Predictor for 5, 10 or even 30 minutes (more than that is ill advised), so you can ease into the morning instead of awakening with that oh-shit-he's-up-already feeling. 

3.  Reality Time Check
Now that you're a mom you are always late.  Almost so late you seem like Flaky McFlakerson!  The problem is not how long things take, but how long you think they’re going to take. You’re basing your ability to get things done on the WITHOUT kids time, not the WITH KIDS time! This brilliant app tells you exactly how long common tasks will take with your children in tow.  The recipe says prep time is 15 minutes?  You need 45.  Doing the dishes is a 30 minute job?  You need 80!  And a special feature will recalculate the time based on how temperamental your child is, whether your husband is helping or not and how sleep deprived you are. Never be late again!

4.  Parketype
Are you usually surprised and a little bit freaked out by the character of new-to-you playgrounds?  Parketype has mapped and analyzed every playground in a given city according to the persuasion of the supervising adults.  Is the playground frequented by hipsters who are act like the cast of Rent but rock $1000 strollers?  Are the moms sitting around the picnic table, their rings the size of a horse's eyeball and their children running amok, spoiled SAHM's with executive husbands?   Will the crunchy granola parents give you fish eyes for feeding your child Goldfish® and a non-organic juicebox?  Parketype will answer these exact questions for you, so you can be emotionally, nutritionally and stylistically prepared for whatever playground you choose.  

5.  555-DINS  
I don't know about you, but dinner is the bane of my existence.  And since I don't believe in Hamburger Helper, I've got a big problem!  This app is the perfect solution! 555-DINS indexes inexpensive dinner recipes that have no more than 5 ingredients. And here's the best part - you will have 5 days of leftovers!  Yep, you read correctly.  5 days of leftovers for a family of four, a meal that everyone, even the pickiest eater, will love just as much on Day 5 as Day 1.  It's nothing short of miraculous!

6.  It's Hypnosis, Baby!
Everything is a battle.  Diaper changes are a wrestling match. No matter what you serve at meals, it goes uneaten.  And the only thing that could keep your son in his bed during nighttime put down is a good strong rope. It's Hypnosis Baby to the rescue!  Just set the app to a desired outcome, such as eat, nap or even car ride, and a pair of googly eyes fills the screen. Your child will be doing just what you want in no time.  It's Hypnosis, Hubby! is currently in development.  

7.  Old School Discipline
Let's face it, some of the disciplinary tactics in vogue these days are like giving a sex offender some porn mags and a dark-windowed van.  You're tired of practically encouraging the behavior of your spirited child with time outs and taking away his favorite puzzle.  But you don't, can’t and won’t stoop to corporal punishment or humiliation. This app features video footage of time-honored punishments like bare-buttock spankings, the dunce cap and having one's mouth washed out with soap. Without a doubt, OSD will reaffirm your enlightened discipline choices.  Just hope and pray that your spunky, risk-taker lives past her 25th birthday and manages to become a productive member of society.

8.  Momspiration
The baby rolled off the sofa.  You shouted at your toddler when you found a penny in his mouth.  Checking your kids in the rear view mirror brought you inches from hitting a pedestrian.  A danger to yourself, you probably shouldn't be responsible for small children.  Hell, you couldn't take care of a pet rock!  Here's Momspiration.   Momspiration offers words of wisdom and forgiveness.  You'll realize that you're more than good enough, especially after viewing the portraits of women who make Lindsay Lohan look like she'd be a beloved preschool teacher.  

9.  Survival Delivered 
Whoever said help doesn't come in a bag, box or bottle never had this app!  If you've ever been snowed in with kids and desperate for a legal, yet trashy, or a calming, yet unhealthy fix, you must have this app! Survival Delivered brings you whatever you need to get through the day without taking a flying leap off the roof.  A barrel of Gummi Bears? A fifth of Wild Turkey?  A satellite dish sized pizza?  Yes, yes and yes!  In your desperate little hands in an hour or less!  Therapy and exercise are expensive and besides, what parent has time for those? Eat and drink your way to sanity with the Survival Delivered app.

10. Apperspective
Being the parent of little children is the hardest thing you have done to date.  It has stomped on your emotional, physical, intellectual and financial resources with jackboots.  When you have your two year old sitting on the sofa between you and your husband on a Saturday night at 10:30 p.m, you feel nothing short of oppressed. But there will come a day when at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday you have no idea where he is, or when he's coming home, and you will long for the day when his little warm body nestled into yours as you Netflixed cartoons instead of the Academy Award winner from three years back you thought you could finally watch.  This app will give you the perspective you need about moments like this.  Like everyone says, enjoy every minute of it, because the days may be long, but the years, they fly. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Power Outrage: The Sequel

Twelve days ago, when the power in my condo returned after an almost nine hour hiatus, I did a happy dance and resolved to be better prepared next time.

I didn’t have enough time! What could I do in twelve days? I have two little kids and I’m trying to get a blog off the ground! So when my power went missing again, on Saturday, July 23, 2011, I once again tore at my hair and wondered what I had done to deserve this repeat electrical blackballing. In my last life had I been a gratuitously severe meter maid? A disgruntled restaurant worker who habitually spat in people’s food? A bus driver who gleefully sped away from the curb as desperate passengers sprinted to get on board?

This time was better than the first, but Mama can’t take much more of this. Here’s how it went down:

4:00 a.m. - Husband, John, rolls over and whispers, “The power is out.” Know heard some boom-thunder, as Riley calls it, but nothing to merit a power outage. Groggily sit up and notice dark digital clocks and the A.C. and fans off. Air feels muggy and still, but not hot. Pray that upon waking power will be restored. Dream the electricity comes back.

6:30 a.m. - Riley enters bedroom as he does every morning. Feel deceived by my psyche, as the electricity is not on. The air is warm and the clocks still dark. Start making plans for a repeat visit to Frontierland. Aria begins crying, most likely awakened by Riley opening his bedroom door and stomping through the hall. Go get her.

7:00 a.m. - Give kids their traditional watered-down juice, but not from the fridge which cannot-be-opened. Instead I provide warm juice from the pantry mixed with tap water, which is probably fine, although it skeeves me. Give them cereal in their oh-so-wrongly named Munchkin snack catchers (great idea, and I will always use them, but snacks fly all over the place with those things!). Begin thinking of alternative meals that include protein as well something I can eat. Feel amazed by all the things that come from the fridge and/or use another appliance. Smoothie? Coffee? Waffle? No, no and no. Wish for a big sign that reads, “IF IT AIN’T IN THE CUPBOARD, YOU AIN’T EATIN’ IT.” Text other moms in the area. Learn that this time it’s just us. Receive offers to be taken in. Get everyone dressed and ready to flee our warm house full of tempting, yet impotent, electric devices. Learn Aria has a low-grade fever of 99.7 either from teething or the cold she’s been carrying around all week. Dismiss it, knowing we’d leave even if all four of us were covered in oozing sores.

8:30 a.m. - Outside. “Well, don’t we have the power outage to thank for getting us out early as a family!” John says, cheekily. Oy. Surveywindows looking for working lights, fans and air conditioners. Notice stores around the corner and across the street are all fine, but our block, and the stores on our side of the street one block east are dead. Decide to find breakfast after a trip to Starbucks.

9:30 a.m. – Visit Riley’s favorite place in our neighborhood, the fire station. The ladder truck juts into 55th Street, blocking our passage, so we watch from about ten yards distance. Ladder is extended and a fireman does whatever he's doing in the top platform. Riley is fascinated. He could stay all day, just drinking his apple juice and watching. Fantasize about someone doing a 24-hour recording of the fire station from several vantage points. Realize this could have him occupied on the sofa until he’s 5. Just kidding. Until he’s 4.

10:00 a.m. - Finally breakfast from an esteemed local eatery I’ll call S&D. Love the delicious breakfast sandwich with egg, gruy√®re and tomato John gets, but suspect my scone would be better used as a pumice stone. And honestly, what place do chocolate chips have in a dried cranberry scone? Vile. Take children to Bixler.

10:20 a.m. - Look at my phone and see the time. Wonder how it is not 5 p.m. Feel sick that it is so long before Lunch & Nap (an entity in itself indeed). Acknowledge that the day is going much, much better because of John, but can't help obsessing about the situation back home. Text some neighbors in my building. No power at all. Notice the park is disgusting from rain. Sand, wood chips and other debris everywhere. Realize I should be happy that that the kids are happy. Forbid sandbox play and thank God neither child is too put out by that. Chagrinned, watch them run through muddy puddles, including the big sprinkler lake in the center of the playground and soak themselves. Sigh. After a little over an hour, head home. Stop at U of C’s Lutheran Theological Seminary’s courtyard. Watch a wild rabbit eat. Collect pine cones.

12 noon - Home. Learn Com Ed is giving out no information. Wonder how such a major company could have its head so far up its ass. Suspect this might be some kind of rolling brownout thing. Hope it won’t extend into the night. Open all windows in the front room and draw all shades.

12:30 a.m. - Lunch. John goes out for cheese and milk. Forgive self for serving children Veggie Booty, string cheese and raisins, a lunch I would have at one time classified as a lazy mom special.

1:20 p.m. - Kids are tired. Riley goes down despite the lack of his white noise machine. Aria, a.k.a. Diva, refuses cold milk. John lights the stove with a lighter because we have no matches. Worry he’s going to torch the place. Wait twenty minutes for the water to boil and the milk to heat.

1:40 p.m. – Aria down.

2:00 p.m. – Fold laundry and talk with John. He asks, “What happened when the power came on last time?” I tell him that the A.C came whirring back on, and the lights that hadn't been turned off and then... lo and behold, just at that second, the power's back! What a coincidence! Do the happy dance, a.k.a. late 80s hip-hop, once more. Feel saved, literally and in the religious sense. Make no resolutions this time, but wonder how I can legally and safely reproduce the high that comes after a major inconvenience is reversed. Figure that it was definitely some kind of controlled brownout thing with the power going off at 4 a.m. and coming back on at 2 p.m. Now please don't let their be a part III. Mama's over it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Reject Button

This past week was a hard one for me, and not because of the SAHM thing. Not because Chicago was undergoing a heatwave and outside, it was, to quote a line from the defunct HBO series, Rome, “as hot as Vulcan’s d—k.” It was because I went to an audition. Yes, I dared to take my one-class-a-week, chasing-after-toddlers, sleep-depraved ass to an audition for the Chicago Lyric Opera’s production of Show Boat.

And I rocked it. I made it all the way to the end, along with five other African-American women. They took my measurements for costumes for the love of God. They let us know that four women, three company members and a swing, would be needed, and the other two would be cut.

Everyone was congratulating me, telling me how well I'd danced. No one could believe I had two little kids and was pushing, ummm, rhymes with shorty. I was sure I had it. Finally it would be my turn. Avenged for The Color Purple, when I flew to NYC, made it to the end and no cigar. It couldn’t happen again. IT COULD NOT. That would be grossly unjust. I had a family to help support, not to mention a kid in preschool and one in daycare. Surely I’d get the job.

I did not get the job.

The following day, at almost 4 p.m., I got the phone call. The kids were asleep. I was still hopeful when I raced to the phone, and answered. I suspected something was not good when I was waiting all day, but, hey, I’ve been called all times of day to be rejected and accepted. But the voice on the other end of the line was halting, not sunny. She asked me how I was doing. Why ask how someone is feeling if you’re going to tell her they’ve won? It’s if you’re about to tell someone a loved one’s just driven off a cliff, that’s when you’re concerned. Maybe your news is going to make them swallow a bottle of pills or fall on a carving knife. When she told me “Unfortunately, we're not going to be needing you this time,” my voice got really small. I wanted to ask why. Was it my height? My dancing? What? But what was the point? They didn’t want me. I got the audition rejection equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me.” She said, “We were very impressed with your audition. We will keep you on file if anyone backs out.” I thanked her, said good-bye and hung up. Shocked and stung.

I didn’t tell anyone about going. I know a few close friends are reading this and going, “Huh?” It was kind of like the first trimester of pregnancy when you keep your news to yourself so if it doesn’t work out you have no explaining to do. I was hoping to spring the good news on everyone. Now, in need of comfort, I called my best friend, Tara, a former ballerina who had danced for Suzanne Farrell and Christopher Wheeldon. She was surprised and proud of me for going, and made me see what a coup it was for the mother of two little kids, a woman who does so little for herself, who rarely takes class, to make it so far. “But why is it never me?” I blubbered to her like a child. “How come it’s never me?” Tara made me realize that I had a decent career, and that if I wanted to audition I should keep going.

That’s the thing. Can I keep going? That job was perfect for me. They needed three black females proficient in musical theater. Not ballerinas, not contemporary divas, but old school, musical theater jazz babies. Do I have the energy and the self-esteem to keep putting myself through this? Do I have the wherewithal to compete with twenty-somethings who are in fabulous shape? To lose jobs to people with less training, less experience around whom I danced circles? And to know that that’s just the business, that’s just the way things are?

I know it’s beyond my control, and I have to believe what Tara said. I have started to heal. The big difference this time is my children. When I looked at Riley and Aria’s little smiling faces the morning of the audition, I thought no matter what happens, I still come home to this. Disappointed or not, I have to be there for them. Before kids, I would have spent the day wallowing, bawling to everyone who’d listen. I would have seriously considered setting fire to my dancewear and running to the nearest Taco Bell to put in an application. I would have been two steps short of needing either medication or an intervention. (Yes, I take these things pretty hard.) Now I have no choice but to be Mommy. It’s a pretty powerful distraction -- an amazing way to stay out of my head. (Except when I started weeping openly at what a failure my life had become when Aria removed half-chewed food from her mouth, tossed it cavalierly to the floor, dumped out her bowl and I had to crawl around on the floor to clean up). When I told Riley that they didn’t want me to do the show, he said, “Probably then I will have to do it.” Not sure what he was thinking, but it was super cute. He continues to give me hugs whenever I look sad.

So will I keep going? I think I have to for as long as I can. Dance is too much a part of me. Maybe I’ll get another show by the time I’m 50. And talk about a coup! As long as a show is right for me, why not try? Also, auditions are somewhat fun outside of the rejection factor, which is very tough on your ego. You see old friends and make new ones. You sweat, learn some new choreography and perform. It’s a huge personal challenge – emotional and physical. Then there’s the fact that I’d love to show my kids tenacity (but not stupidity, as in staying too long at the fair) as well as how to deal with setbacks. (Say what you will about my taking spiritual guidance from a lululemon bag) And boy did that audition give me some good material for this blog. I may not have gotten the show, but I still have a new stage! Ba-dum-bum Bum!

MOM'S NEW STAGE would love to hear your most memorable audition story - be it good, bad or particularly ugly! For non-performing artists - any submission/application process will do. Please include your story in the comments to this post or in an e-mail to All submissions are eligible for inclusion in a future post. Please include your name, city and state, as well as your e-mail address so that I can contact you with any questions. Thanks!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mom in the Spotlight: Amy Marshall

Amy Marshall spent her early performing career in New York City performing with the companies of Paul Taylor, David Parsons, H. T. Chen and Dancers, Cortez and Company and many more. Ms. Marshall established the Amy Marshall Dance Company in 2000. During the past eleven years Amy Marshall Dance Company has performed and taught across North America, Europe and Asia. In addition, Ms. Marshall serves as a mentor to dancers and choreographers through her work on numerous panels including American College Dance Festival, North Carolina School of the Arts “Arts Exchange," and South Carolina Dance Association. She is also an Associate Professor of Dance of Hofstra University.

How many children do you have? How many boys? How many girls? Three. One boy, two girls.

How old are your children? Our boy/girl twins are four years old, and we have a one-year-old girl.

Where were you in your career when your children were born? In the middle of touring and dancing with my dance company, the Amy Marshall Dance Company.

How are you staying on the artistic path you originally set out on? My brain is now Swiss cheese and it is getting more and more difficult to multitask. I still do everything I did before with the company including dancing, but now it is much more difficult. Self-presenting our last NY season this past June just about pushed me over the edge. I am looking to change the way we do things, but not ready to give up the company or dance from my life.

You mentioned making changes in the way you do things. Can you give us some details?
Concert dance seems to be having a tough time surviving. Many theaters are not presenting dance anymore because they can't sell the tickets. Every year we spend thousands on the huge international arts presenters conference and bang on many doors to get our company booked. This becomes increasingly expensive with membership dues rising, and seems more and more like banging your head against a wall trying to convince theaters of the need for dance in people's lives. Forecasting a loss, theaters look toward broadway, big name music groups and spectacle shows. 

I think there must be a way to go beyond TV and the "So You Think You Can Dance" trend, which, to me, is just a mainstream dance competition. When do you see a classic ballet dance or tap or modern? I am putting my feelers out for other ways to get my choreography and my company out there. 

My first love is choreography so I need to see where else I can create, and to seek bigger venues. I have loved running a dance company and choreographing on my eight dancers, but I also enjoy creating on large groups. Last year I premiered a piece for 14 dancers entitled,"Going for the Gold." It was a tribute to the Olympics, and the piece opened with dancers in bikertards and swim caps. It would be a terrific work for opening ceremonies with a 100 dancers doing the choreography. This was just the beginning of me thinking outside the box. Now I will be taking a more active role in pursuing these initial thoughts. 

Stay tuned!

You run the company with your husband, Chad Levy. Many of us can't agree with our partners on how to arrange the diaper bag! What’s your secret to running a successful dance company with your husband? 
I was raised in a family where this was the norm. My grandparents owned a baby boutique and gift shop, and my parents started their own pottery business which now is a lighting company. Having grown up seeing spouses working together, it wasn't far off for me to consider this for myself. 

Chad and I began as dancing partners in Taylor 2 and became very close. He believed in me and my worth as a dancer; as our relationship grew, so did the birth of our dance company. He helped to bring the company into existence and continues to push it to new levels. He is the dreamer, the idea man, and I am the realist. We don't always agree on things but by listening to each other we come up with a plan that may not have developed without the two perspectives. 

We are a team and soulmates. 

Yes, sometimes work comes into the household - the office is in our living room - but we make sure to spend quality time with our kids and have dinners as a family. Most of the time one watches the kids while the other does company work. Three kids definitely ups our stress and multi-tasking quotient even further, because as co-directors of the company we do it all ourselves. We're responsible for everything from booking to website upkeep. People look at us and can't believe all that we do, sometimes I think we're just crazy for taking so much on, but in the end we are fulfilled.

Sleep is as precious and fleeting as money for parents. What’s a typical night for you? 
My 1yr. old is is down at 7, which is pretty easily done. The twins are in bed around 8/8:30 but for the next half hour insist "I not tired anymore.” At 10:30 Chad wakes up the twin girl to get her to the bathroom if she hasn't already had an accident (they are both out of pull-ups but the girl is having more trouble night training). 

At about 2:00 one of the twins visits us in bed claiming to be scared. Chad deals with this, sometimes ending up sleeping in their bed (thankfully they’re in twin beds now...waking up in a toddler bed is painful!). If he's lucky and makes it back this may happen again with the same twin or maybe the other one as well. 

In the meantime, around 3 the little one wakes up whereupon I do the taboo-take her into bed, and if she doesn't quiet down I do the other taboo-feed her from a bottle. I have to get us both some sleep - the girl twin wakes up around 5:15 and possibly the youngest will arise then too. The boy will sleep as late as 7:30. Gone are the days of sleeping in to 9/10am. I am someone who needs at least 9 hours of sleep. It has now been 4 years since that. Boo-hoo!

Sounds like a tough night! What’s a day like?
 Here it is during rehearsal period: Kids wake up, get them fed, then pack lunches. My husband takes the twins to nursery school at 8 on his way to personal training downtown. The baby sitter comes at 9am for the little one. I leave, run to rehearsal, and meet my husband. Attempt a brief warm up after a sleepless night, then say a little prayer for my aging body and jump into dancing. 10-2 is rehearsal. At 2:30 babysitter picks up kids from school, and everyone meets at home at 3. We head to the park where the twins and their friends complain that "so and so said they aren't my friend anymore", and the little one eats dirt, sticks, and garbage left at our neighborhood park. Once home, at 5, I cook dinner really fast because I spent too much time at the park and now everyone is hungry, and crying or whining. Then we eat (which can take over an hour for the twins, who keep saying they’re not hungry after all- which is bull). Bath time at 6:00 can either be smooth or a fight to get the boy into, but once he’s in, he won't come out. P.S. by this point my bod is dead from rehearsing as well as running all over the city and playground, and of course from the typical night I just painfully described! On to tomorrow!
What’s your favorite form of exercise these days?
Physique 57 half hour video work out. I have no time for anything more.
Biggest piece of advice for new moms, especially creative, career-driven types? There is no mountain high enough, either to climb, as some days it seems, or to jump from, on most days it seems. Never think too much about it, or you'll never do it. Just jump in, go for it and it will work out. If you are always worried about things not working out, it will never happen. You make things happen by doing them.
For more information on the Amy Marshall Dance Company, including excerpts of company repertoire, visit

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Mother's Promise

This is a little embarrassing, but I am just a wee bit nervous to be an SAHM for the next six weeks. Okay, a lot nervous. I usually work part-time as a dance teacher 4 days per week. Those 9 hours per week teaching in a college dance program guarantee me some personal time, some social time and some creative time. But starting today, and for the next 6 weeks, until school begins in the fall, I am pretty much IT. My mom, who lives nearby, will pitch in when she can, but she just took care of the kids during my summer session. Every day she’d leave the house with her hair standing on end. She clearly needs a break.

While I am excited and lucky to spend so much time with the kids, I'm overwhelmed by the enormity of keeping everyone safe and sane, let alone learning something. Whew! That’s a lot of responsibility – enough to make me throw myself upon the altar of Motherhood, beat my breast, and sob, “I’m not worthy!”

So, in the spirit of A Prayer for My Daughter in the book Bossypants, (which if you haven’t read you must read right now!) by one of the smartest, most witty women alive today, Tina Fey, I have written a little something for myself as a mother.

I, _________________, do solemnly swear to fulfill to the best of my sleep-depraved (yes, depraved) ability this covenant between me and my child(ren) 24/7, 365 days a year.

I will strive to create days that are filled with laughter, bonding, play, new experiences, learning, nutritious meals and snacks and on-schedule rest for all. I will make playdates with other mamas and babes, for they keep us all sane.

Yet if there be a day filled with crying, sibling rivalry, boredom, junk food and failed naps, I will accept this, and work for a better tomorrow. I will not consume an entire bag of M&Ms/chips/gummy bears to erase my pain, as that will merely expand my ass. I will rely via text on the comfort of my friends, and get the kids out of doors immediately. And if there be rain and we cannot go outside, I will not feel persecuted by the universe. I will devise another plan, even if that plan consists only of a visit to Target.

I will endeavor to be frugal, in the hallowed halls of Target as well as in other stores. I will not be led into temptation by an $8 box of organic cookies at Whole Paycheck. I will employ the aid of the Internet, magazines and word-of-mouth for free or low cost things to do. I will actively enlist the word of Groupon on my quest to never pay full price for any activity.

I will avoid the Land of No, turning instead to the land of positive requests. I will demonstrate the wisdom to empathize, not chastise, to tell, not yell, to supervise, not patronize and to breathe, not seethe. Thank you, Jesse Jackson.

I will schedule myself time to exercise so as to avoid bitchiness and the 4-months-pregnant belly that necessitates a new wardrobe. I will have the sense to schedule personal time for myself at regular intervals. And if this personal time come not soon enough, and I feel desperation creeping in, I will make a plan, enlist childcare, don exercise wear or cocktail wear and leave my residence.

In case of meltdowns, I will remain calm and firm. I will not get sucked into the tornado into which my child has morphed. I will give him/her time alone or hold him/her as the situation merits. I will keep him/her from breaking bones by stealthily placing a blanket or towel nearby as he thrashes like a junkie with the DTs.

I will, come Sunday, organize a list of dinners for the upcoming week so that I am not a stressed out mess every day at 5:00 p.m.

I will get as much sleep as possible. If I plan to rest, I will take this rest, AS SOON AS THE CHILDREN GO DOWN FOR THEIR NAP. I will not clean, write, make phone calls, answer e-mails, search the Web, or go astray on the pages of Facebook, only to find that my unpredictable napper has awoken earlier than estimated and stolen my sleep. I will set an alarm if need be, so that I can putter about or prep dinner(!) after some power zzz’s.

I will realize that potty training is a process and that, long though it may take, my children will not cast their first presidential election ballot in diapers.

I will enlist the power of the elephant-in-the-armoire, the TV, in moderation. And I will not be afraid to do so, for PBS is good.

I will endeavor to devote some energy to my relationship with my husband so that we might enjoy our co-existence as husband and wife, and not only mother and father.

I will remain educated and up to date on the latest scholarship and ideas in parenting. I will strive to be more June Cleaver than Roseanne. I will refuse to, however, beat myself up for the forgot to dos, could not do under the circumstances and cannot dos. I will remember that though I may fail, though I may yell, though my kids might watch over an hour of Caillou daily, I am a good mother, dammit.

Reverence, bow, or nod the head. Ballet run to exit stage left.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Just Suck it Up, Mom!

I just read a blog post that got my oversized cotton-granny-left-over-from-maternity-days panties in a wad. It was one more skirmish in the un-Civil War, the war between the blue and the pink. Not the boys and the girls, I’m talking about those who like to vent and those who advocate rose-colored parenting glasses, or at least a grin and bear it stance. The former camp likes to be honest about their struggles, seeking camaraderie in the trenches of parenting, while the latter thinks if you are unhappy you must be selfish, mean-spirited, dumb, lazy, or such a Negative Nancy or Neil that you all but refuse to make the necessary changes. So after reading the post entitled Stop Putting Down Your Kids, by Tara R. Wood, posted by Mamapedia and also at , I decided to enter the fray.
Anyone would agree, that once you read the parenting blogs, that you see a lot of humor-couched unhappiness about being a parent. I’ve seen a lot of dark emotion, complaints and snarkiness. I’ve seen mishaps retold in smelly or painful detail, but I’ve never seen putting down one’s children. What I do see a lot of is people describing how their lives have been upended, how they couldn’t work any harder and yet somehow they sense they are failing miserably, either themselves or their children. I’m not sure how feeling overextended because you have given nearly every fiber of your being to your children is selfish, as Ms. Wood claims. Selfishness, i.e. withholding ourselves from our children, from our households, is not the problem. It is the reverse. Parents are desperate for some personal time so they won’t feel so spent, angry and somewhat desperate.
Ms. Wood equates talking about survival, about how to make it through the day, with ranting about how much you detest your children. My mother was a single parent, and even though I had a great childhood, I knew things weren’t easy. I cannot imagine what my mother went through to send me to private school, dance school and an Ivy League university. Hell yeah, she survived, and triumphed. We both did. Do I think she loved me any less because I knew how hard it was for her then (and I REALLY know now)? To suggest to most of us, who work our butts off to make sure our kids have the best of everything our resources can buy, that venting about our children means we love them any less is ludicrous to the point of being insulting. To insinuate that we are selfish because we acknowledge that our lives have been made difficult denies our needs as parents. Surely there are things all of us could do to feel happier, however, to imply that we should simply change things we don’t like (and shut up) is insensitive to the realities of most of our daily lives.
As a parent, I personally will say that I need to adopt a childrearing version of the AA serenity prayer. I’m trying to realize that I can’t always be in control, a difficult thing for a perfectionist dancer to do. This loss of control is what I’m reacting to so much of the time. It is maddening to try my damnedest to get someone to eat, sleep, stay on schedule, use the toilet, get dressed and go out and have it all blow up in my face. It is infuriating to clean the house to find it moments later, looking like the Tasmanian Devil and Pigpen just threw a party. I know that my children are human beings, not projects, productions or reports. They have their own needs, their own personalities to assert and their own agendas. I shouldn’t apply the check off the list, wipe your hands clean mindset at home. But I think I should be able to do so, and I continue to try, and it’s a source of stress. I think most of us are intelligent enough to know what’s broken. Ms. Wood, a trained psychologist should know that parenting issues aren’t appliances; they can’t be instantly repaired.
As for being selfish, I do miss who I was before children. I miss the things I used to do, how I used to look, how I used to feel (not able to fall asleep at a stop sign), my relationship with my husband. But I waited until I was ready to give those things up (all except the last one, which is another story); until I was ready to be there for my children who would need me for everything. I love my children with a depth that I cannot articulate. Since they have come into my life the phenomenal joys I’ve experienced have multiplied exponentially. But so have some difficulties. Nothing major luckily, just garden-variety annoying day-to-day problems, many of which I must learn to respond to with a fiddle-dee-dee.
Now, I’ll admit the author, Tara R. Wood had some good points. There should be more celebrating of what our kids do. It’s a lot like the friend you have who only tells you how her boyfriend blew her off for a night with the guys, but never about how he took care of her when she was sick. We should talk more about the wonderful, blissful, pure moments that make us whole, those harmonious times that are the highest highs of parenting. I agree with Ms. Wood on this front. Why do we keep these moments largely to ourselves or share them with our close family? Why are the sites/blogs that do this private or low-readership, as opposed to the wildly popular bitter comedy style blogs?
Still, I think, and apparently Ms. Wood does too, that some venting and complaining can be therapeutic. I wholeheartedly disagree, however, that the commiserating we do goes hand in hand with putting down our kids. The anecdotes we share DO lead to discussions of child development, how to be a better parent and how to take time for ourselves. And yes, we might say that Little So-and-so is driving us crazy. Even crazy with a few expletives thrown in for effect. Who wouldn’t be effing crazy if one of the people you love most in the world let go of your hand in the parking lot and almost got hit by a car? True story. But I do believe it’s possible to say it with love - the love you have for your child warts and all. Not love as an afterthought or qualifier. Love as a main ingredient. A dizzying, heart-stopping, would-fight-a-tiger-for-that-child love. When someone says I’m ripping apart my children because I need to talk about me, my Mama Grizzly comes out. Mama Grizzly who does have her hands full, and needs someone to understand, to laugh with and maybe a shoulder to cry on, so she can continue to give her family the love they need and deserve, herself included.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Power Outrage

A week ago today, Monday, July 11th, the Chicago area suffered a horrible thunderstorm. Huge trees were knocked down,* bringing power lines with them. 860,000 Com Ed customers lost power. Some people in in the northern suburbs did not have their power restored until Friday night - four days later!

So in comparison I got off easy. Real easy. But if you had told me last Monday what I was enduring was just another inconvenience, I would have tackled you.

My day went as follows:

8:10 a.m. - Set out in car to drive to teach college level modern dance class. Think it just looks like another partly cloudy day, and feel skeptical that severe thunderstorm warnings are in effect, until the dark silver blue sky looming over downtown is visible.

8:30 a.m. - Get caught in monsoon-like conditions three blocks from work. Begin driving with nose pressed against windshield. Hear on radio that my neighborhood will be among the hardest hit.

9:00 a.m. - Hear that accompanist is stuck on train. Feel a palpable lack of motivation from the few students who managed to arrive on time. Wish had brought Ipod and had charged it for that matter. Run through several musicless scenarios and find each as painful as an unanesthetized root canal. Decide to join the yoga class across the hall, much to the students’ delight. Take class as well, not knowing what a high point this is in my day.

10:40 a.m. - See two voicemails left by my mother who is watching Riley and Aria, my 2.5 and 1 year old. Learn that the storm hit hard and the power is out. Children were terrified. Call Mother. Be asked the location of fusebox. Argue the futility of fiddling with a fusebox when the building/block/neighborhood/city has lost power. Explain fusebox’s location behind a picture in the hallway nonetheless. Drive home as fast as possible, noting all the fallen trees when I get back to my neighborhood.

11:00 a.m. - Arrive home to find the apartment as hot as a just-ran-the-marathon crotch. Also find wrong picture removed from the wall. Hug and kiss children. Assess the situation. No hot water. No stove. No internet (Eff me for not replacing the battery in my MacBook!). No opening of refrigerator or freezer. Are completely parched and have no liquid save tap water. Realize that escape routes such as the movies or the mall are not an option with young children who require a nap in their bed. Feel an anger and despair not felt since Job. Recommence discussion with Mother about the fusebox and the meaning of hallway versus front hall. Open all windows, which have not been washed since W’s Administration, and feel like an overheated, sloppy housekeeper. Wunh-wunh-wunh-wuuuuuuunh…

11:30 a.m. - Call husband and try to make plans for tonight’s dinner and sleeping arrangements. Beg him to come home early. Call other moms in neighborhood to learn who has the fortune of electricity. Learn that a tree fell on a friend’s car. With her husband in it. Yes, he was okay.

12:30 p.m. - Finally go out to eat after a hot, tired, hungry and thirsty Riley finished melting down, claiming that he hated restaurants when the opposite is true. Enjoy delicious lunch on my mom. Everyone behaves. Ok, yes this is definitely high point #2.

1:30 p.m. Go to produce market to buy milk for the baby since the fridge must remain closed. Buy berries and like a doofus, forget to buy water, cold drinks and ice.

2:00 p.m. – Attempt to put down 2 kids who depend on some combo of warmed milk, air conditioning and white noise machines to get to sleep.

2:10 p.m. – Riley down, Aria crying. Muttering, grab Aria up from her crib to “play.”

2:15 p.m. – Try to supervise Aria while negotiating plans for evening. Dinner at my Mother’s condo nearby. Settled. A lovely friend has offered us her vacant and furnished condo that happens to be in same building as my mom’s. Feel lucky at the same time as super hot, bored and persecuted. Call and text friends to bitch and complain. Catch Aria eating a stick of sunscreen, squeezing behind the angled entertainment armoire (with about a million wires behind it) and trying to climb in kitchen garbage can. Restrain self from slitting wrists.

3:15 p.m. – Reattempt to put Aria down with more cold milk.

3:20 p.m. – Aria screaming. Abandon nap attempts. Put Aria crying, in Jumperoo where she will eventually fall asleep. Get in bed with the phone and a notebook.

3:30 p.m. - Quiet. Personal time!! High Point #3! Yessssss!

4:45 p.m. - Everyone awake. Prepare to go to Mother’s building.

5:00 p.m. - Power is ON! Rejoice! Text friends. Call husband. Do happy dance with kids. Feel a little silly that I felt so wronged by the day’s events. Ruminate about what a cushy, spoiled American I am (when a day in my stifling, boring, hot-water-free apartment would be paradise to many in the world), before going back to the witching-hours business as usual, hoping that next time, I will handle things just a little bit better.

* A fallen tree eastbound in Madison Park. Photo courtesy of Maja Fiket.

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