Archive for November, 2011

November 29, 2011

Five tips to not starting your day like an insane, lunatic parent

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I like to write about the arts and culture as well as more personal essays about life and love and loss and yes… parenting.
Because after all, I am a mom.
Here’s a little ditty I recently penned for my son’s elementary school magazine. Fortunately, I didn’t give them the copyright, so I can share it with you, too.
Are your days too short and your lists too long?
Do you have trouble keeping your focus?
Do your kids push your buttons?

Are mornings particularly stressful?

Welcome to parenting! If you’re like me, and you work a full time job, or if you have more than one child, or you are simply attempting to do at least one more thing besides being a mom or dad every day, then you know what if feels like to be a circus performer… that is, to be a juggler.

The idea of “multi-tasking,” as they like to call it nowadays, is not new. People have been managing multiple priorities for generations. In fact, modern living is much easier than in the olden days, what with technological advancements like the washing machine and the water pump. (Seriously, can you see yourself down at the well at dawn, or scrubbing clothes on rocks down by the creek?)

But I think that modern technology now offers us so many choices, that it makes it hard to concentrate our energies in one direction at a time. And our kids are feeling it too. Between input from television, the internet, video games, and DVD’s, they are on sensory overload. And that doesn’t even include the good old fashioned influence of things like books, music, arts & crafts, sports, games, playing outside and just plain old conversation.In order to maintain our own sanity, and simultaneously help our kids successfully navigate through their own world of personal development, school responsibilities and extra-curricular activities, it helps if we can maintain some measure of calm and focus through all of the seeming chaos of modern day life. If you’ve seen me running down the block into the schoolyard with my son on some mornings, you know that I haven’t gotten this down to a complete science yet… Although I do attempt to start our days with a sense of order, some mornings are better than others.

Here are a couple of tips for beginning the days that I find helpful. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, and I don’t imagine that any of us will be on top of every item on it, every single day. However, I think they are good reminders of what’s possible, and hopefully may come in handy if you glance at them once in a while…

1) Be realistic. The morning is only so long, and you only have so much energy. You’re probably not going to be up early enough to get extra loads of laundry done AND pay all your bills AND do the leftover dishes and still have time to get your kid up and ready for school. Perhaps you wouldn’t even consider trying to get extra things done in the morning. Good for you. Concentrate on getting your kids out the door.

2) Be calm. Seriously. If you want your children to have a calm day, show them how it’s done. This one may take some extra doing, especially if you have developed some habitual morning conflicts with one another. But this one is worth it, particularly if you’re in a bad rut. You might need to take an extra five minutes before your children wake up to do a little deep breathing, or some light meditation. Don’t dismiss this one out of hand. You’d be surprised how much it helps to just slow down your thoughts and clear your mind, even for only a few minutes. It’s like hitting a reset button. Remind yourself just how much you love your children and try to keep the little annoyances in perspective.

3) Have some fun. I like to sing a song to my son when I first wake him up. It’s one I’ve been singing to him since he was a baby. Sometimes if he is particularly sleepy, I tickle him awake. I talk in funny voices. We crack jokes about silly things that happened the night before. It helps to lighten things up…

4) Stick to a routine. This may be the most important tip of all. For kids, routines provide a sense of order, structure and safety. For adults, they help us make sure we haven’t forgotten anything important. If you have to, make a checklist, and look at it every single day. It helps to prepare things the night before. Make sure all the homework is packed into the knapsack. Prepare a lunch. Set out the clothes. Whatever you can do to streamline the activity of your morning, do it. Involve your kids – they love to contribute to something that feels like a project or a challenge, and it helps them to feel responsible for their own behavior. Note: there will be the inevitable unexpected glitches, like a bowl of cereal spilled all over clean clothes, or a favorite barrette that just can’t be found. Build in a little extra time for mishaps. If everything goes smoothly, then consider it a bonus. Woo hoo!

5) Forgive yourself for not doing it right. You will have bad days. Your child will have bad days. You will lose your temper. He or she will start crying. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up. Go easy on your child. There’s a lot of pressure to perform at our peak levels all the time. Sometimes things just don’t go right for any of us. Try and remember that we all want the same thing, and we are, in fact, on the same team. If something goes wrong, you and your child can comfort and reassure one another and move on. There is always another opportunity to do better next time.

One final note. In the evenings, when we are ending our days, it helps to make some quiet time with our children to just talk, read or even be together in the same space doing separate activities with one another. I felt the value of this one acutely during the recent snowstorm when we lost our electricity (fortunately, only for one day). Without the ability to watch anything on TV (in our case, Netflix) or turn on the computer, we were left with the option of just hanging out with one another. We were able to use our gas oven and stove to bake and cook and warm up the kitchen. While I prepared homemade soup by candlelight, my son sat on the floor near me playing with his Pokemon cards. It was one of the most peaceful and intimate evenings we shared together in a long time.

Of course we don’t need a natural calamity to make us enjoy some quiet time with one another. It’s truly gratifying, and reminds us of why we became parents in the first place! Even if your life is so busy that you only get that opportunity once or twice a week, do what you can to make it happen! The chaos will be there waiting for you, and the juggling will continue, so you might as well take a “time out” once in a while. You’ll all be glad you did!

Photo courtesy of Denise Carbonell

November 20, 2011

Deb Margolin’s new solo piece about Anita Hill inspires troubling questions as it entertains… plus it really made me laugh

Last night, after seeing Deb Margolin‘s new one-woman show called, “Good Morning Anita Hill… ” at the All For One Theater Festival at Theatre 80 St. Marks, I had a disturbing dream. I dreamed that a man I hardly knew had latched onto me and grabbed my breast and would not let go. As much as I screamed and cursed and pounded on him and struggled, I could not break free of his grip. I woke up feeling exhausted and frustrated and helpless. It seems Deb’s play got under my skin.

I remember the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. I remember watching Anita Hill’s testimony – her dignified presence, her calm demeanor. I remember her detailed descriptions of things Clarence Thomas had said to her, things of an explicitly sexual nature that no sane woman would 1) make up and then 2) articulate for a world audience, knowing what that type of exposure would do to her in the public eye. No woman living outside of upside-down backwards world would make that choice, unless she felt she absolutely had to do it. It was clear to me at the time that she had been telling the truth. I remember listening incredulously and with increasing anger to the pundits debating the veracity of her statements. I remember the sinking feeling when I watched helplessly as the white men of the senate made the decision that it was safer to appear sexist than racist and voted to confirm Clarence Thomas as a supreme court justice.

This is the stuff of Deb Margolin’s latest performance piece. The full title, “Good Morning Anita Hill It’s Ginni Thomas I Just Wanted To Reach Across the Airwaves and the Years and Ask You To Consider Something I Would Love You To Consider an Apology Sometime and Some Full Explanation of Why You Did What You Did With My Husband So Give It Some Thought and Certainly Pray About This and Come To Understand Why You Did What You Did Okay Have a Good Day,”  is taken verbatim from a phone message Ginni Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas, recently left on Anita Hill’s voice mail. The surreality of that act is the perfect cap to the lingering insanity of having a man like Thomas, whose character is in such deep question, sitting in one of the most powerful positions in the country.

This is the jumping off point for the emotional terrain that Deb explores in her latest work-in-progress, a long awaited return to solo performance. She flows effortlessly through a stream of consciousness that journeys from a broad exploration of courage and tragedy to the everyday tasks of our lives. She juxtaposes the bittersweet experience of parenting children who need us less and less (“I’m not over their childhoods the way they are”), to the increasing challenge of making a difference in the world. What is left for us when we have given everything we can, taken back everything we can, reshaped, reclaimed and renounced, but resorting to a big Fuck You? An unsettling landing place, to say the least, for those of us who continue to believe that change is possible, without adopting the violence of our oppressors… and yet, what else are we to think when confronted with the likes of Bristol Palin on Dancing With the Stars?? The absurdity of it all…

What is happening to our world? What is happening to my spirit? What is happening to my children? What is happening to my life? Big questions, delivered with honesty and poetry and humor. What else could one ask for in a play?

I first met Deb Margolin over two decades ago when she and I enjoyed a brief stint together as part of the infamous Sister Theresa and the All Jew-Girl Band (we were two of the Jew-Girls). We haven’t seen each other in ages, and much has happened since then. But I am happy to say that despite raising two children into near adult-hood, battling cancer, becoming a renowned playwright and solo performer and joining the faculty of the Yale University Theater Department, Deb hasn’t changed a bit. She is still as open and brilliant and affectionate and funny and quirky and might I add, in terrific shape (work that black dress, girl) as ever. And though the play is still in need of honing for maximum dramatic impact, the material is all there.

And who else but Deb Margolin would have the courage to revisit this troubling chapter in our country’s history? In a tight black dress? With high heels? And dancing?


PS – A few months after this post, Deb performed her play live on the air on WBAI radio. An archived recording of the January 23, 2012 broadcast can be enjoyed here.