Monday, October 31, 2011

The potential of flight

Did it really just take me three weeks to remember that I love my life?

I huddle in the backyard on the edge of the picnic blanket ("huddle" because there's not much room for me; I share it with three sprawling children) under the ligustrum, half-listening to childish chatter, marveling at the happy collusion of the breeze and the sunlight. I'm not giving a thought to the temperature, except to think what a relief it is to not be thinking about the heat. This time of year I always say to myself, "This is why people live in Florida."

The flying things are out, a pair of cardinals chasing each other in and out of the hedge, dragonflies darting and hovering. Every now and then a butterfly crosses my sight, unexpectedly, like a personal message from God.

Later, in the front yard, though it's almost November, the girls have a sudden passion for running through the sprinklers in their bathing suits. (High of 75, baby!) And I have a passion for lying in the shade on the sidewalk watching them. M wants to get me wet, so badly. She fills a cup and walks toward me, giggling. I beckon her to come closer so I can reach out and dump it on her head. S, soaking her hair in the sprinkler then coming to paint with it on my pants, has a better method. After a few trips, she's made a lot of progress - still, not as much as M could if she prevailed. We're all laughing.  J is asleep inside; when I'm ready for a break, I tell them to stop trying to get me wet or we'll join him. So they find a new game, pouring "tea" for each other, complete with accents and exaggerated body language. They're actresses! Where did they get that from? They're so cute it hurts.

I love how they burrow their feet in between my knees when we sit together on the sofa. Saturday morning, I dozed between them while Pink Panther played. Every so often I'd wake up and laugh enough to convince them I was watching too, then zonk out again. After maybe fifteen episodes (only six minutes each, in case you're worried), we went to wake Daddy up - "Time to make 'peh-pakes', buddy!" - and baby J too.

In the kitchen, with all of us gathered around the stove, the girls mixing batter and otherwise "helping," J in my arms, I hugged my baby close and said, "Look at us! This is our family! I'm so blessed!" And I felt it.

The pace of this life is its challenge and its glory. When you've been gone from it and come back, you want to run right back out, and keep running, or else you're pacing, pacing, pacing, restless, in your mind, looking for a way out, infuriated with your children for slowing you down. I was worried I wouldn't get past that phase. It took me too long. But with relief I find that it's coming back to me how to let myself down into this sticky flow, how to let myself down and be impeded by it, how to plod along thigh high in this viscous substance. It's all starting to fit around me again, like clothes. Suddenly I have all the time in the world to nuzzle that cheek - can I even hint at how soft a child's skin is? - or nibble that ear, or smell that earthy, human smell of my life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Clemency

I had forgotten: You have to forgive yourself everything.

My children are having a hard time getting my attention. I feel myself going inward, into my mind, where my blood buzzes, life pumps, where I feel alive, in my thoughts. I try to shake it off and hear M. She's telling me something, volubly, about a lizard. Daddy caught it. It bit him on the hand. M was too scared to catch it because it was so big. I try to stay focused all the way to the end, as she stutters, repeats herself, thinks of words, divides the air with her hands in tiny karate chops - in the way she does - sectioning off the parts of her story, helping me understand exactly what she means. She's very precise. Why would I want to be anywhere else?

But somehow, my mind is straining to escape.

The dishes are piled in the sink from last night's dinner. Shep said he woke up this morning trying to think of ways to motivate me to do them. (He's kidding.) (Sort of.) He says, "You're no Hazel." And I always say, "Who's Hazel?" It's an old tv show, I guess, about someone who kept a nice house. There's no rancor in it, though. I laugh. Before, I was trying to make like I was going to get it together. Now I think we both know it just is what it is - not because I don't love him - I just sometimes leave dishes in the sink over night.

Now, I have moments like this: I pick up S, and she lays her soft, soft face in the crook of my neck and very purposefully, kisses me there. She's proud and happy from doing "school" with me, learning how "L" says "llll" and that "lion, leaves, and ladder" belong, but "kite" doesn't. She even tells Daddy about it later in the car on the way to Nana's. There are definitely times like those.

And there are times when the kids are running around the house like crazy while I type and read and brood. They have to say things three times before I say, "Hm?" I remember my parents being like that. I thought I never would be. They pull all the blankets out and pretend to be caterpillars in cocoons becoming butterflies. (They're very creative.)  J stumbles around like a drunken praying mantis - if you can imagine - exploring. When he goes too far out of sight, I investigate. I tell the girls to go make their beds and they just keep playing. As long as they're happy, I let them. But when fighting breaks out, I bring down the law, and there might be yelling. I have to stand over them, gesticulating and threatening to get them to go upstairs and do as they're told. Now J has his hand stuck in the trash can lid. If I wait a few seconds, he gets it out himself. Is this good parenting? It does foster creative, independent play. But I probably should get up before them in the morning instead of letting them get in bed with me and telling them to be quiet while I sleep a few more minutes, then stumbling out after them to make breakfast. Wouldn't it be better to greet them bright and shining in the morning, all dressed like June Cleaver, with a smile and hug and breakfast already made/making? Perhaps. Probably. Pray for me.

Coming back to full-time motherhood from being in the theatre, even just for those two little months, I feel like I've had to start again from the beginning, only this time I don't have one small infant but three lively pre-schoolers. It's like being dropped into an ant's nest. Nothing makes you pissier than when you go from morning to night feeling like a Failure every moment of the day.

I have to remember the fundamental key to motherhood: complete clemency toward yourself in everything. The not-often-disappearing constantly-reappearing trails of clothes and toys and other clutter on tables, floors, and stairs, the constantly-interrupted tasks, the wandering of your mind seeking intellectual stimulation, the glacial pace are not things to be fought against. They aren't distractions from your job; they are your job. Once you embrace this, you stop saying to yourself "I'm a Horrible Mother" every time someone is wailing on the floor at your feet, any time a person is a little late to the bathroom (I'm not talking about myself, by the way), or on the occasions one of your children does a face plant into the sidewalk. It's not your fault. It's not that you aren't organized enough or on top of things enough or safety-conscious enough (though you can improve in all those areas.) It's just life. So bring it on.

I'm loading the dishwasher. There's a busy little baby alternately climbing on the dishwasher door to unload everything I load, and stretching his arms up my leg to beg me to pick him up. I pat his greasy little towhead and run my finger across the soft, soft skin under that perfect little chin just below the scab from where he tumbled into the side of the stairs. He grins at me, and I grin back. He grins bigger, and I grin bigger. He laughs. His laughter sounds hilarious. Well, you know baby laughter. There's nothing better. You can't help laughing back. The music is playing on Pandora - the Hillsong station. Suddenly, I actually know what he's doing. He's asking me to dance. I put one more bowl in the dishwasher, then swing him up to my hip. He puts his tiny hand in mine and we take a turn on the family room rug - due to be vacuumed - but let's not think about that. Let's just groove.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Over the Last End Edge of Summer

This time of year the light has eloquence. I don't know if this articulate quality is inherent in the light itself or if it's lent by the temperature of the air, newly cooled after a long hot summer, balmy and lifting the edges of your clothes with motherly affection. But the light speaks to you, saying things about your life. You take a walk or sit in the driveway or on the porch or bring in the mail, but the quality of the light makes you know you are doing more, something of a deeper meaning. It recalls to you your hopes.

It's Sunday. I'm strapping the kids into their strollers for a family walk. The air is not quite cool but not hot, and our bodies sink into the relief of it like a sigh. The first star is out; the sun is getting low. As we all head down the sidewalk to the bottom of our hill, the world is burnished...alight with a glow from underneath, a glory. This time of year, I think it must be true: I'm going to see that glory in the flesh; with my own eyes I'll see it. Everything seems lit with significance, and my heart is filled with joy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Earnest

Ten days now since we closed The Importance of Being Earnest. What are the chances that the first play I do in five years is one of those rare experiences that remind you why you do theater in the first place?

I keep running my lines as I drive down the road. I want to remember them. I know I won't forget the bright spots, but I want to remember the words. I want to remember everything: getting to the theater an hour before the show, greeting my fellow actors, greeting the crew. I set my stuff down at my place in the dressing room and flip the switch for the lights above my station. I start in the bathroom: brush my hair and teeth, put my contacts in. Then I get my makeup on: foundation first, then highlights over my cheekbones, under my eyebrows, on my eyelids. I stay standing and in motion, leaning in to the mirror, stepping back. I'm too keyed up to sit. Powder, dark blush, bright blush, eye shadow, eyeliner, eyebrow shadow, mascara, lipliner, gloss. My hair goes up in a bun, with a fringe of curls around my face. Then I layer on my costume: tank, corset, bum ruffle, petticoat (taffeta so it swishes!), skirt, wig (swept up in a Gibson Girl so I don't have to do it myself), hat, hatpin, oh! and shoes. It's easier if you put them on before the corset, but not a problem if you forget. First go trouser socks (they asked if I wanted hose instead - ha!), then boots - nifty, they zip up the sides. Last is my bodice, the only article I need help with. I step into the greenroom so Adrienne can fasten it up the back, and just about this time our stage manager calls, "Places!" We say, "Thank you, Places," and I say "Break a leg!" to the boys, Algy in his smoking jacket, Jack in his top hat.

The girls are in the dressing room still, finishing their makeup, putting on their costumes, gossiping - they don't go on til Act Two. Robin and DeDe, my hearts - I've never enjoyed a dressing room more. I swish around the greenroom in my taffeta petticoat, warming up: "P-t-k, k-t-p. Buhduhguh, Guhduhbuh. Peter Piper the pickled-pepper picker picked a peck of pickled peppers...," and so on. I didn't go to grad school, so my warmup is a little bare-bones: a few vocal slides, half a "salute to the sun," blow some raspberries, trill my tongue, and then swish, swish, swish up and down the greenroom, saying tongue twisters and running my lines.
It suffices.

I wait for my first entrance on the platform backstage sandwiched behind Adrienne and Philip (Mamma). We listen for laughs to gauge what kind of audience we have that night. I wave enthusiastically across the platform to "K.K." where he waits in the dark for his own entrance. I love it back there in the semi-darkness embraced by the ugly side of the set - braces, screws, and seams - the stage light spilling over in a dusky halo, the laughter of the audience, the potential energy of waiting there, knowing your moment will be upon you soon whether you're ready or not. The river is flowing forward and it will take you along, unless you get crazy, turn back, and run out of the theatre down the road (to probably never be cast again!) You'll step into that light, squint across the room, smile at Ernest, step to the side. You'll sweep down the stairs with an aside to Algy and greet Ernest with the line that always gets a laugh, even though you're not entirely certain what it means. You'll sit; you'll sip tea quietly, casing the joint, the rugs, the sofa, the Mamma in her dress, settling in as if you were in this room, Ernest just over your shoulder, without two hundred spectators watching the action. You're just here, waiting. The river flows on and takes you, steadily, surging, exuberant, fun. It catches you up and your feet rise from their grounding. You have nothing to do but be carried along, so you don't fight it. You throw yourself into it, and each word has meaning, each action carries you in the direction of your desire. You fight for what you want. You don't waste even a glance, but bow everything to your intent.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Comeback

For five years, I was fine without theatre. I was a mommy. I didn't see how I could do both. Yes, I was obsessive, overzealous, and intense, but if I was just going to be a mommy, I was going to be a great one. I compared myself to only the best and judged those who (kind of like me, but I was in denial) couldn't compete with the crafty, creative, decorating, foodie, bread-baking, tomato-growing, homeschooling moms of the year; you know, the moms who had their ass hanging out most of the time (like, well, me.) I intended to be that woman who feels most alive at the sewing machine or in the garden or by the stove. Of course I don't know how you make yourself feel alive, or anything else for that matter.

I have a friend from Bosnia who has three children and the most spare, precise, peaceful, orderly home you've ever seen unless maybe you're from Bosnia. You can't imagine how mortifying it was to have her babies crawl on my floor and come up with dirty knees be-furred with dog hair. She would never live with a dog. (For one thing, she has an idea that ingesting animal hair is potentially fatal. I need to find out more about that.) Then there's my BabyWise neatfreak gym-rat girlfriend, on top of her life, everything in its place. And here I come driving up in a car with half a foot of detritus on all the floor boards. She would never. Never. Then there is my friend who seems perfectly at ease as a mom. She never takes a break. She doesn't seem to want to be or do anything else, thriving on Picture People photo shoots, shopping for the next size up in shoes, and planning her kids birthday parties. These were my ideal mothers, and you can imagine how I measured up. I convinced myself everything was going swimmingly, but I had my misgivings.

Now, I'm a good cook. I like the idea of growing some of our own food. I probably will homeschool with the help of a co-op of some kind. But do I feel most alive in the kitchen? I feel happy. I feel God's pleasure (and my family's.) I like making good food. But I do not find my ultimate creative fulfillment at the stove. At the sewing machine? Definitely not, though I know how to operate it when I need to. (Though, honestly, when do you actually need to operate a sewing machine?) Having and holding babies? I do feel very alive doing that. There is great joy in the constant daily grind - it is formative, like daily prayers, like saying the rosary. And this womb of home is where I have found love and meaning in a deeper, more fulfilling, more nourishing way than anywhere in my life before. I wouldn't negate any of it, or abandon it, or diminish it. But is there more to me? Yeah, I think there is. Why would I even try to deny it?

Steven started going to our church two years ago, and I feel like maybe he was sent just to fetch me. Steven's a bona fide professional theater actor. After services, we would get to talking, and I started to feel that old, stirred-up feeling. I could hardly cope with it. So I went to see a play he was in, but I felt even more stirred up. So I went to see another play and took Shep. Then we saw a few more. Afterwards, Shep would stand back a little, watching me talk with the actors. He saw the way I was: stoked, like he hasn't seen me in awhile.

Shep's the one who said, in one of these post-show conversations, to one of my actor friends, "I think she's going to have to do this again." I heard that as the tremendously generous gift it was; we do have three children, you know, ages five, three, and one, and someone was going to have to pick up the slack. He was smiling when he said it. Maybe he's missed seeing my glory. It must be hard to love an artist; their hearts don't stay in their bounds. I was trying to. But maybe I was trying to rewrite my bounds instead of filling the ones I was given.

On August 23, I went back to the theater after a five-year absence. Seven days ago, we closed the show, and I haven't yet quite come back down to earth. Oh theater....I love you. There, I said it. I can't denigrate your part in my life anymore. I've always had a conflict between my good girl self and my wild parts. Maybe because it feels so dangerous to be so alive. But after being gone and coming back, I know more than ever, whether I'm great at it or just good, I was made to do it, and I don't think I can walk away again.