Sunday, December 22, 2013

Keeping the Faith

I have always been a Catholic.

Catholic grade school, Catholic high school, Catholic college. Catholic volunteer program after college. Catholic school teacher.

I loved making all my sacraments. I loved the "smells and bells" of Mass. I loved learning about the saints, attending Communion services at lunch, performing service in the name of Jesus.

Without a doubt, my husband and I were going to raise our kids Catholic, and pass along all of the traditions that entailed.

And while there were certainly things I didn't agree with regarding Catholic doctrine (especially as I got older and my views started leaning left), my Jesuit teachers, colleagues, and friends helped me overlook this. They taught me that it was okay to question and challenge things while remaining "a good Catholic."

But then we left our Jesuit bubble in NYC. And while I tried to find connection and meaning during Mass in our new parish, it just never clicked. I found myself sitting in Mass, completely disengaged. I chalked it up to trying to wrangle my toddlers into submission during the service, but there was something else. An anger, a longing brewing inside of me. I began to wonder about a lot...and didn't feel there was a place and space to voice that wonder. What if my son comes out to me one day? What if my daughter wants to pursue a leadership role in the Church? Why does the pro-life argument never seem to encompass capital punishment, addiction, homelessness? Why am I looking for excuses to not attend Mass?

The breaking point came in 2011. A grand jury report came out against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, listing over 30 priests guilty of "inappropriate conduct." Within a few months, a number of schools were closed without warning. Looking at my two children over breakfast one morning, I broke down sobbing. How could I raise my children in a church that seemed so anti-children?

After a long talk with my husband, we decided to try something else. We were looking for a church that would fit all of us as a family. And that didn't seem to include the Catholic church.

So we started attending an Episcopal church in our neighborhood. What a difference! Our daughter went off to the nursery; our son attended their amazing Sunday school run by a former kindergarten teacher. The pastor and parishioners were warm and welcoming. We could actually listen to and participate in the service. During one of the first Sundays, I was feeling a bit guilty, but it dawned on me that God was still with was just a different house. And yet...

...there was still a pull, a question mark. So at the end of year one, we sent our son to a Vacation Bible School at a Methodist church our neighbor attended. At her invitation, we decided to try it out.

There was still a nursery and a Sunday school; still warm, welcoming parishioners. And yet the service (which, truth be told, was a bit stodgy at the Episcopal church) was joyful and uplifting! I could actually feel myself relax and find peace each Sunday. The entire family looked forward to church (in fact, on the odd Sunday when we didn't attend, our kids would question us right away).

And in the meantime...this incredible Pope Francis (a Jesuit!) had to get himself elected and be all awesome. Pause. A Jesuit pope!? Who actually lives and teaches as Jesus did? Could this be the change we had been waiting for?

We started researching Catholic parishes in our area again. So the one in our neighborhood hadn't been a great fit...maybe there was another one? Possibly? Hopefully?

But then the decision was made for us.

At Back-to-School Night, we were looking at our son's "Writing Journal". His teacher had the students draw a big heart on the first page, and fill it up with ideas of things they love so they would always have inspiration to write.

Our son's heart included pictures of our dog, a T-Rex, a basketball, our family...and in the middle, a giant cross. On one side, he had written "God". On the other side: "My chrch".

All I could ever want from a church, any church, is for my children to find and explore their faith.

Who knows what the future will hold...but for now, we have found a spiritual home at Hope United Methodist. And I am eternally grateful.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gummi Bears and Gratitude

Today was one of those rare, precious days.

A perfect parenting day.

Well, more like a perfect kid day, with me as the grateful beneficiary.

It started with both children sleeping "in" (which means past 7 a.m.), and then quietly sneaking into our bed for a snuggle. No barging in, no elbow in the stomach, no loud demands for breakfast or a viewing of "Doc McStuffins". Just a good ten minutes of peaceful snuggling.

After breakfast, Teege suggested that he and Kelly ride their scooters to the playground. Said scooters, bought just in time for the spring, have been used approximately 5.5 times by each child this summer. Part of this is due to our very hilly street; part is due to parental laziness; part is due to children's reliable rejection of anything fun and slightly expensive that you buy for them. So I was thrilled by the suggestion. Of course, it was on a day when we had a doctor's appointment that cut right into fun time, so we wound up just driving. But still, his intention was welcome.

I brought along a coffee mug, foolishly optimistic that I'd be able to sip peacefully whilst the children played. Not to be...but that was okay, because their requests have become, I'm realizing, quickly approaching an expiration date. I'll happily hoist Kelly into the baby swing...because her feet are starting to almost touch the ground. Of course I'll go down the slide with Teege...because it's almost like carrying him, which he never needs anymore.

A few other kids showed up, and I observed as my own cheerfully welcomed them into their play. TJ ran the introductions, always proudly presenting "my sister Kelly who is three," and I just sat back and watched as they navigated the waters of social interaction. A few friends have recently likened becoming a parent to watching your heart leave your body...and I totally get it. You can't help but burst with pride when your offspring do the right thing, or feel their pain just as deeply when they are rejected or disappointed. Luckily, today their friendliness and kindness paid off. My heart sang.

We then had to hit Home Depot for a few things, and Kelly surprised both of us by quietly entertaining herself while we checked out granite countertops. No climbing out of the cart, no knocking off a row of samples in one fell swoop. She even charmed our cranky salesperson by suggesting that one granite sample "looked like the outer space sky!"

I had promised the kids that they could finally spend their summer piggy bank savings on a trip to Five Below. I told them exactly how much money they had and what they could spend Both kids walked--WALKED--up and down the aisles, together, carefully considering their options, said please and thank you to the cashier, and carried their bags themselves. No whining for more stuff; no running or pulling crap out of bins.

During Kelly's naptime, TJ opened up his purchase (a set of Bey Blades), and invited me to "do a battle" with him. I put him off as I went about folding laundry and answering emails, but when he invited me again--sweetly, hopefully, without a trace of whining--I had to relent. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing Bey Blades, a long-forgotten Matchbox racetrack, and testing out paper airplanes. This is kind of a big deal. As first grade is approaching, he is primarily into his daddy these days. Cuddles on the couch with Mommy are becoming a distant memory. So spending some one-on-one QT with my little guy--at his invitation--was priceless.

He helped me prune his overgrown pumpkin vine (which is taking over our entire front walkway--all from one seed planted months ago), but soon disappeared. When I looked up, he was proffering a handful of gummy bears. "For your hard work, Mommy," he affirmed. "I picked one of each color because I wasn't sure which was your favorite."

After he and Daddy left for their camping trip, it was time for "ladygirl night" with Bells. We had dinner on the deck, chatting about preschool and how excited she was to see her friends and teachers. After changing into our pj's, we snuggled up together to watch "Tangled."

As I put my sweet girl to bed tonight, and then chatted with my superdude on the phone, I couldn't help thinking...perfect day. One of those days you don't necessarily see coming, didn't plan for, and hope it's not fleeting. And when it keeps on going, and going, and surprising you incessantly...well, you need to document it as soon as possible.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Love, Loss, and What I Wore the title of a play currently running in Philly. It's basically a collection of stories, told by actresses, that share the common thread (pun intended) of clothes.

I am definitely not a clotheshorse or fashionista by any means. Part of that is dictated by time and finances--a teacher's budget and parent's schedule does not make for long, leisurely trips to the outlets (half-hour jaunts to Kohl's or TJ Maxx are more my speed). Part of that is I always think I was born in the wrong era--I love the slingback pumps and tailored suits my Grandmom sported in her engagement pictures, and I'm convinced that my wiry curls were meant to be slicked back with pomade under a smart little cloche hat.

But if I had to choose a couple of pieces from my nostalgia closet, I guess it would go something like this...

1) My prom dress. I got it at Lancaster Dress Company with my mom; it was probably the second one I tried on. Cream-colored lace, off-the-shoulder, long sleeved, with a tiered skirt. It was comfortable, beautiful, and I felt like a fairy princess in it. I loved it so much that I wore it to 2 proms--my own, escorted by Bobby, a short, sweet little sophomore, and my friend Jim's. I had met Jim doing shows at a local boys' school, which closed after his junior year. I convinced him to try out for my own school's play senior year, and introduced him to my circle of friends. Although we were never romantically attached (he is now happily partnered up with a great guy), he later told me that he asked me to his prom to thank him for saving his senior year. "Without you," he said, "I never would have been 'in'."

2) My red suede Marcia Brady vest. I spent many a paycheck in high school and college at the Lansdowne Thrift Shop. "Vintage" style was starting to take off, and I found some fantastic pieces which, after several rounds in the washer, no longer reeked of mothballs--true bell-bottom jeans, retro skirts, old-man cardigans (which Kurt Cobain had made cool), and the odd piece of grandma jewelry to funkify any outfit. But my best find was a form-fitting maroon suede vest with big toggle buttons. I wore it to numerous college parties and bars, always garnering compliments. "I got it at the THRIFT SHOP!" I would crow. Macklemore would be proud.

3) My grey high school jumper. Going to a Catholic school, we had a choice of uniforms--grey or plaid kilt with a white blouse and maroon sweater, or jumper with a Peter Pan collar, finished off with penny loafers and maroon tights or socks (always pushed down around the ankle, even in the dead of winter). After suffering through freshman year in the kilt combination (which got hotter and itchier as summer approached), I opted for the jumper. The jumper also required an emblem sewn over the heart, with different colors representing which year you were in. Senior year, I wore the same emblem my mom had worn on her jumper years before (in addition to the very important badges I had earned as a senior, such as "Chorus Treasurer" and "Spanish Honor Society President"). Many a morning I still wish I could just throw on that jumper, instead of rooting around the closet.

4) My khaki "safari style" dress. One hot summer day in 2001, I was wandering around Century 21 in Manhattan's financial district and happened upon this simple khaki dress. As a teacher, I was always looking for cute and comfortable dresses, and this was perfect. Plus, it had multiple pockets (great for sticking my MetroCard in a jiffy). On the first day of school that year, I donned my new dress and went off to meet my freshmen. Little did I know I would wind up spending almost 36 hours in that dress, and how much it would reek of smoke by the time I took it off. Every year since, on 9/11, I wear that same dress.

5) My wedding dress. Although it wasn't my first choice, it was still a beautiful dress--cap sleeves, beaded bodice, and a fabulous train that bustled up under a bow. My veil was a "Juliet-style" coronet, and I wore NR's grandmother's pearls. The day was long and hot, but I savored every moment in that dress, knowing I would never wear it again.

6) My first maternity shirt. Practically the minute I found out I was pregnant, I ran out to Target and bought a maternity top--a blue Liz Lange wraparound shirt. I wouldn't be showing for another five months, but I proudly wore that shirt as a badge of honor, convinced that everyone could tell. I was also so terrified of doing anything "wrong" during my first pregnancy, including wearing a too-tight shirt, so I felt like I was giving my little baby plenty of room to stretch and grow (although he had nothing to stretch for a while!).

7) My Levis. Yup, just a plain old pair of flare jeans that I bought right off the shelf without trying on. They're probably about ten years old now, and every time I do a closet cleanout I mean to throw them away, but I just can't. They have served me well on mission trips, auditions, movie dates, maternity leaves, you name it. I can't let them go. They are tragically out of date now in this skinny-jean world, but I love them and they love me. Case closed.

8) My navy Calvin Klein dress. Several years ago, I was called in for a third interview for a job I desperately wanted. I knew I needed a killer outfit to seal the deal. I got my hair and nails done, and combed through multiple stores until I landed at Marshall's for something else. And there it was--a navy button-down CK dress with a smart little tie belt. I tried it on and felt like a million bucks--it was flattering and gave me a sophisticated confidence. Although it was an oppressively hot day, I marched into that interview feeling terrific...only to not get the job. I was devastated. The dress hung in my closet for a year, a pathetic reminder of my crushing disappointment. And then...I was called in to interview for my current job. I got the dress dry-cleaned, donned it again, and on another hot day, strode in with all the confidence my bruised ego could muster. And I nailed it.

There have been others in the grad-school uniform of tank top/floral skirt/flip-flops, my retro polka-dot bathing suit from high school, the red wool coat trimmed with fake cheetah fur I found at Andy's Chee-Pees in the East Village...all artifacts from vastly different times in my life, all worn with a purpose, all costumes for who I was, when I was, where I was. Perhaps not all attached to love and loss, but definitely what I wore was what I was.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Dream Achieved.

Okay. I'm not THAT bad.

My very first drama teacher was a fabulous woman named Rhonda. She wore fabulous scarves, had fabulous hair, and played fabulous music by Stevie Wonder. She made us all feel like the special little snowflakes we thought we were. Every time I entered her theater classroom, with the soft spotlights and air-conditioning blasting, I felt safe and secure enough to take risks and push myself.

I had other terrific drama teachers throughout middle school (Lenny, Terry), theater programs (Colleen, Tina, Rob), and college/grad school (Theresa, Peg, Frank, Joe, Vincent). And all along, I hoped to one day be in their ranks.

But it wasn't enough to just teach drama. I had spent my formative years at a Quaker school. And while I certainly had my share of adolescent woes, Quaker education laid the foundation for my open mind and social conscience.

Senior year of college (before the days of Facebook), a friend sent around one of those chain email surveys that were totally inane (favorite ice-cream flavor! favorite Saturday morning cartoon!) but suddenly fascinating when you were supposed to be studying for finals. One of the questions was "dream job". I quickly typed in "Teaching Drama in a Quaker school."

I knew the chances were slim to none. While there are a number of Quaker schools in the Northeast (specifically the Philly area), teaching jobs there are highly coveted. Drama teaching jobs are even more coveted (since often there is just one teacher at a school--you are a lonely department of one).

So I got certified to teach English, and used that to build up my teaching resume--directing and teaching theater whenever I could squeeze it in. Entering the drama classroom or rehearsal room was always, ALWAYS the highlight of my teaching day. I remember so clearly directing a scene in the mini-theater at Cathedral High School (in midtown Manhattan), probably in my mid-twenties, and catching myself so alive and energized. "This is it," I realized. "I am GOOD at this. I LOVE this."

Upon moving back to PA, I used that old English certification to snap up a job teaching English at a private girls' school. "This will be better," I convinced myself. "I'll have more time for my baby now that I'm not directing." But after 5 years of mountains of essays, a breakneck monotonous schedule, philosophical differences, broken promises of actually allowing me to teach a drama class or start a legit theater program at the school, and another baby, I could feel the slow burn...of burning out. I had another a-ha moment...but not quite as lovely as my previous one. I was walking across the beautiful campus one day, and just felt my spirit sort of...slipping away. "Why aren't I happy?" I asked myself. "Why can't I just appreciate that this is a perfectly good job?" But I was a drama teacher trapped in an English teacher's body...and everyone knew it. I started going on interviews for something more in my field, always coming right down to the finish line...only to be told "we're going with someone else." My friends and family patiently listened to each disappointing story, only to pat my hand and tell me, "Something better will come along."

And then...some sunlight started to peek through the clouds. I applied for a "part-time English position; theater experience preferred" at--ding ding ding!--a Quaker school. I was to teach 2 English classes and produce the school shows. They hired me the day of my interview, and I just finished a blissfully satisfying, joyful, energizing first year. I can't tell you how many times I caught myself saying "Yes, THIS. This is exactly where I'm supposed to be."

Last month, I signed my contract for next year. I'll be teaching 2 English classes, 3 Drama classes, and still steering the entire theater program (I opted not to direct for the time being, which will allow me more "Mommy time").

"Hold fast to dreams," Langston Hughes wrote. I was beginning to think that was futile and, perhaps, selfish. But I did hold fast. And this is no longer a dream deferred, but a dream achieved.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Birthday Week!

When I first found out Kelly's due date--March 10--I freaked out a little. "Oh nooooo..." I wailed. "That's the day after Teege's will take away from his special month..." (Ah yes. The notion of a birthday "month". One of just many concerns of the parent of a single child, which quickly melted away once #2 came along!) 
I remember waddling around the grocery store on TJ's 3rd birthday, days after giving birth (and roundly disobeying doctor's orders by driving there), desperate to pick out the perfect birthday cake (and already giving myself a giant, painful, appropriately Irish guilt trip for not actually BAKING it). We were so concerned about TJ being somehow scarred by sharing his birthday week with his younger sibling that we celebrated his party a whole month earlier that year, just to ensure that it would be ALL ABOUT HIM. I shuddered to think about--GASP--all the future joint birthday parties they would have to share.  (We also tried to expiate our guilt by getting him a Wii that year. A freaking Wii. FOR A THREE-YEAR-OLD.)
 But we figured it out. 
Well, 6 years of parenthood have taught me that--surprise!--kids can be amazingly resilient. With their birthdays being four days apart, it simply makes for a festive, joyful week of celebrating both of our children. This year, we started off with a joint party at a local bouncy place (which, I believe, I had turned my nose up at in this very blog several years ago). It was terrific--they provided pizza, paper goods, and tons of activities for the kiddies. We didn't invite their entire classes--just a few special buddies for each, plus their cousins. For favors, we gave out wooden model sets to the boys, Make it/Bake it stained glass kits for the girls (total 80s throwback), and painting pads for the little ones. Throw in a few cakes (one dinosaur, one princess--yes, I have CAVED) from Acme and we were good to go.  
For the actual birthdays, we did a special dinner (local pizza place for Kelly, Mickey D's for Teege) followed by dessert with close family (cupcakes with purple frosting for Kelly, ice cream sundae bar for Teege). At dinner, we started a new tradition--each family member shared what they love about the birthday kid. We also squeezed in a living room slumber party one night (we had done this over Christmas break one night, sleeping with the Christmas tree lights on).  
On Sunday, NR and I were actually kind of...bummed that Birthday Week was over. 
With TJ's birthday being on a Saturday this year, I was more reflective than usual. I couldn't help but relive that long, terrifying day in the delivery room...the neverending labor, the shock of finally meeting him, and the terror--yes, sheer terror--I felt that night when NR left me with this screaming, tiny newborn. I remember clutching him awkwardly in my arms, feeling so alone, staring out the hospital window at the streets of Hoboken, wondering how on earth I would ever feel maternal. Mourning the life we were leaving, and so uncertain of the life we were beginning.  
But we figured it out. 
Flash forward to three years later, after a cakewalk delivery for Kelly, and a joyful day filled with family and friends. That screaming infant in Hoboken had turned into a fascinating little boy whom I was deeply in love with. Yet now, my fear was how I could possibly share this all-consuming love with another little new baby girl. 
And I figured it out. 
As for parenthood...while the joy is insurmountable, there are new challenges all the time. And with two very different children whom I love equally and probably irrationally at times, I'm learning that "good" parenting can mean different things for different kids. Just as a woman's body was made to give birth (and recover!), so too does a mom's heart--and expectations--adjust accordingly. There will always be more room, it will always adapt.  
That's not to say I have it all figured out...yet. :)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Death Becomes Me

Pretty much the world's laziest blogger. Chalk it up to the holidays and then back-to-back productions (performing then producing), plus the usual nonstop craziness of parenting, teaching, and living. I'm always amazed by those dutiful mommy bloggers (moggers?) who somehow manage to write these thoughtful, witty, provocative posts EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. They must have the world's best-behaved kiddoes, or an unlimited supply of 5 Hour Energy, or superhuman multi-tasking skills. If I pump out a few entries a year, I feel like a champ.
So I just finished up my yearly venture onstage. I've decided that no matter how tempting the play or juicy the role, one show a year scratches the acting itch just fine, thank you. I get to exercise my chops a bit, learn something new, meet some cool peeps, and then it's back to once-a-week yoga or night out with girlfriends for "me" time. It is a very delicate balance between being a bitter mommy, a present mommy, a mommy with healthy interests, and neglectful mommy. NR is super supportive and encourages my theater jaunts, but as much as I love it...I love being around for bedtime, too!
I firmly believe that continuing to hobbies/friends/interests models many important lessons for your kids (commitment, loyalty, pursuing passions, etc.), but it can be easy to get TOO caught up in that as well.
Anywho, this particular theatrical endeavor was one of the most challenging I've ever encountered. I played "Woman in Aviatrix Outfit" in Arthur Kopit's "Chamber Music." It's an absurdist play from the 60's set in a mental institution. All of the women believe they are someone famous--Joan of Arc, Susan B. Anthony, etc.--except that it becomes clear throughout the play that my character may actually BE Amelia Earhart.
So, the challenges:
1) The Dialogue. When I talk about memorization with my acting students, I always urge them to memorize the story first, and then let the words fall into place. Yet there was no clear spine to this play--just a bunch of crazy chicks yelling at each other. So instead, I tried to memorize the "movements" (as in music). There were crescendoes and climaxes, fermatas and rests. This was also helpful since there was very little blocking (we were seated for most of the show), so I couldn't even use physicality to attach to the lines.
2) Lack of Connection. My character was the outcast of the play, so I had no "partner" to connect with onstage. Lonely for an actor, but valuable for the character. The actresses offstage, however, were fantastic...not a diva in the bunch.
3) A Wig. I haven't worn a wig in a play since I was 19, and forgot how much I HATE them. You just can't touch your head the way you normally would, which limits your movements, but you also kind of want to fuss with it because it's so foreign, which then brings attention to the fact that it's "A WIG." Kind of like when Wendy Williams or Kathy Griffin start petting their weaves. Plus, wigs are itchy and sometimes painful. However, it was so completely different from my own hair that I got a kick out of it.
4) Dying (again). The last play I did, I was murdered in the final seconds of the play. My throat was slit, but I was already on a bed and managed to die face down. For this play, I was strangled by a mob, had to collapse face up onstage, lie there for about 10 minutes, then be picked up and placed in a chair for the final moments. The whole sequence was carefully choreographed, and we ran a fight call every night before the show. Still, it was nerve-wracking. Thank God for practicing yoga and "corpse pose"--my heart was pounding and my breath was ragged during the murder, and I had to quickly slow it down for the actual death. One night my shirt was yanked up during the murder, and I was convinced that I was flashing the audience...but what was I going to do? Come back to life for one second of modesty to rearrange myself? And during final dress, that damn wig slipped above my forehead, exposing my very non-Amelia brown curls. =0
Needless to say, my kiddies were not able to come see this show. As much as they "get" make-believe, they just didn't need to see Mommy Gets Murdered. We were trying to explain to TJ one night why he couldn't come, so NR told him that "some of the ladies in the play say bad words." TJ's eyes grew big, and he asked, "Do they say the 'b' word?" Shocked, I inquired what he thought that was. He tiptoed around the dinner table and whispered in my ear, "Butt?"
Here's hoping that's the WORST thing he'll hear in the next show I do. :)