new play "Cradle and All" tells the truth, warts and all

I was recently venting about how people who aren’t mothers assume we are mind-numbingly idle, and how that misconception of our lives is all too obvious in the portrayals of motherhood in popular culture.

This week, I saw a new play that gets it all refreshingly right. The Manhattan Theatre Club here in New York City is currently hosting the world premiere of Cradle and All, a play by father-of-two Daniel Goldfarb that explores the cost of having children– and of NOT having children– on two couples living right across the hall from each other in modern-day Brooklyn Heights.

Both couples– one wondering if they should have a baby, one wondering if they’ll ever get their old lives back now that they have– are played with humor and searing honesty by Greg Keller and Maria Dizzia. This play shows it all, good and bad. This play shows what it’s really like when you haven’t slept a solid night’s sleep in eleven months, when you don’t have your body back (and maybe never will), and when one’s child defies every expert’s advice on getting her to sleep through the night. 

The typically cantankerous (and presumably childless) New York Times reviewer called this play “slight” and “trivial” (before acknowledging that it was a enjoyable and often hilarious evening of theater). But it’s not. I think most of the people who create popular culture, and review it, and review books, think that plays and TV shows and movies and books about motherhood are by definition slight and trivial. And sure, some of them are– just like some of the quintillion books and plays and movies about men having midlife crises can be slight and trivial. But they don’t have to be. And I think when someone says something about motherhood that needs to be said, and says it well, they deserve our praise, our world of mouth, and our ticket dollars– just like a currently-running hilarious movie written by women and starring women and not all about men for a change does. Go see “Bridesmaids” if you haven’t yet (SO funny) and go see “Cradle and All” if you’re in New York City. We deserve books and movies and shows and plays that honestly reflect our lives– and maybe it will happen if we support them when they appear.

Cradle and All is currently running at City Center, 131 W 55th St.  You can get 25% off tickets by visiting NYCITYCENTER.ORG and using code 7554.

Disclosure: I received two free tickets to Cradle and All’s opening night, which is how I came to see the show.

A girl called our house this weekend to talk to my son. He is 6.

I knew this would happen someday.
I just thought my sons’ ages would be in the double digits first. 

On Saturday morning, I woke up to this message on our answering machine:

Hi Seamus, it’s Emma. I really need to talk to you, and (muffled) you’re probably asleep already, but it’s about Moshi Monsters, and I REALLY NEED TO TALK TO YOU. (covering phone) What? Yeah, he must be asleep… he’s not answering! (back to message) so call me back, okay? It’s Emma.

Seamus is in kindergarten. Emma had called at 9:15 pm. Our whole HOUSE was asleep by then.

I played the message for Seamus when he woke up, and while he did not choose to call her back, he had to fight breaking out into a huge grin for the next several hours. 

On Sunday morning, I found this mysterious note next to my laptop:

More Moshi Monsters. What’s Moshi Monsters, you say? Well, it only has fifteen million members between 7 and 11. (Watch for THAT IPO.) Club Penguin? Hello, 2010! This is where it’s at– and it’s completely harmless fun for my two boys. I think. Although I am not entirely sure.

“Seamus go to your frend tree as soon as you get on it.” 
“Do VV for your friends. It’s Caroline.”

A “frend tree” sounds harmless enough, but I’m not so sure what “doing VV” is. I hope it’s not a euphemism for pulling one’s pants down in the cafeteria or something, because Seamus is only too happy to do that already. I have a feeling this is but the very beginning of a new world of things that are going to sail completely over Mom’s head. Hoo boy.

Anyone else have boy-crazy girls (or girl-crazy boys) after their kindergarteners? 

I loved Mama Bird Diaries’ post today about her twins’ first birthday this weekend, and how very hard she tried to live in the moment for a change. She posted a beautiful quote from Anna Quindlen that I’d never heard before, and as usual, Ms. Quindlen nails it: 

“But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”

Here’s to treasuring the doing, particularly when we notice just how fast our little ones are growing up.

kids at school? Time for soap operas and bon bons! right, Mom?

Each morning, after I drop my three kids at two schools, I head home to start everything else I need to accomplish that day before pickup, clock already ticking in my head. We live in a hundred-year-old apartment building with an elevator that needs an attendant to run it. Elevator operators are a dying breed, to be sure, but our building has one, and most of the time it’s pretty great (for security and peace of mind).

not my elevator operator, but a close facsimile
It does mean, however, that small talk is required each morning coming and going with the same person (Eduardo) since we moved in eight years ago. And while Eduardo is unfailingly pleasant, he has a limited repertoire of things he likes chat about. During each of my three pregnancies, I had to hear EVERY MORNING that I was “pretty big.” (Pause.) “And going to get a lot bigger.” (Finally, my husband took an elevator ride to nowhere just so he could gently suggest to Eduardo that he pursue an subject of discussion besides my hippo-like size.)

Now that I’m not pregnant, I don’t have a size assessment each morning, but Eduardo’s new topic is just about as bad. These days, this is how our conversation goes five days a week:

ME: (walking in to elevator) Hi, Eduardo.
(silence for a few floors)
EDUARDO: … everybody at school now huh?
ME: (already starting to grit my teeth a little) Mm-hmm.
(silence for a few more floors)
EDUARDO: …so now Mommy gets a break! 

Eduardo is saying this TO BE NICE. Just TO SAY ANYTHING. And yet each morning it is getting a little harder for me not to take him down with my thirty-pound tote bag.

“A break?!” I want to scream. “No! My work STARTS now! I have two hundred and seventy-three things I need to do before eleven-thirty! I am not going to lie on the couch watching Judge Judy!” 

But I do not. Since Eduardo is not a parent, he has no sense of what a SAHM/WAHM does all day. And it’s not his fault: neither does anyone else. I saw a movie just last week about a couple with a young baby. They have a nanny but have to fire her. A few scenes later, the dad goes off to work, the baby goes down for a nap, and the mother, gazing idly around at her spotless kitchen, sits down at her kitchen counter with a magazine and a cup of tea.

I saw this and it was all I could do not to boomerang the remote control right through the TV screen. Yep! You nailed it, filmmakers! That’s what every mom without help does when her baby takes a nap: puts her feet up with a magazine until he wakes up! What verisimilitude! 

Nobody on that film set (including the actress) was a mother, clearly, or that scene would not have been filmed that way. It’s not their fault they don’t know, I guess, but it still makes me mad that people who don’t get it… don’t get it. They don’t assume mothers are busy. They assume we’re mind-numbingly idle. And I guess, as long as we allow that fantasy to continue, it will.

Should I say something (nicely) to my elevator operator friend? Am I way too sensitive here? Do you encounter people who can’t possibly imagine what you do all day? 

(photograph by JB Reed, taken from this NYT web page: a very interesting interview with an elevator operator about to be modernized out of a job)

why over-pushed children are like the Irish Elk

I think the New York Times should just go ahead and rename their “Sunday Styles” section the “Sunday Stressballs” section, because anyone who even glances at it on what might (up until then) have been an easy-like Sunday morning will in short order become a tightly wound ball of stress. At least that’s what happens to me.

Right now, the most emailed Sunday Styles story is on fast tracking to kindergarten–specifically, how the type of parents who name their children Huxton and Eze (yes really) are flocking to Kumon Learning Centers with those children in order to give them a five-year headstart on their future classmates. Times tables at two? Of course; doesn’t YOUR toddler know how to divide yet? 

Mind you, this is all what the kids want; the parents are there because they have no choice. As one mother explains of her three-year-old, 

She used to cry at night because she couldn’t read. It was so traumatic for all of us.

Traumatic, to be sure. But I’m not sure the thrice-weekly tutoring sessions are really going to be the calming influence that family is seeking.

Professor Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, compares over-pushed children like this to the Irish elk:

“…they go around tottering, unable to walk, under the enormous weight of these antlers they’ve developed.” 

Yes, YES, I nodded to myself as I read that sentence, smirking, feeling so so superior to these ridiculous parents overthinking everything. (Which I think is what the New York Times kinda has in mind.) Until that little corner of my brain takes over and I become one of those ridiculous parents overthinking everything. It’s a push me-pull you thing, and it goes like this:

These preschoolers could have forty minutes of homework a night! Ha! My second-grader has twenty! 
(Is that enough? Should I make him do the bonus sheet?)   
When are these parents ever going to learn? 
(What if my kids aren’t working to their full potential? How would I even know?) 

My kids’ schools are SO not like this, and that’s why I picked them, and most of the time I am so very very thankful for that. But even as I roll my eyes at the Pregnant In Heels types, there is a little corner of my brain pondering whether I am fatally dooming my children to a Life of Less. I know that sentiment is ridiculous. That part of my brain is a LOT smaller than it used to be. But it probably won’t stop me from pausing just a moment in front of Kumon’s windows the next time I walk by, and that’s what businesses like theirs– and stories like this one– are preying on.

what parents of disabled children wish the rest of us knew

My friend Katy, who blogs at Bird on the Street, says she is not Superwoman. I disagree with that assessment- and so will you, once I tell you that Katy is the mother of a three-year-old with cerebral palsy, and is also 32 weeks pregnant. WITH TWINS. (Katy also says she is “living proof that God has sense of humor,” and that much is undeniably true.)

But Katy’s blog is not about “oh poor me, I have so much to handle.” On the contrary, she’s witty, and inspiring, and smart, and challenging- and she’s written something that is required reading for any parent.  “All I Ask” is Katy’s open letter to anyone who’s ever asked  the parent of a disabled child “is there anything I can do to help?” Here are a few of Katy’s suggestions: 

Try to look people with disabilities in the eye.
If you meet a child with a disability, speak directly to them. A parent or guardian will let you know if they aren’t capable of understanding or responding.
Don’t assume that a person with a disability has a poor quality of life and don’t teach that misconception to your children.
Don’t assume I wish my child was different. Don’t assume he’s a burden.
Teach your children that different is OK and be sure to include not just those of a different color, but those who move around differently, talk or hear differently, and even those whose bodies are different.
If your child asks about someone in a wheelchair, don’t tell them to “shush.”
And teach them that looking is OK if it’s done with a smile.

There’s more, much more, and you should go read Katy’s whole post for yourself. What blows me away about what Katy wrote is that I thought I was doing a pretty good job, shushing my children when they asked about wheelchairs, telling them it was impolite to stare. And here I was doing exactly the wrong thing. I’ve given my children the appropriate platitudes about how you can’t tell what someone’s like inside by how they look outside, that God makes some people’s brains differently… but I’ve never taught them to engage openly, to ask questions, to SMILE, for heaven’s sake. I’ve taught them to politely avert their eyes. And starting today I’m going to do things differently.

Don’t worry too much about how I’m handing things and ask yourself if you’re doing enough to make this world a safe place for my child and all people with a disability. Do you live like the disabled are invisible? Are you inadvertently teaching your children intolerance because of your own baggage? In your desire to be “polite” have you crossed over into “rude?” ….God didn’t give me a special child to raise–he gave all of us the opportunity to be the best or the worst version of ourselves. I’m doing my part. All I ask is that you do yours.

Thank you, Katy. You have made me a better version of myself.