life · Parenting · Uncategorized

Dance Party 2 (Because All of its Musical Fabulousness Couldn’t Be Contained in Just One Volume)

This is something I wrote from a while back, but apparently got stuck in the “drafts” pile.

Like laundry.

Sometime in 2013…

I’ve been stuck because I don’t know where to begin. So I thought I might try approaching things one at a time.  (Good luck, she says to herself.)

It was late afternoon a couple of days ago- the worst time of day for me- because I just want to crawl in some cave and sleep until dinner is ready, which is a problem as I’m the one that does dinner, so cave slumber= mass starvation.  Anyway, I try to do some sort of physical activity with my little ones (two four year olds) so that they don’t turn into couch potatoes and I don’t have to start an IV caffeine drip. This particular day I thought, “Let’s try the Just Dance 2 Playstation game,” otherwise known as “The Dancing Game.”  For those of you not familiar with this rockin’ timeless, Billboard-chart shattering music collection brought to life with equally mind-numbing blowing choreography, here’s an earworm that will devour your soul:

You’re welcome.

So, we begin. Now I’ve taken a LOT of dance; I had some sort of dance instruction for close to 10 years, and that’s not including all of the miscellaneous theatre movement training. For some reason, this choreography seems just “off” like a quarter of a beat or something.  I can’t place it.  It’s just so damn awkward and I find myself not as graceful as I imagine myself to be, although it could also have something to do with the fact that I’m 25 years older than when I first started dancing; however, that latter explanation is clearly the inferior one, I’m positive.

My girls are doing an OK job with The Dancing Game.  They love it.  It doesn’t matter how good they are, although it’s clear that one of them is more coordinated than the other.  It could also have to do with the fact that Slightly More Coordinated Twin is serious as a heart attack about her choreography.  Slightly Less Coordinated Twin gets caught up in watching the video and doing some half- hearted attempt at what seems to be a possible voluntary physical movement—or maybe it’s just a twitch.  Sometimes I can’t tell.

Still, an awareness rears its ugly and awkwardly-timed head.  And the self-comparisons—which have already begun in other areas—emerge, paralyzing and self-depreciating:

“Momma, I can’t do this.  She does it better than me.”

Ohhhhh crap. So I go into problem solving mode.

“You’ve got to make your moves bigger,” I tell her, in an effort to cajole her into making some more definitive, more distinguishable moves.

“Mommy, I lost.  She got more stars than me.”

“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying.  Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has.  You have one.  Keep trying.”


“Did you have fun dancing?  Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better. You can’t just stand there. You have to move!”

And then it happened.  I heard what I was saying for the first time, as if Morpheus for a moment stepped out of “the desert of the real” reached into my world, stopped time, and shoved my face up against a mirror.

I’ve been feeling stuck, you see.

“Momma, I can’t do this.  EVERYONE does it better than me.”  As an actor, I’ve been trained to put my focus on the “other”- the other actors onstage with me, the “other” that I allow myself to inhabit.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot myself a bit, and was so focused on everyone else, that I just got lost. Particularly of late, I am seeing so many of my friends and colleagues garner well-deserved accolades and success, both professionally and personally.  And I am genuinely happy for them- seriously.  But then I look at myself and can’t help but think how everyone I know is a better mother/ wife/ teacher/ scholar/actor/homemaker than I am.

“Mommy, I lost.  She got more stars than me.” I’m still a big believer in winning and losing.  I don’t think everyone should be a winner all the time.  But I have been feeling lost- and like I’ve lost a lot.  I feel so behind and am a little perplexed as to how this “behind” situation happened.  I feel tired, like I’ve done a lot, but I just haven’t seen any payoff, and that is frustrating.  I see other people getting some acknowledgement, but I don’t see it happening over on my end.  There’s no anger toward other people, only anger toward myself for not being better, although I’m unsure as to what “better” actually means.

“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying.  Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has.  You have one.  Keep trying.”  Of course I will keep trying.  I’m like a damn terrier.  Ask my husband.  I relentlessly pursued him (minus the Lifetime Network dose of psychosis). But for a start, I think perhaps I need to put some of the focus on myself for once. On my work. On figuring out what it is I really want to achieve.  Setting goals.  Ugh, that one’s a tough one, and I realize that I have not been good at defining what I would like my future to look like.  I always believed that if I just worked hard enough, “good things” would come to me.  What these “good things” were- exactly- I couldn’t specifically say, only that they were really good. Seriously. I mean like, totally. I’m totally serious.

“Did you have fun dancing?”  Yes, nothing I’ve done I regret. Very few things in my life do I wish I had done differently because I never would have met my husband and had these daughters and that hypothetical prospect looms most regrettable of all.

“Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better.” Fine. Fine. FINE.


But really what it comes down to:

“You can’t just stand there. You have to move!”  I tell my students this all the time, but it actually sounds more like this:  “Be strong and wrong!” The sentiment remains the same: do something, even if you don’t know what to do, because in all likelihood, a definitive, strong choice reveals the path to follow (or at the very least will slam a door in your face and you probably needed that).  I can’t just stand around and watch other choreography.  It’s off because it’s not mine; I’m trying to ape someone else’s trajectory and that simply won’t fly. Doing this only sets me up for failure and defines me as a victim, someone things happen to, not someone who can impact the world around me.  Deep down, I have faith I can make this change.

So for me, the first move I make requires setting my fingers to the keyboard and writing, writing, writing.  And yeah, I probably should get off my butt and workout.  That too.


Yes, That’s My Monkey, But Not My Circus

“When you parent, it’s crucial you realize you aren’t raising a “mini me,” but a spirit throbbing with its own signature. For this reason, it’s important to separate who you are from who each of your children is. Children aren’t ours to possess or own in any way. When we know this in the depths of our soul, we tailor our raising of them to their needs, rather than molding them to fit our needs.”
― Shefali TsabaryThe Conscious Parent


I have to preface this whole situation by saying that I get enough homework by proxy through my daughters’ first grade experience to rival graduate school. Nope, can’t work on that writing to finish my thesis; I have to make sure that I’ve quizzed my kids on their mandatory “free” reading (which they would do anyway, but I wouldn’t have to quiz them AND they’re like three grade levels ahead- ENJOY READING, DAMMIT!), made sure they’ve done a bunch of spelling exercises, and some math sheets. They’re in first grade. Fine, it’s fine.

Seriously, though, if I was relaxing, reading a book (Ha! Like that would ever happen for fun- such a frivolous waste of time literacy is) and my husband abruptly came up to me and started demanding random-y plot points from the chapter, I’d be forced to…oh wait, my kids do that. Minus plot point inquiry. Which is why I don’t read. Except when I can sneak it. Like the bad habit that it is.



After school today, I helped my daughter, Baby A, begin this project for school, which admittedly is a little extra something and not really mandatory. However, in the spirit of exposing her to a fun little project with a little competition thrown in, I figured why not. So, it’s a diorama. You remember these things, right?

Snails Diorama 1


Actually, this is sort of a kick ass one, cooler than anything I remember ever doing. But you get the picture, right? Standard issue shoe box with the top arranged as the floor/ kickstand for the whole piece. That box top is KEY as it provides essential extra square footage that can be reappropriated and exploited by the likes of Love it or List It. In fact, this is an EXCELLENT example of our task, since in celebration of the spring season (I can’t say Easter because it’s a public school- or can I? I have no idea, but either way, we all know what the candy’s for) the kiddos are invited to make a story diorama of any book, tale, keynote speech—whatever– and (age appropriately) use Peeps. No monsters or mutilation, y’all. The flier did say “no monsters”; “y’all” is flavor.

So I set up the play room with the craft table as she decides she wants to start by painting the exterior of the box. That’s cool, although the one thing I hate about our bonus/ playroom is that there’s carpet in there and I have control issues (working on it!), what with the paint and the carpet. But whatever, it’s washable, which is more than I can say for the paint we used yesterday. (Yep- and it’s a new house with carpeting about 6 weeks old, so let’s just say the shine is off the proverbial apple). Now my other daughter, Baby B, wants to get involved and I’m kind of excited, you see, because this daughter has been whining, “I don’t want to enter any contest” and now, she’s at least going to engage in the gateway behavior that leads up to a bona fide entry into said competition so OK, sure, I say, totally casual-like. While I’m feeling jazzed about luring my daughter into a competitive opportunity, my daughter’s saying, “Just for fun, Momma. I’m just doing this for fun.”

Sure you are, I think. Sure you are. Because to me, you see, competing is fun. Winning is fun. Ergo, this activity is fun IF YOU ARE COMPETING.

Now before anyone starts thinking, “Damn, Tiger Mama, down gurl,” understand this is the child for whom dressing in the morning is a task for which she finds herself “Toooooooooo tiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrred.” So a little entry into a diorama contest in the school library is pretty low stakes way to encourage her to try something new. She might learn she’s good at it, I explain to her, although if she doesn’t ever “play the game” she’ll never have the opportunity to know what she’s capable of.

At six, my daughter feigns little interest. She is resolved.


And so they have some fun. Baby A has already picked out her story, and I am trying to help her figure out how to depict it within the dioramic medium using some gummy Lifesavers, marshmallows, Peeps, and jelly beans (both tart and sweet). I look around for more Crafty MacGyver type things, and come up short handed, although I have a ton of ribbon, a stack of colored construction paper, some clothes pins, and popsicle sticks. I also have random fluff.

But no matter, they are happily painting, painting, painting the exterior of the box and lid, when I say, “Hey, maybe we should start thinking about what you want to show, what part of the story.” The book is “If You Give a Dog a Donut” so , for those of you unfamiliar with this series, you give an animal something they want and then they just keep wanting more and more and more until they’ve come full circle and want the first thing again. Not unlike children. In the non-fiction version, I would probably follow this with, “He’ll vomit all over your new couch and rug, you’ll be out a donut, and probably a couple hundred bucks for the vet” but as it is, the fictive text reads, “He’ll want a glass of apple juice.” I ask her whether she thinks this is an inside or outside snack and she decides on an interior motif. I’m trying to figure out in my head how we’re going to create a lush (ok, competitive, yes) interior with the aforementioned materials, and I hear, “You can look in the Duplos and Legos for some pieces for the little detailed stuff and to make your table,” fall out of my mouth. That’s a great idea, Self. Good for you! So I go off to do some “mom stuff” (start dinner to feed children). I casually wander back in and suggest that maybe we could go the more comic route and use a real sized cup filled with some stand in for apple juice next to a Peep cast as the Dog/ Protagonist. Deadpan blankness meets me. Apparently, this is not a helpful mom suggestion.

Some minutes pass, and my daughter comes out to say, “Mommy this is what I’m going to use and here is the apple juice! Here it is….


Do you see it? Let me help you.


While my mouth is saying, “That’s great, sweetheart,” my heart falls. I’m having a plethora of reactions in what seems to be forever and instantaneous. First, I’m thinking, “What the hell is that?” A shiver of panic runs down my spine hoping, praying that she doesn’t ask me follow up questions about it. Then I recall the conversation- right, she said “chair and table and apple juice, but shit, WHERE IS THE APPLE JUICE?”


Right. There it is.

Then, I’m thinking she’s not that great with disappointment, particularly in a competitive realm. Of course, she’s 6 so that’s part of the landscape. I’m having the sinking feeling this is not going to go well and she’s going to have a bad time.



And the most ludicrious part of all of this is my reaction of frustration because my idea is better and why doesn’t she just do it my way?!

WTF just happened there? How old ARE you?

This is the conversation I’m having with myself:

“My idea is better and why doesn’t she just do it my way?”

“Are you really saying that? What is happening? How old ARE you?”


Because I want my daughter to win. Because I want to win. I’m being ugly honest here. But I also wanted to do right by her, and in that moment, I really wasn’t sure, so I got mad at myself. I SHOULD KNOW THIS! I have a uterus, so doesn’t that endow me with the starter pack for this type of encyclopedic parental knowledge AND I studied educational psychology; I at least know the basics of how to handle these kinds of situations. It’s just so much easier when it’s about other people in a book of case studies.

Should I use “tough love” and be honest that it’s not that great (hell, I can’t even really tell what it is, but maybe it will pop against the abattoir red she painted the rest of the box)? Should I push to do my way and show her how to do it? That sounds awful because, while she might be my monkey, this is certainly not my circus, it’s hers. I know the best way for her to learn is to muck through it herself. I don’t want to hurt her, but if I don’t say anything, she’s going to lose and THEN be disappointed. And when that happens, I have to deal with…

Oh. Uh oh. There it is.


I. I. I.



I did back away and sort of pouted over the soup and grilled cheese because I had reached an impasse with myself. A stalemate. I got everything on the table, called the girls, and then my daughter came racing into the kitchen screeching to a stop right in front of me, throws her arms around my legs, looks right up at me and exclaims, ” Mommy! I’m so excited! This is the best project ever! I’m so glad we’re doing this!! Thank you, Mommy!”


Complete lucidity, calm, peace, and yeah, happiness. I watched my daughter as she settled into her seat blissfully unaware of the existential crisis roaring in my head and began munching on her grilled cheese, while her sister lumbered over to the table and plopped down.

Munch, munch, munch.



The frustration and anger, even, comes from that place for me- wanting her to be successful. And of course, I do. But as any parent has to ask him/ herself, “Is my reaction more about me and my baggage or them?” I think it’s more complicated than a simple either/ or. Sometimes it’s not; sometimes it might be simple, but I think, for me at least, it’s important to take the time to figure it out. In the end, I know the project must needs be what it is, Harvard be damned.

Her happiness simply washed over me. The joy of the process fills her. Will she be disappointed if she loses? Yes. Maybe she’ll ask how she could have done it better  (“Mommy, why didn’t I win?”) and I will offer my help, asking her what she would have changed if she could. Maybe we’ll do another diorama afterwards. Maybe we won’t again until she has to. I guess my biggest fear is not that she’ll lose, but that she won’t try again. That has little do with her. Recently, she tried a spelling bee at our encouragement; she was apprehensive, particularly because her sister had already declared a “No Freaking Way” platform on the spelling bee issue. Turns out, she didn’t win, but she did a great job and made it through 4 rounds. After being a little bummed, she asked if there was a way she could be better and if there were any other spelling bees.

What the hell am I worried about?

I have trouble getting out of my own way. I don’t want to get in hers.


The Masterpiece

DioramaMarch2016 001
We cannot be the only ones to ever use hot glue on a Peep. That’s not weird.


The Fun

DioramaMarch2016 002

And yes, I ate the jelly beans (both tart and sweet).