Thursday, April 2, 2015

Swearing with my 9 year old.

"Sometimes S-H-I-T can be a funny word," my 9 year old explained to me as we hung out in the kitchen while he unpacked his lunchbox.

"Yeah, it can be. When was it funny to you?" I asked.

"Like the other day, when Ian was opening this thing and ..." And here the details didn't matter so much. My son had decided to open up a conversation with me about swearing! With complete confidence and zero trepidation. I tried to maintain my mom cool but I was afraid my giddiness was showing through. I was in Buddy the Elf mode. "Swearing is my favorite!" I clapped to my happy elf self. 

"... and then Ian was like 'ohhhhhh, s-word' and it was really funny. It was the right word for that time." He chuckled, remembering the good times. 

"Yeah it totally can be funny sometimes. I say it, too." I laughed with him.

"I know. I can hear you sometimes," he said. "But you don't sound angry when you say it. And I don't really hear you say the f-word." 

"Ha! Oh I do." Oh darling son-o-mine, just you wait. You'll hear it. And then you won't ever un-hear it.

"It's not that swearing is bad, you just don't want it to become your first language. Use your brain and your incredible vocabulary first, and sometimes, those other words just fit, and that's okay." I said. God, I hope I'm not f-ing this up, I thought.   

"Yeah, some of my friends think it's cool to swear all the time when their parents aren't around. They just sound like stupid kids with nothing better to say." 

And this is when the love balloon inside my chest filled to near bursting and then floated out of me, into a dreamy sky.

"Well I'm glad to hear you say that. I'm sure you probably swear sometimes, right? When I'm not around." I prodded.

"Yeah I do. Just the other day when I was with my friends I said 'crap'." 

"Ha. Well, I think there's some debate over if that's an actual swear word or not." I smiled. "But it definitely was a swear word in my house when I was a kid. I got in trouble once for saying the word 'sucks'!"

"Oh ouch. That sucks." We both laughed at that one. 

"I think there are two things to keep in mind about swearing, kiddo. Always use your bigger vocabulary first. Find the words that fit, and learn new words constantly. Language is so rich and helps you become a better storyteller. And the other thing is know your audience. I mean, like, know who you're talking with. Is it Noah? Then by all means drop a 'crap' or even an s-h-i-t. Is it your teacher? Well I bet he's gonna wanna hear that big vocabulary of yours more than he'll want to hear what he can read on the bathroom stalls. Just be respectful of those around you, but be authentically you. You can do both, believe it or not."

"I get it. We've read three Percy Jackson books now and there hasn't been one f-word! But still, sometimes swearing is funny."

And that was it. A brief kitchen conversation with my kid about swearing. About using your words wisely, but celebrating the full spectrum, and goddamit, be respectful. 

Fuck yeah. 

I love the crap outta this kid.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You gotta hear this ...

These snot-stuffed sniffle rags speak volumes. 

You may already know that Listen To Your Mother is a national phenomenon, spanning 39 cities in 2015 and boasting a brand spanking new book coming out (next week!).

You may also already know that last month my friend/director/and Laura to my Mary, Carisa Miller, and I hosted local auditions for the 2nd annual Portland Listen To Your Mother Show coming to The Alberta Rose Theatre this May 7th (get yer tickets here).

And to add to your impressive and ever-growing knowledge of Listen To Your Mother, you may have even read about how Carisa and I agonized through the massive stack of stories of hearts humbled and kimonos opened, of the raw, the vulnerable, the relatable, the irrefutable honesty of motherhood, to impossibly whittle them down to a small stack that we could stitch together into a show to present to you this May.

But what you don't know yet, dear friends, are the stories themselves.

The 2015 cast of the Portland Listen To Your Mother Show gathered over the weekend for our first rehearsal. The first rehearsal is the grand unveiling, where cast and crew meet collectively like a highly anticipated blind date, printed stories initially clutched protectively to chests, and then bravely forked over and presented to one another. It's when the quilt gets stitched together. No longer separate stories, they fuse into one breathlessly beautiful experience. And by the time rehearsal wraps, I've known these storytellers across lifetimes, no Tardis required, just a tissue box and an ever-expanding universe of what it means to be, to know, or to have a mother.

It's time to listen. Are you ready?

Get your tickets here. And soon! We expect a sold out show.
10% of all ticket sales goes to support the critically important work of The Portland Women's Crisis Line. 


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Don't have a cow.

self-portrait with cheese
My favorite food in ALL OF THE LAND is a grilled cheese sandwich. Sourdough bread, amply buttered on both sides, cheddar cheese (not too little,  not too much), sliced tomato, and gahhhhlic.

But I'm saying good-bye. Good-bye my grilled cheese lover. Good-bye my manchego at midnight. Farewell to the most perfectly buttery scrambled eggs whipped up with sour cream.

And hello to .... breathing. To eating foods that don't have to be processed in order for people to eat them. To general wellness for my brief time on this beautiful and over-compromised planet.

I'm committed to 2 months of completely dairy free living. Starting .... now .... right after I finish this leftover parmesan pasta.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Making the bed

The bed has to be right or I can't even begin to fall asleep. 

The fitted sheet must be pulled taut, the flat sheet should always be positioned in a proper rectangle, not sideways or twisted or heavens forbid touching the floor. Gently tucked into the foot of the bed, but no hospital corners so my feet can at least slide from left to right. I've loosened up in that way at least. 

The comforter must also be angled properly and adjusted so that the overhang on the left side matches in length to the overhang on the right side. The flat sheet pulled up and folded back over the top of the comforter, so now the bedding can work as a team. If the duvet cover has flowers, the flowers must be pointed toward the head board. On this particular detail I am not alone. Monica Geller once told her boyfriend Richard that the flowers must point toward the headboard because that would be where the sun is, of course, and in that episode I found a true friend. 

And finally the pillows must be fluffed, their cases smoothed and tugged so that they wont reveal their incriminating tags and face stains underneath. Then I will stack one on top of the other, and on this I don't particularly have a solid nagging preference as to who gets to ride on top, the osmotic recipient of my Dr Who dreams. 

And then, so long as the lunches are made, the coffee ground, the cat fed and accounted for, client work comfortably on schedule, texts returned, inbox mostly empty, bladder drained, cookie eaten, contraceptive swallowed, contacts removed, vinyasa flowed, temperature adjusted to be not too cold, not too hot, and feet cleaned and lotioned, I can sleep. 

Unless it's allergy season. And then none of it fucking matters.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Underneath, we're all naked.

As we ramp up for another incredible season of Listen To Your Mother, with 39 cities nationwide hosting stories that celebrate the heart and humor of all things motherhood, I wanted to take a pause from the hustle of sponsorships and website logos and press releases and rehearsal planning to just breathe and remember what this is all about, the rich wonder of the narrative of motherhood. Below is my own story, shared on stage at Listen To Your Mother, Portland, in 2014, and never shared online until now (because frankly, I totally forgot). The live reading is at the end of this post in case you'd rather just ... listen. 

Get your tickets now for the 2015 show on May 7th at The Alberta Rose Theatre. We have some incredible stories to share with you. 

“I never thought I had it in me to write about my own mum” is what my inner British narrator contemplated in the shower while at the same time grappling with the age-old question “to shave or not to shave”. I wanted to write a story about motherhood. But while the stories and opinions abound in my own experience as a mom, the stories about my own mother just wouldn’t come.

And so, as I held the shaver aloft and decidedly threw it back in its caddy, I allowed the story of my mom and I to just … be. To not steer myself in the direction of “Once, long ago, in a tiny bright green house on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, there lived a girl and her mom, and they ate popcorn, a kernel at a time, while watching Little House on the Prairie, or Highway to Heaven.” Looking back, I totally get why Mom was so riveted by these TV shows. Hellllllo, Michael Landon.

I watched Mom’s cheeks get pink over the Samsonian-haired homesteading angel, and cheered her on as she delighted in ordering a new multi-strand sterling silver necklace with matching earrings on QVC. There was a host we both thought was cute. Once, they had a karaoke machine up for sale, and the shopping channel cherub sang “Puppy Love” as a demo. Indeed, he had puppy dog eyes, and soft, feathery 1993 hair. His throwback crooning made Mom blush and I caught a giddy lift in her voice and then she returned her attention to her ironing board. She ironed the church music director’s shirts in exchange for piano lessons for me. Thank you, Mom. I am so very very sorry that all I can play on the piano is Mary had a little lamb with a tinge of Asian-influence.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard Mom speak badly of someone. Although once, when I was madly in love at the age of 16, I threw myself into her arms, wildly leaking from my face as I cried the ugliest of teenager tears “He broke up with me!” and shortly thereafter I found the framed photo of my tattooed surfer love lying on its back, bewildered, with its glass shattered. I may be mis-remembering, “false memories” as my kids call them (who taught them that?). Maybe it was I who broke the glass. But I like to think that it was actually my kind-hearted mom -- the mom whose laugh makes me see pink -- who wrecked that bastard’s glass.

I don’t come to Mom for many things. I had typical teen experiences that I would decide at the time “This one’s just for me.” It could’ve been pride. It could’ve also been laziness. “Well if I tell her this, then I’ll have to follow up with this, and I really just want to close my door and wail I’m Every Woman out of my karaoke machine.” RIP Whitney.

I don’t know how, and don’t want to know how, Mom had children out of her vagina. Because moms just don’t have sex because of ew. Except, they totally do. A lot. Like all the time. Still, I had, and yes have, this perception of innocence about Mom. One time I introduced my mom to a keg of beer. “What’s that?” she asked. “IPA.” I responded. “What’s that?” she asked. “A type of beer.” I answered. Her eyes got huge, drinking it all in. Another time I treated Mom to her first frozen strawberry margarita, whipped up, right there in her kitchen with fresh strawberries and this wacky wizard’s juice called Tequila. Her rosy smile gave it away that she didn’t feel guilty at all about enjoying the treat. So these little acts of teaching ma about moonshine hinted to me that some other subjects maybe shouldn’t be broached with her. In fact, I don’t think we ever had the talk. I’ll have to double check with my older sister, but I’m pretty sure it was she that taught my pig-tailed self about how gnomes have sex. My knowledge of sex stems from a book about gnomes. I do, however, remember Mom giving me a body safety talk. Without using any words at all. She stood in front of me in our tiny living room, near the chipped white piano, and she pointed to her backside, then to the front, and then, though I wondered why, to her mouth. Ohhhh, for kissing, I finally realized. And then of course, much later, realized it was for other things, too. (Clearly, material not covered by the gnome book.)

But Mom has had sex. More than once, and with more than one man, though she may not come right out and admit it. And she must know then that underneath their clothes people are likely naked. Still, there was the time when I couldn’t admit to my mom that I was, underneath it all, a naked person. One time my month-old son and I took the long and bottle-necked drive to McMinnville to see Mom. Once there I settled in to Mom’s couch to nurse him, starting on the left breast, gazing at him with my newfound motherly wonder, engaging in light chit chat. And then he exploded. In one end and out the other, up the backside of his cloth diapers and all over my left leg. Mom rushed in to gather him up and we headed to the bathroom to tend to the mess. Mom wiped down the giggling poop baby with a warm washcloth. I did what I could with a towel and the sticky brown mess that was rapidly soaking in to my jeans. Mom and I chuckled. Then I settled back down to finish nursing my beloved first-born and, because my life wasn’t interesting enough, he went and crapped all over my other leg. So Mom and I repeated the bathroom routine, with noticeably less amusement. And Mom offered to wash my jeans if I wanted to strip down to my underwear. I … wasn’t wearing underwear. I couldn’t tell my mom that I wasn’t wearing underwear. That wouldn’t make sense! Her sensibilities would be shattered! Aliens would land and demand the rest of the popcorn! World-splosion! And so I said, “Nah, I’ll be fine.” And then I drove 2 hours home with clammy legs and a bag full of poopy cloth diapers on the passenger seat floor.

I never thought I had it in me to write about my own mom. And in fact, it took a deliberate act of not writing about her, to see just how big the story actually is. To see, with the help of an inner British narrator, "That it's because of her that I have any story at all."

Get your tickets here for the 2015 Listen To Your Mother, Portland show.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Raw and Rainbow

I am leather. I am impenetrable. I am a bear that will knock down the hunter with one mighty swing of my paw.

But I am raw. 

Being a mother has warmed and worn my skin to expose my nerve endings, they hum and vibrate constantly, tickling the pools behind my eyes and making them spill over. My chest is tight in its openness. My heart resides in my toes, in my belly, in my throat, and in the soft puff of air that surrounds me. Jostle the air and my heart moves with it, like a leaf on a current, or a comment on a Facebook post.

I want to pull myself out of the social media reeds, it's murky beneath the water there and I can't see clearly the space around me. My feet are sticky in its mud, this swamp of other mothers and fathers who sluff off their anxieties and judgments into a shared space, who dwell beyond their soft puff of air and prod fiercely at others, perhaps not realizing that by doing so they're prodding at a warm and human heart. But it's also in these reeds that I hear a whistling wind, a familiar push of story and experience and connective emotion, a wind that blows through my soft puff of air and connects me with the air of others. It's in these reeds, feet sticky and stuck in the competitive quagmire beneath me, that my leathery hide meets public hiding place. And though I refuse to be sucked under, I'm afraid of what's beyond the reeds, what's above it. What if the only soft puff of air out there is my own?

I used to be the color yellow, shining bright and created from nothing except light itself. I couldn't be dimmed. I wouldn't cry. I didn't know myself but I knew the palette from which I was painted, pliable mounds of acrylic in varying shades of sunshine. As a mother I want to be the color rainbow, yes it's one color, just ask my 6 year old. She'll tell you a rainbow is the most elegant of dreams, the most aspirational answer to the question "Who do you want to be when you grow up?" She wants to be a rainbow, of course. And I tell her that truly it is the most beautiful thing you can be, with a far more interesting palette than any single hue. From the calmest of blues to the most haunting of purples, from bleeding heart reds to pained pastels, there is every degree of light and love and hurt and grief and doubt and humor. But being the color rainbow will require sunshine, and it will require rain. You can't be the color rainbow if you live in the murky bottom where popularity presides over kindness. You can't be the color rainbow if you're stuck among the reeds, no matter how safe it might feel. You can't be the color rainbow if you seek permanence and safety.

You have to be raw. Be exposed. Be vulnerable to the rain and the sun in equal measure. 

I'm taking a break from engaging on Facebook. I'll be here for work, but my personal time will be somewhere that's filled with sun and rain and clouds. I'd love it if you'd come engage with me on Instagram, on email, over the phone, or best yet, stop by my house and have some wine while we make any kind of art at all. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Three holes.

"How many holes do you have in your face?"

My daughter and I were cuddled up under the covers. It was morning, but school would be starting late and we could take our time. She was warm next to me. Warm, but wiggling. Constantly wiggling. Girl was born with butterflies under her skin. She had eyed my appendectomy scar, the purple starting to fade, but still fresh enough to be entertaining. We talked about scars. She has a tiny one on her cheek. So tiny no one would ever know it's there. But I know. I know exactly when it happened, and what her tiny face looked like at the time, and her cheeks - those cheeks! - those cheeks that I was brushing clean with the tip of my pinky finger when she turned abruptly and her cheek and a snag in my fingernail collided. She didn't even wince. But I did. The mark was tiny, but red. And it left a scar. We sat on the bed and counted our scars between us. 5 of any noticeable significance, and definitely not counting my stretch marks.

She closed her eyes for a second, considering my question.

"4! No wait, 6? Wait."

I waited.

"Do you count your eyes? They're filled in holes. 5 in your face, if you count your eyes, or 7 if you count your ears. But I don't think that's really a part of your face. Just your head."

Have you ever, as a parent, been waiting to have a specific conversation with your kid as they matured? Like a long intake of "when's it coming" breath, bracing yourself for having to talk about feeling ugly, or shitty grades, or bleeding out of your vagina or ... heaven help me ... why penises stand up sometimes. I'm presently holding my "when's it coming" breath for several fun topics, but not so much in a way that makes me afraid I'm going to pass out in a pool of my own parental fuckuppery, but in a "let's do this, bitches" we're-about-to-jump-out-of-a-plane-into-the-unknown-beautiful-sky kinda way.

And so I jumped.

"Do you know how many holes you have between your legs?"

"Huh?" She wrinkled her nose and looked up at me. "Wellllll there's my butt!" She's 6. It's still verrrrry fun to say butt. (It's always fun to say butt.)

"Yep. That's one. It's a good one. What's it for?"


Indeed it is. I could tell she was just a tiny bit jostled by this conversation. Normally when we snuggle in bed we talk about what's for breakfast, and I talk about how I'll cook it, then eat it, but not before the kids are almost ready for seconds, and so I'll get up and get them seconds, and then I'll sit back down and eat mine, which is now cold, and then I'll go to the kitchen and clean up everything, by myself. Except no one ever pays attention to the part after "what's for breakfast".

"So what else?" I asked.

"My vagina. That's 2 holes." 

"Yep. And that one is for ... "

"Babies!" We'd been through this. The "How did I get out of your body, Mom?" came early with this one. One time, when she was 3, she was in the bathtub and I reminded her to clean all her parts, vulva too, and she asked "What about my birth canal?" She says she wants to be a chemist when she grows up, or a fashionista, but I've got my money on midwife.

"Yes! Babies come out through the vagina. Did you know you have a third hole, too?" Her eyes widened and she did that thing where she sucks in her lower lip just a little bit so her eye teeth jut out like a bunny rabbit. I nodded my head. This was the question I was waiting for. My daughter needed to know that there's a third hole! And for some reason, it seemed really important that she learn that from me, if she hadn't already figured it out on her own. I couldn't bear the thought of any girl making it all the way to women's prison only to learn from a post-op transgendered inmate who'd designed her own lady parts that the anatomy of a pussy willow is more intricate than one might believe. 

spoiler alert: you have 3 holes, ladies. #OINTB

I held out my hand and used it as a makeshift diagram. "If this is the area between your legs, then here's the anus, (that's your butt) here's the vagina, and up here is a teeny tiny hole that lets the pee out. It's called the urethra." I held my hand closer to her face, as if by talking about it a little pee-hole would actually appear in the palm of my hand. She glanced at my pee-hole-less hand, then back up to my face.

"Oh. Okay." Then she held up her hands in front of her like paws, jutted out her two front teeth, and bounced on the bed like her spirit animal, the bunny rabbit. "Can I have a bagel?" I nodded and put my lesson plan palm away for the day.

We got out of bed. I made us both bagels. Then I tucked my mental parachute back up into the folds of my mommy brain, and readied my breath for the next jump.