Thursday, November 3, 2011

Teachable Moments

In celebration of National Adoption Month

It started with a simple conversation about Halloween with two second grade girls. Did they have fun trick-or-treating. Did they get a lot of candy. That sort of thing. Then we talked about Lily and how much fun she had. What her costume looked like.

"Would you like to see a picture?" I asked. One of the little girls is a returning student from last year and has met Lily. The other has not.

"She's cute!" the newer little girl said. But I could see it in her eyes. "She doesn't look like you."

"No, she doesn't." I planned to elaborate, but I could see her trying to work it out, while trying to stay polite.

"Does she look like your husband?"

"No, she doesn't look like him, either. Lily is adopted!"

"Oh! OK!" she responded, handling it with more grace than some adult strangers I've met. "She looks JUST LIKE Princess Tiana!"

"Do you know anyone who is adopted?" I asked. They both had met people, but didn't have anyone close in their lives.

The other girls arrived, the class began, and I moved on.

But it made me wonder about the other girls, and whether they had an understanding of adoption. It usually comes up with each new group of kids I teach. I decided to test the waters with the Halloween conversation again.

"I was showing a couple of the girls a picture of Lily in her Halloween costume earlier," I said to the ten bright eyes looking up at me. "Would everyone else like to see?"

I had planned to let them react on their own, but the first girl was far too excited, and feeling extremely special. "She doesn't look like Mindy or Mindy's husband because she was adopted!"

I showed her pictures to each of the five girls, including the two who had already seen it. And then the questions began. Some of them I anticipated. How old was Lily now? How old was she when we got her? Did we pick her name?

Those questions were easy to answer.

But then I got some others.

Did someone leave her on our doorstep?

Why couldn't her first Mommy keep her?

Could that Mommy ever take her back?

What if we wanted to give her back?

Some of this was straight-forward enough, since Lily absolutely was not left on anyone's doorstep. The adoption process is complicated even for an adult to understand, let alone an 8-year-old. But I did explain that the lady who carried Lily in her belly decided at the hospital that she wasn't ready  to be a Mommy, and that the hospital contacted some people who knew we were looking for a baby.

But those other questions were tough. She just wasn't ready to be a Mommy. I wasn't about to tell these little girls the specific circumstances surrounding Lily's conception and birth and her birthmother's life. So she just wasn't ready. And I left it at that, and refused to say more.

And those last two questions. We talked about it until I was as sure as I could be that they understood.

Her birthmommy cannot come and take Lily away, and we would never ever give Lily away, any more than their parents would give THEM away. She is our baby forever. And we are her Mommy and Daddy forever. I even told them about going to court, and how a judge changed her birth certificate. We are her Mommy and Daddy. We are the only people she knows as Mommy and Daddy. And that will never change.

November is National Adoption Month. For the third year in a row, I'm opening myself up. (although, let's face it. I'm always pretty open.) I have a feeling grown-ups have the same questions these little girls do, they just think they're not supposed to ask. So I'm officially telling you- please ask. I would love to answer.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Goin' Pro

I've known for a long time that Lily would probably go into the entertainment business. I thought she would be a dancer. I suspected she would start young.

I did not think that the first time she was paid to perform, she would be two.

But it has happened.

Lily likes to dance. No, Lily loves to dance. She dances with the TV, she dances in the car from her carseat. She dances walking down the street. She dances in the elevator. Her favorite movies are "Peter Pan" and "Singing' in the Rain," and she often insists that everyone in the room join in her dance of joy. She has been known to dance with street musicians.

So when we saw two young men playing their guitars and singing at Mystic Seaport today, we anticipated the show that would follow. What we didn't anticipate was the crowd the gathered. Lily clapped and shook and spun with her hands in the air. When the faster song stopped, she stopped and applauded. And when a new, slower song started, she adjusted her moves accordingly.

The young men had an open guitar case on the ground to collect their tips, and several people dropped in change, and even a dollar here and there. But Lily was the one getting the attention. We watched with pride as Lily danced and laughed, and we watched in shock and amusement when a man approached with a dollar.

"This is for you," he said with a smile. "You're at least as good as the band."

And what did Lily do with her very first paycheck?

She tipped the musicians. She dropped the dollar in their case, grabbed her Grandpa's hand, and walked away.

Today was the day Lily lost her amateur status. And you have to admit, the girl's got class.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Good Enough Mom

Many parents out there will be familiar with the concept of the Good Enough Mom. (or Parent.) There's a lot of research to support the idea that kids who have little struggles of some kind now and then- whether it's being taken to day care, or not getting perfect nutrition every day, or playing alone while a parent is busy in another room- build character and strength, while children with "perfect" childhoods fall apart at the first sign of conflict in their lives.

I have to remind myself of this concept on days when Lily is building a lot of character and strength.

Lily and I had Pop-Tarts for breakfast this morning. She had never eaten a Pop-Tart, but she loved every minute of it. She loved the way it smelled, and the way it tasted. She even loved the way it looked- the sprinkles on top reminded her of a princess. We ate at the table, and she thanked me for her breakfast. When she was done, she said "All done, please," and then got down from her chair.

And I still feel guilty.

There is nothing of any nutritional value in a Pop-Tart. And I know this. She ran around from the sugar and then crashed in a grouchy nap-needing heap. I would rather give her oatmeal and peanut butter and fruit, like we sometimes have. But frankly, I didn't feel like making the oatmeal (even instant oatmeal) and cleaning the bowls and slicing the fruit. I woke up many hours late today and already had to postpone a play-date until tomorrow. It was just a Pop-Tart kind of morning.

And besides. Pop-Tarts were on sale.

Two boxes of Pop-Tarts and a box of Eggo waffles for $5. That's a lot of breakfasts for $5. And I couldn't ignore that.

I also couldn't ignore the sale on canned vegetables. They are approximately one-third the cost of fresh.

If I had my way, I would have the money to shop only at Whole Foods and make everything organic and fresh.

I would get enough sleep every night, and would never sleep through my alarm. And my apartment would be in the condition to have guests at any point, so even if I overslept a little it wouldn't matter. (and I would shower every day, so my hair would be in a similar condition.)

But that's just not my reality. In fact, I seriously doubt it's anyone's reality.

(OK, maybe there are a lot of people who only eat organic and have a clean apartment and take a shower every day. But I bet those people have things they would like to improve, too.)

My reality includes staying up late, and waking up late, and getting behind in the housework, and buying the food that's on sale sometimes. And Pop-Tarts for breakfast.

But it also includes meal-planning. And budgets. And the ability to feed my family, at the table, for a whole week for $60.

And it includes a little girl who sees sprinkles on a Pop-Tart and thinks of a princess. And communication skills between us that are strong enough that I know what the hell she's talking about. And a little girl who says "thank you, food, Amen." And "please," and "thank you" and "no, thank you."

And Family Dance Parties. Nightly.

And Family Sing-Alongs. All day, every day.

And a Mommy and Daddy who make being well-rounded people a priority over a quest for perfection.

And that's good enough.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Just a Housewife..."

It seems to be coming up a lot lately. Maybe because I'm spending more time with other Stay-At-Home Moms. Maybe because I don't teach classes during the summer. But whatever the reason, my stay-at-home-ed-ness is something I wonder about. Whether I am "effective" as a housewife. Whether I "should" be at home.

Apparently, I've thought about it a lot. As I review my blogs, it seems to be a common topic. I can't even review them all here, that would be obnoxious.

So it'll be the topic for a couple days ;)

Long-time readers may remember The Carol Brady Experiment from last summer. It was an interesting experience for me, and one I still think about a lot. Here it is.

Laura Petrie, Parts 1 and 2

Shirley Partridge, Parts 1 and 2

Roseanne Conner, Parts 1 and 2

June Cleaver, Parts 1 and 2

Elyse Keaton, Parts 1 and 2

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Look Who's Talking

Several months ago, I posted a blog listing Lily's entire vocabulary. I couldn't do that now. She knows way too many words. She just, like, talks and stuff. And she says things on a daily basis that crack me up. I usually post them on facebook. Here they are, gathered in one place. (with a bonus BRAND NEW conversation never before shared. Except the other night at the Tavern.)

Slow Mommy, Exasperated Lily
Lily: Cah ha dat?
Me: What, Lily?
Lily: *sighs* Cah. Haaaaaaaaaah dat.
Me: I'm sorry, sweetheart. What are you saying?
Lily: Dat! *points to the toy in my hand* Cah HAH dat?
Me: Oh. Yes. You may have this.

Why do I feel like the underlying message in everything she says is "You dumbass....?"

A Two-Year-Old Watches a Rock Concert (courtesy of the last scene of "School of Rock")

*smoke machine begins
Lily: It's hot.....?????

*singing and dancing continues
Lily: What are they doing???

*shots of kids with fake tattoos
Lily: Yucky!!!

*Jack Black dives off stage
Lily: Oh! Bonk.

Rock is confusing.

We Were All Thinking It
Metro-North Conductor: [Charlie Brown Teacher, incomprehensible garble.]

Lily: WHAT did you SAY???????

Passengers: [much laughter]

Thank you, folks. She'll be here all week.

Lily Orders Lunch
Lily and I are enjoying a lunch of "Hot cheese." I've always called it grilled cheese, but I kind of prefer her phrase.

The Day Mommy Ruined a Perfectly Good Graham Cracker
Lily: Snack?
Me: You may have something to eat, but not a fruit snack.
Lily: Cah hah dat?
Me: *Knowing what this means now, but not knowing what she wants* Can you have WHAT?
Lily: *sighs, takes my hand, leads me to the kitchen, points to the graham crackers* Dat! Dat! Cah-ckie?
Me: A graham cracker? *thinks. It's time for lunch, not sweets* OK. I'll tell you what. You may have a graham cracker.
Lily: Thank you!
Me: But. You're having it with peanut butter. *Lily watches with confusion as I get the peanut butter from the cupboard. Confusion turns to horror as I put the PB on the cracker.*

At least she's polite about it....

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Sister and I

My sister and I are both Stay-At-Home-Moms (and freelancers). My sister and I are both Stay-At-Home-Moms (and freelancers) who get bored. And we're Stay-At-Home-Moms (and freelancers) who get bored and have, obviously, identical upbringings. We're Stay-At-Home-Moms (and freelancers) who get bored, have identical upbringings, a sometimes under-used artistic streak (because of the toddlers. I get to use mine professionally, and so does she. You know. With the freelancing) and a very silly sense of humor.

And we live very, very far away. (Greenwich, CT and Denver, CO)

So. We collaborate. From very, very far away.

Here's one we did a while ago. We think we're funny.

If you don't think we're funny, well, that's OK. But you could come up with other ways to entertain us. It's important.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On Baking A Pie

I haven't had much time to post lately. I'm working on a fairly intense blog project, and there will be plenty to read in August, I promise. In the meantime...

You know when you sit down to watch a brand new episode of your very favorite sitcom, and it turns out to be one of those shows where they walk down memory lane and just show clips from old shows...?

Well, here comes a series of blogs like that.

I will, at least, relate them to things that are happening in my life.

This past weekend, for example, I made a pie. This is a big deal. You can read about why here.
And here. Maybe someday I'll post the magic recipe. But for now, I'm just going to bask in my glory and eat the very last piece of pie.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hope Springs (Memoir, 70,000 words) 1st 250 words

TLC’s “A Baby Story” makes my uterus hurt. The episodes all start out innocently enough, with sweet stories of growing families. But just when I’m too emotionally invested to change the channel, the horror show begins, and soon I find myself physically exhausted, helping a total stranger push from the comfort of my living room. I’m relieved the end is near- just one more big push - when I hear the familiar squeak of our rusty mailbox, and I’m pulled out of today’s labor. Of course, I’ll fall for it all over again tomorrow. But for now, unlike the new Mommy on the screen, I am full of life and energy, able to leap up from my spot on the sofa to see who might have sent me evidence that they’re thinking of me. It’s likely only Ed McMahon, but one never knows. This must be what the people of River City were feeling as they sang about the Well’s Fargo Wagon.

My daily mail ritual involves sorting each piece into one of three piles. The first is for the people who live in the upstairs apartment of our duplex. Their mail is easily identifiable by the fact that it is addressed in Chinese. Pile number two is made up of things that go directly into the trash, and it is often made up of multiple Pottery Barn catalogues. Finally, there is a pile for the things I will open and shred before putting them into the trash. This pile can be a lot of work. But my only other options are delivering my information into the hands of identity thieves, or wallpapering our apartment with opportunities to consolidate our student loans. So, shredding it is.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Debt Collectors and Dementors

I see the caller ID on my iphone- Unknown. Or maybe an 800 number. Or some far away location where I know I don’t know anyone. Like North Dakota- and my blood runs cold.

Should I remain still and hope they go away? They’ll leave a message. And they’ll just keep coming back.

So maybe I should face them, and try to fight. But I know I don’t have the resources. It’s useless.

They are debt collectors. And they are the Dementors of the Muggle World.

The more I think about them, the more I think debt collectors are exactly who she had in mind when J.K Rowling created her terrifying creatures.

-They are faceless.

-They can swoop in at any time.

-They work for someone else.

-They make no distinction between the ones they seek and those who get in the way. Just ask any of my friends or family members who have ever received a call about my debt.

-They make me feel as if I’ll never be cheerful again.

-The more sadness I have in my life, the stronger their effect on me.

-The only thing that can make me feel any better after an interaction with them is chocolate.

Even the names. DEBTCOLLECTORS. DEMENTORS. I can picture Tom Riddle rearranging the letters mid-air with his wand.

I started to make the comparison a few weeks ago after the phone call that put me over the edge. Ryan and I talked about it, and I wondered- if debt collectors are our Dementors… what’s the patronus?

For a while I thought it was something silly. General happy thoughts. Warm fuzzies. I wondered what animal my patronus would be.

But then last Friday I got another phone call. It was a Dementor- er, debt collector. And I felt calm. And so I answered the phone.

The woman on the other end immediately identified herself and the company she represented. And then she told me something surprising- that she had Ryan on conference call. “Hi, sweetheart,” he said.

It turns out she had called him, and then he gave her the usual “My wife takes care of all this and has the numbers” excuse. But when she suggested they call me, something very different happened. “Yes,” he said. “Let’s do that.”

Because this time, I did have all the numbers. It wasn’t just a line. It was the truth. And he knew I would answer. And he knew I would say exactly what I said. “Just a minute. Let me pull up your file.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say that balance was?” I asked. “OK, that’s a little different than what I have here… And you represent Company XYZ? …Can I reach you at 555-123-4567? …Ah, there’s a better number, let me fill that in. …And what was your name? OK, that sounds like a reasonable payment, we can fit that into our budget. We didn‘t plan on it for this month- can we start the first week in June?”

Spreadsheets. Accurate information. A plan. That is my patronus. That knowledge gives me the peace to deal with all of this head-on.

We got off of the phone with a plan that will have the credit card paid-off in seven months. I moved the debt from the “Need to set-up payment plan” list to the “Making payments” snowball list. And the details become clearer and clearer.

In a few years, the Ministry of Magic will be unable to find any fault with me, and the Dementors will have no choice but to slink away. And then I will have a different patronus: I won’t owe anything to anyone. Take that, big ugly black-cloaked creatures.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Spread Sheets and Alcohol

We've had this pile for as long as we've been married. Oh, sure, every once in a while it gets sorted and organized. But then I don't do anything with the contents, and it builds up again. No, it's not the laundry. (Well, we have that pile, too. That's just not our topic of discussion for today.) It's the bills.

Our current pile has been building up since we moved to Greenwich. I've moved it from the top of the bar by the front door, to the bedroom, to the stand in the hallway, to the drawer in the bar by the door, (I had to shove. It was getting big) back to the bedroom, and finally, to the table in the dining room. This final location meant four things:

1. We lost use of our dining room.

2. I could always see it, causing major anxiety.

3. Others could see it, making me hesitate to extend invitations.

4. Lily pulled the papers down and spread them all over the room several times a week.

The problem with this pile is that once it was organized... then what? I couldn't afford to pay-off the debts, I had grown tired of arguing about reasonable payment plans with debt-collectors. So they just piled up again. Physically, and emotionally.

Then on Friday, I knew what to do. Ryan was asleep on the couch, suffering with the stomach flu. Lily was in bed, presumably for the night. So I put the pile into a large box, poured myself a drink (a screwdriver with a little flavored seltzer, if you were wondering) and went to work.

Step one, figure out which envelopes were duplicates. I can't imagine the money some of these companies would save if they just didn't send so much mail. I knew almost everything in the pile had a friend. So, I sorted. And the result looked like the second picture above. (Note. I tried many times to get the pictures to be right here. Why didn't it work? Anyone?)

So they were sorted. And it was overwhelming. And I took a break and texted some close friends and poured another drink. I needed to get information from these papers- not just sort them. I needed to know how much I owed, and to whom. And I needed to know how to contact those people.

And here's where I reveal a big secret.

I'm actually pretty good at math. And. I sort of understand Microsoft Works spreadsheets. I wouldn't put it on my resume or anything. But for someone who has never been taught formally, I have copied from enough samples that I can kinda sorta make my own now.

But the emotional hurdles have always been too much for me when it came to finances, so I just pretended that I didn't understand. Lies. I understood. It just scared me.

So I started a spreadsheet. And for each pile of debts I found the most current statement. I recycled all but the most current, and put the info into the spreadsheet. The result- the first picture above. (I understand spread sheets. I do NOT understand why my pictures are in a crazy order.)

I was then able to get the total we owed, (a terrifying number. Good thing I had those two drinks...) I could sort them from smallest balance to largest, have all the information in one place, and have the numbers available in a way I can use. I know what our minimum payments are, and I know when we can start to make those minimum payments. (Soon, but not immediately.)

It was a lot of work. And a lot of stress. And a lot of vodka. But now I know. And as G.I. Joe told the children of the 80's, "knowing is half the battle..."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's All in the Timing- Part 2

This whole financial stuff is a lot to process. Yesterday when I posted my blog, I forgot some very important timing information.

We have a goal. A very specific goal. We want all of our debt to be gone by the end of 2015. That would seem impossible if you knew how much my student loans were. But first of all, mathematically, it is absolutely possible. And second, it is just too convenient of a goal.

As my first very first blog indicates, my life has fallen into neat decades. I know the world doesn't really work that way. I know it's a coincidence. But.

In 2015:

-I will turn 40.
-Ryan and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.
-Lily will start first grade.
-All of our debt will be gone. All of it.

After that, the retirement and college savings can begin. Frankly, I had assumed it was too late. We all have heard stories about people who start saving in their twenties. I just thought that ship had sailed. Then I saw the charts in "Total Money Makeover" that indicated how much a person should save monthly for retirement depending on starting age. And there it was. 40. And it wasn't even way down at the bottom of the list like a Point of No Return.

The next encouraging chart had a similar savings plan for college educations. And there was age 6. Sort of towards the top. Not too late.

So not only is it time to start, it will be a great time to finish. Ready.... go!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

It's All in the Timing

Last week after I posted my blog about debt, I received several private messages. It seems there were a lot of people out there who understood where I was coming from. Two of the messages really caught my attention, because they suggested the same book- "Total Money Makeover" by Dave Ramsey. One of my friends even went so far as to send me a copy. They both said it had changed their lives, and I anxiously awaited my package from Amazon.

But when it arrived, something crazy happened. My husband read a book.

Don't get me wrong. My husband is extremely intelligent and extremely literate. He just gets bored easily. But something about this book captured his attention. I was a little irritated, truth be told. The book had been sent to be. Not to mention, I became a book widow for an entire weekend.

By Sunday evening he emerged from behind the book really fired-up. "We need to do this" he said. I told him I would have a stronger opinion about that when he allowed me to read MY book. And so I did. And my opinion is.... we need to do this.

Dave Ramsey's book outlines a step-by-step method for getting out of debt. It's rough, it takes sacrifice, but it works. And we're not just talking about those pesky credit cards, either. (As ours are minimal. If that's all we needed to do, we could do it on our own in a few months.) We're talking car payments, student loans, even mortgages. And then it outlines planning for retirement and college and just general wealthy living. As freelancers, this is stuff that just seemed out of reach.

After reading "Total Money Makeover" and starting to work out our plan, I highly recommend it to anyone who's ready. In fact, if you decide to get it and read it and follow his plan, I'd love to work on it together. (I've already had several conversations with my friend who sent the book. It's a lot to process, emotionally, and having a strong support system is key.) However. It's all in the timing.

This book suggests radical life changes, and it has to be the right time. Fortunately for us, it is.

You need to be really angry about your debt. Angry enough to make huge changes. Obviously, I was angry enough to write a blog about it. So. Anger. Check.

You need to be willing to sit down and figure out a really specific budget and follow it. We've been doing this in our household since January. We write down everything- every cup of coffee, every toll, every load of laundry. Every penny is accounted for. So. Budget. Check.

You need to give up using your credit cards entirely. We haven't used ours in years. OK, it's because they've been maxed-out. But still. No credit cards. Check.

You need to be willing to "live like no one else" and not try to keep up with the Joneses. We live in one of the wealthiest cities in the country. We have no hope of keeping up with the Joneses. And when it comes to living like no one else, well, currently my fingernails are painted with a fishnet pattern. So. Comfort with living like no one else. Check.

You need to be willing to give up expensive fun for a while. Have you ever gone to a restaurant with a two-year-old? Have you ever gone on vacation with a two-year-old? Have you ever gone to the movies with a two-year-old? On the other hand, have you ever spent a Saturday afternoon at the park with a two-year-old? Suddenly this doesn't seem like a sacrifice as much as just good common sense. We're choosing to give some things up during the one time in our lives when those things are difficult anyway. So. Give up expensive fun. Check.

You need to be willing to drive an inexpensive used car. Uh... check.

We were ready, that was clear. But the first step is getting current on all debts. Frankly, I didn't even know what was out there. And there was one loan- my student loan from NYU- that scared the bejeezus out of me.

And then yesterday my phone rang. A few hours after I had finished reading. It was from "Unknown." I took a deep breath. We're going to have to do this eventually, so here we go. It was from the company representing our very biggest loan. That really scary loan from my Not-Quite-Ivy-League graduate degree. My loan had just gotten to this guy's desk... yesterday.

More on my conversation with Mr. So-And-So later, but the point was the timing. Just as I was feeling angry and confident and ready, God gave me the opportunity to face the scariest part.

It's all in the timing, and for us, the time is NOW.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Take Your Sour Grapes and Make Some Whine

Or, Why I Got Up to Watch the Royal Wedding

Sometimes I wonder if some of you will ever be happy. I can't believe how many facebook posts there have been about being relieved the wedding "nonsense" is over. You know how annoyed you are hearing about the wedding? That's how annoyed I am hearing you whine about the wedding.

Here's the deal. I don't know William and Kate. I'm fairly certain I'll never meet them. I'm not British. I'm not so very into the Royal Family. I don't work in fashion. I'm not a wedding planner.


I don't watch the news. I turn it off. It's so sensationalized. So depressing. It's too much for me

And this week, media all around the world focused on two people falling in love and getting married.

I'm sorry- why are we complaining about that?

People all over the world were celebrating something positive. Something happy. Something lovely.

Pour me some coffee, I'm in.

And that is all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oh No, They Can't Take That Away From Me

Or, Why in the World I Would Write a Blog Series about Debt...

I’ve been crying really hard for about two hours. I know there are people who would rather I not share that, as my blogs tend to be more positive and hopeful.

But last week during a rare therapy session, I was discussing how I understand who I am. And I am a person who shares. I write to make myself understand, and I write to share my story with others in hopes that they will see they’re not alone. And so.

I’ve been crying really hard for about two hours.

It started with a phone call from South Carolina. I am not expecting any phone calls from South Carolina, so I didn’t pick up. But who knows? It could be a South Carolina transplant who now lives in New York. So I listened to the message. As expected, it was a debt collector.

She didn’t say that on the message, of course. “Hi Mindy! This is Jennifer (inaudible last name). Could you give me a call when you get a chance?” The fact that she called me Mindy was extremely disconcerting, as anything official says Melinda.

But I was feeling strong today. So you know what? Fine. Let’s talk.

The conversation wasn’t so terrible for a while. And it turns out she wasn’t calling about my debt, it was Ryan’s. I told her we knew, it bothered us, we were working on it, we didn’t have it. She offered me a reduction in the overall price if we paid it in full. You know the drill. But after a while, we were just talking in circles.

Me: Yeah. I know. That would be great. But we don’t have it. We’re trying.

Her: But it will save you money.

Me: It doesn’t matter. We don’t have it.

Her: Why do you get a loan to pay this off? (Yes. Seriously. That was her suggestion.)

Me: I’m not going in to further debt to pay off a debt. Can we please just talk about a payment plan?

Her: But this will save you money.

Me: It doesn’t matter. We don’t have it.

Her: Could you ask your family?

Me: No. How about a payment plan? I called you, remember? We want to pay it off, but can’t pay it in full.

Her: But this will save you money.

You get the idea.

But some of the things she was saying were, to be honest, truly hurtful. She asked why we had gone into default in the first place. While this was kind of hilarious to me, as if the possible explanation was that we just decided one day to stop paying for things, it also hurt. And it really hurt when she told me over and over that we just weren’t willing to do anything about it. Didn’t I call her? Didn’t I tell her we could make payments? I just wasn’t willing to do it her way.

Soon, I was crying. Naturally. I finally got her to say “OK, I’m gonna let you go for today.” (Yep. I got a debt collector to hang up first.) But when we got off of the phone, I just cried even harder.

I hate being in debt. Ryan and I both do. Everyone does. And today was my breaking point.

I know that our debt isn’t much different than the debt of many of our friends. It’s about student loans, and bad decisions, and changes in financial situations. And we all feel guilty. And we all lose sleep. And we all want to do something about it. And the truth is, there isn’t a ton we can do about it. We’re barely hanging on as it is.

But. There are some things we could do. And we’re not doing them. It feels too big. It feels like if we can’t fix it all, why bother?

I called Ryan and told him how upset I was. And I sent Jackie a text and told her how upset I was. And they both fulfilled their respective duties. Jackie told me how stupid the woman on the phone was, and that she was wrong. And Ryan told me we would fix it.

This weekend, we’re looking at what we owe, and to whom, and we’re coming up with a plan. We can’t fix it. But we’re not going to ignore it anymore.

And I’m going to share it here.

There are a lot of details I’m going to leave out- exact amounts, names of debtors, etc- both for privacy and security. And I have no idea what I’m doing. We’re not financial advisors. We’re pretty terrible about this kind of thing, really. But I know that sharing my experiences has helped me in the past.

When that woman told me I wasn’t trying and wasn’t willing to do anything. When she accused me of being irresponsible. I felt like I wanted to hide. I was ashamed. And I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening. Even though I know- I know- that most of my readers are in the same position.

I felt like I should ignore the one aspect of myself of which I am most certain- my voice.

And I will not let debt take that away from me.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Artist Looks at Forty

“I’m afraid of growing older. Well, growing older might be fine. Shrinking older. That’s a major fear of mine.” -John Bucchino

I have often said that John Bucchino gets the lyrics for most of his work by sitting outside my therapy sessions and taking notes. Nearly every song I hear, I just sit and nod. “Yep. That’s me.” While the opening to his revue “It’s Only Life” is no exception, I never particularly identified with the title. “The Artist Looks at Forty.” I’d never looked at forty. I’d never even considered it.

Until about two weeks ago.

I had a nightmare that I was turning forty.

This is absurd for several reasons:

1. I’m only thirty-six.
2. I am told fairly often that I don’t look anywhere near my age.
3. I am quite happy with where I am in my life- what I’ve accomplished, who I’ve become, and where I’m headed.
4. I have plenty of people in my life who are over forty, and by no means do I think of them as “old.”

But I couldn’t shake this nightmare. It haunted me for a week. I started examining and stressing over my wrinkles. (They're there. Don't argue with me.) I started hallucinating gray hairs. (They're probably not there.) I told Ryan about it the other day. “That seriously bothers me that it would bother you,” he said. He tried to convince me I was being ridiculous. But I already knew I was being ridiculous. Academically, anyway. And yet. As my birthday approached, I grew more and more anxious.

And now, on my second day of being thirty-six, the anxiety is gone. It could be because I got to meet with my therapist (the real one. Not the ones I tried to have replace him. Fail.) for the first time in over two years. But I think it has more to do with the celebration of my birthday itself.

It started on Saturday night. Ryan and I went to Ford’s Theater to see our friend in a show. It’s a little surreal to watch a fellow Momentum Rep “Assassin” perform in the very theatre where one of those assassinations took place. But even more surreal was seeing the words “Momentum Rep’s Assassins” in his bio. After the show, we went for drinks with our Assassin friend and his girlfriend. And when I ordered a pomegranate martini, I was carded.


(In fact, I literally said that out-loud. “Score.”)

Thirty-six was looking a little less scary.

We talked about the show. And what it’s like to be home all day with someone who is learning to talk. And why “Animal Farm” was the perfect choice for the school where I just played. And we compared Worst Show Ever stories. (I won.) And all the while, my friend kept checking the clock on his phone. I knew he was waiting for midnight, even though he was exhausted from performing so many times this week. And I really, really appreciated the gesture. The clock ran down, the three of them sang, and we headed back to the hotel.

Saturday morning, after enjoying our free hotel breakfast, we explored the sites of downtown Washington DC. We saw the White House, and the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial. And everywhere we went, Lily was the center of attention. She oo’ed and ah’ed appropriately as far as we could tell, although it was just as likely to be over a squirrel as it was a monument. And we got all the obligatory family photos. And when we got back to the hotel, she grabbed her bottle and her blanket, climbed into her pack-and-play by herself, and went to sleep, allowing Ryan and I to take a nap. It was a birthday miracle.

Once we were all well-rested, we drove out to the Virginia wine country to visit Chris- a college friend who runs Breaux Vineyards with his wife. And while I stood at the bar sampling nearly every wine they offer, I talked with Chris about mission statements. And how wineries are like theatre. And I discussed the state of education with the girl serving me my wine. She, too, had earned her Masters Degree in Education before deciding teaching in public schools was not for her. And she’d seen “Waiting for Superman.” And she had as many opinions about it as I did. I was in nerd heaven.

Chris and I shared parenting war stories while Ryan chased Lily around the room, we all took a tour of the winery, and we said goodbye with a bottle of their ice wine in hand. Back at the hotel, we ordered Chinese food, enjoyed our wine, watched “Undercover Boss,” and were asleep by 10:30. Lily slept all night.

And then this morning. After another free breakfast, I showered, took the time to blow-out my expensive haircut, and got on the Metro to visit with my therapist, feeling uncharacteristically happy about the way I looked. While waiting at a nearby Starbucks, a young girl (a college student, I know this for sure because I overheard her discussing her research paper) gushed about my nails. And I met with “Dr. Matthews.” And I realized how very, very far I’ve come.

I thought that was it. In fact, I started writing this blog, already happy with my birthday, and turning thirty-six, and life in general. But we made one final stop on our way out of DC. We needed coffee, and Lily needed milk, and I remembered a bookstore near a hotel where I had once stayed. I had written part of my book in the café downstairs, and if my memory served me, which it usually does, it was coming up on our right.

We pulled in front of the locally-owned bookstore and I ran in while Ryan changed Lily’s diaper in the car. I felt like things were coming full-circle, spending time in this bookstore now that my book was finished. I was waiting for the restroom when I overheard three older women talking. “I just got an email about ‘Urinetown.’ But I don’t know if I want to see something called ‘Urinetown.’”

Yep. That conversation really happened.

So I apologized for eavesdropping, and begged them to go. They were avid theatre fans, and the title was the only thing that had kept them from seeing the show before. I promised them that this very fact was addressed within the first few lines, and that they would love it. They asked me what I did, I told them a little bit about Momentum Rep, and they made me feel like a total rock star.

Then, I heard Lily cry. “I’m so sorry,” I said, “I recognize that cry. I better go see if my daughter is OK.”

“You don’t have a baby! You can’t! You’re seventeen!”

I got in the car feeling pretty good about myself.

This weekend I was reminded that I am a woman who does not look her age. And that I have young friends who will talk to me about theatre and ask what it’s like to be a parent and sing to me at midnight. And I have other friends who know exactly what it’s like to be a parent. And who care about mission statements and wine. And I have a family that understands the value of a good nap.

I know a lot about theatre and education. And I helped start a company that has provided a lot of opportunities for a lot of people. And I have the confidence to wear flowers on my fingernails. And I wrote a book. And I get to stay home with my daughter, who loves to dance.

And I get to share all of this with a man who has been with me for nearly fifteen years.

And the one thing that was absolutely required for all of this to be true was the passage of time. I have spent the past thirty-six years gaining experiences and building relationships and learning about who I am.

And that makes me excited to see what my life will be like at thirty-seven.

Or forty, for that matter.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Another Potty Success!

Fully dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and- naturally- a diaper, Lily sat on the potty. "More?" she asked, wanting candy for her act. I sighed, and told her I would give her the candy, but only if she sat on the potty with no pants. I really didn't feel like going through the whole process today-constantly wondering where she'll pee next. But I did want to reward her for sitting there. So off came the jeans. Off came the diaper. I handed her the candy. And she walked away.

That seems about right.

I tried to put her diaper back on. "NOOOOOOO!" she screamed. Fine. We'll be playing the Pee On The Floor game. She returned to the potty a few times for a few seconds at a time. Then she curled up on the couch with me for a while. I was picturing what it would take to clean the pee off of the couch when she bolted up, jumped on to my lap, and threw her arms around my neck.

And then.

She ran over to the potty. And peed. A lot. No accidents, no dribbling along the way. We celebrated. And over the next three hours, she did it again. And again. And again. Four potties. No accidents.

When Ryan got home, he told her how proud of her he was and held out his arms for a hug. She reached out and shook his hand.

Who taught my baby girl to shake hands? And when did she learn to potty? And how is she almost 2?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I was in the kitchen when I heard, "eeeeeeeewwwwww yucky yucky yucky!" Then, quick little footsteps.

And then, it happened. The celebratory potty fanfare.

I ran into the living room, and Lily was sitting on the potty. The potty, which she had filled with pee.

I've been letting Lily just run around naked from the waist down. It's gross, I admit. But she starts to go, and I run and set her on the potty. Usually it's too late. And more often, she just holds it until she's wearing a diaper. (when she's sleeping, or when we leave the house.)

But today, when she started to go, she put herself on the potty.

Major progress. Major.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Because Sometimes, a Mommy Needs Silly Nails

I'm not sure what possessed me to buy an "In Style" magazine the other night at the grocery store. Maybe it was the fact that I was at the store alone. (Mommies rejoice. Our Stop n Shop sells coffee by the cup. It's not particularly good. I don't care. I get some anyway when I'm there alone. Makes it count as "me" time.) Maybe it's because spring is near, and that always makes me feel like re-thinking my look. But whatever the reason, there was the magazine. I flipped through absentmindedly on my way to church. And there, among the advertisements, I saw them.

Sally Hansen Salon Effects.

Nail polish strips that have crazy designs. And they're supposed to go on really easily and be made of polish. They were so, so silly. And I knew I must have them.

I showed the magazine to my friend Janet the next day between our classes. She agreed that I needed them, and that now she needed them too. So tonight, I walked to CVS, and there they were. $11.95. Or something like that. I waited until Lily went to bed, and I made myself some coffee (I still have a lot to do tonight), I put "Ugly Betty" on Netflix, and I got to work.

And honestly, it's as easy as advertised, and it really does look like I had them airbrushed or something.

I'm fortunate enough to have a lifestyle that allows for crazy nails. (and crazy socks, while we're at it.) If I worked in a conservative office, my nails would be really inappropriate. But they're fun. And they look like they were professionally done. And there's no drying time, which is amazing for the Mommy of a toddler. It's why I so rarely do my nails lately- if she wakes up while they're wet, we're in for a big mess.

I know I usually dedicate my blog to more important things. But spending less than $12 to have my nails look really silly and fun makes me really happy. And that's pretty important.

(btw, they come in solid colors, for Mommies who aren't into having crazy patterns on their nails. And no, I'm not getting paid by Sally Hansen. I just like to pass along things that make me happy to other Mommies. And anyone else who likes silly nails.)

Potty Watch 2011

Yesterday we needed to leave the apartment. I teach on Mondays, and Lily hangs out with her babysitter in Larchmont. She was absolutely not ready to try to wear big kid underwear or use the potty anywhere but home. So, reluctantly, I put on the Pull-Ups. As anticipated, she just treats them like diapers. She took an insanely long nap when we got home, (also in Pull-Ups) so by the time she was home and awake there were only a few hours left in the day. Ryan did manage to get her to pee in the potty once- again catching her mid-stream and setting her there. But for the most part, she waits to go in the Pull-Ups.

We have to go out today, and again tomorrow, but then she has three days when she can stay put. So I guess we'll keep trying when we're home? Ugh. I know it's not going to happen instantly. It's not knowing whether I'm pushing her that's frustrating me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stop Reading So Damn Many Books

I knew the title would get your attention.

Here’s the thing. I am a low-maintenance Mommy. This comes as a shock to anyone who knows me and sees my Mommyhood in action because let’s face it, I am not a low-maintenance gal. I read, and I study, and I think, and I write, and I analyze, and then I ask my therapist. I got two masters degrees because after the first one I decided I wanted to learn all about something else, too. But when it comes to being a Mommy, I wing it.

For example, I have never read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” This is largely because I was never “expecting,” traditionally speaking. But even in a broader sense. We weren’t “expecting” a baby. Sure, we were in the adoption process, it’s not like Lily was left on our doorstep in a little basket. But over-thinking and over-researching and over-reading had not served me well during our time of trying to conceive. So I made a very conscious effort to avoid it with adoption. And I guess the habit sort of stuck. We found out we were going to get a baby in ten days. So we got some diapers and some formula. And once we got her, we held her and kissed her and fed her and changed her. I distinctly remember the conversation Ryan and I had at the end of our first full day. He was holding her. And they both looked so comfortable.

“Isn’t it weird that we just sorta know what to do?” I asked him

“Yep,” he said.

And it’s been that way with most things ever since. Sure, I ask her doctor things at her check-ups. And I have a copy of “What to Expect in the First Year,” somewhere, but I referenced it very rarely, and we’ve now been out of the first year for ten months. I guess it didn’t occur to me to buy the next volume. And yes, I ask facebook friends for parenting tips. And I take the ones that make sense and don’t sweat the rest. I don't get worked up about germs. Or colds. Or little tiny bonks. Or how she's doing compared to other kids. Lily ate baby food pretty early, even though "some experts" say to wait. And she ate solid food early. She stopped formula at ten months and switched to whole milk. (I asked her doctor if she was ready. “Do you think she’s ready?” I told him I did. “You’re the Mommy. You know better than me.” This is why we still travel to Queens to keep seeing this doctor…) She had peanut butter at a year old, even though "some experts" say this should wait, too. And now, she’ll now eat pretty much anything. And she’s a great sleeper. And when we thought it might be time to potty train, we took her diapers off and bought a potty. Only time will tell whether that actually works, and who knows whether she’ll be a good sleeper and eater as an adult. Maybe she’ll grow up to be rotten. But that would surprise me. Because she’s happy. And loving. And she’s just… easy. You know. Relatively speaking.

Have you ever been in a car with someone who’s trying to use their GPS? It’s a great device and all. But I’m talking about the people who are so busy using their GPS that they actually get lost. They ignore all sense of direction and blindly follow a signal from a satellite. It makes me want to scream.

Now, I know that I’m lucky. Maybe God gave us such an easy kid because we had such a hard time getting her. Maybe she’s all He thinks we can handle.

And I read books. And hello- I’m writing one. And I write a blog. And obviously I hope I have readers for both. I sometimes have the desire to double-check. To get an expert opinion. To see what others have experienced and compare my own experiences with theirs. But people have been parents since long before the internet. Long before books even. They just knew what to do. And sailors got around just fine using stars.

No one asked for my advice. Not really. But Lily’s awesome, and I am unexpectedly low-maintenance. So if you ever did ask me? Here’s what I’d say. Don’t get so caught-up trying to follow your GPS that you forget to follow your nose.

It's a Privilege to Pee

I think we might be getting somewhere.

Lily only had two accidents today- a number one, and a number two. She does not like to have accidents. Both times, she let us know immediately before that she had to go. She just doesn't know what to do about it yet. But she is learning (and we are learning) that she can hold it. Our only problem is getting her to understand that she CAN and SHOULD go in the potty. Because instead of having an accident, she just doesn't go at all, holding it until she nearly explodes and can hold it no longer. I grabbed her mid-stream and we got a decent amount in the potty and of course had a giant celebration when we heard her throne play its song.

We've made a few adjustments to the plan:

*For the most part, she's just running around naked. It doesn't make much more of a mess, and it's easier to scoop her up and sit her down. It's also easier to see if she does go. Plus, it turns out, she doesn't just hate diapers. She hates pants, period. But that will be step two.

*As long as she's sitting on the potty, the fruit snacks keep comin'. She has no concept of "just one."

*The potty is in front of the TV now. I mean, that's where I'd have mine, if I could.

So we haven't given up yet! It looks like only one parent will be able to attend church tomorrow, but we're not changing horses mid, well, you know...

Friday, February 25, 2011

This is Urinetown...

It's the end of day one. Lily has peed on every surface of our living room. And I. Am. Exhausted.

But. She's more willing to sit on the potty now. She even sat her doll on it, then her monkey, then she sat down herself. We even had a time when I caught her peeing and put her on the potty. And she heard the music, and we made it a great big deal.

I'm guessing that she has no idea what's going on. But I'm going to give it one more day, since Ryan and I will both be home tomorrow. (I'm realizing it practically takes one person just staring at her, trying to anticipate whether she *might* have to potty.) I've decided to take away the fruit snack idea. She doesn't really understand rewards. She just gets frustrated that she can't have them all the time. But we'll try one more day. My hope is that she might develop the habit of peeing on the potty before she thinks to question it.

But for now, I'm just going to sit here and drink my beer and think about all of the cleaning I have to do tomorrow...

I'm a Big Kid Now!

Yesterday Lily was taking a bath when she looked at me, grabbed herself, and said "poop?" We have never discussed potties or diapers or anything, but I figured it couldn't hurt. So I put her on the potty. She seemed pretty pleased with herself, and then wanted toilet paper. (Any Mom of a toddler has taken the toddler to the bathroom with her many, many times. We are no exception, so she had seen Mommy sit there.)Of course, she didn't do anything on the potty. She just sat there. And eventually we moved on.

Then I was trying to dress her, and she threw a fit when I tried to put her diaper on. this isn't that unusual. She hates diapers. But it made me wonder. Is she ready? I examined the facts:

1. She hates diapers.

2. She knows when she is going to go #2. And then she hides to get some privacy. But she knows.

3. She hates diapers.

4. She's staying dry for much longer stretches.

5. She hates diapers.

6. She can follow easy directions.

7. Did I mention she hates diapers?

Anyone who has ever tried to change Lily knows how difficult it can be. It's not that I'm in a hurry, but it can't hurt, right? So I started research using my most logical resource: facebook. There are as many opinions as there are parents, but they all seemed to be saying the same thing. It couldn't hurt, give it a shot.

So, when Lily woke up from her nap, I sat her on the big potty, and took her diaper off. "Here we go," I thought. Naturally, she wet herself twice within the first fifteen minutes. OK, I was expecting that, I didn't even have any of the right potty training stuff, it was all just an experiment anyway... There was a time yesterday, though, when she looked at me, panicked, and said "bath?" We had already taken a bath. We were not taking another bath. Then she got upset and tried to get over the baby gate. "PLEASE!" she begged. "BATH!" And then she peed. "Ewwwwwww yucky yucky yucky." Was she trying to tell me she had to go? Who knows. She might have wanted another bath, that girl would live in there if we'd let her. But it's possible...

Last night the Smith Family made a trip to Target where we purchased a potty, (a pink one that looks like a throne. It plays music when you "go" in it. Once this happens for the first time, I am convinced it will make all the difference in the world.) some big girl underwear, ("Princess and the Frog," and Tinkerbell. Naturally.) some Pull-Ups, (for night time, naps, and if we absolutely must go somewhere in the next few days.) and some fruit snacks. I downloaded the potty dance, we're starting to learn the choreography, and I have the iGoPotty app. (yes. This is a real thing.)

Here's what Lily knows so far:

1. The potty is hers.

2. When she sits on it, she gets a fruit snack.

3. When the phone "rings" with the "I'm a Big Kid Now" song, it is "for her." It means she gets to push the answer button, sit on the potty, and listen to the music it plays.

4. She hates diapers.

So. When Lily wakes up, I'm taking off the pull-up, putting on the big girl pants, and we'll see. I have zero expectations. It may last a few hours, or she might be that kid who just gets it right away. I'll post our progress, feel free to laugh at us.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Can You Feel the Love Tonight- Part 2

First, let me apologize for being somewhat MIA. I have been focusing on Momentum Rep's blog this month. Lily is dressing as a different musical every day. It's adorable. You can check it out at

But I had a rather extraordinary experience the other day, and it needed to be shared.

I saw "The Lion King." I know, I know, didn't we already do this a few months ago? Sitting in the audience, holding my breath, watching someone I care about and have helped nurture?

Yes, we did that. And you can read about the time we took Lily to see "The Lion King" on Broadway in my November post, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"

But this time it wasn't my daughter I was watching, it was a student. And that student wasn't in the audience. She was onstage.

I met Syndee in the Fall of 2007 when I started teaching at Five Towns College. She was introduced to me by the head of the department. It was clear he was very proud of her- he told me all about how she had been a Knick's dancer. She presented herself with confidence. She knew what she wanted. And one of the things she wanted was for me to teach her voice lessons. Even though my studio was full, some phone calls were made, and soon we were all set. I was a little intimidated by the whole situation, truth be told.

We met a few days later in my obscenely small studio where I taught lessons. (and by "my" studio, I only mean that I was assigned there when I taught. It wasn't actually "mine.") I had to push my chair back into a corner so we could get far enough away from each other to have a conversation. And that's when Syndee told me that she was going to be Nala in "The Lion King." She told me she had cut out pictures from the show and tacked them to a bulletin board so she could see it every day. And I believed that she would do it. Someday, anyway.

Over the next few years, we worked on some subtleties of Syndee's voice. She was already fabulous, of course. And as someone close to her, I was privileged enough to watch her perform many times- including seeing her sing the National Anthem at a Knicks game. But she didn't want to be told she was fabulous. She wanted to be told what needed work. And I told her. And she worked. And she just kept getting better.

In the summer of 2008, my best friend and I started Momentum Repertory Company, producing our first full musical- "Godspell." I cast Syndee to sing the rip-roaring "Oh Bless the Lord, My Soul." This part was not a surprise to anyone. But what was a little surprising to many was the fact that I dressed her as a homeless woman. Because I knew the last thing she wanted to do was play another glamorous character. She wanted to work on her acting skills. And her portrayal of that homeless woman brought the audience to tears.

Back at Five Towns that fall, Syndee and I continued to work. And then one day, she was called in for Nala. We had work to do. Major work. Not just vocally- her skills there had improved incredibly over the past year. But real acting work. What could she bring to "Shadowland" that others hadn't brought? How could she make it about the story and character, and not just about her incredible voice? We grabbed Jenn Spears (now a Board member for MRC) and set to work picking the song apart. Making intense, difficult acting choices. And by the end of our lesson, when she sang it for the final time, I don't know how the walls of that flimsy little practice room were still standing.

I left Five Towns College to adopt. And adopt I did. And when Lily was just a few months old, I got a phone call. It was Syndee.

"Hey," she said casually. "Are you holding the baby?" I told her I wasn't. That I had put her down for a nap. "OK good. I didn't want you to drop her when I told you I was just cast as Nala in the National Tour."

Of course she was. I was thrilled for her. But I wasn't surprised.

Syndee came in for one more coaching before heading out. Lily was fussing a little, so Syndee held her while she sang "Shadowland" so I could play the piano. (Lily now thinks this is normal. Don't most toddlers hang out on Broadway and have Nala personally serenade them in their living rooms?) I gave her a few tips here and there, but honestly, there was little I could say. She was ready.

I looked at the tour schedule as soon as it was available, saw that the show would be in Providence on my Dad's birthday, and knew that's when we could go. It was difficult for us to afford the tickets, but nothing would keep me from seeing her in this show. So, this past Sunday, we all headed out to the Providence Performing Arts Center. (and by "all," I mean, Ryan and I, my Dad, and his friend Mary. Lily stayed with my Dad's neighbor. I made the decision that this day needed to be about Syndee, and if Lily was there, well, any event in which Lily is involved is about Lily.) I could hardly sit still as we ate our pizza before the show, I was even antsier as Ryan and I had a drink at the bar, and by the time we were in our seats I was ready to burst. I couldn't take it anymore.

"I know you don't care," I said to the total stranger sitting next to me, "but the woman playing Nala is my voice student." She understood what a very big deal this was, and we chatted until the show began.

I enjoyed the first act, but also just wanted it to hurry up, as the adult Nala doesn't appear until Act 2. And when she appeared, the entire audience was captivated. It had nothing to do with knowing her or nurturing her or being proud of her. This girl is brilliant. And after she sang "Shadowland," there was a brief hush, and then wild applause. Someone behind me even said "Oh my God!"

Watching her sing that song and seeing the choices she was making was completely surreal for me. We worked on it in a practice room so small she was singing directly to the wall. And here was that work, being shown for thousands.

I wanted to save my standing ovation for Syndee's bow, but everyone else jumped to their feet right away. It's a great show, I wasn't about to be that jerk who just sits there during a standing O. (although I've been known to be that jerk. I don't stand just because everyone else does.) So I stood, and I yelled and clapped my hands above my head when she came out. And so did everyone else. She looked out into the crowd and mouthed the words "stage door" while pointing to an exit. Hooray! That message was for me!

Backstage, I told Syndee how she was fabulous and brilliant. And I hugged her. And we got the tour. And I was so, so proud of her.

But as we left, it wasn't just the fact that I was proud of her that was staying with me. Syndee is an example of knowing what you want, saying it out loud, and going after it. You need the talent, of course. And a lot of luck. But sometimes, that drive. That clarity. THAT is what makes all the difference.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I Can't Think of a Music Theatre Song about Goodbye? Really? Oh well.

My daughter is extremely loving. My daughter is extremely happy. My daughter will decide right away if she loves you- she probably will- and insist that you accept her hugs. She is extremely charismatic. Even as an infant, people couldn’t help but look at her and interact with her, and this is a trait that has only further developed with age. Her mission in life seems to be spreading joy, and even as a toddler, she wants to teach. If she is experiencing something she thinks you should experience she will take your hand so you, too, can feel. I would like to think that some of these characteristics come from me. I have been told that I am loving, and nurturing. That I am a natural leader and teacher.

But my daughter and I share another trait that I hope she will eventually outgrow. Neither one of us can handle goodbyes. I’m hoping this is not something she has learned from me. I don’t think it’s something I’ve demonstrated to her. But really. She. Cannot. Handle. Goodbyes.

Now let me be clear. It is absolutely typical for a toddler to have separation anxiety when a parent leaves. It’s also typical for a toddler to be afraid of strangers. But my daughter is special. She has anxiety separation from strangers. If we ride on the elevator with neighbors for two floors, and the new best friends get out at the first floor, but we’re taking the elevator to the basement, she screams and cries hysterically. Literal hysterics. And great big crocodile tears. It is heartbreaking. If a package comes for us, I sign, and it turns out the UPS man isn’t going to be her new brother, she pounds on the door and until she collapses in exhaustion. Dropping off our babysitter at the train station means at least twenty minutes of crying.

And it’s even worse when it’s Mommy or Daddy.

Ryan left for work today, and after a half-hour of banging on the ground, she looked at me and said “night night.” It wasn’t even close to naptime, but it was all more than she could handle, and she slept for nearly four hours.

For strangers or people who don’t know Lily as well, this whole thing is cute and endearing. “Oh, look how much she loves me!” Sure. If you want to feel special, go for it. But she has the same reaction to the pizza man.

To those of us who spend more time with her, it is sad, and a little funny sometimes, and I have to say, a little confusing. For the most part, she’s a tough chick. This is the only part of her life that seems to be difficult for her. She sleeps well, she eats well, she plays well- alone or with others. She just doesn’t like to say goodbye.

Interestingly enough, Lily only has trouble when other people are leaving her. If she’s the one leaving, it’s “bye-bye!” with a smile and a wave. She loves bye-bye. But if Daddy puts his coat on to go to the grocery store, you can bet she’s going to try to put her coat on too. It’s easy to be the one leaving. It’s hard to be the one left behind. And it makes me wonder. Is she that afraid people will never come back? Does she really connect to people that instantly?

But maybe she is. And maybe she does.

I am, unfortunately, in a world where people come and go. I don’t work in an office where people retire with a gold watch after forty years. I don’t live in a town where people are born and raised. Where they stay to raise their families. Where they’re buried next to their parents. (Well, OK. Technically I totally live in a town like that. But I am not yet fully-acclimated, and I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like I’m not a New Yorker in some sense.) I work in a field in which people do one show together. They spend all of their time together for six weeks. They share everything and feel like best friends. And then they go away. Maybe they’ll stay in touch, maybe they won’t. And that part of it just kills me. It’s part of why we started our theatre company- to provide a greater sense of community in a field that can be so cold. In a city where people live for months, or years, or a lifetime, but never know how long they‘ll be there, really. Not for sure.

So maybe it’s not that Lily is too young to understand people are probably coming back. Maybe she’s really got it all figured out, and she’s just too young to know she shouldn’t be so honest.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When an Apple a Day Isn't Enough

We, the uninsured, are tired of being judged. Let me just put that right out there. We know protecting our health is important. We know we need to take care of things “just in case.” I mean, my book starts with getting health insurance. It’s important. We get it. We like peace of mind as much as the next guy.

We’re also tired of not being covered when we have medical expenses. We enjoy being healthy and going to the doctor.

And we are looking forward to Obamacare and whatever benefits it may bring.


Someday we’ll have healthcare. In the meantime, I have a possible solution. And I’m not even being snarky. It’s a real-live, honest-to-goodness solution, and I meant to share it last time I went, and I forgot. My apologies.

Uninsured friends- do you know about the Ryan-Chelsea Clinton Clinic? It might be literally saving my life today.

I found out about the Ryan Clinic a few months ago from a friend. I have thyroid disease. This MUST be treated. My prescription was running out. I didn’t know what to do. A friend of said friend had mentioned the clinic to her before, but it seemed too good to be true. But it’s not. It’s a real place.

I registered in May and got an appointment for a few days later. I was seen right on time. The doctor was really kind. And then I went around the corner and filled my prescription. For $7. My cost for the visit was $125. This is only because I am “out of borough.” Manhattan residents pay based on a sliding scale. The guy next to me today had a co-pay of $3.

But it’s my experience today that I most want to share.

I realized about a week ago that I was running out of my medication, and I knew I didn’t have any refills. I’m headed to Ohio tomorrow, so I called to get an appointment at the clinic. No such luck- the next available appointment was on January 27. I explained to the nice lady on the phone (she really was a nice lady) that I would be in the hospital by then. She suggested I try a walk-in. OK then. Sounds like a plan.

I sent my friend Lindsay a text asking her to watch Lily today so I could go. (Lindsay has saved me in many, MANY of these situations. She is Lily’s regular babysitter, but is also a friend and will lend a hand when needed. So publicly- thanks for that.) Off I went on the Metro-North. I arrived at the clinic around 11:00 and was told at the check-in desk that all of the walk-ins were gone for the day.

Naturally, I started to cry.

“Is it an emergency?” The guys asked.

“It is, actually,” I answered quite truthfully. My thyroid condition is well-managed and totally under control. But left untreated… well, no one wants that.

“It’s OK. Just sign in and talk to the nurse,” he said, smiling. Seriously. Smiling.

So I sat down, and I waited. I waited maybe- MAYBE- twenty minutes before a nurse called my name, took me into a room, asked me why I was there, and immediately closed the door when I started crying. (there’s a lot of crying in this story.)

I told her I tried to make an appointment. I knew I should have an appointment. And I couldn’t get there any earlier because I needed to have a babysitter, and I just really really needed my medication and-

A few clicks on the computer and a short phone call later and she had an appointment for me with a doctor who was ahead of schedule for the day. No judgment. She just… fixed it.

I was sitting in front of that doctor about fifteen minutes later.

“So, what brings you in today?”

“Well, first of all, I really need my thyroid medication refilled.”

“OK. I can do that.” Clicking on the computer, pulling up my chart…. And then… “And second? You said ‘first of all.’ So what else?”

Oh, look. I’m crying again.

I told her that I’d struggled with depression for a long time. That I’ve been off of medication for about a year and I’m realizing that’s probably not a great long-term plan. That I was in therapy forever, I have the skills, I get it, but only if my chemicals are balanced. Which… they are not, currently.

Very, very calmly, she started to ask me some questions. About my life, whether I have anxiety, that kind of thing. I told her I hadn’t had anxiety before, but that I started to have it pretty badly when I went from being a college professor to staying home with my daughter.

“Ah. So you lost your job.”

“No. It was a choice.”

“Oh!” she smiled. Because this is a legitimate choice, and she understands that. “And do you have a partner?”

“Yes, my husband.”

“And you can’t get health insurance through his job?”

“No. We can’t.”

“He’s an artist?”

“Ha! Yes! Yes he is! We both are!” And the thing is, she wasn’t saying it in an “oh, I see, you guys are dead-beat parents who don’t know how to take care of things” kind of way. (yes, we’ve gotten this attitude.) It was only “oh, I see. You guys are legitimately in a field which often does not provide health insurance.”

And THAT makes all the difference.

I left the clinic with two prescriptions ($27), two future appointments, and a renewed sense of hope. Please, check it out my friends. It’s open to anyone (I don’t even live in the State of NY, let alone the city…) and it’s a really solid option for us until we get this figured out. Or the government does. Either way. Stay healthy out there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

All I Really Need to Know...

... I learned from ignoring the chaos in everything but the kitchen sink.

Hmmm. That might not be how that saying goes.

But it's how I'm feeling today.

I've been keeping that sink shiny for a few days. And here's what I'm learning so far.

*Clean can spread just like dirty does. My clean has spread out across the counter, over the refrigerator (inside and out) and wrapped around to include the stove. But I keep going back to that sink as a home base. Which brings me to...

*It matters that it's the kitchen sink. This is not random. I didn't get that before. I can't do the dishes if the sink isn't clean. And if I'm going to clean the kitchen, I'm obviously going to do some dishes. And it feels silly to spend money on groceries and put them into a cluttered, dirty refrigerator. I won't be able to see what I have. And in order to clean out the refrigerator, I'll be... washing some dishes.

*Baby steps are smaller than I thought. I am an accomplished woman. I'm highly educated. I look at my CV, and I'm impressed with myself. I am often a leader among women, and sometimes among men if they can get over themselves for two seconds. But "jump in wherever you are" doesn't mean what I thought it meant. I always interpreted it as "start today doing the routines you've already established for yourself." Which is fine. If I am healthy. But when I'm not, those routines are far too overwhelming, and I just give up. It's not "jump in where the routines are." It's "jump in where YOU are." And where I am is, frankly, dealing with a chronic disease that happens to be flaring up right now. I can't look at a day's-worth of routines. But I can look at the top shelf of the refrigerator. And after that, I might be able to look at the next shelf. And if I can't, I'll do it tomorrow and celebrate that really clean top shelf.

*Baby steps lead to more baby steps. I'll probably be able to look at that next shelf. Because the one thing I need in dealing with depression is to feel good about myself. In the past few days, I've looked at a few career things that I've been ignoring for a while. (Obviously I am ready to take the performing arts education world by storm, as I have a clean sink. I'm thinking of adding THAT to my CV.) And of course, dealing with things in my career, a place where I've had success... makes me feel better about myself. And just like that, another refrigerator shelf is clean.

*Sometimes I need to put the blinders on. I'm writing all of this from a living room that is an absolute disaster. Anyone with a toddler knows that this can happen pretty quickly, but it's been like this for days. If I were at my healthiest, I would jump in and get it done. But that's not where I am this week. Instead, I need to remind myself that the clean has spread. And eventually, it will spread to the living room. And I need to be nice to myself, and celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

*I have learned these lessons over and over, and will have to learn them again in the future. That's why it's called chronic. It keeps happening. And I need to be patient about that.

Reminding you, once again, that these are Flylady's ideas. :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Shiny Sink Strikes- well, shines- Again

I started following Flylady several years ago. And, as my last post stated, her methods often work for me. But her very first step- the Shiny Sink- I just... didn't get it. My apartment (and my life, or so it feels) is such a mess. Why in the world would I care if my kitchen sink shines?

And then yesterday, I was having another one of my... difficult times. For reasons I fully understand but don't need to disclose, my depression has gotten quite bad of late. It was bad enough that Ryan made plans for us to visit friends in Long Island just so I could get out. But there were hours before we left, and I didn't know what to do with myself. Ryan needed to take a nap while Lily slept, as he had been doing most of the child-rearing for a few days. And I started to get really nervous that I was going to have to entertain myself for a few minutes while he slept. I didn't want to watch TV, I didn't want to talk to anyone, I had already taken a shower, I just... didn't know what to do.

And that's when I thought of the Shiny Sink. Flylady has never really steered me wrong. I could give it a try, I suppose. So I looked up the Shiny Sink instructions. Step One, take the dishes out of the sink. You know what? I can handle that. I can take the dishes out of the sink.

And so I did.

And I'm also capable of filling the sink with hot water and adding some bleach.

And so I did.

After that it was just a matter of waiting an hour. And the hour was a little easier since Lily woke up and needed a bath.

And the last steps were easy. And they make the sink look really really shiny as promised.

And so we left to visit our friends, and I knew I had done something with my day. Something tiny. But something.

My shiny sink was calling me today. I wasn't feeling much better, and Lily and Ryan were cuddling on the couch watching Fraggle Rock. I wanted to make the cleanliness spread a little. So I unloaded the dishwasher. (although I have no idea who loaded it and ran it. It certainly wasn't me.) And then I took a few dishes, rinsed them, and put them into the dishwasher. And I did it again. And before long, I had six square inches of empty counter space. I was so proud of it that I sprayed it with cleaner and wiped it down.

And now, I have six square inches of clean, next to my shiny sink.

And this might seem like the most boring, tedious blog ever. But the truth is that it was really hard for me to do anything on my own. And emptying the dishwasher was a victory. And so was rinsing those dishes.

And THAT is why Flylady encourages people to shine their sinks. I sort of kind of get it now. And encourage you to shine YOUR sink. And check out Flylady at her website.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A New Year, a New Chance to Fly

I spend a lot of time not knowing what to do with myself. And please understand- when I say I don’t know what to do with myself, I mean this quite literally. I can be found spinning- yes spinning- around my living room, trying to decide whether I should clean or write or eat or sleep or change a diaper.

I work between four and ten hours a week. (work, as in outside the home, getting paid. I “work,” well… how many hours are there in a week?) This is an odd schedule for a Type-A such as myself. I enjoy structure. And schedules. And deadlines. And my most important job- being a Mom- demands flexibility. But there’s a difference between flexibility and lack of plan. And for a person who struggles with anxiety and depression, living in Lack of Plan Land is dangerous. So I sit around going crazy. And please understand, when I say going crazy, I mean THIS quite literally.

This is where I find myself today. A ridiculously messy home. Very little food in the cupboards. Mounds of laundry. Piles of paperwork. And no one to hold me accountable.

So I return, once again, to Flylady. I’ve spoken of her before. And as a reminder, these are HER ideas. NOT MINE. I would hate for their to be any confusion on this point, as this is a woman who has dedicated her life to helping people get out of chaos. Please visit her website and see what she has to say, in HER words.

But Flylady, in MY words, can be a lifesaver. She taught me how to organize my home, and my time, and my life. And she taught me how to do it in a way that worked for me. Usually. And she taught me that when I stray from the plan (as we’ll so often do, living with depression), I can jump back on board wherever I am.

And it’s not so easy. I’m a brat. I don’t wanna. No one is coming over anyway, we’re making it just fine. But I know that I am healthier when the apartment is clean and the cupboards are stocked and the laundry is clean and folded and put away and I know what we’re having for dinner. And it doesn’t make me less of an independent woman. And it doesn’t make me more of an independent woman. It just makes me happier and healthier.

I finished my Morning Routine around 1:15 today. Most of it, anyway, I’ll vacuum when Lily wakes up. And true, 1:15 is technically no longer the morning, but I am giving myself permission to be flexible. I am dressed to the shoes, and Lily and I have had breakfast, and we spent time together (she loves reading books, and I love that she loves reading books) and I spent some time on my own, and I wiped down the bathroom, and the living room is 15 minutes cleaner than it was when I woke up. And you know what? I feel better.

Remind me of that as I fight my afternoon routine with all my strongest inner brat?

And please check out the Flylady website. We’ll do this together.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes

My daughter is learning to talk. As a voice teacher and writer, this is about the coolest thing I have ever witnessed in my life. I have outlined her current vocabulary below. To me, this is fascinating. If it’s not fascinating to you, go read something else. is pretty funny. Try that.

Words that you would recognize, that mean what you think they mean:






No (or, N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-no)



Bye-bye (used as the thing that is said when a person is departing, and the act of the departure itself)

Juice (not just something to drink, but juice, specifically. Always phrased as a question)

Shoe (used for shoes, but also socks and feet, always phrased as a question)



Hot (almost always accompanied by blowing on something imaginary, even if the thing she’s describing as hot is not food)

Yucky (pronounced yuh-KEEEEEEEEE with a giant glottal stop between the syllables)






Exclamations. This could go in the category above, but is fun enough that it gets it’s own category:

Oh no!

Uh-Oh! (these two are interchangeable)


Whoa! (these two are NOT interchangeable. “Wow” is reserved for the impressive or exciting, or when she just feels like saying “wow.” Whoa, on the other hand is only for things like almost falling down but then catching ones’ self. As in, “Whoa, that was a close one.”)

Boo! (It is important to note an expectation here. “Boo” is always terrifying, and the listener must exclaim how terrifying Lily is for having said it.)


Whassat? (What’s that?)

Whaaaaaaat? (always accompanied by hands held out, palms up.)
Note concerning these questions: they are generally completely out of context and do not refer to anything in particular. She just think it’s funny.

Words that are pretty close, and you’d get it if you really thought about it. Or if we were there to translate:

Nah-nah (night-night, or bedtime)

Bah (bath)

Daw (dog)

Da (dance)

Elwo (Elmo)

Dah (down. Yes, dog, dance, and down sound an awful lot alike. Context clues, people)

Peace (please)

Hep (help)

Buh (book)

Kee-kee or Kih-ee (kitty)

Bee-butt (belly button)

Num-num (food, or the way she feels about the food)

Words that sound sort of like one thing, and mean something else entirely:

Mooooooohhhhh? (more. This is her most common word for food, regardless of whether she has had any yet. Origin, I think: “Lily, do you want some more?” This word is starting to mean she just wants something. And it’s up to the listener to discover what that thing is. Always phrased as a question. Always.)

Bah (back. This is her word for containers. Origin, I think: “Lily, put that back.” Often she is explaining she wants not the thing, but the container that holds the thing. Or both.)

You’d never have any idea what she was saying, but it’s cute and she’s using it consistently and correctly so give her a break:

Kee-kew (Thank You)

Uh, *random syllable*, *LOUDER RANDOM SYLLABLE!!!!!* (One, two, three. That’s right, my kid can count. Uh, sort of.)




Baaaaaaaaaah (complete with vibrato)


Beep- beep

Vvvvvvvvv (the sound an engine makes)

Shhhhhhhh (which means be quiet but is also the sound of running water)

Zzzzzzzzz (the sound of zippers and bees)

And our favorite Lily-ism:

Deedle-eedle-eedle-eedle-eedle! (Which doesn’t mean anything except that she’s really happy.)

I would suggest printing this guide and keeping it handy, but a translator will be provided when you visit if you are not yet fluent in Lily.