Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Very Funny One Woman Show

Peggy Ward Tells Motherhood Like It Is

Had another hard day in the salt mines of parenthood? When you’re half hoping Angelina Jolie might show up to whisk away one of yours? Leave the kids with a sitter, call a friend and check out Mamaphobia.

Peggy Ward’s one-woman show Mamaphobia pulls no punches as she finds comic fodder in the exasperating and exhilarating experiences of new moms. Her audience of like-minded women at Charlie’s Coffee House received her March 19 show with gasps of laughter, agreeing nods, and some surreptitious tears, but this clever and quick-paced play is sure to bring up strong memories and laughs for anyone who knows a parent or a child. Ward, a Wilmette native, takes on the common experiences, (achingly familiar to this reviewer) of slogging through sleep deprivation, cruising playgrounds for new mom friends, and enduring playgroup one-upmanship. Armed with few theatrical technical tricks but the occasional sound effect and simple lighting, Ward makes full use of her own gift for mimicry, fearless body language and a twisty point of view to bring to life over a dozen characters in vivid mini-scenes.

The play, conceived as a stand up comic routine, has the rapid-fire pace and one-liner rhythm of a great comedy club piece. A character’s answer to “But how do I sleep when the baby sleeps if I’ve got a toddler?” is decidedly blue, sadly true and very funny. Another wickedly funny sequence about the (ahem) hair care procedures of Brazil had the audience gasping, then breaking into gales of knowing laughter.

Great humor doesn’t just amuse, it can heal. Ward’s show is sure to help parents, old and new, cope with the earthquake changes that children can spring on our physical and mental health, our partnerships, our friendships, and our identities.

Mamaphobia runs Thursday nights in April and May at Charlie’s Coffee House in downtown Wilmette. Tickets are $15 at the door. See or for more information.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Before You Know It, Before Your Eyes, Change


Somewhere, at some imprecise unnoted time in the recent past, Nora took up the challenge to live the life of a two year old. She throws herself to the floor, screams “No No No NO NO NO,” cries, wails, lunges for her sister with her teeth bared and ready to bite. I look around in confusion, as if I’ve misplaced something that was just in my hand. “Didn’t I just lay it down here on the table? When did this happen?” I wonder. Remember when I would call her my easy baby?

When it’s a bad day, I worry “how did this happen? How did we get to this place?” When the girls run away from me as I’m trying to dress them. And I feel sick when I follow and they pick up the pace. With Nora, I can still turn this into a game, squeak playfully “I’m going to get you!” and admire her chubby hustling thighs. With Mia, whose face is frightened, I’m disturbed. Wait, four-year-olds dress themselves, don’t they? “What have we done!?” I call to the heavens. That’s on a bad drama-prone day.

While watching a cartoon:
Mia: What does big-hearted mean?
Me: You think about other people’s feelings.
Mia: I think about my feelings.

On a bad day, after a comment like that, I ignore the jewel of her heartfelt honesty and whisper to myself, “She’s spoiled.” On a good day, like today, we have hours in the sunshine at the park with the rounded hills and a pond and Nora's insistence of finding a dog in the clouds that makes us laugh and the color in their cheeks from running. Today spring is softness and ease and promise. I’m delighted there are only a few flowers out – austere witch hazel is the most enthusiastic bloom today, its muted chartreuse puffballs as showy as a Mormon pompom team. The pleasures are small and fleeting today – the sun itself and the blurred edges of the clouds and the smell of the air and the way my trowel can dig down deep into the earth without resistance. And the way Mia and I sit down in the shade of some pine trees and build a lean-to out of sticks and cones. On a good day I know there is time for her empathy to grow. She has no frame of reference to know what want is yet. And right now this is as it should be.

Monday, March 19, 2007


“Fix You.” The song, the words, the sound – first plaintive and simple, then soaring – all move me to tears. We can dare to believe this is true: salvation is possible.

Yes, I have stopped yelling and cursing, well, yesterday I was trying to call the financial lady and the girls are fighting at my feet in this tangle of an office/playroom, jammed with four little chairs and table, piles of toys and bodies. I scream “Stop It!” at them and then ask, tensely, “I need to make this phone call. Are you going to let Mommy make this phone call?” “No,” says Mia and I have to hang up the receiver, put away the papers, sit back down on the tiny chair at their tiny table and laugh.

Spring today. Birds, warmth, green smells, buds on the tree tips, the whole nine yards. We did it. We made it through. There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

In twilight at the end of February, there was a moment when the air outside turned blue. I thought at first it was a trick of my eye, accustomed to the gold of the incandescents inside. But even after I opened the back door to the late winter chill, stepped into the outside air, the color remained. It suffused the last thin layer of tired snow, crisp with ice, with a pale blue. Remember in Yentl when Barbra is studying the Torah and one of the questions asked from the text is What is twilight? Her answer: When all is black against the sky. That silhouetting will happen in a few moments. Now details in the fence, the trees, the garden, the garage are still visible. Through blue, blue, blue.

“Bear coming!” whispers Nora in a husky voice, intense and wide eyed.

She points to a picture of Martha Graham dancing, her torso a stamen emerging out of a vertical swirl of dress petals. “Lady,” she says. “Martha,” I reply. “Martha dancing.” “Moth-a,” she agrees. “Oh!”

“No! No sleepy time!”

“Where is Daddy . . . going?” she says, my little grammar genius, master of the verb form.

Her “I’m not sure,” is the sweetest answer we’ve ever heard, so superior to the more pedestrian, “I don’t know.” Our little pioneer!

“Mommy do it! Mommy dooooo it!”

When she calls from her crib, “Oh Mommy! Oooooooooh Maaaaammy!” It is so familiar. From the Mickey Mouse Club’s “Oh Toodles!” But from what else?

At the dinner table: “Nora! You need to ask ‘May I please be excused’ before you leave.”
“Peeky-coose? Peeky-coose?” We laugh. “Yes, Nora, you may be excused!”

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Hardest Word Isn't The Last Word

“Making excuses to justify your behavior is not an apology,” says the Tribune KIDNEWS headline. I want to add an exclamation point. Not an Apology!

In a nutshell, here’s what the article says, taking ideas from somebody named Bill Bernard and his book Life’s Not Fair: To correct your mistake, you must accept blame. “I didn’t mean it,” is only a way of deflecting blame away from yourself. The words “I’m sorry,” aren’t a magic spell that automatically takes all the hurt away. The apology is just the beginning. You need to fix the problem. Take responsibility for what you did.

In our house, with two little ones still learning about feelings other than their own, “sorry” can turn into a battle cry, “SORRY SORRY SORRY!” chanted furiously at the hurt party until she gets so mad she hits you in the head with a Polly Pocket.

The rational tone of my own excuses gives me the creeps. “Mia, I’m so sorry I lost my temper. Mommy’s in a really bad mood today because (Daddy’s golfing) I don’t feel good and there’s spaghetti everywhere on the floor and I’m having a hard time cleaning it up (while you girls run through it and smush the cold sticky white worms into the rug), okay?” She listens and nods and I feel worse because explanations tell the child that there is a formula whose correct result is anger, as if her suffering the blows of my voice was mandated by logic.

Take responsibility for what you did.

My infinitely gentle and wise Aunt Susan teaches preschool in rural Colorado. She told me about a boy in her class who called a little girl classmate “ugly.”

“Jason, you are in very big trouble,” said Aunt Susan. “You have got a lot of work to do.”
“That is so not going to cut it.”
“I’m sorry for calling you ugly, Lena.”
“You haven’t even started, Jason.”
“Lena, I’m really sorry I called you ugly. You aren’t ugly. You are really pretty.”
“You’re just getting started.”

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Golden Mean

Happy, happy birthday. As a career my husband makes little 30 second movies with great plots, acting, photography and some subtle product placement. You might have fast-forwarded past a couple of them to get back to Oprah.

This morning he blew my mind with my birthday present – a two minute piece made of quick shots of one woman against a white background. First, she is glamorous, coiffed, Frappucino sipping. Showing off her ring, then seen serene in a white gown. Pointing to her belly, then seen in profile, growing, growing. Her face is joyous until the profile shot of her, huge, distressed, in the hospital gown. The baby, big smiles. Now she grows messier, wears glasses and red eyes, a wan look. The baby becomes a boy, in superhero costume. The mom holds him, then a pile of dishes, then dry cleaning. The second baby. A full garbage bag, Halloween costumes, a turkey. Her face alternates fatigue, quiet joy being handed a flower, pride showing a drawing of “Mommy.” Blowing bubbles, being struck with a helicopter toy, finally, holding a birthday cake with a look of satisfied survival.

All in two minutes. By the end, I’m sobbing and Randy is crying too. “That’s my life!” I say. “You so get it.” We watch it over and over.

Alexandra Stoddard writes lots of books and sells lots of books. Just reading the titles of some of her books, Celebrate Your Life Everyday, Choosing Happiness, Fifty Ways to Live the Good Life, makes me smile. I heard her speak this week. Her bubbly energy was lovely and funny but something felt off in her advice to spend as little time with unhappy people as possible. I raised my hand to ask where compassion, the taking on of others’ burdens, comes in. Her perhaps evasive response: when you are happy, you spread happiness to others. Happiness is healthy. Okay, that’s fine.

Aristotle says happiness is the final end. It is not the means to anything else; it simply is the ultimate goal of all endeavor. It is the golden mean, neither too much nor too little of anything. Yes? Even if that happiness is created by or built on the unhappiness of others?

I did love Alexandra’s idea to narrow down what makes you happy to ten words. Randy, a willing prisoner to years of his dad’s Sunday sermons, dismisses this as “values clarification.” I think of it as a quick way to transport yourself back to a good place.

Yesterday, I asked Mia what makes her happy.

“Candy. Chocolate chip cookies. Buying new toys. Even buying Nora new toys.”
“What people make you happy?”
“Mommy! Daddy! Norea." (Our nickname for Nora.) "Jessica. And Chloe!” (Cousins.)

And for Mommy? Randy, Mia, Nora. Sunshine, garden, book, laughing, sing. Friends. And today, Naps.