Singing my kids (and my neuroses) to sleep

IMG_0631.JPGAt bedtime a few nights ago, the girls were giggling and telling Joe, “Do it again, Daddy! Do it again!”

So Joe re-entered Neve’s room, stood at the foot of her bed, and starting crooning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” like a jazz singer wannabe.

My brows hunched in full-puzzlement mode. This was what led Lily and Neve into hysterics?

But then Joe arrived at the song’s bridge, at which point he started jumping up and down, and his face, though still smiling, became more intense. It was as if Black Flag’s Henry Rollins suddenly appeared, pounding out iconic lyrics as angry thrash metal: “Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far BEHIND MEEEEEEEEE!!!!!”

The girls both doubled over, laughing so hard their eyes watered.

And I thought, “Thank you, universe, for these crazy, crazy people.” Continue reading

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The Layoff Diaries: Nice girls finish last?

piggy-bankWhen I pick up my daughters at the end of the day, it’s not the typical “grab backpacks and firmly herd them out the door” kind of scene.

Because Joe is the family cook – and he won’t be home until after Neve’s pre-school closes at 6, anyway – it frankly makes no difference to me whether the girls want to linger and play with their friends or leave right away. So on most days, I take a seat and play with them, or chat with the young women who are their caregivers, or just spectate.

While doing the latter on a recent evening, Neve and a friend were playing with a plastic toy garage, with curving car ramps, when a younger blond girl approached the table and pulled it toward herself.

Neve yelled, “Hey!” and yanked it back, like a reflex.

I, meanwhile, did the thing you expect mommies to do. I said, “Neve, she shouldn’t have grabbed it from you, but you don’t have to freak out, either. You could just pull it back and say, ‘Excuse me, we were playing with that.’”

But even as I went through the motions of saying these words, I wondered if this is how it starts. If these are the subtle ways that girls are taught that “being nice” is prized over backbone and action. (You might think, “You’d say that to a son, too” – and you’re right, I probably would; but boys aren’t usually groomed in the same way girls are to “not make waves” and to always put others’ needs before their own.)

The timing of this particular parenting question is no accident. Since my layoff happened on January 6 – 33 days ago now – I’ve been accepting free-lance assignments from a number of sources: theater companies, local arts-oriented websites, news organizations, etc. But because I’ve been out of the free-lancing game for nearly 12 years, I found myself immediately staring down my least favorite part of this racket: negotiating a price for my labor. Continue reading

The Layoff Diaries: Down the rabbit-hole

caterpillar

I’m a lifelong skeptic, so I have great difficulty explaining why, on a fairly consistent basis, I stumble upon things in my reading life that address, in an uncanny way, something I’m experiencing right at that very moment.

For instance, last year, when my father-in-law had a handful of long stints in the hospital, and I was on my own with the girls one night because it looked like he might be facing his final hours, Lily randomly chose (for her reading practice) this Shel Silverstein poem from the collection, “Falling Up”:

Stork Story

You know the stork brings babies,
But did you also know
He comes and gets the older folks
When it’s their time to go?

Zooms right down and scoops them up,
Then flaps back out the door
And flies them to the factory where
They all were made before.

And there their skin is tightened up,
Their muscles all are toned,
Their wrinkles all are ironed out,
They’re given brand-new bones.

Ol’ bent backs are straightened up,
New teeth are added, too,
Tired hearts are all repaired
And made to work like new.

Their memories are all removed
And they’re shrunk down, and then
The stork flies them back down to earth
As newborn babes again.

I’ll confess, I struggled mightily to keep myself from sobbing as Lily read these words aloud. My father-in-law had long been suffering from a rare form of skin cancer, so these images of renewal and release and rebirth worked like a salve on an awful night.

And last night, after dinner (and a couple of games of the kids’ version of Apples to Apples), Lily and Neve made tunnels out of the couch cushions and pillows and asked me to read from the book Joe recently started with them: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

You can see where this is going.

The chapter where Joe had left off reading, “The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill,” tells what happens when the White Rabbit mistakes Alice for his housemaid; as she tries to carry out his wishes, she takes a swig from a bottle marked “DRINK ME” and grows so big that Rabbit’s house can barely contain her.

Alice, in this moment, thinks to herself, “I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole – and yet – and yet – it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me!”

You and me both, Alice.

For although I may not have bumped into you on my way down the rabbit-hole, we’re both clearly taking up semi-permanent residency in Wonderland, with all the delights and horrors contained therein.

Indeed, that’s what this strange, surreal post-layoff time ultimately boils down to. There’s sheer terror and worry underlying each day; but there’s also a palpable spark of hope for new adventures, too. You feel more alive than you do before, but at the expense of – well, being able to take care of expenses.

Unlike the days and years that came before, you just have absolutely no idea what’s coming up ahead (looking at you, trippy hookah-smoking caterpillar).

And depending on your mood on a given day, that notion will make you either jump up out of bed or burrow ever deeper under the down comforter.

Out of work, out of whack

jennleaving.jpeg

(This photo was taken on the last day of operations for the original Ann Arbor News in 2009.)

Last Wednesday morning, I stood in front of my closet and asked Joe, “So what do you wear to get fired?”

The line was kind of funny, in a gallows humor way; but this wasn’t just a joke, and I wasn’t speaking hypothetically.

After receiving a late-in-the-day Tuesday email – containing three clues that blinked like a neon sign, pointing to my imminent layoff – I’d stayed up late, uploading the hundreds of videos and photos (mostly of my daughters) from my work-issued phone, and sending documents and contacts I wanted to keep from my laptop.

It was like living out that “If you were stranded on a desert island” scenario, but with your two most essential gadgets.

We tried to hold to our usual morning routine on Wednesday, getting Lily to the bus stop, and dropping Neve off at preschool; but then I stepped back into our quiet, empty house, left to twiddle my thumbs until nearly noon.

Which led to the next question, “What do you do while waiting to get fired?”

I’d thought a bit about this the night before, while frantically uploading, and I’d decided that this would be the perfect window of time to finish up my year-end wrap-up of local theater highlights and news. I was off the clock, and year-end pieces like this had recently gone the way of the dodo, but I’d wanted to do it, anyway.

It would be my swan song, my parting gift to a theater community that had weathered a pretty tough year; and as it happened, this gift was mutually beneficial, in that I felt grateful for being able to focus on pulling together story under a tight deadline – just like old times – and leaving my nearly 12 years in arts journalism with a story that only I could write. Continue reading