I took my dad to opening night of Pacific Northwest Ballet's Sleeping Beauty. It was our first dad/daughter hangout in years and my dad's first glimpse of a professional ballet company in action. It was also the first time I was enthralled by a performance of Sleeping Beauty, but it wasn't that the production had changed or the dancers any more talented or engaged. I'm seeing things differently these days.
I was lucky to live the dream of the 90s through my early twenties and thirties. My social life revolved around a neighborhood coffee shop, I lived alone in an small basement studio on Capitol Hill, and I payed my way through college with a collection of weird jobs. I had a good time but existed under a cloud of jaded antipathy for anything that smelled remotely of The Establishment, and this included princess-driven classical ballets, stay-at-home parents, and Subarus.
Oops. Look at me now.
Twenty years later I make part of my living writing about classical ballet, I stay home with my three year old son and low and behold I drive a flippin' Subaru. The highlight of my February was a classical ballet fairly dripping with princesses, sparkles, and the most incredible technique and artistry I've seen in my decades of watching world-class dance.
Pacific Northwest Ballet is known for tall, leggy ballet dancers but is increasingly embracing a diversity of physique in their company. Some dancers, like opening night's Princess Aurora Lesley Rausch, are tall and long-armed, with gravity-defying grace and arabesques that seem to stretch for days. During her pas de deux with Jerome Tisserand's Prince Florimund, Rausch's strength was at its finest and the flicks of her head at the end of turns, her leg extension and expressive hands gave the impression that it was her mastery of movement that guided the orchestra, rather than the conductor (no offense, Mr. de Cou--we know you're a master).
There was an equal magic to the small-framed dancing from newly-promoted principal dancer Leta Biasucci's Bluebird, her strong legs and expressive face flitting appropriately through the variation while easily maintaining the same authority onstage as Rausch's Aurora and Lindsi Dec's Lilac Fairy. I don't point this out to criticize dancers' bodies but to point out how perfectly Pacific Northwest Ballet nurtures the individual physicality and artistry of its dancers. Artistic director Peter Boal doesn't aim for a company of identical automatons--he operates a company of artists who develop their own talents and style and very clearly enjoy their work. Everyone onstage in Sleeping Beauty--especially the outstanding Jonathan Poretta as the weirdly beguiling Carabosse--was having a super great time!
It's painfully obvious when dancers aren't enjoying themselves onstage, it can ruin a show. But Rausch's face clearly exhibited a passion and joy for her work along with the intense concentration that guides her through her increasingly exceptional dancing. Wouldn't it be great if we could all enjoy our work like this? If our bosses encouraged us to be our best selves and to incorporate some amount of play into whatever we're producing? This hard-won mastery of skill and play, I realized while watching Sleeping Beauty, was the pinnacle of success. I never succeeded as a ballet dancer but this equation is exactly what I experience as a mother.
I like to think that I look as happy and passionate about my jobs as Rausch's Princess Aurora. Most of the time I probably do not, my eyes bagged from lack of sleep and my frizzy hair tucked under a hat as I chase my son through the Arboretum or drag him through Fred Meyer at rush hour. But I am, I promise. And I wonder if artists and parents are the only ones who can consciously do this at work without getting canned.
I started reading Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere yesterday. I read in two ways now, in this new different life where mothering and cooking and growing things has taken precedence over books and work: I read parenting and self-help books at night, and I "read" audio books for an hour or two in the afternoon while West naps. I used to poop on the idea of audible books as a bonafide literary experience. I don't now. I take books in whatever way I can get them, and I feel shitty for how I used to judge people who read this way.
I feel shitty for a lot of judgy things I did in the past. It was easy to categorize people, to label them as Soccer Mom or Suit or Ave Rat or Christian Goth (yes, you read that right, and they're really pretty cool). It's more simple to put people in a box than to reflect on the intricacies of the experiences that make up who they are. In the first chapters of Ng's book, her descriptions of a white suburban professional mother are cloaked in shades of disapproval and negativity, the woman's wealth and privilege are used to discredit any depth her character might actually have and we are made to hate her from the moment we meet her. Maybe there's a great reason for this--I'm barely into the book--but it rubs me the wrong way. We already do this to each other in real life, particularly in motherhood, and I'm sick of it. I catch myself doing it all the time. And it's dangerous. There's a fine line between recognizing personal failure and privilege and judging the shit out of other people for not living up to our own expectations. I'd like to teach my son to know this line and walk it. I'll let you know when I figure out how the hell to find it.
I screwed up this weekend. I'm writing again and in an effort to please new editors I bit off more than I could chew. It's nothing irreparable, I'm working steadily in a rare morning at home alone but I'm also beating myself up needlessly about those little errors. Listening to the composer for one of the pieces I'm writing about reminded me that I am allowed these mistakes. I am a collection of parts: mother, wife, friend, writer, worker, woman who hasn't slept a full night in 20 months. Perfection of all parts at all times would be inhuman.
"Collection of Pieces", by composer William Yin-Lee: https://soundcloud.com/williamlinyee
My brain isn't working. I'm sitting in a cafe on Saturday morning trying to write my first theater review in over a year, and I've got nothing. My mind is buzzing with worries about the state of the exhausted baby I just left with my husband, reminders that I forgot to pull the laundry out of the washer, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing with its own extreme state of sleep deprivation.
I've had one full night of sleep since October 2015. West doesn't sleep all night, I'm a light sleeper, and we've decided to continue to breastfeed until he's a bit older, maybe two, maybe beyond. When West wakes up at night and cannot be comforted by his father, I go to him. We don't let him cry himself to sleep. We waited until we could afford to live on one income so that I could stay home with him in his early years, so that we wouldn't have to chose between our sleep and his personal sense of security, his trust in his parents. So I'm really fucking tired.
I thought I'd be able to write a bit during these years. I went to a ballet last night so I could review it for City Arts Magazine, planning to go to a pub after the show, write the review, edit it over one hour in a coffee shop this morning and send it off to the editor before noon. It's 11AM and I have 700 jumbled words on the page, mostly adjectives. My brain is on my child, on the sleep that I didn't get last night. My hands are heavy, my eyes near tears of frustration. And yet I'm right where I want to be. I don't want to be a writer right now. I want to be a mom. So I guess that's what I'll go do. As soon as I finish this fucking review.
I started bawling while spooning oatmeal and strawberries into my son's mouth this morning. Between bites of coagulated mush he would sing his little ode to nursing "side-y, side-y, side-y," and I realized that it's time to wean.
I love breastfeeding. We had our first conversation when he was about five minutes old and I'd unswaddled him and put him to my bare skin as we were wheeled out of the operating room. I could hardly feel my arms and chest after a brutal labor and delivery, but I knew how to guide his tiny mouth to my breast and he drank hungrily while peering up at me through his squinty little black eyes. Over the last 18 months we've learned a lot about each other during feeding time conversations. It is our sacred time. And it's coming to a close.
We sing to West all the time. One of his many nicknames is "Tiny Hansen," from the hours of time spent listening to Elton John during his first few weeks. Elton John is incredibly cathartic for postpartum hormones. This morning while I was sobbing over porridge, KEXP played Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." I cried some more, cleaned up the oatmeal, and nursed West for probably one of the last times. It was but one of the thousands of moments of letting go I'll experience for the rest of my life as West grows up. It is devastating, satisfying, and human. It is why I am here.
I ran into an old friend today while out walking with my son, and in an instant went from feeling on top of the world to shoulder-slumping despair. My friend is beautiful, ten years my junior--and not a parent. I am 40 and a stay at home mother to a teething one year old with a cold. I began this morning with a 5:30 AM shift at my twice-monthly volunteer job after waking every 90 minutes all night to breastfeed a cranky baby. I came home to a sleepy family who giggled with me over breakfast. I ran around the house doing chores with my 25 lb son on my back, bundled him into the stroller mid-morning and walked to the store with a big sense of accomplishment sitting on my shoulder whispering "Good girl, rock on girl."
As I type this, my crappy mood is fading. When I met my friend, I glimpsed myself in the window behind her perfectly-pinned hair, flawless makeup, painted toenails. The bags under my eyes were visible in the reflection, frizzy post-pregnancy hair flying away in a hundred directions, baggy sweater over jeans mottled with old oatmeal and rogue baby loogies. And after everything I'd done already today, that was how I judged myself. Not as the sleep-deprived mom who still got up before dawn to work at a women's shelter, not as the domestic goddess who made breakfast from scratch for three people in ten minutes flat. Not as the wife who spent five minutes oogling and kissing her husband before sending him off to work, humming and smiling to himself. With each of these actions, I was healing the people I love and preparing them to meet their day with healthy bodies and hearts full of peace. And that, right now, is how I fight. Not by going to every demonstration or teach-in, not by writing every senator and politician, not by posting my thoughts on social media. But by feeding those around me, sometimes instead of brushing my hair. I resist the dangers of our world, at this particularly scary time, by love.