Wow! What a time to revisit the answers I wrote in January of 2011 – so recently and yet it seems so long ago. So much has happened since then! One of the biggest things is a change in my health. Just a few weeks after I originally wrote this piece, I began showing severe symptoms of what would eventually be diagnosed as Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had a very acute onset that was both extremely painful and completely unpredictable. I was someone who had never been particularly concerned about my health. I didn’t smoke or eat fast food – but I wasn’t eating well and I didn’t have any kind of regular exercise regime. It wasn’t something I felt I had time for. When I was diagnosed, I was given a prescription for a drug that, in other applications, is used for chemotherapy. It’s the accepted treatment for RA but it can have lots of frightening side effects I wasn’t willing to risk. I asked my doctor what I could do instead of taking the drug and she was skeptical. She suggested I might try swimming but said, “no one ever swims”.
That’s when my “authority issues” kicked in. I began swimming the next week. I now swim 30 laps a day, every day. I’ve adopted a (mostly) very strict diet and I’ve been able to slowly bring my symptoms under control without any medication. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life and I’m finding I actually love and crave physical exercise for the first time ever. I have a tiny, waterproof i-pod that I use in the pool. There’ such a meditative quality to moving through the water. I can’t hear anything but the music. I can only see what’s straight ahead. My breathing is rhythmic, almost like yoga. I do some of my best creative thinking in the pool each morning.
Also, since January of 2011, I changed jobs. After 20 years of working in Arts Education and Administration, I had an opportunity to apply for a leadership position in a Human Services agency. Throughout my arts career, I have frequently worked with at-risk youth. I adore the drama and turmoil of the teenage years and I’ve had a particular affinity to the resilience of kids who haven’t had the support and advantages I did. I had been looking for a change and wasn’t sure how seriously my candidacy would be taken. I’d applied for several different kinds of executive level jobs and hadn’t been successful. I have a lot of experience in this field, but I was operating always under the umbrella of my arts-life. This was uncharted territory! Suddenly, things just seemed to fall into place and I found myself in an exciting challenging job in human services. I love the daily challenge and I’ve got lots of opportunity for creativity.
I’m privileged to lead a dedicated staff that has embraced the opportunity to change and grow as a team. The youth we work with are endlessly creative. Art, music and poetry are an important part of the environment we make. I honestly wish there were more hours in the day for me to spend at this really important work. I’m enjoying attending arts events as a patron, without the stress and drama of figuring out how to make things work. I’ve joined the board of a dance company and am having fun stretching myself into that new role. I don’t think I could have imagined finding myself here a year and half ago – but here I am. Life is good.
Reflections on Motherhood I’m not a parent – a very conscious decision on my part and it’s a choice I am passionate about defending because so many people seem to feel empowered to challenge it. But even though I’ve never birthed a child, I’ve had a hand in raising many and that’s been one of my great joys. So I’ll try to answer these from that perspective…
What is your parenting philosophy? What practices flow from your philosophy? I think one thing I’ve always felt is that I have at least as much to learn from the young people I meet as they have to learn from me. I’ve worked primarily with adolescents and they are so wonderfully paradoxical. I was a challenging teenager; angry, confused, desperate for approval. I think I understand myself – who I was and who I’ve become whenever I spend time among teenagers. What are your family values (those inherited and created)? Acceptance, empathy, integrity, and an appreciation of baked goods. I want the kids I work with to know that I love them no matter what but that I have high expectations for how they will treat others and the world. What do you hope for your children? The youth I deal with currently come from difficult circumstances. Many have been multiply traumatized. Some are homeless, others live in homes where violence is the norm. Many have been accustomed to having their most basic needs go un-met for a very long time. I would like to completely erase the years of abuse and neglect many have suffered and give them all the possibility that was given me. I know that in many cases, that is far too optimistic – but it’s what I hope for. I want them to experience the wide open possibility that has been given me. Please describe a moment of mama-child magic you have experienced. There are many! I’ve been working with kids long enough that many of my former students are older now than I was when I taught them.
Last summer, I performed a wedding ceremony for a young woman who was a student in a long-ago after-school program I ran. That was pretty special. Another carved a foam pumpkin with an image of wonder woman and sent it to me out of the blue. Somehow that touched me more deeply than any sappy testimonial ever could. Please share a story about your child(ren) (perhaps an experience that inspired or challenged you). Oh boy, there have been plenty of these! Very early on, I ran a summer theatre program for kids. It was aimed at inner city youth – but we got some suburban kids too who were drawn to the opportunity to perform. We cast a sassy 10 year old in a major role. She brought the house down at the audition - funny, wise and full of attitude. But when we started rehearsal, she faltered. It became clear she could barely read. The “adults” didn’t know what to do and we locked ourselves in an office for a lengthy conference about how to address the problem. When we came out, she was nowhere to be found. Also missing was one of our girls from the suburbs. She had a decade of ballet school under her belt but she was mousy and unassuming and had been cast in a supporting role. After a lengthy search, we found the two in a closet. The ballerina was patiently teaching her castmate the lines. The capacity of kids to care for one another, to understand what is needed and to solve problems practically without fanfare really turned my head around. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
How has mothering grown you as a woman (spiritually, emotionally)? I think working with youth keeps me attached to my own teenage self. I was a wild, needy creative mess as a teenager – but the upheaval of that time really informed the adult I became so she is never far from the surface. Being around kids allows me to love and honor that desperate character I was. It’s very healing and brings me full circle in a way that gives me peace.
What advice would you give your pre-mama self? The first time I worked with kids, I was totally ambivalent. I hadn’t gotten into the show I wanted and was asked to help with a children’s theatre project. I only said, “yes” because I thought it might help me get a foot in the door and make some contacts that would allow me to get cast sometime later. The experience changed me utterly – completely by surprise. But I don’t think I’d want to change that happy accident. And I don’t know that I have any particular advice to send back in time. One of the most wonderful things about working with youth has been discovering them and my love for the work so unexpectedly. I wouldn’t have believed anyone who told me I’d love this work. Some things you just have to find out for yourself.