holding

This past Saturday, in the middle of some rambunctious play, Grace ran up to me and bit me in the leg. Shocked, and aware I had to discipline her immediately, I picked her up, repeating “No biting!” loudly and forcefully, and put her down in the middle of her room. “You stay there for one minute,” I said. “You need to calm down.” I retreated to the doorway between our bedrooms and stood there, hands on my hips, looking stern.

Her lower lip trembled. Her eyes grew all teary. And then she let out the wail of the abused, the tortured, the misunderstood – the wail of the toddler who wants to do exactly what she wants, when she wants to, without regard for anybody or anything else.

“I should go hug her,” I said to Ian, who by all accounts is the firmer disciplinarian in the family.

“It hasn’t been a minute, yet,” he said, thumbing through a magazine. “You need to do this. She bit you in the groin, and that is not okay.”

Okay, yes – here, it is important to note – my daughter did not bite me on the leg – she bit me in the groin. I just find groin a sort of a vulgar word to begin a blog post.

I managed to wait out the minute despite wanting nothing more than to comfort Grace, to assure her she and I were totally okay, and go on our merry way. By the time the minute was up, however, my daughter had decided she had quite enough of me thankyouverymuch and marched over to Ian for comfort. Glaring at me from the safety of her father’s lap, she said “Grace is fussy with you, mommy.”

Disciplining Grace is not my forte. As it turns out, I sometimes have to be physically withheld from spoiling her rotten. My good friends and even family members are more strict with Grace than I am, and I can tell the gentle way they prod me, that I am leaning toward becoming a much too indulgent mother. For instance, recently she stole another child’s “lovey” from school and ran away from him. This wasn’t a big deal to the teachers, or even the other child – Grace’s behavior was corrected and she hasn’t taken anything from another child since. My first reaction, though, was to berate myself for not giving her enough stuffed animals to hug.

Not enough stuffed animals to hug? Are you insane?” Ian asked. “This is how she’s going to end up over-indulged, dropping out of school and ending up on some reality television show, not knowing how to read maps for the challenges!”

It’s true. My initial insticts, in mothering Grace and in my own life, run toward the passive. I don’t like confrontation, and I struggle to stand up for myself in the work place. I desperately want to protect Grace from any sort of hurt or lack of kindness – I want her to always know I am delighted to see her, delighted to know her. It’s sort of hard to keep that attitude up, though, when you’ve been bitten in the groin.

I’ve been momentarily surprised, and then instantly grateful, when other people have been more stern with Grace than I am – from my girlfriends to my mother to her teachers, but I also recognize discipline is part of my role. As we move forward I will have to become less of a friend and more of, well, a mother. My best friend thinks I might be overcorrecting because my own mother was so terribly strict with me, and our relationship was often fraught but I think it’s more a personality thing more than anything else. I don’t feel mad, very often – nor do I ever really feel strict. Want to strip your clothes off and finger paint, but with your entire body? I’m cool. Angry for no reason I can understand, and need to throw your drink? I’ve been there, girlfriend. Temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store? I’ll wait it out because no WAY am I going to sacrifice all the shopping I’ve done and leave right now.

But as far as I can tell, two-year olds aren’t much more than mini-psychopaths – adorable, smoochable, hilarious ones who try to put high heels on the dog but still, mini-psychopaths. I need to teach her how to behave in this world, how to move through it with gumption and grace. I don’t mind, so much, that other people seem to think I’m spoiling my daughter, as long as I know it’s not true, but lately even I can recognize my acts of overindulgence could eventually be harmful.

Short time-outs and stern (albeit brief) discussions aren’t something Grace is used to from me – they aren’t things I’m used to giving. I guess I finally understand what it means for a parent to say “this hurts me more than it hurts you.”

A world full of ideas

As a wanna-be writer, I am not sure there is anything more frustrating for me than seeing ideas that I have come to life in print via somebody else’s pen (or rather, keyboard). For a while after having Grace I seriously debated whether or not to continue writing. After all, I have a successful career, a home to rehabilitate, family, friends, a daughter whose energy knows no limits…why write? I decided to continue when I realized that I am always writing in my head – plays, half-crafted essays, the occasional novel (but never, ever a short story – go figure). At this point in my life I write because I haveto, because I’m doing it anyway, and because my overall happiness is not tied up in making a living as a writer – it is tied up in writing for the sake of it.

I have lists and lists of ideas for essays, blog posts and plays – writing these ideas down is the only way for me to purge my overactive brain and have any measure of peace throughout the day. It is particularly upsetting to me when I see one of these ideas in print, penned by someone else and, let’s face it – written much more beautifully than I ever could. Okay, okay, perhaps that’s a bit of false modesty – but writing is a craft and I do not have time to perfect and hone the craft as I would like to so my writing simply isn’t where I would like it to be.

A couple of weeks ago, for instance, New York Times critic Mike Hale wrote this fantastic piece about “Bunheads,” beautifully making the point that I had tried and failed to make here that “Bunheads,” more than any other show, exempliflies what performance means in the lives of its characters. His piece ran just a day or so after mine did and it was totally like that time I wrote a whole piece on the Pioneer Woman only to have the New Yorker do an in-depth profile on her a few months later.

I love creative nonfiction writing because it allows writers to explore all sorts of quirky subject matter. I do not long for a different kind of life, but if I did it would most certainly be one flexible and self-sufficient enough to allow for this kind of a writing life. (Or broadway acting, of course). Since that is not the kind of life I have, and instead am quietly, slowly, oh-so-slowly working on a play and a few essays, here are some writing ideas I either want to write or think other people will be writing in the near future (they aren’t always one in the same).

An in-depth profile on Glennon Melton – the author of Momastery.com – I have a love/hate relationship with this blog but the balance almost always comes out on the love side. I’ll definitely be reading her book at some point. In certain instances her blog posts have arrived at just the right moment for me, acting much in the way a prayer or piece of scripture would. I wouldn’t want to write this profile myself – I would have some biases going in, but I expect to see a pretty significant profile of her within the year. While we are talking about bloggers, however, I would love to personally write a profile on the author of –

The Queen of Spain – a blog authored by Erin West, a writer and activist whose life was put on pause when she was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of lupus. I find the chronicling of her life with lupus to be raw, honest and even painful to read at times – and incredibly important work.

I’d love to write a piece exploring the creation of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s History (ies) of Rap…why these segments appeal, how they go about creating and rehearsing them, how the original idea came out in the first place…

And then of course there is the television show Duck Dynasty, which I only just learned about from my college roommate but, as it turns out, everyone I know is actually watching. I’m interested in watching a couple of episodes to see if I get the appeal but regardless, since this is something it turns out even Ian is aware of and watches, how did I miss this? Why do people like it? And do the Duck Dynesty people know the McIlhenny’s of Tobasco fame, and do they all hang out on an island together?

And does anybody else want to sit in on a day in the life of Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer?

Oh, I could go on and on. There is so much in the world to write about and so little time to tackle it all – and the items I list above are just the most superfluous things – not representative at all of the time I spend thinking about God, the existence of black holes, and North Korea. I guess I’m just lucky to have a way to express myself in my downtime. I’ve said it before and I’ll say again, I desperately hope Grace finds an art form to love just for the sake of it – theater or music or ballet or pottery or whatnot. It’s so wonderful to have a way to help make sense of the world, even if you aren’t very good at it, all of the time, and it fits in only around the edges of your life.

No more working from home?

I’ve been fighting some sinus issues for a while now, and this morning it feels like I have so much congestion it is literally coming out of my eyeballs. My parents have been visiting for the last five days, and I desperately need to go grocery shopping and catch up on laundry. Grace is going through some sort of awful two-year old regression where she only wants ME, all of the time – no grandma or grandpa or daddy will substitute. I haven’t peed or showered alone at home in recent memory. I am – so tired – and as I stuffed my feet into some high heels and adjusted my panty hose this morning, I looked longingly into my living room and wished I could work from home today – on my couch, in my sweats, with coffee from my coffee maker and my laptop on my lap.

This is something my workplace allows occasionally – the opportunity to work from home. If we are expecting contractors or the cable guy or if we are sick with minor colds, no director in our department begrudges us the chance to work from home. It is not, however, business as usual for our organization.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Marissa Mayer’s decision to have the entirety of the Yahoo staff return to the office, even those workers who had telecommuting worked into their contracts. Mostly, I think it is entirely within her right to decide that this is how she wants her company to run. She is very well aware that she will probably lose some talented, dedicated individuals this way, but the rewards will outweigh the risk. There is certainly truth to idea that when people work side by side in the office, collaboration and creativity can be fostered. Say what you will about skype, gomeeting.com, conference calls and all the rest – working relationships are forged when you can grab a quick lunch and discuss a specific problem, or spend time in your boss’s office with white boards and your team. Of course, cliques and emotional politics also arise when workers are together all day, every day, and nothing bonds co-workers together quite like a common enemy, so I imagine there will be plenty of “Can you even believe her” kinds of conversations happening surreptitiously in Yahoo’s hallways in June.

So, yes. Requiring your work force to work from actual offices is certainly within a CEO’s purview, but I wonder how much damage Mayer has done to the morale of her company in making this decision? In my own life, the ability to occasionally work from home because we need to have the roof repaired or the ceiling replastered has been absolutely invaluable, and on days when a head cold wouldn’t be enough for me to take time off, the rest I received working from our dining room table was sanity-saving. The flexibility and understanding of my employer on this issue is a huge perk when I consider looking for another job – it’s a perk I certainly don’t expect the vast majority of other companies to offer. And I do not rely on this flexibility to maintain my work/life balance – so I can’t imagine what a heartwrenching issue this must be for people who accepted a job at yahoo under the condition they work from home. I am probably overly, and some people would say stupidly, loyal to my organization because of the compassion and understanding it has shown to me as a new mother, as a daughter of aging parents, and as a wife. In exchange for the kind of family/life support I’ve received from my employer, I willingly (okay, mostly willingly) check my blackberry on evenings and weekends, work Saturdays when required, and accept that I have to incorporate work into my “life,” and “life” into my work.

I was speaking with my old boss from Detroit a while back – she’s now a vice-president of a prominent heath care organization in Michigan. Like me, she’s a fast-talking, extroverted public relations type. We are not the kinds of people who need to recover from being around other people (something I’ve read about from introverts).When I asked her how things were going, she was almost exultant.

“Who is in the office anymore? Who is at home? Who knows! I care for my dad in the afternoon, take Gavin to school in the mornings, have conference calls in my car, meet with editorial teams for long lunches – it’s a new working world, and it’s fabulous.” (Yes, I swear, she really talks like this. She LOVES working).

This was, pretty much, her approach with her staff when I worked for her and she really defined how I work today. If I need to make a call about my mother-in-law’s spine trouble during working hours, I do it from my office, and if I need to meet a reporter’s deadline after working hours, I do so from my dining room. I do take pains to avoid working much while Grace is awake, but it’s not always possible to avoid and I don’t at all mind setting an example to my daughter that women work, and it isn’t always done away from the home. I’ve mostly been rewarded for this level of flexibility on my part, and the weekend hours and travel I put in previously have afforded me the luxury to be pickier about the travel and weekend assignments I do take now. Admittedly, if work is like a jungle gym, like Sheryl Sandberg states, then I am down a rung or two now, but I know I’ll be climbing right back up.

It seems to me it is this kind of flexibity that Mayer is removing from her workforce. I don’t know what kind of time-off yahoo employees receive…if it’s substantially generous time off then this may be a whole different story. But if standard doctor’s appointments and waiting-for-the-cable guy kind of working “off-site” time is no longer an option, then I think she is elevating office “face time” to a level of importance that really doesn’t exist, and she will end up pitting the employees who have the luxury of a partner at home to manage everyday small, domestic crises against those who don’t – and I can’t imagine that is going to be great for yahoo morale.

I have seen some arguments claiming that Mayer made a move against feminism when she decided to call her employees back to the office, but I don’t think that is the case at all. I think she made a thoughtful, tough decision about where her work values, and for Mayer, showing up is hugely important. I imagine her expectations will only snowball from here…those who work later hours and come in earlier will be more likely to advance than those who don’t – clockwatchers will not be tolerated. Ultimately most of us won’t really know what goes on inside the yahoo offices…whether a tremendous backlash against Mayer will occur and ultimately, possibly lead to her exit, or whether she is a good enough leader to make this policy shift work in her favor. I hope, while taking away telecommuting, Mayer is able to show faith and confidence in her staff in other ways – if her desire REALLY is to have “one yahoo,” and not reign in employees she, or those who directly report to her, feel are “shirking” or otherwise not keeping their end of the bargain, then her leadership will show that yahoo could very well become a place we all want to work.

What Makes “Bunheads” Great

Among my peer group, if one is going to watch any television at all, on an actual television, nonetheless, and not viewed on an ipad or tablet via hulu or a netflix streaming subscription with our parents login information, then it seems acceptable to view only the following programs: “Girls,” “Community,” “The Jon Stewart Show,” “Parks and Rec” and “Game of Throwns.” It’s deemed acceptable to be excited for the netflix premiere/reintroduction of “Arrested Development” but decidedly not coolto watch “Modern Family.”

Ian and I are sort of old-school when it comes to our television-viewing. We have one flat screen tv in our living room which is used mostly for sports and movies, and a teeny-tiny television we received from my family at our engagement party that rests in one of the spare rooms on the second floor. I primarily use this television, occasionally grabbing an hour here or there of “Nashville” or “The Middle.” I love tv, but I also love yoga and reading and working around our house and playing with our dog, so I average about three hours a week of regular viewing.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a LOT to say about it.

Right now, it seems like I read about “Girls” more than any other series. I haven’t watched it yet but I’ve read enough articles and blog posts about it to place it pretty high on my radar. It sounds gritty and real and feminist and fun, but as a daughter of the Sex in the City generation, I also don’t have a huge desire to watch it, even though I am pretty confident I’ll like it once I start. I do, however, have a group of girls I’m currently watching, and they can be found on ABC Family’s “Bunheads,” which, if you are a fan of Amy Sherman-Palladino and her previous series, “Gilmore Girls,” you are probably watching as well.

“Gilmore Girls” explored the relationship between Lorelai Gilmore and the daughter she had when she was sixteen, Rory. There is a WHOLE LOT MORE to the seven year show, of course, from the way the fictional town they live in, Stars Hollow, functions as a character in and of itself, to the flawed relationship between Lorelai and her wealthy parents, to romantic conflict. It was a fast-paced, pop-culture filled, lovelyshow, appealing to a wide variety of people (okay, mostly women). If you wanted a television show with heart, GG had it. If you wanted excellent characters AND character development, GG had it. You could feel super smart watching it (hey! I get that Grey Garden reference!) or totally zone out. One of the aspects I found most impressive about the show is how much, as a viewer, I wanted Lorelai and her parents to work through their differences – I desperately wanted to see Lorelei cut her parents some slack and vice-versa. I yearned for the Gilmore family to become more honest with one another, to love one another the way television families SHOULD. The writers and producers never gave us that emotional satisfaction and while it could be frustrating, the show also felt, despite the picturesque home town and quaint storylines, terribly real.

Sherman-Palladino repackages this approach for “Bunheads,” placing her characters literally in Paradise – or at least a town bordering the Pacific ocean named Paradise. She stocks this town with quirky, compassionate characters (many played by actors from GG) and then throws messed-up with a heart of gold dancer Michelle into the mix, a classically trained ballet dancer who lost her way in Vegas. How she ends up in Paradise isn’t nearly as important as the fact that she does so, and ends up teaching at the local ballet studio run by her former husband’s mother-in-law.

By using actors from her previous series, and by creating a west-coast version of Stars Hollow, Sherman-Palladino essentially forces comparisons between GG and Bunheads. Fast-talking, neurotic Michelle = fast-talking, fun-loving Lorelei…the four dancers the story centers around = Rory.

“It’s like Gilmore Girls except with FOUR Rorys,” my friend Mary claimed, joyous over the debut of season two of “Bunheads.”

And it is, it is…except Sherman-Palladino blows it all up. With GG, you knew fundamentally that the characters had support structures to “fall back on” – no matter how dire the situation grew for Lorelai, in the back of your mind you knew there was enough love in her family that ultimately she could rely on her parents. The love and stability Lorelai provided for her daughter, Rory, allowed Rory the luxury of rebellion when she felt like it, which wasn’t very often. At the heart of GG you generally knew the characters were going to be okay.

In Paradise, things are a bit more dire. The four dancers the series focuses on – Sasha, Jenny, Boo and Melanie – have relatively troubled lives at home. Sasha’s parents essentially abandon her to live on her own because they are too caught up in their own personal lives to make room for her, Jenny’s mom falls apart after her ex-husband remarries, Boo comes from a home with too many children and a mother unable to be present in her life because of that and Melanie has rage issues that need to be addressed. What ties the friends together is their love of dance, and when Michelle enters the picture as their new instructor, she is friend, mentor and teacher rolled into one.

What’s fantastic about Michelle’s character is, while she seems to enjoy teaching and gets along well with the girls, she still longs for to perform. Even when her life in Paradise seems to be going splendidly, she is easily emotionally derailed by the success of fellow actresses. In many ways she has “aged out” of her dreams and recognizes the smart thing to do is to make a life as a teacher in Paradise, but being a bit older doesn’t make her dreams any less real.

When I think about what I want for Grace as she grows up, I often return to the idea that she has some sort of art to love, whether that art is theater or pottery or (please, not) an instrument or (most preferably) dancing. An art form can be there for you when others fail you, much in the same way reading can. Ballet, and other forms of dance, but mostly ballet, provide a safety net for the girls of Paradise, and one for Michelle, as well. The redempitve powers of dance come through beautifully in this series.

I actually think this show could be really good for teen girls with their mothers – issues of body confidence, peer pressure, sex, and lots of to thine own self be trueth crop up. Why I’m watching I really don’t know. I guess because when it comes to emotional wreckage set in a place of stunning beauty, with a whole lot of heart and smart, smart writing, Sherman-Palladino can’t be beat.