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Archive for March, 2009

The nights have been long this past week; LP has entered a phase (hopefully a short phase) of waking up around 12:30 screaming.

The first two nights, it seemed to be night terrors connected to a mask she was fascinated by at a Mexican restaurant. The next night was a mystery. The next two nights seemed to be because I wasn’t home at bedtime (for the first time in a loooong time, too looong a time). And the last two nights have been because she is trying to drive me over the edge (not far to go right now, the sleep deprivation is severe). Is it a new habit? More night terrors? Teething? Growing pains? A mysterious phase that will work itself out because that is what happens…things change and change and change.

LP & I did work through the mask fear by using stories. (During the day, storytelling did nothing for us in the middle of the night.)

Over 2-3 days, most of the stories we told together were about the mask. Some were in passing, some were sitting down and focused and some were while sculpting masks out of sand at the playground.

The mask was described again and again (green with big eyes and a red tongue sticking out); the mask made friends with Gumby (they do have being green in common) and a frog (hmmm…more green, I’m sensing a theme in LP’s life), AND then the mask learned the dreidel song and sang it with LP (“I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay…”). Learning the dreidel song seemed to be the thing that put her fears about the mask to rest.

Maybe someone could do some stories with me to work out my fear of never getting enough sleep?

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This one’s for the big people.

I forgot about this game until Cort used it in a team-building training we co-led last week.

Here’s the structure:

  1. Find a partner.
  2. Spend a few minutes talking and see if you can find something, you have in common.
  3. If you find one thing, keep going and see if you can find another thing. Then another…see if you can find 3 things in common.
  4. AND let’s avoid the low-hanging fruit (i.e. things that are obvious)
  5. After doing this once, thank your partner and find a new partner…see if you can find new and different things in common with your new partner.

Since the group had an odd number of people, I got to participate and it was great. I had really interesting conversations with each of my partners — all of which went in directions I wouldn’t have predicted.

Cort added a new twist which was on the third partner, changing it to sharing something you feel proud of that people wouldn’t know by meeting you. Another totally cool, interesting conversation! In just a few minutes I had engaging conversations with strangers about a wide-range of things (surfing to Prop 8 to home renovation), all of which were conversations I would have happily continued.

So it got me thinking about how one of the challenges I find socializing with parents on the playground and other places is breaking out beyond the small talk and “low-hanging fruit” parenting discussions. I tend to think of small talk as “filler” or “hard” and I definitely get stuck on what to ask or say to move beyond that easy fruit (naps or not, eating dirt, etc).

I imagine that using this exercise skillfully would give the person I’m speaking to a sense of being engaged with interest and not interrogated. It does seem like a piece of cake when given the context of the exercise…but how to do it unilaterally?

So dear readers (all 5 or 6 of you!), what questions do you find useful (or topics do you find fruitful) in finding meaningful “things in common”?

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Ah, yes, the joy of sound effects.

I’ve been feeling in a bit of an uncreative funk recently and couldn’t believe that I was out of ideas for this blog in such a short amount of time. I only started blogging in January! But I haven’t been enjoying this stay-at-home mama gig that much these days; it is hard to stay in the present and enjoy the gift of being with LP when I really would like to hide in bed with a pile of good escapist novel for a few days. And those feelings and the thoughts that came with them are not so conducive to feeling creative and playful.

But ah…LP and I have rediscovered playing with sound effects. Easy to do, no need for much thinking, easy to repeat – perfect for this mama who is trying to play and have downtime simultaneously.

Toddlers by nature are connoisseurs of slapstick. They have a fine appreciation of physical comedy…a fake-out finger in your eye move? Hilarious. A bubble bath pie in the face of a rubber duck? Hysterical. And don’t forget the playdough smush in the hair — that’ll keep LP going both in the moment and talking about it for a good day or two afterwards.

One way to both heighten and extend the fun is to add sound effects.

Sound effects are a great add-on to any playtime…really just play around with your voice. Add sound effects to books, to pretend play, to walking around a room or down the street – the possibilities are endless.

Often, little people find noises they can’t get enough of. The past few days, LP is loving “schlooomp” and all its variations. I say it fast. I draw it out for as long as I can. I do it like a vocal rollercoaster. We monster “schloomp” and we mouse-squeek “schoomp”; we howl “schloomp” and we whisper “schloomp.” It is a guaranteed laugh and even the least engaged rendition brings a smile.

Just what this big person needs.

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So a combination of insomnia (mine) and teething (LP’s) have made for a fair amount of time in the middle of the night to contemplate all kinds of things. When I wasn’t worrying about the usual (money, potential childcare, returning to work, well what work would I return to? what do I want to do?..and so on), I have been thinking on other applications of the “make your partner look good” principle.

Cort (husband & partner in things improv & parenting) and I have always used the language of improvisation as a way to communicate about things in our relationship. Having a shared vocabulary (and one that is not overly laden with serious emotions or too much pop-psychology blah blah) has been very useful. Sometimes just a simple request to be said “yes” to more can shift a rocky relational terrain. We have definitely used the “make your partner look good” especially if one of us is feeling pressure to perform in a situation. (I confess to also using it in reverse which is me saying that I just don’t have it in me to say “yes” right now…or to put out that positive energy.” Still the common vocabulary is useful.)

My main musing has been about bringing this mantra into the world of connecting with other parents. This topic is very alive in the parenting blogosphere right now (momversations has a segment on it, among others)– there must be something in the air. I had been assuming that the slow-mo making of new mom friends (or dad friends) here was due to my shyness/social anxiety added to other folks on the playground & other places being more established, knowing each other already, etc.

I realized that I often get a touch (or more) of self-consciousness when parenting in public around folks I’d like to get to know. Sometimes way more than a touch. AND if I’m totally honest, I often came home with at least one judgemental thought about someone else’s parenting (or nannying). Having even that one (okay, sometimes waaay more than one), thought, of course, made me feel even more vulnerable to my own projections of how someone might critique my parenting or think of my less-than-my-ideals moments of reacting to LP.

But what if I went into situations with a “make your partner look good” mindset — where my “partner” is any other parent/caregiver.

It doesn’t have to be a showy or even obvious in interactions, but if my intention is to be positive not only toward their children but to them and their choices of the moment (except in extreme circumstances!), will that change the quality of interactions I’m experiencing?

I don’t know exactly what this is going to look like; I’m going to keep exploring this line of thought and see what happens just having it on my mental “back burner” as LP and I move through the world.

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One of the principles that I’ve enjoyed living in the world of improv is “make your partner look good.” My understanding of this is that my job in the work/play of making things up is to inspire my partner and give them a good time. Really I often think of this more as “make your partner feel good” but I’ll stick with “look good” since it is partly about removing that observing ego fear of looking ridiculous to others.

This can be a really good mantra – mainly because it takes the focus off of one’s own self/neurosis/anxieties and worries about saying & doing the “right” thing. At the very least, we two (or three or however many there are) are in this together. Focusing on giving my partner a good time through inspiring their creativity gives me a specific, albeit broad, purpose. AND the wonderful outcome of doing this is that someone else is doing this for you! So I don’t have to worry about me because my partner or fellow ensemble members are taking care of it. I’ve experienced the joy of this in classes, workshops and performance and been inspired in directions I never would’ve found on my own.

That is one of the deep pleasures of improvising….seeing your fellow improvisor’s eyes light up with delight, experiencing the flow that can happen as we get on the same page and the giggly deliciousness of riding the creative roller coaster together. I especially love experiencing this with beginning improvisors when I’m teaching as we do something impossible (like tell a story one word at a time or speak in one voice or make up an entire opera about watering a plant).

Improvising with kids, especially very young ones, is different.

When LP & I create together, or when I lead a story-group with toddlers & pre-schoolers, my job remains to make them look/feel good, to accept their offers, to say “yes!” and “yes and…!” and “YES!!!! AND!” and “Again!”

They, however, do not need to reciprocate. Developmentally that isn’t in the cards (for the most part) so it isn’t a realistic expectation. Ah yes, like all kinds of other parts of parenting, doing this with kids is about the giving and enjoying how it is received.

And I do enjoy how it is received and seeing LP or another child light up and engage. I appreciate these moments deeply.

But I miss the reciprocal energy of working in an ensemble of adults. I miss the feeling of someone being responsible for inspiring me.

My hope is to be a part of the ensemble for the next Un-Scripted Theater show – Shakespeare: The Musical! (playing in San Francisco in May) and to get on the ball to teach some adult improv classes before…well, just to set a goal somewhat publicly…to have an adult class going by May 1st. (Suddenly May seems very soon)

Want to see “make your partner look good” in action? Check out this scene from the Un-Scripted: un-scripted show that opened this weekend…..nothing is preplanned, the improvisors are inspired by the history of Rome and Star Wars and by each other. Even though improv on video never really captures the energy of improv live…you can still see those moments of delight as the story is co-created.

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I think LP’s naps may be a thing of the past.

“But she’s too young to give up her naps! She just turned 2! I thought I’d get at least another year!” I cry out.

Who to? I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone who can do anything about it is listening.

I’m not handling it very well.

It was not that long ago that she actually settled into a napping routine that was both fairly predictable and long enough for me to do things. A solid hour and a half to 2 hours on most days. This from a small one who has never been into sleeping. As an infant, she was the queen of the 20 minute nap. That was desperately hard, especially as I was pumping during naps so 20 minutes meant I often didn’t eat or nap or even really pump enough. Only recently, very recently, did she start to do anything even resembling sleeping through the night. That is the upside of no naps, I suppose, there is a definite improvement in nighttime sleeping. Clearly, the girl has a lot of living to do and doesn’t want to miss a moment. I do value her intensity…just wanting to find a snooze button for it in the middle of the day.

So the long, leisurely nap seems to be paradise lost. In the past 3 weeks, she has probably napped 5 times (and doesn’t include the day she fell asleep for 10 minutes in the ergo on the way home and woke up before we even got home).

She does have an hour (sometimes more) of “quiet time” every afternoon. “Quiet” is in quotes because it is anything but…my girl, she is verbal. She is actually doing pretty well at entertaining herself for that amount of time and my friend, Dana, pointed out that it does take more self-regulation to be on your own than to sleep.

I’d still prefer sleep.

I miss the quiet of the house. I felt like that was real time to myself, our home was so still and peaceful. I could attempt to do the thousand things clogging my “do-list” or relax decadently with coffee and the crossword puzzle or more decadently…spend the whole time doodling about online. In that quiet, I was recharging my batteries. I could think, dream and plan.

I’ve always been a quiet-natured person and feel like I’m the most myself all-around in life when I have time when I’m not bombarded by noise and information. The apartment we lived in previously was on a busy street (right at a bus stop…great for transit but it was an all night route), near a hospital and it took me such a long time to be able to not be unsettled by sound of traffic and sirens. Long walks in Golden Gate Park were my antidote…I think I’m in for a bout of relearning to let the background chatter (and non-serious calls for “mama”) fade into the background.

Why post about this here? Because I see how my frustration level and state of exhaustion is on the rise…and my improv skills stagnate in that internal environment. I find myself being less of the mom I hope to be…while I don’t expect to be playful and creative all the time, I am saddened when I have to work so hard to put aside the frustration to be playful for 10 minutes. I find myself behaving in ways I don’t like…and have had a few embarrassing public moments recently were I was aware that my reaction was out of proportion to LP’s action.

So I’m readjusting my expectations and figuring out what can I change that preserves my peace of mind and spirit and will meet LP’s changing need.

Or maybe she’ll start to nap again?

Or maybe not….because I could also get used to the quiet of the house within 15 minutes of putting her to bed, instead of the 2 hour marathons we used to have. Hmm….

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