Archive for October, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Wishing everyone a fun-filled Halloween!
from Improvamama & her red, spikey spiney LP-asaurus

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I like to quote my friend & fellow improvisor, Alan, that “if you want to play a likeable character, choose to like something.”

In the world of the improv stage, where we are creating characters and stories in the moment, this is incredibly helpful to remember. For the most part, we want the main character of a scene or show to be someone the audience can relate to — essentially to be likeable. And onstage it is relatively simple; really, just like things. Choose a positive outlook and voila!

I’ve been thinking about this and how it applies to life off the improv stage.

Especially how it applies (or not) as a parent of a small child and all the social situations/interactions that come along with that role — library, playground,, music class, preschool and so on and so on. I find a lot of those interactions kind of tortuous.

Because quite honestly, now is not a great time to meet me. I’m so utterly not at my best. Chances are I’m tired. Highly likely that I’m cranky. And I find that I’m much more guarded emotionally than I used to be and I just don’t have that much energy for socializing even though I do want to make more parent-friends.

So the chances of my saying something positive or liking something at the get-go are pretty low (at least compared to pre-mama me). The things at the top of my brain if I’m really to answer how I am might be more along the lines of how little I’ve slept for 2.5 years or how I can never seem to actually get anything done or more recently I can give a real earful about our termite problem. On one hand, we parents can connect through complaints and the empathy of another parent who really understands something that is going on is pretty priceless. But it is limiting.

Very limiting. I notice my negative speech and I end up feeling….feeling…feeling just blah. Not interesting and not good at connecting and all my natural shyness wells up in me and I’m ready to go home and play just LP & me. Even better would be if she would deign to take a nap and I could sit and read a book.

And there’s the thing. In being LP’s mom, I am sometimes the best of who I am. So the contrast between those times when I feel like myself in flow, on a roll, connected and happening and those times where I can hardly stand being our in the world unable to put a coherent sentence together or start a conversation with someone, that contrast is painful.

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A Stroller Adventure

This blog post is part of this week’s Moms’ 30-Minute Blog Challenge over at Steady Mom.

Last Monday was our first day of childcare swap. Our little bud Z came over to our house for a few hours after preschool.

It is about a half hour walk from preschool to our house. So I had LP and Z in a double stroller (which is surprisingly more heavy than the weight of the two kids plus the weight of the stroller). About two minutes into the walk, it started to rain. And Z didn’t like the snacks I brought. And LP & I aren’t wearing raincoats (at least Z is). And it starts to rain harder. And harder.

The kids were actually pretty relaxed about the cold rain coming down but I was not a happy camper and we still had a good 20 minutes of walking to go.

And so a game was born.

I started with an open question about what they could see from the stroller. That didn’t inspire anything, so then I asked Z if he saw anything in the large bush up ahead.

“Lions! I see Lions”

What a delicious offer to all of our imaginations! So we spent a few blocks looking for lions and even occasionally roaring at them. Sometimes I’d ask one of the kids to describe something or point a lion out to me and sometimes Z would spontaneously point one out. This evolved into being in the jungle as we went down a block with lots of greenery reaching over the sidewalk.

It made a challenging walk home fun and certainly took my attention away from the rain and all the other things going on in my head (wondering if Z was going to be happy playing at our house, my self-criticisms of not having LP & I in raincoats and so on and so on).

This is a great “quickie” improv activity.

First, make an open-ended offer to your kiddo’s imagination (like asking “what’s in that bush?” or “who’s hiding under that leaf?”). You can play with the scope of the question (in my story above, my more general question of “what do you see” didn’t get any response from the kids but focusing on the bush inspired Z’s imagination.

They will either 1) ignore you because something else is cooking up in their minds already, 2) ask the same question back to you or 3) give you an answer that opens a door to more.

Then build on it. Which can be really simple. See the lion they see and then be excited to see the lion they see. Find out what the lion is doing in the bush or move on to another bush and see if there’s a whole jungle of animals on your street.

One of the wonderful things about an activity like this is that it doesn’t have a specific beginning, middle and end. So you can stop and start as their (and your) interest dictates and those lions will be waiting for you to rediscover another day.

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This post is part of the Moms’ 30 Minute Blog Challenge.… I love this challenge, it reminds me of some of the best improv games because the “hoop” to jump through to succeed (i.e. write, edit and post a blog entry in 30 minutes) is also an invitation for a different kind of creativity than when there isn’t that “hoop.”

This is a blog post I’ve been toodle-ing around in my mind for months but I keep thinking I need to get the idea and wording “just right” so I haven’t written it at all. Nothing. Nada. Til now…deep breath…here goes:

Improv is good for families…I knew going into creating our family that improv has been good for me as an individual (helping me with my overwhelming shyness, opening new doors to my creativity and ability to create with others, opening my eyes to new careers and more) and as a partner (ImprovDad and I met in an improv class and have used improv to help us through some rocky moments in our relationship). So it made sense to me that improv would be good for us in our parent-child relationships and as the 3 of us became a family.

Two nights ago, I had my “a-ha! This is it!” moment.

Dinner has been pretty challenging recently…we’re trying to both include LP in conversations and also teach her some basic non-interrupting manners (which disrupts any flow of conversation). In the midst of some fussing about something, LP looked at me and said “gorilla.” So I repeated “gorilla” and pounded my chest with my fists 5 times while making a funny noise. She looked at ImprovDad and said “gorilla.” He did the same. She went back and forth between us a number of times and then ImprovDad said, “LP…gorilla” and she did it and laughed (so did we). It was joyful to find this playful interaction where we were equal participants. AND (as a bonus), it satisfied something for LP, so we were able to finish dinner in a much more relaxed and pleasant way.

Here’s my 5 improv-family takeaways…Improv is good for families because the practice of improv:

  1. Enhances appreciation of each family member’s creativity and uniqueness.
  2. Builds ensemble– in this case, a sense of being a family —by creating together.
  3. Combats materialism — all we need is ourselves and a willingness to share our imaginations. We can create any environment, scenario or situation using what we’ve got right now.
  4. Creates optimism — the heart of improv practice is saying “yes” to each other which makes the world a more positive place AND we experience how “yes” makes things possible.
  5. Provides experiences where children & parents can play as equals.

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Enjoying the Moment

LP’s imagination is blooming. I overhear it in her dialogues with herself and her toys, in her growing conversations with us and in witnessing her play.

She scribbled on a piece of paper and put a paper penguin on top of it and announced “The penguin is lying down in the mud.”

She got a notion to wallpaper the built in cabinet and had me supplying her the painter’s tape (every parent’s best friend) to put up her newspaper strip “wallpaper.”

One of her favorite games involves casting herself as Gossie, ImprovDad as Gertie and me as Ollie (all from Olivier Dunrea’s gosling books). She puts on ImprovDad’s dress boots (which are deep red) and clomps around the house ordering us around in true Gossie style.

It is phenomenal to think of all the things that are happening in her brain, all the connections being made, all the neurons firing in new zippy patterns that allow her creativity to emerge.

And despite my deep delight, it is easy to want to look away, get distracted with other things even when she is pulling on my leg for me to play too. Yet I know that taking in and enjoying these moments is fuel for getting through the more difficult times. The spillover meltdowns that she has always been prone to that are now fueled by more intense feelings and experiences. The ten thousand interactions during the day where she swings between fiercely wanting independence and desperately wanting to be held and carried. All developmentally on cue. All of those things the work she needs to be doing. All of those behaviors are part of the whole that comes out in her imaginative play.

So I try to breathe deeply and take it in…enjoying her creativity, her storytelling, her imaginative flow and then…breathe more deeply through the other parts.

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