Trophies & Standing Ovations for All!

We are Americans. While we might be capitalists, who don’t have the best reputation, we are, generally, a very nice people. We say ‘hello’ to strangers, we say ‘I’m sorry’ for ever getting in someone’s way, we give “only” a 10% tip for crappy service and ALL of our kids get trophies, just for trying. I, an American, am a very nice person. But I am also sad that this overly congratulatory culture has demeaned a long-standing (oh, the puns are going to be fun in this one) tradition, dating back to Ancient Roman times, of the standing ovation. I attended two events recently that, while wonderful, were not standing-ovation-worthy in my opinion, and it has made me wonder what we do, in a culture such as ours, when we start giving everyone a standing ovation, how we display our gratitude when something is truly exceptional, as the definition says.

The WIKI definition is this: A standing ovation is a form of applause where members of a seated audience stand up while applauding after extraordinary performances of particularly high acclaim.

I would like to highlight the EXTRAORDINARY performance of PARTICULARLY HIGH ACCLAIM part of that definition. I have absolutely nothing against the standing ovation – I am simply frustrated by the over-use of it. It has devalued it both for those giving it and those receiving it. WIKI actually goes on to touch on this very subject, but in a very specific context – that “Some might say that the standing ovation has come to be devalued, such as in the field of politics, in which on some occasions standing ovations may be given to political leaders as a matter of course, rather than as a special honor in unusual circumstances.” But I will even give it to politics – if they want to use the standing ovation in their own rituals, I’ll let that go. Its roots are actually political in nature from the Ancient Romans, who used this gesture to welcome back military leaders who may not have won their battles, but who were still praiseworthy. I’m speaking about public performances where, due to the ovation over-use, there are no options to distinguish the great from the good. What shall we do now? Climb on to the backs of our theatre chairs? Somehow, I don’t think management would approve.

Just so you don’t think I am a total anti-standingovite, I would like to report that I have been part of / given a standing ovation at exactly two performances in my life. That seems like a pretty good ratio for a well-traveled, but maybe not SO cultured 40-year old with two small children (i.e. haven’t been to a lot of cultural events lately). In both of these instances, there wasn’t a moments hesitation, no reluctant standers. The first was a performance in Paris that was a combination Ballet and Opera. The music, dancing, costumes, singing…all of it was moving beyond expression. When it was over, there was a microsecond of silence, perhaps of awe, and then the audience was thrust to their feet by some inexplicable force – a creative energy that lifted people up in inspiration without an ounce of obligation. The other was a performance off Broadway, in New York, that traced the history of African Americans in America through dance. It was unexpectedly exceptional (I think much of the audience was there because it was what was available at the half-price ticket booth), and the entire theatre jumped from their seats, celebrating that we had just been part of something exceptional.

But now, evidently, we stand at the end of most live performances. Part of this, I think, may have to do with the fact that, as a society, we don’t see a lot of live performances. I’m going to exclude most big music concerts here because usually we are already standing at most of these venues. Concerts have their own rhythm and ending – I’m all for the Encore. But my point is that as our society has moved from one that relies on live entertainment in the days when the standing ovation started (plays, poetry readings, magician acts, etc.) to today, where we are mostly entertained by film and television (and live/reality entertainment on TV is not the same). So when we DO see actual people in front of us, we are compelled to, almost literally, throw ourselves at their feet in gratitude. I fully agree that there is something innately more pleasurable in “cultural” events such as plays and live events than watching them through our television sets, albeit our television sets are delivering images in larger and larger format. Perhaps one day watching television will be like going to play in that the figures in front of us will, in fact, be life-size. But in the meantime, we are not used to having actors and actresses, or speech-givers or dancers so close to us, and we want to ensure they know how much we appreciate them putting themselves out there for us – making themselves vulnerable to our otherwise judgmental ways (ultimately WHY reality TV is so successful). And this is nice.

There was another part of the WIKI description that I found interesting and that is historically, a performance may have been measured by the percentage of the audience that rose. Now, here’s an idea that I think has fully escaped us and actually fully redeems the frequent standing ovation for me. Perhaps there are some people who are ‘in the know’ who fully appreciate a performance for what it is worth (a performance in San Francisco of “Waiting for Godot” was torture for me, but I understood that more culturally literate people than myself probably fully enjoyed the rendition – it’s supposed to be torture. I don’t know if they got a standing ovation because I couldn’t wait any longer and left before the end), or people who are just very easily pleased, or very grateful sorts, then by all means, stand away. But what I’ve noticed is that it seems unacceptable, anymore, to stay seated during a standing ovation, such the whole room ends up standing. People look at each other in their seats, asking with their eyes, “are you going to get up? I know…I don’t really want to either, but…” and then you both reluctantly stand. I mean, really, who wants to be the last man/woman sitting? That’s just not nice.

So, I guess this means I need to be the change I want to see – I can’t stand for this any longer. I will have to be the stick in the, um, seat (sorry, I’ll stop). Will I be doing it alone? Here’s what I propose: if it’s not truly inspired, then just clap louder, clap longer, hoop and holler, but please, let’s reserve the standing ovation for, as the definition says, the truly extraordinary. 

A Perfect Mother

It took me a long time to become a mother. Well, I guess it depends on the moment that you want to start that clock. Perhaps it only took a matter of seconds at the moment of conception when two cells become one. Perhaps we become mothers when the baby actually arrives, in which case, it took me ~ 9 hours. For me, motherhood has felt like more like a slow metamorphosis. Skins have been shed. New life has occurred.

A few days after my first was born, my mother-in-law came to help. That first evening, after he had been fed and she was blissfully holding him, she suggested I go out for a walk, “just around the block,” she said, “it will do you good.” By myself?  I thought.  It seemed impossible to leave him for even a minute.  But she convinced me and when I stepped outside I knew she was right. The chilly San Francisco air awakened my senses and I started to walk around our block. We lived in a commercial area, so three quarters of the way around the block, I walked by one of my favorite card shops. I remembered that my first wedding anniversary was in just a couple of days. I had brought my purse because, of course, I had my phone with me, and I was pleased that I was going to have a card for the occasion.  I went in and before I knew it got lost in the shop, finding just the right one. As I neared the exit of the store, my phone rang. It was my mother-in-law and Max was wailing in the background. I was mortified when I realized that I had not had phone service in the store and I had been gone for 25 minutes! A part of me couldn’t believe that I let the time get away with a brand new baby at home. Another part of me was in shock that 25 minutes were no longer my own. There began my first struggle with motherhood:  the loss of independence.  This struggle seemed at odds with the perfect mother I had planned to be.

I slowly adjusted, but I also went back to work, albeit from home and part-time, when he was 3 months old. I hired my first babysitter. I loved my time to myself as much as I loved the work. It was something I needed, though I felt too guilty to admit that at the time. My in-laws continued to be very involved, so that provided another avenue of freedom. When Max was 10 months old, I had a 6-day trip to Germany for work, so they gladly flew in to take care of him. I fretted like any mother would…but the fact that I was even going was controversial amongst my new-mom friends. “I couldn’t do it” some said. But I was doing it. I was even looking forward to it in a fretful sort of way– I have always loved to travel.  From the airport I called my own mother. I broke down on the phone, wondering if I wasn’t the worst mother on the planet. Once I got onto the plane, however, I was fine for the rest of the trip. My independent-self still stood strong.

When Max was 2 1/2, his baby sister was born. I wanted to have two children, but it wasn’t that I was “ready” to have the second; it was more that I was 36 and knew the clock was ticking. I was worried. I didn’t understand how life, already hectic with a 2 year old, was going to work adding a newborn into the mix. As it turns out, I had reason to be nervous. After the initial stage when she slept most of the time, things got crazy. Then when we tried to introduce the bottle, she wouldn’t take it. That began a 6-month adventure of trying every tactic you can find on the internet and every bottle on the market to get her to use one. She never did. So the universe sent me, Miss Independent, a child that would not allow me to leave for more than 3-4 hours at a time for a year. Perfect.

By the time she was 9 months old I felt myself often wondering why I had ever decided to become a mother. And the guilt I had for ever feeling that way was killing me. It was either clarity or desperation that led me to my therapist. Therapist and parent-coach, she provided me a non-judging ear and some words that were the sweetest I had ever heard.  She confirmed that it really was hard; it wasn’t just hard for me. We narrowed a lot of our work on one notion that I was struggling with: being the perfect mother. I felt very far from that with regular crying and temper-tantrums of my own.  I worked with her for the next year and as my children grew, so did I.

I recently turned 40 and have been doing a lot of self-reflection. My kids are now 6 and 3 and one thing that struck me is how much I finally feel like a mother. Something has become clear. For a long time I was trying to make me into the perfect mom instead of realizing that who I am is already the perfect mom for my kids.

My son has recently internalized the idea (whether from school or from us) that “nothing is perfect.” I threw him for a loop recently when I told him that we are all, in fact, perfect. “But nothing is perfect” he reiterated to me, getting increasingly annoyed. “I know,” I said, “and that IS perfect. Everything is perfect, imperfections and all.” I don’t think he was convinced, but maybe for the first time, I was. 

The One

This was written for the prompt,“When did you first understand the meaning of love?” It was an essay contest that I didn’t win (Real Simple) and I had to agree with the judges on their pick for the winner…it’s beatuiful. here

We’ve all heard the saying and probably found ourselves, at one time or another, stuck between a rock and a hard place. This was how I felt about my situation even though the reality was that I was stuck between two great guys. No, this is not a story of sexual fantasies, but of being surrounded by love, or at least potential love.

I was new to San Francisco. It was my dream-city except that I had just left Paris and was not entirely thrilled about the move. I left behind my French boyfriend (consistent with my love of all things foreign) of 4+ years and dreams of living in Europe indefinitely. Living in Paris is dreamy, but it was a stressful situation. I was 30 years old and had graduated the year prior with my MBA from London. My boyfriend and I had officially “moved in together” while I searched…and searched for a job. While my student loan funds dwindled, the 1-year grace period for pay-back was quickly ticking by. It was challenging. My mantra had become “relationships are hard” but still, our informal union held strong during this tumultuous time. One thing that bound us was our spiritual path into Buddhism, which we had gone down together. Coupled with a romantic view that “love conquers all,” we practiced cultivating calm and happiness despite life’s challenges.

Finally, I had to accept that I wasn’t going to launch my career in foreign territory. I visited San Francisco, my favorite US city, and miraculously landed a dream position in fashion retail. While gathering my possessions in Paris, the question hung in the air… “Are you coming?” His answer: A loving “désolé” (sorry) – he had too much at stake in Paris to leave. I put into practice all the Buddhist theory and enjoyed my final week in Paris, despite the impending end of our relationship. I frequented my favorite cafes and perused my favorite neighborhoods, drinking in the charm and beauty that Paris so generously pours.  Feeling torn apart by circumstance, Giles and I also savored each other.

I was surprised by the relative agility with which I let go, but San Francisco and a new job opened a new chapter in my life. Dating was the absolute last thing on my mind, but I seemed to be attracting men at every turn, and this was in a city with a notoriously difficult dating scene! I was suddenly the ‘interesting’ one, having just returned from three years abroad. However, while I felt I had successfully ‘let go’ of my prior relationship, I was not yet ready to ‘move on’. Then I met John.

We had a connection that could not be denied. “John?” my family questioned, “from Oklahoma?” They were confused, because the last eight years were spent with men of foreign origin with names they could not spell. John was funny, smart, and attentive, but thirty days out of my long-term relationship, we were both a little shocked by the intensity of our feelings for each other. On our first date I was up-front about coming off of a 4-year relationship. “So, I am rebound man,” he disappointingly stated. “I don’t think so,” I said sincerely, “I’m in a really good space with all of this.” We quickly sanctioned the relationship exclusive and I even asked my married sister, “How do you know when it’s ‘the one’?” This felt insanely different than anything before.

And then “the” call came – the one that most girls dream of. Giles and I were still friends, but I had not mentioned John – we weren’t that good of friends. This was the, “I realize my mistake” call. The “I want to move to the U.S.”, the “we should get married” call. I suspect he anticipated tears of joy or for me to run into his arms (metaphorically speaking of course, as we were across continents). Instead, there was silence…and a story about a guy named John. I confessed, although it seemed unlikely, that in three short months, I had moved on. “Désolé” I uttered.

He lived up to romantic French ideals and did not give up. He called regularly, pleading his case. He tried to set up meetings in neutral territory so I could be reminded of the love we shared. I declined all offers, but it proved perplexing. Part of me DID want to return to his arms – his arguments were valid – we DID share something remarkable –for over 4 years! The internal strife escalated to regular crying: on the cable car (true – I got to ride the cable car to work!), AT work and every evening. If I took Giles back, John would be hurt. If I stayed with John, Giles would be. I am a very nice person. I don’t like to hurt people. I knew I was going to hurt one of them. I had hurt people before –other boyfriends, other break-ups, but this felt different – it felt like I was between that rock and that hard place.

Of course, with hindsight and telling the story – it’s blaringly obvious. A life lesson was being learned – to make decisions based on my own feelings, despite what others want. It’s a little unnerving to look back and realize how torn I was, choosing what I wanted. Even after long hours of meditation, I was unable to see the writing on my internal wall -the inside of my very own heart.  I had muffled my internal voice for so long, that I couldn’t hear it. For someone who proclaimed self-awareness, I now think that that may have been the reason I cried for all of those weeks. In case you are wondering, John was playing the supportive, “I’m here when you need me” role, but I knew it wasn’t fair to cry on his shoulder over my struggle between him and another man.

While out shopping (so cliché-retail therapy), yet another call came – one I had sort of been waiting for. Giles had just arrived to the San Francisco airport. He had flown from Paris and was determined in to win back my heart. I had approximately one hour to cancel my date with John, get home and prepare to be swooped up in a grand romantic feat. This could have been the fairy tale story for our wedding album! He rang my apartment from the call-box outside. I slowly descended the stairs and our eyes met through the pains of the thick front door glass. He smiled and waved with his boyish charm that I always found endearing. His eyes were teasing me – he was riding a wave, euphoric from this amorous drama. And that’s when I heard it. I heard her – the voice that spoke to me from within. She wasn’t crying, or even sad. She was no-nonsense and loving at the same time. Suddenly, I knew this wasn’t the relationship I wanted for the rest of my life. I realized that I had known that all along, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of letting someone get away who promised to love me forever. This voice inside of me told me that I didn’t need Giles or John or anyone else to love me, because what was most important was that I loved me. With years of hindsight I also understand that I wouldn’t have been able to truly love another without recognizing and nurturing love for myself. All of my Buddhist ideals of love and compassion were for naught, if I couldn’t cultivate those things for me.

Twenty-four hours later, after a lot of talking, crying and very little sleep, Giles boarded a return flight to Paris. It was strange – I felt sad and relieved simultaneously. It felt so good to have listened to that voice! My explanation was a bit cryptic, “I can’t explain it, but I just can not get back together with you.” How do you explain the voice that tells you something against all logic – a loving four year relationship, unforgettable experiences, and promises for the future? I guess, that’s the funny and wonderful thing about it – love has nothing to do with logic. Love resides in the heart, logic in the mind. I had been trying to make a decision using the wrong part of my anatomy!

As it turns out, John was rebound man. Shortly after my revelation, our connection fizzled and we amicably parted ways. He was clearly sent into my life to teach me the lesson of my own heart. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the next man I dated, a few months later, eventually became my husband. For the first time, a relationship was born from a space of love that I already held for myself. I no longer felt that “relationships are hard,” and I didn’t have to ask my sister what it felt like to find ‘the one’. I knew how to listen to the one that mattered most. Me.

What A Journey

I wrote this last year for an event where it was to be read out loud…so, while reading, you can just picture that. I kind of forgot about it….but decided to publish it now… it’s kind of an odd follow up to ‘Bacon, please move over’, but then I can be kind of odd.

 

Motherhood, oh ye, Motherhood!

Who KNOWS what you are getting yourself into when you enter this realm, this state, this unknown territory? Certainly I did not.

I wasn’t going to have children…”Motherhood” was not for me. I insightfully stated that I had ‘given the matter a good deal of consideration and concluded that my personality was not suitable’.

Then I met the father of my children – and I saw a fantastic partnership. Children…this was an experience we should have! Motherhood! Fatherhood!

How had I not known the difference then?

But Motherhood, you fooled me, just a bit. I thought that you would step in to show me what to do. What did I know about having children? Certainly a better version of me was needed to bring a tiny being into our world. And while you brought me a deep love, a wonderment for life, an enthrallment for this one little life, in particular, you also left me – little ‘ole me – to figure it out!

I studied my subject diligently. I read books. Many, many books. More importantly, I studied my subject – his tiny fingers and toes. I knew every inch of his body and noted every time something changed. I marveled and celebrated those changes. And I did the thing that came the most easily…I loved him with all that I had. But it was not all celebrations and smiles.

Motherhood, now I didn’t know much, but there were a few things I did know. I knew that mothers were not to yell at their babies. They are only babies! And yet, I yelled. I cried when he would not sleep. I cried when I could not. I didn’t always handle him as gently as you, Motherhood, were supposed to allow. So often I felt I might be losing my mind. Motherhood?  Where were you?

Five years and another child later, I I am beginning to understand. I am an introspective person. A spiritual person. An always trying to be a better person, person. Little did I know that this same trait that makes me a great mother is the same trait that would judge me the hardest. I thought it was you, Motherhood.

With two small children and very little sleep, I was holding onto the shreds of what I thought I had entered this journey for – “The experience.” Like a new roller-coaster ride at the local six-flags, rightfully named, “Motherhood!”, tagline, “the experience.” I thought I wanted off. But you can’t get off the ride once it’s started. And you know what that means – trapped. I was trapped by all of those that I trusted: my husband, the other one who wanted “the experience” but it turned out, Fatherhood was a different ride. I was trapped by you, Motherhood. You betrayed me too.

And then I turned to these small, beautiful people – their shining eyes, their angelic faces. My heart gushed with more love than I knew what to do with, but somehow, I wasn’t sure that the love was enough. And then I heard a voice say, “I told you that you should not have become a mother. How can you feel trapped in such a beautiful life, with two such beautiful gifts?” I retreated under these words and fell into a hole. A black hole that I thought maybe was you, Motherhood?

When my husband asked, “what standard of perfection are you trying to achieve?” I could not answer. Motherhood was supposed to know. His words gave me some solace, but still, I found myself yelling at my beautiful babies, screaming into pillows, kicking walls. This, I knew, was not the standard I was going for. It was scary for me, for them. Where were you, Motherhood?

I finally knew I needed help to climb out of my hole. Motherhood clearly was not doing her job. So I summoned the help of an expert, aka, a shrink. If Motherhood was not already working for me, then certainly she could give me the pass code, the bugle call, the summoning light to beckon “Motherhood” to me.

The first thing she did was to tell me how many mothers sat in her chair, guilt ridden for yelling at their babies. “Motherhood had failed them too?” I thought. I was in disbelief that anyone else could have such foul feelings towards Motherhood, towards their children, no, really, towards themselves.

And that is what I saw. After a few weeks of talking and crying, confessing and swirling, out of it all, I came to understand. I was introduced to Motherhood.

She looks very different than I was expecting her. She looks remarkably like, no, exactly like, me. Me…. huh…. Motherhood. And as it turns out, I need to care for her in all the same ways I need to care for me. Loving her, loving me.

I still struggle on some days that I don’t always look like the mother I would like my children to have. I wish for that “Motherhood” who could step in and save the day. Who would be as present with them as I would always like to be. Who would have the patience with them that I would always like to have. Who has a limitless amount to give without “needing a break.”

Motherhood, oh, ye, Motherhood, what a journey we have endured. What a journey we have before us.