March 2, 2002

Parenthood: A Borderline Schizophrenic Experience

horoscopeI am an actor. I act in morality plays. I am a street performer of sorts, displaying my lessons on the DC subway. I captivate some, yet most are captives. My daughter is both my unwitting foil and the object of my ulterior motives.

While my focus is on her (just yesterday, we performed a One Act about a nearby little girl whose father was no where to be found), she teaches our captives what they need to know. Her admonishments are clearly enunciated, perfectly timed, and to the point. Recently, in that famous scene from our wildly popular delight called Rules from the Underground, she chastised someone in the first row for eating. Oh, she appears to be talking to me but it’s clear THAT WOMAN WITH THE PLUM PIT is the object of her disdain. I try to read her her correct lines but to no avail. She repeats her edict with equal, if not greater force: “she should NOT be eating on the train!”

I look around for a quick diversion and find it sitting next to me. A woman smiles while she reads her copy of Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good. Is there something I should know?

She’s just at the part where married Dr. Katie Carr finds herself in a parking lot after having fallen from grace by sleeping with another man. This, as it turns out, is the beginning of a long spiritual journey. Simultaneously, her husband, David, is having his own ecclesiastical awakening. No longer the newspaper columnist of, nor, in fact, the “Angriest Man in Holloway,” he is, indeed, determined to be a saint.

I confess, both daughters and I have struggled with these same issues. You think you’re teaching your children limits when you suddenly find yourself on your own precipice. Your toes are dangling over the edge! You feel it. And yet you move forward undeterred. Parenthood is, afterall, a borderline schizophrenic experience. I’m sure of it.

One minute you’re glowing, inspired by your children’s innocence and pure love. When, out of the blue, you have entered a parallel and utterly chaotic universe. Your shock at how you ended up at this point must take a second seat to extricating you and your loved ones immediately. Step back! Step back from the edge this instant!

I wonder just where my family and I are in our spiritual journey. Just like Katie, who blurts out her intense desire to divorce David from her cell phone in that parking lot (when her initial reason for calling was simply to remind him to write a note for their daughter’s teacher), I find myself in the audience of our little morality plays laughing and crying ironically.

How many times have you found yourself as both actor and audience in a scene from real life? The tension between active and passive participation is great. Timing is critical.

At this very moment my daughter has stubbed her toe. Is there a lesson here, is my simple parental sympathy needed, or do I just continue writing while acknowledging her condition from a room away? The initial injury is over but the fact remains: she is totally incapacitated or so she would like us to believe. This could be great acting or it could be the truth. She is equally capable of both. The tension in the audience is palatable.

“I want more apple!” “Come and get it. I’ve got 3 more pieces sitting here just waiting for you!” “I can’t. My toe still hurts.” I deliver the fruit while trying not to lose my train of thought.

Minutes later, I hear the rumblings of sibling rivalry from that same room. It’s always hard to say what my role will be in these scenes. If I ignore it, it might dissipate. Or not. I enter, stage left, and tell my injured daughter to stop rocking the chair my eldest occupies. “My toe really hurts.” [She moans]. Don’t rock your sister’s chair please.” Her moaning intensifies the more I suggest she step away from the chair.

The portal between universes suddenly reveals itself. [Applause. House lights up.]

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