A Very Tango Christmas

I’m squinting at the screen through puffy eyes and a bad hotel coffee headache, overlooking the marina at Shelter Island in San Diego. For my Christmas present, Scott not only bought me new sparkly red tango shoes, he also sent me out of town for the weekend to dance in them. I’m rooming with my tango guru Jamie Rose and in between hours upon hours of dancing a day, we’ve been eating Godiva chocolates, taking baths and listening to Deepak Chopra meditations (I know, moms, please don’t hate me). I can’t believe that a mere few days ago I was in full-tilt Christmasville. It’s a different world.

On Christmas morning, I made epic latkes and we had T’s aunties over for breakfast. The day was an explosion of robot godzillas and mechanical zombie bugs and dance parties on the bed. Later, we watched Nightmare Before Christmas (T’s choice), ate Chinese food and had a massive meltdown, but nothing unexpected. Two days later I still felt hungover as I left a house littered with the aftermath- fire hazard Christmas tree needles ground into the carpet, discarded ribbons intertwined with the dust bunnies in the corner of the living room, toys with no place to go living on top of the coffee table.

A side note: if you’re looking to make latkes, I highly recommend Tina Wasserman’s tutorial. She has some handy tricks. My latkes were the best ever (just look at ’em). Scott kind of has a crush on Tina. I know this because he watched 20 minutes of youtube latke tips with me and there is no other possible explanation.

I nearly had an anxiety attack from the guilt as I was packing for San Diego. I’ve gone out of town plenty of times for work, but I’ve never left T for the weekend for fun. Scott reassured me that I would almost certainly find a way to make the weekend into work, seeing as I don’t really do fun all that well. Or rather I don’t really do anything all that well if I’m not writing about it. I feel unmoored if I don’t have a secret purpose in any given scenario- a reason to take constant notes in my head.

Tango is actually a great remedy for this. Even if I do run back to my room and journal about my experiences after class, I can’t (as I often do elsewhere in life) write in my head as I’m dancing. Tango takes a tremendous amount of focus. You can’t be anywhere else but in your body or you’ll step all over your partner and dance like Frankenstein. I danced with an interesting mathematician yesterday, who told me that tango’s biggest gift to him was that it gives him a space in his life that he’s more than just a big walking, talking brain- he actually has a body.

As the New Year approaches, I’m reflecting on my hopes and goals for 2013. I always try to avoid New Year’s resolutions, because they seem to be just another big stick to beat myself with- a list of all the ways I can’t stand myself. But this seems a worthy goal: to spend more time fully in my body instead of stuck in my brain chatter. Back to it!

Letting it Fall Out Your Feet

I recently told a friend a trick I invented as a teenager, and it worked so well for him that I felt inspired to share it. I’m not sure why I’ve kept it to myself all these years. It has something to do with my worry that it’ll lose all its secret power. But I’ve decided to believe that’s not how the universe works. And now, I’ve officially given it way too much of a buildup. You’ll probably all be like- DUH, everyone knows that one.

As a teenager, I had a problem with inappropriate giggling and/or weeping (still do, sometimes). This was a problem for me as a soon-to-be star of stage and screen, but also in AP History class (the French Revolution is no laughing matter), synagogue, delivering my grandmother’s eulogy etc.

I came up with this: if I’m ever in front of an audience and I feel an inappropriate urge to cry, I let the tears fall out my feet. The ground can take it. It’s big.

I use it less in real life than I do on stage. In my real life, I’m fortunate to have plenty of space for inappropriate emotional outbursts. It’s not like I spend my days in corporate board meetings (though I imagine that would be a great place to use this).

But when the Sandy Hook tragedy happened, I was completely unhinged. I felt like I had a responsibility to protect my son from not only the horrific story but also from the emotional fallout. It’s not that I don’t want T to see me having difficult emotions- he sees me sad and mad plenty, believe me. It’s just that I didn’t have any context to offer him and I thought it would be confusing and worrisome. Really, what I wanted was to be present and grateful, not to veer off into some anxiety spiral. So every time I would look at him and the horrific slideshow would start to flash before my eyes, I let the tears fall out my feet. I did it about twenty times a day for a couple of days until my anxiety stabilized a bit.

A friend of mine told me that whenever she has paralyzing mom anxiety, she sings. I use that too, now. We all develop our own personal little language with the world around us- ways we ask for help, ways we get through the day. This is one of mine. Hope your days have been merry and bright, and if by chance you still feel an uncontrollable urge to cry, try letting it fall out your feet.

Hanukkah Mama Goes to Church

We’ve been reading a great book with T called Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, about being in an interfaith family. I highly recommend it. It gave me the idea of eating latkes for Christmas breakfast (yum). The book has actually inspired me to try to come up with some tradition blending of our own, and we’ve been having a blast sprinkling Hanukkah gelt in the Christmas stockings and going on a hunt for the latke food truck on our way to see Santa.

We’ve also been going to church lately. We’ve been hopping around, trying out a few different churches, seeing if there’s a place we feel we fit in- weird, interfaith, transracial, looking-kind-of-like-a-boho-biker-gang family that we are. Strangely, finding a church we like is more important to Hanukkah Mama than it is to Daddy Christmas. I loved the rituals and traditions of temple growing up and I feel compelled to offer my son a similar experience. It doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s temple or church, it just matters that it feels like home and gives him a shared experience of the sacred. My belief in the importance of offering T a racially diverse community whenever possible leads me to lean toward church.

I had a very personal and present relationship with God as a child. I think that relationship made me good at being alone. I always had this other thing- a light behind me, a hand to steady me- that kept me from being lonely. Some people naturally gravitate toward a dialogue with God. Some people don’t need it, don’t want it, don’t believe it. I’ve always been able to see it from both sides and they both make sense to me. But me, I have the God impulse. I don’t expect to necessarily ever find a satisfactory answer, but I’ve resigned myself to the search anyway.

Scott, on the other hand, couldn’t stand church as a kid. Church was the place that he got stuffed into a suit and made to sit still to make his grandfather happy. It was a place of discomfort and obligation. But he’s being a champ about the whole church thing. We’ve been having a nice time getting up on Sundays and getting a little bit dressed up (which T loves to do- he’s a dapper little dude by nature), going to church and then going out to brunch with friends. It’s becoming a sweet ritual in our week.

It’s not enough for me to talk to God in my bedroom alone; I want to share the experience. And I’m just gonna say it- it’s all the same thing. Temple, church- whatever. It’s a place to feel a part of the human race in a way that transcends the constant brain chatter, a place to stand together and sing together and remember that we belong to each other.

Happy holidays from Hanukkah Mama, Daddy Christmas and T, just T, who gets to be whatever he wants to be!

Invisible Hurts

You could hear a cracking sound last week, as if the world’s largest tree had just been split down the middle by lightning. The sound of collective heartbreak.

There are far smarter and more knowledgeable people than I talking about gun control and mental health care issues right now. I think it’s obvious where I stand on both. Yes. Yes, gun control. Yes, health care. Yes. Please.

My two favorite parenting-related posts on the tragedy are Kristen Howerton’s Five Things to Consider Before Talking to Your Kids About Today’s Tragedy and Claire Bidwell Smith’s Holding Them To My Bones.

I do feel compelled to comment in greater depth on the issue of trauma. How do we respond to trauma and the resultant fear, both as individuals and as a collective? Do we build a higher fence around our homes and our hearts? Do we vow to be the one with the biggest stick next time, so that no one will ever make us feel this afraid again?

This is a literal question in terms of gun control, but it is also a spiritual dilemma that I believe is becoming more and more urgent for us as a society. Every day our soldiers return from war, PTSD sending shock waves through their lives and relationships. Children flood the social service system, manifesting the emotional scars of abuse and neglect. And, as is on all of our minds, the children who survived that Sandy Hook bloodbath will have to eventually learn how to wake up again in the morning and live- hopefully lives in which they can love and trust and feel safe. We are faced with the frustrating and elusive task of healing wounds you can’t see.

I have had many people look at me skeptically when I discuss the impact of early childhood trauma or the devastating effects of PTSD. I think people have a hard time considering a slippery, invisible emotional problem, with very few black and white answers. It is hard to sit with the pain of others. It is hard to be a witness to the suffering of our fellow humans, especially children, and not know how to address it. But denying the existence of the wounds won’t make them go away, won’t absolve us of the responsibility to heal them.

Trauma treatment is a more complicated subject than I can get into in this internet-attention-span-friendly post, but I can tell you that none of the treatments, none, involve arming people with a bigger stick. Trauma victims are deeply afraid in places to which the conscious mind doesn’t even have access. You can’t treat fear with more fear. You have to go at it with love. With conscious, patient, and fearless love.

If you’re interested in healing modalities for early childhood trauma, Heather T. Forbes and Bryan Post are two of my touchstones. And for my money, Christine Moers at Welcome to My Brain is the sanest, coolest trauma mama around. I also love Pets for Vets.

I wish healing for all your invisible hurts. I wish light for you, in these dark winter days.