Saturday, February 9, 2008

Point That Finger, Matron!

Well. . . . it occurred to me who to blame for Merrick's fixation with death. Thank goodness I remembered this!

And tomorrow, the Stage Mother speaks.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Break A Leg, Scarlett

Scarlett was seven when Theater stole her from me. This happened while she watched a performance of Esperanza Rising at the Children's Theater. She wept--mourned, wailed and railed-- about illegal immigration until well-past midnight. The play's topic became urgent and real. Art had hold.

A couple of months later, she and a 15-year old friend wrote, produced and directed a backyard production of Annie that involved 27 children, 100 audience members, a sound system, choreography, enormous painted backdrops and red hair dye (lasted six weeks).

You know who's Annie.

During the course of the week-long rehearsals, Scarlett requested email addresses for the children's families so she could better communicate with her cast. She is not yet eight.

When I tucked her into bed after the first rehearsal, she offered this: "Mom, why don't those orphans listen better? They're supposed to do what I say." A director is born. You can rework those letters just a bit to get dictator, you know.

John and I were in charge of food. Lots of it. Those orphans had no issues there.

Next, Scarlett auditioned for Little Bird at SteppingStone Theatre, St. Paul's children's theater. She stood on that big stage and belted out a song. She shivered and cowered on cue.

She didn't get in. But she went back for the very next audition with undiminished joy. And landed the role of Gladys Herdman in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. You know the book. This Official Theater Debut came four months after Annie.

Scarlett recognized that SteppingStone Theater was actually her new home and a much better place to be. Below, here she is, once again embodying poverty, in The Prince and the Pauper.

The cast of The Prince and the Pauper then became the cast of The Sound of Music for Scarlett's Second Annual Backyard Production. She was Gretel. And all those teenagers from SteppingStone traipsed to our house for more singing and dancing, under Scarlett's Command. She's eight now.

Our neighborhood is high on a bluff above the river. When I mentioned to a neighbor that Scarlett was rehearsing a backyard play she said: "We all know. These hills are alive with the sound of music, my dear." And it made life a little sweeter, she said.

I didn't feel like a real stage mother -you know, all claws and competition--till auditions at the Guthrie. This is the real deal, folks. Cash money and world stage, all that. Here is Mary's Very Fine Rule for auditioning at the Guthrie Theater: Do Not Talk To The Other Mothers. Then, you're fine. Here's Scarlett as Maisie McLaughlin, impoverished and dirty Irish waif in The Home Place.

Check out that playbill. Yes, that's her in the second picture, the only person in pony-tails. Scarlett rubbed shoulders with Fame. And what did the famous do in return? Showered her with candy. gifts and generosity of spirit. The child landed a Webkin, drawings, flowers, jewelry, ornaments, (did I mention candy?) books, boundless good will and adoration. She was also exposed to a staggering scale of swearing, drink and Late Night (uh, some of this from her very own Mama). The child supervisor said he tried to cover her ears at just the right moments.

Every night she stood on that stage and hundreds applauded. That was her favorite part, she reports.

Tonight is Opening Night for Almost to Freedom at SteppingStone Theater. Scarlett plays Mary-Kate, the plantation overseer's daughter. It's a stark, beautiful play about slavery. Kim Hines did the adaptation from the book by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. If you don't know this book, it's worth trying.

Have a great night, my darling! Remember, you still sleep here. You're only nine, after all.

Home Place Photo credit to Michal Daniel of Proofsheet Photograhy

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Coleslaw: The New Crack

For dinner last night, I ate one beef hot dog (made from antibiotic-free cow that spent unbound life frolicking on Otis Family Farm before being heartlessly slaughtered for my pleasure) and a bucket of coleslaw.

Some sit down and devour a pint of ice cream. When I was pregnant with Stryker, I once at an entire roasted chicken during the drive home from the grocery store--yes, John was driving. He still marvels at the amazing magical powers of the pregnant woman.

But this is different.

I fell hard for Mississippi Market's coleslaw. Love at first sniff! This is no ordinary slaw, no pedestrian slather of mayo and chemical goo. Mayonnaise doesn't even top the list of ingredients--here we have cabbage, carrot, onion. Apple cider vinegar, pepper, sea salt.

Who can explain? It's some karmic constellation that's imprisoned me.

This is the new physiology of my marriage. Me, calling John on his cell: "How's your day going, sweetie?"

John: "I'm not going to Mississippi Market."

Me (offense, taken!): "I actually called just to say hi."

John: "I'm not in St. Paul. I'm in the suburbs. . . . uh, Golden Valley."

Me: "No you're not."

John: "I'm not going to that store again. We go every single day."

Me: "I hear footsteps. You're at the office."

John: "We go every day."

Me: "But you're four blocks away! That's why we go every day."

John: "No, that's how. Why is different."

Me: "Why is we like our coleslaw fresh and creamy. It makes the household happier, if you know what I mean."

John (with zero joy): "Fine. I'll do it."

Not even cost matters. Last night's bucket set me back nearly 10 dollars! You heard that. At my natural foods store, the fine organic ingredients are first doused in Holy Water and then blessed by the Dalai Lama. In Paris.

Cabbage for the cost of a bottle of wine? I told you: the situation is serious.

Today, I went to Mississippi Market for more. The cashier who had rung through my groceries the day before had no one in her line. I hesitated. What if she recognized me? Suspected my weakenss?

But, there's that perpetual hurry in which I live - children to be picked up and duties done. Reason prevailed--it's just coleslaw, after all. This is legal! All these people--why would she even remember me?

And as the cashier slid my stash across that electronic register, she arched an eyebrow, just so--nuance, knowledge, depth and pity--and said: "We really like our coleslaw, don't we?"

The End of the World As We Know It

I can't possibly post a poem for every time Merrick discovers one more angle into death. Two weeks before his 5th birthday, and his inevitable demise has settled across his shoulders, sits at our kitchen table, sleeps in his bed.

Last night, he poured himself into my lap: "Mama, when you die do you still think?"

Me: "Yes, you still think. I think. But in a way that's absolutely different than now. A hard to imagine way. Who 'you' will be is different too."

Merrick: "The thinking is important. I like my thinking. It's the best thing, and I'll miss it the most when I die."

Me too, sweetie.

Suppose Death Comes Like This

Suppose it is the sound of a window opening
the scrape of wood against wood and the
weight dropping along the groove in the sash,
glass rattling in the frame? Or suppose
it is a man, coughing in the other room,
the rasp of is throat sawing through
the thin wall, there, just above the mirror?
Or suppose it is a telephone ringing
from the house next door, and the blur
of bird wings crosses silently through it?
Or an engine overhead, riding unevenly
in thick clouds, a steady hum coming on
so gradually? Suupose you fail to hear it?
Suppose it is as unportentous as that?

Joyce Sutphen (again!)
Straight Out of View
Holy Cow! Press, 2001

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Although the Matron does not routinely attend caucuses, her fair foot has crossed those doors upon occasion. She is accustomed to driving right up to the building and being feted. Caucus nights tended toward the leisurely and loose end, a time to catch up with the other four neighbors and eat a cookie.

Last night, the Matron thought she made a serious Driving Error. Her car could not move. Headlights littered the horizon. There was honking and fervor. She of delicate constitution was forced to park her car six blocks away and walk to the high school.

Inside, no one heralded the Matron's arrival because a tremendous throng of people simply sucked her up. Slurp. One of a crowd. Long lines prevailed--and those were just to find out to which room one was supposed to struggle.

The Matron found her room, duly cast her vote and smiled all the way home --where she was met with yet one more sweet treat: Stryker, at the laptop, aflutter over caucus results.

Finally, she was feted! And by her own 11-year old son, who probed for Detail of all things political and adult. As the results rolled in on TV, Stryker earned a significant trophy on the "Matronly Wall of Good Will You've Just Banked Against the Next Screw-Up" by watching Barack Obama's South Carolina caucus speech on YouTube--all 16 minutes.

Then, this morning the Matron learned that her caucus site--a riotous place--was not unique in her fair state. The record for Democratic caucus attendance sat way back when in the sixties and at 58,000. Predictions had tip-toed toward 100,000 for last night.

Readers, over 200,000 hot-blooded, politically-aroused Democratic Minnesotans went a-caucusing last night. Our friends on the other team didn't do so shabby, either. Republicans came out in double the predicted numbers, counting in around 60,000.

The Matron, who enjoys political fervor very much and likes to think that she is always fighting the good fight, is proud of her Minnesotan ilk this day -- on both teams. She smiles, still.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Wrench Me From This Computer!

This is my third visit of the day and Real Life beckons. Yes, you are staring in the face of procrastination personified. Essays to grade.

But in honor of caucus day, I must give you Michelle Obama. Here, she's speaking as a wife and mother. Recognize those roles, friends? Thanks to another Mary for sending me this.

Let's All Just Compare Ourselves to Others

Here we examine the circumference of what's revealed in a Matronly wardrobe malfunction.

Here we see ample slippage from this hot mama.

Who left the father of her child for a man she met through the "comments" box on her blog. Cool new twist to mommy blogging, huh?

She also got fired because of her blog and later won an unfair dismissal suit against her former employer.

And the blog landed her a book deal.

Funny how nothing so exciting happens over here.

Driving Again, Only Better

Although the words "babe" and "baby" are not allowed to travel from my lips to Merrick's ears, he is just that--my baby. And he turns five in 15 days, not that we're counting.

If I accidentally say, "Come here, babe," I must freeze and immediately apply the follow salve to his ego: "I mean Fireman Tough Guy Police Merrick."

Folks, that kid actually wears a whistle on a string around his neck. All in the interest of ordering us into the 'freeze position' , Captain Von Trapp-style.

So my Fireman Tough Guy Police Merrick was masculinity itself yesterday, strapped in a booster seat with a sucker, singing "Old MacDonald Had a Fart" when he stops suddenly and asks (soberly, as if I might say no): "Mama, when we get home will you hold me?"

Can I stop the car right now?

You bet, babe.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Death Grip

That would be the Matron's hands on the steering wheel during yesterday's hour-long drive to her mother's house.

In the far back of the van, silence prevailed. Scarlett read. Stryker bounced and mouthed to his iPod.

Directly behind me, a thought popped into Merrick's head. And stayed there. Took on new dimensions even as the original retained staying power. Developed nuance and flair.

Merrick: "Mama? When I am going to die?"

Matron: "Not for a long, long time -- nearly 100 years probably so you don't have to worry about that right now."

Merrick: "Could we get hit by a truck and killed, right this minute?"

Matron (who takes hurtling down the freeway at 70 MPH inside a shaky ton of steel very seriously): "Theoretically. But that won't happened today, I promise." Grip, grip.

Merrick: "Daddy will die. Everyone in California will die. Texas, too. Thurston's dead. Grandma Mary will die. You could crash and we will die. Today if you crash."

Matron--who is very superstitious and here, disaster has been introduced into her aura to sit all heavy and dark-- has no response. Turns out there's no need for one.

Merrick: "My fwens will die. I think that truck might hit us. See that? We would so die. Mama? I am just going to sing the Dead Song."

Which he does--for the entire drive. This upbeat ballad weaves through history, geography and space to encompass pretty much every word he's heard and person he's met (or heard of, like all those people in California) in order to link all sentient creatures to their inevitable demise.

As the Matron guided the death-mobile down the treacherous freeway, she experienced virgin emotional territory: she could not wait to get to her mother's house.

Finally, we arrived.

Merrick: "We didn't die yet. Maybe tomorrow. Grandma Mary will die. I'm gonna tell her. Then I'm gonna die."

Matron: "Remember, you don't have to worry about dying for 90 years!"

Stryker, exiting the van: "Don't listen to her, Merrick. She fed me that story, too. The average life expectancy for a man is 77.6 years which means I'm nearly 15% finished."

The Matron officially lost any sense of encouragement and cheer.

In that spirit -- and in celebration of Stark Reality -- here is one of my favorite poems about death, once again brought to you by Joyce Sutphen.

Death Becomes Me

Death has been checking me out,
making himself at home in my body,
as if he needed to know his way
through the skin, faintly rippling
over the cheekbone to the hollow
beneath my eyes, loosening
the tightly wound ligaments
in the arm, the leg,
infirming the muscle
with his subtle caress,
traveling along the nerve,
leaping from one synapse
to the next, weaving his dark threads
into the chord that holds me tall.
Death is counting my hair,
figuring out the linear equation
of my veins and arteries,
the raised power
of a million capillaries,
acquainting himself with the
calculus of my heart,
accessing the archives
of memory, reading them
forward and backward,
finding his name everywhere.
Death comes to rest in my womb,
slaking away the rich velvet
of those walls, silently halting
the descending pearls,
as if he could burrow in
and make himself my mother,
as if he could bare my bones
and bring me to that other birth.

Straight Out of View
Holy Cow! Press, 2001

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Matron's Super Bowl Sunday


Me (in the spirit of Participation): "Do you guys want to buy special snacks and watch the Super Bowl tonight?"

Hey--spending money and watching television! What a good American I'd be.

Stryker: "Not really."

Scarlett: "What's the Super Bowl?"

Stryker: "The world's biggest baseball game."

We are so tapped into the cultural pulse.


The children and I spent most of the day at my mother's house. Much commentary on that tomorrow. For now, suffice it to say I was treated to driving, cooking, and parenting lessons, nonstop.

On the ride home, I tried to reach John--on three different telephone lines--for nearly an hour.
Utterly exasperated, I tossed up my hands: "Why doesn't Daddy ever answer his phone!"

Stryker: "He's probably seeing someone else."

This is quickly disproved (I checked when John finally answered).

Me: "Stryker. There is no other woman."

Stryker shrugs: "Not yet"

He's eleven. Doesn't my future loom, exhausting?


We attend a Super Bowl party where most of the guests struggle to place a team with a color: "Who are the blue guys?" "What's a 'down'?"

The guest list? The hosts are Syrian, another family Palestinian, a third Israeli Jews and then the Matron and her bunch. Politics or football: which do you think we batted about?

On the way home, Scarlett said: "Who won?"

Stryker: "New Jersey, stupid."