Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Madama Caterpillar

Another creative non-fiction piece..

Madama Caterpillar
In July 2004 I gave birth to my first child.
A boy.

I didn’t announce my pregnancy in my work places because there is a certain culture in the performing arts which says that you can’t mix vocations. The vocation to be a performer and the one to be a mother don’t jive. Now this “wisdom” is bunk and many mothers have managed to have multiple vocations and excelled at all of them. But since I’ve heard “If you can do something else, don’t be an actor/singer/musician” so many times in my life I wondered if my new status as a bi-vocationalist would be a hindrance to my employment.
Five months after my boy was born I started my contract with the Vancouver Opera Chorus for a new production of Madama Butterfly. A dozen years before, Madama Butterfly was the first opera I ever worked on and the fabulously tear-jerking soaring melodies and supremely tragic story had inspired my study of the art form and pursuit of an operatic career. I wept backstage. I wondered what it would be like to be mother who chose the ultimate self sacrifice for her child. I thought about how glamorous it would be to be singing the title role. I knew I would never sing a lead role in this particular opera but I loved it anyway.
Rehearsals for opera productions start about 2 months before the performances. Before my first born arrived I knew I was going to have the perfect child- I would be able pursue my career and my creative life and he would just tag along or perhaps be minded by caring friends or family members. I would be sleeping well and therefore be able to sing soon after he was born. I would practice while he napped.

I was so wrong.
My son hated when I sang anything other than children’s songs at home. I was too loud for his little ears. He had a terrible time going to sleep and staying asleep and preferred to be attached to my breast at all times. When he was actually napping I valued his sleeping so much that I would never jeopardize it by opening my mouth to sing! My son was not really interested in being with any one but me. I pumped like crazy to eek out 2 ounces. He refused to take a bottle.
Somehow I managed to leave him for the evenings I had rehearsals. It was great to be back as a professional singer- socializing with my colleagues and singing beautiful music.
During the early rehearsals I was chosen to be a part of the Geisha chorus. This meant that we would float onstage, setting the scene for the arrival of the Madama Butterfly. As a member of the Geisha chorus not only do you spend more time on-stage you also wear the fabulous silk kimonos, fancy sandals, fancy geisha wigs and makeup, plus you have the opportunity to display your flirtatious fan skills and mad parasol twirling techniques.
About 5 weeks prior to opening I was scheduled for a costume fitting. It was a daytime appointment and as I didn’t want to overtax my childcare peeps I brought along my baby. I knew that everyone in the costume shop would be delighted to meet my little one. I hauled my sleeping baby in his carseat (perhaps the most difficult way to transport 20 lbs of static weight). There I was, living my dream of mixing my vocations-  Hippy mother meets Opera professional. Indeed the wardrobe mistress very pleased to have a baby visit the costume shop and after some ogling we set to work making sure my costume would fit. I stepped into the change room and put on the undergarment (designed to be easy to launder and protect the Kimono) over my nursing bra. The undergarment- a Nagajuban- is designed to flatten breasts. This was the first time ever anyone considered flattening my wee girls but breastfeeding had provided cleavage I never thought possible. However, it was also clearly NOT designed to enable easy breastfeeding. Clearly Geishas are not bi-vocationalists. I then donned the blue and cream flowing silk of the kimono and the snap on Obi. As I was almost finished with the fitting my son woke up and then, he started to cry. I started to feel a familiar prickly feeling in my chest. I portent of doom. I had not even thought to use breastpads for my bivocational premiere. I tried to calm my baby and hoped that the feeling would go away. He continued to cry. Two round circles started to appear on the silk of the Kimono just above the rim of the Obi. First “The Provider” on the left and then “The Other Side” on the right. The costume mistress rushed to get the costume off but it was too late. Way too late.
I didn’t exactly get a pink slip but when I had my next costume fitting my beautiful kimono had turned into a burlap gunny-sack. No-one said why but I knew that there was no way they would risk putting a Kimono on a lactating mother again. Clearly I had been demoted. I was now a peasant relative. No wafting on stage. No fancy wig. No colourful fan. No parasol. I still got to sing the music but somehow it just wasn't the same. . .
My fears of being dismissed for being both an artist and a parent had come true.
Cio-Cio San (Madama Butterfly) named her child Trouble. I think she was not far from wrong.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Costume Alteration

Costume Alteration
In September my folks visited and brought with them costumes from my childhood costume cupboard. One item was a black and white clown ensemble that my Mum made for me when I was about 10 years old. It was like one of those figurines of a clown you might find in an old ladies memorabilia store. “If you break it you bought it”. It was like a big checkerboard with one arm white while the other black and the torso divided in two, one side black the other white. Around the neck was a yellow-felt star-like “ruffle”– each pointed end sporting a miniscule jingle-bell. My kids pounced on the costumes immediately and danced around wearing the over-sized identities of people who they were not. My six year-old sported the clown outfit and it hung hilariously huge on her small frame. She chose this costume to dress up for trick-or-treating and Hallowe’en parties. I had to step up and do a serious alteration to the costume in order to make it fit. 
Being a mum I have lots of time for projects. So it was late on the night before Hallowe’en after the kids had gone to bed when I got to work. I sat at the Singer Sewing machine that my Mum had bequeathed to me. The very one she had used to make the costume. The job took longer than I expected but it gave me time to contemplate costumes and identities and their place in my world. My Mum made the neck hole the access point for putting the costume on, sewing elastic into the wrists and ankles that could accommodate a growing body. Easy. A flexible costume. One that could be worn over other clothes. One that could be altered. 
I think of myself as close to my Mum. I am told I look just like her. She and I are middle children. We are married to men who share the same rather public profession. A profession that carries a certain number of expectations for the families and includes a fair number of costumes. 
Holding the clown costume my Mum made for me 30 years ago I wondered if she also toiled the night before Hallowe’en creating a new identity for me? Did she have any inkling that her work would be passed on to another generation? Did she identify with her Stay At Home Mother identity or did it feel like a costume?
Growing up I knew my Mum as my Mum. I knew that she had trained to be a nurse but to me she was Super Mum and Volunteer-Extraordinaire. When my Mum got married and had kids did she also have to alter her costume, her self- identity? Take in her ambition by 6 inches? Tuck in her hopes, hem her dreams, change the elasticity around the edges?
My kids don’t know me as much other than “Mum”. They have not seen the other costumes I have worn in my life. The people I have been. In my life on stage I have been Queens and Princesses, servants, commoners, geishas and peasants, shepherds, townsfolk, goddesses, noble-women, demi-gods, Little Red Ridinghood. My Kids know me in a way that I hardly know myself. I changed from having many costumes to having one that doesn’t always fit me right. Stay At Home Mom. 
From my daughter’s measurements I found that I needed to decrease the length of the costume by 6 inches everywhere- torso, legs, arms. I didn’t want to change anything permanently during in my alteration for maybe in the future someone bigger would want to wear it. My Mum’s choices of black thread or white thread talked to me. Which colour thread should I be using? Is the fabric strong enough after 30 years for this kind of transformation? I noticed the elasticity around the wrists and ankles had suffered the same sort of fate as my own skin’s elasticity after 3 children. 
Many times I wonder that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mom. I don’t have the patience for all the nagging, the interruption of thoughts, the three healthy wellbalanced nutritious meals produced each day, the noise, the clutter, the cleaning, the dirty socks flung everywhere, the Mum? Mum? Mum? Mum? the expectations that I will be on the PTG or make cookies after school everyday … Did my Mum have those same thoughts? What was it like for her to alter her costume to become the Mum that I knew? Mum?
My mum went back to work after all her children were in University and it was amazing to see her new identity. Here was a professional woman, with updated nursing skills, a leader in her workplace and an earning power that probably out-shadowed my Dad’s income. I wish I had known more of that side of my Mum as I was growing up too.
Sitting at my Mums old Singer I conjured the techniques that she had taught me at that same machine. How do we discover the right technique, the tweaks that will make the costume fit? One limb at a time. Using a stitch that can be altered later I pressed my foot to the pedal - re-crafting a gift through time. I finished two arms and the torso before I absolutely needed to go to bed. I hastily finished the job using safety pins to shorten the legs. More flexibility. The costume was functional for Hallowe’en.
My life as a Stay At Home Mom is a safety pin alteration but I’ll sit at the Singer for awhile yet. The costume fits, for now.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Tonight I went to a creative non-fiction class for mothers. It was held at the local community college and was a steal of a deal in terms of tuition. I gather the rate is highly subsidized for parenting programs. I feel lucky to benefit from such policies!
It was a 2.5 hour class led by 2 mothers who are heavily involved with the "Listen To Your Mother Spokane" presentation that has happened here for the last 3 years. The show is a wonderful opportunity to hear short essays about parenting (face-it, Mothering) from within the community.
My assignment for the class is to hand in a draft of an idea/essay on Sunday and at the next class the two leaders will return our piece of writing with their editing suggestions. I'm just a bit bummed that the class is only 2 sessions long. . .  I will be encouraging them to hold a longer class in the future. Since I have been thinking about this class and also LTYM quite a lot I am excited to send them an idea/essay. Luckily I have already begun my first draft on a certain topic but plan to write on some other ideas too. Anyone think this is a good idea?

Thursday, April 18, 2013


You can hear the sopraninininini, Timo, in this vid... :)
The next generation of VISI singers getting trained up.

Monday, February 4, 2013

15 months

Fifteen months means

sleeping better (not every night but most)
sudden onset of snits- including a big bottom lip (is that biological or what?!?!) and throwing oneself to the ground

at least 11 teeth
still little on the "charts" <5th -75th="" circumference="" for="" head="" p="" weight="">because he's so little it means he gets to wear all his cute little clothes for much longer!

hugging Mum lots
signing for a number of things but mostly using that "eah" sound
loves his baths- started "swimming" in the tub

Oh, and climbing. lots and lots of climbing- always wanting to be bigger!!!

at Nasja's birthday party

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter Wonders

We have had a few days of warmer weather and the snow around our house has mostly melted. I think I prefer the fresh snow to the mostly melted kind! We have had marvelously wintery days around here. The fog descends and we get spectacular ice forming on everything. It only happened once last year (i thought it might happen all the time) and so this year I rushed out to take photos of it!

On these branches you can see the ice formed on only one side.

This is a bough of Douglas Fir!
 It can be treacherously icy around here and it is essential to have "yak traks" or similar grips on your boots for those icy days. I am still liking the 4 seasons "thing" but I am very much looking forward to spring and getting outside and mucking about in my garden. This year I hope that Timo will be past the "insatiable desire to put everything in his mouth" stage by the time i need to start digging!

No excuses!

Time to post something. Anything....
Things are fine around here. We have had a busy 2013 already with both Martin and I traveling away from home. Martin went to California for some continuing education and I went to BC to do a few days of ABM work with kids. It was nice to get away and have many moments of quiet- there is a lot of talking with a 6 and 8 year old around! When Martin was I away I was keenly aware of the different dynamic of single parenting. It forces me to be more organized as I have to do it all. I sailed a pretty tight ship and the older kids were good natured and helpful. We had fun together. Timo was his usual self- pretty easy going but always a going concern.
We didn't manage to write and send off a Christmas letter this year. Perhaps we will have to choose another holiday to send greetings to our friends. We have friends who send out family greetings on St Patrick's Day- perhaps we could do the same :) .
Now that I have broken the blogging ice I can post about other things!!