Psychologists say that Halloween is an important holiday for kids because it allows them to gain mastery over their fears. Sometimes it seems like all the adults are walking around displaying their own subconscious, which means most women must be subconsciously slutty. Or maybe we just like pretending…
I’ve always been obsessed with dressing up. In fact not too long ago I spent over six years putting on white-face every weekend, to run around at a theater company in a bastardization of a centuries old performing style of Commedia Dell’Arte. We improvised in one of four states (happy, sad, angry or afraid) all of which had to played, as Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tuffnell would have put it, to 11.The theater company was (and is) run by a charismatic, slightly narcissistic, Oscar-winning actor; who also happens to be brilliant. Let’s call him Henry Higgins…
I had started as an intern at the theater well before I had kids, and then took only small amounts of time off for each one, returning soon afterwards to continue workshops and Commedia antics. I would cry on the way to the theater, missing my kids, sure I was doing the wrong thing by leaving them in the care of others. Then I would cry on the way back, anticipating the boredom of being home alone with a one and two year old, and missing my brilliant, creative theater friends.
I felt that if I didn’t take this opportunity I would never have it again, and it would be proof that I would never achieve my dreams, therefore setting a bad example to the very people I hoped to convince that all dreams were possible. I pushed myself beyond the point of exhaustion because being a mother was somehow “not enough.” If they had Oscars for Moms, perhaps society might value motherhood a little more. Instead I was trying to be part of the Barrymore theater dynasty, never mind that not only am I not a Barrymore, but I am not in the same gene pool as those people. Also let’s not forget most of them ended up blowing their brains out. (Except Drew, whose perkiness and “free spirit”-ness just lifted her right up out of that darkness, and into our hearts.)
Meanwhile, my heart was breaking and I couldn’t figure out why as for years I wavered back and forth between bitterness, guilt, fear and elation. You know, the usual.
In a stunning meeting of my two great loves, I started writing a new one person play about motherhood, which would be called “Mamafied,” and showcased it for Henry and some members of the company wearing a dress I had fabricated out of paper diapers. It killed. I could hear his Oscar-worth laugh from inside the auditorium, and that was as good as it was ever going to get.
Afterwards I saw him in the lobby and came up.
“So, what did you think?” I asked, meekly. (If you know me at all, you know “meekness” is not a quality I am normally associated with.)
The Genius yawned and stretched, revealing a fuzzy belly underneath his comfy shirt. He seemed unconcerned with the fact that my entire life hung in the balance…
“You should workshop it here,” he mumbled.
“Here?” I squeaked.
“Yes. Here. In the lobby. You could do a late show, say, 11 o’clock at night on Thursdays and Fridays?”
“Thank-you, oh wise one,” I kneeled, kissing his hands and feet. (That happened in my mind. Actually I just stood there dumbfounded.)
He was already gone by the time it hit me – how was I going to get my target audience, new mothers, to come to see a show at almost midnight on a weekday? Was he high? (Or higher than usual?)
I knew things had gone too far when the next day as I was leaving for the theater to do yet another workshop, I witnessed my two year old call the nanny “Mommy.” The pain was startling, but also came with a realization – I had become an understudy in my own life. I could no longer pretend. I felt like I was not needed anywhere; a tiny, insignificant part of the ensemble, and redundant to my own kids. As usual, my false bravado belied these feelings. I was trying to be “Superwoman,” but let’s not forget that that character was the least popular in the DC Comics franchise. “Supergirl” maybe, but not a woman in her thirties in a cape and spandex right after having kids. Unseemly, inappropriate and ridiculous, even with Spanx.
Reluctantly, I stepped away from the company, for the kids, but also for my emotional health. Every time I was there I was re-opening some kind of primal wound (not to mention Higgins himself and the whole “daddy” thing) which I then poured into my Commedia states. I probably would have ended up in an asylum somewhere, strapped to a gurney, trying to explain to the staff that I was simply enacting Madame Pantalone being “afraid.”
At some point obviously my kids remembered my name, and I still miss the company terribly, but it is all as t should be. I don’t regret any of it, especially sharing the gift of enacting all those characters and emotions we feel on the inside, no longer having to be afraid of them. This weekend, thrilled to be donning white-face once again, I turned my insides facing out and dressed up as the morbid bride of Death, with suicidal scars up the length of her arm. (As “eccentric” as I am, I can’t really get around for the rest of the year looking like Malibu’s own Miss Havisham.) Does this mean the kids really feel like Grim Reapers and my husband sees himself as Freddy Kreuger? Because there’s no doubt about one thing – well beyond Halloween, and no matter how much you pretend otherwise, sometimes being a wife and mother is a real horror-show.