You know you’ve angered your toddler when you return from your first-ever overnight trip without her and she greets you by throwing a shoe at your head. You know she feels betrayed by your absence when she follows the shoe-throwing with the statement, “You are not my only one in the world! You can’t play with my toys!” Additionally you can be fairly certain that she is warning you to never leave again when later that day she says, “I will be an animal and if you run away I will eat you up.”

And a week later, when you are in the car together and it starts raining and you turn on the windshield wipers and your child watches them swish back and forth and makes the observation, “That looks like a mommy going away from her baby. But her baby will not let her go. She is going to chase her, and chase her, and chase her…” you know your kid is still working through her feelings and is going to be mad, and sad, and insecure for a little while longer…

And as you try to navigate your way through her aggression, you may find yourself wishing for a lighter touch. “I wish she’d hold back,” you might think. After all, it is demoralizing to be told, “I’m mad at you mommy,” and, “I’m sad at you mommy,” over and over again.

And as soon as you have that thought you might find yourself remembering a time when people did hold back and did refuse to tell you what they were really thinking. You might recall one time in middle school when out of nowhere people whispered and glared and said, “this seat is taken,” when you asked to sit at their lunch tables. And you may be able to conjure that feeling you had way back when, that feeling like you were suddenly living in an alternate universe where humans don’t actually address each other directly, but instead use some sort of secret language that consists of a series of eye rolls, and everyone can speak the language but YOU.

“Did I do something?” you’d wander around saying. “I feel like people are mad at me but I’m not sure…no one will tell me what’s going on…”

And perhaps you will recall that one time you and your significant other argued for three weeks over which type of domestic animal would make a better pet. And you said it was dogs “because they love you no matter what,” and he said it was cats, “because they make you work hard for their affection and therefore are more genuine and trustworthy.” And you cried and bickered and almost broke up until just at the last minute you realized that you were not actually mad about cats and dogs at all. You were ACTUALLY mad because one of you forgot your three-month anniversary.

Or maybe you will remember the time your boss started giving you extra assignments because you were the only one in the office who did not comment on how sharp she looked in her new mini suit. Or maybe that time a colleague stopped asking, “Can I get you anything at Starbucks? I’m picking up Latte’s for everyone,” and you spent the rest of your coffee breaks obsessively trying to figure out what crime you had committed that would warrant your exile from “The Starbucks List”.

And as you are remembering these times you might suddenly find yourself desperate for your toddler and grateful for her confrontational ways. At least she tells you exactly where you stand. At least with her you will know when the storm clouds have passed. There will be no guessing, no silent treatment or “he said that she said that they said…” Just a straight up “You suck!” until finally… eventually…”I love you mommy,” becomes the sentiment once again.

As I child I developed an intense fear of robbers. I figured they were coming for me and it was just a matter of time. I imagined they’d arrive in a pack of three. The leader would be the tallest and meanest and his two associates would be plump and gruff. They’d wear black bandit masks except for the head guy who’d be dressed in prison stripes, dark sunglasses and a top hat. The image was terrifying. There were several doors into my bedroom so I was never sure which way they’d enter.  If they came in the door farthest from the bed I knew I could escape out the back and hide in the crawl space beside the oak desk in my dad’s office. If they came in the door that was closest there would be no place to run.

So I came up with a plan: If the robbers entered through the “close door” I’d jump out of bed and give a friendly wave. “It’s about time,” I’d say, “I’m a bad guy too. I’ve been hiding out in this house all these years…just waiting for you. I know where all the good stuff is so follow me and I’ll help you rob the place. Oh, one thing, the family here is really nice, they’ve been good to me so don’t touch them. They’re heavy sleepers.  They won’t wake up. If they do, I’ll tell them the commotion was just me getting a glass of water.”

Following the speech I’d help the robbers loot the house but save my family in the process. The robbers would be happy because they’d get all the goods and my parents and sister would make it out unscathed…win-win for all.

As I got older and eventually moved away from home I became even more advanced in my robber defenses. By now I’d seen a lot of movies highlighting very crafty robbers and I knew the way to get them was to throw them off their game right off the bat. I figured booby-traps were my best bet.  The robbers would be cruising right along jimmying open a window or picking a lock when… WHAM!  A bucket would fall over releasing a dozen marbles that would send them tripping into a pair of scissors mounted in the seat cushion of an easy chair.

My husband was not a fan of these contraptions. He once got stabbed in the gut by a candlestick and fell on a trip wire I’d fashioned out of some twine. It was proof that my booby-traps were effective, but also proof that I’d gotten carried away. The robber obsession had to stop.

And for a while it did.

But the other night I was home alone with my daughter and I heard a noise, it was the sound of our door slowly opening with an elongated creak. I stopped in my tracks, my daughter glanced up at me with troubled eyes. I quickly swooped her up into my arms and stood like a warrior.

With little time to think I raced over my options:  It’s too late to build a booby trap, there’s nowhere to hide, and a robber would never believe I’m a bad guy while I’m lovingly cradling a toddler.

And just when it seemed that all was lost I realized I had one option left, something I had never thought of before- I could fight.

All at once I started to feel this surge- like I could move a Mac Truck with one hand. The desire to protect my child was so strong I felt like I could defeat any robber, even if he were a giant robot robber or a zombie robber or a vampire robber with supernatural strength. I could take them all. I felt like The Incredible Hulk.

I puffed my chest and took a step out of the room.

The door slammed closed, then open, then closed again. If this was a robber he or she was certainly not interested in being sneaky. “It’s a shitty robber,” I thought to myself. “According to the movies shitty robbers are the most dangerous of all.” I sang a quiet song to my child as I rounded the corner and then set her down behind me. If there really were a robber I would see him…now. I jumped in front of the door arms akimbo and feet ready to kick. The door opened wide and then slammed shut in my face. A set of maracas blew off the bookshelf, a picture rocked on its hook.

This was no robber…this was the wind.

“Silly wind,” I giggled nervously to my daughter.

“Silly wind,” she echoed.

As I put her to bed later that night I felt this very specific closeness, like when I first found out I was pregnant and wanted to hibernate to make sure she stayed safe all those nine months she was growing inside me.  When I finally left her side and walked to the back door to lock up for the evening I made sure to look out the window with an extra threatening look-just incase someone with mal-intent was hiding in the bushes.

“Listen You!” I said with my eyes, “Come near my kid… and I’LL TAKE YOU DOWN.”

The summer after tenth grade I participated in an operetta.  Along with roughly one hundred other teens I graced the stage in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience”.  As I stood there holding a pink parasol and singing about being a maiden and milking cows I remember thinking, “This is ridiculous. No one sings her way through life.  If I were a real milkmaid I’d be perched on a bucket atop a pile of manure while rhythmically yanking a cow’s utters.” So each day in rehearsal as I pranced through this fictional reality I’d try to come up with some reason to sing (Some reason other than “Gilbert and Sullivan told me to”). During one rehearsal I pretended that I was a robot milkmaid who was programmed sing all the time. During another I imagined that I had a rare disease and the only cure was to utter aria after aria. In the end I never could get myself into the mindset. I made it through the run of the show, but walked away from the performance determined to devote all future theatrical pursuits to the non-musical variety. Life in verse was just way too inconceivable.

Then I had a child and the strangest thing happened. I began singing about everything.  At first it was mostly to sooth my own nerves. I’ d hum little ditties like:

I’m a good mommy my kid’s dressed and fed!

It’s been weeks and I’ve not dropped her once on the head.

Yay!

Next I sang to motivate my daughter.  We had a number about eating, and one about sharing. There was a song about dancing around naked, a song about diapers and one about cleaning. We even had a song to help us get through a good scrub-down in the tub. It featured a super hero washcloth who lived in the bath. It went:

I’m Squeezer, I’m Squeezer the bathwater sneezer.

I fill up with liquid just like I’m a cup.

I’m Squeezer, I’m Squeezer, the bathwater sneezer

If you are dirty I’ll clean you right up!

With each new verse we’d dunk Squeezer (a washcloth) under water and then ring him out over our daughter’s head. It was the only way we could pull of a bath.

But after a while the singing started happening all the time. I’d sing about making a left turn in the car or about peeling vegetables. I’d make up a musical number about our options for the day. I’d sing about the weather. Sometimes, I’d sing out little warnings like, “If you don’t pick up that mess. Mommy will be so depressed.” I bet if we had lived on a farm I would have sung about milking a cow too. I stopped worrying about making the words rhyme or maintaining any sort rhythm. I just wanted to keep the music going.

Then the other day my daughter started singing through life too. And just like that it’s as if I’m in an operetta all over again.  But this time it feels so right! It makes everything easier. Negotiations are simple when they’re sung; discipline is a breeze when trilling in a falsetto. Even tantrums become bearable if set to music. Just this very evening my daughter composed a whole song about refusing to go to bed. It was an instant classic. My husband and I have been humming it all night.

SO now I feel like I owe Gilbert and Sullivan an apology. I never should have been so dismissive.

They were right.

I’m guessing that they had children. I’m guessing they discovered that changing a poopy diaper and doing errands and distracting a toddler from an inevitable meltdown is all easier when set to a good melody. The fears, the tensions, the impatience, the insecurities all seem to slip away with song.

One day Sage is going to be utterly humiliated by my arias at the grocery store and my improvisational musicals about feces and nose picking. And when that happens, I’ll have to go crawling back to good old Gilbert and Sullivan, “I need an outlet,” I’ll say. “My kid is growing up. Give me some music to ease the pain.”

I only hope they’ll take me back.

At least three times a week we stop at an intersection that is flanked by an enormous sculpture of a windmill. It is really something to behold. It’s base taller than all the buildings that surround it and the propellers create a massive shadow that extends down the block.

If it really were a windmill it could power a small town.

Every time we drive past my daughter makes the exact same request. She reaches towards the spinning netted blades and says with an almost desperate whine, “I wanna get that Mommy!” Every time she asks I give her the exact same response. “No honey. It’s too big. It’s bigger than mommy and daddy and mommy standing on daddy’s shoulders. It even bigger than mommy standing on daddy’s shoulders standing on top of a house.”

“Really big,” she says.

“Really, really big,” I say.

Then as we drive away we try to list all the really big things we can think of. And as each one is mentioned I say, “That sculpture is bigger.”

But today, for some reason when we passed by it and she made her usual,  “I wanna get that” request, I responded longingly, “I want get that too. But I never could.”

I glanced back at Sage and she gave this really sad yet hopeful look. “You could try to get it Mommy…” she said.

“Can I see you try?”

When I heard this my heart just leapt up into my throat. It was like the strongman game at a carnival where you hit a lever with a giant mallet and send a puck way up to the top of a tower to ring a bell. Some really big guy had grabbed the mallet and sent my heart rocketing upward.

I just drove off crying.

Two years ago my husband and I went to see a twelve-year-old friend in a play. The director had gone all out. There was an elaborate set, multimedia dance numbers, and a stellar cast of middle school girls. To highlight each of her pre-teen performers the director had created a program in which each child had a little bio. It was clear from reading it that the girls had been asked a series of questions that they were told to answer in fifty words or less. Each girl talked of her school, her life ambitions, and lastly her heroes. It was during the 2008 elections so many mentioned Hillary Clinton. Others gave a shout out Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and other fabulous and funny role models. But one of the girls answered differently. Under who’s your hero she wrote, “My parents because they try really hard.”

I was pregnant at the time and could not keep myself from weeping. I leaned over to my husband and pointed to the hero line. “I want our child to say this about us.” I whimpered.

We didn’t have our lives together in many of the ways that our own parents did when they had us. We were struggling artists, we were renting a tiny little Brooklyn apartment and saving up our money to make puppets and do renegade plays on rooftops, our bank account rarely got above four figures. But we were trying really hard; trying to do what we loved, trying to invent things, trying to be brave. So there in that theatre we made a vow that we would show this to our child. We would show her what it meant to try really hard.

As I was driving away from that sculpture I just couldn’t stop thinking, “When did I become someone who would not try to lift a giant sculpture out of the ground?” All at once it seemed utterly ridiculous and unacceptable that I would shy away from attempting such a thing. Sure, logic and science and the limitations of the human body would suggest that I might not succeed, but why not try? Why not let my daughter see me give it a shot. Every day I ask her to try new things and hard things; things that must seem impossible to her.

So, I’m going back there tomorrow. I’m going to limber up, wear my best workout shoes and bring lots of water. I’m going to try to lift that windmill way up into the sky. If I can’t do it, I’ll ask my two-year-old to help. If we can’t do it together, we’ll gather some people off the street to join us in our efforts.   Who knows maybe Friday’s local newspaper will read, “Giant Windmill Sculpture Mysteriously Disappears. Witnesses report seeing it carted away in a Volvo sedan.”

You never know.

It could happen.

It’s certainly worth a try.

As a child I yearned to live in “yonder years”. I remember taking a sixth grade field trip to Colonial Williamsburg and feeling like I was finally home. Oh, to write with a feather pen and churn butter. If only that place hired minors I would have sent in my resume and spent the remainder of adolescence in a one-room schoolhouse. I remember wondering if the people who worked there stayed in character all the time. I surely would have. I fantasized about how I would run an apothecary and mince herbs with a little mortar and pestle. “Tis a pleasure to see you Bitty Washington, might I prescribe you some horehound and thyme?”

Oh what a life!

When I returned home from the trip I spent hours in my backyard pretending to “live off the land.” I had it all planned out. I’d keep my perishables in the creek, I’d build my house behind the woodpile. I’d hitch my horse to the Magnolia tree in our back yard. If I could get my parents to purchase a few sheep and a loom I was sure I could learn to weave. I figured out all the things I’d need to acquire: a lantern, a washboard, a musket… Maybe I’d put them on my birthday list?

The fantasy continued for several years. Even in high school I’d occasionally pour cream into some plastic Tupperware and shake it till it turned to butter just to prove that I had what it took to live in colonial times. But eventually the fantasies fell away. I began to focus on mix tapes, movies, and cars. The “yonder years” just stopped making sense. It got so I could no longer recall what the big appeal had been in the first place. Why would anyone want to churn butter?

But the other day I took my daughter to a farm and as I watched her chase a bird up a sloping pasture it all came back. She looked so free and at home just moving across the land. Suddenly I wanted it again. All at once I needed a stone hearth and a family farm and a horse and loom and a big pot of stew dangling over an open fire. I needed to know all my neighbors. I needed my husband to become a blacksmith. I needed a chest full of tiny little drawers so that I could finally open the apothecary store of my dreams. I could see it all play out. My daughter would be wild and resourceful. She’d have her own flock of chickens. We’d sew quilts together. We’d eat long meals, work the fields, and tell stories by candlelight. This was the life for us! In that moment, if I had had a time machine, I would have powered it up and hit the road.

That night I stayed up after everyone had gone to bed and googled “Colonial Times.”  I needed to start planning our escape into the past. At first it was just like I remembered it- the brick homes, the lush gardens, the axes and muskets leaning against the front door. It was lovely. But then I moved beyond the pictures and started reading the details. I saw the fine print; the first thing that caught my eye was the four-page list of common diseases including smallpox, malaria and the bubonic plague. How could my little one run through the fields and tend to her flock of chickens if she was too busy fighting off the black death? Then there were the rules. I found a list of 110 rules for “decent behavior in company and conversation” at least ten of them mentioned proper ways to handle utensils. Suddenly the long family meals didn’t sound so appealing. How could we all kick back and just shoot the shit together if we were obsessed with holding our forks “just so”. Then there was the oppression of women, the terrible life expectancy, the packs of wolves, and the fact that I was somehow going to have to get my two year old to wear a bodice. I can barely get a t-shirt over her head. There was no way this whole Colonial thing was going to work out.

I closed up the computer and called it a day. The next morning I woke up grateful for modern medicine and women’s suffrage and the ipod that kept my daughter occupied as I made coffee. “Want some toast?” I called out to Sage as she danced to The Black Eyed Peas.

“Yeah,” she said.

“With butter?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

And as I opened the fridge I did have a brief moment where I looked at the cream. “I could churn it…” I thought. “I wonder how long that would take?” As I contemplated the routine, I heard my daughter call from the other room,  “Come dance with toast!” She said.

“Coming,” I answered back. I grabbed the Land O’ Lakes, cut off a piece, slapped it on some toast, and joined my daughter in the living room to dance through breakfast.

I’m in the sixth grade. I’m wearing stone washed overalls and a straw hat. I’ve drawn extra freckles onto my cheeks with a friend’s eyeliner and I’m sucking a piece of straw. I’ve got a rubber chicken hanging from a rope that I’ve tied around my waist.

It’s the Halloween dance and I’m looking HOT.

So what if the other girls are dressed like slutty cats and nurses in mini skirts?  What could be sexier than a chick with a chicken? It’s a good thing I’m looking so good because this is my big chance to woo “The Crush”.

I’m going to dance with him.

It will happen.

Laura said that Haley said that Holly said that he is totally going to ask me. So it must be true. Each new song brings a rush of anxiety – “Funky Cold Medina” – retreat, retreat. I do not want to be asked to dance to a fast song, there will be no contact, no eye gazing, no hands on the hips. “Stairway to Heaven” – yes yes yes!! I make myself visible. This song is perfect. We will tell our children that Led Zeppelin brought us together.

No dice. We stare across the room, shrouded by our friends.  Then, just as I begin to think that all is lost, “The Crush” gets up the nerve. He saunters over with a group of guys and they push him towards me. He trips from the impact and falls into me. He’s so fucking cool he’s not even wearing a costume, just a button down shirt doused in cologne. He’s got broad shoulders and a post-pubescent voice. He’s a year older than me. He might as well be Zeus incarnate for all the manliness he’s oozing.

“Wanna dance?”he sort of whispers under his breath.

I know what will happen next. I’ve been playing it out in my mind all night. We are going to croon and I’m going to leave this dance with a real live boyfriend!

But suddenly I’m speaking, and the words are not the ones I’ve rehearsed. I do not say, “Yes crush I’d love too,” or even “uh huh, sure.” Instead I aggressively blurt, “Not before you dance with my chicken!”

I’m dumbfounded.

He looks utterly confused.

Not knowing what to do I untie the chicken from my waist and slowly hand it too him.

“Ok,” he says.

“Ok,” I say.

And he dances with the chicken.

And they never play another slow song, the whole rest of the night.

End of story.

For months after I wanted to bring that rubber chicken to life just so I could murder it.

I thought the dance was going to be my “how I met your father” story.

But it was just the sorry tale of a lame chick losing a guy to a piece of synthetic poultry.

That is until the other day, twenty years later, when a mother of two told me her girls had just attended their first Middle School dance. And it suddenly dawned on me that the whole chicken debacle just might transcend its lameness. It could become the funny tale that I tell my daughter when she some day goes to her first dance. I can see it all play out in my head. She’ll nervously sit before me in her “too short” skirt, anxious to just go already and I’ll say, “Before we head out, there’s a story I need to tell you.” She’ll think she’s getting the sex talk or something and will quickly grow confused when I start speaking of a rubber chicken. As I get deeper into the tale she’ll lean in close, I’ll see her begin to relax. By then end I’ll have her laughing. When it’s all done she’ll head off to the dance completely liberated. She’ll know that no matter what she does, no matter how she embarrasses herself or screws things up, there’s absolutely no way that she’s going to be a bigger moron than her mother.

Suddenly I can imagine re-purposing all of my teen tales of embarrassment. Like the time I stapled my maxi pad to my underwear so it wouldn’t fall out while I was running the hundred-yard dash during the annual seventh grade track and field day. And how because of the staples I ended up with little scrape marks on my thighs that left me walking like I’d just humped a porcupine. Or the time I French kissed a VCR just for practice and got a nasty shock on my tongue. Or the time I tried to Nair my upper lip and ended up with a moustache made up of burn marks from leaving the chemicals on too long. All at once every middle school mishap seemed to have a higher purpose. They’d help me bond with my teenager. They’d show her that she’s not alone. They’d reveal the universal ridiculousness of being twelve and then thirteen and fourteen.

Maybe they’d even help her avoid the whole Middle School mess altogether.

MAYBE MY STORIES WOULD SOMEDAY FREE HER FROM PUBERTY!!!

But, more likely, they’ll simply keep her from making my exact mistakes. If there’s one thing I’m reminded of in all of these tales it’s that puberty is hard. It’s an ocean full of weird sea creatures and twenty-foot waves. She’s bound to have a wipeout. No matter how hard it will be to watch her fall, no matter how much I’ll want to save her from all the embarrassment, it just won’t be possible. She’s bound to take out a tampon instead of a pencil in math class or get caught kissing a vacuum cleaner or accidentally dye her hair the shade of puke. It’s going to happen. And as she sits there feeling like her world is over I’ll have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “Honey, one day it’s just going to be a funny story you tell your kids.”

No teenager wants to hear that!

Before I ended up as a writer/curriculum specialist/early childhood education consultant I spent years working in the theatre. Acting was my THING. I’d walk around saying,“I burn for the theatre.” My journals were full of little messages to myself. “Act with all your soul,” I’d scrawl in big underlined letters. “You must live the theatre.” Whenever someone would ask me how I got into the field I would always tell the following story:

When I was in first grade I played the lead in the Christmas Pageant. I was the lamb positioned just outside of Jesus’ manger and I had the only line in the whole play. I kneeled for an hour in my little felt lamb costume sweating away and just when I thought I would surely pass out the spotlight shined right on me and I gestured with my little lamb paw and said in a quivering lamb voice “Come, let us adore him”. And everyone cheered and the play was over and I was hooked.

Whenever I told this story people always said, “aw that’s so sweet,” or “you must have been the cutest Jew in the pageant,” or “that’s amazing that you found your passion so early in life.” It wasn’t till I told this story to my husband some twenty plus years after it happened that someone gave me the appropriate response to that tale.

“Why would a lamb have the only line in the play? What about Mary and Joseph? What about the Wise Men? I know you’re not a Christian so maybe you don’t know this but the lamb is not the central figure in the story of the nativity. There is no way that you had the lead.”

At first I argued for the story that had so shaped my identity, “Well I know in the bible version a lamb is not that important but ‘Come, let us adore him’ really sums up the whole story, don’t you think? The play only needed that one line! They gave it to me because I had a gift for public speaking and pretending to be a lamb! Everyone else just stood there looking holy while I carried the play!”

But there was no way I was going to win this argument.

He was right.

I absolutely could not have had the lead in the play.

They whole story was my myth. Maybe I felt like I had the lead, maybe that moment did indeed change my life, but there is no way it happened like I remembered it.

In thinking about my daughter and the fact that she has now entered an age where all the experts believe she will begin having conscious memories I wonder how she will look back on these time. I wonder what kind of mythology she will create.

Like, maybe she’ll be a drummer and when someone asks her how she got started she’ll say, “Well, when I was two my mom took me to this amazing concert, I think it was Bob Dylan…yeah, Bob Dylan and he called me up on stage and I played the drums and I felt the rhythm in my whole body and the crowd went wild and I just knew right then.” And the experience she’ll actually be remembering is the weekly sing along at the local library and the invitation made to all children at the end of each performance to come up, wait in line, and bang on The Surdo drum.

Or maybe she’ll be a chef and when someone asks her about her culinary influences she’ll say, “I owe it all to my mom. She made this incredible pasta dish that was just transcendent. That dish hooked me on cooking, I mean, really all my adventures in the kitchen are just an attempt to match that pasta.” And I’ll stand up and bow to wild applause knowing that the dish she speaks of is actually Annie’s Mac and Cheese and that my only contribution to the meal was adding two tablespoons of milk and a sliver of butter.

It’s really kind of exciting to think that at any point we could stumble upon an experience that will become the mythology that shapes who my daughter is. And it is actually kind of liberating too. No matter how I navigate through any given moment. No matter how many times I fuck up or manage to do something amazing, the experience is really hers and hers alone. It’s her story. She will tell it the way it unfolds in her eyes.

And it occurs to me that this must be the same reason why I write at the end of each day. As a mother I want to build and savor my own stories, my own version of how it all went down. Like the first time she said, “I love you mommy” and the whole house shook and the sky lit up and my heart just broke into a million pieces right there on the floor. And though there is no hard evidence of this occurrence, there was no structural damage done to the apartment, no reports of a strange flash in the sky, no medical record of my broken heart that is how it happened for me.

That is my mythology.

And I’m sticking to it.