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  • The Opposites of Parenting

    A year ago, Ben made his Broadway debut in "Ragtime." Tonight, he is on stage again, marking his 158th consecutive performance in “Billy Elliot.”

    At home in Virginia, Kate is sitting downstairs drawing and painting, finally calm after an operatic outburst, an outburst that’s sad in large part because it was so predictable.

    If Latin were not a dead language, this would be called “parentis extremis.”

    I didn’t expect to be writing this on Saturday afternoon. I thought I’d be running errands that need to be complete. But I can’t. Emotionally and physically spent, all I can do is sit here and type — a RSS feed of pride and hurt, joyful emotion and deflating sadness.

    I am super proud of my children, and do my best not to disappoint them. All I want is for them to do their best and be kind to others in the process. Much of the time we are successful, but sometimes we’re not, especially when a mental disorder lurks in the background — never dormant, always waiting.


    You really don’t realize how hard stage actors work until you are around them. Ben has done eight shows a week, six days a week, since July 7. It's something that would test anyone's stamina, let alone that of a 12-year-old.

    Sometimes, we get asked why he's doing this, why we do it. Certainly this has tested our entire family’s stamina. At the same time, Ben wants this and works on it tirelessly. He sings in the shower, dances in the living room, and does his homework between scenes. He remains a kid at heart, and a good one at that.

    Some people wonder why we would “push” our child into this. I have met and gotten to know people who live vicariously through their children and I can tell you with certainty that’s not us. Life would be much less complicated if we didn’t go back and forth to New York every week.

    The thing is this: You do what you can for your children, whether it’s Broadway or travel soccer. And as long as they hold up their end of the bargain, you do it as long as you can.


    Is it wrong to admit that sometimes I don’t enjoy being a parent? Or that I get tired of all the requisite b.s. that goes along with the job?

    Yes, parenting is a job — some days with benefits, some days without. According to life’s HMO, you have to be in network to enjoy it.

    Many days that network includes your fellow parents, people with whom you bond while waiting in the parking lot at dance, or over a baseball practice. Something changes once you welcome another person — one completely dependent on you — into your life. Friendships that meant everything to you fade and sometimes disappear, replaced by diapers, then carpools in messy vans, then middle school football games on Thursday (not Friday) nights.

    The people you meet and are social with rarely are the same friends from college, the ones who could discuss obscure literature or music with you until 4 a.m., drunk on cheap beer or tequila (everyone has a bad cheap tequila story). Life’s great mysteries always seemed solved by a simple night of semi-lucid conversation on the couch. That is, until the next morning, when a new set of mysteries popped up again.

    Nostalgically, we say we miss those times, when in fact what we miss is the freedom they offered. Some crave that freedom like a drug, believing it is better to be on parole from daily responsibility. Others embrace the new reality that parenting and family brings.

    It took me a long time, well into my 30s, to embrace that reality. If anything, being a single parent for much of the past year has turned that embrace into a bear hug, reminding me how lucky I am to have Jill and these four talented children.

    But occasionally, the embrace feels like a chokehold.


    Life with teenagers is not easy, as my fellow parents will attest. Kate’s doctor says teens lose 10 years of maturity from the moment they become prepubescent and don’t get it back until the hormone surges slow down several years later.

    I can’t wait for that to happen.

    The bipolar/puberty combination has turned our daughter with a mood disorder into someone I don’t understand. She can be so sweet one minute, showing the kind, lovely, talented girl we know exists in there. Then on a dime, she becomes “Toxic Teenager,” host of her own pity party, and believer that she is the monosyllabic snark mistress of the universe.

    All the while screaming and crying at the top of her lungs.

    The verbal warfare during these times is intense, and it’s only gotten worse as her shape has changed and she’s gotten taller. The Chinese ping-pong team could learn serve and volley from us. Aaron Sorkin could write our scripts.

    The adrenaline that surges through her body during these fits and episodes dissipates almost as quickly, leaving her drained and remorseful. I try to remind myself, and her siblings, that the verbal venom we have to fend off is just as filled with self loathing.

    I started writing this piece yesterday, but couldn’t finish it, too tired and exhausted from the afternoon battle to continue while Kate continued her painting. Today, I returned to it, drained and suffering from the post-traumatic stress disorder that another round brought.

    Right now, at this moment, I take comfort in four things:

    • That Kate finds comfort in art and ballet.

    • That Ben is doing so well.

    • That Nicholas and Emma are such good people and such good siblings.

    • That Jill is coming home tonight so we can be together for two nights before the Thanksgiving round robin begins, another week of adventures for our family.

    That’s enough right now.