Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Death by Stand Up

I love stand up. I could watch Louis CK for hours, and the first record I ever bought was an Eddie Murphy album at a garage sale in 1984. Imagine a little white girl lying in her bedroom in Newport RI,  listening to Eddie Murphy on her Fisher Price record player... that was me. This was one of my favorite bits:

Mind blowing.

That is where it all began. Way back then, a seed was planted. And for the past two weeks, Tuesday nights from 9-11, I have been sitting through an open mic stand up show, trying to work up the courage to even think about maybe someday getting up onstage.

"Why in the hell would you do something like that" you ask?

I have no idea. Sitting through an open mic - any open mic - is at times painful, horrifying, encouraging, reassuring, embarrassing, inspiring and empowering. And all of that without even leaving the safety of my seat. Rarely do you see someone perform at open mic and think "this is the next big thing". I mean sure, sometimes that happens too - but not very often, so you have to be prepared to handle extreme levels of emotional discomfort in the meanwhile. If you go into it with an open mind, all in all, open mics can be incredibly entertaining - until you think about getting up there yourself. Then the entertainment factor dries up almost immediately. Which is why I find myself sitting there letting it wash over me, trying to remain neutral, a casual observer. Watching other people get up and do something you don't have the balls to do is an interesting mind game.

"I could do that," I think as I am sitting there watching someone totally at ease, moving through their routine with casual precision. And maybe I get a little smug. They make it look so easy - too easy. I sit up a little straighter. I start to think "I should just go for it. I have a couple of funny stories to tell. I can pull together 5 minutes. Let's do this thing."

And then I watch someone fumbling with their notes, trying out some new material to deafening silence and I think with my sinking heart and rapidly deflating ego "I could do that," and suddenly I am not feeling quite so fanfuckingtastic.

So now I am sitting there, flummoxed.
I thought I could do it, it didn't seem so hard.

But as I hear the chairs squeaking across the floor, as people stand up and file out, moving on to the next bar, the next drink, the next shot at entertainment, I feel a cold sweat on the back of my neck, and for once it's not a hot flash. The guy up there is dying, slowly and painfully, while we are all sitting there watching - or carefully not watching. Politely clapping when it seems like the only way to respond. A few people muttering "ouch" after a particularly gnarly joke that is so politically incorrect my mouth is left hanging open. He's getting desperate now, no subject off limits, the sweat visible on his forehead, the clock counting down his five minutes that have felt like fifteen. And then he says goodnight and I breathe a sigh of relief and clap loudly as if to encourage him to get off the stage quickly while he still can.

And suddenly another comedian is up there, and we are stuck in that room for another five minute set before I could even think about politely slipping out.

Sam squeezes my hand, because of course he is there with me, to clap and cheer if I ever manage to get up, or to hug me and escort me offstage if I freeze and lose my shit. It could go either way, I see that now.

The next set is smoother, the mood lightens, people who managed to sit through the last round are relaxing, less frantic as they wave for the check. They are done, make no mistake, they are leaving - but maybe they will finish this drink first. Maybe. I focus on the stage again, listening hard. By the second week I am seeing some familiar faces up there, hearing some familiar material, maybe twisted just slightly to see if it will get a bigger laugh. I realize that some of the awkwardness and muttering is part of the schtick. Oh, that's good. It was intentional. See. I could do this. Sure I could. I can play awkward. I sit forward again. putting weight on my toes, contemplating putting my hand up when they ask who's next. Because why not? Why not me?

I sip my drink, scan the crowd, wondering if they would think anything I had to say was worth sitting through. "I don't need them to laugh," I say to myself, "I just need them to not leave."

This is a new low.

I am not even concerned about entertaining them, I just want to make sure they can sit through my five minutes? This is not why people do stand up. Or maybe it is, as the next comedian climbs onstage with a fistful of index cards. Oh sweet jesus, he's throwing an accent into the mix. I don't think I can bear it. "NO ACCENTS" I type into the notes I have been making on my phone for the past two weeks.

I nudge Sam. "Go get the check," I say through gritted teeth. He looks apprehensive. "I can't stand up, this guy is in the mid-"

"For the love of all that is good, go get the check or I will NEVER work up the courage to get up there." I hiss at him through a pasted on smile, my eyes still focused on the stage.

My jaw is clenched tight with anxiety as the jokes move one after the other, as this guy goes through index card after index card, working so hard to develop this material, to hone his craft.

Another comic ends his set by thanking everyone who had the balls - or ovaries - to get up onstage and I clap with relief because YES this is something I can agree with wholeheartedly. And it's also my out. I have neither balls nor ovaries, and as we sail through the door to the parking lot, I remind myself that I might never get up there, and it's okay. I can blame my ovaries - or lackthereof - for that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Foster Baby Takes a Vacation

I must apologize for the weeks of quiet here in Paradise. We've been gone, you see. And re-entry is a bitch.

Let's get up to speed.

When last I wrote, we were leaving on our vacation. But you didn't know that. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go, to be honest. The last time we went on a vacation while we had a foster case, we weren't allowed to bring the baby and she was transferred to a new home the day before we left. I almost had a nervous breakdown. I lay on the couch and sobbed for hours before we left for the airport, heartsick over my little charge and imagining her wondering where she was, and why she had a new mama. It was a really dark, confusing time.

So as our date of departure neared this time around, my panic was almost palpable. I had cancelled our summer vacation, because we could not get permission to travel with Ella and I refused to have her transferred to a new foster home. I would not do it. This time, this case, this child was going to be different. After we cancelled that trip, I tentatively planned to go in the fall - and this time her mother said it was okay for us to bring Ella. Miraculously, Ella's father agreed, and we booked our tickets immediately. However, I soon learned that agreeing the baby can travel, and signing the permission slip, are two different things. This permission slip is a much bigger deal than the one you sign to allow your child on a school field trip. And as with everything in foster care, nothing is for sure until it is signed and notarized and approved by the court.

Saying we could go was nice, but I needed signatures.

And I didn't have them.

Then I heard that Ella's father had signed. I let myself hope. I bought Ella a hat and a jacket. Socks. Leggings. Warm clothes for the New England weather. I waited. I needed one more signature. I didn't want to get too excited. I had been down this road before. We got a court date. I submitted all of the travel information. I waited.

I was leaving in less than 3 weeks.

Ella's mother was gone. Her phone was shut off, she didn't answer the door, we heard she had moved but no one knew where. Everyone was looking for her.

I was leaving in 2 weeks.

Out of nowhere, she called a week later. She wanted to see Ella. We had court in 4 days. She said she would be there. I did not have her signature.

And then the day came. Our hearing was in the morning so I got up early. I brought Ella to a friend's house. I dressed in my most respectable mom attire. I drove to the courthouse with shaking hands. I was leaving in 48 hours.

When I walked through the metal detector outside the circuit court, Ella's father was there. I stood in the hall, full of people . I sat on the hard bench, leaned back against the cold granite. Anxious. Would her mother show up? Would she say I couldn't take her with us?

I watched everyone who got off the elevator. Not her. Not her. Not her.

I stood up when the case was called. I hugged a friend who was there for work and had found me in the crowd. I smiled at some familiar faces. I walked into the courtroom alone.

As the case began, I sat, silent. My heart was in my throat. The court reporter looked up, recognized me, gave a small wave. A tear ran down my cheek. My hands were clenched together, gripping the paperwork I had printed out the night before with our flight information.

Her mother wasn't there.

The lawyer - my lawyer, I suppose, stood up. Told the judge we were traveling in a few days and wanted Ella with us. Around the room others stood up, one by one, in agreement. We came to the last person in the room. Her mom's lawyer. She did not say no. She did not say yes.

More tears.
Hands clenched tighter.

The judge asked a few questions. Ella's father answered. Yes sir. No sir.
Everyone took notes.

And then he said yes. He didn't just say yes, of course, he said something formal and official for the record, but all I cared about was that he meant yes.

Yes we could go.
Yes we could bring Ella.
Yes she would stay with me.

I covered my mouth. My shoulders sagged. I looked across the courtroom and found Ella's father watching me.

"Thank you" I said.
He nodded. "You're welcome."

He was excused, and as he walked past me he stopped. I held out my arms. And we hugged, awkwardly, but still. A real hug. He stood up and walked out of the courtroom, slinging his backpack over one shoulder as the door swung shut behind him.

Two days later we boarded a plane. All of us. Even Ella.

The trip was a whirlwind, but the one steady in all of it was our beautiful children - all three of them - who despite a 6 hour time difference and a grueling travel schedule, were well behaved, eager to try new things, happy to see family again, and content in the backseat for long stretches of time playing road trip bingo and staring agog as we flew through the EZ Pass lanes at the tollbooths - which is the height of bad-ass excitement for island kids.

The tolls were $110.00.
I counted.

And the next thing I knew, we were on a plane again. Just Ella and I, this time. Flying back home at the end of our trip, the court documents still in the outside pocket of the diaper bag ready to show at a moment's notice.

Ironically, that paperwork I had waited so long for and worried so much about ended up being totally unnecessary for my travels. No one asked to see it. Not even once.

Maybe no one asked because they couldn't imagine anyone but an actual mother voluntarily traveling alone for 22 hours with an infant. Maybe they didn't want to stop the lady trying to board the plane with a sleeping baby strapped to her chest, lugging her carry on and her personal item, plus the stroller, to ask if she could find a document proving she was supposed to travel with that baby. Maybe they didn't want to bother the wild-eyed, sleep-deprived woman who finally handed the baby to a total stranger so that she could use the plane's bathroom without a baby on her lap toilet-papering the cubicle and flushing the toilet repeatedly. Maybe they watched me circling the airport while I tried to stay awake during both of my 3 hour layovers in two different time zones and thought better of asking me for anything.

All I know is that, during that trip, I had just a moment - just a tiny flicker, mind you - of wondering why the hell I had wanted this so badly.

But then I looked down, and smiled, and it all came rushing back.
She is an excellent traveling companion, this one.