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Stage Fright

Dearest Clara and Nutcracker,

Moments from now the curtain will go up. I know you are nervous. Please, don’t worry about dancing perfectly.

Because by tomorrow the audience will have forgotten you.

All of the hundreds and hundreds of people in the crowd tonight will not remember a perfect performance. Beautiful feet, elegant fingers, timely entrances and well-executed turns will all fade from their minds. These elements are important, absolutely. But they don’t stick. It’s not what people remember.

What they remember is a performance that is real.

Memory comes from emotion. When we feel connected to someone, they linger in our minds. So don’t dance tonight just to be technically precise, but to give character to your character.

The audience enjoys watching Clara during the boisterous, fancy Christmas Eve party. They cheer for the Nutcracker during the bold, chaotic fight scene. But it is the snow scene when they come with you into the story. If you invite them.

The invitation isn’t in the excellence of your mechanics. It comes in the falling snow, in the quiet of the beats between the notes. It comes when you open yourself—and share the longing, the uncertainty, the wistfulness—the emotions of the moment. When you reveal what you feel, the audience feels it with you. That is the magic of artistry. That is what they remember.

And life is the same.

It isn’t enough to be seen. Our accomplishments don’t tell our full story. What we need is to be understood. And for that to happen, we have to invite people in. Into our real. Into our dreams. Into our longing, our uncertainty, our wistfulness. It is when we are vulnerable that we are strong.

Tonight I will marvel at your technique and your emotion. Tomorrow the audience will remember your precision because of your passion.

And after that? I will always be here to listen to your dreams.

With all my love,

Mama Stahlbaum

stagefright

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This is the eighth year I have performed in The Nutcracker. It is my seventh year as Clara’s mother, and the sixth time I have written a letter to the two young women dancing as Clara. This year’s letter is not only for the two Claras, it is also for the two young men who are dancing as the Nutcracker—one of whom is our son Cole.  Here are the links to the letters for the past five years: the balance pointe, home for the holidays, blizzards of truth, life in ¾ time, in a nutshell.

 

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Free Guide: 5 changes in 5 minutes to make parenting better, easier, right now!

Burning Down the House

Sunday afternoon my neighbor’s house was on fire.

Driving by I glanced up their long driveway and saw hungry orange flames. It’s funny how long it takes the brain to decipher something unexpected. Wow. That’s an enormous pile of burning leaves….it’s awfully close to the side of their house….no…wait…that’s not it at all…it’s much bigger than that…WHAT?!?

Stop.

Reverse.

Look again.

Grab my phone.

Jump out of the car.

In the pouring rain we pounded on the doors, called 911, connected a garden hose, and attacked the fire that burned beneath a plume of acrid smoke.

In the midst of the chaos, another neighbor walked by with his dog. Eleanor, who had been standing safely to the side, saw him, ran down the drive and yelled with a mix of adrenaline and fear. He paused, listened to her.

And kept walking.

While we stood, waiting for sounds of the sirens.

Of all the people that day—Eleanor and her capable response to our haphazardly shouted directions; my husband and his rush straight into action; the firefighters and their calm proficiency; my neighbor and the pallor of shock on her face when she returned home—it is the retreating figure of my neighbor with his dog that I keep thinking about.

Why did he walk away?

Why did he see flames licking up the side of the house and not stop? Why did he think this is not my fire to fight?

And when do I do the same?

When are my friends, my family, my kids in trouble and I don’t see it? When are my neighbors, my community, full of adrenaline and fear and I can’t see it?

When do I keep walking?

And why?

Why, I wonder, did he feel so disconnected from the scene that he believed he shouldn’t help? Or why did he believe his contribution so small that he couldn’t make a difference?

I doubt I’ll ever know.

Just as there’s never a way to fully know the impact we have when we do stop. When we turn towards someone and help, instead of walking away. We have to take a leap of faith—we have to trust that our seemingly small actions are too big to measure. Trust that slowing down in the craziness of the morning for our child is immeasurable. Trust that donating our extra food to the person on the corner in need is immeasurable. Trust that contributing to the organization whose request arrives in the mail is immeasurable.

Trust that no matter how small the energy, resources, money, time or expertise we think we are giving, the giving always matters.

Seeing my neighbor’s house on fire wasn’t the end to the holiday weekend I had imagined. The real ending was better. Because the house will be okay. Everyone is safe. And my neighbor walking his dog reminded me to trust that picking up a simple garden hose can change the course of a life.

Because on Sunday, it did.

gardenhose

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What are your garden hose stories? When have you stopped, and turned towards someone in need? We’ve all made an immeasurable difference in someone’s life. You have a story, I’d love to to hear it.

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Free Guide: 5 changes in 5 minutes to make parenting better, easier, right now!

This blog post is written for all of us, no matter how we marked our ballots on Tuesday.

 

The election is over.

And our children heard the whole thing. Whether we had the TV on for every cable news minute, or were sporadically checking headlines on our phones, our kids heard about it. At recess. On the bus. From us.

We’ve had a day to react, now it is their turn. And it’s important that they get to speak. Because they knew all about this election, but their voice had no vote.

Time to see how they are doing with The Big News.

You may have already heard their feelings: surprise, grief, excitement, fear. Or 1000 other emotions. With any Big News comes Big Feelings. And the big-ness? It can often paralyze us. Keep us swirling in place, unable to go forward.

So how do we help them? How do we move out of stuck? We ask A Very Big Question, and then get very, very, very, small.

If you were elected President, what is the very first thing you would do for the people of your country?

This is the question because in their response you’ll hear how they feel—their fine-ness, their scared-ness, their why-are-we-here?-ness. This is the question because age three or 13, they’ll have an answer, and you’ll hear what to do. This is the question because it addresses three of their five most vital needs: to connect, to imagine, to contribute. This is the question because it says to a child: what you believe is bigger than the ballot box.

So ask it. And then listen. And listen. And listen. And listen. Let them go on, and on and on as long as it takes. Then ask a smaller question: How can we do that? Listen again. Then ask a smaller question: How do we create it first here, where we live? Listen more. Then ask a smaller question: what do we do to start it right now?

Then go. And do with them that one small thing.

And tomorrow ask them, “What’s next?” Let them lead. Who knows where you will go. All our children need to know is that their feelings are real, and anything is possible.

And tonight? After you’ve tucked them in and said good night? Softly hum Hail to the Chief as you walk down the hall, and imagine yourself as President. What would you do? And how will you start? Remember, all revolutions begin small.

whitehouseyourhouse

What is your election night story, and where will it lead you? Send me a line–I’d love to know.

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Free Guide: 5 changes in 5 minutes to make parenting better, easier, right now!

October 19th, 2016  6:30-8:00 pm

At Lincoln Options Elementary. Come join us!

emilymcmason_finalworkshopflyer_2016-docx1

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Free Guide: 5 changes in 5 minutes to make parenting better, easier, right now!

Last Wednesday I failed the back-to-school parenting test. We were only a handful of days into the academic year, and there I was. Failing.

The morning started out just fine, right up until our daughter woke up. Moments before, I had been distracted by the list of things that had to be done before the kids left for school. The list wasn’t any different from last year, or the year before, or the year before that. But at the start of every year the list always feels longer, because after a summer off, I am out of practice.

And Wednesday morning my mind was on the list when Eleanor suddenly stopped. And everything she needed to get done, she couldn’t do. Get out of bed? Get dressed? Come down the stairs? She. Could. Not. Do.

We were barely ten minutes into the morning and there I was thinking: how am I going to survive the next 80 minutes, never mind the next nearly 180 days? And it pretty much went down hill from there.

I kept trying to solve the problems. Nothing was working. Because those issues? They were not the real problems.

The real problem?

It was me.

I was so distracted by all that needed to get done that I was seeing her as a line item instead of a little girl. And so she tried to get my attention in all the ways a 10 year-old can. Make her own breakfast? Find her sweatshirt? Brush out tangled hair? She. Could. Not. Do.

All I could do was think: We. Don’t. Have. Time. For. This. Actually, the mantra sounded more like a silent scream: WEDONTHAVETIMEFORTHIS! And what I said was: go, Go, GO!

But if I’d stopped? And seen her? Not as a thing, but as a girl? The going would have gone faster. She would have been part of me, instead of an item, stubbornly refusing to be crossed off my list.

So last Thursday morning, I made a change. I walked into Eleanor’s room, and stopped. And saw her. And moved her from my list back into my heart. Right where she should be. Then we were ready to go. And the morning parenting test? I may not be acing it, but I’m at least passing it.

How are your mornings? What is on your to-do list and who is on your to-be-with list? We each have a story, I’d love to hear yours. Keep me posted.

seethechild

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Free Guide: 5 changes in 5 minutes to make parenting better, easier, right now!

the boozy browser

The calendar may say mid-August, but the slant of the sunlight is starting to tell a different story. And the leaves, too. Not so bright and fresh green. Oranges and reds are hovering at their tips. Time for a cocktail that tips us towards fall. From summer beach reads to thick novels. So this one is dedicated to my favorite bookstore, Browsers Bookshop. It opened in 1935 and recently was bought and brought back to life. In honor of Andrea (proprietress), it is a gin-based drink. In honor of the 30’s, something with fizz. In honor of books, something clear so if it spills, no pages will stain. In honor of stories, a splash of lemon, bright & tart. And soda to make it all sparkle.

  • 1.5 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. pear liqueur
  • 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • soda water

To make the simple syrup:

Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, add 1 cup sugar, stirring until dissolved. Store in the frig.

To mix the drink:

Drop a handful of ice cubes into your cocktail shaker. Pour all ingredients (but not the fizzy one!) over the ice. Lid on. Shake away. Pour into your glass. Top with soda water. Enjoy!

Would you like to check out other cocktail options? Here’s the link to the entire list!

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Free Guide: 5 changes in 5 minutes to make parenting better, easier, right now!

Memorial Day. Blue skies. Fluffy clouds. Mild breezes. Mid temperatures.

Needless to say, there was a line.

A line at the municipal boat launch. So we waited. And waited. Some of us more patiently than others. Lauren stood stoically drinking his coffee, Eleanor kept her book company, and Cole and I perched up in the bow of the boat, anxious to be there, even with asphalt below us instead of waves.

And just as it was our turn? A truck with an empty trailer came racing around the corner, cut us off, and backed in. Without saying a word, or sparing us a glance.

All four of our jaws dropped. Really? Really?!?

Cole started muttering under his breath, volume rising as the sentence progressed “There is clearly a line, buddy. No matter if you are dropping your boat off or picking it up…how rude. What a jerk!” (followed by some other teenage word choices)

Was the guy rude? Yes. Was he a jerk? Also yes. Annnnnndddd…

And, I reminded Cole, we don’t always know someone’s story. That guy might have had a reason for doing that. Actually, I’m sure he had a reason. The question was, was it a reason we could understand? I got a well-practiced 15 year-old eye roll.

“I guess I need to work on being classy, Mom. Because if I were Dad, I would have gunned the engine and cut the guy off before he got anywhere close to the ramp.”

We could have done that, I told him. Or, instead, we could be curious. And wonder about the man’s story. So Cole and I tossed possibilities back and forth while we waited. And waited. Because what we couldn’t see from our spot in the circular drive was why he had raced in and cut us off.

His boat had been sinking.

They had launched a few spots ahead of us, left the boat tied to the dock, driven away and parked in the far-off trailer spots, and returned to find their Chris Craft taking on water. At an extremely alarming rate.

None of which we knew until they pulled past us once more, water gushing from the boat. Gushing.

They’d forgotten to put in the plug. A part whose importance far outstrips its size. The boat had been steadily sinking from the moment it hit the water. Without the plug in place, the hull floods, and so, potentially, does the engine.

No wonder.

No wonder he had gone barreling past us without a word or a wave or an explanation.

Because stress narrows our vision. It blinds our view. He couldn’t see us. All he could see was his little ship sinking.

From our side of the story, the guy had looked like a jerk. The other story? He was a good guy having a terrible moment.

When our turn finally arrived, we quietly backed into the Sound, distractedly glancing over our shoulders as their boat drained. And drained. And drained.

It was a close thing. They almost sank. And we almost labeled them as assholes (pardon the teenage word) instead of people having an emergency.

We rarely get that view—the chance to see the other side of the story.

We all have a story. A reason for what we do. It’s true for our children, too. A preschooler who is melting down, a 10 year-old throwing a tantrum, or more choice words from a teen. There is always another story. One that includes the reason why.

We might find out. Our child might explain their freak out. Then again, they might not. Either way, if we can stay open, out of their way, observe what’s going on, we might just see the evidence of their sinking ship.

The other story.

The other story gives us the broader view, the inner feelings. The other story takes us out of our story to the more. See more. Hear more. Understand more.

Then respond.

theotherstorylove the love note? you can pin it!

When has knowing the other story changed how you reacted to a situation? We all have a story about The Other Story, and I’d love to hear yours.

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Free Guide: 5 changes in 5 minutes to make parenting better, easier, right now!

screenagers!

We had an amazing turnout for our screenagers movie showing–over 340 parent, teens and tweens. Thank you all for coming! Here’s a compiled list of books, apps and websites mentioned in the film or written by the experts interviewed. Please let me know if I can answer any media questions or help with other parenting issues. You can contact me here.

Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
Simon Sinek’s Start with Why
Janell Burley Hofmann’s icontract
Laura Kastner’s Wise Minded Parenting
reSTART’s online addiction treatment site.
David Levy’s Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to our Digital Lives
Larry Rosen’s The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World
Laurence Steinberg’s Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence
Cindy Lehman of Lehman Learning Solutions
OurPact – the app the filmmaker uses to control screen time
App to auto-reply while driving:  AT&T Drive Mode
5 Apps to Prevent Texting and Driving
Study with the mice and overstimulation
Study with preschoolers (television and executive function)

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Free Guide: 5 changes in 5 minutes to make parenting better, easier, right now!