Camille Schenkkan is a theatre management professional and educator, passionate about career development for artists & arts managers.

Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

This Shit is Hard

The white noise machine in my son Ezra’s room has a repetitive underbeat that sounds kind of like the hook of California Love– but over and over, and without Tupac.

I listen to this loop for several hours a day as I sit on an exercise ball, holding Ezra. Bouncing on the ball is the only way he will fall asleep, and the only place he’ll nurse. I sit and bounce and fantasize about how I’m going to destroy this ball when this phase is over. My current plan is to cover it in lighter fluid and ignite it while inflated so I can watch it crumple in on itself while it burns.

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Artist’s rendering.

My back hurts. My back hurts so badly by the end of the day that lying on my stomach to sleep is painful– ironic, considering how much I looked forward to that while pregnant.

Ezra will only nurse on the ball because I have what’s called an overactive letdown, which means nursing can be a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose for him. He developed a breast aversion even though I tried everything anyone ever suggested to manage overactive letdown, went to two lactation consultants, even tried cranio sacral therapy (don’t ask me what it is as I’m honestly still not sure). Everyone tells me he’ll come around, grow out of it, and yet nearly two months have passed, and here I bounce.

FYI, with enough practice it’s possible to nurse a baby while answering emails, playing Farm Heroes Saga, or writing a blog post, one-handed, all while bouncing on an exercise ball.

I have cried on the ball. I cry silently so I don’t disturb the baby. I cry because my back is on fire, because I’m exhausted, because I’m lonely. I cry because I’m a new mom, and this shit is hard.

Ezra also enjoys the Mommy Group.

Ezra also enjoys the Mommy Group.

I go to a weekly Mommy Group at my birth center– where, despite my best intentions, I did not have a beautiful natural labor. Instead, I ended up as a hospital transfer, arriving at Huntington from the birth center in full hardcore labor screaming “GIVE ME DRUUUUUGS.”

Anyway.

I go to the Mommy Group every Thursday, and last week, things got real. I’m not sure how it started, but suddenly these women holding tiny perfect humans began to share the darker, not-Instagram-ready side of new motherhood.

Postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, even postpartum psychosis. Guilt, fear, and comparison. And the crippling loneliness of spending nearly all of your time alone with a new person who needs you very much, but who cannot speak or say thank you and tends to be wide awake just when you most need him to take a goddamn nap already.

20161024_081453I listened and thought about my own first days postpartum. I had horrible nausea and could eat only smoothies and crackers. My alarmist OBGYN told me the slight pain in my side might be appendicitis and I should go to the emergency room (the midwives at my birth center correctly guessed that I had just pulled my psoas muscle during labor). I had what I now realize was a panic attack at Ezra’s first pediatrician appointment, shaking and nauseated and unable to stand, scaring the shit out of my husband and my mom. As soon as possible, I went on a low dose of Zoloft to help with the crippling anxiety that made my teeth chatter and prevented me from sleeping when I most needed to.

It’s just really, really hard.

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My baby is cute. He’s not particularly screamy, and aside from the nursing weirdness and a general dislike for sleeping, he’s a pretty easy baby. That doesn’t stop me from watching the clock every day as it creeps toward 7pm, the time when my husband comes home to give me a break and a conversation partner.

When I get out of the house with Ezra, I have to say no to guilt. He seems happiest at home, parked under his baby play gym. But I am a person too and I need more than a squeaky giraffe to keep me sane.

Mommy groups and “play dates” are opportunities for new parents to get out of the house. The babies do not care. For the first few months, they barely acknowledge one another’s existence.

But I look forward to the two or three excursions I try to schedule each week, entering them carefully into my otherwise blank Google calendar. They’re my chance to ask “is this normal?” (answer: yes) and to practice being a functional human for an hour or two.

Everyone acts casual, but I know these meet-ups are the highlight of the week for many of us. We run brushes through our hair, maybe put in contacts, and dress our babies in their cutest outfits. We sit on the ground and compare notes on all of the things that have suddenly become fascinating– growth spurts, childcare costs, and the color and frequency of our babies’ poops.

And behind every conversation I’m thinking, God I hope I’m not repeating myself. I hope I’m making sense. I sound like a human, right?

Because one of the things humans need to survive is sleep, and while my husband and I didn’t draw the colicky/screamy baby straw, we drew the terrible sleeper straw. At 13 weeks, Ezra still sleeps an average of just 2 to 3 hours at the beginning of the night, starting at about 9pm after a long bedtime ritual where I try to get as much milk as possible down his throat. He then wakes up, eats, sleeps an hour, wakes up, eats, sleeps another hour… repeat until 7am, 8am if it’s a great day, 5am if it is not.

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Baby. You are so tired.

Sleeping for an hour at a time, most of the night, most nights, for 13 weeks, is not something you can prepare for. My husband and I read ten books between us on parenting and infant care while I was pregnant. None of them laid out the sleep deprivation reality we’ve faced.

The chapters on sleep said things like “the average three-month-old will sleep four to five hours at the beginning of the night, followed be one to two shorter chunks.” They didn’t follow that up with “but your baby might say fuck that and continue sleeping and eating like a newborn for several months.”

We pored over sleep schedules and vowed to set a consistent wake and bed time, try a dream feed to help encourage him to sleep through the night, etc. We were ready. We didn’t realize that in order to do any of those things, your baby needs to sleep longer than an hour at a stretch. If our fifth wake & feed of the night ends at 6:45am, there’s no way in hell I’m getting back up at 7am for a “consistent wake up time.” I’m going to try desperately to fall back to sleep as fast and hard as possible, and pray the little critter decides to give me another hour before he’s up for the day.

In those excruciating first postpartum days– and, to be honest, during the 4am hour a few times since then– I’ve wondered how the hell anyone has a second child after living through the purgatory of early parenthood.

But the answer is simple: you fall in love with your baby.

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At six weeks, he smiled. Last Saturday, he laughed. He is alert, curious, and active. My mom tells me I was an equally horrible sleeper (sorry, Mom), and in his nursing quirks and the single-minded focus he brings to a task like learning to roll over, I see his parents’ stubbornness and determination.

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“Zack, I think the frog face on his pants goes in the back.” “Well, agree to disagree.”

But he is his own person, too, a social, muscular little man who alternates between silly and solemn. I get to hang out with this cool miniature human, and watch my husband become an incredible father, too. Every day we all learn more about one another.

Did I cry yesterday? Yes. How about today? Does 4:30am count, when I couldn’t get back to sleep after the fourth feeding of the night and the reality of how tired I was going to be for the rest of the day sunk in? Then yes, I’ve cried today.

But Ezra also nursed in a rocking chair instead of the exercise ball this morning, for the first time in over a month. He laughed at the song I made up while changing his poopy diaper (in all fairness, it was hilarious). And when I leaned over his crib after the one successful, 23-minute nap he’s had today, his face lit up in a big, toothless baby grin, legs kicking up with his sheer happiness at seeing me.

A friend joked that if babies had a 15 day return policy, there would be far fewer people in this world. Maybe so, but here at the 90 day mark, I can say we’re pretty damn happy with our acquisition. I can almost see how people end up with more than one.

Almost.

Now excuse me while I try to put this baby down for a nap for the eighth time, silently reciting the words to California Love as I bounce to the rhythm of the white noise machine, praying that this little person I love so much will give me enough of a break to clean the cat box and do a load of laundry before nightfall.

Wish me luck.

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What Pregnancy Has Taught Me

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I’m about as pregnant as you can get: 39 weeks, 2 days. It seemed like a good time to write down some of the things I’ve had to cultivate or learn over the last nine(ish) months.

 

Humility

I went into pregnancy thinking I’d stay active throughout, maybe continue to run until I went into labor.

The first trimester, exhaustion hit hard. We weren’t telling people until 12 weeks, so I was trying to maintain my usual busy schedule with half my normal energy. I could barely get myself to work, let alone the gym.

I felt better in the second trimester… for a few weeks. Starting at week 20 or so, I developed pelvic girdle pain/symphysis pubis dysfunction (PGP/SPD), which has been consistently painful ever since. I have good days and bad days and going to the chiropractor has helped a lot, but I’m in some pain every day, nearly all day.

The most awkward thing about PGP is it’s hard to explain without oversharing. The best way I can put it: have you ever gotten saddle-sore from horseback riding or a bike with an uncomfortable seat? Basically, my vagina bone hurts. This isn’t really something you want to tell someone when they ask how you’re feeling.

Here are some things that range from mildly painful to excruciating with PGP, depending on the day:

  • Lifting one foot (i.e., putting on pants)
  • Turning over in bed (at one point, my husband offered in all sincerity to flip me like a turtle if the pain got too bad)
  • Not turning over in bed– the longer I avoid it, the more painful it becomes
  • Getting out of a car or standing up from a low chair
  • Standing still for more than a minute or so
  • Sitting in a normal chair, especially one without padding
  • Anything with a wide stance (goodbye, prenatal yoga)

I have, thankfully, never experienced chronic pain before. Over the past 19 weeks, I’ve reflected often on how insensitive I’ve been in the past. It is frustrating and depressing to not be able to do what you want to do, and to have people judge you for it.

I was honked at in the crosswalk outside of my office for being too slow, and remembered how many times I’ve been mildly irritated by people I thought were crossing too slowly.

I’ve had friends get irritated with me for cancelling on them, doing less than I have in the past, etc., and I could tell they thought I was using pregnancy as an excuse. I wasn’t. All I want to do is have my usual physical abilities back, and not having them and being seen as a flake was rough.

I find myself keeping pace with elderly people while out walking. I’ve been swimming at the YMCA, and it’s usually just me and fifteen senior citizens in the pool.

As a side note, older people are wonderful to pregnant women. They never call you fat (I’ve been called fat/a whale/enormous/etc. by a disturbing number of people over the past few months). They say things like “good for you, honey!” when you swim by them, or “you look beautiful!” when you’re hauling your nine-month-pregnant butt into Vons. Older ladies have a very different attitude toward having children than younger moms, who seem to love trying to scare me about how difficult childbirth and parenting will be. Instead of “prepare for everything to change,” they go with “I loved raising my babies. It goes so fast– just enjoy it!”.

So: humility. Recognizing my own limits, and recognizing that I have no idea of others’ limits or experiences. Recognizing that some of the things I value most– independence, physical strength, having others count on me– can be taken away instantly.

I’m grateful for the lesson and keep reminding myself not to revert to my old exasperation and judgment once I’m on the other side and start to get my mobility back.

 

Asking for Help

One of my favorite parts of my job at Center Theatre Group is talking to young people about the importance of vulnerability, and being honest about needing help and guidance. Pregnancy is a great time to practice this, because people really, really want to help you.

My favorite thing that someone stopped me from carrying because I was pregnant: a large bowl of salad from a catering company. A fellow staff member grabbed it out of my hand at an event and said “You shouldn’t be carrying that!” I shouldn’t carry… lettuce?

But there have been plenty of things I really did need help with. My husband has taken over litterbox duties, of course, but has also been the only person cleaning the rabbit pen for weeks because getting down on the floor hurts too badly.

I’ve also reached out to friends who have recently had children to get their thoughts on everything from weird symptoms to sleep training to what I needed to pack for the birth center.

I’ve always been proud of my ability to figure shit out on my own. It’s absolutely helped me in my career. Reconciling that ability with the need to ask for help is difficult, but I’m learning that one doesn’t cancel out the other.

 

 

Patience

I’m naturally very introverted, but pregnancy invites conversation. Everywhere I’ve gone– grocery store, work, restaurants, walking down the street– I have the same conversation several times a day.

Here’s my end of it:

  • “Late July.”
  • “Yes, it’s a boy.”
  • “Yes, our first.”
  • “No, we have a few names we like and we’re going to wait and see when he comes out.”

I’ll then get birth stories, speculation about how I’m carrying, childbirth and parenting advice… pregnancy forums are full of women complaining about these interactions. They are tiring, especially if, like me, you’d rather just buy your groceries in peace, but everyone is well-meaning. With the exception of a small number of people who have taken it way too far– like the woman who grabbed my arm in the mall and clapped her other hand on my belly– I try to stay positive and appreciate that their curiosity comes from a good place.

The other aspect of patience: pregnancy is long. The last few weeks are really uncomfortable. The induction rate for childbirth has jumped from 9.5% in 1990 to 23.3% in 2012, and I absolutely see why. I’m now in this transitory space where I could have a baby tonight, or I could have a baby in two weeks. Any plans come with an “unless I’m in labor” disclaimer. I’m doing a lot of relaxation techniques and trying to trust that this little boy will come when he’s ready, not necessarily when I’m ready.

Which brings me to…

 

Letting Go

It’s been difficult to accept that while there are many things you can do to encourage a healthy pregnancy and baby, there’s a huge element of the unknown in there. Letting go and trusting nature has been another learning experience for me.

Without saying too much about it, this little one is our rainbow baby: a baby conceived after pregnancy loss. Because of that, I was hesitant to bond with this baby or talk too much about the pregnancy for a long time. For the first few weeks, any symptom or lack of symptom was terrifying.

This is another strange part of pregnancy: almost everything is totally normal, or could be a sign of something very serious.

For example, my feet got super itchy, to the point of waking me up several times at night so I could put on more lotion. This was either a sign that I should buy a really good foot cream, or that I might have intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, a serious liver disorder that can result in stillbirth. I did get tested and was just really itchy (thankfully). Now I just wear super ridiculous moisturizing socks like these to bed.

There are so many of these “could be normal, could be terrible” things in pregnancy. It’s so tempting to obsess over Google results, and I’ve fallen prey to that quite a few times.

Now that we’re in the home stretch, it’s even harder. I know he can survive outside the womb, so I’d like him to come out as soon as possible so I can start actively taking care of him, instead of just taking my prenatals and trying to go easy on the sugar.

But. Letting go.

He will come when he’s ready. He’s healthy and moving around like crazy in there. He wants to bake a little longer.

 

It’s just occurred to me that these four things– humility, patience, letting go and asking for help– seem to be cornerstones of learning how to be a parent, too. All of the books I’ve read, birth stories I’ve listened to, and podcasts I’ve downloaded can’t really prepare me for what’s to come, but I’m hopeful and excited to start this new chapter… whenever this little guy decides to join us.

 

Nonprofit Rockstars, EXCELLENCE and a Chinchilla

(cross-posted from Emerging Arts Leaders/LA)

“I kept looking around and wondering: Do I belong here?  Do I want to belong here?  I mean… What if I don’t want to be a nonprofit rockstar?”

The question hit me hard.  I was leading an informal roundtable on work/life balance at the Americans for the Arts Convention, and a young mother was talking to me about her experience at the Emerging Leader Pre-Conference.

She was referencing the second of two mind-blowingly awesome sessions by Rosetta Thurman, a 29-year-old writer and career coach who co-authored How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career  with Trista Harris, Executive Director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice. In the session, Rosetta led us through the seven tenets of the book, including Developing Expertise and Practicing Authentic Leadership.  You’ll have to buy it to find out the other five.  I did buy it, marking the first time I’ve purchased a speaker’s book immediately after leaving a session.

There’s something weird about being in a room filled with really, really motivated young people.  This was a room with the future head of the National Endowment for the Arts, the next Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, the budding arts manager who will re-envision the museum-going experience for the 21st century.

And then there’s me.

At least, that’s always where my brain goes.  Not in a good way—more of a “Why am I here and why am I in a suit?” way.  As you’ll find out if you spend more than five minutes with me, I’m from a town of about 600 people in rural northern California.  I think that’s part of the reason I never feel comfortable in my business gear, and why my redneck accent creeps back every time I’m in one of these go-getter, emerging leader, nonprofit rockstar rooms.  It’s a not-so-subconscious act of rebellion against a lifestyle I’m afraid I’ll slip into, the kind where I’m still at my desk at 8pm while my husband microwaves a pizza and my friends go to happy hour without me.

The young woman now sitting at my table had two small children waiting for her at home.  She said, “I sat there listening to the importance of networking, self-promotion, building my online reputation, and all I could think about were my sons.  I don’t know that I can do those things and still make my family my priority.”

I think we had both missed something important.

When I went to Rosetta Thurman’s book signing, she surprised me with how soft-spoken and shy she seemed.  Her first session at the Emerging Leader Pre-Conference focused on crafting a personal mission statement based on your values; she used a photo of her grandmother to illustrate her own top value, family.  She talked about being true to yourself and seeking what feeds you.

And then I—and the young mother—went to lunch, forgot everything Rosetta said, came back to the next session and chose to feel inadequate and anxious in a room filled with smart, motivated people.  When Rosetta asked someone to share what he wanted people to see as his #1 trait, he said “EXCELLENCE” with such conviction that I felt like going back to my room and finding the Hoarders marathon that is always available on hotel TVs.

I firmly believe everyone was miserable in middle school.  This is something I wish I’d realized at the time, as it would have made it easier to empathize with the other miserable little wet rats trudging the halls at Scott Valley Junior High.

Here’s my attempt to share a similar belief that might make us all a little more honest at leadership convenings.  I believe everyone in the room—even (or especially) “EXCELLENCE” guy—has that moment of self-doubt.  For some of us, it leads to posturing or defensiveness.  For others, it feeds into a pattern of perfectionism that points toward chronic stress and early burnout.

Take it easy, guys.

I like you all and it breaks my heart to see so many amazing arts managers leaving the field at 30 or 35 because they’re tired and they want to have a family.  You don’t have to walk around with your hand outstretched, business cards at the ready, to be a stellar arts leader.  You can live a mindful, meaningful life, and those around you will see and appreciate this.  I have a strong feeling Rosetta would agree.

My heroes are not the executive directors who spend 70 hours a week behind a desk.  They’re the funny, irreverent women leaders who turn off their computers and go home to their families or a large glass of wine.  My hope is to have a fulfilling life that includes children, plenty of time with my brilliant husband, and a career I love, not to achieve a certain level of greatness or storm the Kennedy Center.  Also I would like a chinchilla.  And a yard with some vegetables and a hammock.  These are not lofty goals but they’re far more important to me than what my title is.  That’s not to say I don’t work my butt off at the office—but I also commit to my relationship, my volunteer life, and watching every episode of Fashion Star.

We all belong in the room.  We are smart and passionate and we are all leaders, regardless of where we lead.

I will see all of you at the 2030 AFTA convention.  So turn off your freaking computer and go home.

Camille Schenkkan is the Educational Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group.  She is also the volunteer Development Director for Circle X Theatre Company, sits on the Advisory Board for Emerging Arts Leaders/LA, and is the current Co-Chair of the National Emerging Leader Council.  She spends a lot of time annoying her two rabbits, Eeyore and Bumblebee, and watching bad television with her husband, Zack.

On the Potential Loss of All My Shit

My hard drive died, and I may not be able to recover any of the data.

NO I DIDN’T FREAKING BACK UP.  That’s everyone’s first question.  Is it really normal for people to back up their hard drive?  I wish I had, but I’ve been surprised by the number of people who seem shocked that no, I haven’t backed up onto an external hard drive, and no, I don’t have Dropbox.  If I could go back I sure freaking would.

Platinum Data Recovery is saying there’s a 20% chance of recovery.  If they can’t recover it, $300.  If they can, $945, which makes me want to wet my pants a little bit but is a small price to pay for getting my shit back.

I’m trying not to think about the fact that when the weatherman says there’s a 20% chance of rain, nobody takes an umbrella.

I’m also trying not to think about everything on that hard drive.  A brief sample:

  • Every grant I’ve ever written for my theatre company, Circle X.
  • My high school papers.  Senior project report, writing for the theatre group I ran, every English essay.
  • Thousands of photos.  I had Circle X’s photo archive, plus my own pictures going back to about 2003.  Some of them are on Facebook.  Not nearly all of them.   At least I have a CD with my wedding photos.  I’d be very sad to lose the last photos of my bunny Bentley, who passed away a few weeks ago.  As her health deteriorated, I started taking lots of pictures of her.  Bentley cuddling with Zack; Bentley sitting in a box; Bentley at the vet.  I’d just transferred the last ones to my computer when it died.
  • Creative writing.  I don’t think I have copies of most of the scenes, one-acts and personal essays I wrote during college.  My Scripps email address closed when I left, so there’s no way to go back and get them.
  • All of my academic writing from college and graduate school.  Unless I happened to email it to someone through Gmail, it was only on that hard drive.  I know I have my undergraduate and Masters theses, but there were a lot of longer papers on things like British country house poetry and the familial relationships in Austen’s work.

So yeah.  Pretty much 10+ years of all of my photos, creative writing, and my entire academic career.  On a scratched piece of metal that’s about to go into something called a “clean room” for “extraction.”  I’m picturing the clean room as the place the Architect hangs out in the Matrix sequels.  The Platinum Data guys are all dressed in white linen suits with mirrored glasses, looking at my poor little hard drive on a big marble pillar.  A green laser comes on, plays over the hard drive.  It glows.  The laser stops, and one of the white suit guys walks over and stares intently.  Then… what?  Do I get my shit back?  Or does one scratch permanently wipe out everything I’ve put down on virtual paper since I was 16?

As long as I get my Bentley photos back, I’ll be fine.  Right?

Bentley bunny in a box.

Bentley bunny in a box.

We’ll see…

I’m hoping I’ll use this blog to aggregate content I write for other sources, and possibly add some new stuff as well.

Like pictures of my bunnies.

Eeyore meets a kitty.

Eeyore meets a kitty. Maybe the cutest thing ever.