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You Don’t Have to Be a Parent to Be a Parent Figure

I saw an amazing one-woman show last night.

It was called “The Night Watcher” you’d think a title like that on the night before Halloween, it would and should be scary.

It was not.

It was heartfelt and beautiful and I nearly dropped a tear twice because the actress Charlayne Woodard was absolutely friggin amazing. To be able to hold a room spellbound for two hours (with a 15-minute intermission) is a feat. And it looked emotionally and physically exhausting. She gave her all, she performed with her whole body, her face, her eyes, her arms, legs and hands she used every part of her body, sometimes making her self small and unsure like a 14-year old trying to explain getting pregnant, to making herself a large and brooding teenage boy, or small again, like a scared 11-year-old who wants to someday meet her birthmom. She kept morphing into these characters with ease, transitioning back as the ever-listening, constantly thinking and wanting to help, yet also flawed auntie Charlayne.

She exposed herself, she told the truth when she wanted to yoke a child up, or slap her parent friends with the hard, cold truth. She talked about the missed opportunities to have a child due to her just living her life and taking advantage of moments, to splurging on her dogs. It was honest and in the honesty and in the pain and her ability to connect to it, and to make each of us think of our aunties or uncles who took time with us, or even young relatives in our own lives who need an ear, and who need support.

Critics call her a “master storyteller” and I totally agree. Time flew by as she painted vingettes about being a parent figure to children she didn’t birth herself, but whom she loved like a mom.

This show resonated with me because for those of you who follow this blog, you all know that I’m scared of being a mom, and struggling with my lack of desire to have children.

I have friends who have become moms, are becoming moms and single friends who really know they want to be moms. I have one friend who seemingly has everything and she loves children. Has a bunch of god children and has said above everything else she knows she was put on this earth to be a mother. She wants that more than anything to have a child of her own.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have a friend who tends to be gun-shy about relationships, but has said even if she has to pick a sperm donor some day, she would totally be a single mom and sees herself being a pretty darn good one. I agree. She’s one of the most responsible people I know and the most loving, even though sometimes she doesn’t believe Mr. Right is going to show up anytime soon.

But I fall in a nebulous place. When I spend time with my friend’s son, I think he’s sweet and funny and full of wonder and he can also be exhausting to keep up with. When I spend time with my nephew, as he gets older, I’m blown away with how smart he is and how intuitive he is. I can’t believe he’s going to middle school next year. I was recently looking at a picture of me meeting him for the first time. I was a junior in college and I awkwardly held him, but it felt nice he was this little mushball of love looking like my sister and my brother-in-law and I hoped he and I would have a great relationship over his lifetime.

I didn’t live right up the street, but I hoped he’d always know that I loved him and would be proud of his accomplishments big and small and that I support him and want him to always be his very best. I hoped he’d know if he needed me and I could help him, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

What I liked most about Ms. Woodard’s performance was the fact that even though people thought she and her husband would make the most wonderful parents and kept telling her about opportunities to take in various children in their circle who needed good parents like them, she would respectfully decline, but offered herself as a mentor, a friend, an auntie. And she kept all of these kids secrets, served them up with tough love, and while scared out of her mind, she remained calm and cool and listened when the parents may have been too emotional or too detached to be objective. She was unapologetic for saying she and her husband lived simply and that she loved her career as an actress and she loved being able to go and come as she pleased. Even when her “kids” came to visit for a week, she expressed she was happy to see them go (with smiles on their faces) as much as she was happy spending time with them.

In the play she shared some painful stuff, and even her parent-friends hurling some hurtful words when she would see trouble and offer her help (i.e. until you become a parent, you can’t tell me how to raise my kid). You felt the sting, because you knew she was coming from a real place of love and urgency, because in most cases she was privy to the child’s problems before the parents were.

She made me think of the women in my life who served as aunties and third grandmothers. Women who in their own ways taught me how to navigate the world and to see the world as a big place that was ready for me to go conquer it. There were aunts, cousins, babysitters, church ladies, Sunday school teachers, and folks who all had a part in nudging me along. It doesn’t matter if you are raised by two parents or just one, or none. We truly are all in this together. And even as an adult, I’ve met people who have in a sense taken me in and encouraged me and made me feel safe and I recognize that and am super thankful for it.

If you live in D.C. the show is running for a little while at the Studio Theater. I suggest you check it out and take an auntie-type person and bring tissues. http://www.studiotheatre.org/calendar/view.aspx?id=4830

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