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October 16, 2021

Just Call Me Improv Mom

Matthew and I bounce in our chairs at the kitchen table. He pumps his fist in the air as I call out, in my best rap-star voice, “Yo water! Yo water!” He grins, then takes up the chant. Could this possibly be the same mom who nags him to rinse the toothpaste gunk from the sink? To pick up his baseball cleats from the bottom of the stairs? To write thank-you notes?

Soon we’re snaking our way around the kitchen in a silly rap-conga line, showing off our best moves and making up other improbable songs that follow my improv teacher’s instructions: “Create a rap song using a nursery rhyme with an exercise theme. Then do it in front of the class, with the rest of the class as your back-up rappers.”

Gee, no pressure there!

“Jack and Jill.” (Say it with me, now.) “Ran up the hill. To fetch a pail of water. Yo water! Yo water…” “Hickory, dickery doc.” (Don’t forget your moves, back-up rappers.) “The mouse ran up the clock. Yo clock! Yo clock!”

This other life of mine began innocently enough. While I was certainly grateful to be facing no serious problems, life was feeling sort of same-old, same-old: Smooch hubby good morning. Take Matt to school. Work on writing projects. Hit the grocery store. Fold laundry. Take Matt to baseball practice. Make dinner. Watch “Jeopardy.” Lather, rinse, repeat…

Then the catalog from the local adult school arrived in the mail with promises of belly dancing, digital photography, Japanese cooking, beginning improv.

Improv? Like on the T.V. show “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” where they create those wacky, unrehearsed skits? I was intrigued. No lines to memorize and the chance to pretend I’m improv phenom Wayne Brady — all for less than ten bucks a class. What the heck. What’s the worst that could happen? I briefly considered the possibility of actually failing a class without grades; of being asked to perhaps consider back-yard composting or Pilates next session…

I signed up anyway. Unlike the rest of my life — marriage, motherhood, career — this was a short-term commitment. I was ready for one of those. It was also (insert dramatic pause) all about me. When was the last time I had been anything but all about somebody or something else? Maybe I couldn’t afford a get-away to a fancy spa. But this was do-able.

I felt giddy as I drove to the local high school for the first class. OK, maybe a bit nauseous, too. My asthma had been acting up for weeks, and the possibility of getting so scared that I’d do a “freeze-and-wheeze” in front of the class did cross my mind.

I peeked into the classroom expecting to see — what? “Whose Line” host Drew Carey sitting there with a “what-made-you-think-you-could-possibly-do-this?” expression? What I found was April, our instructor, along with a roomful of seemingly ordinary folks. Young and old. Thin and not-so-thin. Singles, parents, grandparents.

I met women seeking a break from mothering toddlers, from mothering teens, from too much TV, from too many hot flashes. But we weren’t so much looking to run away from something as we were looking to embrace something else — our true selves. The kid inside who once rolled around on the floor, wore play clothes and made tents out of sheets flung over the kitchen table. April was our ringleader.

And what games she had up her sleeve! Over the next few weeks I would become a hair stylist who endures the wrath of a suddenly bald woman, do my best Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar impersonation (complete with flexing biceps) and perform an impromptu ballet to the “Leave it to Beaver” theme song.

I also learned a few Rules of Improv that have turned out to be pretty darned good Rules for Life, too:

°    If you believe it, they’ll believe it. You can’t dive into an improv scene halfhearted. The more I throw myself into the act of being a crazed pizza-delivery person, a bowling-pin salesman or a high-fashion superhero, the better the scene. And back on the home front, what kid can’t sense — just like a dog can smell fear — when his parents are less-than-convinced about a particular house rule? Ya gotta believe.

°    Everyone needs a cheering section. In class, nobody starts a scene without April shouting “Let’s give it up for _____!” Which is followed, of course, by enough whooping, hollering and clapping to make each of us willing to leap head-first into whatever crazy scenario unfolds. In truth, I felt a bit let down, the day after my first class, when I managed to find my husband’s lost keys, make my son’s breakfast, toss in a load of laundry, hit the treadmill, grab a quick shower, find a lost library book and take Matthew to school — all by 8:06 a.m. Nobody seemed remotely interested in “giving it up” for dear old Mom. So I quickly learned to ask for my props and to even go so far as to provide sample cheers. These days, we’re all a bit quicker to say “thanks” and “great job.” We even throw in an occasional “woo-hoo!”

°    What’s a little embarrassment? When an improv flops, the floor won’t fall from under me. I won’t die. In fact, 20 minutes later, I’ll have a chance to give it another go. Is the real world all that different? Isn’t much of everyday life made up of silly little things? OK, so I went out on a fashion limb, bought what I thought was a great-looking hat and wore it to school when I picked up Matthew — only to be snickered at by a mommy member of the campus fashion police. Pre-improv, I might have stewed over the gossip potential of my blunder for a day or so. But now? Phhht! I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

I cranked up the radio and belted out my favorite tunes as I drove home from class that first night, singing “I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just a Little Unwell…” Actually, I did feel a bit crazy — in an “I Did It!” sort of way. In front of my fellow improvers, I could be anything my suddenly inspired brain could create — and what an invigorating feeling that was.

As for unwell? Turns out laughter really is the best medicine. When I got home and blew as hard as I could into the peak-flow meter my allergy doctor had given me, I beat my all-time-high number. It seemed that an evening of gut-busting laughter was a better tonic for my asthma than all the pills and inhalers in my medicine cabinet. And when was the last time this mom had felt anything close to being energized at 10 p.m.? I was hooked.

So for two and a half hours each Wednesday night, I become “Kathy, the Improv Queen.” I stretch my brain as well as my body. I even forget, for the evening, that I’m somebody’s wife and mother. And that, according to this rap star’s husband and son, is exactly what makes me better at being both.

“Yo Mom! Yo Mom!”


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Go, Mom! Go, Mom!

What will you try *next*... ????
Now that you're all fired up... community theatre?

Hey Robyn,

You know, I love watching community theater, and that would be so much fun to try, but I'm deathly afraid of forgetting lines! Perimenopause brain - what can I say?

Maybe I'll give it a shot some time -- in the chorus. In the BACK. ;)

This view into your kitchen conga line makes me smile...you must be the "funnest" mom around... You go girl! (and Matthew couldn't get a better role model for the joys life brings when you step outside your comfort zone.)

Sue, thanks for the kind words! Matt and I started out the day by butting heads before school (always fun!), so it was especially nice to read your comments here. :)

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