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by Hedgebrook Guest

After a decade of having plays reviewed, I like to think I have a system. If the reviews are bad, I read quickly. If they’re mixed, I read carefully. If they’re good, I eat pie. I try to learn something. I try to get over them quickly. I allow myself to experience all the feelings, but I try not to wallow. It’s all very civilized.

It also left me completely unprepared for the worst review of my life.

Catherine-Trieschmann_post-photoLaura broke her arm this year. She took a very minor fall from a two-foot toddler pool and had a major break of her humerus. She had to be airlifted from our regional hospital to a children’s hospital in Kansas City, because they needed a vascular surgeon on-hand, in case there was arterial damage. I didn’t panic; the airlift was a precaution, they told me. Frankly, I was most concerned about what this airlift was going to cost us, until during my child’s surgery, a hospital social worker pulled me into an empty room.

She could have been an elementary school music teacher with her long gray hair tied back in a bow, and I stared at that bow—a ridiculous accessory on an adult—as I heard her say, “We’ve instituted an emergency safety plan, and you cannot be alone with your child, until we’ve investigated the incident.” It took a moment for that to register.

Someone in the emergency room had called Child Protective Services to report suspected child abuse, and as a result, I could not see Laura when she got out of surgery unless a social worker was present, which the lady with the gray hair and ridiculous bow said may or may not be possible at this time of night.

I burst into tears.

Let me say upfront, this is, in part, a story of privilege. I never for one moment thought that Laura would be taken away from me for any length of time. I knew the investigation would end in my favor. I also knew that if this wasn’t resolved quickly, I could call my brother, the attorney, and my sister, the doctor, and they would know exactly what to do to protect my family. In fact, other than the social worker and the nameless ER reporter, I felt buffered by everyone at the hospital. Let’s be clear: I expected the safety plan to be lifted, in part, because I’m white, well-educated, and do not speak English as a second language.

This is also, however, a story of powerlessness, because being told you cannot be with your child as they exit surgery, because someone believes you capable of the worst sort of cruelty feels like being strapped naked to a car and paraded through the streets. Banned from Laura’s bedside, I sat in the waiting room, crying, wondering, “Are they right? Am I a bad mother?”

Notice I didn’t ask, “Am I a fit mother?” I know I’m a fit mother. I provide my children a safe, warm, well-stocked home with plenty of love, affection, and belt-free discipline. But I also know that the biggest surprise of parenthood is that it’s a refining fire—whatever bullshit you harbor, whether from your childhood or your gene pool, the smell rises up when you’re in conflict with your kids.

One of my friends told me she didn’t realize she had so much anger inside her until she had kids. Another friend sees potential child molesters everywhere, resulting in some over-protectiveness, even paranoia. I don’t blame her, though, considering what she’s been through. Personally, I’ve missed doctor’s appointments, lost my temper, placed too high expectations, and truly was not my best self during that three-year battle over potty training (yes, three years). If Freud is right about the anal stage, one of my children is doomed.

The poison of a bad review is not the public shame, although that doesn’t feel great. And it’s not the fact that an expert believes you may be an untalented writer or a horrible mother or a sub-standard teacher. It’s that a bad review can confirm your worst suspicions about yourself.

The safety plan was, indeed, lifted quickly, although the investigation continued for a couple of months and the after effects linger still. I’m quick to tell Laura to get off the monkey bars these days. I cringe when she rides her scooter full-tilt down a hill. I second-guess my decision to let her play in the yard unattended, and I’m continually telling her to slow down, watch where you step, don’t jump so high and so far and so free.

And I hate that I’ve become that Mother.

What criticisms have you struggled to overcome as a parent or an artist?

 

This blog was originally posted at HowlRound.com and can be accessed here: http://howlround.com/parenting-and-playwriting-worst-review-ever

This post is part of a regular series on Parenting & Playwriting. If you have a topic you’d like me to address, contact me at dctrieschmann@gmail.com.

 

About the Author:

catherine_trieschmannCatherine Trieschmann’s plays include The Bridegroom of Blowing Rock, Crooked, How the World Began, Hot Georgia Sunday, and The Most Deserving. Her work has been produced Off-Broadway at the Women’s Project, the Bush Theatre (London), Out of Joint at the Arcola Theatre (London), South Coast Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, the New Theatre (Sydney), Florida Stage, the Summer Play Festival, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, American Theatre Company, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, among others. She has received commissions from South Coast Repertory, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Denver Theatre Center. She is the recipient of the Weissberger Award, the Otis Guernsey New Voices Playwriting Award from the Inge Theatre Festival, and the Edgerton New Play Award. She also wrote the screenplay for the film Angel’s Crest, which premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and was released by Magnolia Pictures. Originally from Athens, Georgia, she now lives in a small town in western Kansas. She is looking forward to the premiere of her plays, Hot Georgia Sunday atHaven Theatre in Chicago this fall, and OZ 2.5 at South Coast Repertory this spring.

 


 

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