SteppenShapiro

Dark doesn’t scare this mid-west born hoodlum
laughs through tears mixed with tears through laughter
family ripe with background feed her reality
mother
daughter
sister
wife

her axe a script
her medium an actor
her jam telling a story…
a conflict… a tale…
possibly a resolve but lets leave that for now

she’s a mad mad scientist mixing this and that…
careful not to cause an explosion, but you must create
a charge… alight the senses
a craftsman measuring the smallest of detail,
again and again and again,
measure twice before you cut
creating a frame to nestle the dialogue
checking every angle… degrees matter

what she’s thinking is difficult to ascertain
buoyancy her double edged sword
answering questions that exist in…
“only makebelieve” or does it existing in the time
we have together

her trail continues to blaze a flame from
classroom to stage
stage to classroom one and the same
embedding in all of us experiences we crave to relive
long after recognition is reality.

The face of the incredible invisible girl, Ruby!

DSC_0056I have a little girl who is a little bit untamed and honestly I like it that way. She has an odd mix of freedom accompanied by a wicked sense of familial spirit. If you imagined a child who grew up in the trees in a loving pack, with with her braids tossing about as she dances happily in the sun that child would be my Ruby; but instead of trees she is growing up in a Dutch Colonial dancing happily to whatever tune she is moved by at the moment, real or imagined.

Ruby is seven years old and fights to not be completely dominated over by an older sister & brother who’s needs often seem bigger than life itself. Depending on the day she is video worthy with her ten year old brother or partaking in elaborate Barbie sessions with her eleven year old sister. She’ll never pass up a bike journey, although prefers it include another of her siblings. She loves for me to pick her up and hold her in my arms, an act that is not so easy given her solid frame and height, but something I will do until my body can no longer bear the load. Her preferred lounge ware is a pair of leggings and maybe a bracelet, but that’s it… no shirt required for comfort. She is stubborn to the point that it seems she will never conform to the usual standard practice of dress and diet, but I’m not sure she should. Don’t get me wrong, I would give my left knuckle if Ruby would get dressed without a fight in the morning, brush her teeth and go to the bathroom without an escort but this reality is it is part of her whole package.

Ruby enters a wonderful world of secret passage ways whenever she wants. She’ll make elaborate gifts with letters for her teachers and then never deliver them, but never wants them revealed from their packaging. She will disappear under a cover to play on the i-pad but its not just to be alone, she enters another time, another zone that allows her to block off fire breathing dragons that take the form of her sister Olivia or slip by unnoticed with a heard of Rhinos charging across the jungle floor or as we lovingly refer to him as Cooper. She lives a life under the cloak of that quilt that unfolds without apology or abandon. She pulls her mom and I aside in the most private way but causes a public uproar if we need to depart this covenant. She wants no attention but refuses to go unnoticed. The colors of her spirit are amorphous; the pink of a young girl mixed with rogue mixes of deep purples and bursts of orange. You never know what Ruby you’ll encounter but trust me they are all pure Ruby.

We play our game of twister with Ruby. Manipulating our plans to try to make her feel special but not noticed. We really have no idea where this labyrinth will end. She gives us no clues and almost taunts us with the idea that we may figure her out one day. She has no noticeable agenda but is full of powerful mysteries that God gave her at birth. Mysteries that we watch with equal part horror and love. Her name is Ruby Jones and she truly is one of a kind.

DSC_0030

Andre, the train giant

IMG_2946My ten-year-old son Cooper comes with a host of puzzles and a load of obsessions. Somedays we deal with these puzzles better than other days but trust me when I say everyday you deal with them, there are no days off. Now, the other side of that statement; trust me when I say I wouldn’t want a day off from Cooper.

One of Cooper’s “obsessions” is New Jersey Transit. Not just trains but the mighty transit system that runs through our town and many other towns in the great state of New Jersey. Each of the systems many corridors of travel hold exploration possibilities for Cooper. He knows the stations and wether they come with a gap at boarding or have gates that come down to stop pedestrian & automotive traffic. He knows the engines and has definite opinions about the various passenger car options. This goes way beyond the next station stop is… Over the last few years I have taken Cooper on many a train ride to destinations that provide nothing more than a train ride back to Maplewood. #LifewithCooper is the hashtag I established to accompany several of our journeys.

During our travels Cooper has made an acquaintance with several of the conductors. Many of them provide him with seat checks and a friendly nod.  There are a few who have a fondness for Cooper’s fascination with the transit and have gotten to know him by name. I know this because I hear them say, “hi Cooper, where’s your mom?” That’s me “Cooper’s Mom.” Then, about 6 months ago Cooper met a conductor on the Dover line that gave him a job. Cooper was sitting in the front of the train near the engine but before the engine is a door lead to an open space. I was sitting in a seat on the bottom of the train where I could hear what was going on but giving Cooper his “space”. This conductor saw Cooper staring at the engine and had a brief exchange about what kind of an engine it was and why it was such a good engine, then he told Cooper to not let anyone go through that door because it was dangerous. Cooper dutifully performed this task until we got to our stop. We got off the train and the conductor told Cooper “thanks for helpin’ man. good job.” The next week Cooper wanted to take the same trip to see his friend who had given him a job. We did and again this Conductor took a genuine interest in Cooper. I introduced myself and quietly explained that Cooper wanted to take this train so he could see him. That was the day Andre came into our train travel life, we would take an early train to Dover so we could accompany Andre to Maplewood several times over the next few months. Andre introduced Cooper to his engineer, Art, taught Cooper about “zone-numbers” and had him study the zone chart, he taught him about greeting customers and cutting tickets. He even showed him the button configuration for opening doors. Super nice guy with boys of his own who seemed to love his job, he even gave Cooper a little bag of treats the Saturday after Halloween. Then in mid November, just before Cooper’s birthday, we got on the morning train and transferred  at a different station just to mix things up. The train pulled in and we ran to the front of the train, where the Conductor is, and it wasn’t Andre. Coop asked the man right away where Andre was and the man responded that, “he doesn’t work this train anymore.” I headed back to find a familiar face and one of the ticket collectors came up and said he knew we were looking for Andre but he had been “bumped.” This is a apparently a process where Transit employees with more seniority can take over certain schedules. Cooper was gutted and honestly so was I. We took to some other train lines after and found Engineer Art, but no Andre. Then on New Years Eve I agreed to take Cooper on a long journey to Montclair State University train station which involved going to Broad Street Station and transferring to the correct train line. As usual when we boarded the train Cooper asked the conductor if he knew Andre and he said yes and thought maybe Andre was at Penn already, if he was working that day. Needless to say we went all the way into Penn to search for Andre before heading to Montclair U. Cooper took my phone into the crew room at Pennsylvania Station and started showing pictures of Andre but it didn’t appear he was working that day. We continued on our journey and on the way back home I got a phone message from ANDRE! I had forgotten I had given him my number in case he wanted to arrange tickets to take his wife to see the show I was working on at the time. The conductor from earlier in the day had run into Andre and told him Cooper was looking for him. Cooper was elated and Andre and I texted back in forth about his train schedule because he wanted to see Cooper because he had something for him.

After a healthy back and forth and discovering we were not going to catch him on the train over the holiday I asked Andre if he would like to stop by our house to see Cooper and bring his boys with him to play. Andre, who lives in a neighboring town, did come over. This gentle giant was decked out in civilian clothes right down to his Lebron James Soldier 6 tennis shoes and you would think Cooper saw the president walking up to the house. After an introduction to all the children and a show-and-tell of Cooper’s trains, Andre presented Cooper with a present of a real NJ Transit conductor’s hat that he got with that year’s uniform allotment. Cooper was understandably excited and proud to have the very hat he had admired many-o-times on our train journeys, but I can honestly say that the time that Andre spent with Cooper and the genuine interest he took in him will always leave the most indelible mark on my very special boy.

IMG_3113

Social Media Crack-Down

Social-Media-Liability-e1334847608175

A new year, welcome to 2015.

I thought a lot about making resolutions and most typical resolutions are just plain unrealistic for me. I just enjoy food and alcohol much more than I enjoy exercise & learning languages. I am probably not going to write as much as I would like to and I fall asleep really fast at night so reading more before bed is out of the question. So I have decided to clear out the social clutter in order to make room for social quality, by that I mean the social media. I have never kept track of the hours I’ve spent trolling through news feeds or assessing who “likes” what that I post, but trust me when I say its too many hours and fills up my already maxed out brain. So I have suspended my social media services to try to break to “habit” of checking my phone for that little red notification circle that could be a request to play Candy Crush or could be somebody reaching out to validate my latest status. I don’t suspect this will last forever since I do enjoy the shenanigans of my family but I have to re-set myself.

So part one is easy, de-activate and remove the apps from my mobile devices. Then I am faced with the harder part, “social quality”. Making a call or sending an e-mail to see if I can make plans to see friends. This is a difficulty for me to be sure, since I am drawn to being social introvert. I’ll need to read the paper so I can choose my news instead of my news feed choosing what is important for me to see. I work in the theatre so “trends” are always swirling around, I just need to bother listening to what is being said, although I’m afraid the cast of the new show I’m doing, Fish In The Dark, is much less likely to be on the cutting edge of Trending than the kids at Motown. Its all pretty exciting and does give me additional opportunities to fulfill the odd resolution, but I think I’ll keep those ideas to myself and see how this un-plugging goes first.