Ingrid was my first bonus mom. She started out as my acting teacher in junior high but quickly became much more. We bonded over stories about truly disastrous productions she'd been in, like the interactive dinner theater in Boston where human waste ran down the outside of the pipes backstage. Ingrid would drive me around Pittsburgh in her Volkswagen Golf, which lacked power steering. As she yanked the wheel around (great for the forearms, she'd tell me), Ingrid imparted her wisdom about Shakespeare, Chekhov, and dating.
After I received a very bad review in the local paper for my undercooked portrayal of Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream ("It's harder for Jacobs, who must segue from angry Mother Earth to playful seductress. Seeing her dolled up in flowing lingerie and silvered hair, you might have a fleeting thought of JonBenét Ramsey." Ouch), Ingrid gave me the gift of perspective. Instead of letting me wallow in self-pity, she insisted I read No Turn Unstoned, a collection of terrible reviews undeniably great actors received. It hurt to get panned, but I was in excellent company.
The book — and Ingrid — taught me to laugh at my failures. Despite the bad review, and my belief that I had been miscast, I still had to perform the play eight shows a week. Ingrid taught me to look at those performances as an opportunity instead of a burden. If I could stop feeling sorry for myself, I could view this as a chance to improve and learn about the role and the play.
I can't have enough mothers. Although my biological mother is wonderful, loving, and supportive, I've always craved more. To make a long, complicated, sad story short, my dad and I had a fraught relationship, so I sought out additional parents to fill the gap. Although I did have strong bonds with some men, most of the meaningful relationships have been with other women.
The summer before I started college at the Juilliard School, I met my next additional mother, Joan. Joan and I acted together in a production of The Cherry Orchard at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in which I played the daughter, Anya, and Joan played my nanny, Charlotta.
At the time, I wanted my mom to change my curfew to midnight. I argued that I was about to start college and should finally be allowed to stay out past eleven. My mom cautioned, "You'll have a curfew at Juilliard, so no." I started laughing. "A curfew? What are you talking about? There are no curfews at college." My mom blanched with fear. "You mean you'll be allowed to go out whenever you want in New York City and no one will know where you are?" Her glorified finishing school in the 1960s had had a strict curfew, so it never occurred to her that I would be allowed to come and go as I pleased. Thankfully, my mother had already paid the housing deposit or she might not have let me leave.
I started my college career confident, cocky even. I was finally free from my mother's watchful eye! But that quickly deteriorated (see previous Lenny essay for more details on that debacle). As my self-esteem took a nosedive, I realized Joan's apartment was close to my school, and it became my refuge. She'd feed me, let me cry on her shoulder, advise me on school, and counsel me on boys.
We had frank, if awkward, conversations about dating. I remember Joan had to order a double Scotch to get through some of these. Although I'd read and reread Our Bodies, Ourselves, I had a lot of questions about sex that I made Joan answer. I could be more vulnerable and open with her than with my own mother. I'd been so sheltered that I was experiencing many things for the first time, like dating, going to parties, and being around drugs and alcohol, that most kids did in high school.