children, family, humor., kids, Life in General, parenting

Laughter in the Dark

If you were to ask me what the best sound in the word is, I would answer without hesitation, “My children laughing together.”

Some of the best moments of being a mom were simply this. I’m in bed, reading. and I hear the sound of matched giggles or outright belly laughs from the darkness of one or the other of the girls’ rooms. Instead of telling whichever one snuck out into her sister’s room to go back to bed, I just listen, reveling in the strength of their connection.

Of course, the laughter of children has a power all its own, think of the videos of a baby laughing on social media. That gurgling, unfettered sound of pure delight that produces fine bubbles in your stomach that rise up through your chest, tickling as they swirl, hooking the corners of your lips and lifting your mouth into a smile before they pop with a sparkle that shines in your eyes.

And that’s just some random toddler. I believe the happiness of our children gives us such a deep sense of joy for several reasons.

One, it means we have done our job and the kids are happy, safe, and most likely healthy.

Two, it reminds us of our own more innocent times. I hear that amusement and am catapulted back, maybe I’m lying on a trampoline with my sister staring at an infinity of stars and giggling at nothing and everything until exhaustion sets in. Maybe I’m listening to my dad’s stomach growl while he lies on the floor watching TV while my sibs and I press our ears to his tummy. Funniest thing ever. No worries, no tomorrow, no sorrow. Just that hysterical moment of swooping, free-falling ecstasy.

Three, laughter releases chemicals that make us feel good. Especially our own. I’ve actually been able to combat depression by just plain faking laughter until I actually started laughing at the whole ridiculous process. Try it, it works.

But whatever the reason, much like the Grinch, my heart grows two sizes whenever I even think of those moments, which I do quite often.

Last weeks, the girls came to visit for Thanksgiving. We hiked, and set off fireworks on the beach, and ate truffles with everything from eggs to soufflés. The boyfriends came with, so Joseph and I were more like a backdrop than the main attraction. That’s what happens when they grow up, they branch out from family, on whom their very survival used to depend, to the peers who will keep them surviving and thriving in life beyond their parents. My girls are loving and attentive and grateful, but the parent-child dynamic changes, as it should, when they head off into the great blue horizon that is their life without me.

I suppose I’m a bit different from many moms, certainly different from my sisters, who feel that their kids are an extension of themselves that they can shape into a certain type of person like human Playdough. I don’t mean to be derogatory, they are both amazing mothers, it’s just a different perspective. I knew from the first moment I looked into my older daughter’s eyes when they handed her to me on the delivery table that she was her own person with her own journey ahead. I knew she was already thinking and feeling things vastly different from my own soaring emotions. I’ve always been honored to be a part of it. I’m here to help row, blow wind in their sails, or even bail out the high water when it’s needed, but ultimately the journey and the experiences belong to them.

It makes me happy just to think it. What remarkable humans they are, compassionate, open, intelligent, funny, caring, everything I could have wanted. Sure they make fun of me, you should see them both doing an impression of my face when I got really mad, it’s hysterical. My views on life are questioned and often argued, which is all for the good. I never wanted carbon copies of me, I wanted originals, and that is what they are. That’s what all children are really, it’s just that some parents don’t get that for a long time, sadly some never do. Perhaps it’s painful for a parent to realize that these individuals to whom you gave everything go on without you, but I bet it’s a lot harder to have to hide who you really are from your own parents.

So when my girls sigh when I make a statement they don’t agree with, or demand that I stop talking about something because it makes them uncomfortable, I acknowledge that truth and shift. Joseph and I spend more time watching them interact with the world than we do interacting with them. We wrap an arm around each other and smile at these young adults, so sure of their knowledge and their place, and we feel good. We’ve done well to teach them to be themselves and to be confident in that. We exchange knowing glances when they question themselves and the world around them, nodding encouragement. Never stop questioning, my darlings, always ask for more.

The holiday was wonderful, we shared so much, including time just spent together without any motive or purpose, only comfortable co-habitation.

And when they sat on the deck after sunset overlooking the moon on Puget Sound we stayed inside, listening to the animated conversation, and when the laughter broke out in rolls and waves, we looked into each other’s eyes and smiled.

There’s nothing better than hearing the laughter of your children in the dark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

America, beauty, creative inspiration, family, Life in General, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More, parenting

Just for You.

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My husband and I recently gave ourselves the gift of a few days in Yosemite National Park. There were jaw-dropping vistas, cliffs so dramatic they make you weep, waterfalls that remind you how mortal you are, and rivers and trees that murmur the blessings of Mother Nature to you, welcoming you home. All of it is so special and remarkable that you feel that you are the first, that this is a gift just for you.

The city smut sloughs off of you and you can clearly feel your exhaustion. You hadn’t been aware of how depressed and isolated you had become. The separation from anything real snuck up on you, seeping in insidiously until you had lost hope in this current, science-denying country of ours, and assumed everyone but you saw Mother Nature as a big ol’ whore to be pimped to the highest bidding john.

But you look again, and miracle of miracles, you realize there are others. Many others. “Oh,” you say with tears of surprise and relief in your eyes as you see that someone else cares, “I thought I was the only one left who gave a shit.” There are many who have come to be in this sacred space to remember who they are. People who realize that without wilderness, we can never know ourselves, or our place in the world. Individuals, like yourself, who value the world as it is rather than reducing it with their small-minded greed to a disposable commodity.  People who know that we have fucked up—big time—but it’s not yet too late, not quite, and they will not let her die without a fight. These people are the planet’s medics on the battlefield, the last line of defense against the disease of the uncaring ravagers and pillagers. We humans, meant to be the stewards of nature, have instead wounded the world, lost our way, but there is a path that leads back. It’s a sobering thought that the world will not be healed in our lifetimes. Bringing back a healthy environment will take generations.

Which is one reason that, as much as I love my own experiences hiking or exploring or just admiring, I get a real visceral thrill when I see and hear children’s enthusiasm that matches, or even exceeds my own. I love sharing my meager knowledge, or pointing out a deer in the trees, or maybe encouraging them to take off their shoes and feel the cold water and smooth stones of the creek on their feet. If they don’t know it, they can’t love it, and if they don’t love it, they won’t protect it.

When I was a small child, my mother said she had to get a hold of me if we ever went somewhere high with a view because I would race to the edge with my arms flung wide and scream at the top of my lungs. Every daring glimpse of the cosmos was a gift, just for me, and I took it.

My mom called it energy, and it was, but it was something more than just my personal energy, more even than childish unbridled joy. It was a few precious seconds of connection with the swirling, glorious infinity of nature and the universe. I know that feeling, I remember it. I still get it, though people freak a bit if, as an adult, I launch myself to the edge of a precipice and scream. I don’t know why—just one of life’s many mysteries. So I’ve learned to temper my reaction, sadly, but my husband still gets a hold of my belt when we get close to high, open places. He is wary of my impulse to be out in that air, to experience sitting in the twenty story windowsill or on the edge of bridges. Both of which I’ve also been known to do, feet dangling over the width and breadth of San Francisco bay, or the lights of a city night.

In that same spirit I have twirled on rooftops, waltzed on the Eiffel tower, whooped with bliss on the African Savannah, hummed with the crickets in the forest at night, leapt from a rocky cliff into the chill of the magnificent Pacific, and laid down in the rain with my face up to the sky, watching the water fall. Note, it’s important to squint when you do this, it makes it easier to keep your eyes open.

And why? For life, to feel the whorl and tides of unmitigated force and vitality. It’s a precious gift and I damn well am going to open it every chance I get.

Possibly the only thing I enjoy as much as gulping in bliss and nature is watching and hearing kids do it. Their enthusiasm is endless, not unlike my own, and their expressions have not yet been tempered or their unchecked joy corrected, limited, and restrained. Their awe is unbridled and infinite.

Sometimes, probably unfairly, it makes me nuts when people treat an outing to someplace like Yosemite as a photo shoot for their kids. Reining them in from the hugeness of the experience to try to contain it in a few thousand pixels. I get it, we all want to document our experience and to share it, but not at the cost of the kids discovering it while they’re there.

So it’s nice to find a balance. I was at the base of Yosemite falls and a mom with two boys, very young, maybe 3 and 5, was trying to line them up for a photo, drawing them away from the toddler-mind-blowing reality in front of them. Away from the now for a future reward. The younger boy slumped, hands hanging almost to his knees as he moaned, “Why do we always have to take a picture?” His older brother, no doubt sensing the inevitable and wanting to get it over with, threw an arm over his little brother’s shoulder and drew him close. Turning their backs on the object of delight to pose for mom, he explained, shouting over the roar into his brother’s ear, “Because these are memories.” As he said the word ‘memories,’ he stretched the last syllable, turning the eee sound, into a big smile, which he turned toward the camera. Click, and they were back to the moment where they belonged, exhilarated at the sheer thrill of the explosive power of falling water. They leaned over the stone bridge and screamed into the crash of impact and danced in the magical mist that engulfed them.

And that’s our life, sometimes we take the gift of now, and sometimes we wrap one up for the future into a tiny computer file to look at later and bring the memories and the sensations of something grander than ourselves back to us when we sit at our desks or in the carpool lane. A gift of now for the future, just for you.

I suppose that’s what a great family trip in nature is, a gift for now and for later.

“Please,” I pray to Mother Nature, “please let the children remember. Let them love you so that they find the courage to protect you.”

And she whispers back to me, “It is in their soul now, it always was, but here they have found it again.”

Then, being Mother Nature and a bit unpredictable not to mention snarky, she adds, “And it’s on mom’s cellphone, so…you’re welcome.”

Then she winks and fades away with the most glorious sunset that ever was, to work her magic on the twilight.

 

Just for me.

 

 

Shari, April 11, 2018

 

Life in General

Speaking Second

With my two new friends and Ozzie, the LCFOG mascot!
With my two new friends and Ozzie, the LCFOG mascot!

A few days ago, I spoke at a fundraising luncheon for the La Canada Flintridge Orthopedic Guild. About three hundred or so people attended. It was lovely. Before my little ramblings, they played a short video that introduced our guests of honor. The video told the story of two young girls, both of them albinos, who lived in Tanzania. In some places in Africa, albinos are considered to have magical properties and they are hunted for their body parts.

Though the Guild raises money for a hospital here, they have branched out to help special kids worldwide. As they explained this in the video, they showed how these innocent young girls had lost their parents, and the younger had had her leg chopped off with a machete, and then left to bleed to death. Her older sister helped her, and she survived, but not with adequate medical care or a prothesis, (artificial limb) that worked for her.

So this incredible group flew them both over and provided the care and rehabilitation that they needed. Months of planning and giving and work went into this enterprise, I was awed by the commitment of this group. They have done so much and helped so many people.

Enter me, to their upscale ladies’ charity luncheon. After the short video, which left me in weeping, they brought the girls up. They are sixteen and fifteen, but so very much more childlike than the precocious mall-shopping teenagers most of us are familiar with. Very shyly, standing straight and proud on her new prothesis, the younger girl gave her thanks for all that had been done for her, and her older sister asked to sing a song she had written about their experience.

I don’t remember all the words, but the first verse was about realizing her mother was dead, and the refrain went, “And I cry and I cry, and I shout and I shout, I’m so tired of all the killing.” It was amazing, she sang it with no accompaniment and it was heartrendingly beautiful and moving. And then it was my turn to get up and speak.

The Chairman introduced me  as I was still drying my eyes and trying to clear my throat. I took the mike, walked to the front of this group of charitable people, and said, “I’m supposed to follow that?”

I mean, come on! Haven’t you ever heard the old adage for actors, ‘never work with children or dogs’ because they steal the stage? How about two children who have overcome unbelievable odds just to survive? Who were still so kind and gentle and loving that I wanted to hug them and not stop. I had planned to talk about the courage of some of the families I work with in my charity, The Desi Geestman Foundation, but the stage was stolen by compassion, by innocence, by courage, and nothing I could have said about bravery and hardship would have meant more. That’s as it should be.

So I changed it up. I talked a bit about my book, about the character of Ellen and how in “Becoming Ellen” she realizes that it’s not enough to just come out of her shell and participate, she realizes that she must contribute to the whole to be whole, something all these people understood. I talked about how my mother, who was there, had raised me to be helpful and kind, and how I had passed those values on to my daughters who still accompany me to many of my charity’s events, including helping to decorate the wards for holidays and the annual PJ party, when they get to meet the kids. From this experience, they grew up knowing that people are people, no matter how they look or how ill they may be.

Then I moved on to discuss the changing landscape of my life now that my girls are growing up. I told them how my husband and I were discussing how integral the girls’ lives and education had been in our everyday lives. Now with one at college and the other one driving, I find myself with more time on my own. I told this crowd of beautifully dressed and graciously behaved men and women that one day, Joseph had looked at me and said, “What are we going to do when they’re gone baby?”

And I’d said, “We’re gonna’ make love in the kitchen.” I mean, I’ll miss the buggers on a day to day basis, sure, but there’s something to be said for getting some freedom back. I might even be able to write several hours uninterrupted...in a row! And I’ll have more time to help others, to do more for the community, to interact one on one with so many miraculous people in the world. They really are out there, and sometimes, they come to visit when you least expect it. Of all the roles we all play in our lives, there is always one that is the most basic and true.

No matter how many parts we take on, how many different jobs we find ourselves doing in our lives, it’s important not to forget the real one, to be you. For me that means lots of laughter, work, and hours of doing nothing other than searching for beauty. Sometimes I find it in the sky, sometimes in water, and very often, in the smile of a child who has suffered beyond belief, but who is not only happy, but grateful.

What more is there to say?

Love to you all.

Shari, November 1, 2015

divorce, kids, writing

Walking in Water.

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Trudging along making a splash.

It’s a funny thing about beginning a novel. Sometimes you swim, sometimes you’re in over your head, and sometimes you have a slog for a while before you make that splash.

The trick of course, is enjoying it all. Being creative comes easily to me, it’s what I do. It might be cooking, or acting, or planting seeds, or producing a film, or helping my charity raise money—all of them are worthy pursuits as far as I’m concerned. But creating something new, something memorable, and most importantly, something that touches people can be as elusive as the Loch Ness monster. You’re pretty sure it’s down there but you can’t prove it…yet.

I find myself here again. I have an idea that I love, I’m inspired to do something with it. The characters are there, but mostly still in the green room waiting to go on, or trying on outfits in wardrobe. The story is forming and changing and messing with me even as it emerges, but it’s not solid yet. It’s like that dream I have where I’m back on The Young and the Restless, due on set in an  hour and no one has my script for the day. And that’s not a bad thing. Without all the floundering around and wrong turns, my story would be a simple repeat of paths and roles I and others have taken before. To find something new, you must wander, you must get lost, you must drown just a little.

The trick is not to panic. I won’t say to just keep your head above water, because that would mean you miss all the colorful coral and currents that run below. Diving deeper is often good, just don’t get indulgent and pass out before you see light again. And here’s what liberates me.

I can delete it all. Or just some of it. I can divorce an idea or a portion of it and keep custody of the kids. I do this often. I must have written a dozen novels that have never yet seen the bedside lamp of a reader or the screen of a Nook, but they are still there for me. They weren’t wasted. There’s no accounting for what an editor will like, or a publisher feel they need in their fall line up, much less what the reading ‘public’ will deign to declare ‘popular.’ If I could guess that, I’d work less and be bored more.

But producing the predictable is a life poorly lived as far as I’m concerned. Long ago I gave up doing what people thought I should do and started living my own life, and since then it’s been brilliant. Sure there are tough times, setting a good example for your kids isn’t always easy in this materialistic world. One example would be a father taking their ex to court to cut his child support, not contributing to his children’s college education, but somehow being able to afford his expensive luxury car and his multiple houses. I can’t tell you how many women go through this kind of thing.  I’ve served on enough juries to know that the decisions in any given case has a great deal to do with the judge’s whim. I was sued by a lawyer who hit me on a motorcycle and produced a fake witness, etc, only to find out later that the judge was presiding at the lawyer’s wedding two weeks after the trial!   My husband and I have chosen to put money away for college for our girls, and I’m proud and glad to do it! It’s a value that’s more important to me than the showier aspects of life. In spite of all the world’s stress and confusion and profusion of questionable priorities, in the end I’m still able to give my daughters what they need, and I don’t mind what some would call ‘sacrifices’ because I don’t believe I’m missing out on anything. I try to set the example of being the kind of person I want them to be and that’s all that matters. It’s not a hardship to clean my own house, weed my garden, pay my bills, and be the evil, dictator mom when I make my youngest participate in her class trip. I could do without that last bit, but payback is hell. I was a horror at her age.

I love what I do and I choose it, but that doesn’t mean I wander around in a cloud of creative bliss without having to deal with insane legal fees or the not so far-fetched fear that one of my children will be shot while they are at school. It doesn’t mean that projects flow effortlessly from me. I’m in all that too, but I found out long ago that I could do with a lot less. I’ve come to realize that what I really let go of was needing people to envy me, needing to compete with anyone else. Hell, I rejoice for other people now and guess how much more often I get to win? My friend’s book hits the NY Times best seller list, and I feel genuine pride in her accomplishment! A kid in my daughter’s volleyball game tells the ref that the ball was out, even though it costs her team a point, and I rejoice that she has that character. I see someone vastly overweight taking a walk and I’m prouder of them than an olympic athlete. It just makes me happy to root for others.

Recently I had what I consider to be one of my greatest personal successes. My younger daughter is a good student, very bright, exceptionally talented in many ways, but she doesn’t push herself to stand out or excel more than others. She’s one of those whose simple effort gets her good grades and she’ll land in a great college of her choice, but I was raised to excel dammit! Challenge yourself, try harder, be disappointed if you don’t improve!! If you don’t stand out, you disappear, and many other dysfunctional etcs. But at a meeting with a very wise teacher of my daughter’s, I voiced my concern that she wasn’t putting herself forward and his answer was awesome.

When I said I didn’t understand why she didn’t push herself more, he looked me in the eye and said, “Because her ego does not require it.”

Wow. I was miserable and competitive into my thirties, and my sixteen year old already has it down.

I’m gonna’ take credit for that, because…why not? I love winning when everybody does. I’m no longer fond of winning if someone has to lose. That sucks. I want to enable and encourage people, not put them down to feel better about myself.

So, I’ll be patient, I’ll slog along in the ankle deep, ice water of a new story, finding humor and pain in the human condition and a fun way to tell it. And I’ll do it with a smile on my face. I really am happy now, whether the novel comes in this form or another, whether my life takes one turn or several, whether my daughter is exhausting me or exalting me, I’m on the path I want to be on.

And look how pretty the water is when it arcs and splashes, listen to the swoosh and music of the waves and droplets.

Write them, feel them, be them.

Shari, October 4th, 2015

family, Life in General, parenting

Her, Them, Me, Us.

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The gang is back in town. Two of my three siblings live here in LA, so we get to see a good bit of each other and help out with kids, holidays, etc. My mom also lives here, so I’m used the the dynamics between us all, interesting to watch, experience, and sometimes learn from.

But one of my sisters stayed back east. She lives in Charleston, SC, a city with history and charm which I love to visit, so that’s good, but when we all get together, with kids, old patterns jump up and if you’re not careful they bite, leaving a welt that frankly itches.

Now that we are all past mid-forty, there’s a lot more consciousness than there was when we were kids or young adults. It is fascinating to me how four kids raised by the same parents in basically the same environment can all be so different. It’s the same in pretty much every family, and now I get a chance to see that same dynamic unfolding in our children.

We each have two kids, totaling four boys and four girls, ranging in age from 21 to 5. it’s almost impossible to get them all together at the same time, especially with one at college, but we almost managed it. The cousins all adore each other, every one is unique and very special in their own way. The IQ’s, the height, and the humor runs into the ninetieth percentile, so it’s entertaining to say the least.

Like when my golden haired nephew, who is 11 walked into my kitchen and said with his cherubic little mouth, “Kennedy jacked our Maserati and threw it in the pool,” it took me a minute to figure out he meant the scooter, which she confiscated and did in fact submerge, because he had refused to pay the toll she was demanding, (cracking his knuckles).

I have girls, so having young boys around is very cool for me. I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘butt,’ (from the five year old Cayden) or the words ‘penis’ and ‘boner’ (from the 11 year old,) as many times in my life put together as I have in the last few days. We’ve had tears, and tickling, and the scrape or two, but overall, it’s a big pile of fun.

And yet, old habits die hard. Almost anyone woman will tell you that no one pushes her buttons like her mother. I’ve had a good look at that in two generations this week. My mom, who is one terrific lady, is the source of our ADA trickle down tendencies. From her to me, from me to my oldest daughter. Attention deficit can lead to narcissistic behavior, not out of selfishness, but stemming from the inability to stay focused on a group. My mom can change subjects so many times in a conversation that we often end up saying, “What is she talking about?” My mom is super smart, and she knows for sure, it’s just us that get left in the verbal dust.

Here’s an example. “So remember the Wilsons who lived down the street on Knob Hill? You were friends with the daughter, Terri, and Dwayne was in school with John, and they had that cute dog, Spunk. Well, she started drinking, and he got a job out of state, and then when she graduated from college, she married this guy from France, and they lived in Paris for two years, and her brother couldn’t have kids and the daughter had some mental issues, then the brother sold his house and moved to the old house, and…”

At which point I stop her and ask her to clarify what she is talking about.

My mom’s response is dismissive. “Well, anyway…” she says, waving an impatient hand at my thick head, “he died.” 

Leaving us looking at each other saying, “Who died? The dad? The husband? The dog?” It’s a bit tough to follow, but we can generally keep abreast.

What amuses me now is how old things, like my mom needing to do things her way sometimes, in spite of the obvious fact that nobody else wants to do it that way, still frustrates and annoys us. You think we would know better. She’s 79, and exhausts us all with her energy and interests, and you’d think we’d focus on that now. She doesn’t do it much at all with just me, but something about the whole family dynamic being reactivated brings it back in her. You’d think we’d get that and let it go, but no, every once in a while our inner five year old jumps on our head and kidney punches us, and we’re taken off guard. We are all leaving the zoo and two people need to ride in her car, but she ‘has to stop by home and pick up some tomatoes.’ “It’s right up the street,” she insists. It isn’t right up the street and the kids are exhausted and just want to go home, and nobody needs tomatoes, but she will not relent. I’m driving, so I can’t volunteer.  My sister does, with rolling eyes and head shaking, but the kids are all refusing. Finally my sister nominates her daughter, who mutters and bitches, but goes. It’s like a comedy rerun. How many times in our lives have we let our mom upset us over such a small thing. How many times has she done small things to upset us? Why don’t we learn to take a breath and just go with it? Later, I watch my sister dealing with her own spirited seventeen year old daughter, and I can only think of all the trouble she got herself into and the word, “Payback” leaps to mind.

My siblings think I’m too easy on my kids, they are all three more conservative than I, but when I think to back to my teen years, out of the house at sixteen, married at eighteen, off to New York and drug abuse by nineteen, well, let’s say I’d be a hypocrite if I expected my daughters to dress in pressed khakis and refuse a beer after prom.

I’m blessed to have so many loving, healthy family members. We’ve been through some changes, that’s for sure, we’ve grown, regressed, noticed that the world is bigger than we once knew, that there are other opinions besides our own. Between the four siblings, we’ve had eight marriages. (Only the sister back east stuck with one, and I hold the record with three). We judge each other, have strong opinions, rush to support during tough times, drift away, and return to hug and laugh. The flotsam and jetsam off our lives is ever moving, ebbing and flowing, and I have sailed but half that sea. I’m hoping for many more adventures, discoveries, and growth. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get pissed off over politics and fire the cannons.

In the meantime, I’ll whip up some dip, grab a bottle of bubbly and head out for another family dinner.

I’d ask you to join us, but we all talk at the same time, and we’re the only ones who can understand us.

Ain’t it always the way.

Hug your family.

Shari, June 18th, 2015.

family, Life in General

From Flames to Fabulous.

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These are pictures of  a young women I consider to be one of my ‘other daughters’ She’s a junior in high school. The photos were taken an hour apart. She is a fire cadet, and the first photo is her in gear on a ‘call.’ The second is her ready for prom an hour later. Needless to say, I admire her and her choices immensely, and am so grateful that my daughter chose her friend so well. Most parents might discourage a pretty daughter away from a ‘dangerous’ career, but this mother is one smart, amazing lady, whom I greatly admire, and it shows in both her daughter’s characters.

How do you raise a child to respect themselves and the world around them versus one who is so focused on themselves that they miss out on the best that life has to offer?

Well, nobody knows for sure, and there is already an overabundance of advice out there, some really good, some pathetic and selfish. So…though I know a little bit about a lot of things, and nothing about everything—here I go.

First, and most important. Set a good example. Be happy, not desperate to be liked. Be interested in people, in nature, in time with your family, in quiet time, take them to museums and travel if you can. Spend one on one time that’s about what they like! Introduce them to what you like, but don’t expect the same enthusiasm. Every time you can expand their world view, do it! My girls rebelled at being taken to museums in Rome and Amsterdam at first, now they regularly request outings to the Getty or the Norton Simon museum here in L.A and eagerly look forward to future trips. My oldest has even contemplated a career in curatorship, and they are both amazing artists.

It’s a tough balance, of course. It’s completely natural for kids in their teens to be enamored of their peers (future support system), to preen, to prepare themselves to find a mate (make-up, hair clothes and now tattoos, piercings, etc.) And there is increasing pressure through the high school years to pick a career, to stress over success, getting a job, become famous, stay skinny, have boobs or muscles, etc. All of these things are natural, but it’s important to make sure that they focus on being kind and brave, and figuring out what they do best instead of what will impress others. Striving to be envied is a life philosophy that leads to nothing but emptiness, which no amount of ‘acquired stuff’ will fill.

The best thing to do, I think, is keep the lines of communication open, stay aware, but don’t take it personally when they prefer to spend the weekend with friends instead of you. It’s good for them, and maybe for you too!

Recently I read someone’s blog, (accidentally, it was forwarded to me with only a web address, and I was appalled that this particular person was giving parenting advice. The crux of her message was, “Ditch the kids and make it all about you!” It only took a paragraph to realize that this was a step-mother who was jealous of the attention her husband’s daughters received from him. And she only had the kids three days a week! She complained about having to socialize with other people with children just to spend time with her husband, and how she demanded a date night that was ‘all about me!’ Not, ‘us,’ mind you, “ME!!” Shouldn’t date night be a about both of you?

Wow, if that’s your attitude, you should probably skip having kids, and definitely don’t marry someone who has them. The example you are setting is narcissistic and uncaring and the kids know it. What does that teach them? Of course your happiness is important, but not to the exclusion of your children. And facts are facts, babies and children require almost constant attention, it’s not a job for the self-absorbed. As they grow into teens, hormones and emerging independence change that somewhat. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. Not just for them, but for you, helping to transition into that time when they will have their own mates and interests, and you will need to stop running their lives and fill your own. The way I see it, it’s not my job to do everything for my kids, it’s my job to prepare them for life in the wild.

My husband and I are lucky enough to have plenty of time to ourselves because of a custody arrangement that gives us a couple nights a week off. Of course, we would both prefer to have the girls full time, but he is such a thoughtful and creative man that we would be romantic either way. I remember after the huge fire in our neighborhood that left us without power for 3 weeks. He returned to do what he could to make the house and grounds livable, and when I arrived two days later, in the evening, he had lit the walkway to the door and the house with candles and bought steaks for the grill and had champagne on ice to welcome me home. I often make a special evening for him. Maybe dinner by the fire out by the pool. I greet him with a cocktail in an evening dress, a table set with linens, lanterns in the trees, whatever, and we spend hours talking and reaffirming our bond with each other. Other times it may be pizza and hot wings and a game on TV. It isn’t what you do, or even the amount of time spent, it’s about the fact that you made the other person feel considered, loved, and treasured. This is true for your mate and your children.

I’m not saying don’t take care of yourself, of course you must, find time for a walk, a lunch with a friend, some creative project. Spend time with your mate and remember why you picked them. Laugh, have sex, talk, and most important, Listen!

Now let me be clear. I’m no expert. I honestly believe that for all the reading, studying, advice, etc., nobody actually always knows how to be a perfect parent. We’re all winging it, even the best intentioned. But if you wing it with love, if you realize that your child is a separate, unique individual who is on their own journey, and you support their choices, then I believe they will feel safe enough to be brave, kind, and fulfilled. The best things in life take both courage and compassion.

Time flies my friends, and that time with your children, that time when you can help them make choices that enrich their lives and fashion their passions, is limited, over far too soon.

Don’t waste it. Love them, hug them, be patient, stop and think what’s best for them, not what you fear.

But mostly, let them fly.

Shari, May 18th, 2015.

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, family, Life in General, men, New Novels, parenting, Theatre, writing

Who am I NOW?

As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me.
As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me, fantasy and literature.

Who am I now?

I haven’t been on my website for a week or so or posted anything new, and so I was surprised to see that I had 3000 hits in a single day hits a few days ago. This was, to quote Zoolander when his message machine tells him he has 12 hundred messages, “A little above average.” and I wondered why.

Sure, I have a new book out and “Invisible Ellen” is doing pretty nicely, but that couldn’t be it. And then I remembered that my girls told me my ex had done this show called “Celebrity Wife Swap,” and I thought, “Oh, it must have aired.” I knew about the show, but only because he and his wife had wanted the girls to be on it, which caused some friction, but my daughters had the sense and the backbone to refuse. Neither of my daughters are fans of ‘reality’ TV, and—though admittedly I’ve never watched CWS—that show seems…uh, let’s just say…not exactly creme of the crop, and they didn’t want to be associated with it. Bless their classy little hearts.

Now, I didn’t see the show, don’t ever intend to, so maybe it’s a steaming pile of art and I would be sorry to have missed it, but my instinct tells me no.  I have never once looked at either my ex’s or his wife’s websites and I definitely steer away from anything involving them in social media, (I know, I know, I’m writing this, but I’m trying to make a point!) I know I won’t like what I see, so why go looking for it? To be honest, I don’t really know them, and have only the barest of contact since he announced with a smug smile that he wouldn’t be contributing to college, then drove away in his Porsche. He tells a different story, no doubt in his public version of himself and has an image of himself to maintain, as many people do, but I deal with the reality, usually damage control, and that’s plenty. I do my best to disassociate from that whole, publicist-generated, artificial world version 2.0.

So it interests me that people would see that wife swap show and look me up. It’s a weird interconnected web out there. It feels remote to me and my everyday life. I think of how I’ve tried to focus my life away from that kind of negativity and on doing work that is worthwhile to me. That’s not to say I wouldn’t work on a show for the money if i really needed it, the key to avoiding that is to keep your cost of living down so that having to prostitute yourself is kept at a minimum. From someone who once starred in “Death Spa” that may seem a bit bogus, but hey, things have changed.

You see, at first you want the things that everyone else envies, I don’t know why, but that’s often what our society teaches is desirable. You want to be sexy, and famous, and beautiful and rich, and then you grow up and want to be valued for something real. Well, some of us do anyway, others get caught in the cycle. For me, after living by my looks modeling in New York and ending up a cocaine addict, which I beat myself at 22, I had to come to terms with the fact that being valued for what is on the outside is very, very lonely and untrue. Then I wanted to be famous, because that impresses people, right? But when I got a dose of that, It just felt just strange. When many people meet someone they’ve seen on TV or film immediately there is a veil, an artificial wall, that separates you because they think you are something you are not and, falsely, feel different from you. I hated that. You give up privacy and often even the ability to spend time in public with your family comfortably. I’ve had people put their kid in my lap while I was eating at a restaurant and start video taping. I love meeting new people, but that was just invasive, (especially since I was eating spinach). Now I have many wonderful friends, who I first met as ‘fans’, don’t get me wrong, but there is a difference between meeting people on an equal footing, and people wanting to document meeting you as a trophy for being on a show or in a movie that you don’t even think is very good.

That didn’t feel right to me. It’s lovely to have people like and respect your work, and name recognition as a novelist is important as well as for an actor, but when you have to constantly pretend to be what you’ve created, meaning some kind of public persona, it is, for all but a few, confusing to the point of soul-crushing. Egos get all out of whack. But I did love acting, the art of it, making an audience breath together or laugh as one, and since the film and TV roles of quality weren’t coming to me, I turned to theatre where I’ve done my best work, respected the writing and myself, and felt the joy of working with an artistic community that betters the many, instead of the few.

And writing has always been my first love. Though I’m proud of all of my books, I don’t think there’s any question that “Invisible Ellen” is the kind of book I’ve always wanted to write. Hopefully, it’s original, funny, heartwarming, and uplifting. Those are qualities I feel good about.

So, one day soon, maybe I’ll get thirty thousand hits on my website because my new book, “Emerging Ellen” is hitting the stores. I certainly hope so, but for me, that’s a different kind of attention, one I can spread around and share. Oh, and it would go a long way toward helping me pay for private school and college, which would be lovely, and for my charity as well. Meanwhile, I’ll drive my used Ford Escape Hybrid, give what I can, and laugh and love with my girls and my family, support my friends’ many endeavors and try to create something new and worth reading or watching.

Because that’s who I am now.

Who do you want to be? Go get ’em baby.

 

Shari, July 25th, 2014

 

 

 

 

Life in General

The Lull before the Storm.

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And we’re off to see new places, meet new people, and have new adventures!

The lull and the storm. I love them both. With a new book and a film coming out I find myself suddenly required to leave my personal lull and calm of writing and venture back out into the world of traffic, airports, hotels, and a slew of new people. When my primary career was acting, I spent far too many hours pursuing the job instead of doing what I loved, acting. There was endless driving, classes, auditions, interviews, schmoozing, photo shoots, travel, and every single day—judgement and rejection. The career of acting is pretty much a constant flurry of activity, much of it frustrating and distasteful, followed by days of anxiety and waiting. There were days when I was worn so thin that I was tempted to go home, climb into my closet with a good book and a pillow and shut the door.

Then, when my second daughter was born, I shifted into writing so that I could be there for them. Other that the soap opera, which was, frankly, the easiest job I ever had, acting is a very difficult career on family. 16 hour shoot days and months on location do not make it easy to show up at your kid’s school play, much less be involved on a daily basis in their lives, and that wasn’t a choice I wanted to make. Writing gave me the leisure to work on my own schedule. And writing is solitary and frictionless for the most part. I can work for hours every day and never feel as though I’ve been frayed down into something as thin as dental floss by exchanges with rude, insensitive people or abrasive personalities.

But now, I’m off on a new adventure, and I cannot do it from the peaceful haven of my living room. I need people, we all do. I need my agent, my editor and her team, my publishers, the cover designers, copy-editors, the crew, my co-producers, the list goes on and on. Though novel writing may give the illusion of self-containment, it is only that, an illusion. In truth, there is a team of people who make it happen.

Doubly so for a film. The actual shooting days for a film are the smallest fraction of work involved, and now that we are almost through with post production, special effects, music, sound, etc, the time has come to get it out there. Though choosing a crew and a team give me the option to work with people I like and respect, promoting your product is a different story.

And that means…traffic, airports, hotels, and people I don’t know yet. And while that’s wonderful, I know it will take it’s toll, both physically and mentally. While I’m pretty good with dealing with most humans, I have a very low snapping point for rudeness, unfairness, and stupidity. Things it’s hard not to run into when you are traveling.

So here we go. Reminder to self—deep breath, manners, patience, and acceptance.

It’s the same with everything. As our world expands, and the population explodes, we come into contact with more and more people, many of whom have vastly different opinions and points of view from our own, and a select few of which just plain won’t like you. Social media has added a whole new level to this, with people we never meet being sometime lovely and supportive, and sometimes just plain belligerent and cruel. So how do we deal with those unknown factors without becoming angry, bitter, and rude? In other words, the very people we most despise?

Here’s what I’ve found—Questions work better than negation. “Do you really believe that I’m that unintellegent?” rather than, “At least I’m not squatting while grooming fleas off the rest of my family.”  Manners work better than rudeness. “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day.” as opposed to, “You call yourself a waitress? Bitch my soup is cold!”

I have discovered that almost anyone can be diffused with a kind word, or an acknowledgment of their own strife, unless they are sociopaths. Just as an argument with a significant other can only be settled when we learn to say “I can understand how that must feel,” and  mean it, you’ll be sleeping on the sofa under a throw blanket. Accepting that someone else has a different point of view from yours can lessen the stress over a confrontation. Except for sociopaths, in that case, I recommend running away. But run backwards so they can’t hit you with a brick while your back is turned.

We all need people. No matter how talented, perfect, caring or admired you are, there is someone else who is better than you at something else. It’s the ‘village’ philosophy. At some point in our modern society, we’ve developed the fantasy that we can exist without others, specifically others who are different from us, this is fundamentally wrong.

As humans, we survived against amazing odds because we learned to work as a team, a tribe. Some hunted, some gathered, some watched for danger, some raised the children, built the fires, etc. That survival technique is built into our DNA. The fact is, we still do this, taking on a required task in our structured society. Now we just call it a ‘career choice.’ When we ignore this fundamental need to connect with and rely on others, we feel desperately lonely and afraid, but we don’t understand why.

And when there’s a disagreement, or friction, watch out. It upsets you to deal with confrontation? Join the club. Nobody likes it, except maybe the sociopaths who, by definition, feel nothing because they have little or no conscious. But maybe it can help if you remember this.

The science of thought has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last few years. Here’s a fun fact to know and tell. Every single second, our brain is hammered with over 11,000,000 bits of sensory information. But our poor brains can only absorb and assimilate 40 of those impressions. We select which information to keep based our history and sensory preferences. For instance some people (almost all men, by the way) are primarily visual, (they remember and react to what they see) others (many women) are more auditory, (they remember what they hear) and some (me) are kinesthetic, meaning that we react to what we physically feel, (I remember and respond to body language and motions). So we each select what we perceive.

This is exactly why you can have an argument with a wife, husband or a co-worker, and both of you will remember the situation completely differently, and both of you can be absolutely sure, swear-on-your-life sure, that you are right.

You are. And so is she. Or he.

Let’s review. 11 million stimuli….reduced to 40 consciously acknowledged. Could it be possible, just maybe, that we might miss something that someone else saw, heard or otherwise perceived? Mmmm.

So I’m giving myself this advise before venturing out into the big ol’ cruel world. Be patient. Be kind. Be forgiving and accepting. Maybe that rude person is just having a really bad day.

And just in case, wear shoes with really good traction.

Shari, October 12th, 2013.

Life in General

Mom, Daughter, Aunt, Sister, Friend, Caregiver.

 

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A moment I treasure more than all the riches in the world.

These are the words that best define me, and I feel honored to use all of them not only as nouns, but as adjectives. But those labels come with a responsibility, a joyful one, as far as I am concerned. 

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve done a good bit of caregiving. It happens. My mom in the hospital, my sister and her family staying with me while their new house was being readied, watching over my nephew who was sick, it took up quite a bit of my energy and time. I know we don’t always, but right now, I’m doing well and have extra strength to give.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel like I’ve been given a gift. Time with my loved ones. 

I know of a woman from school, we’ll call her an acquaintance because I have utterly no respect for her and therefore do not consider her worthy of friendship, who married a man with two kids. She constantly feels robbed if any attention or money goes to his children. She doesn’t consciously understand this of course, but it is obvious to anyone who loves and cares for children, their own, or someone else’s. I remember having a conversation with her before her wedding where she was complaining about having to drive the kids to school, or anywhere. 

I said, “Well, get ready, because as their step mother you will be taking on that responsibility.” And she literally shouted at me, “It’s not my responsibility to drive them, it’s his!!” Since then, I’ve heard from those kids that when she does have to take them somewhere, she always tells them, “You owe me.” 

Wow. 

This is the same woman who constantly touts herself as a stellar stepmother on twitter or FB, which defines what she values. Not the kids, but being admired for all her ‘efforts.’ (she also makes a big deal about ‘cooking them nutritious meals’ which the kids define as ‘the same 3 tasteless dinners’) There’s a lot else I don’t care for in this woman, or people like her, but that sums it up for me. I have to wonder not only why she would marry a man with children if she’s going to resent even the most basic of family responsibilities.

The answer of course, is that he’s rich and famous and the kids are an unfortunate inconvenience.  But that’s another blog. 

I have another friend whose stepmother documents every penny spent on him. Keeps a ledger. I have to wonder what possible purpose this could serve. Does she expect him to pay her back for every fast food meal? What does the woman gain from this practice other than feeding her own resentment? 

The answer is, of course, ‘proof.’ Which means, she would rather be right than happy and loving. 

 

I also know plenty of wonderful step-parents. One in particular who powered through the hate and resentment toward her because, as usual, the girls saw their father’s remarrying as an assault on their mom. (Though they had broken up years earlier.)  This stepmom drove them everywhere, signed them up for classes, picked out their clothes, planned fabulous vacations and waited for them to eventually respond to her. And they did, because she didn’t do any of it to look good, she did it because she loved them, cared about them, and took them on as family when she married their father. I have nothing but respect for this beautiful, brilliant, woman. She, and other’s like her, are there, heart and soul, for their new family, and it can sometimes be a thankless job. Just like parenting of any kind.  For me, family and love are paramount. My husband would give his life for my children, they know it, he knows it, and if I wasn’t sure of it, I would never have chosen him to be my mate. Not even an option. In fact, in our wedding, he not only made a vow of commitment to my girls, giving them acorn necklaces to echo our acorn and oak leaf rings, but he also made a vow to my mom, giving her a necklace with an oak tree, promising to always take care of her. I did the same for his mother, and if he had had children, they would be my own now. I know this with absolute clarity. He could never have married a woman who wouldn’t.

I’m betting the two resentful women listed above made no mention of their step children in their vows, it wouldn’t have occurred to them. 

I know I shouldn’t judge because most people believe they are doing the right thing, though the truth is, they are doing what they are capable of, and for far too many individuals in this world of surfaces and appearances, their capacity for love is sadly overwhelmed by their need to feed their own egos or justify their shortcomings. It costs them, in love, in connection, and in respect, though I don’t suppose those are things they’ve learned to value. I understand that there are people who have different values in the world and people’s behavior usually comes down to how they define themselves. Is it their material things? Is it accomplishments, money, or talent? Is it through the shallow validation of being admired or lauded?

For me, my favorite people are the ones who think of none of those things, they define themselves by the moments of loving and caring and living that create a real connection, and consequently, these people are generally extremely successful in all areas of their lives. Like the ‘good’ stepmom I mentioned above. On top of being an accomplished pianist,  speaking several languages, and helping out with several charities, she’s a brilliant, and successful economist. Brilliant. 

Happy people are successful. That is the only true measure of success. 

So here I sit, with a bad cold that I picked up, no doubt, from my darling 3 year old nephew, and days behind on my new manuscript, but I couldn’t be more delighted, I couldn’t feel richer or more satisfied. Every time I think of playing with trains with my nephew, or the funny things he said, as 3 year olds will do, I smile. My face is sore from smiling. It made me happy to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to make tea for my own daughter and see her off to her first real job as a production assistant on a film, and then get up again at 6:30 a.m. to make breakfast and pack a lunch for my 8 year old niece. I was fine with skipping my hike to stay home with my nephew so that my sister could drive her daughter to school and then rush to her old home to finish packing. Then, when my mom went to hospital with chest pains, I packed up the computer, a couple of good books and a scrabble board and headed out again. 

And I have to say, I’m so lucky to be able to do these things. They are an honor. The love and trust of anyone else means more than anything else to me. 

I suppose I’m writing about this now because of my new book. “Invisible Ellen” is done and in production. It’s the story of a woman, unattractive, orphaned, forgotten and unseen by society or others who makes a couple of friends and takes her first tentative steps into participation in life. That novel is done. But the sequel, which I’m working on now, goes a step further, and in “Emerging Ellen” she must learn to be needed. Perhaps, even to overcome her own horrible upbringing, and make a better life for another unwanted child. 

It’s the most frightening thing she can imagine. But I have a sneaky suspicion that she’ll find a way to overcome that fear and her life will open up to embrace it. 

Because I believe that’s why we’re here. To connect and care. 

What else is there? 

So don’t be afraid, take care of someone else, and take care of yourself.

Shari, August 20th, 2013. 

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, family, Life in General, parenting

A New Window of Opportunity.

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Good morning and Happy New Year! The champagne bottle is in the recycling, the caviar has been consumed, the candles extinguished, and, I admit it, I didn’t even make it to midnight. And now I’m up, before eight, my brain churning with all the things I want and need to do.

But it’s not like the panic of past years. I know now, at 52, that even the annoying stuff will get done, no matter how much I put it off and sweat over it, so I might as well just get to it. The difficult things will be endured, passed through, and learned from, and I’m looking forward to the challenges.

I’ll have books being re-released, new ones coming out, ideas still unformed to spur me on to new, unimagined novels.

I have daughters to care for, laugh with, hold when they cry, encourage, remind to be ladylike, kind, brave and fair, tutoring to arrange, school functions to chair, and so much to learn about parenting. It’s an ongoing process.

And I have a movie to produce and act in. I’ve done so much theatre in the last few years, but I’ve taken a break from film and TV to raise my daughters. Now, with one in college and one going into high school, I can finally spend part of my time back on a set.

I’ve already started working on the character and emotional life of Miriam Jones for “Scream at the Devil.” I’ve been immersed in research about schizophrenics, mental hallucination disorders, and the effects of the medications used to treat them. The physiology of these things are fascinating and the torture these people endure is both heartbreaking and profound. Equally fascinating are the dynamics of their relationships with the people who love them. All of these will be explored in the film, with a sinister twist—What if she’s not crazy?

What I’ve discovered is this; whether or not the fear and depression are real or not, the emotions that accompany them definitely are.

Which takes me to my next step. How does fear affect me? I notice a tingling on the back of my hands when someone cuts in on me on the freeway, a tightness in my neck that won’t go away when I do sensory work on seeing things moving under the rug, things that want to hurt me. My whole body senses the exhaustion from the constant voice in my head telling me that I’m not good enough, that someone, or something, wants me dead.

It’s one thing to watch and observe, it’s quite another to take on the emotion and the weight of mental illness. As actors and writers, we do these things, we have to. If we don’t feel them in our very cells, then they won’t be true.

And then, by the grace of all that is creative, we can put them away and go back to our ‘normal’ lives. Take a bath, shake off the evil, find something to laugh at until our strength is restored.

My New Year’s wish is this ultimate release for those who are suffering from depression and paranoia. I can imagine what it might be like, because I have to, but I can also put it aside. They cannot. Science is making big strides in helping these people, and that gives me hope. It also makes me wish I had gone into medicine so that I could contribute. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to school. That’s what a New Year is for, possibilities.

Me in college. Ha! Wouldn’t my daughter just love having a new dorm mate. “Hey Roomie!”

The thought makes me laugh, but she might not be so amused. She loves me dearly, but I don’t think she wants to share a bunk bed with Mama.

So raise your glass of orange juice, and say a January first morning toast to 2013. It will be filled with joys, sorrows, fears, excitement and the great unknown.

Bring it.

Shari, January 1st, 2013