Category Archives: parenting

We Are All The Hardest Working Man in Show Business

Watch me, now.

Watch me, now.

Yesterday, I started the 7-minute workout, the latest fitness craze made popular by an article in the NY Times. According to the article, “exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10.” So, when I told my husband I’d done it, he asked if I’d remembered to work at 80% of my maximum effort. To which I responded: “Doesn’t everyone?”

My argument being that most people rarely function at 100% of their capacity unless they’re under special circumstances, like competing in the Olympics or being chased by killer bees.

It’s like when you go out for a run and finally settle into a rhythm, then a car drives by, or another jogger comes along and you speed up your pace. Turns out, you did have more to give, only you didn’t want to use it unless you absolutely had to, which, thanks to a hearty dose of shame, you did, as soon as that cute guy in the short-shorts whizzed by you.

I was thinking about the idea of pushing ourselves to the max and how it relates to being a screenwriter/novelist. There’s a lot you can say about showbiz folks, but the one thing you can’t accuse them of is not giving it their all. Be it the grueling dance rehearsals and tour schedule of a highly paid pop music diva or the hours a writer like me spends toiling away in solitude—the competitive nature of this business require that when we perform, we do it at no less than 100%.

I guess, in a way, being in showbiz is it’s own kind of interval training—sprint and rest, sprint and rest.  And we need those calm periods in between film shoots and manuscripts in order to slow down and reconnect with ourselves, to get more than five hours of sleep a night, and refill our creative wells. But the second we’re called to action, we’re off and running again. Because no one ever gave that break-out movie performance or landed a life-changing script deal by giving anything less than 100%.  

At least that’s what we tell ourselves each time our screenplays fail to sell, or when we don’t get that directing job or land that plum role. We rally, regroup, then push ourselves to do better next time. We double down. Then, we double down again.

Yet, in the rest of our lives, I think most of us operate at around 80%, at best.  Just last night I was talking about this with another mom (as we watched about 20% of our sons’ baseball game) bemoaning the fact that no matter what we do, we’ll never be better than be B+ parents.  I know this because during the first three years of my son’s life, I tried parenting 100%—hauling my floppy-necked infant to mommy-baby drum circles, my valuable hours spent filling ice cube trays with homemade organic baby food.  Turns out, 100% mommying is about 20% too much mommying for me.  At least it is if I want to leave space for any of the other important things in my life, like my writing, my husband, and my friends.

In general, I believe there’s nothing wrong with living life at 80%. It’s steady. It’s not totally exhausting. If life is a marathon, 80% is what we need if we want to cross the finish line. 

But what I’ve had to come to terms with over the years is that creative types like me don’t like to run at a steady pace.  We prefer pushing ourselves to our limits, even if we have to put ourselves in extraordinary circumstances and under extraordinary pressure in order to find out exactly what those limits are. Which is why we are all the hardest-working men in show business. (No offense to James Brown.) And even though it can feel utterly depleting at times, dancing as fast as we can without any guarantee  we’ll win the dance contest, I believe there’s great value in challenging ourselves. Like mothers who suddenly find themselves able to lift a Volkswagen off their child, unless we’re pushed to our limits, we may never find out how strong we truly are. 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under books, movies, YA, writing, movies, parenting, screenwriting, writing, writing advice

The Bully in My Head

The topic of today’s blog post (bullying) comes from my involvement with TeamTEENAuthor.  TeamTEENauthor is a group of YA writers committed to speaking directly to their teen readers through essays, personal stories, and videos about age-relevant topics (with a small side dose of public humiliation). In other words, we don’t just want to write for you, we want to talk to you, too.  On the second Wednesday of every month, our fearless leader, Julie Cross, gives us a single word or phrase and we are allowed to do whatever we’d like with it.   The word for July is:  BULLY 

The Bully in My Head

I’ve been on both sides of the equation:  the bully and the bullied.  The details of these incidents aren’t important, though they stand out as some of the clearest memories of my youth.  What’s important is the why.  Why did I, a kid with friends, good grades, two loving parents and a (relatively) stable home, need to make other kids feel bad about themselves?  Conversely, why did I let the kids who teased me get away with it?  Why was I too ashamed to ask my parents or teachers for help?  And the one time I did ask a grown-up to intervene (the principal of my junior high, who did absolutely nothing despite my repeated pleas) why did I accept his utter ineffectualness as an adequate response?

The answer, as best as I’ve figured it, isn’t so much about the outside forces I was exposed to—the compassion and tolerance my parents raised me to believe in, or even the broken “look the other way” culture prevalent at my school—as much as it was about what was going on inside my head, which, I can assure you, was as bad, if not worse, as the taunts of my seventh grade bully.

“You deserve it,” I’d tell my thirteen-year-old self.  “You’re not as pretty as D. or as popular as R., so, of course, no one’s going to try to help you.”

With messages like this tormenting me, it’s no wonder I went through life angry and scared.   When a child comes from a dysfunctional family, it’s easy to understand why he or she feels the need to lash out, to find release by preying upon the weaker kids. Or why the kid who’s been beaten down by life comes to see herself as the powerless victim. But I came from a “good” family who supported me.  The problem was, I was being bullied constantly—by myself.

Even through high school, college, and beyond, when the bullying by and of others had thankfully ceased, I was still beating myself up on a regular basis—playing the roles of both bully and victim.  The sad thing is, this kind of negative messaging isn’t all that uncommon.  How often do we carelessly put ourselves down for saying or doing “something stupid,” or insult ourselves for the way we look in a bathing suit, or the bad grade we got on a test?

Recently, my eight-year-old son struck out at his little league game and was bemoaning his quote-unquote failure on the car ride home.  “I’m terrible at baseball,” he announced, as if this were an irrefutable fact, even though he was one of the team’s big hitters, and this was the first time he’d struck out all season.  As a mom, it was easy for me to reassure him that his very critical self-assessment wasn’t true, that even the best hitters in major league baseball strike out at least half of the time, that we all have off days.  I try to teach him to be kind to himself, instead of beating himself up about it.  But it took me years to learn how to give that same kind of compassion to myself.

Today, I’m proud to say that I practice self-compassion on a regular basis, which means forgiving myself when I quote-unquote fail, and loving myself, not in spite of my perceived inadequacies, but because of them.  I recently had the good fortune of reading an advance copy of SKINNY, by Donner Cooner, the much-lauded young adult novel due out this fall, in which a 300-pound fifteen-year-old girl named Ever goes through a risky gastric bypass operation in order to silence the negative voice inside her head (which she’s named Skinny).  Ever survives the surgery, but much to her dismay: so does Skinny.  Which makes Ever realize how little her actual appearance had to do with the negative way she thinks of herself, and how much it has to do with Skinny’s constant criticism.

My point is—bullying is a complex topic, and it’s important that we give kids the tools to deal with it and bring awareness to it in our schools, our homes, and our communities.  But I don’t think the problem will ever really stop until we learn to stop bullying ourselves.

Below are links to the blogs of other TeamTEENAuthors who’ve written about bullying today.:

Julie Cross–TEMPEST

Pip Harry–I”LL TELL YOU MINE

Janci Patterson–CHASING THE SKIP

Jessica Corra–AFTER YOU

Suzanne Lazear–INNOCENT DARKNESS

E.C. Myers–FAIR COIN and QUANTUM

Elizabeth Amisu–SACERDOS and ARCANE RISING

Kimberly Sabatini–TOUCHING THE SURFACE

And here’s a link to a great article on the differences between self-compassion and self-esteem and why self-compassion may be more important.

3 Comments

Filed under books, movies, YA, writing, parenting, teen writers, teenage girls, young adult

Happy Me Day to Me

I did my birthday right this year.  I informed my husband that I’d buy my own presents, told him what kind of cake I wanted (something fun made from Rice Krispie Treats) and picked the restaurant where we dined.  The end result?  I got exactly what I wanted.

But the best gift I gave myself was when I declared the Sunday before my actual birthday as Me Day, where it was understood by my husband and son that the day would be entirely centered on Me-related things—such as walking to the store (by myself) to get the Sunday NY Times, having the time to actually read the Sunday NY Times, working out on the elliptical, eating Nutella & banana crepes, going Spring skiing with my son, then cooking the kind of healthy dinner I craved, without the grumblings from the meat and potatoes guy I married.

Me Day was nothing fancy or monumental, but as a mom, just knowing I had the freedom to have an entire Sunday to do exactly what I wanted while still hanging out with my family felt like a luxury.  And by the end of the day, I was completely filled up.

Which made me realize how seldom we mothers do just that.  We let our cups run empty, claiming we’re too busy with kids, life, work, etc., to take care of ourselves, and then we end up feeling constantly depleted.

My family and I recently went to Aruba on vacation, which meant lots of eating out.  Personally, I was thrilled by the prospect of not having to cook every night.  But for my seven-year-old son—a boy whose average butt-on-the-seat time during dinners at home is about forty-three seconds—it was a challenge.  To his credit, he did surprisingly well.  Most of the time.  But I also recognized what a struggle it was for him to sit still for that long, dinner after three-course dinner, forced to constrain his constantly moving body with parental-imposed “restaurant behavior.” So, when dessert was over, my husband or I would bring him out to the parking lot and let him run around like a Tasmanian Devil.  Or on the odd occasion we ate in, we’d let him veg out in front of Cartoon Network while eating mac and cheese.

Basically, I just gave the kid a chance to recharge. But the funny thing is how little we mothers allow ourselves to do the same.

We either fail to prioritize ourselves, or when we do think about carving out some “me time,” it just ends up feeling like another line item on our Sisyphean to-do list.  Sometimes, the very act of trying to fill ourselves up can be depleting in and of itself.  It takes effort to find a babysitter, make a reservation, or schedule a weekend away.  But unless we mothers prioritize self-care, I truly believe everything else suffers.  Just like working out, it’s helpful to remind yourself how good it feels when you make the effort to do it and how much you like the results.

Leave a comment

Filed under parenting

Shave It for Later

I was only twelve years old when I begged my mother to let me start shaving my legs.  She said I was too young, I whined and pleaded, and ultimately, she sat me on a folding chair in the backyard and slathered my legs with Nair.

Part rite-of-passage, part torture session, my introduction to the world of hairless legs was followed up by mom’s pit-shaving tutorial, along with a package of knee-skinning disposable razors.  (Anyone ever note how Bic rhymes with nick?) But after one particularly bloody slip-up on my ankle (no one ever believed me, but I swear I saw bone), I decided to take matters into my own hands and biked down to the local pharmacy to buy myself a sturdy, grown-up and sophisticated Personal Touch.  The package came with three free replacement blades and I remember thinking its fake tortoise shell appearance was “classy.”

Goodbye, old friend. I know you'll be shaving armpits in heaven.

Ten years later, when I lost my razor, I was disappointed to learn that Personal Touch had replaced the yellow-flecked brown of the faux tortoise shell with a more uniformly-colored plain brown plastic.  But what that second razor lacked in style, it made up for in reliability, lasting me all the way from my early 20’s up until this morning.  And it still works just fine.

The sad thing is, I can’t find blades for it because they stopped making Personal Touch razors about five or six years ago.  Much like that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine stockpiles boxes of the discontinued Today Sponge, I hoarded my finite supply of Personal Touch razor blades for years.  Then, when my stash ran out, I bought them on eBay.  And then that just got crazy.  Or, I guess, crazier.

Elaine contemplates her date's spongeworthiness.

So last week, I finally caved in and bought a slick, overly packaged mega-blade monstrosity, but only because it promised to give me creamy-smooth legs like J-Lo.  Which means I’m officially saying goodbye to my Personal Touch razor blade.   Goodbye, old friend.  I know you’ll be shaving armpits in heaven.

3 Comments

Filed under parenting, pop culture, teenage girls

The Coolest Teddy Bear in the Universe

Inside the caustic exterior, I’m a pretty sentimental person. Show me a video of an animal befriending and/or helping an animal of another species and I’ll weep like a newly crowned Miss America.  I’ve been known to tear up when the national anthem is played at youth sporting events, and I feel like my heart might just burst into a million tiny pieces whenever I see a baby call a slighter younger baby a baby.

So, I was similarly overwhelmed with emotion when my baby, now almost eight, went to Build-a-Bear with his grammie and came home with this.

 Behold Rex, the coolest teddy bear in the universe.  Note the aviator sunglasses, camo skin, and jeans slouched down to Lil’ Wayne proportions.  Yet, at the end of the day, Rex is still just a fuzzy, snuggly teddy bear.  Because even though my little boy aspires to be cool like Rex someday, right now he is a second grader who likes to sleep with his stuffed animals.  Bad-ass, skater-dude stuffed animals.

1 Comment

Filed under parenting, pop culture

Ever wonder what to do with all those old VHS tapes?

Ever wonder what to do with all those old VHS tapes?  My 7-year-old son has the solution!  Just grab a hammer and start smashing, and soon you will unravel a world of hidden treasure.

Did you know that it takes 3 minutes and 24 seconds to unravel one 30-minute VHS tape end to end?

Turns out that smashing old videotapes is way more fun than actually watching them.

Leave a comment

Filed under movies, parenting

Hidden Treasures in Your Very Own Home

It’s five days past Christmas, two days past Hanukkah, and my seven-year-old son is officially done playing with all of his new toys.  Sigh.

Of course it’s my fault for buying the kid so much stuff in the first place.  I’m the sucker who indulged every request in his letter to Santa, except for the hamster—the one who spent Christmas day watching her only child assemble seven brand new Lego sets, one for every year of his life.

And just as I’m silently cursing myself for falling into the New Crap Trap once again, therein reinforcing the very consumerism I despise, I overhear him say this to his friend:  “Want to walk around the house and try to find stuff in weird places?”

Excited by this plan, my son’s playmate said yes, and for the next ½ hour (which is a long time for two seven-year-old boys to do anything) they scour the house, searching behind couches, underneath the fridge, in the dryer, and in any little nook and cranny where tiny treasures might be found.

Here is their bounty, post dust-bunny removal.

And they are still playing with this stuff over an hour later, while my son’s brand new toys sit idle, awaiting their inevitable destiny of getting stuck between the couch cushions so that they too can someday be considered treasures.

Leave a comment

Filed under parenting