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EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE I HAVE A GOOD LA STORY

This one’s about how LA is really a very small town.

Two or three weeks after Diddy was born, a Dear Friend of MrBigIdeas asked to come over and meet the baby. I had never met The Dear Friend, a TV writer, before.

She arrived with her then 2 year-old son, was funny and charming, and brought incredible pastries from a French bakery in Korea Town that I have spent the last 6+ years trying to locate.

She also insulted my coffee.

It was shitty coffee. She had a point.

Anyway: after a half-hour or so, she got up to go, but not before asking if I knew Jill Soloway.

“You remind me of her,” The Dear Friend said, and was gone.

Obviously, I immediately googled Jill Soloway.  She was, at the time, a supervising producer on Grey’s Anatomy who had just come off a writing job on Six Feet Under , and she was WHO I WANTED TO BE.

Only I didn’t know that yet, because I still thought I wanted to be a novelist.

Silly me.

Fast forward 6+ years.

I am not a novelist. I do, however, have 4 kids.

The only woman I know who thinks inviting my huge family over for Shabbat dinner is a GOOD idea goes ahead and invites us for Shabbat dinner.

Guess who the other guests include?

Well, yes, an incredibly famous nonfiction writer, but also:

Jill Soloway.

Told you this is small town.

Anyway:

Jill was pretty busy following her 4 year-old around, and I was pretty busy following my 2 year-old twins around, so we didn’t really get to chat, but I did manage to glean that she’d just written and directed a film set in LA and that she’d won the Sundance Festival Director’s prize doing it.

Umm, hello, MY HERO. Did I mention that, in addition to the 4 year-old, she had a teenage son at the party too? This woman had TWO KIDS and had JUST WON THE SUNDANCE FESTIVAL DIRECTOR’S PRIZE.

I’m not worthy.

A few months later:

Our dinner host asked me if I’d help get the word out about Jill’s movie, which had just opened in NY and LA.

So here I go:

AD poster

The movie’s called AFTERNOON DELIGHT and MrBigIdeas and I LOVED IT.

Part of that is that we basically LIVE it.

AFTERNOON DELIGHT is set in our neighborhood, set at a school we know well, set among people we know well, and even features a few friends as extras and a couple of friend’s homes as set. So sure, that was easy to relate to … but so was the actual PLOT of the film.

I don’t want to tell you TOO much, but the basic premise concerns a wife and mother whose marriage is floundering as she becomes subsumed by PTA activities at her son’s neighborhood preschool (what did I tell you about quitting the PTA!) and her husband becomes consumed with the demands of his job. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know she’s invited a stripper to live in her home, ostensibly to act as her son’s babysitter. Complications obviously ensue.

Kathryn Hahn & Juno Temple in AFTERNOON DELIGHT.

Kathryn Hahn & Juno Temple in AFTERNOON DELIGHT.

It’s GREAT. I mean, really.

  • It has a lot to say about how easy it is for a marriage to go off the rails.
  • It has a lot to say about the difficulty women, and moms especially, have balancing their Mom-selves with their Good Wife-selves with their Independent Woman-selves and their Sexy Lady-selves.
  • It also says great deal about how little the women growing up behind us seem to value themselves BEYOND their sexuality.

And umm, did I mention Jill wrote and directed this thing and won a big prize for it, all while BEING A MOM TO TWO KIDS and REMAINING HAPPILY MARRIED?

There should be a prize for that, too. Really there should be. A movie I co-wrote starts shooting in LA next week and I’m already overwhelmed managing all the homefront logistics that will ensure my kids are dressed and fed and delivered to and from school and extra-currics and doctors appointments while it’s happening.

Not that I’m complaining.

Still, I thought Jill would be a good person to ask about how a pro like her balances family, career, and ever-growing-larger work aspirations.

Here’s what she had to say about that:

  • Get help.

I have a very supportive husband and family and a several wonderful sitters who have a great relationship with my younger son. It’s because I had this awesome family support that I was able to take a moment and think about what I really wanted. What I realized was that even though TV writing was financially rewarding, if I wasn’t responsible for every detail of the final product, I wasn’t really punching above my weight as an artist. That’s when I decided I wanted to pursue directing.

  • Pace yourself.

There is a lot of terror in this business particularly about working till you drop and crossing every t, a perfectionism that, as I see it, is anathema to being in my body and experiencing feelings. These feelings are my #1 tool for directing — so I wouldn’t want to do things like pull all nighters or ignore my family. Doing that would cause me to be stressed out and disconnected — ultimately making me worse at my job.

  • Don’t bring your work home.

I am intensely present with my family when I am with them and intensely present on the set when I am shooting. I honestly believe it is possible to do both. I have a home office, but when we were in pre-production on Afternoon Delight, we found a space near my house to work out of. That way I could be home when I was home and not home when I was working. The only way to do that is by unplugging while in the house. That little computer in your pocket (which I love so) can be a real time and attention muncher.

  • Don’t stop believing.

I think it’s all about focusing on what you really want and then making a plan of action. Give yourself permission to go after your dreams. As a mom, I know how easy it is to fill every minute worrying and planning the life of your kids.  You want to give them everything! But part of giving them everything is giving them a role model they can look up to: parents that have full lives with their own passions and work.

I think the first step is giving yourself that permission to dedicate a few hours — or whatever you have —  to your own creative work. I also notice that so many people — but especially women — seem to be on the lookout for that one rejection that allows them to throw in the towel. I was told that around fifty men passed on the role of the dad in Mike Mills’ (Oscar-nominated!) Beginners. I might have chucked the whole thing after ten passes. It’s almost like women need to pretend they’re men for a minute and live within that feeling of “I have a story and I have the right to see it.” Insisting over and over again that you are a director is the only way to make it happen. No one annoints you, no one makes it easy. You have to want it.

Love this advice, love getting to know Jill,  and I’m thrilled to share Afternoon Delight with you. Go see it!

And go check out Jill’s site, too. Sign up for her mailing list to get more info about her upcoming projects, (including a new show!).

 

 

 

 







WHEN GETTING BACK IN THE SADDLE
REQUIRES A LITTLE PUSH:
What I Did to Get My Kid Back on The Horse
Where She Belongs

When do you force a kid to keep at an extra-curricular activity she hates?

I draw the line at quitting team sports mid-seaon (their team depends on them) or activities my kids insisted upon but want to quit two classes into a costly contract.

Otherwise, I’m never too bothered when they don’t want to pursue an extra-curric.

Less driving for Mama. It’s a win all-around.

But a funny thing happened last year when Diddy started riding lessons, and then changed her mind.

I kinda lost my shit.

To say I was ridiculously excited when Diddy, then 5, suggested riding lessons would be an understatement of massive proportions.

You see, when I was 5, my aunt took me for my first riding lessons and I never looked back.

First horse I ever rode: paint pony named Dexter. Love at first sight.

First horse I ever rode: paint pony named Dexter.
Love at first sight.

I rode every week — sometimes twice or three times — for years, throughout elementary and middle school.

When I was 12, my parents bought me a horse for the family ranch in Colorado, and I took him to summer camp with me. When I started boarding school, I even brought him there.

I think it's pretty clear why I spent most of my high school years hanging out with my horse.

I think it’s pretty clear why I spent most of my high school years hanging out with my horse.

When I graduated college, my father offered me a Rolex as a gift. I asked for a membership to the Chelsea Pier riding club instead.

Whoops. Within a year, the club folded. Plus I moved to LA.

Every now and then I long for the watch.

In LA, I rode another of our ranch horses for a year or so, then I upgraded to a paint I bought from Marta Kaufman, who created Friends. I add this detail only because at the time it seemed VERY Hollywood and was the closest to a writing career I got for another ten years.

I never even met the woman. Horse was sweet, though.

My second paint: Johnny Tremaine.

My second paint: Johnny Tremaine.

When he went lame, I gave him to a lovely couple in Colorado who adored him.

Then I bought the BEST MOST BEAUTIFUL TALENTED SWEET AND CHARMING PAINT QUARTER-HORSE EVER.

Paint #3: Nelson, love of my horsey life.

Paint #3: Nelson, love of my horsey life.

He died. He was 4 years old. It was soul-crushing. I ate a lot of Entenmann’s doughnuts.

Following several months of tracking Nelson’s blood-relatives up and down the California coast, hoping to find another horse with his all-round amazing EVERYTHING, I bought a crazy, enormous, super-green Hanoverian. She was a lovely mover, but nuts. The horse ran off with me one afternoon, and thank god I have some cowboy in me because I managed to stick it, sans reins and stirrups.

I was pregnant with Diddy at the time. I sold crazy-pants pretty fast.

I haven’t really been on a horse since.

Fast-forward to Diddy asking for riding lessons.

I couldn’t dial the phone fast enough. I called a small barn in Atwater that taught traditional hunter-jumper on tiny Iranian horses perfectly scaled to Diddy’s size.

We went for the first lesson. Diddy was thrilled to groom and help tack her horse.

Then she got in the saddle.

Proud Mommy moment. Truly.

Proud Mommy moment. Truly.

I thought I’d jump out of my chair.

SHE LOOKED AMAZING. Shoulders, hips, heels. I couldn’t believe it. It looked like she’d been BORN on that horse.

And she was having a great time.

I was ecstatic. Diddy is not an athletic child. At soccer, Diddy opted to sit on the sidelines and pick grass. Gaga was doing the monkey bars years before Diddy managed it. Diddy gets cranky walking more than three blocks.

But this – this was a sport that might suit her. First off, it’s a solo activity, not a team activity, and Diddy’s not a team-sport kid. It’s physical, a full cardio and strength training regimen, and it comes with the added benefits of personal responsibility expectations of caring for horse, tack and stable.

Add to that what Gaga’s preschool teacher once said about girls and horses:

Horses keep girls away from boys until they’re at least sixteen.

Sold.

And so was Diddy.

Till she was thrown from the saddle at Lesson #2.

For this, I blame the barn. She was being led from the stalls to the arena in the saddle, and the horse spooked at the sound of another horse kicking out in a turn-out paddock and Diddy fell. A beginning rider, she should never have mounted until she was in the arena.

Hindsight.

At the time, I told her what I was told when I fell off a horse in Kenya, age 7 or so. My parent’s friend, whose ranch we were visiting, bucked me up with this piece of advice I apply to basically every single thing I’ve ever done my entire life:

You’re not a true rider till you’ve fallen 7 times.

I was a pretty gung-ho rider by then, so it worked for me. I got back on the horse.

So did Diddy.

She finished her second lesson.

But when we arrived the following week, she wouldn’t get back on.

I can now admit to this being the most difficult parenting situation I have ever been in. My kid was afraid, or she felt defeated. Whatever it was, she was not getting back on that horse. She was happy to groom and tack, but there was nothing I could do to get her back in the saddle.

And I was DESPONDENT. Not just because I so much wanted her to love to ride, the way I love to ride, but because she was, weirdly enough, and way more than I’d ever been, A NATURAL.

My kid was throwing away an opportunity to be great at something that she was MEANT FOR.

Oh my god it took everything in me to not get in her face about it. There was no team depending on her. I was only paying for lessons one at a time. Conversely, if she loved the sport, the costs would only rise, and rise, and rise.

I literally had no justification to force her to continue.

I spent sleepless nights. Truly.

Then, this summer, something crazy happened.

Diddy told me she’d been climbing in the corral with the horses we still keep at the ranch.

Then she asked if she could ride them.

I gave her a good long scare about hanging out in the corral with the horses without adult supervision and then I practically ran to the barn to tack up a horse for her.

CHK diddy horse meeker

Diddy climbed into the saddle and her whole body lined up like she’d been training for that moment all year.

Back in LA

Diddy asked for lessons, then changed her mind again. I couldn’t stop thinking about how she’d looked in Colorado, though, so this time I nagged and bribed her till she said yes.

Bad mommy. I am not proud.

But it worked. Last week we went out to a barn in Burbank, where she could ride Western, like she had in Colorado.

They assigned her a paint pony.

This is the part where I got a little … cough … religious (it was Kol Nidre – coincidence?) and started asking the Universe to help me out here.

A paint pony? I mean, come on. If she didn’t fall in love with this paint pony I was going to go throw myself in front of hay baler or something.

We met her trainer, and Diddy and her trainer led the pony to the ring.

Diddy got on.

Then her trainer un-clipped the lead line.

I wondered if Diddy would notice. Every time she’d ridden before (all of six times) she had INSISTED on being led.

But my little natural didn’t say a word. She rode forward. She stopped. She rode circles. She practiced posting at the walk. All without once asking for help from her trainer. When her trainer said she was going to teach Diddy “Around the World,” Diddy said, “I know how to do that,” and showed her.

I took a million photos.

This one’s the money shot.

Paint perfection.

Paint perfection.

Shoulders. Hips. Heels.

Holy moly.

Diddy wants more lessons.

I’m with her. I want back in the saddle, too.







HOW TO LOVE, STORE, AND DISPLAY YOUR KID’S ART
Without Letting it Take Over Every Available Surface in Your Home

CHK love kids art

My kids love to make art.

Diddy’s friends call her “the Artist” because she spends all of her “choice time” at school using smelly markers and Sharpies (note to self: stay vigilant against future huffing issues). Gaga has proven herself to have remarkable motor skills, and a great sense of color that her teachers never fail to mention, plus she’s not afraid to get messy, so a lot of her work is paint-based. Sausage asks for markers the moment he’s done eating breakfast and Pancake, well … Pancake mostly draws on his face.

Still: this all equals a LOT of kid art coming into and cluttering up our home. Stacks of it. And I am over it.

Here’s what I suggest doing to corral all the kid art, and get it under control.

It’s a multi-pronged approach, as any good battle-plan must be. And believe me, when you’re up against kid art, you really are fighting a war. Me, I play to win. Here’s how:

  • Be brutal.

It’s not ALL worth keeping. It’s really not. Toss, toss, toss. I learned this from a friend of mine, who also has four children, and is my GURU MAMA because her youngest is the same age as my oldest, so she’s gone though all of my particular challenges before. When we were first friends, I watched her throwing out art her kid had made in her pre-school class WHILE just down the hall from her classroom. She literally ducked into the school office and started tossing things.

    • Her #1 Rule? THROW OUT EVERYTHING 3D. (I photograph it before I toss it, if I think it’s any good. See below!)
    • Here’s another trick for weeding the good/important stuff from the bad/inane stuff: leave it on the kitchen table, or some other very available surface, for 48 hours. If no one comes to claim it, throw it out, they’ll never miss it.  Promise.
    • Or send it to the grandparents. They seem to care less about kid art clutter, and if you have your kids write a note on the back, even better – it’s a letter!
    • Date the good stuff. Seriously: artist and month/year goes in the corner of every piece. If you’re bothering to keep it, you’re gonna want to know when your kid made that masterpiece.

 

  • Scan or photograph all the good stuff.

CHK 3d art collage (1) (1)

Diddy (2008)

    • Before I throw out the truly special 3D art that GURU MAMA completely disdains, I take a photo of it against a white wall.
    • Everything else I either scan on my Canon flatbed printer, or with my Fujitsu ScanSnap (BEST BUY EVER, SERIOUSLY!).
CHK paint and glitter scan (1)

Gaga, paint & glitter on brown paper bags. (2011)

    • All this scanning and photographing will go a long way to honing your sense of what’s good/worth keeping/worth scanning/worth photographing and organizing, and what ain’t. You will get more brutal all the time.
    • You can also use all sorts of handy iPhone and Droid apps to do this for you. Not my thing, but if you’re looking for a simple solution, it’s not the worst idea, either. They are easy to Google up — but as I haven’t used any of them, I can’t really recommend one above the others, myself.
    • Once you’ve got it all photographed or scanned:  Toss! Toss! Toss! And toss again!  Really. Go for it. You don’t need it, short of those pieces that are so great you think they are worthy of display / long-term archiving (see below).

 

  • Display the TRULY GREAT STUFF.

    • Pick a place in your home that can serve as a real art gallery for your kids’ work. Right now, the kids’ art mostly lives in their rooms or in MrBigIdeas and my offices. But we’re gearing up to transform the ENTIRE kids’ hallway into a gallery of their best work.
On the Beach x2. Diddy (2010), Gaga (2012)

On the Beach x2. Diddy (2010), Gaga (2012)

    •  You don’t have to shell out a ton of money to frame your kid’s art. You have a lot of options for display – Pinterest is a great font of inspiration. I’ve even made a board for that. Clothespins, painter’s tape, sticky corners. At the kids’ school, they use these Ikea curtain hangers. We went with Lil Davinci Art frames because they make the kids’ art look neat and tidy on the wall, not to mention STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS. Even better, they open from the front, and can accommodate 50 pieces each – if some better piece comes along, you just pop it in the frame on top of the last piece. Love them. (Now if I could only find the time to get them up on the wall!)
    • Or you can head over to CanvasOnDemand and order awesome CANVASES of your kid’s art! Use this code for 65% off, while you’re at it: D7ABTGS98U4VSBF

 

  • Create museum catalogs for your kids using photo book services.

CHK photo books

    • I did this for the holidays last year – corralled all the art my kids had EVER made, scanned and photographed the good stuff, then uploaded it all to Shutterfly and created a 12×12 hardback book out of it, organized chronologically by kid. Then I sent that book to all the relatives. Best gift they have ever gotten – reviews were over the moon. And honestly, I was thrilled with the results. Edited and presented that way, the kids’ art was amazing. Themes and personal styles emerged. My kids are thrilled with it, too. That is definitely going to be a yearly thing around here from now on.

 

  • Archive the truly SPECIAL pieces – things like hand print molds, or Thanksgiving turkey hands – that you don’t want to display but still want to save for your children long-term.

CHK art files

    •  I do this using file storage boxes. Each kid has their own box, and each box has inside it a hanging file for each year of school from pre-school through 12th grade. Things like pre-K graduation certificates and hand-print molds get filed in these boxes. I’m also putting holiday cards from the kids’ closest friends in their boxes this year – I think it might be neat for them to see pictures of what their early friends looked like when they’re more grown up. (This filebox idea came from The Happiness Project, by the way. It’s chockful of good ideas like this.)

Have more great kid-art-containment ideas? Share them in comments below, or post them to the FB page. I’d love to see what you’ve got!







(NEARLY) PAINLESS DENTISTRY
With Brighter.com

So, a funny thing happened after I had the twins.

Life got a little busy and I kinda …

Forgot to go to the dentist. FOR TWO YEARS.

Here’s how that happens (and this is where I shift into 2nd person because it really is way less embarrassing if I universalize it out to all of you):

You have twins. (Or any young kids, really.)

Your dentist sends you a reminder card that you’re due for an appointment.

You put the appointment card down somewhere – anywhere – and it is immediately covered up by the detritus of family living: magazines, junk mail, diaper bags, you name it.

You eventually un-earth the reminder card, probably under some sort of “we’re having guests” emergency cleaning.

You think, “I need to call them and book an appointment.”

Every time you try to pick up the phone a kid starts screaming / crying / asking for something like food or water.

So, umm. You don’t make the call.

Then one day you FINALLY get it together to call the dentist, you finally manage to book an appointment after a lot of back-and-forth-ing over the phone, you finally DRIVE TO THAT APPOINTMENT …

And  that’s when you discover your dentist has MOVED since you last visited.

You hustle yourself around Google Mapping the neighborhood looking for the new office. You find it! You congratulate yourself on keeping your phone charged (small miracles) and you thank the Google Gods for maybe the billionth time this week.

You are a champion! You have made it to the dentist!

You ask the tech you’ve known for years how long they’ve been in the new offices, and she says, “Two years.”

While you’re busy processing that shock, she follows up with, “Wow, your teeth are a mess. You need to come back in here every 6 weeks until we get you back on track.”

You think, I am never ever telling ANYONE this story.

Then one day you learn about a brilliant new service that would have saved you SO MUCH TIME, ENERGY, and umm, TSURIS. (It’s Rosh Hashanah around here, I’ll be slinging Yiddish around like mad for days.)

I’m talking about:

Brighter.com

Brighter.com is essentially the OpenTable.com of dentistry. Here’s what Brighter.com lets you do:

  •  Locate dentists by zip code

CHK Brighter search

 

  • Check prices for basic services dentist-to-dentist (prices have been bulk-negotiated by Brighter.com, so that you’re getting a competitive price for service — I don’t know about you, but I ain’t got no dental insurance so this a pretty great thing)

CHK Dentist Fee schedule

  • Check out reviews via yelp.com

AND THEN – and this is the holy grail of this whole service people:

  • BOOK DENTIST APPOINTMENTS ONLINE.

CHK Brighter online booking

 

They had me at “book your appointment online.”

As in, hey, I just got a reminder card from my dentist! You know what I’m gonna do? Pop open my browser and my calendar and book that appointment RIGHT NOW without having to schedule a call around my screaming/crying/hungry/thirsty kids!

ANGELS SING, PEOPLE.

ANGELS WITH SPARKLING ANGEL TEETH SING.

I honestly was so enthused by this online booking feature I was kinda willing to ditch my dentist for a dentist closer to my home who just might have beat him to the 21st century and signed up with the service.

But it turned out my dentist was already a Brighter.com dentist, and his pricing seemed pretty reasonable compared to his peers, so I booked myself for my ZILLIONTH follow-up to my TWO YEAR TEETH problems in about ten seconds – you have to create a quickie account, but it’s super easy-peasy – and then next thing I knew I had an email confirming my appointment in my Gmail.

I’m a huge fan of the site so far. The only downside I can see is that at the moment, it only serves the LA market. If you don’t live here, do yourself a favor and email them and tell them you want Brighter.com in your neighborhood, too.

Now if only my gynecologist would offer this kind of service, I’d be covered teeth to …

 

This is a sponsored post. Brighter.com covered the cost of my appointment in return for my writing about the service. Working with sponsors on an ad hoc basis allows me to provide you with what I hope is entertaining and useful content year-round. Rest assured, I NEVER write about products, services, or brands that I don’t love and believe my readers will love, too. 







Sarah Kate Levy

Once upon a time I wanted to be a novelist in NY. FOUR KIDS LATER I'm a
screenwriter in LA who blogs about parenting, partnering, and the decline of civilization / my home.

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