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.


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.


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.


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.

(Back to Reality)

CHK Back to School

Diddy started 1st grade this week.


But also:

Who are all these other American school children who agreed to pose for “first day of school” photos? Diddy certainly would not not not.

I had to sneak up on her and snap her before she looked up even to get this one:

CHK 201308 Eva 1st day 1st grade

Apparently she had better things to do. Like get to 1st grade. And her best friend. And the teacher she wished for all summer long and wouldn’t stop talking about. (Another hallelujah there, by the way.)

Good for her. And good for me, too.  I am so so so so ready for the kids to be in school. Why yes, this year ALL FOUR OF MY KIDS WILL BE IN SCHOOL.

YEE-HAW! And can I get an AMEN!

But not for another two weeks. Gaga and her brothers don’t start school till the second week of September and it can’t come fast enough. Summer was great. It really was. But summer is now over in our neck of the woods, and real life is back, and let me tell you:

Re-entry has kicked my ass.

It’s not easy to come home from a big ranch where your kids can run around with their cousins in the great outdoors and your parents are doing the large majority of the shopping and cooking and come home to … UMM. My house. Where I have to do all those things. Plus work. To say I have been a tiny bit cranky since we got back to LA would be an understatement. There’s just so much to do to get all the kids ready for school it’s kind of mind-boggling. The school clothes. The haircuts. The classroom supplies. The emergency bags (this being LA – earthquakes – and the kids’ school being at a synagogue – crazies, terrorists – each kid has to bring an emergency bag at the start of the new year). Plus, uh – the decluttering. It’s a sickness.

At the start of each school year I just compulsively believe that I have to do BETTER.

I can’t help it. I have to feel the house is cleaner and more organized and more ready to hum like a finely oiled machine. So I’ve been shedding and re-configuring and re-imagining like crazy. More accurately, like a crazy person. I am a crazy person. In the week I’ve been home:

  • I’ve decluttered all three kids’ closets. I’m particularly thrilled by the boys’ closet:

CHK closet

  • I’ve re-done our entryway to better accommodate the fact that four kids will be bringing school bags in and out of the house. (Ok to be fair, I hardly did that on my own. We had friends over on Saturday night to swim and bbq and the wife happened to mention she likes to build Ikea furniture. She is nuts. I love her. She and I built that CB2 cabinet while our husbands grilled chicken. I wonder how she feels about Elfa installs … hmmm …)

CHK entryway

And the piece de restistance:

  • I’ve created a homework and art-supply station in the cabinet by the front door.

CHK cabinet collage

Starting this week, we’re on a no-weekday-TV plan as Diddy supposedly has homework now that she’s in 1st grade. (She’s thrilled about this, by the way.) So I made her a homework box so she could do her assignments at the dining room table in the afternoons, and I made one for each of the other kids, too, so they could stay busy in what used to be TV time.

CHK homework box

What’s inside:

Pencils, markers, highlighters, tape, glue, scissors, a ruler, a stapler, a pencil sharpener, a small dry erase board for figuring out math problems (I grabbed that idea off of Pinterest), and a notebook for scrap paper and drafting purposes.

The boys’ boxes have significantly less in them. Pencils, crayons, paper, tape. Just enough so that they can feel involved.

And I bought a ton of new art supplies for the same purpose, and figure I can now just look at the weekend calendar and set the kids to their “homework” of making birthday cards and decorating wrapping paper and writing thank you notes in a more timely fashion than our norm.

I am weirdly thrilled and excited to see what my kids will create with their homework boxes. Told you I’m a crazy person.

How To Talk About a Death In The Family, And Help Kids Mourn

Many years ago, I was struck by something I read in the NYT about death and home organizing.

What on earth has death got to do with home organizing?

I give you Lisa Whited, a professional organizer in the NYT piece who entered the profession when her kids were young and she thought she was going to die:

… one of her first worries was about her husband and three small children: “How is Pete going to know where everything is?”

And so:

She … began labeling the clear plastic bins she stored everything in. Children’s medicine. Adult medicine. Bread. Waffles (In a plastic bin in the freezer). Candy. Cat treats. All the stuff in the cellar: Caulking. Paint thinner. Linseed Oil.

This rang very true for me.

It is very likely, should I ever have to tell my children I was going to die before they were very very very old, that I would probably make them each a personalized, tabulated, color-coded binder with labeled instructions for everything I could imagine they would possibly need to survive day-to-day without me.

I would probably fixate on these binders so deeply that I’d miss out on other, incredibly important, conversations we could have.

I’m not good at big, messy feelings.

So I went and made a neat little list on this topic, instead.

Next week, I ought to start examining my less-examined life.

This week, I give you:

Photo by Marcia Levy.


Do Your Kids Know Your Phone Number Yet?

Gaga knows it. Yours should, too.

Gaga knows it. Yours should, too.

Last week a dear friend of mine was in a truly catastrophic traffic accident. A dump truck, poorly parked on a hill above Hollywood Boulevard, came loose from whatever shitty brake mechanism was or wasn’t engaged, and hit a city bus at such high speed it knocked that bus across lanes and into, over, and through my friend’s car. This event was basically the traffic equivalent of Spacelab falling on you.

Spacelab fell on my friend.

The photos on the news were the scariest fucking thing I have ever seen. They were the scariest fucking thing every one of my friends, and her thousands and thousands of other friends, have seen. If you had seen those photos, you too would be stunned my friend survived.

My friend is Wonder Woman.

My friend, despite having ended up under a bus, is still with us, if in a hospital, in a bed,  and in a lot of pieces. She is being put back together, slowly, and at the end of this, she is going to be Bionic Woman, too. It takes a lot of effort to put back together what a bus has torn apart, and a hell of a lot of strength, and spirit, and if anyone can do it, my friend can.

And will.

And in the meantime, led by the amazing example of her amazing husband, who daily updates her thousands of friends via incredible, warm, funny, honest, sincere, and loving emails, we focus on the miracles that have come out of this fucking mess.

Wonder Woman is still with us – that’s a miracle.

You wanna know the other miracle? Wonder Woman wasn’t the only one in the car.

You see, this truck that hit this bus that hit my friend did it while she was driving her daughter to school. And her daughter, who I believe is 10 years old, by some true miracle, emerged from the car unscathed. As I heard it, the door popped open, she stepped out, into traffic, and flagged down another driver to ask for a phone so she could call her dad.

I find this EXTRAORDINARY. She was safe, she was level-headed, and despite extraordinary pressure, despite being a KID, she did the exact right thing.

You know why she’s so amazing?

Because her mom is Wonder Woman.

And Wonder Woman’s entire parenting MO has been to teach her kids strength, compassion, resilience, and independence.

I know this because Wonder Woman is my go-to-gal for parenting advice. She was Diddy’s parent-and-me teacher, and Gaga’s, and when this all happened last week she was still teaching Pancake and Sausage, too. Much of what I think about parenting, and much of what I aspire to do as a parent, I think about and aspire to because SHE made me.

And I keep thinking, thank you, Wonder Woman, for even in this craziness, having a parenting lesson to teach me, that I can now share with the rest of you, since she’s a little bit indisposed right now:


I say, YOUR phone numbers, and not THEIR phone numbers, because chances are you are more attached to your cell phones than to your kids’ home phones. So teach them your cell, your partner’s cell. Your work numbers.

Do it now – around the age of 4, your kids should be able to learn this info without too much trouble.

I am ashamed to say I am behind the ball on this – but I say we all commit to our kids knowing how to call us by Thanksgiving.  So that, god forbid, if something awful happens, they can call us, we can make things right, we can all keep having things to be thankful for.

Here’s how I’ve been considering teaching my kids our numbers:

  • By rote: the way I learned the first 15 digits of pi and can still recite them, the way British kids learn dynasties. Just practice saying those numbers, over and over.
  • By song: setting the numbers to tunes, like the alphabet, and singing them, over and over.
  • Or, the way one particularly brilliant pal of mine taught her kids their father’s cell phone number:  by having them dial it every night and bedtime, so he could say goodnight. Her five year old now knows her dad’s number cold, and my friend is about to start the same thing with her three year old, too.

Any other ideas / tips for teaching small kids important phone numbers? I’d love to hear them.

And I’d be forever grateful if all of you would keep my dear, dear Wonder Woman in your thoughts. She is a truly special soul.


Go Ahead, Make My Day: How To Deliver Crazy Threats, Fold, and Still Win!

Remember when Clint Eastwood was bad ass? (Image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcbarnicle/4925079272/)

When I was a kid, a friend’s nanny threatened to drop my friend and me on the side of the road if we didn’t stop acting up in the back seat. We didn’t stop acting up. She then left us on the side of the road and drove off.

I worship her. If I knew where that nanny was now I’d probably send her flowers or a fruit basket. I’m not worthy.

Still, I try.



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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