On Having Kids
And Paying Opportunity Costs

Every once in awhile, what I write about over at sklevy.com happens to overlap a great deal with what I write about over here at ChecklistMommy.

Yesterday was one of those days.

The post I wrote over there began:

This weekend I attended the New Member meeting at the WGA-W. The meeting happened to be scheduled at the exact same time as Gaga’s class Tot Shabbat service. Obviously, I wanted to be both places at the same time. Obviously I couldn’t be both places at the same time (damn you, physics) and I will say now that arriving late to the WGA meeting was stressful (I fucking hate being late anywhere) but ducking out early from my daughter’s performance – despite the fact that MrBigIdeas and all the other kids were there to support her – brought me to tears.

That’s a pretty good summary of what it’s like to have kids, love them more than anything on earth, and yet to still harbor career ambitions that you just have to pursue because otherwise the psychic cost to you and your family will be so terrible it will make the economic costs seem piffling in comparison.

If you’d like to read more, click here.

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman
& Thanks for One Last (Awful) Illuminating Performance

I heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing while on my way to pick up my daughters from their Sunday morning rehearsals at a West Hollywood acting school they attend. (Incidentally they are doing Legally Blonde and Diddy is Elle and it’s AMAZEBALLS for her and me because off all sorts of things not least which is my joy at passing my deep love of musical theater to my kids.)

CHK philip seymore hoffman

My kids are not taking acting lessons because I have any desire AT ALL for them to grow up and be actors. (Putting Gaga in my movie more than made me clear on THAT).

In fact, I chose their acting school because I am fairly certain NO ONE ever gets scouted off that stage. It’s adorable. There is literally no pressure for anyone there to out-perform anyone else. Every once in awhile there’s a kid who blows your socks off (last semester it was the kid who played the Beast in Beauty and the Beast) but in general all the kids are equally bad on stage and no one seems to be getting any better.

I am cool with that.

But before anybody gets the wrong idea: I don’t hate actors. I have a lot of actor friends. They are lovely people, and most of them are not insane. That’s why I love them and have chosen to hang out with them whenever I get the opportunity and raise my kids among them and generally adore them.


Many many other actors are insane. They are deeply troubled creatures on any number of other levels. Some of this is just the dark side of whatever deep psychological well you need to draw from in order to be a truly great performer.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a truly great performer.

He was also, apparently, deeply troubled.

I say this because, IMobviouslyexpertO, only deeply troubled adults, living fairly adult lives, raising kids with partners (ex-or-otherwise), stick needles in their arms and pump themselves full of heroin.

Honestly, I find it kind of mind-boggling that considering all the other, easier ways to get hella high that were at this man’s disposal, he went with THAT.

In fact, I spent most of yesterday being pretty pissed off at how stupid PSH was in this particular instance. I was sad, yes. This guy was the real deal. So friggin’ talented. And honestly, a true contemporary. Even more so than Paul Walker, who spoke for the most part, to the generation below me.

PSH spoke to US.

For which I thank him.

I also thank him for this:

This morning, over breakfast, Diddy asked MrBigIdeas who that guy on the front page of the newspaper was.

MrBigIdeas told her he was a famous actor who died.

At which point I said:

You know what? I want to tell you why he died. That man was incredibly talented. That was why he was so famous. He was really really good at his job. But he took drugs, and they killed him. Drugs kill. Period. He was a grown-up, he should have known better, and drugs killed him ANYWAY.

Diddy nodded. Gaga nodded.

Sausage helpfully added, “That man died.”

Pancake continued eating his waffle.


Thank you, PSH, for all the wonderful wonderful work you did.

Every moment you were on screen was illuminating.

As was your tragic tragic tragic death.

Thank you for letting my family learn something from that, too.











So I finally sat down and watched the Dustin Hoffman video that the web’s gone nuts for this week.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the gist:

Hoffman fights back tears as he recounts the first time he did hair and makeup as Tootsie. Why? Because after spending hours getting done up, he looked in the mirror and  realized he wasn’t as PRETTY as he assumed he would be, based on the vibrant and interesting female character he’d created.

And the fact that this vibrant and interesting character wasn’t a hottie made him realize that he had probably spent his whole life discounting vibrant and interesting women based on how they looked.

Here’s what I have to say about that:


I was an awkward kid.

MOMS! Do not let DADS buy your daughters their first pair of glasses!

MOMS! Do not let DADS buy your daughters their first pair of glasses!


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.


It wasn’t until I was about 23 that I started to get it together.

I went to my high school reunion that year, the highlight of which was overhearing  someone I didn’t know all that well tell the boy I had unrequitedly loved FOREVER AND EVER,

Hey, did you see Sarah yet? She got HOT.

That may, in fact, remain one of the highlights of MY LIFE and not just that summer.

And you know what?

That’s pretty effing sad.

I went to Yale. I did my graduate work at Columbia and USC.

I read some if not ALL of the New York Times every single day and I listen to NPR in the car and I consider myself fairly well-educated and pretty well informed.

I can hold my own at a dinner party.

But I do it better with a blow-out.

I do it better when my dress fits just right, or I’m rocking the greatest necklace you’ve ever seen.

If you run into me at Target on a Tuesday morning and I’m not looking my best, I feel it.


And that’s RIDICULOUS.

Especially since I know girls aren’t BORN feeling that way.

There are a few years, early on, where they are happy no matter – and often despite – how their hair looks, or what they’re wearing.

They don’t NOTICE how people look at them.

They don’t notice if people look away.

But it doesn’t last that long.

When Diddy was four, she asked if she could get a hair cut – the fine locks trailing down her shoulders bothered her. I took her to get a cut at a kids’ store that had a stylist working a chair in the back room.

Diddy showed the stylist how long she wanted her hair – just to her chin.


I would have killed for this hair. I would STILL kill for this hair. And it kills me that she worried her friend wouldn't like HER if they didn't like her HAIR.

I would have killed for this hair. I would STILL kill for this hair.

Diddy burst into tears. She said her friends would tell her she looked like a boy.

They wouldn’t like her haircut.

They wouldn’t like her.

Now Diddy is a fairly socially-attuned kid. She has always understood the social currents rushing around her, and is careful how she wades through them.

But I have heard some version of this story from not 1 but 2 other Moms whose girls went through the same thing. Neither of their girls is as tapped into the machinations of the social strata in their classrooms as is my kid – but still they felt it, this feeling that if they didn’t LOOK a certain way, they were somehow damaged goods.

I wish TO GOD I had a solve for that.

Because my girls are going to go through that same awkward stage that 98% of all girls go through.

And it’s going to shape them, in some good ways, sure (get funny, get smart, get strong), but also bad (start worrying about bleaching and shaving and waxing and Spanxx).

What the hell is a Mom supposed to do?

Maybe we can turn this Dustin Hoffman moment into a movement.

You can start by watching the video, and passing it on.





I Learned By Playing Hooky from the School PTA

Me and Gaga, sometime last fall.


I am doing my best to gain some perspective over here at ChecklistMommy.

I want balance. I want equilibrium. I want less stress, and less noise.

To get there, I’ve been making some very active efforts at saying NO.

And you know where I’ve gotten the biggest bang for my “NOPE JUST CAN’T” buck?

This year, I backed slowly and steadily and stealthily away from the school PTA.*

To be fair, this hasn’t been the easiest adjustment for me to make. I am GUNG-HO for my kids’ school, and always have been.

When Diddy was 2, I signed her up for school and then I signed up for every single parent opportunity that came my way.

  • Teacher appreciation? Check.
  • Tot Shabbat Clean Up? Check.
  • School-wide auction committee? Check.
  • Need someone to make fundraising calls to parents? Check.

But then I had more kids. And took on more work. And over the last year I kinda stopped volunteering for things at school.

And you know what happened?


They just kept signing me up for things.

And I kept saying okay to that, because I have difficulty saying no to the people I’ve put in charge of educating my children so they can become happy, productive citizens.

At first, this situation stressed me out.

For instance:

LAST SUMMER,  I got an email confirming Committee Chair assignments for the coming this school year. I was shocked to see my name listed as Chair of a Big City-Wide Event.

I tried to resign by sending a passive-aggressive email to the new PTA President, whom I had not yet met, but she is better at that game, and told me our School Head had personally volunteered me for the gig, which of course played to my vanity, so the assignment stuck.



(Yes, I know that says SHIP. I am working on my swearing this year, along with my SHOUTING. More about that soon, if and when it sticks.)

Then, about six weeks before the Big City-Wide Event, I realized I wouldn’t even BE IN TOWN to help run it.

I’d be in London at my cousin’s wedding.

I informed the PTA President and the School Head and they were completely unalarmed.

Apparently no Committee Head is actually NECESSARY for these events.

Once I figured that out, I immediately went on to COMPLETELY 100% drop the ball on the only other School Volunteer gig I’d taken on this year, also fairly reluctantly.

This was a fundraising party that I’d been asked to host.

I didn’t plan this party, as I very purposefully did NOT sign up for committee.

So someone planned it.

I was just going to be the one left holding the bag.

Fine, whatever.

Except I really didn’t wanna.

And I really didn’t have time for it.

And my co-host, who happens to have a truly demanding office job, didn’t have time for it, either.

So at the very last minute we dumped it on HER wife.

Which was genius.

Because HER wife knew what she was doing and handled the entire last minute party with exceptional grace and humor and it went great. There was wine and couscous and cupcakes.

And it happened to be a shopping party at a great boutique in town where I found the insane pink leather jacket you can see here, as well as two great dresses for London, a pair of earrings, a necklace, and, oh, yeah, a bracelet, too.


Plus I learned a life lesson:


Here’s a photo of me, having more fun, in London, while I was supposed to be PTA Chairing a City Wide Event. I’m even wearing the dress I bought at the PTA Fundraising Party I pawned off on my co-host’s wife:

I mean, come on. PTA, SCHMEET-TA.  (Photo by Marica Levy)

I mean, come on. PTA, SCHMEET-TA.
(Photo by Marica Levy)



So here’s my advice to over-stressed, over-stretched, working parents who are killing themselves trying to volunteer at school on top of all their other daily responsibilities:


*I believe this a piece of advice offered in the new book MINIMALIST PARENTING: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less, which is on my summer reading list. I’ll tell you more abou it when I finally get a chance to read it, but I will say I was very pleased to peruse the contents and see this idea offered there, as it made me feel like less of a heel for thinking quitting the PTA was a GOOD thing.

**ok yeah, I get it. You still feel like you have to make SOME effort for your kids’ school. I know I do. So here’s what I do: EMAIL-ONLY BASED VOLUNTEERISM. This morning I sent out thirty or forty emails reminding people to bring food for our Teacher Luncheon tomorrow, and/or show up to proctor the classrooms they’d pledged to proctor.Total time spent: FIFTEEN MINUTES. Fifteen minutes is about the amount of time I have left in me for the PTA. Everybody wins!


(Or: How To Have The Best Mother’s Day Ever)

CHK mother's day

Recently I suggested taking a quickie girl’s trip to a nearby hotel with a girlfriend of mine.

She immediately begged off because she doesn’t have family nearby to watch her kids – who are both older than Diddy – while she’s away.

The thing is:

This friend is happily married.


He’s called HER HUSBAND.

But my friend has NEVER left her husband home alone with her kids for more than a few hours at a time.




Her list of reasons included:

  1. How would he feed them?
  2. How would he get them to / from school?
  3.  The house would be such a wreck when she got back it just wouldn’t be worth it to her to have left them in the first place.

My short answers were:

  1. He can feed himself, right? So supposedly he can feed them, too.
  2. He gets himself to / from work, right? He can probably manage carpool.
  3. Umm … really? The house being clean is more important than MOM HAVING A GOOD TIME FOR 2 DAYS?


I mentioned this conversation to another friend, and she reported OTHER friends of HERS saying the same thing.

And we agreed:


Here’s why:

  1. Refusing to leave your kids with your partner robs YOU of kid-free / alone time. This doesn’t need further parsing, does it?
  2. Refusing to leave your kids with your partner robs HIM of time alone with the kids. This is also pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?
  3. If you don’t leave your partner alone with the kids, how will he ever really understand how HARD being the primary caregiver ACTUALLY IS? Don’t you want ANY CREDIT for making it look easy? Leaving your partner alone with the kids IS THE ONLY WAY to show him that being the primary caregiver is HARD. EFFING. WORK.
  4. Finally, and most importantly: If you don’t give the poor guy time to practice, how will he ever get it right?

Now, I’m not saying this is always easy. I have on occasion left for a few days to learn that school snacks were forgotten, that dance classes were missed, that MrBigIdeas couldn’t find the shin guards or figure out the coffee maker (umm, hello, push “BREW”).

And god yes has my house often looked like a hurricane ran through it after I’ve been away a few days and left the kids and husband behind.

I’m just saying that the earlier and more often you leave the kids home alone with your partner, the better it gets over time.

And then this happens:

You mention you’re making a six-hour spa appointment on Mother’s Day and leaving the kids home alone with Daddy.

Daddy, who is no stranger to being alone with his kids, doesn’t flinch.

You come home early. The house is wreck.

You decide this is not your problem.

Dad is out in the garden with the kids, so you decide to take a nap.

When you wake up, the kids present you with a hand-picked bouquet and Daddy says – and I am not making this up:

I’m sorry it looked so terrible upstairs, I was putting the boys down for their nap and I forgot to clean up lunch. But I did it while you were sleeping, so it’s good now.


Hear me, Mamas?






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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