No Regrets

My dear actor friend Katie Mitchell has been writing for years – thoughtful, probing and extraordinarily heart revealing material.  She and her sister in-law Lupe Padilla Mitchell, have a created a podcast called If It’s Not 1 Thing It’s Your Mother.

Each week, the pod cast features a different writer reading a piece about their experience with motherhood.  It is illuminating because the writers and their experiences are extraordinarily diverse.  Their tag line is “Being a mother is an attitude, not biology.”

Katie remembered a piece I wrote about my choice NOT to be a mother and wanted to feature it.  Like most things I couldn’t find it.  So I wrote a new piece.  Here it is.  You can either read it or have me read it to you.  Or both as I am also interviewed in the pod cast If It’s Not 1 Thing It’s Your Mother.

Molly & Mom pics 4

No Regrets

I’m 57 years old.  I don’t have children.  And I don’t have any regrets.

In my 30’s and early 40’s I never minded people asking me if I had children. It was the follow up question I found obnoxious, rude and no one’s business.

“Why Not?” They would ask.

Beginning to steam, I would politely answer, “Oh I think it is a calling and I don’t feel called.”

Which they responded with what they thought was polite, “But you would be such a great mom!”

By now I was beginning to boil.  I’d stare at them with their beatific-holier-than-thou-I’m-the-eternal-mother look on their face, and I would just want to eviscerate them.  How dare they assume that all women should be mothers.

First of all:  She didn’t know me!  How the hell would she know if I would be a good mother or not.  At that point in my life I hadn’t been through therapy and I can safely say I would NOT have been a good mother.

Second of all:  She didn’t know me!  She didn’t know my political leanings and how I had been donating to zero population growth for years.  And thought and think the greatest thing someone can do for the environment is not to have ANY children. But I wasn’t telling her NOT to breed, why was she encouraging me TO breed.

Third of all:  She didn’t know me!  I could have had a health issue or reproductive issue that prevented me from being ABLE to have children.   I could have been trying for years and she could be opening up a wound that would never heal.

Fourth of all:  She didn’t know me! She didn’t know my financial reality.  She didn’t know I was the sole bread winner for my husband, myself and other family members.  I couldn’t realistically and in good conscious afford a child.  However, there was a period of  financially stability and my yearning motherhood hormones kicked in.  After 2 months it passed.  And I thought holy shit, that feeling has got to last a LOT longer than 2 months.

Fifth of all and maybe final:  She didn’t know me!  Nor did she want to know me.  She had been enveloped by that protective coating of motherhood that only allowed her to feel understanding and empathy for her children.  No one else.  Not someone standing right in front of her.

But maybe that is the way it should be.  Maybe motherhood should be all encompassing.  I mean a Mom should be able to take a bullet for her child.  Right?

In reality, I was too busy putting the oxygen mask over my face first that I didn’t even consider children a possibility.  Regardless, “Not feeling called to have children” is a phrase ambiguous enough to be interpreted several ways.  And should have shut the questioning down.  If the person asking the question were religious, they could hear. “God has not blessed me with the ability to have children.”  Which should shut them down.  Or those who are little more secular could hear, “I don’t want them.”  Which should shut them down.  Or someone really sensitive might hear, “I’m trying to be polite, but think that this is a fucking obnoxious question.  Talk about your kids.  Enjoy your kids and  your motherhood, but don’t fucking judge me for NOT having them, you sanctimonious douche.”  But it never shut them down.

It finally occurred to me, the quickest and most efficient response was to say, “I’m barren.” Full stop, end of discussion.   However, I had too many friends who were suffering with the inability to have children, so I stopped using that tactic – out of respect.  Besides, my struggling friends would tell me horror stories of people giving them unwanted fertility advice.  Complete strangers would gleefully tell them what they should try.  What a fucking painful nightmare.

As I grew older, people mercifully stopped asking.  And I began to get some perspective and empathy on why people would want kids and why I didn’t.

I am the last of seven children.  I never really played with baby dolls growing up.  I preferred Barbie.  I would spend hours acting out various adult scenarios with all my Barbie’s, Ken’s, Skipper and Christie.  I only had one Skipper and one Christie.  I watched a LOT of soap operas, so I had great material with which to work.

I also felt I had been brought into this lifetime to help my sisters.  I wasn’t called to be a Mom but rather I was placed here to help them, my sibs.

But I think what had the greatest impact, was watching my mother struggle.  Don’t get me wrong, she was a terrific mother – Always put us first, was an amazing teacher, had a huge sense of humor and raised us all with a great deal of humanity and compassion.  But she was a constant worrier.  She was always on call.  Even long after we had moved away, she never let her guard down, unless… she got ill. The only way she could take a break was to get ill.  Not a healthy way to carve out time for yourself.

I looked at her, and saw a woman exhausted.  She had given everything she had to her children including all her calcium (she had severe osteoporosis with at least 5 compressed vertebrae).

When my Mom died, I mourned her loss and pitied her a great deal – Thinking she had not lived the life she wanted – how she didn’t deserve the overwhelming burden of 7 children.  Then I found love letters that she and my father wrote to one another in their late teens and early 20’s.  In them, my mother spoke a great deal about having children.  How important it was to her.  How she looked forward to the day that she could share her life with her children, nurture them, teach them and help them grow.  It was a running theme in many letters.

It was then I realized my Mom did get to do what she wanted in her life.  She had a raised 7 children.  All with strong convictions and opinions.  Each one could think and act for themselves.  Each one went out into the world and created space for themselves.  Each one had a very different personality and defining spirit.  I say had, because in recent years I have lost a sister and a brother. There are now only 5 of us.

So, I have no regrets not having children.  I DO regret not respecting or understanding my mother’s passion for motherhood.  And for those who were called to have children, like my mom, bless you.  You are selfless creatures who demand great respect.

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You want your kid in the industry?

A pal of mine, Dominic Flores, teaches a wonderful class for young people in Orange County called Actors Edge OC.  He invited me to speak to them.  I didn’t really know what I could offer young people, but I did know what I could offer their parents.  I told him I wanted to speak to the parents about the pitfalls of the industry.  He thought it was a great idea.  Dominic is a father of four and cares deeply about children.  Whether his students continue on in the industry (and many of his students do work) his first interest is developing them as good, creative and confidant human beings.  So he gave me the green light to talk about whatever I wanted to talk about.

I thought maybe I should post my talk.  And so I am.

A huge disclaimer: I am not a parent.  I was not a child actor.  I speak from my own experiences that shaped my opinions.  You are welcome to your own opinions.

I was not a child when I started acting. I was 24 years old when I moved to California.  I studied theatre at Northwestern University had already had professional acting gigs in Chicago, on stage, in commercials, TV & film.  I was also lucky enough to have an agent in California when I moved.  About 15 years ago I started playing Moms.  So I got to see first hand how children were treated on a set.  And I started to develop a very strong opinion about it.

I didn’t like it.

There is a reason the TV and Film Industry is called THE BUSINESS, because it IS a business.  And although there are child labor laws the film industry must abide by, it is still the wild west when it comes to being on set.  Case in point all of the sexual assault and sexual harassment that has recently been exposed.  It is true, a teacher is always on set.  It is true, there are only a certain amount of hours a child can work.

But do not think for one minute that the studios, networks, producers, directors or other actors have the best interest of your child at heart.  First and foremost in their minds is the business.  And a business is about making money.  It’s not about art and it’s not about taking care of its employees.  Of course there are exceptions that prove the rule.

Make no mistake, a set is an adult environment, even if it is a kids’ show.  A set is an adult work environment with adult language, adult concerns and adult levels of stress.

The bottom line?  YOU must take care of your child because no else will.

I know this may sound dramatic but I am quite serious.

Actors in general must take care of themselves.  Even though the union looks out for us, they aren’t on the set.  It’s our responsibility to communicate wrongdoings to the union. Then the union can take action.  They can’t help us if they don’t know what is going on. So who is going to do that for the child?  YOU MUST BE YOUR CHILD’S ADVOCATE AND PROTECTOR.

You’ve seen all the things that have been in the news.  It is an adult environment… I can’t stress that enough.  Language is crude, lewd and rough.  Tempers can flare, people can be abrasive and inappropriate.  There is a great level of pressure on a set.  Stress levels are high.  Your child is working not playing.  And I’m not saying sets can’t be fun and acting isn’t fun – it can be amazingly fun.  But it is still work, people are getting paid and the networks or studios want a product they can sell.

A set is inherently stressful.  Even when things are going well, stress is palpable. And children are emotional sponges.  They soak up everything.  They are born empaths and can feel what everyone else is feeling.  You need to protect them and shelter them as much as you can while they pursue their dream.

And please do some soul searching.  Is this their dream or yours?  If it’s your dream and they are trying to please you, please do your child a favor and find another hobby.   Let them be children.  Do not force them to work if they really don’t care about doing it.  If they only care about pleasing you and making you happy, encourage them to find what interests them.

And pay attention.  Even though they might really enjoy it in the beginning, see if it shifts.  Their love or excitement for it may change.  And that has got to be okay.  If they don’t want to do it any more don’t make them.  Try to find out WHY they don’t want to do it any more.  Make sure something dreadful didn’t happen.

Be hands on.  There are ways to be there for your child without being a stage parent or annoying production.  You do it by simply BEING there.  And always there.  You can’t just leave your kid on a set while you stay in their dressing room.  Speak up for your child when you need to, but your presence speaks volumes.

The greatest example I ever saw was a father with his extraordinarily beautiful 15 year old daughter.  He never said much of anything, was always pleasant and always there. She was delightful, not precocious, still a child and was a very good actor.  You could tell the home life was a solid bedrock of supportive values.  No one would have ever treated his daughter with anything other than respect.

Being strong and silent works amazingly well on sets.  Don’t be a fan, don’t be overwhelmed by the potential glitz.  You must realize it is a business too and your first responsibility is to your kid.  People can sense it and they will respect you and your child without you having to do much at all except give a damn about your kid.

100.3 The SOUND

My sister Liz told me about THE SOUND radio station about 9 years ago.  “Molly, have you heard this new station?  I think it’s 100.3?  It is sooooo good!  They play ALBUMS!”  Liz loved music.  Back in the 70’s, she had her Columbia House music membership and got a new 8 track tape almost every week.  It was so exciting getting this music in the mail.  Music she paid for because she began working at age 16 and never stopped.  The music brought her great comfort in a tumultuous time in our family.  And because I was her roomie, it brought me comfort too.  Those were the days.  Her favorite was Elton John.  She had every one of his albums.  My sister passed away from breast cancer this past April, she was almost 59 years old.

THE SOUND was recently sold.  In a few days it will be no more.  Ever day I drive my car, this station is a part of my life and it connects me to Liz.  Inevitably I’ll be thinking of her and one of her favorite songs will pop on.  I know then that she is with me.  I will miss this more than my heart can bear.

Selfishly, I wanted to support THE SOUND  any way I could.  So I went to their facebook page to see what I could do to save this kind of in depth appreciation of music on the radio.  That is when I saw Mimi’s fund raiser for A CASE FOR THE CURE.  Mimi the-flower-child Chen is now a cancer survivor and she is raising money and awareness for this terrific home grown organization.  This non profit helps, among other things, pay for screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms for women in LA County who cannot afford to pay.

I crumbled in tears.  It was almost like Liz lead me to the page. No one should ever have to endure what my sister, Mimi Chen or any other man and woman who have had breast cancer went through.  I donated and I hope you can too.  And what  lovely way to honor the greatest radio station that was THE SOUND.