Posts Tagged ‘motherhood’

What My Son’s Swim Class Taught me about Acting and Parenting!

I was very committed to getting my 4yr old to swim this summer. I loved swimming as a kid and would train with my swim club before or after school several times a week.   I signed my son up for a 2 week intensive swim class.  He had spent time in pools before but hadn’t really taken to it – I knew this summer would be different!

At the first class he wouldn’t even get in the pool.  At the second class he managed to get in the pool but hung onto the side in abject terror.  By the end of two weeks there was some progress.  He was in the water begrudgingly and even doing the occasional skill with the lifeguards, but he was far from comfortable and terrified of getting his hair wet.

It was so frustrating for me watching the other kids in the class making huge strides – jumping in, swimming, and going under water all with pure joy and exuberance.   Then I realized parenting is just like acting.  You research, make choices and form a plan but when “action” is called you throw it all away and just live in the moment. You have no idea what your scene partner will throw at you or where the scene will go.  You release control and go for the ride.  It’s “magic time” as Jack Lemmon used to say.

I was refusing to listen and be in the moment with my son.  I was holding tight to my plan and refusing to let go!  There was no point pushing for the results I wanted.  I needed to let go off my expectations and trust him.  He will swim when he is ready.  Comparing my son to other kids is a trap that can happen in my acting career too – “compare and despair.”  It reminded me of this fantastic article by Dallas Travers.

My son will not be swimming this year and I’m totally fine with it.  He is cautious kid who takes a while to warm up to things. He observes, gets the lay of the land (or the lay of the pool as the case may be) before jumping in. All I can do is continue to expose him to water and when he is ready he will jump in – literally and figuratively.

As I continue my parenting and acting journeys however, I have a feeling I will need to remind myself of both these lessons!

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Time – There is a new Sheriff in town!

Juggling an acting career and motherhood, Time is often on my mind. Every day feels like a race against the clock as I try to get as much work done as possible in the 3hrs my son is in PreK.  I’m still surprised how much time it takes me to get my son out of the door in the morning, but that is a whole other story!

Pre kid – I often used to complain that I didn’t have enough time. All I have to say…. WHAT WAS I THINKING???

However Time is a funny thing….

Years ago, a bar I worked in closed unexpectedly and I collected unemployment for a few months before I found a new gig.  I was so excited about the idea as I’d have all this free time to focus on my acting career.  I was convinced it would create huge breakthroughs for me. However time expanded and I found myself just as busy without a job as I was with a job! I saw friends and went to the gym and without structure it took way more effort to get stuff done than before.  I got more done in an hour before heading to work than in an entire leisurely afternoon! Time was NOT the problem.

I need to remind myself of this lesson!  I can get a LOT done if I do the “right” things.  I try and focus on the out of my comfort zone actions, scary actions that yield the biggest results and not get trapped in minutia and busy work.  It has taught me to focus and prioritize and I’m a lot less precious with things.  I don’t have time to obsess over emails and re-read them a thousand times, I just have to hit send and move on.

In his book The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks states that we often think of time as outside of us as if it is something we can’t control.  In contrast he encourages people to shift to what he calls Einstein time and the concept that You’re where time comes from. I’m what he calls a classic victim of time as I have a lifetime habit of complaining about time.

His example –

Your son comes in and says, “Please play ball with me.”

Your respond “Sorry, I don’t have time right now

Next imagine instead that he comes in and says, “I’ve just cut my foot and there is blood everywhere.

Of course NOW you will help him.  In those two examples you had exactly the same amount of time, the TRUTH was that you did NOT WANT to play ball but you WANT to take him to the hospital.

Gay Hendricks would advocate saying “I want to finish what I’m doing before we play ball” as opposed to using a lack of time as an excuse.

When I first read The Big Leap, I tracked how many times I said, “We/I don’t have time,” it was astonishing! Habits can be tough to break but being accountable certainly helps!  So I declare – Time, There is a new Sheriff in Town! 

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Career, Motherhood and Meditation

I’ve been meditating for over a year now and I find it incredibility helpful.  As I juggle career and motherhood I find those 15minutes vital to my well-being.

My Meditation practice had a pretty comedic start though –

Day 1. I committed to just 5 minutes and chose a simple technique that involves meditating on one word.  I set my kitchen timer and explained to my 2 yr old that I was going to sit on my yoga mat, close my eyes and meditate.  I invited him to sit with me and sat in lotus position on a stack of magazines (I have tight hips.)  My son climbed all over me immediately.  As I focused on the word Patience he pulled my hair, “What you doing Mummy? You meditating Mummy? You meditating?”   When the timer went off, I blessed my practice with Namaste and rolled up my mat – it was messy but I’d done it.

Day 5. He became less interested and just quietly played nearby.

Day 6. He got out his own magazines from the rack and sat across from me!!

Day 7. When the timer went off he whispered very earnestly “Mama-stay, Mama-stay.” (His understanding of Namaste)  He did this for 2 weeks.

Day 15. I got into the habit of telling him the word I chose to meditate on.  (Honestly, having a two-year-old, it was often Patience.)  However, without fail my son would say “No! Monkey, Mummy…Meditate on Monkey, Mediate on Monkey.”

Day 20 I gave Monkey a try – I did not find it as effective at setting a tone for my day as Joy, Peace or Breathe!  But… I then spoke to a friend and yoga teacher and she said quieting the monkey mind is actually a meditation technique, so maybe he was trying to tell me something after all!

Fast forward to today –

Though I miss being able to set my intention for the day through meditation, I meditate before bed mostly now.  At night the apartment is quiet and I find it a great way to download the noise of the day – plus I sleep like a baby. I’ve also upgraded my stack of magazines to an actual meditation block!

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5 Ways Being an Actor Makes Me a Better Mom!

I’ve produced my own films, had recurring roles on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, shot two episodes of Law and Order and numerous Indies but my toughest role…Mom! Being a mom is awesome, well…most days, but like any great role not withoutits learning curve and challenges.  I’m the first to admit there are plenty of areas of motherhood I still need to work on …Patience immediately comes to mind!  But today I choose to celebrate why I’m an awesome mom – specifically five ways being an actor helps me in my parenting journey.

 1. My appreciation for characters and costumes. It is Halloween everyday in our house!  My son loves dressing up and spends the majority of his time in character – totally cool, I get it!  Currently his two favorite inventions are Mike the Handyman and Officer Breadsack.  (Although his PreK teacher did forbid him to wear his costumes to school – it was too distracting for the other kids.)

2. I’m trained in play!  My son and I are walking down the street and without warning I’m assigned the role of a mother bird that needs to fly away from the dragon. I’m suddenly thrust into an improv and I follow the rules, YES AND….

3. I love stories and storytelling.  I don’t know exactly when my mother stopped reading bedtime stories to me but it was years after friends had stopped the ritual and I swore her to secrecy.  I have such fond memories of begging her to read one more chapter – she would usually relent as she was just as invested in the stories as I was.  My son and I read 3 stories a night, sometimes up to 45mins, and I treasure that time with him.  A hidden benefit – reading stories out loud is also a great opportunity to brush up on those accents and dialects!

4. I adore researching a role.  After the initial transition motherhood felt relatively instinctual.  To simplify it, keep the baby warm, dry and fed.  However, when we entered the world of discipline my instincts started to betray me and phrases would come out of my mouth that shocked me.  I needed help.  I have always loved researching a role and motherhood was no exception.  I found a slew of fantastic books that equipped me with new tools to be the mom I wanted to be. Two of my favorite resources are; How to Talk so Kids will listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk and Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves.

5. NYC – adventure and inspiration.  I love NYC.  There are certainly downsides to raising a kid in NYC but there are so many wonderful benefits too.  My son was talking about collage in his PreK class and the next day I took him to MOMA to see the Matisse exhibit.  (He preferred the Miros and other surrealists who “painted a picture that had nighttime and daytime in the same painting!”)

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TOWHEADS – My Interview with Shannon Plumb

I absolutely LOVED the brilliant, wacky and poignant TOWHEADS when I saw it at New Director/ New Films in March and I was thrilled when director Shannon Plumb agreed to be interviewed.

A topic close to my heart, TOWHEADS portrays the juggle/struggle of a Brooklyn Mom as she navigates being a mother and artist.  The film also stars her two young sons and her husband, director Derek Cianfrance.

TOWHEADS is screening with Rooftop Films THIS THURSDAY JULY 25th at 9pm.

shannon plumbI relate a lot to Penelope in TOWHEADS and really appreciate motherhood being portrayed in a real way.  Kids are a lot of fun but there is also the mundane, exhausting side to being a mom and there are definitely times when I feel like I’ve lost a lot of freedom. I’d love to hear more about your journey/transition from artist to mom/artist.

My first boy was hungry and nursed all the time.  I was in a rocking chair for a year.   Getting a drink of water and going to the bathroom were no longer private journeys. I had someone in my arms all the time. Unraveling toilet paper was a whole new adventure.

I never realized how much of myself I would give up. That was the surprise.  You give yourself up. Willingly. The love makes you do it.

And you juggle between the old you and this new you. You desire to walk in your old shoes, but you want to be holding your kid’s hand when he takes his first step. You give up your wishes for your kids. You give them your coins to toss into fountains and break bones from chickens teaching them how to wish.

How do you navigate balancing work and family?  Is balance possible?

I don’t think there is a balance.  Instead you become like an avalanche. It’s like throwing up.  It’s like an atomic bomb. As a mother we run a marathon with our kids. It’s a 20-year run. When there’s a small break we explode in the studio, or at the computer or on the guitar or on a blank document. I think artists as moms have to adapt to a different sense of time.

Have you had to create any new habits?

Yes. I’ve had to do a little at a time.  In surges; a little work while they’re in school, a little work while they sleep. It’s amazing how far a little everyday will get you.

How has being a parent changed your work as an artist?

I believe there is a world of experience in being and becoming a mother. I think everything and everyone can be understood through raising children. So much of my observation now comes from the interaction between my boys, their development, and my responses to their actions. By becoming a mother I’ve become more empathetic to the characters I portray in my work. Children teach you about being human and that is everything to my work.

What is your worst parenting moment?

I literally said, “I give up” while trying to give my son walker a nap. We were on vacation in Costa Rica at the time, staying in a hut high in a treetop. I walked out to the balcony that hovered above the trees. We were about 5 stories up. Nothing was childproof. I sat down huffing and puffing. Walker came out in his diaper being silly and wanting me to chase him. He ran around a table on the porch and then disappeared.  I ran around the table to see him hanging onto the floor, his body dangling from the balcony. He was holding himself from falling his little fingers hanging on. I dove for him. I swore I’d never say, “I give up” again.

What is your favorite part of being a mom?  Your least favorite?

Wine at five!

My favorite part of being a mom… is when one day I pick them up from school and I see that their pants are too short, that their face is different, that they look like the person they will become. And they are who they are with or without me. When my perspective is fresh and I can see they are becoming good people.

My mother told my husband, and me “now you will worry for the rest of your life.” It’s true and it’s awful. Worry is my least favorite part of being a mom.

What is the best parenting advice you ever received?

I think I’m still waiting for it.

I wonder if you have any thought on the gender roles post motherhood.  My husband and I definitely found things shifting both consciously and subconsciously post baby in ways we both liked and didn’t.  I realized I used the term baby-sit anytime I had plans and my husband would stay home with my son – as if he was simply my relief and merely watching the baby while I did the raising.  Did you have any gender role revelations?

I think the person who makes the most money gets to leave the house. That’s the way it is.  Derek and I stopped counting quarters from the floor and went out to see who could make the most. I was still working in a restaurant; he did a commercial for Nike. He won. So I played house for a while. The enemy is the house. Domestic hell.  The house breathes. It’s a beast. It needs cleaning and filling and unclogging. When my husband and I fell into those old roles that’s when I got nervous. I was home, he was outside.

I read a great quote from your mother who told you “Remember that you are the mother and it always comes down to the mother.”  What does that mean to you?

Hmmmm…..I don’t want to take anything away from dads. Cause they have their special role in all this. When you’re a dad there are things that come down to only the dad. But I think the mother is always attached. She and the child were together for 9 months.  Something happens – A curse and a gift – A bond that can’t be broken.  I remember thinking, “but what if I want to run away from this creature growing inside me.” I can’t. He’s a part of me. He’s inside me and always will be.

What inspired you to make TOWHEADS?

towheads_film_still_3The radio had many reports of young mom’s who had no support raising their kids. They ended their own lives and sometimes the lives of their children too. I know this is a drastic example of “not being able to take it” but motherhood is serious stuff and a lot of woman have no way of knowing there are others like them. I wanted to show Mothers that we all go through it. I knew I couldn’t save anyone but I thought I could share some tough times with them. Maybe by seeing someone play out similar scenes to their own they could get a new perspective on their life.  Maybe they could get through the day because they were able to laugh at those moments that would normally elicit a scream. It’s all day-to-day. If this movie could help a mom get through one tough day then the show is a success.

You’ve have made a lot of short films.  What made you take the plunge to make a feature? I love the audition scene in TOWHEADS.  Can you tall about your transition from actor to an artist creating her own work/content?

I’ve always wanted to be in a real movie. A feature. I never could understand waiting for a director to pick me.  When I did try to play that game I never ever got picked.  I made short films to perform. When I turned 40 I tried to figure out what huge challenge I would take on. Would I go to South America and climb a giant mountain? Would I jump out of a plane? I was writing at the time of my 40th birthday.  I realized I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I was going to write a script so I could fulfill my dream of being in a real movie.

Your boys bring such innocence and purity to the film.  Can you talk about your choice to your use your own children in the film?

I didn’t intend to use them when I wrote the script. I thought of it but then thought against it. We had to work around school hours. So shooting could only be about 5 hours a day.  What child actors were going to do that for no money and for six months?  My boys would have to be a part of it.  So it became a collaboration with them, we were “making a movie like daddy does.”

Who was your best/first mentor?

I think I’ve always been hoping for a mentor. I haven’t really had one yet. Derek is the closest to being a mentor. He teaches me and inspires me.

What is next for you?  Do you have a dream project?  Will you work within the theme of motherhood again?

No. No more on the theme of motherhood.

I’m on page 39 of a new script. Totally new character. Can’t wait to show you.

Thanks so much Shannon for sharing you journey! TOWHEADS is screening with Roof Top films in Brooklyn this Thursday July 25th at 9pm!! There are also some exciting distribution plans for September so keep a look out.

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