What Hollywood Taught Me About Real Life

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We sat in the rented min-van hurtling through the Hollywood Hills, the two youngest on probation in the back seat, the oldest in the middle pretending she couldn’t hear any of us, the mother-in-law with nerves of steel next to her. He and I sat in the front, not speaking. Oh, we’d been speaking. We spoke through gritted teeth with words that cleverly hid everything unspoken behind them. We spoke with a false politeness that raised itself into something akin to yelling. Then we stopped speaking altogether because everything we wanted to say could not be said with other ears listening. My mother-in-law, she with the endless stream of words and the patience of a real-life saint, said absolutely nothing. I couldn’t tell if she was appalled or enjoying the show that was our family–hungry, disobedient, frustrated, turned around in a new city.

Before the Hollywood Hills, we had a great morning touring a television/movie studio. We walked under hundreds of lights and cameras on Conan’s sound stage, and sat on the sofa at Central Perk, and took photos of almost every single item of Harry Potter memorabilia. We all sat under the (real!) sorting hat. I am in Slytherin. This did not bode well for the rest of our journey. My daughter told me during the tour that she wants to be an actress. I prayed, please Jesus, no. Then I contemplated becoming an actress myself for a brief moment because I like to bring all the drama. If you knew me in real life, you would not believe this unless you put a ring on my finger or happen to be my sister.

Later, Hollywood had it’s way with us. We parked and walked around and my kids realized immediately that the glitz and glamour are an illusion. Something I knew already, but with the kids fighting incessantly behind me and the husband refusing to feed us lunch until we squeezed in ‘one more’ landmark, and the half-naked girls dressed like hookers/policemen (a bizarre combination if ever there was one) shaking their boobs at my son, and the sad desperation of artists lining the streets trying to shove their music or art or street performance at anyone who made eye contact–the curtain pulled back a little farther to expose the little man playing at a big one.

Once we escaped Hollywood itself, and drove through hills and hills of mansions, I couldn’t help but think of all the lost souls looking for work in that town. All the artists working as waiters, all the women afraid of aging, all the “aspirings” hoping for a big break and forgetting to live the life they have in the process. I am an artist (on my good/delusional days), I am an aspiring, but my life is so full. Full of people who love me in spite of my drama and my tendency to become hangry. Full of work and words. Full of life and love and anger and frustration and joy and hope. I fear that I will miss out on what I have sitting in the mini-van rental for the want of everything outside of it. The illusion of success. The mansion in the hills. The creative expression. It is a desire to be known, to be bigger than I really am, to be admired, to be talented, to be wanted. But, I already am all of these things to the people fighting in the seat behind me, and sitting silent in the seat beside me.

We ended the night laughing over a meal together at the Cheesecake Factory, but only after slamming car doors and real yelling and some people losing their electronic privileges. Most days this is the art I am making–no illusions, no hair and makeup, no fawning fans. Real life–I’m pulling back the curtain.

Traveling With Kids: Headless Photos not Included

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I love history and art, and I really love museums. I love tourist attractions that have lots of little informational placards, and I like to read each one. Slowly. I also love old stuff. Any kind of old stuff, but especially old stuff that tells a story. This has earned me the reputation of being a bit of a nerd with my family. Boring might be the word my children mouth behind my back, but I’ll own up to nerdy.

My husband shares some of these loves, but mostly he indulges me. When we travel, it’s all museums and historical sites all the time, preferably on foot and in weather conditions guaranteed to make everyone miserable. My children took a three hour guided tour of the Vatican before the age of ten–twice. I can assure you they do not thank me for this. My son still calls it the worst experience of his life, and considering we lost him for a good half-hour in Disneyland Paris, that’s quite a statement.

For years, they begged us for a real vacation. They use words like “relaxing” and “fun” to describe their ideal get-away. They also had the nerve to request three meals a day, a policy my husband largely ignores when traveling. We still haven’t figured out why, but we think he believes it adds to the excitement of walking for hours through an art museum if he “keeps us hungry”. I keep this policy on my list of items to discuss when my husband threatens me with marriage counseling.

This year, we decided to indulge the kids, and we took them to Turks and Caicos for a relaxing, fun, food-filled break. In the first two hours, I had to swim into the ocean with my sunnies and my hat on to save my youngest from drowning, and the oldest had to be rescued at sea by a resort employee manning a powerboat. I have misgivings as to whether or not my children understand the meaning of relaxing, and judging from the above, their idea of fun is dubious at best.

After a generous helping of Fruit Loops and Chips Ahoy Cookies for the kids and a few glasses of prosecco for me, we finally got into a more mellow groove. I indulged my inner nerd by reading a lovely stack of books and taking photos of the sunset on repeat,  my husband fed us (mostly) three meals a day, and the kids enjoyed five days without an informational placard in sight.

When we arrived, I asked my son to please take some photos of me at some point on the vacation, so we have proof I was there. As the official family photographer, I usually stand behind the lens. On the ride home, as I scrolled through my phone, I found ten or so shots of me. Almost entirely headless. There’s nothing like a close up of one’s abdominal area in a bikini at forty to make one reconsider well, everything.

I guess he hasn’t forgotten about that parenting faux pas in Disney after all.

……….

Where do you like to go on family vacations? What memories stick with you? And, more importantly, have you ever lost a kid there?!

*Follow along on our occasional travels and everyday life-keeping over on instagram. It’s my favorite place on the internet. You’ll find me there a few times a day, much to the mortification and chagrin of my teenagers.

Titans

longwood via kimberlyanncoyle.com

With a storm called “Titan” bearing down on the Northeast, I did the unthinkable. I promised, no, I assured my kids they wouldn’t have school Monday morning. You can imagine how the morning unfolded when we woke up to nary a snowflake and a full day of school ahead. It put another chink in the parenting armor, friends. This particular suit looks rather banged up these days.

We are desperate for spring, for fresh, non-arctic air and short sleeves and plump buds pushing up from the ground. We’ve seen enough of the same walls and had enough of our same old yes-you-have-to-wear-a-coat-at-the-bus-stop arguments.

This weekend, M and I visited Longwood Botanical Gardens and its 4 acres of greenhouse plantings. Orchids and lilies and mystery greens filled the glass rooms. The heavy fragrance of spring clung to the warm mist, and I caught my breath with the potency of it. The scent wrapped its way around my hair as I walked, and M stopped and took photos of me surrounded by vivid color. For a moment, with his eyes on me, I wished I was as un-self-conscious as the flowers.

We also visited the old DuPont mansion, Winterthur, and we heard the tales of nights spent around the grand piano, of dancing, and rooms filled with hundreds of cut blooms from their private gardens. I thought of all the life those rooms must have contained, the people and the parties that filled the home with music and chatter. Mr. DuPont–now there was a Titan, a true force of nature.

The rooms stand quiet now, save for the tourists who click-clack through. It is a museum, an homage to the greatness of a few wealthy men. The piano sits silent, but evidence of life bursts out in a flash of pink from a vase in the center. Our guide tells us Mr. DuPont’s gardens still bloom, a legacy of hard work and rich soil and the pulsing life held within the bud of a flower.

While shepherds watch their flocks by night

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We visited Israel this year, and our guide, an Israeli Jew, was unable to take us across the Palestinian border to Bethlehem. “No Jews allowed,” he said, and so he hooked us up with a Christian Palestinian guide on the other side. We sat at the Israeli border in our guide’s white van, throwing apprehensive looks at the bullet-pocked wall with barbed wire strung across the top. “I’ve never lost a tourist. Yet.” He said it with a straight face, and I’m certain I turned to my husband with a look of undisguised terror.

“It’s another world on the other side,” he continued, “but you’ll be fine.”

We gathered our belongings, and our children like ducks around us, and we made the slow, single file march through the metal corridors and barriers until we set foot in Palestine. Our new guide waited in a car, parked near the exit gate, with complete disregard for the curb and other vehicles. When we emerged, the only tourists in a sea of Palestinians, he gathered up my chicks, while I gathered up my conspicuous blonde hair, and we drove, hot and cramped, to Bethlehem.

He took us to arid, scrubby fields, where shepherds used to gather their flocks at night. And while I took photos and attempted to have a spiritual moment, the guide pointed to greener pastures in the distance. “My grandmother has a farm there, it is our family’s for generations, and now we cannot go. It is over the border. We are kept out.” I muttered something sympathetic, while trying to envision a chorus of angels announcing the birth of Christ. This guy was messing with my moment.

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A few feet away, my children scrambled on rocks, and a group of Christians sat beneath the shade of a white tent singing heavily accented hymns. In the distance, the fields stood dry and still. One of the kids slipped on a rock, and the guide requested that they kindly STOP. IT. NOW. I snapped fuzzy photos of hills and a no man’s land of forgotten farms.

I walked beneath the words “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” at the entrance to the garden and fields, and tried to feel the glory. I didn’t feel it in the expected way, a shiver of emotion running down my spine, or a welling of tears. I felt the glory of God in the most ordinary way, the same way I feel it every day. It is a simple, constant knowing. The glory of God still comes to those of us who feel un-exceptional in every way. We shepherds of dishes and daily life. It comes to those who scramble through life and frequently slip up. It comes to the outsider, the one with the hair and the skin that doesn’t look like all of the others. Glory falls on fallow ground and hymn singers and on those who find themselves unable to return home. The glory of Christ’s birth is for all of us, everyday, whether we feel the moment or not.

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It’s another world on this side of the manger and the cross. It’s a world where everything is turned upside down, where God confines himself to human skin, and we clothe ourselves in the Holy Spirit. We are strangers in this land, always looking across the time-continuum to the place our soul knows as the family home. Someday we will go there, and we will be strangers no more. Gloria in Excelsis Deo.

When you’re the opposite of a hoarder

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I like to think I notice things. Perhaps it is hubris on my part, but I think noticing things is part of what I do when I write or take photographs or listen. I like to think the little details in life–the way the tree limbs shoot out like tortured veins or the way he leaned heavy on the door jamb when he bent to hand her the candy–aren’t lost on me. It’s the small things that help us see, the small stories that truly speak.

This illusion of myself, as Chief Noticer of Small-ish Important Things, is, sadly, shattered on a near-daily basis. My husband can’t make heads or tails of it, and frankly, neither can I. I may be able to tell you exactly how someone parted their hair and the one gray strand they try to hide behind their left ear, but I will almost always forget which way to turn when driving to the mall. I will be sure to pack the matching earrings for a weekend away, but leave behind my travel documents.

Yesterday, on returning home from a weekend away, we arrived at the remote car park to retrieve our car, jet-lagged and exhausted. We paid to have the car cleaned inside and out while we travelled, and I was pleased to discover it’s not impossible for professionals to remove a chocolate milk stain from car upholstery, circa 2008. When I opened the trunk to put the luggage in the back, one lonely bag of rubbish sat waiting to be thrown out. My son informed me it was trash from home, and I grabbed the bag, marched over to the trash can at the car park, and shoved it in. I proceeded to pack the trunk with our luggage and mentally high-fived myself for getting it all done.

Trash: check. Luggage: check. Kids buckled in and ready to go: check. Every car-related item we own, including the car registration, my favorite lippy, and pages from my daughter’s journal now unknowingly stuffed in a trash can a few feet from my car: check.

Thank God someone in the car had the foresight to check the glove compartment box before we drove away. Otherwise, I’d have found myself back in Newark at midnight rummaging through the rubbish bin. Chief Thrower-Outer of Important Things might be a more appropriate nickname. All of this, on the heels of another unfortunate incident prior to our trip. My husband spent a fair bit of time searching for my Swiss bank card hours before we flew out, only to discover I had accidentally chopped it into little pieces and thrown it away months ago. I offered him my completely useless expired card, the one I originally intended to chop into little pieces, and somehow this generous offer didn’t appease his frustration.

I can’t imagine why.

Up next: An episode in which my daughter discovers I threw away her art work and put her favorite dress in the give-away pile. Stay tuned.