Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Thanksgiving for The 80's

It would be sacrilege not to write this week about giving thanks, so here’s why I am most thankful for the 1980’s.

* I wasn’t yet tempted by plastic surgery.  I broke my arm very badly when I was six.  (Unfortunately, that wasn't in the 90’s...)  I ended up having major surgery to repair it, for which I still have a very significant scar.  I remember my father asking every so often if I wanted to visit a plastic surgeon to have the scar repaired.  I was never interested, and quite frankly never understood the suggestion.  Years later, I recognize that he, too, struggled with the enormous challenge of raising a confident daughter in an image obsessed world.  Thankfully, I believe he succeeded.

* I aspired to be a Carrington, not a Kardashian.

* I watched Sesame Street without questioning Bert & Ernie’s living situation.  My not-yet four year old daughter recently said, “Mommy, Ernie is sad because Bert isn’t sleeping in his bed”.  Be it out of innocence, chance or enlightenment, her statement was a powerful reminder that she and her sister will grow up in a society possibly even more plagued by judgment that of my own generation.

* I learned the magic of live music when it was actually live music.  I was seven when I saw Neil Diamond rock the Hartford Coliseum.  My parents passed on a night of fun (or even adult companionship) in exchange for giving my brother and me the once in a lifetime chance to hear “Heartlight” truly sung from the heart.  Of course, like any avid BOP reader, the late 80’s had me hanging’ tough with the NKOTB, but it was Neil that taught me to appreciate the spectrum.

* I fell in love with Kiefer Sutherland when he was the original badass, and let the love grow for Jack Bauer.

 * I watched every ball drop on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with my parents.  At the time, I had little appreciation for mother’s unwavering love for Dick Clark.  ("Generation Z" readers, that means she gazed upon him like the founder of the Belieber Fan Club would Justin.)  Many years later, my first job in Hollywood was on the talk show “The Other Half”, where Dick co-hosted with Mario Lopez and Danny Bonaduce.  Mario never referred to him as anything other than Mr. Clark, and the rest of the world saw him as a deity.  To this day, one of my greatest accomplishments is having introduced my mother to Dick Clark.  And I'd love to say that I dreamed of or foreshadowed it happening... but the beauty of it is, I didn't.

If there is one thing that makes me sad about the 80’s, it is the fact that they are long gone.  For me, that decade was one of happiness and innocence.  It was before responsibility and accountability set in, before I knew what stress was, and before my father was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Still, I am thankful for those times.  If there is one thing I have learned since the 1980's, it is to uncover the reason to make every moment matter, as they will all be gone too soon- just like the original BOP magazine.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Make A Choice & Use Your Voice

Russell Simmons, Alec Baldwin and Jay-Z are just a few of the celebrities that have taken to the streets (or Twitter) in response to the Occupy Movement.  This is one of the great things about our country.  You can find your own voice and express it, at whatever volume you choose- but know- there may be repercussions.

Do you remember the first opinion you had on a hot topic?  This got me thinking about mine…

My father grew up in a strict Roman Catholic household.  Church was attended religiously, and quizzes on the sermon content quickly followed.  My Aunt, the eldest of six, became a nun and my father spent a short time in the seminary, but left after they withheld his Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition.

When he married my mother, a non-Catholic, his parents said they would “love Protestant grandchildren just as much”.  They raised us as Catholics, but I use that term loosely.  My father took us to church on holidays but slept through the mass while my mom stayed at home wrapping last minute Christmas gifts or hiding Easter eggs.  Really, we were fair-weather Catholics.

To my mother’s credit, she did take our religious education classes seriously.  We were Baptized, received our first Holy Communion, and started the preparation to be confirmed.  That’s when sin stepped in.

During a lesson on the topic of abortion, my brother revealed that there were circumstances in which he was (gasp) pro-choice.  I wasn’t in the classroom at the time, but I’m sure you could have heard a crucifix drop.  Hours later, my mother got a call from the church questioning how her son was raised as such in a Catholic household, and suggesting that he attend one-on-one classes.

Long story short, my parents gave their son the option to move forward, and he declined.  Anticipating I would receive the same resistance for my own views, I withdrew as well.  Neither of us was confirmed.

Looking back now, I am thankful for how my parents handled the situation.  They encouraged us to have voices, and (usually) respected us when we did.  I’m hoping to practice the same in my own family.

Our society is so quick to discriminate and condemn those who do not fit our ideal.  Be it out of prejudice, ignorance, or simple fear of change, these are debilitating habits that halt communication, education and progression- not only of individuals, but of us all. 

We live in a country where, like it or not, celebrities have the utmost impact on society.  Yet so few of them are willing to use their political or ethical voices for fear their careers will suffer.  Justified or not, Brett Ratner losing his gig to produce this year’s Oscars is only the most recent example.

Whether as a parent, teacher, friend, role model- or even a stranger- I hope you find it in your heart to open doors rather than close them.  Otherwise, you’ll never know which “choice” you may have taken away from you.

Right now, my daughter’s voices are soft, sweet and innocent.  I hope they grow to maintain that beauty, but find the strength to be bold when they want to be.  Now I just have to figure out how to encourage that.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Life Lessons with My Family, Phil Rizzuto, Lionel Richie & Warren Beatty

Being Veteran’s Day, I woke up with a particularly heavy heart, remembering my maternal grandfather, who was a Marine in WW2.  Though I grew up living directly across the street from him, our time was cut short, as he passed away when I was only 6.  Still, there are invaluable lessons that I learned from him, and am reminded of by my mother.

Sometimes the briefest of moments can stay with us forever.  Here are some tiny bits of advice that have made the largest impression on me…

1.     Always offer your guest a drink.  My grandfather was an electrician, and spoke constantly of working in hot attics for hours on end without the offer of a glass of water.  Now, I am the freak bringing cold lemonade to the neighbor's gardener...

2.     Always have a firm handshake.  This came from my father, as I headed in to meet a city Mayor who would write my recommendation for acceptance to a private school.  Not sure if it's what got me in, but it did prove exceptionally useful years later while in an elevator with Phil Rizzuto at Yankee Stadium.  My brother shook his hand, and Rizzuto said, “Holy Cow! The kid’s got a grip!”  Had he shaken mine, I may have broken it.

3.     While in production, the only thing you “call in” is dead.  On one of my first producing jobs, I stood beside our Executive Producer as someone called in sick.  She lost her shit, and I learned an important lesson.  (Come to think of it, this speaks volumes about my going into labor on set of The Bachelor…)

4.     Train for life.  I kept my Freshman 15 for all four years of college.  Then post graduation, I enlisted the help of an amazing trainer to help me lose my beer gut (which had become a keg).  Erik Hajer is an Ironman Triathlete, specializing in event training.  So during our sessions, fellow gym members would often ask what I was training for.  I’d wince as he answered, “she is training for life”.  He also told me I had lips like Lionel Richie.  A year later, I was majorly insecure about my mouth, but had completed two marathons.

5.     If you let someone turn in front of you just so they will say thank you, don’t bother.  Spoken by my brother as he gave me a driving lesson at a 4-way stop sign, but very true in life.  Giving of yourself- no matter the size of the gesture- should never be for your self-gratification, but for the benefit of the recipient.

6.     Hold on to your hat.  The best part about this one is that it came from Warren Beatty.  I was at dinner with my family, while he and his wife, Annette Bening, sat behind us with their children.  Their young kids were entertained by my daughter, who even as an infant, had an eye for a good celebrity sighting.  Stopping by our table on their way out, they asked if she was our first, and when I told them our second was on the way, he offered those words.  And damn, he was right.

Chances are none of these people know the lasting effect of their words, and some never will (unless, of course, my blog gets some major play).  But despite all the lessons listed above, the most important is this… The greatest gifts you ever give may be the ones that go unrecognized, or so you’ll think.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Anti-Mom Jean Gene

The book “Thin is the New Happy”, by Valerie Frankel, should be required reading for anyone that has (or likes) a vagina.

I picked it up in haste before a cross-country flight hoping it would do one of two things… Teach me how not to raise girls with self-image issues, or knock me out before the Ambien kicked in.  Since the former is seemingly an impossibility, I considered the latter a shoe-in.  No dice.

Whether about relationships, dating, marriage, parenting, sex, career or fashion, the author had me at all of it.  The most eye opening, though, was her recount of a somewhat traumatizing closet dissection with Stacy London, television host of “What Not to Wear”.

Of the many things I learned in this chapter, the first the most profound may be a greater appreciation for my sister Jeni, who as a successful celebrity stylist, never (ok, rarely) critiques my wardrobe.  Second, came an enormous realization that you aren’t always what you wear.

Many women are born to wear Mom jeans.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I wasn’t.  Now, I’m certainly not saying there is anything wrong with wearing mom jeans, or driving a minivan, or dedicating your life to the coordination of a PTA bake sale.  It’s just not me.  At least, not yet.

Looking back, I realize that I was afraid of losing my identity in my pregnancies.  I always swore I wouldn’t be the woman who had her first child and went for an obvious rite of passage: the pageboy haircut.

I decided as a senior in college that I wanted a nose ring, but talked myself out of it, as I was about to start interviewing for ‘real’ jobs.  I wish I had known then that I’d end up working in an industry where piercings and tattoos are as frowned upon as a banker carrying a briefcase, but I digress… Then somehow, right after I started needing a hair elastic to securely button my jeans, (the tell-tale sign of being knocked up), time was of the essence.

It came as no shock that the piercing parlor wouldn’t poke a preggo, nor should it come as a shock to you that within days after giving birth, my nose was pierced with a tiny diamond.  Shortly after came my 2nd tattoo, designed for my first daughter, and then my 3rd tattoo, designed for my second daughter.  (I got my first when I was 18, after my dad lost his battle with cancer.)

After each of my pregnancies, I took a few months at home, and then returned back to the grind of producing reality television.  In some households, that would be out of necessity.  In some, it would be frowned upon.  In some, commendable and in others, it would be flat out unacceptable.  In my household, it is a mix of all four.

I don’t think doctors can test for the Anti-Mom Jean Gene quite yet, but the good news is that having it isn’t a death sentence.  On the contrary, pursuing the things you are passionate about will help you to raise well-rounded, well-balanced children.

The bad news is, Mom Jeans never look good… on anyone.

PS.  Jeni, as a sign of my appreciation, I promise never to wear a sports bra unless it is athletically necessary.