Mom, mom's mom and me: under one roof

Last week, I was in North Carolina sitting on a lawn chair watching a lot of Jeopardy. The living room of the tiny beach house just has a love-seat, and my mom and grandma were already forced to share that space with my dog. So, I dragged in a lawn chair and yelled out incorrect responses that I always forgot to put in the form of a question.

Three generations (well, four, if you count the dog, and you should always count the dog) were vacationing under one roof for five days. At ages 35, 57 and 85 - we all seemed to be just different versions of ourselves. It could have been the backdrop of a Tennessee Williams play.

Everyone's families are complicated and contradictory. That's just the reality of family dynamics. Families are loving and brutal. They are intimate and they are strangers. They are accepting and critical. They are all those things, intertwined with memories and expectations and the desire to make you another cup of tea.

But through all the inherent messiness, there are important moments that come from spending extended time with family. Like hearing the story of how my 20-year-old Grandma would flirt with the guys she worked with at the newspaper, so that they would give her cigarettes. She didn't smoke, but she'd tuck them away and give them to her boyfriend -- that broke boy would eventually be my grandfather.

My mother knows the first album I ever bought, even though I've forgotten. She remembers exactly when I attempted to expand beyond the Carole King and Earth, Wind and Fire that pervaded my early musical education. It's so easy for me to revert back to those days. Mom still uses phases of discontent, like "Shootski pootski" and "Ishkablibble' that catapult me back to a time when I wore a fringed jean jacket and thought those were legitimate swears.

In this company, many sentences start with "Do you remember...?" - a person, a place, a time in space that feels so removed from this. So far from this 1,000 square foot beach shack with windows that don't close properly and a finicky toilet handle. But here, over the sound of bickering seagulls, we remember our shared past.

As much as all this reminds me of my history, it also grounds me in the present. I see the grey streak I started to notice in my hair in my mid-20s, reflected back at me. That grey expands into my mom's salt and pepper hair. It expands further into my grandma's silver shine.

We are not women who dye.

All this shared DNA and shared experiences express themselves in distinctive ways. We are decidedly different women, with different outlooks and ways of understanding the world -- but when I see my mom and grandma sharing gestures, I wonder if I do them, too. It's like an archeological dig of your own existence, except instead of discovering broken bits of pottery, I'm looking at a woman making an egg salad sandwich.

My mother has put a quote (most commonly attributed to the great poet, Dr. Seuss) on the bathroom wall of the beach house.


I'm reminded where I get my sense of truth-telling from. That no-hair-dye honesty is strong in all three of us. It's both a blessing and a curse. That same honesty that brings us closer has also hurt feelings and gotten us into trouble and damaged relationships. The truth is powerful, and I want to use it carefully. Sometimes honesty needs to be sheathed in kindness to soften the blow. Sometimes we are skilled at that, sometimes we are not.

I wonder, as I make my way through the years, what family traits I will keep, what habits I will let go, and if my hair will turn out to be the perfectly shiny silver of my grandmother's.

I watched a lot of Jeopardy last week and I realized that it's the perfect analogy for life. Because life is all about asking the right questions.

The answers take care of themselves.

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Watching car commercials gets awkward

Sometimes, I'll be watching TV with my husband and an innocuous little car commercial comes on and he has to hear me yell - "Hey! I made out with that guy!"

My poor husband.

It's true that people tend to hook up on film sets. Shoots tend to be intense situations and people get very close, very fast. But to me, it never felt like a hook up. It always felt like LOVE.

This version of love only lasts for the duration of the project, yet has all the attributes of actual love. I think I fell in love with someone from the cast or crew on almost every project I was in. If the shoot was long, I might have fallen in love with two someones.

As an actor, throwing yourself into an on-set relationship is a way to feel like yourself when you spend 15 hours a day becoming someone else. It is the most basic way to keep a handle on your humanity. To give and receive love reminds you that even though you are doing something that seems so strange and fascinating to the rest of the world — you love just like everyone else. Your heart leaps when they walk in the room and you cry when they don’t call.

It’s simple. It’s normal. And sometimes, normal is the thing you need most.

Then, inevitably, when a show wrap is called and the set is broken down, the love flies into the stage lights like a moth and dies in a puff of smoke. Quickly and cleanly.

But it gets awkward, decades later, when you see that guy on a car commercial and you realize that you can only remember the name of his character, not his real name.

Let me say again: my poor husband. Most men don't have to see their wives' ex-boyfriends parade through the living room during commercial breaks while watching the NCAA championships.


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