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Listening To My Elders

Listening To My Elders

One of my best friends is Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Well, I guess I should clarify. I’m pretty sure that we SHOULD be best friends. Or at least that we WOULD be best friends, if we ever met.

Who didn’t love her on Seinfeld or The New Adventures of Old Christine?  She’s brilliant on Veep. I can’t wait to see her latest feature film, You Hurt My Feelings.   And if you haven’t seen her Mark Twain Prize acceptance speech, you have to check it out here.

But her wonderful gifts as an actor aren’t what convinced we should be friends. Our future as besties is based on listening to her podcast, Wiser Than Me.  I have come to realize by listening to all seven episodes, Julia and I have so much in common!  

First, she has a wonderfully salty tongue.  Oh yes, I’ve been known to drop a few #$!* in my day — especially in response to watching my beloved Minnesota Vikings (Check my previous post here).

Second, Julia and I had crushes on the same teen idols. We each wrote them fan letters!  (I still have the original signed photograph in my childhood scrapbook.) 

Third, we each put on neighborhood shows as kids.  Isn’t that cool?  

Fourth, she talks to her Mom (whom she endearingly calls Mummy) almost every day. Same. Although I call my Mom, “Shaum.”  That’s a story for another blog post.

In addition to learning about all of Julia and mine’s common interests (I’m telling you, we could be sisters!), her podcast is a series of interviews with women who are older and wiser than her, in order to glean advice about life. 

She chats with everyone from actors to authors, from a fashion designer to a chef turned restaurant critic. After each conversation, she calls her Mom to share what she’s learned.  Each episode is like being at a champagne-infused ladies brunch, or a dinner party where you’re seated next to the most witty and interesting person at the table.   Some of the gems of wisdom?

Jane Fonda imparts, “’No’ is a complete sentence.”  (This.)   

Diane Von Fürstenberg offers, “Every woman should have a black turtleneck in her closet.” (Yes.  And I would add a white button down.)

Gina McCarthy (former EPA administrator) says, “Don’t waste a good worry.”  (Note to self: Write that phrase on a 3 x 5 card and place it on my night stand.). 

Author Amy Tan, “You always need a girlfriend you can tell dirt to.”  (Check.)

Filled with humor and vulnerability, Julia ends the free-flowing conversations with the directive,

“If there’s an old lady in your life, listen up.” 

So I listened to my new “bestie’s” advice and decided to have a conversation with my Mom and Mother-in-Law — the two oldest ladies in my life who are definitely wiser than me — and asked them some of the same questions Julia asks:

What do you like best about being your age?

Is there something you would go back and tell your 21 year old self?

Do you have any advice about growing older?

Meet Shaum

My Mom (the aforementioned “Shaum”) grew up on a farm in Wisconsin with seven sisters.  Her Mother and Father (my Grandparents) had a beautiful romance chronicled in over a hundred love letters that my Grandmother saved. My Mom moved to the big city (St. Paul) and worked at the airport where she met my father. They married and had five children. Their marriage last 20 years.  After the marriage ended, my Mom raised us kids pretty much on her own.  I was very young at the time, but I imagine those were challenging years. Her first job post-divorce was as a waitress at The Best Steakhouse, a scenario that has all the elements of a movie starring Ellen Burstyn.  She later got a job working for the State of Minnesota where she retired after 23 years and eventually remarried.

Here’s one of my favorite stories about my Mom.  I was single and living in an apartment in Los Angeles.  I was about to leave for work, but I couldn’t find my car keys.  I needed those keys to be able to go to my job!  And they were nowhere to be found.  I kept hearing this little voice telling me to call my Mom.  I initially dismissed this prompting — my Mom is over 1800 miles away.  What in the heck can she do to help me find my keys?  But the gut feeling wouldn’t go away.  So, I called her.  

“Mom, I can’t find my keys anywhere and I’m going to be late for work!  I don’t know what to do!”  

My Mom paused for a second and then calmly said, 

“What coat did you have on yesterday?”

It was the time of year in California where one day can be warm and one day can be cold.  The day I couldn’t find my keys was warm and sunny — I didn’t need a coat.  But the day before was chilly and I had indeed been wearing a coat.  I went to the closet, pulled out the coat I had on yesterday and there were the keys!  Only my Mom could have helped me find a set of keys from the other side of the Mississippi. 

Meet Momlee

My Mother-in-Law is Lee.  I call her Momlee (combining Mom and Lee — see what I did there?). Momlee grew up in the aftermath of the depression.  Her Father worked for the Santa Fe railroad, so she moved around a lot, mostly in Northern Arizona, but she also lived in Boyle Heights (Los Angeles) for a period of time.  She went to college at Northern Arizona University where she met her husband, Larry.  L & L were married for almost 70 years before Larry passed away last November.  They had four children (all named with “L” first names to match “L”ee and “L”arry). Lee returned to school mid-life and got her Masters in Counseling and Guidance and she’s the author of a number of books.  

A quick story about Momlee.  Before my husband and I were married, he invited me back to Tucson to meet her on her birthday.  I was nervous — she’s an author and a therapist, not to mention the mother to this guy I was madly in love with.   Oh boy.  I wanted to make a good impression.  I took great care to get my outfit, hair, makeup just right.  Now, I had never been to Tucson before.  So I had no idea what it was like . . . in August.  I walked off the plane, through the airport terminal and out into the desert air.  I could barely breathe it was so hot.  My hair frizzed, my makeup melted.  Would I be able to carry on an intelligent conversation in 110 degree heat?  Seeing Momlee’s smiling eyes as we walked toward her, I realized the person I had created in my mind was actually a kind and loving woman who couldn’t have been more down to earth.  And couldn’t have been kinder to me.   I’ve loved her ever since.

Momlee, Me and Shaum

Three Questions

Shaum and Momlee are definitely wise.  Both have lived full lives.  And they gave me some interesting answers to my questions.

When asked what they like best about being her age, Shaum said, “I’m stilling enjoy life.  I’m not ready to go yet.”  Momlee said, “I feel like I can do anything I want.  And that’s a lovely free feeling.”

When asked what they would tell their 21-year-old self, Shaum said, “You make mistakes and maybe you should have done something differently.  But it all worked out ok.” Momlee said, “I think I would probably do everything I did.” 

When asked if they had any advice about growing older, Shaum said, “Do the things you keep putting off.  Do them when you can — physically and mentally.  Do the traveling now when you’re able to.”  And Momlee said, “I think I would say enjoy every year.  They’re all great.  They’re all fun. I love each year now more than probably at the time.  Looking back, I see it differently.”

Listen Up

My biggest takeaway from speaking to these amazing women, was how happy they are.  Truly happy.  They wouldn’t change much, if anything at all.  They look back, see things they could have done differently, but it all worked out.  They are each enjoying life. 

There is wisdom to be learned from award-winning actresses and iconic clothing designers and  celebrated chefs.  But I learned just as much, if not more, from my Mom and Mom-in-Law:

They are each living a life where they can say they are still happy. 

They don’t have regrets. 

And they aren’t done yet. 

I think about growing older.  And in my career in entertainment, I admit to regrets, things I sometimes wish I could change, roles I wish had come my way, scripts that I wish were produced, projects I really wanted to direct.  But, that doesn’t really matter.  In the end, if I can reach 78 or 86 or  91 or 94 and be happy, and “not be done yet,” I think that’s a gift to God.  And to those around you.

I learned a huge lesson from my bestie, Julia.  Talk to the women who are older than you.  Talk to them before it’s too late.  Learn from them.  And then pass it on.

And Julia, I’d love to have you over for dinner.  Let me know when you’re free?

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