More Mommy Melissa

By Sara Miles

Originally published on Advocate.com June 21 1999 11:00 PM ET

You know, I really would like to talk to you about parenting. What that's been like? People say, "Oh, it changes you so much" Yeah, there's a lot of things that this whole experience has changed my mind about. One regards my feminist tendencies, where I was like, you know, "The only differences between girls and boys are the way our society raises them and it's because of all this." And I'm here to tell you: You know what? There's something in most girls and boys. Girls develop their fine motor skills first. And [2-year-old Bailey] is interested in putting clothes on the dolls. And I'll get her a truck or something, but she's interested in putting the people in it and interested in making the things happen and building the things. And one of her best friends is a boy that was born three days before her, and with the same type of parenting, there's just nothing different. He's all about balls and vroom, you know, and how things go and smash.

And smashing. It's very large, the gross motor skills. Everything's very big. And I can already see the difference in five months in [our 6-month-old son] Beckett. I can already see the things that he's good at. What's important to him, what drives him. To where Bailey was much more cerebral or something.

That's so interesting. And everybody's different, and I just can't make generalizations anymore, I really can't. I realize how unique each individual is. And then the whole idea of how having a child I'm much more concerned about the world. I mean, I was concerned, but it was sort of a finite concern. Before it was only, you know, however many years I'm around. But you know what? I want the world to be better perfect because my children are going to be here after me, and their children. And there's something when you achieve that; things mean more. Things matter.

Do you feel more connected to other people in a way?Yeah. I feel more connected about how everyone was parented and how parenting is the single most important thing.

One of the things that really was hard for me was adjusting to the way that being a mom brought up all these issues about my own. About your own parenting.

Do you feel like you catch yourself being your mom or your dad or both? I catch myself.

Does it make you understand more about your mother?Well, it makes me understand. It also makes me angrier about the things that they didn't do. It brings up issues for me.

Like what? I don't know if I can be specific. It's kind of broad generalizations. And one thing that's important to me is to acknowledge and present my emotions, to tell my daughter that I'm an emotional person. That we all are. That you are too. And to honor all of her emotions. Whereas when I was growing up, it was, "Don't cry, don't cry. Everything's OK. Don't be angry. None of us are angry. We're not angry." There's no, "Everything's fine." It's this sort of untruth going on.

Right. But I think that was a very '50s, '60s, even '70s kind of thing that everything was just fine.

Just kind of smooth surface.Yeah, which is untrue. Which is like, oh, OK, everything's nice, but there's something very wrong here. And now I say to Bailey, "I understand you're angry; there's nothing wrong with that. You just can't hit the dog." You know? I'm sorry, you can't hit the dog. But it's not, "I don't want you not to be angry," because it's OK to be angry, but let's find other things to do to channel that out, you know.

Right. And, OK, today mom is angry at this or mom is very sad at this. I acknowledge that because kids are so perceptive. They notice that, Hmm, Mom's angry, and she's not saying anything and stuffing it down, so I think that's what I'm supposed to do. And they just imprint it, and off they go.

Do you see yourself sort of playing out those family patterns that you grew up with? Or is it more a question of trying to consciously break them? Yeah, well, I've been in therapy about 15 years, so I've worked through a lot of that. So where I'm at right now is very consciously trying to break that. I will feel the response of my childhood coming up [snaps fingers], but I work really hard.

It's odd how it sort of connects you back to all of those memories. It must be the same for Julie too, and then you wind up sort of playing those responses out with each other and seeing it.Right.

And do you feel that again with the new baby, having that around? You know, I think it was just such a revelation with the first one that I'm not noticing so much the second time. And because he's a boy and I'm sure I relate my childhood to the girl that I have.

What do you think the kids would say, years from now, is "the way we did things in our house"? Well, it's funny, 'cause you know we've only been at this barely two and a half years. So we've only started to develop our things that I see we always do. You know, Sunday morning we always go to the farmer's market. And we're just starting to build those traditions. One's in a high chair and one's still breast-feeding, so we're not quite around the dinner table yet. But that's something I want to make sure we have: either breakfast or a meal that we're all sitting down eating together and talking. You know, it's going to be different. I spent my life on the road. I spent a year on the road. It's going to be more unusual than it is for most kids.

What is the stuff that you hate the most about being a parent?Hate is such big word. I don't think I hate anything.

What is the stuff that drives you crazy? Um, I can never get anywhere on time. It's impossible. No matter what, you can't get everything together. [And] I guess I could use some more sleep. You know, that's about it.

Finding time to sleep.Yeah. I think I'm going to hate being away, that my work takes me away. I think I'm gonna hate that.

Do you find yourself worrying about things that you thought you didn't have to worry about anymore? I mean, I sort of figure, "Well I'm a grown-up, I can deal with it when people call me a 'dyke' on the street." You know, I don't like it, but it doesn't ruin my life. But when people say things to my kid. Oh, yeah.

It just tears me up. And it's been this whole other experience of having to look at homophobia through the eyes of somebody who's 4, 5, 8, 9 years old. I haven't been faced with that yet. I mean, the worst thing that's happened to me wasn't even that it's actually being famous and not wanting that to affect my child. And being in an airport and my child almost gets crushed because they want my autograph. That's going to make me crazy.

It must be a real tension.Yeah. People don't understand when you can't even look at my child. I get a little crazy. And I haven't even had that experience of what it's going to be like. You know, I know I can't shelter them. But boy I'm going to feel the same way you do, you know. It's one thing if it's just me; I can handle that. But I don't know. When we do the interview in ten years, I'll tell you what it is.

What does it seem like to raise kids in L.A.? You've been such an incredible role model because you've been so out, and yet privacy is a different thing, especially when it's your kids. It's not about "I want to live in the closet"; it's about "I want some privacy." Yeah, I want safety. It's very different. I don't know. We are not set anywhere for sure. And since they're so small right now, this is an OK place to be. But I don't know if L.A.'s the place to have them go to school. I think there's a question about that.

Do your kids have a relationship with their biological dad? Not really. They know him and know who he is. Of course, Beckett can't know anything right now because he's 6 months old. They've got male role models, for those that are concerned about that.

In case they just grow up surrounded by women. [Laughs] What a terrible idea. So doesn't it make you feel like even more of a dyke? Are you totally amazed at how great women are that they can do all of this work? We can do everything. Um, moving the heavy furniture is the only part that really bums us out. And we have to ask so-and-so to come over and help us.

Right. But other than that. And they say Beckett's gonna be very large, so in 15 years he can move the heavy furniture.

But if you think about the amount of violence and misogyny in the culture at large, how do you relate to that? What are your thoughts? You know, what we can do? What I can do is love my child, give her and him the best self-esteem that they can have and the strongest sense of self, a sense of discipline and a sense of the world and their own right and wrong. So that when they go out in the world, when I'm not standing by their side, they have enough sense of their own self and of pride in themselves and of love for themselves because they have been loved and mirrored and accepted and all these things. So that when they are approached with these dark sides, they can stand strong and know within themselves "This is not good for me" and make those choices. Or, you know, "This is not healthy." I have to believe that if one has enough self-esteem and sense of themselves, they can face the rest of the world.