Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Typically, a starry-eyed kid follows in a parent’s footsteps. But in the case of my family, it’s been this mom trailing greedily behind her daughters.
On July 25th, Jill, author of “Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants,” greased the way for me to join her at the Borders/Westwood in Los Angeles. This daughter-mother gig (details to follow) hosted by essayist Romie Angelich and also starring Melanie Hutsell, sent me musing about my own mother, Min Elkin Shapiro, and our brambly relationship described in my memoir, “The Division Street Princess.”
Left to right: Romie, me, Melanie, and Jill.
I realize now that everything I learned about being a mother was taught to me in the 1940s, but instead of mimicking Mom’s style, I turned it upside down and raised my own two daughters differently.
There was no doubt my mother loved me, but as a child, I often felt I was not pretty or thin enough to please her. Despite this, I deeply loved my mother and wished I could better match her own beauty, as well as her expectations for me.
Wait. That’s not entirely true – the part about my mom not being impressed with me. As I grew up, married, had a family, career, accomplishments, I remember her beaming when she was introduced to my prestigious bosses: Mayor Jane Byrne or School Superintendent Ruth Love. And I still have the birthday card with her inscription, “I am so proud of you.” But little Elaine in my memoir couldn’t have foreseen what would come later, so the harsh memories stick. Forgive me Mom.
So when my daughters were born – Faith in 1964 and Jill eighteen months later in 1965 – I was determined to be as nonjudgmental as my mom was critical and as awestruck by their specialness as my mom was blasé about what I perceived was mine. This translated into letting the girls choose their clothing (which frequently meant mismatched tops and bottoms), hair combed when they felt it necessary, bedroom cleaned when wading through floor debris was a hazard, and never measuring or commenting about their shapes.
I like to think this approach steered them towards the creative, independent, kind, and resilient young women they are today. (Of course, their dad Harry, and other nature/nurture factors deserve credit, too.)
As for their specialness, I’ve been the mom kvelling in the audience for all of their creations – from “Coed Prison Sluts” and “The Real Live Brady Bunch” at Chicago’s Annoyance Theater to Faith’s recent Boston production of “Jesus Has Two Mommies,” and Jill’s episodes in HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” plus dozens more original shows.
Faith, me, and Jill outside of Joe’s Pub, New York. On March 16 of this year, I joined my daughters on stage for an event launching the publication, “Guilt and Pleasure.”
My daughters know where I stand in their cheering section, and when I don’t overly embarrass them, happily accept my applause. In turn, they profess to being happy and proud to see my book published, which led to my L.A. appearance with Jill.
The evening’s host, Romie Angelich, met Faith and Jill during the Brady Bunch days when Romie was chosen to play Alice in one of the touring companies. Romie learned of my memoir through one of Jill’s e-mail announcements and suggested the daughter-mother combo for her monthly Borders event, “Published, Produced, or On Their Way…” Melanie Hutsell, also on the bill, is a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member, and more importantly, former Jan Brady.
“People” magazine July 1991, with my daughters on either side of the original “Real Live Brady” cast. Melanie is in the middle row on the left.
Romie launched the evening’s program with her essay, “I Write to Dead People,” Jill followed with “Please Don’t Try to Kill Me After You Read This,” a chapter about dogs from “Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants,” and Melanie followed with a story of her own parents’ views of attractiveness. In Hollywood speak: the three of them killed. I followed these laugh-out-loud pieces with excerpts from “Searching for the Spotlight,” a more poignant than funny chapter from “The Division Street Princess.”
The crowd of friends, family, and Borders’ customers applauded us all and they bought books! By evening’s end, the store’s entire stock of “Tiny Ladies…” and “Division Street…” was nearly gone.
Cousins Leonard and Estherly (Kaplan) Reifman. Estherly and the rest of the Kaplans are major characters in my book.
Jill and me signing copies of our books with my grandson eyeing his mom’s inscriptions.
I’d like to think that my mom, from her cushy spot in the afterlife, was in the Borders audience, just as I imagine her presence at all of Faith’s and Jill’s performances. And I believe, despite my bratty description of our 1940s relationship, that Mom’s beautiful blue eyes would be blazing with pride as she proclaims, “Great job, sweetheart. My granddaughters are amazing. Great job!”