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Living with your potential death over your head is enough to cause fear in anyone, but I had issues with fear long before that. I’m a terrible flyer. Really terrible. Didn’t use to be. Loved flying till I was 18. I think it was a combination of age making me more aware of what I had to lose, a genetically predisposed phobia/learned behavior (I’d been watching my mom clutch my dad’s hand on planes since I was a child) and a trigger incident. On a flight to Dominican Republic for my grad trip something went awry. It was so much turbulence that the oxygen masks released and the prettiest girl in my school passed out and peed her pants…the things that make an impression, right? I remember thinking the flight was freaky. Not scary. Just bizarre. But for the whole week of the trip I had dreams of standing on the ground and watching my plane crash. Night after night I watched my plane crash into the ocean. It was awful. By the time I got on the flight home I’d developed some real anxiety and I’ve gotten progressively worse ever since. These days when I get into a plane my blood pressure skyrockets. I wait till the last minute to get on. I have to touch the outside of the plane as I board. Superstitiously, I used to have to eat peanut M&M’s and have a ginger ale, but now I have to take xynax just to function. I grab at the seat in front of me like it’s going to stop me from falling. I plug my ears and fold over onto my lap to pretend I’m not there. I cry and shake during turbulence. It’s ridiculous. On my last bad flight they actually moved the guy beside me and sat a flight attendant in his place. She was lovely but I wonder how bad I’ve become that the flight crew felt that was a necessary precaution.

If it was just flying I’d think I was normal. But lately I’ve found myself overloaded with fear. It’s discouraging and unfortunately, relatively justified. We just passed the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 and I recently watched the 9/11 Documentary shot by the 2 French filmmakers who were at ground zero at the time.  I lived in NYC on 9/11. In the heart of the West Village at 14th & 8th. I was lucky enough to be in Toronto that day visiting my parents. I was scheduled to fly back to New York on 9/12. Needless to say I didn’t. My cousin called me after the first tower had been hit. I sat in shock watching it burn and saw the second plane fly into Tower 2 in real time. I couldn’t reach anyone in New York on the phone to see if they were ok. All I could do was watch the events unfold. When the buildings eventually collapsed, I cried so hard. I cried for all the people that were lost, for the fear they must have felt before they died and for a future in which that kind of atrocity existed.

I remember when I was 9 or 10 and I first learned about nuclear bombs. I ran crying to my room but didn’t want to be alone, so I ended up collapsed half way up the stairs weeping inconsolably. I feel the same way about it today (peppered with more anger). Why would we create such a thing? Why are people stockpiling them? Why would you launch one? It literally makes no sense to me. No one wins. You launch at us. We launch at you. Everybody loses. It’s over.

I mistakenly read Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic novel ‘The Road’ because it had such terrific reviews. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Oprah book club choice. NY Times best seller… It was a brilliant book and I loathed it. I could tangibly feel the bleakness and despair of his atomic bomb world. The dust and debris blocking out the sun more than a decade after the fact. An earth without color or warmth. A planet without animals or birds or fish or plants. No sounds other than human agony or the collapsing of old infrastructure. I was traumatized by the world Mr. McCarthy painted. I kept reading in hopes of the redemption that never came. I am scarred by that book. By the possibility of such a future. If anything though it made me appreciate our world more. The colors. The sounds. The beauty. I hope against hope that man really is smarter than history shows him to be. That there’s a possibility we can go the other way. Pull ourselves back from the brink and do good by our future.

The problem is, even when I feel I can go forward believing the best in man, I read an article like the recent cover story of Newsweek, “Are you ready for more?”  and I throw my hands up. The article is about killer storms. It basically says we shouldn’t be worried about man we should be worried about nature. It explains that with all our climate change and environmental damage, we are looking at a future of more and more natural disasters. Horrors that make Katrina look like a blip. It doesn’t matter where you go, no one is safe from the increasingly prevalent and treacherous storms. What the *@#^?! And I can’t say living in California helps. After the earthquake in Japan I had a bit of a melt down. I told Sean that I thought we should move (we didn’t), that I thought we were next (Japan was again), that we weren’t properly prepared (we weren’t). So, we spent a fortune on Disaster kits and I tried to teach my 3 year old what to do in case of an earthquake – where to lie (near a big piece of furniture to hope to capitalize on the “negative space” rule when your roof falls in); how to cover your head to protect it from falling debris and glass; to stay away from windows and chimneys – I still panic when my car stops under a bridge. I often wait before the bridge, instead of moving up and under, much to the chagrin of the cars behind me. Trying to be helpful, Sean told me it won’t be the earthquake that gets most people it’ll be the tsunami that follows. He thinks that’s good news because we live in the valley and not by the ocean. All it did was serve to make my summer visits to the beach more stressful.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling gripped by fear. I worry about drunk drivers and child molesters.  I worry when Sean goes away without me.  I worry about the prevalence of drugs available to my child. I worry about predators. I worry about war. I worry about the economy and China owning us. I worry about dying young and leaving my kid without a mom. I worry all the time and it makes me a drag. I envy my husband and his endless optimism. He lives seemingly without fear. He just sees the best case scenario and functions with that knowledge. I’m lucky to live in close proximity to such a force. I can only hope Loch takes after him.

After all, what do they say… Worry doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles; it just takes away today’s peace.

A Mother’s Contribution

Ok, so after some feedback on my post regarding my feelings of failure for having nothing to show for myself and my days but random errands, I would like to clarify that I in no way under value my role as a mother. I am aware of the positive contribution I’m making to both my son’s life and to society as a whole by creating a kind and loving person who might someday add to the world. Being a mom is no joke and whether you are a stay at home mom or a working mom I believe it is truly the most important job you can have. That being said however, motherhood, though infinitely rewarding, can also be totally thankless. Your life quickly becomes reflected solely in your child’s contribution to the world. If your son is behaving like an angel you can feel good about yourself because obviously you are an excellent mother. If, however, your little angel is acting like a total brat – God forbid in public – then you can kiss your feelings of self worth good bye because you are clearly blowing it.  For those mothers who are completely fulfilled by raising their children I say kudos. It’s certainly a real job and doing it should be enough. I’m just finding it’s not enough for me.

I think these feelings stem from a combination of things. How I was raised and the expectations, real or imagined, that come with that. How I want to be living and the difficulty of those dreams culminating realistically in today’s world and, my personality – charming or otherwise – that is constantly striving to be “better”. I grew up in what I would refer to as a post-feminist world. A world where I didn’t fight for equal rights but expected them. A time were statistically a woman’s paycheck may still be less than a man’s, but theoretically I could do whatever a man could. I was raised in the “have it all” generation. I could have a successful and rewarding career and still be a amazing hands-on mother. All career paths were open to me and the sky was the limit. I used to worship this amazing mom that lived down the street. She was a gorgeous, successful lawyer with 2 kids and a great marriage. I babysat for them and I thought, that is the type of woman I want to be. When she quit her job to stay home with her kids full time it almost killed me. What was she doing? When they moved out of the city to to be able to afford a bigger place I was floored. Just go back to work and get a bigger place in the city! What was going on with my role model? She was really letting me down.

As a grown woman I now understand. We can’t have it all. Or maybe we can, but not all at the same time. We have to make sacrifices along with our choices, and that’s something they don’t teach in school. I went to a top notch, private, all girls school where I was exposed to infinite opportunities and almost limitless possibilities for my life. I excelled there. I was a student leader and debater, the lead in plays and the captain of the swim team. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t “make” it. My mom used to joke that I better marry someone really wealthy to keep up the lifestyle  to which I’d become accustomed. I was insulted. Marry rich?! ! Please! I was going to be rich and successful myself!  Coming from my kind of background, if you don’t end up with a really awesome job – the corner office, the medical degree or, in my case, as a Hollywood player – you can feel like a failure. You had every opportunity and you squandered it. I’m not rich and successful yet, so I beat myself up. I push harder and often find it difficult to truly enjoy my life because I feel like I’m not moving forward. Stay at home mom was not a Career. Capital C. It was something our mother’s did when the options were limited. We were the new generation. We could be anything. We could be Someone. I’m not Someone, so I sometimes feel like a no one.

Maybe it’s just a no win situation. Stay-at-home mom’s feel like they should be working. Working mom’s feel like they should be home more. You want kids but don’t have the right partner or you have the right partner but don’t want kids and then feel you have to apologize for that…

I have lots of friends who love their jobs but are still struggling financially. Maybe they’re happy or maybe they beat themselves up too. Of that I’m not sure. What I do know is, for the most part, we all want what we had growing up…plus more. We want it to be better for our children than it was for us. Problem is, it’s a lot more expensive to have the basics these days, let alone more. Things you want for your children – a nice home, top notch education, food, hell…organic food, enrichment classes, college, let alone all the stuff these kids need today – costs money. If you aren’t making money you feel you aren’t contributing. So many people have 2 working parents just to keep up with the bills and expectations they have for themselves. People are mortgaged to the hilt to live the lifestyle they grew up with or the lifestyle they think they need. When the economy fell apart in the US 2 years ago, it was the first time Sean and I were relieved to be behind the 8 ball. We had no 401 K to deplete, no house to lose, no stock portfolio to tank. Life as an actor is already feast or famine so the job market remained about the same for us. When you live like that and you have 7 years of post graduate studies on your resume you feel like an loser that you aren’t contributing. And contributing in today’s world means making money. Being Someone means having a Career or at least a job. I feel more successful saying I’m a writer than I do saying I’m a mom. What does that say about me?

I love being a mom. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m proud of myself. I’m exceptionally proud of my son. But am I reaching my full potential? I don’t want my sense of self worth to be totally tied up in him. I don’t want his success in life to be a direct reflection of my success in life.  That’s not fair to him or to me. I need something that is all mine. Something that makes me, me. And I’m still looking for it. When I find it I think I’ll feel more complete. When I find it, quite frankly, I think I’ll be a better mom.

Then I’ll tell him to marry rich.

Cassie Pappas Photography


Dear Loch,

So, obviously you are a genetic make up of two very distinct people, and there are things that I hope you get from me and things I hope you inherit from your father. Looking at you now you definitely seem to be a nice blend of the two of us but here are my wishes:

Eyesight: I hope you get mine. I have been blessed all my life with perfect, nay, better than perfect vision. 25/20. Granny and Granddad both wore and continue to wear glasses, so genetically I dodged a bullet. Enter eyesight joke here. Your dad on the other hand has been wearing glasses since he was not much bigger than you. Every school picture till he was in the 9th Grade is in these huge Navy issued coke bottle glasses. He was adorable but, with his glasses, he looked…nerdy. Now there is nothing wrong with being nerdy, it’s one of your father’s best qualities, but there is no need for you to look that way. If it comes around that you have your father’s visual impairment then we will find the coolest glasses available, and when and if you want them, we’ll get you contacts. There is no 4 eyes world anymore. Glasses are hot. Your dad got new glasses last year and we’re referring to them as “geek chic” as everyone from Justin Beiber to Demi Moore is sporting them. Personally, I think he looks so sexy in them. Really.

Sexy dad is gross you say? Fine, but my point is glasses can be cool. Find a way to make a statement and have fun with it. Or, have the future equivalent of lasik and be done with it. Just own it.

Teeth: Mine.  No braces per say. I was missing a 12 year old molar in the top left of my mouth and they had to do some fancy, never-been-done-before surgery to pull my one and only wisdom tooth into it’s place (In dental text books, I’m kind of a big deal). I had to wear 3 bracket braces to keep the new tooth from shifting, but over all, straight teeth right across the board with no help from orthodontics. Your dad on the other had braces top, bottom and all the way back. After that he wore a retainer (something I used to think was so cool that I tried on my best friend’s sisters all the time in grade 6) but not enough to stop his bottom teeth from shifting and now he’s 30 something considering braces again. Lesson here: WEAR YOUR RETAINER. In this case, don’t be like your father. If I’m around I’ll nag you. If I’m not, consider yourself nagged. Maybe you’ll need nothing at all, but if you do, suck it up. Get the strongest thing that will take the least amount of time and consider it an investment in your future face.

Look Ma, no braces!

Also: BRUSH. You’re not crazy about it now but I’m serious. Morning and night. And floss if you can. I never really did unless there was something stuck (strawberry seeds, what’s with you?!) but I should have. And if you’re going to ignore any of my advice let it be the flossing. I could go either way on that.

Skin: Dad’s. This is a big one for me and I’m very emotional about it. It has always been my hope that you absolutely inherit your dad’s skin. I think he’s had a total of 8 zits in his whole life. His pores are invisible. He has no dryness. No oiliness. His skin is as close to perfect as you could hope to get without being a porcelain doll or Nicole Kidman. Me on the other hand, I had a really tough time with my skin. I still do. From puberty on I had acne. Not horrifying Accutane before picture acne (my heart goes out to those people) but bad enough that it dictated a lot about how I felt about myself. I was also one of the only one of my friends with a problem, and that made it even harder. I can remember crying my eyes out in the dressing room of a store before my first formal dance because I couldn’t find a dress that covered my backacne. I was constantly self conscious. I learned about makeup really early (something you won’t be able to do as much) and got up earlier than most just to have time to put on “my face”. To this day I can’t leave the house without makeup. These days I still have acne and I’m starting to deal with aging too. It’s bulls@#t and I don’t want you to have any part of it.

If you do, deal with it ASAP. Even if you aren’t noticing anything, deal with it knowing that you carry half my genes. Wash your face every night if you can. With soap (or cleanser). Use sunscreen. That’s a given in today’s ozone world, but do it as a ritual so you never have to think about it. Sunburns suck. So do early wrinkles and don’t get me started on the statistics of men and skin cancer… If you have full blown acne or huge pores or blackheads, get a dermatologist. It is not lame to take this seriously. You don’t want to be the pizza face guy. Not when there are so many options in today’s world. It’s too hard. You don’t have to be bigger than it. It’s not a character builder, it’s an ego killer. Lots of things that didn’t go my way made me stronger. This is not one of them. If anything, I still can’t hold my head as high as I’d like. Be diligent. It’s no joke.

Side note on picking: I’m won’t tell you not to do this. Doctors will. Magazines do. It’s supposed to be bad and make things worse and potentially scar you and everything – but I’m abnormally relieved when I attack my face. I always thought it was because I got to kill things I hate (no matter how little), but I recently read that often A type people are often closet pickers. Apparently, it is a valid source of stress relief and that I am far from alone in partaking. Now if I find myself gouging at my skin, it’s a pretty good indicator that I’m stressed about something. And personally, picking is preferable to a whitehead any day. Dermatologists may not agree but they aren’t the ones walking around with my skin so they can shut it.

Your dad is in shape

Hair: Either of us. Dad’s is receding only slightly but overall, we both have big, full heads of hair. You are one lucky laddie.

Athleticism: Both of us. Dad played football till he found acting and then he danced and worked out. I was a track star until high school when everyone got taller and I got my a#* handed to me. After that I stuck to water sports almost exclusively  – swim team captain, synchronized swimming and diving – till University when I joined the Varsity ski team and ultimate frisbee team. After that, I too found my place in full time acting and became a dancer/gym bunny. Your dad is still in wicked shape. He kills the gym, surfs, golfs and plays competitive paintball. If this is not still true when you read this and his “sports” consist of watching the Ducks on television, kindly remind him of his athletic past.

I obviously can’t do what I used to, but I was in great shape when I got pregnant with you and still would be if the situation were different. Your granddad told me once that if you can exercise consistently till your 30’s it’ll never leave you. It’ll always be something your body loves and responds too. It’s easy when your young to be lazy. You can eat anything and never gain a pound and it seems like it’ll always be that way. It won’t. You gotta  put in the work. As the song says : Take care of your body. It is your most trusted friend.

As a great motivating bonus: if you exercise (in whatever form you love), you can eat. And eating is GOOD.

Attitude: Both of us, but for different reasons. Your dad’s for positivity and can do-ness. He’s a force for good your father. He sees the brightness and joy in the world. He’s a true optimist. He’s sincere in his best wishes for everyone and people love him for it. I truly believe he is enjoying life more than most and believe me, our life is far from easy. He believes it’s all going to work out and he lives that way. He’s wonderful and happy. I want that for you.

I am not what you would call an optimist, but I’m tenacious. I’m also someone who can make things happen. A go-getter if you will. I may have lost my way a bit, but it’s still who I am. It can be who you are too. It’s a good way to be. Just don’t forget to listen. I sometimes do and it’s not my best quality.

Work Ethic:  We both work our a*#es off. I’m a doer. I make lists and get things done in multiples of 4. I’d get an assignment in school and start it right away. I wouldn’t miss a party or anything, but I’d consistently work on something so what I handed in was my best possible effort. I still live like that. It can make me a bit…I don’t know, anal? rigid? perfectionist-y? But I deliver and I’m proud of that. Your dad is a work horse. Sometimes I literally don’t know how he does it. Trying to make it as an actor you have to do lots of other jobs. Your father has been known (on many occasions) to get up at 5am, work out, make breakfast, go to his job downtown with your Aunt Gerry, finish work, change, bartend till 1am, come home and start all over again the  next day. For 2 weeks last year he worked all day and then shot a movie all night – 8am-4pm and then 5pm-4am. We’ve had weeks where we’ve barely seen him and then when he is home he’s working in the office on whatever new project he’s gotten himself into – App Company, Card company, writing, producing…he’s unbelievable. I used to worry that without his “big break” he might be like a hamster on a wheel. Running and running without going anywhere. But he’s too ambitious for that. Too creative. You can’t go wrong having a work ethic like him.

Your Dad, however, did his homework on Sunday night before it was due. You’re not allowed to do that.

There are so many more things:

Fashion sense: Me

Joke telling/Circus stunts and all around Revelry: Dad

Cooking: Dad. I really try and I’m a better baker, but I’d still say Dad.

Business Sense: Me. Though all credit goes to your Granddad.

Dancing: For partnering no one beats your Dad. In Top 40 club dancing however, you might want to take after your mama.

And finally…

Relationships: I know this isn’t genetically predetermined, but how you love might be. Your dad and I are both full fledged, both feet in, Romantics. Your granny once told me (after yet another heartbreaking breakup) that maybe I should lower my standards a bit so I wouldn’t be disappointed all the time. I, of course, freaked out and told her that if someone like me existed – someone who didn’t do things at 60% in case something better came along or so they wouldn’t get hurt – then someone LIKE me had to exist too. I went on ONE date with your father and that was it. He was as 100% as I was. On our first Valentines he laid a path of rose petals from my front door all the way to the bed where they were scattered everywhere. He’d left me 3 gifts. One for our past. One for our present. One for our future. I cried that day  because I was overwhelmed with happiness and relief. I’d finally found my match and I didn’t have to settle to do it. I’d still advise you to play it cool. Don’t smother or stalk. Never stalk. But love 100%. Don’t hedge your bets. Believe in the happy ending.

You’re genetically predisposed to get it.

I love you.

xo Mom

Leah Lee Photography