May 11

i’ve got a good mother

I wrote this a couple of months ago and never posted it, but I figured today would be a good day to do it (with a few edits). I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

I can’t sleep. Tomorrow afternoon I’m getting on a plane to fly to Atlanta to film my first episode of The Originals — my first episode of TV ever — which I wrote with Julie Plec. I’m so nervous and excited and insane right now. And I feel SO extremely lucky. Which is kind of weird for me, actually.   When I was a journo, TV fans on Twitter used to tell me how lucky I was all the time… lucky to get to write about TV for a living, lucky to meet celebrities, etc etc. I realize how bratty this sounds, but I kind of resented when they said that, because I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like I’d worked my ass off, made sacrifices, and taken scary risks. I felt like I worked from the moment I opened my eyes to the moment I went to sleep every day — and if I woke up in the middle of the night, you bet I was signing online to make sure no work could be done before I rolled back over and went to sleep. Getting to do a job I liked was about preparedness and care and work and relentlessness. I don’t want to short-change myself and say it was about luck.

But the truth is, I am lucky. This last year has made that very clear. Because I wouldn’t be able to do what I love, to take big risks, if it weren’t for one stroke of extraordinary luck: I have the best mom ever. That’s where I have been the luckiest.

Last May I gave my notice at Zap2it before I had another job lined up, and that was really scary. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck, so up and quitting a steady job (that I really did love, 90% of the time) was terrifying. But I couldn’t move forward with TV writing while I was still a journalist, so I had to take the plunge. I absolutely positively never would have done that if it wasn’t for my mom.

Part of that is because I knew she wouldn’t let me end up homeless, but mostly it’s because of the example she’s set. When I was a kid — as soon as my youngest sister was old enough to function more like a human being and less like a mom-dependent blob — my mom started working with a charity called Heart Care International. In short, they arranged missions to developing, impoverished countries, bringing a team of the best heart surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and specialists to perform open-heart surgery on dozens of children with heart defects who otherwise would never be able to receive the essential care. A few years later, my mom left Heart Care International and moved on to create her own organization — Heart Trust, Inc. The spirit of the missions are similar — a lot of world-class experts use their vacation time to go save the lives of these children and their families — but at Heart Trust, Inc, there’s a special focus on the “teach a man to fish” model. They spend time teaching doctors in third-world countries new techniques, and when they leave, they donate a lot of their top-notch equipment to the facilities there. In doing so, they change the paths not only of the kids they operate on over those two-weeks, but of countless children after that.

My mom’s been doing all of this for over fifteen years. It’s a full-time job, and she’s never made a penny off of it. She founded and runs the entire organization, but she’s not a doctor. She took a plunge into a field that she knew very little about, educated herself, surrounded herself with the very best people and wasn’t afraid to ask questions until she became an expert in her own right. She does it because she’s passionate about it, because it makes her feel like the person she was supposed to be all along. And she still made it to all the lacrosse games and dance recitals.

This has been the best year of my life, but it’s also been the hardest. Being a writer’s assistant for a TV show you love is awesome. It cool and creatively stimulating and exciting, and it should really be an easy job, but it’s been difficult for me, really just because of my personality type. It’s really tough for me to sit three feet from where I actually want to be, because I’m so completely consumed with wanting to take the next step and be better and do better and impress everyone. All the time. Every waking minute. As much as I love being a writer’s assistant, the first thing I think about every morning is “what can I do today to not have to be a writer’s assistant anymore?” and, because I am who I am, the last thing I think about every night is “let me count the ways I royally fucked that up today.” 

On top of that, this year I was also working on my book every weekend, and I didn’t want to screw that up either, so I never really cut myself a break or had a day off. For the first few months of being a writer’s assistant I basically unraveled into a tangle of anxious nothingness until I was keeping myself up all night with panic attacks on a regular basis. There was one night right before Labor Day where I convinced myself I had made a terrible mistake and I was a crappy writer and a crappy person and I was way behind where I should be in life. I literally stayed up all night long just completely freaking out. I couldn’t get a deep breath. I actually paced. I didn’t know people did that in real life.

If I didn’t have the kind of mom who I could call at five in the morning crying about nothing, I think I would have given up and become one of those people who runs away from their perfectly acceptable lives and is found a decade later living on a beach in Nova Scotia covered in a three-inch layer of dirt and sweating stolen vodka. As it is, I do have the kind of mom I can call, and by 6 AM I was fully convinced that everything was going to be just fine and that the sky was not going to fall on my head. (My mom keeps the sky from falling on my head a lot, and somehow I still haven’t learned that the sky is never actually falling.)

I’m 27 years old and I call my mom every single day to maintain sanity. As soon as I get in my car after work, I call my mom. I spend a lot of evenings circling a three-block radius around my house, just… talking to my mom. My family lives on the east coast, but my mom never really lets me feel like I’m far away from them. Those end-of-the-day phone calls have replaced family dinner, for catching each other up on the details of our lives. She knows all my friends’ names, she knows who all my coworkers are, she knows lots of The Originals spoilers. When Will Gardner died on “The Good Wife” I was freaking out because my mom was on a ski trip and hadn’t watched it and it was killing me not to talk to her about it. And we’re three thousand miles apart.

I think if you’d told me when I was a kid that I’d be so close to my mom as an adult, I’d have been skeptical. Not because she wasn’t a great mom when I was younger — she has always been a great mom — but because I was a nightmare teenager. I threw parties I was absolutely not allowed to throw, I slammed every door in my house in her face, I think I probably made her already difficult divorce a lot more difficult by choosing that year to morph from a nervous bookworm into a whirling dervish of angst and fury. In short, my mom has forgiven me for a lot. I’m very lucky.

(I also was one of those mind-boggling kids who found it embarrassing that I even had parents. Like, I think I secretly wanted my peers to believe that I sprouted from the earth and walked into my freshman geometry class. Fully cooked, no need to be, you know… raised by people. I hated when my friends were around my parents. Sometimes now, when my mom comments on my Instagram posts about how much she hates my pink hair or how well she raised me I think about how embarrassed that kind of thing would’ve made me when I was fifteen. These days, I mostly just want everyone in the world to see how funny and weird and cool my mom is.)

So anyway. Tomorrow, I’m going to go to Atlanta and shoot an episode of television that I wrote. True to form, I have convinced myself that I’m going to screw everything up spectacularly, that everyone is going to hate me, and that my bosses are just humoring me by letting me go on this one trip before they tell me I’m in the wrong line of work and to have a nice life. I’ve kind of accepted that that’s just how my brain works, and it’s probably how my brain is always going to work. But I have a mom that is always, always on hand to counteract that annoying brain chemistry by saying the right thing and being the ever-present safety net that’s made me a person who is absolutely afraid to take risks but who takes them anyway. I’ll probably call her on the drive to set and the drive from set every single day, and she will convince me that the sky is not falling, and I will believe her until the next day, when I will make her tell me again. And she will.