My kids are frolicking! Really!! MY children!

They’re outside, they’re running around, they’re having fun — without colorful plastic toys, without a play structure, without an adult overseeing, supervising, or facilitating…without ME! Just a big backyard, rolling grass, a random hill or two and my kids. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

Maybe this wouldn’t be such a big deal if I were used to it. But I’m not.

We don’t live in the country. This is just our summer vacation.  At home, my kids almost never play outside, and they certainly don’t play outside without me standing there beside them suggesting what to play and showing them exactly how to play it.

When did kids stop knowing how to play?  When I was a kid the rule was: come home from school, disappear until dinner, show up for food and go to sleep.  My parents never watched us.   And they didn’t provide us with any “props” to facilitate our entertainment.  Okay, I had one of those geo-domes and a zip line.  But I barely used them.   What was the point?  The neighborhood was my oyster!   All of the kids would get together after school and climb trees, play Red Rover, and ride bikes around and around (and around and around and around…) in the wide circular driveway behind my house until my dad, irritated by our repetitive cycling came outside yelling “ENOUGH ALREADY!”  That’s the way frolicking was done in the olden days.

This is my fault.

My kids have just never really frolicked.   We live in a big city and they play inside where it’s safe.  They have video games, a playroom filled with toys, and a jacuzzi in the courtyard that I let them splash around in occasionally.   But the big outdoors scares them.  The most freedom my kids have enjoyed is riding their bikes in the street.  It sounds dangerous, but bike riding in my neighborhood consists of a grown-up, (i.e. “me”) standing in the middle of the street or sitting on the curb watching vigilantly in both directions for any car movement.  If I see any car along any road nearby I yell “CAR!” and the kids know to scatter immediately to the side of the road.   When the car is gone, I yell “CLEAR!” and they resume their riding.  That’s it.   And I sit right there the whole time…yelling…”CAR!” “CLEAR!” “CAR!…NO WAIT!…CLEAR!’

It’s unproductive.   And quite frankly, it’s boring.   Once I invited my neighbors to join me for a little curbside cocktail hour as we watched our kids riding up and down the street and took turns yelling “CAR!” and “CLEAR!” and “PASS THE WINE.”   It made it more entertaining.  But you can’t really do that everyday, can you?

So you can see why, when I look out my window of our summer house in the mountains and see my kids rolling down the hill in the front yard, chasing each other and “frolicking” outside I am so pleased.

It wasn’t easy to get here.  Our first day in the house I opened the back door to the yard and said “Go.”  They stood there and looked out at the wide expanse of foreign territory blinking.

“GO!” I tried to shoo them out the door.

“Are you coming with us?”

“Nope. I’m going to be right here in the kitchen cleaning up. I can see you through the window. Go play! Have fun!”

“Are there bears?”

“No there aren’t any bears. Well, there might be, but they’re not interested in coming into our yard while you’re running around.”

“Really?”

“Really.” I hoped I was right. But I wasn’t going to give them the bear excuse to bow out of playing in the yard.

“We’re scared.”

“Scared?   Of what?   Grass?  Leaves?  Fresh air??  You’re totally safe.  Look how beautiful it is!  Go play!”  I pointed to the lovely vista of rolling hills behind our house.   They were unconvinced.

“What are we supposed to do out there?”   I couldn’t believe they would look at this gorgeous yard and not know what to do with it.  “You can play catch!  You can play tag!  You can roll around on it.”

“How do you do that?”

“Roll?”   I was beside myself.   I had had enough of this.   I took them both outside by the hand to the top of a small hill and literally showed them how to roll down a hill.

“WEEEEEEEEE!!!!  I added enthusiastic sound effects to emphasize how much fun I was having.  “Come on!  Try it.”

Livi got down on the grass and rolled.  She rolled a little sideways, and partially under a bush but she was laughing like it was the funniest thing she had ever done.  Ben, convinced by Livi’s laughter, followed her down.  Somehow between all of us rolling, picking buttercups, playing tag, and me throwing a raw hot dog out into the field to convince the kids there was something more interesting to the bears than they are, they started to relax and have fun.

And like a parent watching their child balance on a bicycle for the first time, I let go and slowly backed toward the house.   I closed the screen door behind me, came into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of lemonade.   I could see through the back window they were having fun.  They were happy.  They were safe.  They were frolicking!

I sat down, took a leisurely swig of my lemonade, and yelled “CLEAR!”

Angelina Jolie has everything—a successful career, a romance with Brad Pitt, a crew of cute kids and millions in the bank—except for the one thing she really needs: friends. “Angelia is hungry for normal moms to be around,” a source close to the star, 34, tells Hot Stuff. “She feels like she lives in a bubble.” She’s also having trouble managing stress, says a second insider, who notes that Jolie “has been overwhelmed lately with the children. She has nannies, but she likes to do it all herself. She’s very hands-on—but she’s exhausted!”

Us Weekly, January 4, 2010

 

Dear Angelina,

I’m writing today in response to the above-referenced piece in Us Weekly’s “Hot Stuff” section, which I read as a cry for help.

Let me begin by saying that, as a “co-parent” to two lovely children, Dominick, 5, and Prudence, 3, I totally understand what you’re going through. It’s hard enough making friends with other mommies and daddies, but for someone as in the public eye as you are? Wowsers.

Put it this way: if my only option for parental peerage consisted of Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham, I’d live in semi-isolation, too. Who wants to go to all those soccer games?

The truth is, other than your choice of profession—and the movie-star good looks—you have little in common with most Hollywood moms (Kendra and Kourtney? Kome on). Your slender physique and great beauty belie the fact that you are quite the heavy. You’ve got gravitas, girl. And that must take its toll. Between the visits to Third World countries, the U.N. Goodwill Ambassadorship, Beyond Borders, and Notes From My Travels—not to mention a slate of roles in particularly downer films (A Mighty Heart, Changeling)—you, my dear, are desperately in need of a little sunshine.

And I know just the person to provide that sunshine, not to mention the sororial bonding you need from another in-the-trenches mommy: my wife, Stephanie.

I think you and Steph would, like, totally hit it off. I mean, you have a lot in common: You both had reluctant C-sections. You both lost your mother to cancer. You’re both of French-Canadian/Native American stock. You both like Atlas Shrugged. You’re married to two of the sexiest bohunks alive, both of whom are repped by the same film agency. You’re the same age (OK, Steph is a tiny bit older than you, but she’s still way younger than Brad). And you know how you’re a political lefty but your dad voted for McCain? Same with Stephanie!

Because she lived in the East Village for fifteen years, my wife won’t be wowed by your enormous celebrity. She went to school with Taye Diggs, she has friends who write for SNL, her best friend played Marius in Les Mis on Broadway. (Plus, not to toot my own horn here, but she shares a bed with the author of Totally Killer and the senior editor of the hottest literary site on the Web). In fact, other than the time she accosted Matthew Broderick in the health food store and told him she thought he was “the best comedic actor ever” before turning tail and fleeing in shame, Steph is totally chill when it comes to hobnobbing with the rich and famous. She knows that what Us Weekly says about stars is bang-on true—they’re just like us!

What else you might like to know is that Steph is both a talented musician and a graduate student pursuing a masters in mental health counseling. So not only can she serve as a sounding board/therapist and help you manage the stress we read about in said magazine—and frankly, it’s refreshing to hear that movie stars feel stress about their children that doesn’t involve finding discreet babysitters so they can stay out all night with other movie stars—she can also belt out a killer rendition of “Wheels on the Bus.” Plus, she’s really funny, and she does a top notch Scarlett Johansson impression.

Me, you’ve obviously heard of, because of my affiliation with this fine online magazine and because I drew a standing-room-only crowd at my reading with Duke Haney at Book Soup in West Hollywood a few weeks back. What you may not know is, I’ve spent the last five years as a sort-of stay-at-home dad, eking out a living doing freelance work. Sort of like you with Kung Fu Panda, but with a much smaller paycheck. Also, I’m an astrologer, so I can do your chart (assuming the birth time on IMDB is accurate, I already know that you’re a Cancer Rising and that Venus conjuncts your Ascendant, which means, if you will forgive a technical horoscopy term, that you’re hot).


Brangelina, meet Grephanie

Brangelina, meet Grephanie

We live in New Paltz, a charming and crunchy college town in New York’s Hudson Valley. I know you spent time in Albany while filming your upcoming blockbuster Salt. Let me assure you: this ain’t Albany. Unlike the state capital, New Paltz is a place that tourists actually want to visit. Mohonk Mountain House is here—many movies have been shot there, as you are no doubt aware—plus we have Huguenot Street, the oldest residential street in North America. Brad will like that, because he’s an architecture buff.

You know who else is an architecture buff? Our son, Dominick. He just turned five, and he spent all afternoon reading A Field Guide to American Houses, which American Libraries cleverly calls “the definitive field guide to American homes.” He knows the subtle differences between the Beaux Arts and Second Empire styles, and he really wants to visit Cleveland because of all the lovely historic homes there. More to the point, there’s a girl in his dance class who sort of looks like Zahara, and he really likes her. This bodes well for playdates.

As for our daughter, Prudence and Shiloh are the same age, and they both have awesome names. (Let me take a moment to compliment you on your good taste in that department. Maddox, Zahara, Pax, Shiloh, Knox, Vivienne…not a clunker in the bunch. No Apples, no Moseses, and no Olives, because Olive Pitt doesn’t quite work.) If Shiloh enjoys riding tricycles, belting out tunes at the top of her lungs, and playing non-competitive games of hide-and-seek, she’ll get along with Prue just fine.

While it’s true that New Paltz is quite a distance from Los Angeles, New Orleans, Paris, Berlin, Phnom Penh, Namibia, and other places where we think you might maintain residences—and, while we’re on the topic, might I suggest that, exhilarating as globe-trotting must be, especially under the imprimatur of the United Nations, it might be easier for both you and your children to make friends if you commit to a single locale—we are right down the road from Woodstock, so it’s not like we’ve never seen celebrities before (although so many of our citizens support a mandatory death sentence for television that it’s entirely possible that you could accompany Stephanie to Bacchus for a few Fin du Mondes and TMZ would never be the wiser).

Another thing: Stephanie already has a really great circle of mommy friends. These are ladies you would really dig. Liz, who has four kids—including twins, like you—is really funny and down to earth and has great taste in music. S.L., like you, has lots of tattoos and tastes that run Goth; I don’t think she’d wear her husband’s blood in a vial around her neck, but the idea wouldn’t repulse her. And check this: Elizabeth and her husband Tim have two adoptive children from Guatemala, and next month, they’re getting two more, this time from Rwanda. That’s right—Rwanda. Plus, Tim’s car runs on vegetable oil. I bet even Leo’s car doesn’t do that.

Oh, and there’s this. I’ve heard the rumors that you and Brad occasionally run into conflict because from time to time you like to—how shall I put this?—put the “XX” in sex. (I’m guessing that’s what you meant when you told Das Neue last week that you “doubt that fidelity is absolutely essential for a relationship.”) Assuming these rumors are legit, and not a feeble attempt by your Foxfire co-star Jenny Shimizu to resuscitate her career, let’s just say that in these parts, we tend to be quite liberal when it comes to that sort of thing. We’re down with bisexual OPP.

True, Stephanie and I have never broached the subject. But say you guys were hanging out, availing yourselves of the drink specials while grooving to the Big Shoe show at Oasis, and one thing led to another…who am I to deny the happiness of the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency?

The point is, you’ll find my wife and I very supportive of your lifestyle choices. Like, we think it’s really cool that you guys won’t get married until marriage is a universal right. In fact, one of the reasons we moved to New Paltz is because our then-mayor, Jason West, performed gay marriages at Village Hall. Like I said, this ain’t Albany.

If you’d rather not relocate from sunny Los Angeles to a place where the winters are cold and slush-filled and the Subarus outnumber the Porsches just to cultivate a friendship with a woman you met by reading a letter her husband wrote on a Web site whose influence, while mighty, was insufficient to convince Janeane Garofalo to boink a handsome and debonair Aussie fifteen years her junior…hey, I understand. I won’t take it personally. But if you’re willing to give it a shot, have “your people” call “our people,” and let’s set up a playdate. You won’t be disappointed.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards,

Greg Olear

PS

We have a jumpy castle.