Elisabeth Röhm, best known for her role as Serena Southerlyn on Law & Order, is ending a very busy year.
In her latest blog, Röhm — mom to 3½-year-old Easton August with fiancé Ron Anthony — is filming her newest movie in Bulgaria and her daughter isn’t too happy about it. The actress finds that a simple “I’m sorry” goes a long way with her little girl.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word. At least sometimes, when you are absolutely sure that you have done nothing wrong. Nobody enjoys being the brunt of someone else’s anger — when a person they love is mad at them or hurt by their actions. Especially if they feel innocent and mind-boggled about their loved ones’ rejection of them. What to do in cases where you feel right, but your loved one isn’t budging?
As we know, people’s feeling are totally subjective. Sometimes if we really love someone, we have to recognize that their feelings are real and legitimate to them and that saying, “I’m sorry” is the best objective plan in making the relationship whole again. People need to be acknowledged and none more than our little ones, right?
It’s been educational to me to recognize how real and big Easton’s feelings are. It’s so surprising, actually, how closely Easton’s feelings track with that of an adult. Her emotions are as rich and complex as mine. Her reactions are deeply personal and sometimes we just don’t see eye to eye on things.
So if at first you don’t succeed at pleading your case, sometimes simply saying, “I’m sorry. You have the right to be mad and frustrated with me” is the best alternative. Kids — just like adults — may not get your choices in life or may even be unwilling to understand your point of view.
In the end, being right is so boring, don’t you think? Instead, I opt for kissing and making up at all costs to my ego, rather than trying to convince a loved one that what I’m doing is justifiable. As long as my conscience is clear, I can move ahead with my actions and still swallow the horse-pill of apology.
This was really brought home lately because I’ve been very far away for work over the last couple of weeks — all the way in Bulgaria, of all places. I’ve tried to make a game out of explaining where Europe is on the map in relation to home. Easton didn’t bite. I’ve tried to tell her about all the boats I’m driving and the crocodiles I’m tracking — I’m shooting Lake Placid: The Final Chapter, a movie for SyFy — and she could care less.
I’ve tried to explain that Mommy and Daddy work to pay the bills and she’s like, “Huh?” I’ve even gone so far as to say, “Daddy gets to stay home because he works in Los Angeles. Mommy has to work all over the world. Daddy owns a business and I’m a working stiff, actress type.” Easton is like, “Save it, lady.” All she knows is that I’m very far away and she’s pissed at me.
Now, I want to clarify something — actors and actresses are not necessarily rich. This is a gross exaggeration promoted by the fantasy of celebrity. Most actors I know can’t pick and choose if they go away for work. Even if their life appears to be glamorous and wealthy, they are at best artists who struggle with periods of being in and out of work.
Therefore, when work rolls around, they are likely to pack their bags and get on the road. It may seem exciting — or even reckless — but in truth, it’s just part of being a working actor who has to pay the rent or electric bill like the rest of humanity.
Actors have a job, and although their lifestyle may be may be blown out proportion for the sake of promoting the fantasy, it is likely that most actors are simply getting by, just like most artists in general. It is the very few that make those salaries that you read about online or in the tabloids.
I know the subject of my traveling for work has come up, and I just want to make sure that you guys understand that I sometimes have to travel because I actually have to earn a living. And to top it all off, I absolutely long to be home when I’m on the road.
I try to enjoy the adventure of shooting on location, because I know that when I return to my house the madness of domesticity will set in and I won’t have a moment to myself, but mostly I sit around like a lump on a log missing my family and the comforts of home.
That said, right now as I write this blog I’m alone in a very quiet and clean hotel room. No one is asking for a PB&J or for me to wipe their butt. As nice as it is to have some silence and rest, I’m lonely without fulfilling that role and all that is required when it comes to being a mom.
So all that said — you guys know I’m long-winded — this whole trip Easton and I have been Skyping about how she has a right to not want to talk to me. Let me tell you how fun that’s been. All the while I’m trying to make some bucks to take care of things back home and shooting in the frigid conditions of a Bulgarian lake every day for weeks.
In spite of my efforts, I still get to wear the “heel of the family” on my forehead because of my absence. After a day of shooting, I run back to my room to Skype, only to receive a tongue lashing about my failures as a parent. Perhaps if I told her I was working so that I could buy her a pony … but then I’d actually have to buy her one.
And by the way, saying that I’m working so that I can pay for school simply won’t fly. I try to explain, “Mommy has to go to work sometimes so that I can take care of you. Buy clothes, toys, pay for the house.” She’s like, “Save it for someone who’s listening” and runs off. In her world, either you’re there for her or not. And for the last couple of weeks, Daddy has been there and Mommy is far away.
At first, I felt misunderstood and frustrated too because neither my lengthy nor silly explanations were working. I can’t seem to get out of this one! I’m jealous of the people who get to go to work in their local area or, in my world, to an L.A. studio and come home every day to kiss their babies.
But then I realized my self-pity wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I needed a solution because all I want is for Easton to feel loved and not abandoned. So I quickly realized that the only way to get her to sit in front of the computer with me for a half an hour, twice a day so that we can blow air kisses, laugh and connect is to say those two words that we all find so hard to say — especially when we haven’t done anything wrong.
“I’m sorry,” I say to Easton as she is running around the living room, avoiding my booming electronic and raspy Skype voice. “I know you are angry at me, and I’m so sorry I have to work sometimes honey. You can be frustrated. I understand.” And then I realize how lucky I am that she’s in touch with her feelings because she’s making it safe for me to be frustrated too.
All the books advise that when we leave our children for work, we make it a positive experience. I agree with that overall life philosophy, but sometimes people and even kids need their negative emotions acknowledged so that they don’t feel ignored and negated in what they are truly feeling.
And the funny thing is, once I acknowledge how she is truly feeling instead of pretending that being separated for a length of time is fun, she makes her way to the computer, sits down in front of it and soon we are giggling just like we would be if I was in bed with her at home, cuddling and have a good ole time like we do for the seven months out of the year that I am a stay-at-home mom.
I guess the moral of the story is that even if it sucks to be made wrong in a situation, sometimes the highest thought is to not worry about who’s wrong or right and to simply acknowledge the value in a loved one’s interpretation of a situation or event.
Easton may not come to understand why I have to travel for work sometimes until she’s older — perhaps in high school when she has a defined life of her own. She may even resent me when I do take those leaves of absence for a day or week or two. I may find my work harder for how she feels about it.
In the end, the only option is to do what you gotta do to survive and take care of those you love. And while you’re pulling off the toughest of feats, still assuring your beloved that they are still No. 1 in your book.
My mom taught me early on to repeat back to a loved one what they are conveying about their feelings so that they feel heard. I think that’s so brilliant now as I go through the daily experience with Easton and her complex feelings about my traveling.
We all want to be acknowledged and understood, especially our little ones — once again proving to be our greatest teachers. Hopefully I can take this lesson — compliments of Easton — and practice it with the adults in my life too!
Until next week, PEOPLE.com … carry on parents!
— Elisabeth Röhm