When I was 16, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mother after school one day, and she was going on and on about some house she was decorating. She was all excited and animated, filled with creative passion. I sat there thinking, “Why is she telling me all this? Her life is almost over.” Guess how old she was. 36!
I look back on that now and cringe. I loved my mother with all my heart but couldn’t stop myself from treating her like a sub-human. As she got older, she told me she felt invisible. She said in this society, middle–aged women are the least valued group. Youth is the coin of the realm. When we four kids (one sister, two brothers) left home, my mother became a frantic dilettante, trying to do everything at once to make up for lost time. At 68, just when she felt she was starting to live, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was so angry. She passed away six weeks after that tragic diagnosis.
I always wanted a child, but waited until I was 39, or -- by my own teenage calculation -- until my life was almost over. I think, in part, I was afraid of being trapped. I’d always been in some area of show business – acting, directing, writing songs, singing, but didn’t commit to a specific career until my daughter was 6. So essentially, I waited until I was “trapped” to focus on one career and give it my all. I partnered with writer Jonathan Stark. We wrote several spec scripts, and got our first staff-writing job in 1991 on Cheers. I was 48, so of course… my life was almost over.
In 1994 we landed on Ellen. We stayed four seasons, winning an Emmy and the Peabody Award for co-writing Ellen’s ground-breaking coming-out episode. After that, we were in development with ABC/Disney, and in 2001 created According to Jim, starring Jim Belushi. By then I was 59… my life was really almost over, right? Wrong.
After According to Jim sold into syndication, when I was 63, I left the show to become a singer/songwriter. I had been playing guitar and writing songs since I was a kid, so I was prepared. I just needed to get my chops back, which took about six months of daily practice. Now I have a six-piece band. We play about three shows a week in and around the LA area. In 2007, I released my first CD called A Place in the Sun. I’m working on the next one. I’m 68, my life is almost over, but it feels like it’s just beginning. Hmm. Maybe it is.
My daughter’s name is Charlotte. She’s 29. Not to be too tough on my teenage self, but I raised a nicer child than my mom did. However, like me, Charlotte was a pretty nasty teen. Here’s my song about driving teenage girls in a carpool, called, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” I bring this up now because of the way I felt during that time: Invisible.
I hate this school. It’s a forty-minute drive
Why couldn’t she go to the school nearby?
I’m starving. Why didn’t I bring something to eat?
Why did I wear shorts? I’m sticking to the seat
There’s the volunteer security guard
She’s gonna make all of us move our cars
Whydid I ever have a child?
My life was so much easier pre-Charlotte
I had no idea how good I had it
I’d see a baby and think, “That’s what I need,
Someone to love who depends on me.”
Oh, yeah, it’s all coming back to me now
Well, here she comes, my little bundle of love
In a hoodie and jeans, she’s walkin’ on her cuffs
Her long blond hair is in a mess of cornrows
She’s rappin’ a verse about gangstas and ho’s
She settles in, I ask “how was school?”
She glares at me, ‘cuz I’m so not cool
How did I ever get this child?
I wonder what’s making her so mean
Then I remember the way I was at sixteen
She’s treatin’ me like I treated my mama