Calling an audible—Part 2

We drove in semi-silence. The kids and I were in my car. Jeff was driving the motor home to storage. He called me on my cell, interrupting a rant I’d been administering in ill-controlled bursts. If you must know, I sounded like that guy Fred Armisen plays, Nicholas Fehn—the Weekend Update guest who’s so riled up about the political injustices he’s tracking in the newspaper, he can’t complete a sentence of the commentary he’s supposed to provide. And so, he sputters half-declarations that rail against the injustice of it all.

People, that’s where I was. I was this guy:

I may have looked exactly like this while I was talking


Jeff’s call saved the three of us from hearing more of my sputtery sputtering.

“You know, I didn’t do this just because we were only 20 minutes from home,” he said. “I would have driven seven hours home if we’d been in Yellowstone.”

I knew he was right. The camping trip was probably doomed before it started—a cocktail of exhaustion and anticipation had rippled through our five year old’s body all week. Jeff pulled the plug when Seth had acted out, then ignored my entreaties to reel it in, then followed up with a little maraschino cheery on the disrespect sundae.

As I hung up the phone, I was about to re-launch my rant. We’d need to cancel a raft of play dates I’d set up—beach picnics, paddle boarding, barbecues—with families from Seth’s preschool. I needed Seth to feel the overwhelming consequence.

Before I could, Lance apologized. “I’m sorry I complained and was grumpy eariler,” he said. “It didn’t help things.”

“You’re right, Lance, Thank you,” I said. “But you would have corrected course quickly. Your brother made a bunch of choices not to listen, and we have to live with that.” Now, I played the cancelled playmate card, verbally tossing it into the pile, face-up, so Seth could inspect it.

Things began to sink in.

“We’re going home for a minute. I have to unload some things, I have to feed the dogs. You two are to go upstairs and eat a Z Bar and a yogurt each, and you will drink a glass of water, each,” I explained. “We won’t be able to eat dinner until after we pick up dad at the RV storage unit. No arguments. If you do anything except what I just told you, you will lose another privilege. Like being in the parade on Wednesday.”

I got compliance. We drove down to Salt Lake City to pick up Jeff.

“You know, guys, if we didn’t think you could do better, we would not expect better from you,” I said. “I’d just let you act any which way. But you can, and I won’t.”

“Yes, Mom,” came from the back seat.

We let Lance choose the restaurant. Cheesecake Factory. We let him order dessert. Seth was not allowed to partake in the cheesecake. We talked about consequences.

“You know, guys, if we didn’t think you could do better…” Jeff began.

“Mom covered that, already dad,” Lance said. “We can do better. Right Seth?”

“Right, Lance.” A beat. Then: “Mom and Dad, I’m sorry I was disrespectful.”

A look passed between Jeff and me. We dared not mess with the moment.

I began to wonder if we might be on to something? Now, your turn: When’s the last time you enforced a consequence and were rewarded with the glimmer of a result?

Calling an audible, Part 1.

“Where are the suitcases?”

Jeff’s voice wasn’t quiet, but he wasn’t yelling. There was an eerie calm where, moments ago, there had been chaos. Seth had been jumping around the living/dining kitchen space of our motor home. And while it’s a large motor home, there’s not a surplus of space for jumping around. Apart from being annoying, it’s dangerous.

The scene of the crimes

He’d ignored my warnings not to jump. And now, he had a sucker in his mouth, the stick and its candy orb looking less like the diversion I’d just intended and more like an injury maker. I realized this in the same split-second his head came just millimeters away from striking the edge of the galley counter top.

“STOP!” I yelled.

And then, he crossed a line. No child should ever read his mom’s blog and be forced to relive a childhood transgression, so I’ll leave it at that.

And before I could respond (which I did, poorly, without a lot of pause and deliberation—any, really), Jeff was asking where the suitcases were.

It seemed like a stupid question to me, in that moment, even as I knelt on the floor next to Seth, trying to calm us both down while explaining the inherent danger in his previous activity, and explaining that disrespectful behavior wouldn’t fly…

I felt stupid, ineffectual and useless. Still, I pressed on, arguing my point to a 5 year-old judge. Not in an inside voice.

I brought the voice down a bit and told Jeff the suitcases were in the car. As I looked up, I had a view into the bedroom at the back of the rig, where my husband was swiftly emptying drawers of clothes I’d placed in them just that morning, .

We’d been at the campsite an hour. Jeff called an audible.

“We. Are. Leaving,” he said, clearly and firmly. “I’m not spending a week like this, and Seth is not going to act out in order to get his way.”

The fact is, the thing he’d been mad about was that I’d stopped his game, chasing a balloon, which I had (stupid me) blown up in an attempt to entertain him. (“What did you think he was going to do with the balloon? Cuddle it?!” I admonished myself, silently.)

“Um, I’ll get the bags. They’re in the car, I’ll be right back.”

He’s not faking, I thought. He’s serious.

I stomped out the door. I slammed it as best I could, which is to say, pushed hard against the self-regulating hydraulic hinges. I stalked across the grass to the car, popping the trunk with my key fob—the subtlety of the motion mocking me as I fumed. I heard the RV door open and shut. Footsteps. Jeff’s voice.

“Hey! Hey!” He called out to me—I thought his tone would be angrier. I hadn’t parented very thoughtfully back there. Instead, his tone was buddy-like, almost conspiratorial, vaguely apologetic. We’ve been married a long time, so I can tell how much emotion he packs into two syllables. I felt like I deserved some reproach. My overreaction had fueled the situation, I thought. He crossed the lawn and caught up to me. Touched my arm.

“I know you’re mad. I’m sorry. But I had to do it.”

“I’m not mad. At you,” I said. “I’m pissed as hell at Seth—and myself. But you did the exact right thing. I’m glad one of us had the presence of mind to do the right thing.” We’d been counting minutes until this motor home trip all summer. When we’re all in sync, being in the motor home is the way we operate best—close quarters, few distractions, intimate family time. Or, what I fondly refer to as “being pod people.”

The kids call it our “house on wheels”

The thought of trashing a whole, precious long weekend of pod-people existence, before we could even start—I wondered, on the periphery of my brain, if we’d actually do a better job parenting if we worked through the issues and showed them that we could come together after all. Then, I recalled how many times we’d tried that—and, importantly, he’d already gone out and said, “we’re leaving.” If we reversed the decision, we’d have zero authority to address consequences—on that trip, or in any other context. It’s not lost on me that we are only getting the hang of consequence-rendering now that our children are school-aged. Jeff, hearing my thoughts without benefit of speech, made it clear we were on the same page.

“I’m determined to show him consequences, you have to trust me,” he said. “If we do this, I can almost guarantee it won’t happen again. We’ll wait it out a week or two and we’ll go camping—a bunch. All summer. But it won’t be a war every time. I won’t let it.”

“You’re 100 percent right,” I said. “I’m proud of you, and grateful.”

Let my love open the door

Truthfully, I was mad—at myself. For both engaging in the fight with Seth, and for  letting things escalate, and  for not being smart enough in the moment to think of it myself. That feeling passed in a flash—all I felt was grateful and relieved, that one of us had the presence of mind to actually be the parent in the room, the person who could guide and teach, rather than react. Behold, partnership.

XOXO, Charla

I have so much to share about the Sundance Film Festival, which is happening right now, right where I live. But for now, I’m stuck in 1996, when, as a newly-minted editorial assistant at Glamour Magazine, I barely knew what Sundance was—all I knew was that my boss, the Entertainment Editor at the magazine, was here in Park City, going to movies, meeting celebrities, and, it turned out, planning a party. And today, the party came to a screeching halt, because Charla Krupp, the boss who was so much more than that to me, passed away from breast cancer. And it’s hard to believe that cancer got her—Charla, you see, was a force of nature all her own.

That January, she called me from Utah, way out here in the “801” (it was before Park City had acquired a different area code from Salt Lake City), to ask me to overnight a bunch of CDs to her condo—”Bari Nan!” she said, in that energized voice that always made her sound like she was about to impart crucial celebrity gossip, or maybe a state secret. “I need you to do me a favor! I decided to have a party, and I need some CDs! Can you go into my office and just pick out some good party CDs and ship them to me today?” We had stacks of CDs in the office, so it was pretty easy to find good party tunes. And it was easy to want to do whatever favor she asked—Charla was a great boss, and a terrific tour guide for one country bumpkin hire to learn from. It’s not lost on me that her birthday was the day before mine—because from the moment I met her, she’d somehow lead me wherever I was supposed to go. Heck, just shipping that package to a town that held a piece of my future, now seems like a literary allusion. Her husband, Richard, has referred to her today as a trailblazer—and in truth, her gift was opening doors, unlocking secrets (as she did in her books).

When she hired me, I was a shade of green that is particular to small town girls who move to Manhattan to make their way in the magazine world. I had memorized the company handbook, absorbed the culture as quickly as I could. And I was, at first, surprised by the ease with which she made her own rules—employees at the magazine were supposed to answer the phone with our names. Charla, though, sang “Hello!” into the receiver. Answering by name was beside the point—her greeting, her voice, were practically trademarked. She made her own hours—”If I’m out til all hours at screenings, I have to find some time to go to the dry cleaner and get my hair cut,” she said, by way of explanation of her 10:30am arrivals in the office. Soon, I would understand that she always made her own rules, blazed her own trails, did her own thing—well. Including the way in which she made many, many friends. In time, I became one of them.

But first, she would teach me—she would send me to screenings, offer me assignments that were just north of the coffee-getting and copy-making that were an inevitable part of my day. She made up excuses for me to go visit the office of our legendary Editor-in-Chief, Ruth Whitney, in the far corner of our office floor, to deliver manuscripts or special screening invitations. “Please tell Ruth that this is a premiere she should attend,” Charla would say, as though she wasn’t breaking a hundred unwritten rules that Editorial Assistants didn’t strike up a chat with the editor. These errands were not assigned just because she was too busy for these things. She wanted me to have exposure to the right people, the right opportunities. Once, she claimed to have left an important folder in the office when she was having lunch with Katie Couric, around the corner at the unofficial Conde Nast dining room (this was in the 350 Madison Avenue days, when there was no Frank Gehry-designed cafe in the big Times Square Tower the company currently calls home). She called me from the restaurant, “Could you please come around the corner and bring me that folder from my chair?” she asked. “I’m at the table with Katie.” Wowed, awed, stunned–and maybe a little curious as to why Charla needed a file full of manuscripts that had nothing whatsoever to do with Katie Couric, made my way around the corner in a flash, pausing to collect myself outside the restaurant and then adopting an “efficient bravado” from I know not where, when I addressed the hostess. “I have something to give to Charla Krupp,” I said. “Can you please direct me to her table?”

Her smile, when I arrived there, was beaming, genuine.

“OH, Bari NAN! You’re Here! You’re amazing! THAAAANK YOUUUUU!”

And then, as if she hadn’t planned this all along, she said:

“Katie, this is my fab-u-lous assistant Bari Nan. Bari Nan, this is my dear friend Katie Couric.”

There were nice to meet you’s, Katie turned her own dazzling grin on me, asked a few questions about working for Charla, where I came from, where I’d been to college, and then I excused myself, still absorbing what had happened. She had, I told Jeff that night, made up an excuse to introduce me to Katie. For no reason except to be nice.

As her assistant, I observed her doing favors for friends who hadn’t even asked, doting on her family members several states away, hosting her mother’s friends for tours of the magazine offices. And always, always the calls to Richard, several times a day, at his office at Time Magazine, or at home if he was working there.  Checking in, making plans, worrying that he hadn’t eaten—just connecting.

And there was nothing to keep her from doing the right thing—including wrangling an all-star lineup of special guests to pay tribute to Ruth Whitney, when she passed away, as if to right the injustice that was Ruth’s untimely death from ALS, and the unceremonious way in which she’d been replaced at the magazine not long before she’d died.

Over time, there would be more acts of personal and professional generosity, catch-up lunches to swap stories and industry gossip, which I loved, too. There were occasional lunches and phone calls—and lots of shocked “Whaaaaaat?”s when I told her that I was giving up my second Entertainment Editor job to move to Utah. There were promises to come skiing. There were calls when friends were coming to town…”can you take care of them?” She called me, once, unwittingly, when I was in the hospital, hours after I gave birth to my second child, asking for some information for her next book—unaware of what had just transpired. “Oh my GAWWWWD, Bari Nan. What have I done?! Why are you helping me NOW! You just had a BABY!” But she was the kind of person, the kind of friend, for whom anything you could do seemed like not quite enough. Afterward, she sent a lovely gift for the baby, including in the package a pair of simple pink leather travel slippers for me. “Pamper yourself,” the note read. “XOXO Charla.” Which was the way she signed all her notes and emails. XOXO, Charla. I took a lot of delight in calling her to tell her they were my favorite slippers to wear in the motor home. “Oh, Bari Nan, REALLY? A MOTOR HOME? Can’t you have a house in the Hamptons like everyone else?” This, from the woman who did nothing “like everybody else.”

One of our last conversations was a phone call I placed the minute I heard her dear friend, the publicist Ronni Chasen, had been shot to death. “Oh, Bari Nan! It’s awful!” Then, “I can’t believe you called. I can’t believe you remembered…” But she knew—she knew she was important to me, she knew I would always remember. She was grief-stricken. shaken, shocked—I listened, I offered condolences, I made her promise to come visit. I told her I loved her. Which I did, very much. I also liked her a whole lot. I know I’m not alone — she had many fans and friends. If you’re one of them, I invite you to share your favorite Charla memories in the comments.

For now, I’ll say this:

XOXO, Charla. You are missed.

Restless RV wishes

I’m not sure which of us got the wild hare one day in late Spring. Or as the weather folks were trying to call it, “Sprinter” As in: Spring + Winter = Sprinter. But I suggested it might not be a bad plan to scope out areas within 60 miles of home to see if we could find RV destinations that wouldn’t break the bank in gas money. As in: Hey, kids, let’s see what happens when we keep driving West on I-80, and check out some of those towns we’ve only heard about on the local news.

So, we headed for the Salt Flats, driving on a road that is, more or less, built on the Great Salt Lake, and then doubling back to see what the towns on the other side of the mountain ridges to the west of Salt Lake City had to offer. Turns out, it was Denny’s. But I digress.

The drive was rather chill. The kids watched a movie in my Mom Mobile, which they like to say, “has a movie theater.” And they played various personal video consoles. But they also looked out the window as wildlife spotters. And cool-stuff spotters. Which is how we happened to notice this cool hotel.

No Tell Motel

And stopped to take some pics.

The Wide West

After which, we needed refreshment:

Chocolate Twizzlers=official road warrior cuisine

Then we cruised around the area looking for campgrounds. I considered it a scouting venture to see if we could find places to go in the RV on less than a tank of gas. Hmmm….Well, there’s always Miller Motorsports Park, which allows camping on site.