Vanessa Williams: Wise Women Over 50

EPISODE 22

In this episode, I am joined by the super talented and dynamic, Vanessa Williams, as we continue our Wise Women Over 50 series. I am so honored to have Vanessa on my show and to be able to chat with her about her personal life and family, her past, her experience as a mother of 4 and her very accomplished career.

As many of you already know, Vanessa Williams is one of the most respected and multi-faceted performers in the entertainment industry today. She is vastly experienced in the entertainment industry and has earned countless awards, even being the first woman of African-American descent to ever receive the Miss America Award 1984.

She is currently involved in many endeavors, from music, to film and television, writing children’s books starring on Broadway and giving back through charity work.


EPISODE TRANSCRIPT


Doryn Wallach:

Welcome to, "It's Not A Crisis." I am your host Doryn Wallach. I'm an entrepreneur, a mother of two, a wife, and a forty something trying to figure out what is happening in this decade. Why is no one talking about it? I created this podcast to help women in their late thirties and forties to figure out what is going on in our mind, body, soul, and life. We may laugh, we may cry, we may get frustrated, but most importantly, my goal is to make this next chapter of life positive. I'm also full of my own questions, and I'm here to go on this journey with you, so let's do it together.

Hey everyone! Welcome to another episode! And today, yay, I'm so excited because I have Vanessa Williams on the show. I wasn't nervous one bit before this interview. I've got to tell you, I had a good night's sleep last night, my hands weren't trembling when I was doing the interview. I'm joking. I was actually petrified, and she was so wonderful and so easy to talk to. I'm always honored that anybody wants to do my show. Truly, they're putting their faith and their trust in me to make them feel comfortable and to look good. It doesn't go unnoticed, so all my guests are important to me, whether they're as famous as Vanessa Williams, or not.

So, today is episode three of "Wise Women Over 50," and a friend of mine met Vanessa Williams while acting with her, and she called me and she said, "You have to have Vanessa on the show. She's just so amazing to talk to and she has so much wisdom, and I really think she'll be a great guest." And I was like, "Great, if you can set it up, that'd be wonderful." So, here we are, and I have to tell you, after doing my research and reading her book and listening to her own podcast, I truly fell in love with her as a person. I just want to go to dinner with her. She's a dynamic woman, humble, intelligent, and so many other things. So it really was an honor to interview her, and she really fit the bill for my "Wise Women Over 50."

Vanessa Williams is one of the most respected and multi-faceted performers in the entertainment industry today. Having sold millions of records world wide, Vanessa has also achieved numerous number one and top ten hits on various billboard album and single charts. Pop, Dance, R&B, Adult, Contemporary, Holiday, Latin, Gospel, Jazz, I don't think there's anything left after all that. Her critically acclaimed work in film, television recordings, and the Broadway stage has been recognized by every major industry award affiliate, including four Emmy nominations, eleven Grammy nominations, a Tony nomination, three SAG award nominations, seven NAACP Image Awards, and three Satellite awards. Her platinum single, "Colors of the Wind" from Disney's "Pocahontas" won the Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Globe for Best Original Song. A graduate of Syracuse University, which by the way, I went to my freshman year. I forgot to tell her that, but then I transferred. It was cold.

Vanessa is a strong advocate for equal rights, especially concerning the gay community and minorities. She was honored with the human rights campaign, Ally for Equality award for her humanitarian contributions. Vanessa also achieved a career pinnacle with a start on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007. "Bubble Kisses," Vanessa's first picture book for children, released in 2020, tells the story of a young girl with the ability to transform into a mermaid. This effervescent, lively tale is based on a song which is also available with the book, and as a download. Her autobiography, "You Have No Idea," co-written with her mother, Helen Williams, was a New York Times Bestseller in 2012. Get the book, I loved the book. I thought it was so wonderful, really easy read. And by the way, the children's book, I heard the song, and in the podcast Vanessa mentions that hopefully if you're sick of Baby Shark, and I don't have little kids and I am sick of "Baby Shark" and this song, I hope this song catches on, because it's one that you'd want to hear over and over again.

Vanessa's recent Broadway credits include co-staring with Cicely Tyson in, "The Trip to Bountiful," the number one play of the 2013 season, "After Midnight," 2014, and a special limited engagement in, "Hey Look Me Over," at New York City Center in 2018. Vanessa is the mother of four, Melanie, Jillian, Devin, and Sasha. Her charitable endeavors are many and varied, embracing and supporting such organizations as Concerts from America, Special Olympics, and several others.

Doryn Wallach:

Hi, Vanessa! Welcome to, "It's Not a Crisis!" I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to be here. I know that you're a very busy woman, but my listeners I know are going to be so incredibly grateful for your wisdom and I'm grateful to my good friend Kristy for introducing us and connecting us.


Vanessa Williams:

Yay Kristy. I met Kristy, actually we worked twice together doing a mutual friend's, who happens to be a priest, who's also an amazing playwright, we did a reading of his play.

Doryn Wallach:

In the Vineyard, right?


Vanessa Williams:

Vineyard and also in Orange County at Chapman University. So we've worked together twice.

Doryn Wallach:

Oh that's great. She's one of my favorite people in the world.


Vanessa Williams:

Yes.

Doryn Wallach:

She always lifts me.


Vanessa Williams:

Yeah.

Doryn Wallach:

So I wanted you to know that in preparation for this interview, I read your book, "You Have No Idea," which I loved.


Vanessa Williams:

Oo, good!

Doryn Wallach:

And I feel like I know so much about you and your family. I listened to a bunch of podcasts that you were on, and I'm just really, truly blown away by you. I just think you're a woman who doesn't give up or let anyone or anything stop you. You seem like an amazing and caring mom and you just love being a mom. And you also, I love your carefree, creative spirit. I don't know if that's evolved as you've gotten older, but your younger free spirit I loved. Hearing some of your stories, I was like, "Oh, we would've been good friends then."


Vanessa Williams:

We would've gotten into a lot of trouble that's the problem.

Doryn Wallach:

And Kristy said it would be a bad situation. And by the way, so this is not part of the interview, but I just watched you on a Live and I saw like four different people saying, "Can you give us a beauty tip? Can you give us a beauty tip?" And I'm thinking to myself, "Oh my God! Look how gorgeous you look!" Is there one tip?


Vanessa Williams:

Well right now it's a good Ring Light, that's for sure. I bought that immediately once the last year's COVID isolation went down.

Doryn Wallach:

I have one, too. It doesn't do that to me, what it does to you.


Vanessa Williams:

Know your angles. So lighting and angles have a huge, they wash away a lot of the lines that are natural when you're in front of the camera. And then I think coverage is really good too. I use a variety of thing, like Laura Mercier, she's got a secret camouflage that's just like you can dot it on dark spots, or little age spots, or just any kind of skin issue, that'll smooth it out. And then just get a really good foundation that has coverage, but it's kind of light with a little bit of luminescence. Amoria also work, I use that, I layer that with some other things. One of the ones that's really convenient and available in drug stores is Iman. She's got a great line, and it's affordable, and you can get it easily.

And just learn how to do your face. I've been lucky to have Kevyn Aucoin, and Scott Barnes, and Sam Fine, and all these amazing people do my face over the years, for many years, and I just watch and learn the tricks and learn how to do a defined eyebrow, and ask questions. "Okay, what brow powder are you using? What brush is that? What's the bronzer?" Because there's so many tutorials now.

Doryn Wallach:

Oh it's overwhelming.


Vanessa Williams:

It's overwhelming, yeah, but the good ones have the good secrets. So the ones that have the books, as I mentioned, Sam Fine, Kevyn Aucoin, Scott Barnes, they all have published books out that will give you tips to get a good face. I definitely find, as I get older, the paler lip works better. I mean sometimes I go, "Let me just throw in a red lip," and it just ages me. It used to be hot when you're young and you've got just a blank face with a lash and a nice, hot, red lip, you can get away with that. The older you get, I think it brings too much attention, so I think the older you get the more you can make your lip more pale, and keep your skin as smooth as you possibly can in terms of less contour, and then just work on the eye.

Doryn Wallach:

By the way, I tell my mother, my mother loves makeup, and she wears red lips all the time, she's 73, and I'm like, "Mom, when you have no lipstick on, you look so much younger!" And she claims her lips aren't for people's viewing. I don't know. So as you know, our audience is in their late thirties and forties, and I started this podcast out of having my own questions that weren't being answered. I just felt like there was a lot of lack of support and guidance at this age, as opposed to other decades in our lives. And just so much is changing with our bodies, our minds, our families, so my first question to you is, what was happening your late thirties and forties, in your life?


Vanessa Williams:

Late thirties, I got married for the second time, and I had my daughter Sasha at 37, so she kind of kicked off the next phase of mommyhood, because my other three I had in my twenties. I had my first kid at 24, second at 26, and my third at 30. And I got married at 23, so that was my twenties, working, establishing myself. Thirties were like, okay, my career's going, let's dedicate myself to my career, and then Sasha was my little bonus trip. So, my late thirties, early forties was dealing with a new marriage, and my husband was six years younger than myself, and kind of digging in on my career a bit more.

We, let's see how old was I, early forties, the marriage lasted six years, and then I got divorced for the second time. Between getting divorced and my father passing away, I kind of wanted a big change of life, because I was just so, speaking of crisis, which is the name of your... We have lots of crises, and divorce is one of the hardest to get through, especially if you have kids. But having those two kind of back to back within a couple years, I kind of reassessed, what do I want to do? And that's when Ugly Betty approached me time and time again, and I just said, "No, no, no." And it was one of those things where I said, "Okay, fine. I'll do it." And that was my forties, a whole new career on television. We had four great years, and three Emmy nominations, and after that did Desperate Housewives. So it was a pivotal point for me, I would say late thirties, early forties.

Doryn Wallach:

That's interesting. And did you have any time to process the hormonal changes that were going through your body at that time?


Vanessa Williams:

Well yeah, I tried to stay on top of it. I went to Suzanne Summers who was the icon of aging naturally and beautifully.

Doryn Wallach:

[crosstalk 00:11:59] thousand pills, I remember.


Vanessa Williams:

Exactly. She works with a doctor named Michael Galitzer, and I started going to him when I was probably 44, 45, or so. Because I could feel that my periods were getting every other month, and getting lighter, and a couple of nights where I'd get these hot flashes, and I said, "Oh my gosh, what's this?" And my mother, I had asked my mom, when did she go through menopause, and she had stopped menstruating at 51, so I knew I had a five year window time that I needed to kind of ease what the symptoms were going to be. So I've done bioidentical creams since my mid-forties, and that is plant based, they're identical to progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. And I've been doing those for years, which it really, really helps. And I know when I don't take them, and I start flashing really bad, I was like, "Okay, the protocol that I'm on is actually working." So I'm big fan of bioidentical hormones for just maintaining the symptoms, but also I think it helps to maintain your skin texture and somewhat your weight gain, even though it unfortunately, does happen.

Doryn Wallach:

Yeah. Sorry, so who do you see for the bioid- is there?


Vanessa Williams:

Dr. Michael Galitzer.

Doryn Wallach:

Galitzer, okay.


Vanessa Williams:

Galitzer, he's on Wilshire Boulevard in LA. I think it's called the American Institute, some people would think it's hippie dippy, but he's got a machine that has a... I know it's a German machine, it's a probe on one end, and he puts the probe on one of your fingers and he tests for thyroid, he'll test for liver, he'll test for all these different functions, and then he'll put a little vile into the machine that tells you whether it's good or bad, or whether you need it or not, and then you get these drops from him that you put sub-lingually, and again, that really helps with I think respiratory stuff for me, thyroid, pancreas, adrenal, all those things tend to deteriorate the older you get.

Doryn Wallach:

Yeah. I'm so excited to hear about this because nobody, and I just had the head of Mass General Women's Health on last week speaking about PMDD and peri-menopause. I'm so thrilled to hear that something works for you and it gives us hope for those of us that are like, "What the hell's going on with my body?" And I don't think anyone talks about the peri-menopause stage. I think they talk about menopause.


Vanessa Williams:

There's another tip that I have, I got it from a little crystal, incense store up in Beacon, New York. I walked in, I was hot flashing, and the woman behind the counter's like, "Oh, I have something for you." And I was like, "Oh my God, how did she know A, that I was hot flashing," and she gave me this little pump bottle, and it's called, "Tame the Flame." And they have a travel case is like in metal, and then there's one that I have by my bedside in like a blue glass pump bottle, and it's just again, organic, it's got peppermint in it, obviously alcohol to maintain it, and something else. And when you feel a hot flash coming, you spray the back of your neck, all your pressure points, the back of your knees, you can spray your wrists, and it just takes that surge away, especially when I'm on the plane and get all wrapped up and then I might have a hot flash, I'll rip off my sweater, and then I have to put it back on. That's what you have to look forward to. "Tame the Flame," you need something to tame the flame.

Doryn Wallach:

I'm glad to know about, "Tame the Flame" now, so when I'm getting there, that's such a great name too.


Vanessa Williams:

Yeah, the name of that place was called, "Heart and Soul," I think in Beacon, New York.

Doryn Wallach:

Okay. Beacon's a cute area, I like it there.


Vanessa Williams:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Doryn Wallach:

You were gifted with many talents and achievements from being the first black Miss America, to amazing roles in Broadway, film, TV, countless nominations and awards. So, with the pandemic and also just getting into our forties and looking at this next chapter, I think a lot of women are re-evaluating their career choices. I think it's their path to stay at home, or working moms, and the amount of time they should be with their kids before they leave for college. I know personally, with my fine jewelry business, I'm actually looking at my own career and deciding where I really want to be. I think both age and the pandemic has made us all think about that. Also, as Generation X, we were told growing up that we could do everything, and it's not possible to do everything perfectly, we all know that. And I think a lot of us are kind of burnt out at this stage. So for women who are entering this time of their lives, and feeling guilty about every direction, about not doing it all, what would be your advice to your younger self about balance, and what have you learned from your kids about being a working mom and balance, now that they're older and able to reflect back on that?


Vanessa Williams:

Well the first thing is there is no balance. So when you're in heavy work mode, and you've got a five year window to maximize your value, that's when you've got to call in your troops and get support and dive into the work mode. My kids have always come first, and I've always worked my career around my kids' schedule. I remember one time, I was on Broadway with Cicely Tyson and Cuba Gooding Jr. and we were doing, "Trip to Bountiful," and I did this interview, and the woman said, "I thought you'd be much bigger than you are."

And I thought, I had to check myself and like, "Okay, I'm starring on Broadway with Cicely Tyson, who's one of my idols that I grew up watching in Sounder and all of her films, doing what I love, driving home at night, after my show to be with my kids, and this person's perception is, 'Oh I thought you were going to be bigger.'" So I checked myself, and instead of being offended, which I initially was, I took a breath and said, "I have taken a lot of time out of my life to raise my kids, so I wasn't available for everything that I could've done that might've made my career different in a bigger or different way, but I was at every function my kids were at. My kids are polite, well-mannered, educated, humble. It's because I was there with them. I took them everywhere I went. They've been exposed to the world, but they were also parented by me and not by a staff or a nanny," and that's how I reframed, like "Okay, what her priority and what her assessment is not equal to what my value and what my worth is to me."

And that's what you kind of have to wrestle with and be fine with, and let go with. Don't compare yourself, and don't put yourself in a competition where, "Oh my God, that person did this. I've got to do this. Oh, she was 35 when she did this and I haven't accomplished that." And you beat yourself up, and you wind yourself up, and it does you no good, because whoever you're competing with doesn't know the anxiety that you're going through because you think that they're in a better place.

You never know what people are going through, and what it took for them to be there, and how long it'll last. So, just worry about yourself, and I don't say worry, but just be in your own lane, and take what your calling is, devote yourself to whatever that is for a while, because it will all change. Kids grow up, that dynamic changes. Education, those dynamic changes. There's really nothing that you can really count on in life, and that's why you have to surrender to life and what it has to offer, but also be brave enough and have the courage to, if you get something that is an offer that you didn't plan on, to be able to have the bravery to go for it, because that's when you get another gift that you weren't even planning on. And I know that was a long, long answer.

Doryn Wallach:

No! Oh my God, that was such an amazing, wonderful, true answer, and I'm sitting there nodding my head, because to hear that, this is exactly why I'm having you here. I think we need to hear that. I say over and over again, especially now with the pandemic, it's very unfair to women at times. We don't get to get to where we want to be, if we want to be an involved mom, and as much as we choose to do that job, we're also not able to achieve that things that we want to do in life until maybe later on. But that was such a wonderful reminder for anyone who's feeling that, just to know. I think you don't get that reward though, when your kids are younger. I think you later on realize, "Oh I did a good job, and they turned out okay."


Vanessa Williams:

But cherish those younger days. It makes me crazy when people are rolling their eyes and like, "Take my kids! Please!" And, "I can't wait until this is over!" And you've bitched and moaned about those amazing, formative years that you never get back, because kids grow so quickly. And they absorb everything, so if they see your attitude about, "Uh, kids suck. My marriage sucks. Being at home sucks," that influences them, and they internalize that, too. So you've got to really as Stephen Sondheim, of saying, many times, when I was a witch on Broadway, "Careful of the things you say, children will listen. Careful of the things you do, children will see and learn." So, just be mindful of your parenting skills and take a breath and enjoy it, because it's going to go so quickly, my oldest is 33 years old already, and I would love to have grandkids now, so I can live through those amazing formative moments all over again.

Doryn Wallach:

Thank you for that reminder, because I'm guilty of all of that. It's been a hard few months for parents. Speaking of your kids, you're a mother, so your 20 year old Sasha, 27 year old Devin, 31 Jillian, and 33 year old Melanie. Three girls in there, we'll get into that later. Do you think your kids ever felt or feel pressure living up to everything that you've accomplished? And if so, how did you raise them, or are you raising them to not feel that pressure?


Vanessa Williams:

I think the most pressure for my eldest, Melanie, was, we were living in LA, very similar to what happened this past year, Rodney King was beaten, it was captured on video and then all the cops got off, and violence ensued and basically it was looting and rioting and all kinds of upheaval, and I ended up leaving LA in '92 on the heels of that, because I said, "I will not live in fear, trying to raise my kids, driving down the street, and not feeling safe in the town that I choose to live in." So I moved back to my hometown, and I didn't plan on it, because we looked at a bunch of houses back here in Westchester, New York, but I actually found a house that I loved in Chautauqua, which is where I grew up.

So my kids grew up in the same schools, the same school system that I grew up in. So the pressure wasn't, are you going to be an entertainer, I think the pressure was, me as a student, going through the school system. There were certainly teachers that were still teaching that I had that my kids ended up having. So I think the expectation of what myself and my brother were, back in the day in the hometown, was a little stronger than what people expected them to be in the media. And Melanie, ended up going away to private school, because she just didn't want the comparison. Jillian was fine with the comparison, and loved the public school that I went to. And Devin was fine, and Sasha bounced back and forth from New York to LA, because I was doing "Ugly Betty," and then I came back and then I did "Desperate Housewives," and back again, and now she's in college out in California.

So there was comparison that way, because it's a hometown girl coming back home. The social media aspect wasn't as bad as it is now, for them growing up. So the comparisons weren't as blatant as what my 20 year old has to deal with, being on Snapchat and Instagram, and having also, Sasha has a famous father, who's three time Laker World Champion, and a huge presence in Los Angeles. So if anyone had to deal with most of that, it would be Sasha, and she's dealing it really, really well in stride. So, luckily, I think being, I don't want to say grounded, but not living, we don't live in the middle of the city, we don't live with paparazzi at the end of a gate, constantly being judged. They do have somewhat normal lives, and I think that really helped temper the comparisons and that drive to stay relevant, because you are the child of a celebrity.

Doryn Wallach:

By the way, I don't know you well, but I'm guessing that you, from just what I know, have really told your kids to be who they are and follow what they want to do and not feel that they need to do what you've done.


Vanessa Williams:

Absolutely. My parents are music teachers, so music was a requirement in our household. We all had to play instruments, and until we graduated from high school, but as a result, I'm a musician that can walk into a studio and read music and play the piano, and I'm not just the girl singer behind a mic looking at a lyric sheet and saying, "Can you hum it to me sweetie?" My parents said, "Well, whatever you want to do, make sure you're skilled at it and have an education.

So my kids, they were certainly creative. Their fathers are all creative and come from creative families, so Jillian has a band called, "Lion Babe." It didn't surprise me that she would be in the entertainment business, because she's danced her whole life and has a spectacular stage presence. Melanie, as well, she's a Pilates instructor, but she had a long dance history, and is very creative, and uses her body as her business, but also it's her art. My son is a really creative guy, and has designed sneakers and does graphic designs and plays music and does his own mixes and stuff. And then Sasha is a filmmaker and an actress and has done television work already. The kids all grew up watching me read scripts, giving them the opportunity to say, "Oh, can you run this scene with me?" They all play instruments, they all were immersed. They've been on Broadway in my dressing rooms. They've been in my trailers when I'm on movie set. They've been in my dressing rooms on TV sets. So they understand how hard it is to work, but they also get the making of whatever I do, and I will support them, because they're passionate and they've got a great work ethic.

Doryn Wallach:

Oh, that's so wonderful. So I have a 13 year old girl, and I heard you say, I believe it was in a podcast, I loved this, so I need you to expand on it though, because as you said it, I was, "More, more, more. I need more. I need more." You said, "They go in like lambs, and they come out like lions. And they can't help their hormones." You said to have compassion, don't reason with them, they will come back. The minute they said, "It's a girl." I was like, "Oh f- I'm going to screw this up and she's going to hate me." So tell me a little bit more about that, because I thought that little piece of advice and wisdom is so helpful for those of us who are about to step into the teen years.


Vanessa Williams:

Well just as women go through their change of life, and become erratic and become not who they are, I can remember like, "Geez, I hate the way I'm treating people. I hate the way I sound. I hate what I'm doing." It's because your hormones are out of whack, and that's what happens in seventh grade, usually. You're cuing up to get your period, you're still a child, but your hormones are starting to activate, and your girls are lashing out because they're getting this surge of hormonal energy that they don't know how to deal with it. And as mothers, we are the safest place to fall, we are the safest place to lash out, because they know we will always love them no matter how crazy they act, and what histrionics they'll display, they know, even their dad I think they have more respect for than their moms because moms know that we can take it, but we'll always be there. So, I say again, be patient, because they really can't help themselves.

And I think when I look back, I was the only girl. My mom, I would say, she was very strict. And my dad was the one who was the soft place to really talk about things and vent and not be judged. My mother had high expectations and there was not a lot of leeway to be free. So when I felt that I was bitchy or impatient because my hormones were raging, it would be, "Check yourself. How dare you. Excuse me. Go to your room," instead of having it be like, "Okay, what's going on with you? Let's sit down. Okay, let me give you a quick neck rub. All right, go to your room, and we'll talk about anything when you've calmed down." That's what I would've liked, that's what I did not get, and that's kind of what I have used as a practice with my girls as their... I got very active with my first one, because I was doing what I remembered. "How dare you, get to your room. You don't speak that way." By the second, by the time Jillian reached that, I understood what she was going through, and gave her space.

And again, I'm not saying be completely, take abuse from your kids and don't put them in check. I'm saying, just be aware of what they're going through. Have some compassion, set limits for sure, but don't react to their reaction, because then you never win. They're lashing out at you, then you're lashing out back, then they resent you, then you resent them. And you're also, as a mother, it's the death of the child that you loved that relationship with. So that's kind of what you really get pissed at as a mom. Like, "Wait a minute, what happened to the beautiful, lovely, adoring child that I raised? Who is this kid?" So you're almost mad at the concept, as opposed to this poor girl who can't help herself.

Doryn Wallach:

Right. Not to mention, we're also going through our own hormonal changes.


Vanessa Williams:

Right.

Doryn Wallach:

So the patience level is definitely hard sometimes, but that's great advice, and it is really hard sometimes though to take that advice.


Vanessa Williams:

I mention it in my book that you mention, the "You Have No Idea," that one of my great lessons was, I would get in a huff, walk down the hall, and slam my door. And they would say, "Don't slam the door."

Doryn Wallach:

And they took your door off.


Vanessa Williams:

Yep. My dad went in the garage, got his tool kit out and literally just took the door off the hinges and put the door in the garage, and said, "At this point, you don't deserve privacy. So you will not get your door back until we say you can."

Doryn Wallach:

I love your relationship with your mom. She was obviously very tough on you in many ways, but she also seems like she inspired so much of who you are. And obviously your relationship with your father was so beautiful, and I'm really sorry to hear that you don't have him in your life anymore. I actually teared up when I read that in the book, because it was from page one, it was just clear how special your relationship was, so I'm sorry for that.


Vanessa Williams:

I look at my parents, and they were a great duo, because my dad was nothing but sweetness in life. I mean, he certainly, there were parameters, but he was the soft, loving, gentle, warm, huge hugs that he'd squeeze you, and my mom was the task master. And I see myself, as I age, and I don't have him, but a lot of my friends don't have their moms, a lot of my cousins don't have their moms, and my mom has become the one that everyone, "Oh are you going to bring your mom to the barbecue? Oh please bring your mom to the party," because not only is she the life of the party, but she's that living embodiment of, "I'm still here."

And just like Elaine Stritch with saying on Broadway, "She has a spunk about her." I mean, even with COVID, she's, "I'm not going to get COVID, I refuse. I refuse to get sick." Of course, all the protocol, she's diligent about that, but she's like, "Life is here to live and I'm not getting sick." And she walks every day, she's driving her car faster than ever. I was like, "Mom, you need to slow down." Her fire, because if I said to my dad, "I want to be a teacher," he would be completely fine with that. My mother would say, "Well, you know you're really good at dancing, maybe you should think about being the first black Rockette."

Those were her nuggets of, "I see it, and I see what you can be, and it's going to take some work, but I believe you can do it." So she's the real one that sees opportunity and would say, "Go for it. Go for it." My father believed in me, my mother was like, "You can do it, you better get in there. This is your chance."

Doryn Wallach:

Now, you live nextdoor to your mom, is that right?


Vanessa Williams:

My mom lives nextdoor to me. After my dad passed, and they, the house that I grew up in is like five miles away. After my dad passed, she was there for a few years and she just said, "Listen, this is really," my dad took care of everything and it was a lot, and she said, "I want to give this house to another family." And the house nextdoor to mine, my neighbor had passed away, and the sons were selling it, and she ended up buying the house nextdoor to mine, and tore it down and built her dream house, and so she's living nextdoor to me. So I see her every day and the dogs come over and we get the paper and say a quick hi, and then I walk back across the yard to my house.

Doryn Wallach:

Oh, that's so nice. Many of us, at my age, are entering this time in our lives where we sometimes feel that we're all the sudden parenting our parents, or are starting to feel like we have to do some things. And my parents are in their seventies, my step-father is almost 80. So they're at that age where they don't need me to take care of them yet, but there are times where I need to remind them about things and they get mad at me for parenting them, but sounds like your mother's very self-sufficient, but are you feeling that you're kind of coming into that role at all with her? And how do you have balance and boundaries with that?


Vanessa Williams:

Well, her problem is she's so self-sufficient that I'll see her on the ladder, trying to blow off the leaves on the eave in the gutter. Like, "Mom!"

Doryn Wallach:

Oh my God.


Vanessa Williams:

"There are people that can do that." Or one day I came over and she had, her lip was swollen, she had a scratch under her eye, I was like, "What happened?" She's like, "Oh well, I was just trying to fix this and I tripped and fell because I was looking at the neighbor driving up." And I was like, "Mom, you have to," my thing is I'm trying to slow her down.

Doryn Wallach:

Yeah!


Vanessa Williams:

Because she still thinks, well, she can, but she will put up her own tree, and climb up a ladder, and change the light bulbs, and do gardening by herself, and have the wheelbarrow. I love her for that, it'll keep her young forever, but those are the things I have to manage so she won't hurt herself anymore than she already has.

Doryn Wallach:

Right. So that's an opposite problem. I remember my mother begging my grandfather to stop driving at like 86, and he was a terrible driver and he refused to do that. So the last thing I really want to talk to you about, that I found so impressive that you had mentioned, you had talked about on a podcast, co-parenting. And I have a lot of friends who are going through divorces at this age, and you said something along the lines of, "I never wanted our kids to panic when mom and dad were in the same room. So kids come first, I wanted to make it zen." And I think you said your ex-husbands took your kids on a ski trip together.


Vanessa Williams:

Together, without me, yeah. They did.

Doryn Wallach:

So I am a child of divorce, and I just did a podcast on divorce. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, because my, I always tell my parents, I said, "Your divorce did not effect me, but the way you handled it, and continue to, is what effects me." The fact that they were never able to be a team in any way, shape, or form, and put me in the middle of all of it, is really what effected me. So I think bravo to you, for trying to make that work. I know it's not always possible with everybody, people have different situations where they can't do that. What is your best co-parenting advice for other women to make it work?


Vanessa Williams:

Well, I always put the children first. And again, I did not want to have one of my kids getting married and be like, "Oh my God, Mom and Dad are going to be in the same aisle. What's going to happen?" Because that happened with my first husband, and like, "Oh my God, is your dad going to bring the girlfriend who was the one that broke up the marriage?" All this drama, and it ended up being fine, but I never wanted to have that burden for my kids to have to worry about.

But the bottom line is, and again, I think I go through it hard, and I process it, and then I'm out the other side. So that's how I deal with crises, that's how I deal with pain and grief. I feel hard, I feel strong, I will cry for days, I will, but I commit to it and then get through it on the other side. So the people that are stuck, is what brings disease, what you never can get over, what kids have to deal with. When you can't get over something, that does a disservice to you and your own health. I married wonderful men, they were great men, some were not great fathers when they needed to be, but they were all great men, and I have no regrets with the choices that I made marrying them and having children by them.

So, what happens within a marriage ebbs and flows, and years go by and people make choices and stuff, but you have to again, take a breath and have your children come first, and learn to put whatever the drama, whatever the instances, that's the past. Turn that past, that history, into wisdom, so you're not holding on to negativity and you're not holding on to that story. The story is something that was in the past, and you have to transform it into wisdom, and then that'll carry you for the rest of your life. So, it's like ticking off a box, yes, I've been through it, I've felt it, now, what's next?

And you embrace your exes for the people, I see, who they are. And the reasons that attracted me, they still have. A sense of humor doesn't go away, their valor, being courageous, being really smart, those things don't go away. So it's much easier for yourself, to let that stuff go, and convert it into wisdom, and it's almost like a clean slate, and then you can have a wonderful. I mean, I had for Thanksgiving, two of my exes at my brother's house for dinner. They walked in, "Oh man, how are you doing? Blah, blah, blah," chit chat, and they're friends. So, you can do it. It's possible.

Doryn Wallach:

It's funny, my parents, who would never be in the same room together probably, about six years ago, started coming together for Thanksgiving with my brother and his kids, solely because of the grandkids. From what I've seen from my friend's experience, I feel like it's harder for the men to let go. I see the women taking the higher road, and then men are, not all the time, but in a lot of situations are the ones that are, I don't know if it's an ego thing, or what it is, but when my friends have tried to make amends and just try to say, "Let's do this for the kids," they've had push back, animosity, whatever it may be from the men.


Vanessa Williams:

It also depends on who's decision it was.

Doryn Wallach:

Exactly.


Vanessa Williams:

And who went first, and what the reasons are. But it would help if you would, and I certainly don't want to say, stroke their ego, but it's recognizing their goodness. What are they good at and why did you fall for them in the first place? And what can they add to your kid's lives that you don't want missing? Because again, if you lose them, then you lose a big part of, unless they're obviously doing something that's completely disruptive and abusing your kids, that's a protection thing that moms jump in and have to, but if it's a personality thing, if it's a... Kids need both of that, because they're half and half and they need to feel valued because it's part of their DNA.

Doryn Wallach:

Wow, Vanessa, every single thing that you've said has been so wonderful and so helpful.


Vanessa Williams:

Good.

Doryn Wallach:

Really, truly, everyone is going to just fall in love with you.


Vanessa Williams:

Oh good.

Doryn Wallach:

So, tell me, I know that you have to go, currently, you are working on a few things, "Black Theater United," your new national bestselling children's book, and you're heading back to the West End in London this Spring to open "City of Angels." Can you tell us a little bit more about each of those things?


Vanessa Williams:

Yeah. I was actually kind of busy during the pandemic.

Doryn Wallach:

Yeah, really.


Vanessa Williams:

My children's book, "Bubble Kisses," came out and it was the perfect time because everyone had opportunities to read to their children, and it also comes with a great song called, "Bubble Kisses." And for those that are sick of "Baby Shark," go get "Bubble Kisses." It comes with a CD and you can also download it on iTunes and Spotify and stuff, but it's a great swinging song, and the animation is gorgeous. So that was fun, that was my first that I've done.

Doryn Wallach:

What made you want to do that?


Vanessa Williams:

Well, "Bubble Kisses" was a song that I had been sitting on for over 25 years, and I kept saying, "Oh when I do a children's album, I'll put it on the children's album," and I just never got around to it. And I was actually, Sasha was in her freshman year at Chapman, and I was at one of the barbecues for the parents, and another mom came up to me, who had a son that was a freshman, and said, "Listen, if you ever think about writing a book, I'd love to work with you." And I said, "Well actually I wrote one with my mom called, 'You Have No Idea,' but I've got another idea." And she was also based in New York, and once I flew back we met, and Theresa Thompson at Sterling Publishing said, "I love the idea," and we worked on, "Bubble Kisses." So hopefully this is will be first of series, which would be wonderful. So that was just perfect timing.

And "City of Angels," which got cut short a week before we were about to open on the Garrick Theater on the West End in London. We're going to do kind of like truncated version, a concert version of it, the end of January. We start rehearsals January 21st, but the end of January, early February, we'll be at the Palace Theater in London, just kind of, people can see it, it's a bigger theater, so they'll be socially distanced. And then we hope to have the full production probably by the early, like June we're looking to actually have the run so we can actually open it.

But that's wonderful, and when I was flying over the first time to start rehearsals, January of 2020, my daughter was sitting next to me, and she was on break, and she was looking forward to hang out in London with me for a couple weeks. And I said, "Oh yeah, let me read the list of the cast members. Na, na, Theo James." And she's like, "What Mom?" I go, "Yeah, Theo James." "Theo James!" She bursts into tears, she's like, "You don't understand! He is my dream! You have to tell!" She freaked out, because he's a huge "Divergent" star, and that was her, she had the books, she went and saw the movie. Yeah, so she was very, very impressed. And of course, she met him. So she's anxious to see him again once we get up and running again. So Theo James plays Stone, so anyone who's a "Divergent" fan, he's amazing. He's a great actor, but I had no idea he was such a good singer.

Doryn Wallach:

Isn't it the best when your kid thinks you're kind of cool.


Vanessa Williams:

Yes. Finally.

Doryn Wallach:

Let me say to my kids, I'm like, "I don't understand. I'm cool." My daughter's like, "You are so not cool." I mean, I was trying to impress her with my interview with you today, and no offense, that didn't work.


Vanessa Williams:

I'm way too old. Even, she's probably too old, I did the Hannah Montana movie because my daughter was obsessed with Mylie back in the day. And that was 2008, so that's still a long, long way ago.

Doryn Wallach:

Yeah, she was one.


Vanessa Williams:

Yeah, right now, I'm doing the voice of Captain Beakman in "Tots," so I'm pretty big with the two and three year olds.

Doryn Wallach:

I'm sure after she listens to the podcast, if she listens to the Podcast, she will be impressed. Thank you so much for doing this with me. I fell in love with you after reading your book, and I don't even know you. And I know that Kristy is one of my closest friends, it's very clear to me why you became friends. I think maybe when the pandemic's over, the three of us need to go do some salsa dancing together or something.


Vanessa Williams:

Yeah, come visit her. She's now a neighbor in Westchester.

Doryn Wallach:

I know. And I haven't really announced this to anybody yet, but I'm actually moving to Westchester too, in January.


Vanessa Williams:

Oh nice!

Doryn Wallach:

So Kristy's very happy I'm coming.


Vanessa Williams:

Oh good! Good, good, good! Well when you move and you're all settled, let's have coffee for sure.

Doryn Wallach:

I'd love to do that. I would love to do that. Best of luck with all your upcoming success!


Vanessa Williams:

Thank you so much!

Doryn Wallach:

Okay.


Vanessa Williams:

All right.

Doryn Wallach:

Thank you so much for listening. Remember to give yourself permission and know that you are not alone. Don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss any episodes. Reviews are always appreciated, and you can reach me by email at itsnotacrisis@gmail , Instagram, It's Not a Crisis Podcast, and please join our Facebook Group as well. Until next time, just remember, it's not a crisis!



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