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Cynthia Nixon Talks Sex and the City and Gay Parenting

It’s tempting to think of Cynthia Nixon, forty-two, as the real-life Miranda Hobbes – a high-strung stress bomb prepared to dropkick anybody in her path. But that’s just because she’s such an awesomely convincing actress. Offscreen, Nixon is way more thoughtful than her Sex & the City character. Also more gracious. If the two have anything in common, in fact, it’s only an unmistakable intelligence and the tendency to shoot straight. The star of the Broadway play Distracted, running through May 16th, talked with Babble recently about what she’s learned about ADD by playing the role of Mama, the harried mother who suspects her nine-year-old son may have the condition, and why now more than ever she’s teaching her own kids the importance of getting behind the causes that speak to her. – Tammy La Gorce

Congratulations on the play! How is it going?

It’s going great! I have to say audiences have been very enthused. Certainly there’s are a lot of laughs to be had, but it also affects people. Everybody I talk to afterward, especially parents who are dealing with these issues of autism or OCD or ADD – it really hits home for them in terms of the endless maze of a journey they have to go through trying to figure out the right thing to do for their kids.

Is it practically an all-parent audience? I picture hordes of thirty-somethings chortling knowingly through the whole thing.

I think that certainly there are people who hear about the play and come to it specifically for that reason. But other people come not knowing what it’s really about and it ends up going beyond that for them.

Has it brought the condition into sharp focus for you?

I understand it more on a sliding scale. What I’ve learned is the things that happen to a mother dealing with a son who’s told he might have it, and the exploratory measures she has to go through. The worry. And the process of figuring out that if he does have it, what to do about it. On her journey she starts to see it everywhere – in her husband, her neighbor, the doctor she’s going to for treatment. Because of this the play spirals into a sort of farcical mania. It eventually gets to the point of sort of asking, in this incredibly fast-paced world, with all the multi-tasking, does anyone not have ADD? It makes me notice the lower end of the spectrum of ADD – the touches of ADD we all have.

What about your own kids, Samantha (twelve) and Charlie (six)? No ADD? Any other issues that would confound a smart, well-informed mother?

No, none other than what’s associated with a normal child. They do have normal child issues.

A tween and a first-grader: that’s a lot to juggle. Are you a very hands-on mom? Do you rely on a lot of help?

I think I’m a pretty hands-on mom. But also, my kids have four parents, including my girlfriend, who’s been a stay-at-home mom for the last year and a half. We don’t have a lot of people we hire, but we do have the four of us (including Nixon’s ex-husband, Danny Mozes, and his partner). The more parents the better, you know.

The internet links you to a lot of different good-work missions: public schools – a cause you took up with your girlfriend, who’s an education activist – gay and lesbian role models for young kids, and breast cancer. Are you still working in all these areas? How does it affect your kids?

As a breast cancer survivor and the daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor, I work with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. This has been a part of my life for a long time. As a public school advocate, having both my kids in public schools, it’s an endless battle to try and get proper funding and to make sure teachers are supported. And in terms of gay and lesbian rights – that’s been hugely important. We’re living in this exciting time where marriage for gay couples is now a reality in some states – nobody was even thinking about that ten years ago. That it’s now a possibility in some places is certainly a giant step forward, and the goal is to keep working to make it a possibility in more places. But all these things are cyclical. You do what you can and try to show your kids how things can change, where you can help.

About raising kids in a same-sex household: beyond working toward the right to marry, is it getting easier in general? More accepted?

Absolutely. If you look at people on the opposite side of the issue, the arguments they make have changed greatly. And think about Milk – that was such a great movie to have come out this year. I look at how far we’ve come in such a relatively short space of time – people write to me say and say things like, “Thank you for being so open. It’s made my life easier.” That’s a nice benefit.

Back to the play. I read a review that describes your character, Mama, as “one of those women in her late thirties that you see in New York, pulled in a zillion different directions by her career, her marriage and her attention-challenged only son.” Is that fair? Are we, as parents, pulled in too many directions? “This warp-speed efficiency can be oppressive.”

I think we are. And I think it goes back to the having-it-all syndrome. We’re lucky we have the possibility of having it all, but it does make us spread ourselves very thin. We’re worn out. And if we’re not alone and we have a partner, we’re lucky. But there’s a responsibility there too. One of the things in my own life is, I feel like sometimes there’s a kind of high you can get from being so busy and so fast-moving, and that is in its own way a form of addiction. This warp-speed efficiency can be oppressive. When you think of all the things you can accomplish in a day – are you leaving out the central thing you should be focusing on? Like looking at your child, sitting with your child and operating on the speed they operate on? Too many parents try to make kids super-achievers rather than just sitting with them, looking at them.

Would we be better served if more moms and dads were able to stay at home?

Not necessarily. I think the more time you have for your kids, the better it is. But I don’t think you have to be a stay-at-home mom to have time for them. I’ve seen wonderful stay-at-home moms and moms that could use a little improving. The same thing goes for women who work outside the home. We’ve all seen the mom who devotes all her time and attention to her child and is so hungry for adult interaction that as soon as she’s around another adult, she’s not paying attention anymore. It’s a balance. And I’m a working mother and the daughter of a working mother, and she’s the daughter of a working mother. My mother wasn’t there to pick me up from school, but she was on the other end of the phone any time I needed to talk to her. And there is something to seeing not only what your father does, but what your mother does, and how proud it makes you. My mother worked in TV. That made me so proud. I loved having her home, but I also loved getting all dressed up and going to visit her at work. That made me feel good.

Distracted‘s characters don’t so much parent their children as justify their inability to manage them, another review said. Which sounds like the sort of criticism that might fairly be leveled at Miranda from Sex & the City. Is she, in your estimation, a good parent?

I think she is a good parent, but I think it doesn’t come naturally to her. It’s a real struggle. And I think she’s lucky that she has the partner she does – her husband and she complement each other very nicely. She’s more of the planner and the disciplinarian, and he’s more of the hands-on guy who’s the “on” parent. Miranda has trouble with her heart. Her heart is not front and center. She’s lucky she’s in this marriage.

There’s a sequel to the movie coming out. Miranda’s not having more kids, is she?

Hmm. Not that I know of!

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