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Julianne Moore Talks New Kids Book, Freckleface Strawberry

Julianne Moore has played a porn-star mom, an incestuous mom and seriously miserable moms in films like Boogie Nights, Savage Grace, Far From Heaven and The Hours. In real life, she says, “I’m not really any different than any other working parent,” trying to balance career and family and to raise her kids – Caleb, eleven, and Liv, six – with a solid sense of their place in the world.

“I think it’s imperative that kids understand that parents have to work for a living,” says Moore, who lives in New York and is married to director Bart Freundlich. “And with any luck you do work that you really enjoy, too.”

Moore’s latest enjoyable project? A follow-up to her 2007 children’s book Freckleface Strawberry. The new book, Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully , aimed at kids ages 4-8, illustrated by LeUyen Pham and due out in April, finds Moore’s redheaded, pint-sized protagonist confronting her fears – and a burly kid named Windy Pants Patrick – in the world’s most terrifying playground game.

Babble caught up with Moore in Toronto, where she was shooting an Atom Egoyan movie – and traveling home on weekends to be with her family. After a long day of filming, Moore dialed us up to discuss dodgeball strategy, parental guilt, celebrity culture and how our friends can teach us more than our mothers. – Amy Reiter

Why is dodgeball such an icon of terror for so many people?

[Laughs] You know, people fall into two camps with dodgeball: the ones who love it, and the ones who hate it. My little eleven-year-old boy, who’s a really sensitive soul, loves dodgeball. So does my daughter. And my husband will laugh at me when I say, “Oh my gosh, it’s terrifying.” For them it’s just a ball! But I was not that kid. I was on the small side and I wasn’t athletic. I would stay in the back as long as I could so the kids wouldn’t hit me with the ball. But invariably I’d be the last one left, and there’d be a big kid on the other side, and then I’d get hit with the ball. So I learned to stand in the front and get out really fast. It didn’t really hurt much when the ball hit you. The anticipation was the worst, which is what the character in the book finds out.

The main character’s problem springs from going to the Early Bird program at school because her parents have to work. Will the next book in the series be Freckleface Strawberry’s Guilt-Ridden Parents?

[Laughs] But she loves Early Bird. Early Bird actually came from a time when my son was little and he would beg to go to school early because the teacher in charge of the Early Bird program was a great basketball player. So Cal would say “Can I please go to Early Bird?” And we’d say, no, you can’t, because it meant we had to get there forty-five minutes early. Freckleface Strawberry loves Early Bird because she doesn’t have to stay home eating breakfast. She gets to go to school early, and she loves school.

I guess I was projecting my own guilt.

Well, the Early Bird thing is something that all working parents will recognize, because, yeah, that’s why it’s there, so you can work.

Have you had to make career concessions to accommodate your kids, and vice versa?

Oh my god. Yes. I’m not really any different than any other working parent. I mean, one thing my job does allow is tremendous flexibility, so I can be there at school drop-off and pick-up and go to soccer and dance. There are times when really, that’s all I’m doing. And then there are times like now, where for seven weeks, I’m out of town and home only on the weekends. Which is really hard, except that I have a husband who can do that other stuff. Last summer, he was away a lot and I was the one who was home with the kids and taking them to day camp. Also I think it’s imperative that kids understand that parents have to work for a living, that there’s an economic model that you have to follow, which is that you do some work and that enables you to take care of your family, and with any luck you do work that you really enjoy, too. That’s the truth of the world. And kids understand that.

Did your kids understand early on the trade-off that you go away for a while and then you come back and they get you all to themselves? “We’re not doing our children any favors by saying, I’m just going to put myself away.”

No, because this is recent. I didn’t go away when they were little; they came with me, which is the other huge upside of being an actress. There aren’t many other jobs where you can bring your children to your workplace, but acting is one of them. My joke is that my kids for a long time thought I worked in a trailer, because that’s where we would go. We’d go to work and sit in the trailer, and then I’d go do a scene and come back to the trailer, and that’s how it was. When I did “Savage Grace,” we all went to Spain together. When I was in “Blindness,” we were all in rural Canada. We all went away in the summers and made movies. This is pretty new, this me-going-to-Toronto thing. They don’t like it at all. But I feel like I’m really lucky to work.

You grew up all over the world. Why have you chosen to raise your kids in New York City?

I love New York. My husband was born and raised and went to school there. His family lives in New York City, so he has a very strong connection to it. I moved to New York right after college and really, really liked it. The thing about New York is that there’s a tremendous sense of community – more than anywhere I ever lived – and of history. It’s an old city. It has so much to offer. It’s incredibly diverse. It’s a wonderful place to live. I mean, we always toy with the idea of, well, what would it be like to live somewhere else, or to go live in the country? But so far we’ve been very happy.

You’ve said it irritates you to be asked how something affects you as a mother, as opposed to how it affects you as a person.

Absolutely! Because it’s reductive. For crying out loud! I do think it’s been the major experience of my life, but motherhood doesn’t wipe out the person that you are. But because it’s so big, people tend to say, “This is going to be the ultimate thing that defines me,” and that, I think, is where you get into trouble.

Even in the first couple of years, when you’re just in this swamp of motherhood emotionally and hormonally, where you go around like, “Wow, wow, I just am in this. I don’t have the time to read or do anything else,” there is this kind of immersion, but that does pass. And you’re still yourself. You have to be – not just for you, but for your children, too.

That’s a lesson our generation of mothers learned from our own mothers.

Yeah! Our mothers were so f-ing miserable!

Your mother worked, though, right?

My mother didn’t really work until later. She had children when she was nineteen years old. She had three kids by the time she was twenty-five, and she was not happy about it. And believe me, we knew. But that’s a fact that a lot of us grew up with. That’s why I’m saying I don’t think we’re doing our children any favors by saying, “I’m just going to put myself away.” I don’t think it makes children or parents happy.

What about celebrity? Does it make it harder or easier to raise kids? “Ellen Barkin was with me while I was in labor.”

That’s where there’s an advantage to living in New York City. I’m not the only actor-parent my kids know. And there are lots of people who have big and crazy – eccentric – jobs in New York as well. So we fit in there. Our children don’t perceive our family with a filmmaker father and an actress mother as being somehow different; it’s just sort of more of the same. But I do think that sense of celebrity culture is much more prevalent now than it was even ten or fifteen years ago. It just seems to grow and grow. I’m hoping that maybe with the global economic meltdown, the celebrity culture will melt down somewhat too.

Yes, in some ways, politicians are the new celebrities.

I remember a conversation with my son. He said, “You’re on the cover of a magazine because you’re famous.” I said, “No, it’s because it’s what my job is. If I’m on the cover of a fashion magazine, it’s because I’m promoting a movie. That’s just part of my job.” It’s very important for people to understand that your public face is tied to your work, but it’s not who you are.

You and your husband got married when Caleb was five and Liv was one. Did having children change your concept of marriage and family?

Well, David Letterman asked, “Why did you get married?” And I said, “Well, one kid it seems like it’s okay not to get married, and two kids it just starts to seem sloppy.” I think we ended up getting married just because we were like, “Well, we are here. This is what it is.” It’s a way of cementing your relationship and your family. Though I don’t know that I believe that marriage is the be all and end all for everybody either.

I once met you and Ellen Barkin at an event, and your friendship seemed so warm and supportive. Parenting can really affect friendships. Has it changed yours?

I love her. I became much closer with my friends. Ellen was the person who gave me the most advice about having a baby. She was the first person who came to my room when Cal was born, and she was with me while I was in labor. My daughter’s middle name, Helen, is for Ellen. Somebody once said to me, “You’re going to ask your mother, ‘What do I do when blah-blah-blah?’ And you’re going to get really mad because your mother won’t remember it. And that is not her fault!” You ask anybody who is too far away from having a newborn or whatever, and they won’t remember it. The person you can ask is your girlfriend who’s got a newborn or a five-year-old or an eight-year-old. They’re the ones who say, “Oh, yeah-yeah-yeah, let me tell you how it works.” And that’s how you navigate it. Early on when you have children, your female friendships do go, because you have a job, a baby, a husband. But they also understand. It’s not like falling into a boyfriend hole. You fall into a baby hole, and everybody knows what that is. Then you get out of it and suddenly find you have a tremendous amount of support.

So what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about parenting so far?

That they’re just other people. You have this baby and you have a relationship with the baby, and then you look at them, and you’re like, “Wow, you’re a whole person! You’re just this whole separate being.” And you get to explore that relationship, especially as they get older. Suddenly there are two separate human beings across the table from you and your husband. It’s just like, “Where did these people come from?” There’s so much you can do to develop them and teach them and take care of them, but in many ways they just are who they are. And that, I think, is the most wonderful thing.

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