What is life like for actress, reality-TV star and mom Denise Richards? It's complicated. In her new memoir, "The Real Girl Next Door," Richards sheds light on the challenges of raising her daughters in Hollywood, balancing a career, and dealing with her ex-husband's behavior — all while remaining optimistic. Read an excerpt:
If life were a dance, what kind would yours be? Ballet? Modern? Country line? The twist? Salsa? Paso doble? A waltz? This came up recently in a conversation with a friend, and as much as I wish mine were a graceful ballet, I’m never going to be that perfect or practiced, and frankly, I don’t care. If my life is more of an improvised two-step, with the emphasis on improvisation, so be it. That’s my style — and one I think many people would recognize as their own.
You’d know what I’m talking about if you’d been with me lately. Over the past two months, I’ve made six trips to New York from my home in Los Angeles. That’s a trip about every ten days. If nothing else, I’m adept at packing and unpacking, zipping through airport security, and running life from the two inch screen of my iPhone and BlackBerry — yes, I have both. But like any other single working mother of two, my life is packed with so much more.
In the midst of all that travel, I dealt with school projects, packed lunches, and scheduled playdates; I rescued a dog, made valentines for school parties, set up my dad on one of his first dates since my mom passed away three years ago, auditioned for a couple TV pilots, guest-hosted two TV shows, signed an endorsement deal with a perfume company, nursed myself through a bout of bronchitis, made umpteen dinners, had several meetings with my contractor and designer about my home, which I’m remodeling, had meetings for other branding opportunities, launched a monthly pet adoption for Best Friends on Access Hollywood, turned forty, planned my daughter’s seventh birthday party, and watched as my ex‑husband, the father of my two little girls, imploded in a public spectacle that left me horrified, worried, and sad.
In "The Real Girl Next Door", I talk about how I manage this and more. The cheat sheet is this: I do it just like you, day by day, hour by hour, and if necessary, minute by minute. It sounds like crisis management, but it’s not. Taking life day by day and living in the moment are the clichés of self-improvement, but the approach really does let you handle more than you think is possible, especially when you feel as if the ceiling is caving in. I don’t have a road map full of answers; rather, I am going to take you down the road I traveled as I grew up, glammed up, and ultimately grew into myself. As you’ll find out, I don’t think you find the answers in life as much as you figure out the questions to ask and muster the courage to move ahead during difficult and confusing times, confident that you can handle new challenges.
On my thirtieth birthday, a dear friend who’d already gone through her thirties sent me a gorgeous flower arrangement with a note that said, “The best is yet to come.” I’ll never forget that card. She was right. The best did come. I got married to a man who I thought was my everlasting soul mate and became a mother to two beautiful daughters. But then the bottom dropped out of that fantasy. Dolly Parton once said, “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain,” and let me tell you, there were times it felt like torrential downpours. I went through a difficult and humiliating divorce, moved out of my home, saw my public image tarnished and my career suffer, and then on top of everything, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.
For three years, I was at rock bottom. Everything pretty much sucked. As I went through the worst times of my life, I also experienced the best — being a new mom. Since then, I’ve accepted that you never know what’s going to happen. I like that about life — not knowing what’s around the corner. Of course, I always hope for the best, but even during the worst of times, I’ve found some good comes out of it.Slideshow: Denise Richards (on this page)
Indeed, as my friend predicted in her birthday card, the best has come — in terms of self-confidence, motherhood, friendships, life lessons, and wisdom. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and relish the days when the biggest emergency is when the kids are late for school. I know better than to get too comfortable, complacent, or upset. Nothing about being a mom is routine.
But nothing about life is routine. When I look back at how I got to where I am today from my childhood in Downers Grove, Illinois, I don’t see anything I’d describe as routine, normal, or predictable. It’s been a wild ride.
In "The Real Girl Next Door," I’ve written the book I wish that I’d had on my nightstand the past eight years. It’s full of stories that I would’ve wanted to hear from a friend, the kind that could
reassure me I’d get through my problems, too. As you’ll see, I’ve tried to share not just what I’ve been through, but more important, how I’ve gotten through it all. Although most people reading this will already be familiar with the headlines, they won’t know how I felt as everything happened, and in some cases, how I survived.
Not that my life is any more special or harder than anyone else’s. No, I think the reality is that my experiences are similar to yours, spanning the gamut of good times, magical times, hard
times, terrible times, and times when I rekindled hope after it seemed permanently gone. While there’s no one way to live your life, all of us go through similar rites of passage, and I’ve always been someone who’s interested in the ways each of us deal. I don’t care about the what happened as much as I do the what have I learned and what’s next.
I’m pragmatic in that way. I’m a great person to have around in a crisis. As you’ll find out, I don’t pass judgment and don’t hold grudges. Clear-eyed and calm, I move forward. I don’t always know where I’m going. Nor is what I want to accomplish always easy. But I’ve learned that if I’m open and honest with myself and others; if I ask enough people for advice; if I’m not
afraid to face the truth; and if I put aside any fear of failure—I’ll be able to figure things out, and usually end up where I need to be, which isn’t always where I intended to go.
Hopefully, you’re nodding your head. But you’ll see as much when I explain how a shy, Midwestern girl from a middle-class family who thought she’d be married forever and pop out a
houseful of babies ended up a single mom whose trips to the grocery store are chronicled by paparazzi and splattered across the Internet. Some of that I would gladly trade, but for the most part, I like where I ended up and hope I’m pointed in the right direction for the future.
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That’s the goal here — to like yourself and be ready to face the day. I work at that all the time. Even as I think I have a grip on my agenda of kids, family, career, friendships, love, and feeling good inside and out, the deck gets shuffled. I don’t need Freud to analyze why I’ve taken on such a huge project by myself in remodeling my home. A lot of my friends were surprised, and even my dad thought it was a big endeavor for a single working woman with two daughters. But that’s who I am. When I make a decision, no matter how big or small, I stick to it and just do it. If I run into challenges along the way, I figure it out. I’ve learned to not live by the “what ifs” and not always worry about the outcome. I think that’s a good quality and maybe sometimes not so good. I always follow my heart and my gut. I have an
ex‑boyfriend who thought perhaps I should think things through more when making decisions. He thought I was nuts tackling such a big project with my home (I mean, I gutted the damn
thing), but he’ll see when it’s done that I was able to do it on my own. What was I gonna do? Wait until husband number two arrives to help me? Nope. I don’t know when that will be and I
want my house done! Home improvement. Self-improvement. What’s the difference? If you overheard me on the phone, you wouldn’t be able to tell if I was talking about the house or me.
The questions are the same: What’s good? What should I keep? What should I lose? What do I need to fix? Is it even fixable?
When my mother was nearing the final stages of her battle
with cancer, she knew the challenges I was going through, and she also saw how frightened I was about losing her. But she reassured me that I was much stronger than I knew, and in looking back, it turned out she was right. What did she see that I didn’t? What did she know that I had to find out? I’ve come to realize it was my honesty. I called this book The Real Girl Next Door for a reason. I’m real, as in a real person, as in real honest, as in just plain real. I don’t carry around a lot of clutter—at least I try not to. If I love someone, the person knows it. If I’m feeling passionate, it’s going to be some time in the bedroom. If I have a problem, people will know about it. The only things about me that are fake are my boobs, but I’m real about that, too. I live to be that way.
From the book “The Real Girl Next Door” by Denise Richards. Excerpted by arrangement with Simon & Schuster. Copyright (c) 2011.
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