“I forgot to get married and have babies” is often a line women with successful careers hear from their peers as a warning to reprioritize their lives. Yet this is exactly how Swoosie Kurtz, currently starring in “Mike and Molly” with Melissa McCarthy, explains why she is 69-years-old and never married and without children. But never fear, Swoosie has no regrets.
How did a girl with an unconventional name grow up to conquer stage and screen— starring on “Sisters,” “Pushing Daisies,” and “Nurse Jackie,” as well as taking home multiple Tonys, Emmys, Obies and Drama Desk Awards — and still be happy without “a family?” Well, her family.
In her new memoir, Part Swan, Part Goose: An Uncommon Memoir Of Womanhood, Work And Family, Kurtz carefully outlines a parent-child love story that is the foundation for her successful career. Named after her World War II war hero father’s B-17 bomber (the Swoose), her childhood was filled with travels across the world showcasing his accomplishments from the war and his Olympic diving skills. Her mother’s successful writing career culminated in a memoir about being a military wife called My Rival, The Sky, which Kurtz weaves into her own memoir. Kurtz told me:
“My mom and I made very different life choices, but at the same time they paralleled each other. It was my mother’s story that led me to write my own memoir. It was at the start of the Iraq War that I reread my mother’s memoir of being a war wife. Her longing and waiting is universal and I wanted others to connect with her story. As I shopped her memoir for republishing, I was asked to write my own.”
Kurtz knew that there was no way to tell her tale without also telling her parents’. And what a tale she has! As a child of the 1950s, she knew early on that she wanted to be out in the world. “I ran from domesticity,” she told The Frisky. “Back then women had to choose: Family or career. I chose to follow my father’s footsteps” by pursuing her own career. Kurtz’s parents settled into a small house in Hollywood and her father managed to get her into Hollywood High to study under the esteemed John Ingle (from “General Hospital” and “Days Of Our Lives”). After starting at her parents’ alma mater, USC, Kurtz took a leap to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts — all with her parents’ support. In fact, it was her parents who encouraged her to join the cast of “Sisters.”
“As an only child, ‘Sisters’ gave me the chance to learn what it meant to have siblings.,” she explained. “When you spend all day with a group of people, you bond and become family.” Kurtz envisioned “Sisters” to be groundbreaking, as she described the opening scene where the four sisters sat around at a spa talking about orgasms. When she show appeared in 1991, the world was barely ready for this kind sisterly talk.
For the past few years, Kurtz has been busy figuring out a new twist to juggling her career with her personal life. No, she did not marry. Nor does she have children. Rather she is the caregiver to her 98-year-old mother, who has dementia. Sadly, our national conversation around caregiving for elderly relatives is mostly Mom-centric. Single women caring for their parents are almost unheard in public discussions. “In Europe it is understood that your parents will end up living with you,” Kurtz told me. “Not in the U.S.. Do we really expect to just put our parents out to pasture?”
In her memoir, Kurtz lovingly describes the anguish of having to care for aging parents. First, her beloved father began to lose his grasp on reality. Kurtz is honest about the missteps of his care. She then goes into detail about the revolving cast of characters who enter her life to assist with her mother’s day-to-day needs, while Kurtz continues to pursue her career. No one in their right mind would read these passages and think, Oh, I can’t wait! In one passage she describes her mother’s fall in such detail that I had to continue to remind myself that Kurtz’ mother survived. But through this all, Kurtz creates her family of caregivers, friends, and her mother. She also begins to mother her own mother.
Every few months an article or blog post will pop up from a career-driven woman who is anguished over being a certain age, but not married or being a mother. Not Kurtz. “There are different kinds of love. Right now I only have time for the love of my work and my mommy,” she said. “I can say that the love of my life has been my parents. And I am satisfied with that.”
The girl with the unconventional name truly has led an unconventional and charmed life. When I asked her what she would tell her younger self, she replied, “Focus on the things you have. Be grateful. Lower the level of expectation and raise your level of gratitude. It really works.” She explained about how in her younger days, she spent so much time chasing achievements, she did not relish in them. Yet somehow this only child who never married or had children of her own, grew up to know the magic of mothering and sisterhood. That is truly an unconventional journey.
Original by Veronica Arreola