Raising Richmond: Q & A with Judi Crenshaw

In the latest installment of our series highlighting Richmond parents, we talk to Judi Crenshaw, publicist for Theatre IV and the Barksdale and mother to Gray, Emlyn, and Aidan.

Editor’s note: Don’t worry, you’re in the right place. While we typically use Raising Richmond as a place to discuss parenting topics/issues/concerns, we’ve decided to add another facet (if you will) to our child-rearing exploration by introducing you to some of RVA’s most interesting parents. We hope their stories inspire you to share yours.

Judi Crenshaw has managed press and publicity for Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV as the companies’ publicist since 2001. Before that, Judi was the Communications Director for The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia office for 12 years. Her children are Gray, a senior at Fordham University in New York City; Emlyn, a freshman at Georgetown University in Washington, DC; and Aidan, a freshman at Douglas Freeman High School in Richmond’s West End.

QDid you always think or know you would be a parent or did your own journey surprise you?

AI never articulated it in the form of a plan, but I always thought I’d be a parent at some point in my life. All of my friends got married before I did and I distinctly remember worrying over whether or not I’d have the guts to adopt a baby on my own, if it came to that. I set a cut-off age for when I’d have to decide. So I guess at that point it became part of a Plan B…but I met my husband before my cut-off age, so I never got to Plan B.

QWhat do you miss about pre-kid days?

AI think I’m too old for this question — I’ve had kids for 21 years! I do remember at the beginning craving time by myself, but I made it a high priority to carve that out because I absolutely needed it. I’m starting to panic about the weirdness of being post-kid, which is going to happen in four more years (after we psych ourselves up for high school this one last time… yay).

QWhat is your favorite age/stage and why?

AFirst Grade is my favorite because they are all adorable and the other children are still so accepting. They’re old enough to surprise you with spot-on insights every now and again. They take most all suggestions and do not have the arguing skills of high level attorneys quite yet. They wear themselves out purely by how excited they get about everything and can still be convinced to go to bed at 7:30.

QWhat one thing surprised you about parenting?

AThe LAUNDRY. Why does no one tell you about the piles and piles of laundry? Or was I just really stupid to be surprised? My first daughter was in cloth diapers (I worked for an environmental group at the time) so I was not only surprised, I was completed overwhelmed by the mountainous laundry. I did not conquer the laundry for many many months, and daughter #2 went straight into disposables — so sorry Chesapeake Bay Foundation and environmentalists everywhere, but I just couldn’t take it anymore.

QWhat one thing surprised you about your kid/kids?

AI remain surprised that my kids are all so different, with quite different needs and unique ways I have to approach them. They never went to the same schools because they just had different strengths and weaknesses, and we were lucky enough to have a range of choices for them (we’re grateful for Henrico County Public Schools). I often find myself figuring issues out from scratch, all over again with each child because each one reacts so differently than the last.

QWhat do you love most about being a parent?

AIt sounds weird, but the thing I love the most is helping my children be able to effectively leave! From pre-school days to the complexities of college and job searches there’s nothing better than seeing my kids tackle situations independently using skills I’ve taught them or facets of their personality that I‘ve nudged along and am heart-achingly proud of. I love providing the small building blocks my children use to configure themselves up and out. I love RVA, but I’ve always wanted my kids equipped to be productive people anywhere they want to go.

QHow has parenting changed you?

AAs I raised my children to be open-minded I became more and more open-minded myself, so my political opinions are much more liberal and social issues are more personally relevant to me. Instead of becoming more certain of things, I actually have fewer and fewer of “the answers.” As I deconstruct issues with my kids, I have had to figure out what I truly believe about so many things. Often I thought I was sure about something, but as we talked it through I would realize that I harbored a few nagging prejudices or outdated ways of thinking. I banished those. My kids often proved me wrong so having learned something each time, I let go of the old and morphed a little bit into something new.

QWhat is your most favorite thing to do with your kid/kids?

AMy most favorite thing is to have all my kids home together, cook a big meal and have everyone linger around the table afterwards — talking and laughing together.

QHow do you get out of the occasional parenting funk?

AI ruminate on things too much, so I often have to drastically change what I’m doing in order to get my mind to “drop it.” If I’ve fallen into funk mode, I’m bound to be over-analyzing a parenting dilemma, so I’ll immerse myself in the details of my colorful theatre job or go do something with my smart, funny friends — something that is as completely opposite to parenting as I can manage. Wine is usually involved. I remind myself that parenting is a huge facet of my life but not the only thing I have to focus on. I go to a lot of theatre — we have so much high quality professional theatre in Richmond, and it’s impossible to stay in a funk when you are moved by a performance or laughing your head off.

QGive us one good parenting confession. We know you have at least one.

AOk, I HATE summer vacation. Like to the point of feeling weak and nauseous and counting the squares on the calendar until it will be over. As school winds down, all the other moms gush of looking forward to “down time with the kids” and “relaxing, just doing nothing.” Year after year, this is a serious distress signal for me. I roll with my kids for a short jaunt to New York City or to a DC rock concert to relax. Chillin’ at the neighborhood pool?. OMG no, thanks. I tried it in dribs and drabs early on and it just didn’t suit us. I’ve worked out of a home office for the last decade, so squeezing in some of that kicked back summer fun only served to stress me out. Keeping the kids occupied while I tried to work, not having money or time off to travel…I’m getting a little woozy right now thinking about it. Without the structure and predictability of the school calendar, it seems like everyone implodes at my house and the first one to blow is ME. (See below about the value of summer jobs for kids!)

QWhat is your parenting superpower?

AIt’s not a superpower, but it’s kind of unusual that I always tell it like it is with my children. It’s shocking how many parents seem to take on an alternate “parenting personality” that gives fake responses to their kids. Across the board, I’ve never really sugar-coated things or changed my vocabulary for my kids. If they needed something explained, I explained it in an age appropriate way, but I used all the same words and sensibilities I would normally use. I support them 100 percent, but I’m not cheerleader-y. Even as little kids, I didn’t pretend they were super duper at everything. My daughters were talented on stage, but I let them know that working extra hard and being pleasant were just as important since other young actors could always do the part. My son was repeatedly defeated by the artistic parts of assignments in early elementary school, until I blurted out he didn’t actually possess a shred of natural artistic ability and just not to worry about it — he was so relieved! Because I’ve always been real with them, they seek my advice and trust me to be honest. And that feels like a superpower when my kids come to talk things over with me, even if it’s an uncomfortable situation or difficult to talk about.

QDo you think you grew up differently than your kids are or is the pretty much the same?

AVery differently! Aside from the huge differences in technology and geography [rural (me) vs. the city (them)], I grew up with absolutely no pressure from any direction about school performance, sports ability, or what future job I would secure. My homework was certainly never checked and it was simply assumed I was doing “fine.” That was the norm of the 60’s and 70’s. Not now, sister! Today’s culture surrounds kids with ever-increasing pressure to be exceedingly excellent at just about everything from the moment they’re in pre-school. My children have had to plot and sweat and worry their way through middle and high school like they’re going to step on a live landmine at any moment. I lazed my way through those years, not giving much thought to anything. Thing is, being “left alone to be a kid” wasn’t necessarily good — it left me completely unprepared to forge a meaningful path through college and led to years of poking around, trying to figure out what to do and who to be. There’s a happy medium because some pressure to perform academically or in chosen interests helps a child to sort out his own priorities and self-reflect.

QWhat’s one thing do you do that your parents did? Are you like your own mother or father?

AI’m not like either my mother or my father, but they always expected my siblings and I to work as teenagers and I carry this over to my own family. Jobs teach lessons that just can’t be taught any other way: communicating effectively and working out problems with a WIDE range of people, accepting authority and that sometimes work is boring, that doing a job well is satisfying. Most important: humility, maturity, independence. I’m convinced that teenagers who have real jobs are better people for it and are much better prepared to make their own decisions as you send them out of the house. By the way, the more humbling employment, the better –- picking fruit, scraping plates, hostessing are our real-life examples.

QDid you turn into your parents?

ANo, I’m much more liberal than my parents were in just about every way possible. I provided a lot more information to my children at earlier stages in life and proactively encouraged all types of conversations about awkward subjects. So no, no, no! It makes me laugh to think of my parents doing that.

QWhat do you want your kids to know or say about you when you are old and gray?

AThat they would just love to come spend time with me (and have them really mean it).

QWhen the jury is out, all is said and done, what one thing do you hope your kids leave with or know?

ATo keep an open mind, and to have fun trying really really hard. Oooops, that’s two things.

Know of a Richmond mom or dad we should interview? Should we talk to YOU? Send us an email and let us know.

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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