An old purple bridesmaid dress made out of crushed velvet, a cowboy hat, and a clear umbrella adorned with hot pink flowers was not the vision actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher had for herself when she walked onto set for her latest photoshoot. “Nick, what am I going to do?” she asked her husband, former baseball player Nick Swisher. “Put it on,” he said, and she had no choice. The set was ready. Craft services was there serving Doritos and chocolate chip cookies to the talent. Wardrobe had found the dress buried deep in her closet — an extra small, the creative directors announced to the room.
She could forgive the creative directors their indiscretion, because they were her daughters, Emerson, 6 and Sailor, 3, deputized by Romper to conduct the shoot remotely in an era of social distancing. The girls, acting as the makeup team, had even put the lipstick (“bright, poppy-colored”) on their own faces. It was not like any other photoshoot she had ever been on. “At first, I’m curious. And then I was like, 'No, it’s going to be ridiculous.' Then they brought their umbrellas out,” she trails off. “Honestly, if it had been anyone else that I was working with, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”
Allowing the kids to be in control for a few hours turned out to be good for everyone, though Swisher's collection of lipstick suffered. “I’m like, 'You can destroy them because I don’t wear them,'” she says. “We’re not going anywhere. So how about the kids enjoy this?”
It seems to be the rallying cry for parents everywhere: Why not let them do what they want? If this time at home has taught any of us anything, it’s that we only have right now.
“It’s just a new territory,” she says of quarantining with the girls and her husband, Nick. “And I’m really trying to appreciate the time.” The past year brought a death in the family, as well as the pandemic. Speaking from her house in Florida ahead of the premiere of Sweet Magnolias, Swisher talked about finding time for herself, dealing with loss, and learning how little it really takes to make her kids happy.
Romper: How do you keep yourself from losing it during this time?
JoAnna Garcia Swisher: We’re in Florida, and things are a little bit different here. We have a home here where I grew up, and in our neighborhood, we’re spread out. So going outside, it doesn’t feel like a huge deal. It’s not masking up or doing that just to go in a bike ride, which I know in LA is a necessity for a lot of our friends. So it sounds a little less chaotic here, which is nice. And we’re in the sweet spot where our kids really are starting to groove together. The little one is still young enough that she’ll do almost everything her older sister says, so it’s a good spot. They’re really loving that.
Yesterday, she just randomly asked me if she could feel mad at God.
Romper: Have they been concerned with what’s happening or wondering why everything’s been upended?
JGS: We’ve had a lot of change. The girls have gone through a lot of change. My dad passed away suddenly in November and it rocked our world to its core. It’s been rough. It was very intense and devastating and we’re surviving and we’re moving through it, but there have been harder moments of this with my older one, she’s really questioning. Like yesterday, she just randomly asked me if she could feel mad at God. I was like, “Well, what do you mean by that? It’s your relationship with God, that is for you to feel connected. And you can be honest with your feelings and I know a lot of things that happened feel really out of your control and that’s so hard. And Mommy’s a grown-up and I feel that way. So you’re allowed to have every emotion that’s attached to that.”
Romper: Do you talk to them about what’s happening in the world?
JGS: One thing I’ve always tried to do with the girls is be honest with them, but then also keep them really in the moment. Kids feel all of the uncertainty and everything, but trying to keep them in the moment and in control of the things we can control — which right now in this moment is having faith and knowing we’re going to survive — is crucial.
It’s definitely been an opportunity to teach. I’m not telling my kids the statistics and everything, but I come from a family of physicians and the girls have a lot of respect for caregivers. So just getting them to really think about people sacrificing right now to kind of get us to a place where we’re safe again, and to think about the community right now. How they can be a good neighbor and how, in this moment of great need, there is an opportunity here to be creative and be good neighbors and friends and family members. People are in more need than normal, there’s no being asleep at the wheel right now.
Romper: So find the happy place, right?
JGS: I’m on this destination called The Happy Place, and I’ve talked a lot about The Happy Place to people and introducing them. I always talk about how it doesn’t take a lot of time and it doesn’t take a lot of money for The Happy Place. But it can be overwhelming. Like, I am not great at doing puzzles. I’m a craft mom, I love to cook with my kids, but every time I go down there and have a little moment of play with them, it goes such a long, long, long way. It makes such a huge difference. And you walk away feeling like you’ve nailed it and feel great about yourself, and then they walk away feeling completely content and taken care of. It’s a win-win.
Romper: It’s like a mixture of relief and guilt.
JGS: I really think that’s like motherhood summed up.
Romper: How has it been for you trying to work from home?
JGS: So this is a unique experience. I read where someone said this is like a breath of fresh air in our industry — normally I’m made up within an inch of my life by an extreme team of professionals. And now I’m going out there in a dress and a cowboy hat and my kids are putting lipstick on me. It’s kind of refreshing.
I always have a white wine or a red wine. Or tequila.
Romper: And what’s the release for Sweet Magnolias going to be like?
JGS: Everyone’s looking for a new show to watch, and I’m happy to be part of one that I think is a really nice breath of fresh air at this time, but really interesting. It’s about family and friendship and survival, all of these things.
Romper: How’s survival for you?
JGS: I love the walk that I take every night, right before I’m about to feed my kids dinner. It’s just one loop, like five minutes, but it’s my me-time. And I always have a white wine or a red wine. Or tequila.
Romper: Everyone keeps talking about survival, like Zooming in their pajama pants with children hanging all over them.
JGS: There’s a writer for the LA Times that wrote something about how everyone needs to get out of their sweatpants to work from home. It’s like, "Why do you care what people wear at home?" When I really started thinking about it, it just cracked me up. I never thought I would be so protective about my sweatpants. I feel bad about that. I’m like, "Don’t talk about my sweatpants."
Photographer: Emerson and Sailor Swisher
Fashion Stylist: Emerson and Sailor Swisher
Hair/Makeup: Emerson and Sailor Swisher