By Deirdre Wilson
Someday soon, Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, his wife, Shonda, and their four kids want to take a Duck Tour of Boston. They want to walk down the street and not be the subject of awe and autographs. They want people to know them as a family.
But that’s a tall order this summer. Schilling is one of the best pitchers in the American League, a six-time All Star, and an athlete who easily won the hearts of Boston sports fans after a 2003 trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks brought him to New England.
Schilling has already done what most Red Sox fans have not yet lived to see: he helped clinch a World Series win (for the Diamondbacks in 2001) over the New York Yankees, no less!
That, combined with his winning record on the mound this season, has elevated Schilling to V.I.P. status in Boston, a city that takes its sports teams – especially baseball – very seriously. And that is precisely why the Schilling family may have a hard time convincing Massachusetts that they’re just like everyone else.
But switch gears a bit, and talk to Curt and Shonda Schilling as parents trying to raise four kids under the age of 10; as adults juggling their family lives with demanding work lives; as homeowners doing laundry on their days off. Except for his ability to throw a baseball, Curt insists, the Schillings are “just like everyone else.”
They’re also terrific role models. Despite living the high life as a celebrated professional athlete, Curt Schilling is well-known for his work ethic, his love for his family and the dedication he and Shonda have for fighting two life-threatening illnesses – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and melanoma. The first is a disease the couple became interested in while searching for a way to give back to the community; the Schillings have helped The ALS Association raise more than $4 million to promote awareness of and help find a cure for what is better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The second is a cancer that Shonda herself battled; she and Curt created the SHADE Foundation of America to raise awareness of skin cancer and the danger of too much exposure to the sun.
At the end of the day, though, what these two parents want most are for their kids to grow up with a strong sense of compassion, tolerance and understanding of the world around them. Shonda, 36, wants her children to learn to “respect other people; take care of other people ... I would be heartbroken if someone told me my kids were mean to other kids.”
Curt, 37, puts it simply: “I want my kids to be good people.”
How They Met Curt and Shonda Schilling first met in Maryland in 1990, where Curt was pitching for the Baltimore Orioles and Shonda was an associate producer for a TV station that covered Orioles games.
‘How Tough Could It Be?’
“I was also working at a Foot Locker [sporting goods store],” Shonda says. “Curt likes to tell the bust-in-and-rescue version of how we met. After the baseball season ended, I was between covering baseball and hockey. I worked at the mall and he came by the mall one day. He likes to make it seem like he rescued me from a life in black and white stripes [the color of staff shirts at Foot Locker]!”
The Schillings married in 1992 and Shonda ended her TV career.
“It’s hard to work and have a relationship when it’s just like a Hollywood relationship,” she says. “It’s hard to bond that way. We were in love; we wanted to be together.”
If you’re a parent of several kids under the age of 10, you know how hard it is to meet all of your children’s needs, outside responsibilities, and to still preserve some sense of self.
Shonda Schilling, who was an associate producer for television before she married Curt, now works hard for The ALS Association and the SHADE Foundation, while also handling the lion’s share of care for the couple’s four children: Gehrig, 9; Gabriella, 7; Grant, 4; and Garrison, 2.
“A lot of what I do (professionally) is when the kids are asleep,” she says. “In the summer, there’s also a time during the day when I try to put them in their rooms for an hour – they can read, watch TV. It breaks up the day a bit and there’s no fighting. That’s what I’m dealing with this summer, a lot of fighting between them.”
Shonda, her husband says, is with the kids 24/7. “I’m gone a lot of the time. She gets to the point where, I’m sure, about 15 minutes after I’m out the door, they tune her out. And that’s frustrating.”
Having just read the book How Tough Could It Be? The Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad, by Austin Murphy, Curt says he appreciates Shonda’s challenges even more.
“There are times when my kids can’t wait for me to leave, and there are times when they don’t want me to move,” he says. “I used to bring them things from the road. But then they want you to go away because when you get home it’s better.
“My wife gets to be home and raise the kids,” Curt says. “That’s good and bad in the sense that she has such a small amount of time for adult life. I just see the result at the end of the day when she’s wiped out, tired and still trying to do things like laundry.”
While his family attends home Red Sox games and occasionally travels to Curt’s away games, sometimes he’s frustrated because he’s away so much.
So he and Shonda make a point of taking at least one of their kids with them on trips for games or for work with ALS or the SHADE Foundation. “During the season, I take each one of them on a road trip by themselves, to spend time with them during the summer,” he says.
At home, though, Curt – who wryly admits to a reputation for being “very talkative” – notes that the rapidly changing world and the adult-oriented media exposure kids get today means, “you’re supposed to talk with your 9-year-old about things I never talked about when I was a kid.”
“You have to find time for that, and you have to find the right things to say,” he says. “My kids change drastically for me. I’m gone for such a long stretch at a time that I miss it. You run into points in time where they bring up a subject and I go, ‘What?’ and wonder where that’s coming from.”
Parenting itself is what Curt considers the hardest part of being a busy professional with four kids – “what I’m trying to teach them, to have them work on, the whole philosophy of being good parents is the hardest thing.”
For Shonda, the tough parenting issues are more “in the moment.”
“They’re getting older. They have so many more activities.” She ticks off play dates, birthday parties and activities. “When they were younger, we did things together; we never had to worry about being here or there.”
Both parents also lament that the family’s Medfield home is not in a typical neighborhood. “When we were in Arizona, we lived next door to a family with kids who were the same ages as ours,” Curt says. “Now we don’t really have a neighborhood like that. That means setting up play dates, which requires getting the kids in the car to drive them.
“When I was growing up, we left the house at 9 in the morning and didn’t come back until dinner. You can’t do that anymore. I don’t want my kids to end up being a statistic. People can say I’m being overprotective, but I have to think about things like that.”
How They Met
Curt and Shonda Schilling first met in Maryland in 1990, where Curt was pitching for the Baltimore Orioles and Shonda was an associate producer for a TV station that covered Orioles games.
For all their challenges, Curt and Shonda Schilling are grateful for the time they have with their kids, and for the kids themselves.
“The days are not slow. That’s for sure,” Shonda says. “They’re all fun in their own way. I just love experiencing things through their eyes.” She recently took Gabriella to see the film Freaky Friday, the original of which she saw with her mom years ago. “I remember going with my mother. It was special. I loved that I got to take my daughter to see it.”
Shonda is warmed when her kids recognize the importance of her commitment to ALS and melanoma awareness. It’s one reason why she often takes one of her children with her on an ALS or SHADE trip. “They get a sense of what I’m doing,” she says.
When Gehrig was in second grade, his teacher interviewed students on tape to show their progress, Shonda says. “On the tape, Gehrig is asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and he says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a baseball player like my dad. But you know what I really want is to help people like my mom.’
“ That said to me that they are getting it. You hope your kids take some of that with them,” she says. “And you know? I’m not the baseball player, but I can make a difference.”
Shonda believes there are many ways parents can model a sense of compassion to children. The Schillings were once approached by friends holding a yard sale to raise money for a family whose mother had brain cancer. “I explained it to my kids and asked them to give things to the yard sale that they no longer used. They did,” Shonda says, adding that Gehrig even tried to give away his piggy bank to help.
Curt, who prides himself on his quest to be the best he can be, recalls a time when he knew Gehrig was picking up some of his values. “I would take a game loss home for four days and be miserable,” he says. “As Gehrig started to understand baseball and was trying to figure out the difference between a win or a loss, he would notice me in a bad mood and say, ‘That’s OK, Dad, because you taught me that it doesn’t matter as long as you’ve done the best you can, as long as you’ve done the right thing. I want my kids, at the end of the day, to look at me the same way I looked at my father when I was growing up,” Curt says. “With so much respect and reverence. I was in awe of the man.”
Living in Boston Continue> Curt and Shonda Schilling on Giving Back
Not surprisingly, considering the intensity of Red Sox fans, the Schillings have noticed a big difference between living here versus other cities where Curt has pitched: Baltimore, Philadelphia, Houston and Phoenix.
“Kids are in awe of Curt here because they are such Red Sox fans,” Shonda says. “These are generations of kids who go to sit at the ballpark and they know who the players are, they know the history of the team. It isn’t like that in other cities.”
“We’ve had Halloweens in Arizona where I’ve never seen so many dads come to the door with their kids. The dads wanted an autograph, but the kids had no idea whose house they were at. They were there for candy!”
But all that fan interest can be good and bad for the Schilling kids, Curt says. “That’s been the hardest part. Here, they get treated very differently. A lot of times, it’s a very bad thing. They think they are entitled to be treated differently in some cases. As a parent, that’s one thing you want avoided at all costs.”
It’s tough on Curt and Shonda, too. “There are people who get to know us and treat us just like everybody else, you know?” Curt says. “Then we had a party at the house recently. Two kids came over and asked for a tour. Two others asked how many bathrooms we had. This is such a different environment.”
Curt’s goal is to create a sense of community for his family, similar to what the Schillings achieved in Philadelphia in the early 1990s. “I could walk into the mall and people would come up to me and say, ‘How’s Shonda?’ Everyone knew so much about us. They knew my family. They could just talk with us, which is all we’re after instead of ‘Wow! Will you please sign this?!’”
Some of that is unavoidable, of course. When Gehrig started first grade, he asked classmates what numbers their dads were; he thought every dad had a number, Curt says. When the family moved from Arizona to Boston, Gabriella’s classmates kept in touch. “One wrote, ‘Sorry your dad had to leave for more money,’” Shonda recalls. “This kid is in the first grade; he doesn’t know what that means. And we didn’t leave for more money. Now you know what my kids are saying? Why do we make so much money?”
All in all, the Schilling kids seem pretty grounded. They attend public school because their parents always planned on that. “This is all that we know,” Shonda says of their home life. “This is normal for us. Is it like my growing up? No. We don’t have dinner for six months of the year like a normal family. We still all lie in bed together sometimes, chatting and watching movies. We go outside and the kids play on their bikes. But we don’t talk baseball 24 hours a day. When we come home, we call it ‘family time.’”
Curt, himself, cherishes the precious moments his family provides. “I can look at my career and I can define times that were memorable, unforgettable. I can list those on one or two hands,” he says. “But I can do that with my kids in a day.”
Deirdre Wilson is the senior editor of The Boston Parents’ Paper, a United Parenting Publication.
Continue> Curt and Shonda Schilling on Giving Back