Elizabeth Street Meets Aviva Drescher
The Real Housewives of New York City star on parenting, giving back, and jumping into an abyss of mockery
Everybody has a favorite NY housewife, everybody who watches, that is. Those who only catch snippets of the drama pooling around the stylish six, might know Aviva Drescher as the one with the prosthetic leg. Drescher’s much more than her childhood accident (a JD, a mother of four), but fine with her TV image, having signed on to help raise awareness for amputees and show them their futures can still be bright. —Kate Guadagnino
How did you get involved with the show?
A good friend of mine begged me to allow Bravo to interview me and at first I was completely opposed, but then I started thinking about it. I was torn, because not doing the show would be turning down an opportunity to raise awareness for amputees and other physically challenged people, and doing the show would put my family at risk and turn me into a caricature. Ultimately, I decided to take the fall of being made fun of for the benefit of getting the message out there that you can be physically challenged and still be a happy and whole person.
Have you made real relationships on the show?
I feel like just gaining Carole as a friend has made doing the show worth it. I talk to her on the phone a lot, and she’s always so mellow, so funny. Carole, Heather, and I were put in a weird position at the same time, and the experience has bonded us in a way.
Can you expand on your words to Heather about raising a child with special needs?
My parents made me go and do and didn’t dwell on my accident, but still spoiled me a bit materially. They were financially able, but apart from that, more permissive because of my accident. When you have a child who’s weak, you want to give them whatever they want, emotionally and materially, but children want to be like other children and spoiling them will not help them feel better about themselves.
What do you get out of your volunteer work?
The closest charity to my heart is One Step Ahead, for which I raise money for children who need prosthetic legs. They’re very expensive and you need more than one. Then there’s Cancer Schmancer, Fran Drescher’s charity. She’s my husband’s first cousin, and our family believes that cancer is a wretched disease and that today’s treatment is akin to witchcraft. The third is Live4Life, which fights melanoma. I most enjoy my time spent working one-on-one with amputees, helping them navigate the technical difficulties of wearing a prosthesis. I particularly like helping young people. It’s hard enough to be a teenager with all your limbs. A young woman who’s going to go on a date needs to figure out how to explain about her leg. Those are the times that I step in and give some perspective and let them know it’s going to be okay. When I was their age, I never thought I would be married or be a housewife or have children. I didn’t think anybody would like me or want to have sex with me for that matter.
What is your kids’ relationship to the philanthropic part of your life?
The show’s actually been very helpful. My friend’s son has a disease, so we did this photo shoot to raise awareness. When I said, “All right kids, we’re going to go do a photo shoot,” they were moaning about it until I said it would help raise awareness for this boy whose life expectancy only goes until he’s 14. All of a sudden they were up and dressed and out of the house. My older son, Harrison, has come with me to meet boys around his age whom I’m helping. One of the greatest moments was when I was helping this boy learn how to run with new prosthetic limbs and my son was there and all these two boys wanted to do was play video games on their iPhones! They also get an education just from living with me. They know that for me to get up and go brush my teeth in the morning, I have to put on my leg. And they’re well aware of why I’m doing the show.
Do they watch it?
No, I’ve shown them little clips of what they’re in, but they’re not interested for long.
Maybe just until the novelty of seeing you on TV wears off.
Oh my gosh, they don’t care. I’m their mom! My little one thinks that every blond on TV is mommy.
Considering you have two advanced degrees, I wanted to get your take on “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” in The Atlantic, which seems to have rejuvenated the conversation on work/life balance.
I think it’s all very hard. When I was a stay-at-home mom, there were times when I found my life completely mind-numbing and really envied people in an office. But then—I suppose I’m working now—counseling people and logging hours for the show and taking care of kids is a tremendous juggle. I think whatever works for you is the best thing you can do. If you need more fulfillment than being with your kids, go work. If you need the money, do both. You can do both, especially when the kids get older. I’m only 41, so I’m still just learning how to be a mom. After I had my fourth child, I went to have coffee with a friend and I had the baby in my arms and I looked to my friend and said, “I don’t know if I can do this,” and I was just talking about four kids. She looked at me and said, “Just love them.” So I guess the answer is just to make the time you have with your kids full of love.