Have You Seen Her Lately? With a Hot New Album and Another Children's Book, Carly Simon Is Riding High

updated 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Not one word about me in this magazine, Mom," warns the 6'3" 13-year-old with the James Taylor eyes. "Just say Tin Ben Taylor and I'm your son."

"Oh, you're so mean!" says Carly Simon, who is standing with Ben and a reporter in the kitchen of her Martha's Vineyard, Mass., home. "Are you ashamed I'm your mother?"

"Nope. Just don't like publicity," Ben says. "Like my dad."

"Okay, I'll say you're Cat Stevens's son then, how about that?" teases Simon.

With that, mother and son pile out the door, she to pose for magazine photos, he to watch and afterward challenge her to a footrace up their long dirt drive. They finish in a dead heat.

Welcome to the Simon household, where, as the woman of the house laughingly puts it, "I'm completely devoid of my children's respect. They don't look upon me as an adult at all—I've always been very much a child with them. I know it's one of my shortcomings."

Maybe so, but it has also come in handy. When Ben and his sister, Sally, now 16, were younger, Simon (who was divorced from Taylor, the children's father, in 1982) knew just what kind of stories would most delight them at bedtime. "I'd make up silly ones, with lots of funny accents—that would get them just howling," she says. "And then I'd invent others that aroused their imaginations as well as mine."

Now Simon, 45, has parlayed that talent into a new career. At the urging of her friend Jackie Onassis, an editor at Doubleday and a fellow Vineyard habitué, she published her first children's book, Amy the Dancing Bear (a Ben and Sally favorite about a cub who would rather pirouette than sleep), two years ago. Her second, a Christmas tale called The Boy of the Bells, is out this month. The stories, with illustrations by Vineyard artist Margot Datz, have received the kind of feedback that Simon values most. "Little children will come up and tell me Amy the Dancing Bear is their favorite book," she says. "That's really the test."

After enduring some rough years—of relationships that fizzled and of albums that fell Hat—Simon herself appears to be acing most of life's tests of late. On the heels of two gold albums and an Oscar (for Working Girl's "Let the River Run"), she has a new album. Have You Seen Me Lately?, which the New York Times pronounced "superb." (Its first single, "Better Not Tell Her," has already crowned Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart.) Her much-publicized stage fright has remained mercifully manageable during recent performances for small crowds, and she is planning a "living room tour"—win a contest (details to be determined) and she'll sing in your home—for January. She has also been commissioned by the Kennedy Center to write an opera for young people. And though the breakup of her 10-year first marriage is still a sore subject ("I wouldn't say James and I have a friendship, no," she says), she is delighted with husband No. 2. She describes Jim Hart, 40, the poet she met on a train and married in 1987, as "a great stepfather and a terrific companion—the kind of person you can talk to all night."

None of which means, however, that Carly Simon could be described as carefree. She has always been more the anxious sort. The youngest daughter of Simon and Schuster co-founder Richard Simon, she began stuttering at 6, had her first anxiety attack at 8 and over the years has tried every self-help method from transcendental meditation to est. "I'm a little more circumspect now," she says, with a smile, "but if you came today and told me there was a new kind of therapy that dealt with lampshades, I'd be fascinated."

Lately she's been doing a lot of thinking about—as her new song "Life Is Eternal" puts it—"getting older and moving on." It's not so much "aging in terms of falling flesh—I'm not looking for plastic surgeons—but aging in terms of renewing the soul's life," she says. "I have this growing sense of morality, this feeling that everything I do is recorded, and I'm going to pay for anything that's not up to snuff. My spiritual questioning is at an all-time high."

She has had more time to indulge such concerns as her children have gotten older. Sally went off to boarding school two years ago, and Simon, who divides her time between Manhattan and the whimsically decorated Vineyard house that she and Taylor built, still misses her daughter terribly.

"The three of us were so close—we used to call ourselves CBS, for Carly, Ben and Sally," she says. "When it became just CB, I felt like my arm was missing. My children have always been the most important things in my life, without question. We used to sing, go to the beach or just frolic—of course, now we don't do that much together because they don't want to, which is very sad for me."

Writing children's books—she is already at work on a new one—is one way that Simon stays in touch with those magic years. "I could do it all day long," she says. "I don't worry what the critics will say. I do it with a child's mind."

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