Actress Liv Tyler's 3 1/2-year-old son, Milo, has a very fuzzy grasp of what his mom does for a living. His description of her job starts with: "My mommy works at night." And her office? "He'll point out motor homes along the road and say, 'That's where my mommy works,'" says the actress, 30. "The implication, well..." She trails off with a laugh.
Clearly, Mom's odd shooting hours and trailers have left an impression. Tyler and her son recently spent four months in Toronto while she filmed The Incredible Hulk (she plays love interest Betty Ross to Edward Norton's angry green giant). "It was the hardest film I ever worked on, hours-wise," says Tyler, who has appeared in 22 movies, including Stealing Beauty and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, since segueing from modeling to acting in her teens. Although her husband, musician Royston Langdon, was often in Toronto as well, Tyler's Hulk shooting schedule would have fried any mom. She frequently pulled all-nighters and got home at 7 a.m.—just in time to climb into Milo's bed with him for a cuddle, make him breakfast, and sleep a little before doing it all over again.
Tyler took the first year of Milo's life off from acting but has recently been seriously back at it, making four films in the past two years, always with her son in tow. When asked if motherhood has made her pickier about the projects she chooses, she reveals a certain practicality when she says no: "Whenever I hear actors say that, I think, Wow, they must really be in demand! I'm still trying to figure it all out. [Modeling and acting] are what I've done since I was 14, so it's not like I have another option. But the balance can be hard for me, because for my whole life, my dream was to be a mother."
The actress says she tries "to embrace that we live like gypsies a little bit," taking the opportunities her career presents to show Milo the world. "We go somewhere for three months at a time, and we make friends and get to see a whole new place. It's very special in a way." While their lifestyle makes steady routines nearly impossible, Tyler believes being together consistently as a family gives Milo a sense of stability. "My philosophy is that we're the ones who go to him in the night and when he wakes up in the morning," she says, "and those are the most important moments in a young child's life."
Besides, the hectic periods are tempered by long stretches of staying home. For the Tyler-Langdon clan, that's a brownstone in New York City, and Tyler describes their life there in touching, stream-of-consciousness detail: Milo's daily world—and, by extension, hers—currently revolve around making morning smoothies, reading (Hairy Maclary's Bone is a favorite), and playing music (he tings away on a toy piano while his dad plays the real thing). He's obsessed with helicopters, Scooby Doo, trains, animals.
Partly out of a longing to indulge this last passion of Milo's—and partly to get away from the paparazzi—Tyler has considered leaving New York for a place in the country. "I'd love for him to have pets and chickens to take care of," she says. "And I want to give him all the tools to be the best man he can be. For me, so much of that has to do with being in nature and really using your hands when you're a kid." As for her own childhood, Tyler describes it as having had "so much love"—as well as a good deal of upheaval. Although she is the daughter of model Bebe Buell and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, she spent her early years with her aunt and uncle in Maine ("My mom was around, but she was young and struggling"). She later lived with her grandparents in Virginia and her mother in New York. Because of Steven's wild lifestyle back then, Buell looked to another father figure for her daughter: Tyler was raised to believe musician Todd Rundgren was her dad, and knew Steven only as a friend of the family. Before her teens, Tyler figured out the truth when she noticed the resemblance between herself and Steven?s other daughter, Mia.
"I'm still working through my issues, which I always will be," Tyler says of those years. But parenting has also given her a new perspective on her mom and dad(s). "I had the ideas we all had as teenagers, of Well, I'm gonna do it this way. Then suddenly you're living it, and you have a lot more empathy for every other parent in the world."