Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

Merkel vs. Urkel

The ListTeresa Strasser5 Comments

Here's another clip from my new show, The List

According to Forbes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the "Most Powerful Woman in the World." I want to know if people know more about her than a sit-com character last seen in 1998. http://youtu.be/u0eDgtGY-qo

The Marissa Mayer club: Starting a new job pregnant, working until my water breaks

General StuffTeresa Strasser5 Comments
 
This blog was originally posted on Today Moms

This blog was originally posted on Today Moms

 

I’m standing on the set of a television show, crammed into a burnt orange maternity dress and exposing my cankles in a pair Fit-Flops — the only shoes that still fit — feeling sweat drip down my spine while experiencing a mild contraction. It’s the final rehearsal before the launch of a new show I’m co-hosting. I’m 38 weeks pregnant.   Forget the pit stains and the jowls, I will be working right up until my water breaks.

t-today

Hired pregnant, and willing to work up until I’m crowning, I guess that puts me in a league with newly minted Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who made news when she Tweeted that she was six months pregnant just hours after Yahoo announced her appointment.

We’re due within a week of each other, both having boys. We are practically twinsies. She’s the head of a Fortune 500 company and I’m reading off a TelePrompter telling you what Kate Hudson said today on “Ellen” or perhaps showing you viral video of an inspirational blind dog (that’s if you live in one of six markets in which my new show airs), but otherwise, TWINSIES.

So, to summarize, Marissa is an in-demand tech genius and I’m your garden-variety television host who mostly toils in the salt mines of deep cable and is now in syndication, but allow me to suggest that somewhere between us is the beginnings of a trend.

If a company wants to hire you badly enough, it will overlook your fetus and make you a deal. It will look at the long-range benefits of bringing you onboard. Enough about Marissa: your story, if you’re a working mom, is probably more like mine.

I needed a job because 1) I love working and 2) I love eating. I don’t have a trust fund. In fact, I like to say that my parents “trust” that I will “fund” them. Though my husband has a good job, we really need to be a two-income family.

About my line of work: It’s hard enough getting a job in television if you are 22 and look like Miss Wyoming. However, when you never got that nose job, or that boob job, and you are also what my medical records so jarringly refer to as AMA — Advanced Maternal Age — that adds a degree of difficulty. Throw in being pregnant with a toddler, and let’s just say my options were looking a bit limited.

So, when a company was willing to hire me, knowing I would be 38 weeks pregnant the day their new nightly news magazine show hit the airwaves (which happened this week), I packed up and moved my family from Los Angeles to Arizona, with the promise of regular hours, a gig for at least a year, cheaper square footage and maybe even a few new suspicious moles to call my own.

There are a couple of things that aren’t so great about working right up until I deliver.

One is kind of petty, but it irks me some days. Understandably, my bosses have to prepare for my departure. As I outgrow even my largest maternity clothes, it makes sense for them to act as if I’m already gone. This is all reasonable and fair. I’m going to be gone, they have to prepare for that.

Still, you know how it is when you’re pregnant. It’s easy to get your giant panties in a bunch when you feel marginalized or left out.

Also petty, my concern about how I look. TV hosts aren’t usually greasy, puffy and enormous. Even when you see pregnant ones – Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Nancy O’Dell — they have that cute second trimester look, thin limbs and a little baby bump. I gained 60 pounds last time and I’ve added 45 this time so far. That’s just what my body does. And it’s one thing for me to be philosophical about it, as in, “I am making a person and it’s not about how I look right now,” but my business is about how I look. And I look bad.

“We need all talent to bring wardrobe options with sleeves,” read an email from one of the executives on our show. It was sweet not to single me out, but c’mon, I get it. No one wants to see my giant, pale, 38-weeks-pregnant arms. I can put on my big girl sleeves about it, sure, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel self-conscious. It’s a high quality problem, I know that much.

Today, I was researching a story for work when I stumbled across one of these “scare the pregnant lady” studies. The headline from The Daily Mail screamed, “Working in Late Stages of Pregnancy is as Bad as Smoking, New Research Claims.” That seems bad.

The research indicates that lots of moms are working later into their pregnancies, and they may have babies with lower birth weights. Is that so bad, I wondered? Well, that only lowers my baby’s chance of competing school, having high wages and living longer. No big deal.

The study acknowledges that this largely affects women in low-paying jobs, which may be more physically stressful, so I am choosing to ignore it. Marissa Mayer sure is, and somehow I think her kid will be just fine.

Strangers at the Mall Help Me Pick a Baby Name

The ListTeresa Strasser6 Comments

So obviously I have been bad at blogging as of late. Sorry. I've been busy being fat and pregnant while also starting up a new hosting gig on The List, a nightly news/entertainment TV magazine. Needless to say life has been pretty nuts. Not to seem too lazy, but to keep you all in the loop, I'm quickly posting a couple of video clips I did for the new show and will be back to blogging as soon as I pop this boy out and get back to work. Enjoy.

The List is a television news magazine that finds the intersection between the news of the day and pop culture on a nightly basis.

The show is founded around something we all use to stay on track – lists – to look at daily consumer issues and the hottest news trends.

Click to view video.

I'm Past That Now

General StuffTeresa Strasser24 Comments

There is some unwritten statute of limitations on how long one can whine about a crappy childhood, a negligent parent, a few too many chicken pot pies, summers with the grandparents, days spent on Greyhound Busses and with dubious caregivers and creepy neighbors. There is just a moment in an adult’s life when the complaining and sad-sacking about how our parents got divorced, or lost custody, or bailed, or otherwise stank up the joint is just kind of pathetic. Let’s face it, that moment had come and gone for me.

Then I had a child myself, and twinges of pain in that amputated leg known as my relationship with my mother started to send fiery jolts into my nervous system. I thought I would get a do-over (as opposed to my childhood, which was a do-under), but instead I got something unexpected: when my son was around 18 months old, I started to freak out.  Whatever it is that made her look at the job of motherhood the way an angry teenager views a Friday night shift behind the Frialator, whatever she had, maybe I caught it.

This is the day, I would think, driving my toddler to daycare, or swinging him at the park, or slipping a Grover t-shirt over his giant, blond head, this is the day it happens. This is the day I start to suck at this. This is the day I start to hate it. This is the day of reckoning, when I realize that I’ve been judging my mom for not enjoying my company or any part of raising me, but I’m no better. And this is the day the symptoms start manifesting in me. This is the day I realize that while I see other mothers having moments of both great struggle and magical, indescribable delight, I will only experience the former, because there are just some bullets you can’t dodge.

When I started to panic about my ability to be a parent, it wasn’t about physically being there, or providing, it was about something else, it was about the ineffable ability to enjoy my child, because as sure as I won’t forget the phone number of Haystack’s Pizza down the street or the smell of the back of a city bus during Indian summer, or the look of abject boredom on my mom’s face across the dinner table, I won’t forget the feeling of being a tedious wretch, a burden that was ruining everything.

Here’s where having an okay childhood rescues you. Most new moms, I gather, realize early on that the venture isn’t wholly exalted.

They catch on to the reality that normal might mean 17 thrilling, awe-inspiring minutes in a 12-hour day of parenting. Kids can be annoying, they can dawdle, they can cry uncontrollably at what to us in nothing (the green cup is dirty, here’s the yellow one, see you in 27 minutes when you have come back from the brink of insanity). They can be scary, flying off couches and spiking high fevers. They can be, as a matter of course, a bit dull, unless watching the same video of a garbage truck dumping a bin of trash into its hopper repeatedly on YouTube is somehow gratifying for you.

It was about a month into my panic when I turned the ship around. And by the ship I mean my Honda. My son, on the way to daycare, uncharacteristically moaned from his car seat, “Don’t want to go to school.”

We pulled over into the parking lot of an Albertson’s. I stared back at him.

“Want to ride train,” he said. A tear fell onto his puffy coat.

That was the moment, wedged between a meth-head blasting classical music from his station wagon and a Mini-Cooper glinting in the sun, that I became not a women running from a fear that she will fail at parenting, but a woman running toward one simple day at the mall with her baby. And off we went to the indoor mall in Sherman Oaks with the Ladybug train that runs past the chain stores all day long. Phoning daycare to say we wouldn’t make it, cancelling any plans I had for that day, I knew that nothing could make me happier, and in knowing that, I was at least partially free.

If I love being with this boy, even just to share a Wetzel and ride a rickety indoor train for hours, if I love this more than anything else I could possibly imagine doing today, than I can stop worrying. If I had been playing tag with the bogeyman that was “turning into my mother,” this was one very small, yet somehow enormous, “NOT IT.”

No one in my family is sentimental, and I think that’s okay. I don’t have a baby book for my son, I didn’t keep track of when he got his first tooth or tricycle.

That’s why lately, pregnant with my second boy, when I have syrupy thoughts about the baby I can only just now feel moving and kicking, it’s like a million cars turning around in a million parking lots. I love you already, I think, as I rub my hand over my stomach. Sappy. However, when I find myself thinking that this little being is good company already, and enjoying him even now, before he is born, I feel myself turning and turning in the right direction.

In a way, it’s not about my own mother anymore. I may not honor her, specifically, but as I think about that commandment I think the best I can do is to honor motherhood in general, and I can only do that by letting myself get better at it as I go. It’s on me now as it has been for a very long time.

It’s on me to know that sometimes it’s okay to be less than thrilled with the minutiae of motherhood, the ordering of diaper cream online, the scraping of uneaten carrots from an Elmo plate. It’s okay.

As long as there are days, and they will come when I can’t predict them, when my main function in this life is not to drive my babies forward, but to turn them around. If I can find supreme usefulness in sitting on a train to nowhere, just staring at my baby as he stares into the world, just taking him in and letting the smell of his hair and the feel of his chubby hands fall into the pages of the baby book in my mind, I am not just avoiding becoming my mother, I am getting to stop at all the stations she missed.  “All aboard,” says my son to the mall conductor. All aboard.

* Thanks to The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles for running this piece in print. 

Pregnant Again: It's A Do Over

General StuffTeresa Strasser28 Comments

I’d like to go to my senior prom again, but not be blackout drunk with a 26 year-old date.

For a brief period during which I hosted a basic cable decorating show, I was kind of famous. I wish I could be famous again, without having to emotionally implode from the cognitive dissonance of thinking I was a nobody and the world thinking I was somebody and the compulsive need to prove myself right. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t glower at people who shouted my name at airports. I would wave and smile. Like I deserved it.

If I could be pregnant, give birth and care for a baby again — oh wait, I can.

For once, life has given me a do-over. Of all the major life cycle events, the big moments, the passages and transitions, the ceremonies, beginnings and endings, of all the big deals I have screwed up just by being terrified of failing at them, I never get a chance to try again with the full knowledge of how I will look back at it. However, as I sit here four months pregnant with my second child, all I can think is: this pregnancy thing certainly is different when I don’t spend the day Googling “miscarriage causes” or “chromosomal abnormalities of Ashkenazi Jews” or “the dangers of eating soft cheese during pregnancy.”

The kid is just fine, my two year-old. What I couldn’t have predicted is that my love for him would give birth to some kind of ever-multiplying fear monster, that instead of just experiencing him growing in my stomach, or instead of just watching his tiny face sleeping, I would spend most of his early days on a maternal death watch. If he slept for too long, my heart would race, something was wrong. If he had the hiccups, or a rash, or a fever, or a crying fit, I knew the end was coming.

Sorry, this is dark. But I have to admit it. My love for this creature, before he was born and after, made caring for him a perpetual shift on the front lines of a little war I was losing against my own anxiety. Bad things happen. Terrible things happen. Those things still might happen to me, to this new baby, but I can tell you this: I truly don’t think my contemplation of doom either manifests or protects against it.

And another thing. Another thing about the first-born. You don’t know anything about anything. Or at least I didn’t.

Now, I can tell you how a Braxton-Hicks contraction feels as opposed to real labor, I can school you on when to take away a pacifier or how to pack a diaper bag. I already have a pediatrician, I even know the parking drill over there and it won’t panic me. I have a daycare. I have hand-me-downs. I know where to find indoor playgrounds and I can tell you which bookstores and restaurants in Los Feliz have changing tables in the bathroom. I got this.

The first time around, thanks to the omnipresence of www.babycenter.com, I knew exactly how many weeks and days pregnant I was, whether my fetus was the size of a plum or kiwi, whether it had eyebrows or a spleen yet. This time, I lose track. Sometimes, at least until someone offers me a cocktail, I even forget.

The most prominent symptom I had the first time around wasn’t morning sickness or bloating, though I had those, the most pronounced side effect of carrying a baby was acute self-absorption. It’s not that I was self-involved out of some sense of my own importance or awesomeness, I was just so scared something would go wrong that I somehow became convinced, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, no one had ever carried a baby to term before. I was the only pregnant person on the planet, it was all about me, my swelling ankles, my ultrasounds, my need to find a name, my due date, me. The thing about this pregnancy is that I’m finding it almost impossible to focus on myself, on all the bad things that could happen, while caring for a two-year old who needs me to play garbage trucks and spray Oxy-Clean on butter stains.

So, here’s to do-overs. Oh wait, I can’t drink.  Just pass the Camembert.

Insert Freakishly Small Hand Gesture Here

General StuffTeresa Strasser16 Comments

It had never come to my attention before a certain freckle-faced, scrawny, corduroy-pants-wearing bully named Robin brought it to my attention: I have freakishly small hands. I have hands like a carnie. I blame the bullies I knew before Robin for being off their game and letting the small hands slide. A bully’s whole raison d’etre is to notice any slightly unusual feature that could be exploited for mockery. Before Robin made it the subject of an impromptu song parody one afternoon in elementary school, I really hadn’t noticed the small hands. Neither had anyone else.

Every day, for maybe a month or two, Robin tormented me with her song.

And I’ll be honest. It was pretty catchy. The other girls would join in. Teresa has small hands, small hands, small hands. You get the idea.

There was no escaping. I could hide my hands in my pockets or behind my back, but that song was No. 1 with a bullet. And with a bully. The other girls, most of them generally pretty harmless, would fall under the cruel spell of the ditty and feel compelled to join in until the song swelled, overtaking the street outside of school, a chorus of curious and silly childhood angst.

This small hands thing is small potatoes compared to some of the bullying explored in the new documentary “Bully.” But for reasons I don’t fully understand, it was only the beginning for me, and the film reminded me of some of those times.

I was bullied that year, most likely because I had skipped ahead a couple of grades and was too emotionally immature to blend well with my peers. I was bullied even after rejoining my own grade level, but mostly on the public busses I took to school. Kids ripped the ribbons from my ponytails, made fun of my off-brand sneakers, pulled my hair, grabbed at my backpack.

In high school, one of only a handful of scholarship kids at a private prep school, I was frequently the subject of toxic rumors, mostly sexual in nature: I was pregnant (I was a virgin). I was a slut (see the former). I made out with some older boy in his car. You name it.

Just as Robin zeroed in on the small hands, sometimes I wonder whether the more sophisticated bullies zeroed in on something harder to see but just as enticing: the unstable home life, the chaotic family, the lack of any sturdy adult figures in my orbit. I was weak and insecure and wanted to fit in so desperately that I always got it just a little bit wrong, like an off-brand shoe, all ugly angles and loud Velcro.

What’s more, it’s not much fun for a bully if they poke you and you don’t bleed. I bled.

In a moment of exemplary parenting that stood out amongst her other mostly tuned-out, mediocre moments, my mom said the thing that would carry me through. These popular kids, she pointed out, they would all grow up to be bores, enjoying their finest hour now, in school. The nerds and geeks and losers, she said, would be interesting and creative. Inventive. They would rule the rest of life.

“Do you think Steven Spielberg was one of the popular kids?” she would ask, staring out the window, tucking her silk kimono around her waist.

It was a decent point. Still, I would have traded the prospect of my future creativity for a pair of real Adidas and some normal-sized hands, but I didn’t have that option.

If it turns out Spielberg was really popular in high school, I never want to find out about it.

Through the magic of social networking, I can track my mom’s predictions. Almost all of the popular kids I knew throughout my school life, including Robin, seem to be leading lives of quiet desperation. Of course, I am, too; mine is just louder, and doesn’t involve middle management or Friday nights at Ruby’s. As for some of the other kids that got picked on with me, it’s almost uncanny. An outcast boy from my fifth-grade class is one of the best-known children’s authors in the world. A pasty-faced girl with giant, red lips and thick glasses left high-school nerdom for a career as an international fashion model. Extreme facial features are terrible if you want a date to the junior prom, but awesome if you want to make a shitload selling cosmetics.

Me? I still have small hands. But they can work a keyboard just fine.

 

I Can’t Be the Badly Dressed Mom at Pick-Up Time

General StuffTeresa Strasser7 Comments

Today, I stopped home to change my outfit before picking up my kid from daycare.

What, because you never know who might snap a photo as I lure my child into his car seat with the whispered promise of a Grover juice box? No one cares. Except now that I’m a parent, I care deeply about lots of things that are totally meaningless. For example, what I wear when I fetch my kid.

It’s not that I want to impress the other moms, or the woman who runs the place, or her assistant. It’s that on some level, I need to impress them.

Or at least that describes the urgency with which I want to stroll in wearing skinny jeans tucked into high heeled brown suede boots with a casual but clearly expensive t-shirt.

It was one thing for me to show up places with a guacamole stain on my sleeve when I was only representing myself. Maybe it was even cute, not Zoey Deschanel in a romantic comedy cute, but I like to think it was close. Now that I’m a mom, for some reason it seems important to look important, or at least like I don’t eat in my car and buy accessories at Claire’s.

Yep, get ready, because this is one of those mom moments triggered by one of those daughter moments. Get cozy, it’s blame mom time!

It may not surprise you that keeping up appearances wasn’t exactly a thing to my mom, and bless her heart for being all free-spirited, but her free spiritedness cost me big time.

My mom wore what she wanted, regardless of the setting. Graduation from Confirmation class at Temple Sherith-Israel, the other moms wore knit separates and wrap dresses, my mom wore something with a batik feel, something Mrs. Roper might have sold at a yard sale after placing it in her “too loud” pile. My mom never shaved her armpits, but always wore sleeveless. Granted, it was San Francisco and the hippie thing was arguably fashionable, but not at Hebrew school.

Part of me wished she would see that, and bend to the obvious notion that all kids want to fit in, and by extension, they would like their parents to blend.

Blending is an important skill I had to teach myself, the way I taught myself table manners and cursive, because counter-culture childhoods kind of skip those stops on the growing up train.

Looks matter. And by that I mean the sideways looks you get when your mom is sporting an exotic beetle sized amethyst brooch to the dentist’s office.

What never fails to surprise me is the pressure I put on myself not to make a single mistake my mom made.

No epiphany about perfectionism or how shallow wardrobe is as an assessment of a person’s character is going to stop me from being aware of my wardrobe choices from now until I’m dropping my son off at his college dorm room (or visiting him in prison, I don’t want to jinx anything). I can’t hide how deeply I want to do better than my own mother, because I’ll be wearing it.

Ironically, I’ll be wearing wrinkle-free and appropriate clothing as I make a bevy of other untold errors in judgment that my son will go out of his way to avoid when it’s his turn. That’s how it is. We over-correct. In doing so, we make all sorts of other gaffes. There’s a closet full of ways to under-achieve, so grab whatever is on the rack. There’s something to fit everyone.

* Thanks to the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles for running this in print. 

When an Audition Makes you Feel Like Coco From "Fame"

General StuffTeresa Strasser11 Comments

 

Coco is approached in a diner by a filmmaker who tells her he is casting a film he plans to shoot in the south of France.

She goes to his apartment for a screen test, but there is no crew. And if you saw the movie “Fame,” this scene is as seared in your memory as it is in mine. Poor Coco Hernandez, thinking she was one cold reading away from stardom and instead walking into the poorly decorated maw of a small time pornographer.

This is the scene I picture when I’m having a terrible audition.

So it was Coco I thought about recently when I auditioned for a pilot based on the popular website, Jezebel.com.

Sleazy Director

Could you take off your blouse for me?

Coco

Are you kidding?

No, he’s not kidding. That becomes obvious. But at this point, Coco has already attached so many expectations to this moment that she can’t walk away.

Sleazy Director

What's the matter? You're acting like some dumb kid. I thought you were a professional.

Maybe this guy is some fancy French auteur like he says, and maybe a pro would just unbutton her top, so Coco does, her fragile fingers stumbling on the buttons as tears fall on her collar.

Sleazy Director

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Could you arch your back?

Arch your back a little, Coco. Smile for me, Coco. Come on, Coco. Smile, smile.

I must admit, now that I’ve deconstructed the death of Coco’s dream, the end of her innocence before she pulls her shit together to Sing the Body Electric at graduation, it seems a bit overdramatic to compare my silly audition to her tragic fall. Still, auditions can be a bit degrading, just by their very nature, and some, in particular, have top notes of Coco with a strong porn finish.

Location is really one of the things that determine the Coco-ness of any hosting audition.

Having hosted on basic cable, deep cable and occasionally on network television, I have auditioned everywhere from a massive soundstage to the dusty corner of a warehouse in Sun Valley.

This Jezebel.com thing scored high Coco points for being at a very isolated production company, in a tiny fluorescent-lit back office. It enhances the porn feel when no one at the front desk has heard of you, or the project, and the entire thing ends up being shot on what looks like a phone, but what is, in fact, a Flip-Cam.

There were no executives from Jezebel, from the production company, from the network. “Ah, maybe wait over there,” said the desk dude, pointing to an empty cubicle. And wait I did, for a long, long time.

And it’s not that I’m above cattle calls, it’s just that years of experience tell me I’m the type you might fast-forward right by on a blurry tape of dozens of girls with better noses and smaller pores.

Another feature that determines how much one feels like Coco is the amount of prep required. Fortunately for Irene Cara’s character, she was not asked to prepare anything for the audition, so maybe all she sacrificed was a couple hours picking out her clothes, doing her makeup and heading across town — plus subway fare. The opportunity cost was low. However, when you are asked to prep copious material, like we were for this Jezebel thing, you feel like a real asshole sometimes.

Look, I get it. If someone is hiring me for their project, they want to know if I can hack it. I don’t begrudge anyone asking us hosts to do some homework, or to jump through hoops in the room, but there is a point at which one begins to feel she is unbuttoning her blouse.

At first, because I got the assignments for this audition on a Friday late afternoon and the audition was Monday at noon, I was inclined to say screw it. If you needed to see that much shit, I can’t get it to you because instead of tap dancing for you to love me all weekend long, I need to spend time with my child.

But here’s where I go Coco.

“I thought you were a professional,” the porn guy says to her.

And that’s what I say to myself. That’s this business. If you want a job you have to shake it. For free. You have to hustle. You have to work on the weekend, and if you intend to get the job you can’t phone it in because other people will be Whitney Cummings, and if you aren’t at least a quarter of a Whitney (a new unit of measurement for blind ambition) you will lose.

This Jezebel thing, it was hours of work, for a first call.

Like they asked, I wrote three 1-2 minute essays on the topics they chose. I drove across town, ready to meet the big wigs, only to wait 25 minutes before being herded into a tiny room to see the dreaded Flip. The office was so small, that during my audition I gestured too dramatically and knocked the old-school giant office phone off the desk. I tried to work it in, but it just wasn’t related tonally to the death of Andrew Breitbart.

The woman conducting the audition seemed nice enough.

“So, I’m just going to test out this equipment on you because you are the first one,” she said right as I walked in, kind of apologetically. She set up her camera and did a few tests. I was nervous. And I felt so Coco. And I wanted to get out. But I just let her test out her equipment, taping me as she asked me questions to test her audio.

After the audition, which seemed to stop time, as one would expect when reading five minutes of material to a phone-sized camera in a sunless office space, I mentioned to the woman that it’s always hard, this kind of audition, no one to react and all.

“Yeah, that’s why I try to pay attention. I looked you in the eye. You noticed that right? I always do that.”

You sure did.

A show business opportunity gets the biggest Coco boost from one thing: promise. The bigger the promise, the more hope, the bigger the prize, the more buttons you will gladly undo through your tears. Jezebel.com is a really good site. The writing is so cool and the point of view so unexpected and righteous and clever, you feel like an idiot buffoon for not having come up with it yourself. If Cosmo makes you feel less than for not being pretty enough, Jezebel makes you feel small for not being wickedly feminist enough.

This job, I told myself, could be perfect. I would move to NYC where my child would attend a neighborhood Montessori school but still understand public transit. I future-projected myself into a pair of ice skates at Rockefeller Center this holiday season with my family, a snapshot that would scream LIVING THE DREAM NO MATTER HOW OLD I AM AND EVEN HAVING THIS KID DIDN’T KEEP ME DOWN. I AM SO FUCKING RELEVANT. I would not be the pathetic Coco losing herself to a pipe dream and a porn guy; I would be the Coco full of promise dancing and singing outside the New York School for Performing Arts.

The essence of a Coco moment, feeling used, feeling exploited, feeling dirty and spent and crushed, the most poignantly painful part of being Coco is the part you do to yourself. Sure, poor Coco was naïve and young and easy to manipulate, but once she knew the shot, once it was clear this wasn’t her big break but just a horny guy wanting to see her disrobe, she stayed. She let the pull of the dream lure her into a dark alley, despite knowing, on some level, that it was going to pick her pocket.

Back to me, and my silly little audition.

After putting my toddler to sleep and staying awake all hours to write what they requested, I couldn’t walk away when I realized that this Jezebel thing wasn’t some exclusive opportunity to interface with executives. Something in me, especially after waiting and driving so long, wanted to leave with a parking validation and my dignity, but the Coco in me could not. The Coco in me had to hold out hope, impossible hope, that somehow, these pieces I wrote would be so transcendent that they would overcome me sitting in a desk chair with a $4 microphone clipped to my shirt reading off my little piece of paper to a rapt audience of one bored underling and one outdated Flip.

Just maybe. Just maybe this guy really is an auteur looking for a fresh face for an art house movie shooting in the south of France. Please.

Sleazy Director

Smile for me. Now take your thumb and put it in your mouth like a little schoolgirl.

In the theme song for the movie “Fame,” Irene Cara sings about lighting up the sky like a flame, making it to heaven, living forever. People will see her and cry. FAME. Well, I’m not trying to catch the moon in my hand, just hoping to keep my AFTRA insurance and continue appearing on basic cable from time to time.

“Don’t you know who I am? (Fame)”

Probably not. But my insecurities and petty resentments will live forever.

Some Half-Baked Class I Took With My Kid

General StuffTeresa Strasser9 Comments

As a mom looking for shit to do with a toddler, I’ve kissed some frogs, and not just the kind at the zoo’s house of amphibians.

I try stuff. You never know what your kid might go for. And that’s how I came to visit the private home of a woman offering a bread baking class for kids. I made a reservation for the class online, paid via PayPal, and received an email with the super secret location of this teacher’s home up in the hills somewhere above Hollywood. I would be enlarging my son’s brain by exposing him to measuring cups, sensory experiences, dough, flour and the majesty of baking. After class, we would pack up our delicious handmade bread and I would drop him off at daycare — his frontal cortex enriched — just in time for his lunch and nap.

This is the stuff working mom fantasies are made of: the scent of bread baking, being with your kid on a weekday, maybe a gingham apron, maybe make it all up to him, a child rolling out dough, beaming up at you.

Like I said, I try stuff.

Because like most moms, I want my child to have delightful experiences, and of course to end up brilliant and well adjusted because of all my efforts. And that’s how we ended up at some lady’s dark, cramped house one Tuesday morning. There were no other students, just me and my two year-old and this lady’s fluffy black cat with big, topaz, saucer eyes looking at us like, “What the fuck are you losers doing here?”

The detailed email I got after signing up said to be early, so there we were, awkwardly standing around as she set up her kitchen for class.

“Play with blocks?” asked my son.

“Well,” said the baker lady in the sing-song voice of someone who has, perhaps, a little too much information about hippy dippy early childhood development methods, “We don’t normally take out the blocks, but since you came so early, here you go.”

She trudged to the back of the small house and emerged with some wooden blocks stored in an old FedEx box. We unpacked the blocks and played, but only after a stern (but pleasantly sing-songy) warning that the blocks MUST be put away.

Amusing a toddler in a dingy living room with a dozen wooden blocks and a suspicious cat works only for so long.

“When do you think you might start class?” I asked. No one else had arrived, and she wanted to wait.

“It’s just that you guys were soooo early. The moms get here pretty late.”

Okay. I can go with the flow for a while, but I had to get this kid to daycare before lunch or the whole day would crumble like a dry scone. And I wasn’t early because I was rude; I was early because that was the deal. Her informational email said so.

“Okay, I guess out of respect for how early you were, we can start,” she said. It was already 20 minutes after the official start time.

Again, a small thing that wouldn’t matter were I not plotting the day of one working mom and one antsy toddler who likes change in his routine about as much as Rain Man.

We commenced to a very lonely Welcome Song, during which there was only my son to welcome. We struck a metal triangle a few times with a mallet. Finally, it was time to bake.

There was no measuring, just some pre-made dough that we decorated with chocolate chips and jam. And it was kind of fun. Another mom eventually showed up with her toddler, and the kids were encouraged to play with a few dress-up items in a straw basket as the dough went into the oven. Trying to make conversation, I looked at my son in a pirate scarf and Snow White dress and mentioned he hadn’t played much dress up.

“You don’t have a box of dress-up clothes at your house?” the baker, also a mother of two, asked me.

“No,” I answered, thinking that would be the end of a not very rich conversation.

“Why not?” she countered, incredulous.

She wasn’t being judgmental as much as she was genuinely puzzled by my lack of parenting skills. It was almost as if I had admitted not owning a car seat. I thought about it, and tried to answer honestly, but wasn’t sure if I had walked into some weird attachment parenting thing about gender or imaginative play or something. Why didn’t I have a box of dress up clothes? Why didn’t I?

“I don’t know. Because I’m not a Montesorri teacher?” I answered, innocently, as the other mom turned to stare at me, dazed by my idiocy. Time stood still. The cat licked itself. Both women regarded me, and after sizing me up, decided in an instant I was probably more lazy and clueless than venal and closed-minded. We tacitly agreed to drop the subject.

We baked our dough, took it out of the oven and had a little tea party on the weedy lawn while the teacher gamely tried reflecting back every emotion the kids expressed. You want juice. You want to see the cat. You’re saying you want his cookie. You’re ready to go. And you might think the moral of the story is that I ended up at the home of some woman whose quasi-home-business of teaching kids to bake isn’t quite taking off and isn’t quite organized and lesson learned. But I might go back. For all I know, I should have my own dress up clothes. And a tea party on a lady’s lawn never hurt a lonely mom trying to find her identity in a box of make believe costumes and flour dust.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour

General StuffTeresa Strasser10 Comments

A few months ago, I recorded an episode of "The Mental Illness Happy Hour" with host Paul Gilmartin.

I've gotten so much lovely feedback from those who have heard it, I thought I would post a link here. Also, I understand from social media experts it's good to update one's blog quarterly.

I must admit, I do own the Fear-Off. I have finally found a sport at which I can excel.

Personally, I enjoy hearing about other people's emotional problems. So, help yourself to some of mine on Paul's podcast and take a listen.

Does a Perfect Childhood Make You Soft?

General StuffTeresa Strasser15 Comments

I ask this question during my fourth go-round with the song, “Ghostbusters.” It’s playing in the industrial parking lot of a quaint Pennsylvania suburb where a group of elementary school children are having a Halloween parade. An amplifier is perched on a chair, an orange extension cord leading to a cute schoolhouse, complete with glimmering swing set.

Sure, it’s an industrial complex, but filled with holistic chiropractors and fancy personalized gyms. The children dutifully march in an oval, all being feverishly photographed by their parents. Siblings too young to be in school are clinging to their moms’ legs wearing ladybug costumes or puffy princess dresses.

The principal, dressed in an elaborate penguin suit, addresses the crowd and it starts again, tinny, cheerful: “If there’s something strange, in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!”

Well, there is something strange in this neighborhood, the fact that there is nothing strange in this neighborhood.

Bucks County, PA, at least from where I sit, is a world of gummy, removable pumpkin stickers for the sliding door to one’s giant manicured lawn. It’s a world of Halloween-themed puffy marshmallow ghost Peeps atop steaming cups of homemade hot chocolate in Number One Dad mugs. This is a Jack-o-lantern expertly carved with stencils world. Who you gonna call? Your neighbor to see if she and her toddler twins want to help decorate your witch cupcakes.

Back to me staring at this parade of children. I realize this town is a world of children, a world built around and for them, softer than a stack of Peeps on a heap of fall leaves. Later in the day, I will attend another parade to see my nephews march, both as Superman. My toddler will step in line with his own matching Superman suit, trailing his suburban cousins. This is my husband’s world, part of his childhood, whereas I grew up on the mean streets of San Francisco.

It’s not a saying, I mean, it is a saying, but the streets were kind of mean.

“If there’s something strange, in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?” Um, not the Popo, not where I grew up, because they’re busy scraping a body up off the corner in Hunters Point. You know what else was strange in my neighborhood? Child molesters. Yeah, I’m about to bum you out. Instead of the principal putting on a penguin suit, we had several assemblies every year during which we were warned not to follow anyone asking for help “finding lost puppies” or offering candy.

A guy once offered me a ride home from elementary school, leaning out of a rusty sedan, but I was so convinced my mom would never have arranged a ride for me I knew he was “something strange” and ran through an empty lot to my flat on a nearby hill, which I entered with a latch key. Looking back, this didn’t even merit telling my mom.

So, staring at the orange extension cord allowing the citizens of Bucks County to hear Ghostbusters as their adorable children made the rounds as Woody or Spiderman or Rapunzel, I asked myself, what’s so wrong with adults taking the day off, fitting themselves into a world of kids?

For reference, just know that when I was young, my dad took me to see the film, “My Dinner with Andre,” because he wanted to see it. The entire film consists of two guys talking philosophy over dinner, one of them played by Wally Shawn. I felt lucky to be included, because us city kids, we were just trying to fit into a world of grown-ups. Even if the films weren’t animated and we would never get a Wally Shawn action figure, we made due.

How could this type of life not be better? Or, am I just bitter? Maybe a Peep in my cocoa would have made me a happier person.

On the other hand, as I stare at the quiet streets (and duh, I get it, children get hurt here and everywhere, but you know what I mean) I wonder why it bothers me, just a tiny, teeny, weensy bit, that these kids are the center of the world. Striving and longing can’t live in a place like this. If they did, they would have a Beagle named Rascal and a $3,000 swing set.

Striving and longing breed symphonies and novels and vaccines and microprocessors, right? But maybe it’s okay for most of us to just be happy and serene. Maybe that’s my prayer for my own little Superman, to one day have a mid-level management job, a quiet mind, a decent dental plan and in his own worn mug, a slowly melting Peep.

Kid Pro Quo - You Throw a Party, I Better Throw One, Too

General StuffTeresa Strasser26 Comments

There's a social contract when it comes to birthday parties for kids. You can't just be a recurring guest, enjoying the bouncy houses, gift bags and balloon animals arranged and paid for by other parents.

No, you have to reciprocate. Like it or not, there's a kid pro quo.

Other parents helped you kill a Sunday afternoon with your toddler, throwing a pirate party, a princess party, a bubble party or whatever, and now it's your turn. Or, I should say, it's my turn. The first birthday I could get away with skipping, but now I have no choice. Like it or not, unless I feel like violating this unspoken contract with the other parents in my circle and at my day care, I am throwing a party for my son's second birthday.

Let's just say things aren't off to a good start. Cancer is involved. I know. I'll get to that.

First, my dream was to never throw an elaborate or expensive or exhausting birthday party for a child too young to care or even remember it. That dream was crushed, as I mentioned, by the social contract.

I decided the only course of action was to suck it up and pay one of these indoor playground places to host us. It goes like this: I throw them some cash, they provide plates and forks, a ball pit, air-conditioning, a giant slide, a bucket of juice boxes and the satisfaction of knowing I have not shirked my mom duties. Again, my child won't care -- that dude just made his first poop in the potty; like he cares if he gets a sheet cake from the grocery store or a chocolate ganache likeness of Thomas the Tank Engine from a bakery that sells $7 cupcakes. Like I said, these parties are payback for all the genuine fun and amusement I've had at the expense and inconvenience of other parents.

Now, how does cancer make its way into this story?

Two months in advance, I book the Saturday of his birthday. Plans are made, invitations (OK, e-vites, sorry) are sent, and what do you know? This indoor playground lets me know they double-booked my time slot. I'm out, the other family is in, here's your deposit back, so long and farewell.

Obviously, there was nothing to do at this point but hang up the phone, get insanely upset, be fully aware that this is the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone and also take a moment to ponder how horribly I've failed. All I had to do was throw a stupid party, like all the other moms do without incident. But I have no luck and no social graces, and this proves it. More self-flagellating to frost the teetering, tiered, rising cake of self-doubt.

Hell hath no fury like a toddler mom scorned. Let me tell you, my Yelp review was going to be none too kind. This is the only petty revenge I had for the horrible wrong this playground did me. They would pay. OK, this would be a waste of my time and probably have no effect on their business. And it would never answer the question: Why me? Why me and not the other family who booked the same time?

I fantasized about showing up at my time anyway. That would show them. They would have dueling parties and perhaps a fire hazard. They had my deposit, and I would have my party, on my day, at my time, their mistake.

That's when the owner called, the mother of a girl a year older than my son. She said she was sorry, that this had never happened before, that she started the party playground to help busy moms, to make things amazing and memorable for the kids, to give herself something meaningful to do after she was diagnosed with cancer. That's right, and that's when I cried. And she cried. And she said things had fallen through the cracks since her treatment and her sister had stepped in to help out.

She offered me the 10 a.m. spot. Mimosas would be nice, she said. I could serve bagels. They would throw in some balloons and an extra hour for my trouble.

There are times when the universe goes, "Here's your gift bag." And you open it to find something more lasting than a painted face or a Curious George sticker. The theme of my son's party this year is obvious. Perspective.

So, Are You Having Another One?

General StuffTeresa Strasser24 Comments

"Desitin in my cuticles" is not the first line of a poignant country song, but I keep thinking it should be. No. Desitin in my cuticles is what concerns me when I'm asked the question I get at least once a day: "Are you having another one?"

Really, this should not be an annoying question.

It's a perfectly normal way for you to take an interest in my family and in me, and I don't mind it. In fact, I mind people who mind it. Moms of babies or toddlers who get twisted when asked if they plan on having another are like the women who wore "Touch the Bump, Get a Thump" t-shirts when they were pregnant. A human growing inside your stomach is compelling, and no t-shirt is going to change that. Similarly, when strangers or relatives see your baby hitting milestones, getting out of the crib and diapers, it is totally normal to ask if you will do this whole thing again.

What they are really asking--and the reason why this is a tough question to answer is, "Does this whole kid thing ruin your life, or did it work for you?" For me, both things are true.

I mean this with tremendous love and no regret; my life, as I knew it, is over. There will always be a part of me worrying about my child, whether he's at daycare or camp or college or on his honeymoon. So, I feel vulnerable in a way I never was before. It's terrifying, all this love and these high stakes. But, ruined is too strong a word, especially for something that can be so euphoric.

On that front, having another kid is sort of neutral because I am already in the game. How much harder can it be? Probably a lot. When I look at the infant toys now collecting cobwebs in the garage, a part of me never wants to go back. Just eye-balling that stupid, red baby play mat with cheap plastic mirrors and crinkly fabric birds and recalling "tummy time" or the washing of various breast pump parts makes me want to donate every single baby thing I own to the Salvation Army and say "Night, night" to ever reproducing again.

It's an inexplicable thrill ride to watch my two year-old suddenly string a sentence together or count to ten (even if he does throw in "three" where it doesn't belong). At the same time, there's a part of me that exhales when certain stages are over. When he gave up the pacifier, I thought, "Thank you. Thank you. No more scrambling for fallen pacifiers to wash. No more stuffing them in my glove compartment. No more." And a whisper in my head added, "Unless you have another one." Which explains the jar of pacifiers in a cupboard somewhere. I'm in baby purgatory, with a jar of pacifiers in one hand and a birth control pill in the other.

Most couples I see with two young children look pretty miserable. Or maybe I'm just seeing that because I'm scared. A big part of me wants to do it again, this time knowing how to take a temperature rectally and how to swaddle and not being so terrified and just taking in the joyful parts. Part of me wants a do-over, a second chance to live the peak moment of having a new baby, only without all the paranoia, the inexperience.

Each night, when I put on my toddler's pajamas and diaper, I cover his little bum with Desitin and there it is, the white paste that clings to your cuticles with the adhesive power of ten thousand barnacles. I can attack it with a towel, or go at it with a wet wipe, but that stuff is powerfully sticky. And I wonder if I'll miss it.

* This piece originally appeared in print via Creator's Syndicate and online at the Huffington Post.

My Family is Crazier Than Your Family. No, Really.

General StuffTeresa Strasser31 Comments

When people talk about their “crazy” families, it really brings out my competitive nature.

Unless one uncle shot himself in the head and one aunt suffocated herself with a plastic bag per the instructions in a paperback version of “Final Exit,” your people just aren’t that crazy.

Oh, and don’t forget my great aunt Rose, who watched her husband show a houseguest how to load his gun, and soon after used that knowledge to shoot herself dead. She was a fast learner. Her first shot was also her last.

Your cousin has seven cats? Call me when she hangs herself.

Your grandpa never leaves the house without his black knee socks and a golf hat? Let me know when he gets checked into a mental health facility against his will. If having unbalanced relatives is the 3-mile, I am Prefontaine. Don’t even try to outrun me. I own this distance.

With so much insanity in my family, you may wonder if I’m concerned about my own mental health. Sure, it’s marginal, but I keep a close eye on it. I get sleep, get therapy, get close to the edge sometimes, but pull back before I start eyeing my plastic bags.

Hold on: It’s blame my mom for everything time, everyone get cozy.

Last week, she left the apartment we had been renting her nearby so she could help out with our two-year old. She said she’d be going home to Vegas for a week.

I had a feeling she wasn’t coming back when she packed up her entire desktop computer and router. I was notified by text message that she would not be returning. There was a 97% chance that moving my mom into the neighborhood, that having her around every day, that this arrangement would end abruptly and horribly, which it did.

Sane people know that their insane parents will not cease acting insane because we need them to, or because the little kid in us just wishes they would.

That’s where I claim my branch on this family tree. I can’t stop dreaming my mom will be different. I can’t let go.

I like to hope that when my child needs me, now or when he’s grown, that I will be there. Odds are, however, that I will be anxious, overwrought and generally imperfect about it.

When I pick up the baby from daycare, I stop at the first red light every day and reach back to grab his hand. I smile with every bit of drive and passion it took Prefontaine to run those three miles. The finish line, the big win, is for my child to know one thing: that he is loved. I say “I love you” and he, not knowing what it means, says, “luff yeeew” back from his car seat. What I can’t always give him in stability; I will give him in love. I will love him so fast and so hard I will never fail to break a sweat loving him.

For most of the first two years of his life, I struggled with the worry that I would be his crazy mom who did unpredictable and hurtful things. That worry was making me - you guessed it - crazy.

Now I don’t worry, because just as the sun will rise and Elmo will ride his trike, I will have my moments. I will second-guess myself coming off the blocks, I will obsess about my stride, my technique, my overuse of running analogies, but I’m going to express my deep love for his little soul every day.

When I resent my mom, and I do that more than I extend tortured running metaphors, it isn’t because she is odd, it’s because her oddness means I have no idea whether or not I’ve been a joy or a burden. I doubt I ever will.

I’d like to say I don’t blame her, but that would be a lie. I blame her, and at the same time, I’m grateful for all the ways she helped out since I had my son, even if she predictably flew over the cuckoo’s nest and took her router with her.

Sharing the Shame

General StuffTeresa Strasser9 Comments

Parental shame is a two-way street, and my kid is already pedaling down it -- in the pink tricycle he insisted we buy him. Will I embarrass my son? Sure. That’s a given. But that dude is going to shame me, too.

Enough worrying about all I have done and will do to make him slink down into the front seat of life. It’s time to talk about me, and all parents, and how we sometimes get embarrassed, too.

Of course I’ll show up to soccer games in vintage mini-dresses suitable only if I were opening at Coachella. And 23. There’s no question that as a parent I’ll wear and say and do things that make him wish he lived in a group home in New Mexico sustaining the nightly possibility of being molested by his bunkmate. It’s a given that parents shame their children.

However, it’s a tricky thing to talk about being embarrassed by our kids. Because no matter how illogical it may be, messes they make will always seem a bit like our fault. And they may be.

Look, I don’t care if my son prefers a pink tricycle or wears a tuxedo to day care every day and goes to “Glee” camp. None of that does or would bother me.

However, when I look around with my new perspective as a mom, I see every human creature as someone’s child (I know, duh) and can’t help wondering: When your kid does something -- from mildly idiotic to massively criminal -- aren’t folks secretly blaming the parent? Even when they understand that a person has free will or some biological predisposition to act out, or is simply a full-fledged grownup who should be responsible for her own actions, don’t most people look a bit askance at mom and dad?

When Michael Douglas has a kid in jail, don’t we think "absentee dad"? If Lindsay Lohan were a shy veterinarian living in a condo with her accountant husband, would her parents seem like pieces of work?

I’m going extreme here for a second, but don’t worry. I’ll come back to the small stuff our kids do. I just need to make this point: Have you ever seen an interview with Jeffrey Dahmer’s father? That guy seems really normal, even caring.

His kid ate people.

Yesterday, my child didn’t want to leave the sidewalk because he was staring at a giant truck removing slabs of metal from the street. We sat there for 20 minutes. I tried everything -- getting down on his level, reflecting back his frustration, giving him a countdown. I finally had to pick him up and surfboard him to the car. The lady walking her dog in a chartreuse Juicy Couture sweatshirt? She judged me. The guy selling hot dogs in the parking lot? I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m an incompetent mom. Anyone without significant hearing loss within a mile radius? Well, it’s safe to say they thought I was using enhanced interrogation techniques on a high-value prisoner.

When you see a parent prying their screaming child out of a restaurant booth for a little timeout in the alley, trust me, that parent is acutely aware that his child’s behavior is reflecting on him.

My toddler was just being a toddler, and I was doing my best. Still, I got in the car and we both cried, and that kid, by way of a little garden-variety freak out, made me pretty self-conscious about my parenting and, thus, the very core of my being.

So, yeah, he’s not eating runaways.

There’s a continuum. You get credit when your kid gives the valedictory address or strikes out the side, and you get the blame when he eats people. Or, to work our way toward cannibalism, when your kid fails algebra, bites the teacher, gets busted smoking pot, gets a DUI, ends up at sober living, ends up on the pole, holds up a bank or just plain doesn’t write a thank-you letter to his grandmother, fair or not, that looks bad for you.

Keep Mr. Dahmer in mind. He has it worse than you do. While you're complaining about your kid’s pink tricycle, you know what he’ll be thinking? Eat me.

* This post was originally published in print by Creator's Syndicate and online by the Huffington Post.

Stop and Smell the Acetone

General StuffTeresa Strasser12 Comments

It doesn’t matter if the brick red polish on my fingernails is so chipped I look like Courtney Love coming off a bender. No, I mean, it deeply, truly does not matter.

And I really believed it mattered. The sight of my jacked up hands on the steering wheel made me slightly tempted to veer into a tree.

About a week ago, I began to panic about the nails. When would I have a chance to get a manicure or just take off this god-forsaken polish myself? Were people staring at my hands and extrapolating that my life, like the polish, must be crumbling and chaotic and maybe a bit busted?

Despite having a job and a toddler, I somehow always manage to keep up appearances, right down to the tips of my fingers, even if I’m up half the night administering Tylenol and suctioning mucus out of my child’s nose. This time, though, it got away from me. I’m typing this right now with hands like a woman who might offer you oral sex for three cigarettes and a Twix, and you know what? I’m okay with it.

Turns out, I needed ugly fingernails to scratch the surface of my own distorted thinking.

Now that it’s been three weeks of these half vamp/half meth head nails, it’s become obvious that my lack of manicure did not bring about either a global or personal apocalypse. In fact, it’s highly probable no one has noticed.

This is a very small personal grooming detail, and stupid, I know, but it was real to me that things would disintegrate if I walked around looking like this. A sick baby and a crammed schedule elbowed this out as a priority, and now I know a lot of things I couldn’t see when my nails were lacquered and things were looking prettier all around.

As the world continues to rotate and the sun to rise and set, I have to admit that life goes on not only if I look imperfect, but also if the laundry sits in the washing machine for three days before I get a chance to throw in the soap and start the cycle. If the baby eats a bowl of rice and beans tonight from the fast-food chicken joint, life goes on. If I can’t return a few phone calls or order a new package of special nighttime diapers online or get a picture framed or send someone a thank-you card or get to the gym or pretend to meditate for eight minutes, it doesn’t matter.

After three pediatrician appointments in one week and the dreaded call from day care that sends you rushing over there like your child is having a heart attack when he’s just running a fever, I’ve had a minor come-to-Jesus. (I’m Jewish, but I love that expression, and “come-to-Moses” just doesn’t have that ring.) In the world of a parent, especially of a little one, life feels easier when you choose your battles and distill the checklist to something incredibly simple and manageable: Is my baby healthy and safe? Is my relationship healthy and safe? That’s it. That’s all.

If the task in front of me isn’t essential to either my child or my husband today, it goes on the back burner where it may get a bit crusty before it gets cooked or tossed. So what?

At least for me, it was all getting to be too much. I hope you can relate. If not, I don’t care for your equanimity and time-management skills, and we probably could not be friends.

Once life forced me into accepting all I can’t get done, I was liberated. OK, that’s a bit dramatic. It’s not like I’m Andy Dufresne escaping Shawshank. Still, “So What” is a philosophy that gets me through the day right now. If it seems like I’m patting myself on the back for being deep, that’s just so I won’t have to see my nails.

On Second Thought

General StuffTeresa Strasser3 Comments

Even after 19 months as a mother, it’s not unusual for me to notice the car seat in my rearview mirror and for just a second think what is that doing there and whose car am I driving?

The gauzy vision of giving birth and instantaneously becoming a heavenly, patient, luminescent creature who instinctively knows what to do with her child? Wipe that from the cosmic Etch A Sketch.

I’ve been a second-guesser since way back. Let me tell you, it’s not one of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," and it most certainly doesn’t make parenting a nonstop joy. Just when I think I have an excellent idea about childrearing, it isn’t long before I send it back to my frontal cortex for a thorough and punishing review.

Gymnastics seemed like a great idea, for example. Build muscle, coordination and social skills, kill a couple of hours and come out with the ability to do a “front roll.” The place even has a coffee machine. I was feeling pretty enthusiastic about my find, until my son’s feet broke out in a rash accompanied by a fever and followed by vomiting.

Rinse, and repeat four times since we began gymnastics. Yeah, I’m like the Dr. House of moms. It took me a mere six months to realize that my child climbing on the same foam mats as 17,000 other toddlers in the greater Los Angeles area wasn’t such a good fit for his immune system.

Bela Karolyi would have been gentler on my child than pediatric drool. That was a landing I did not stick.

Really, I’m not sure how long I can play the new-mom card or when I’ll know exactly what I’m doing.

When choosing my pediatrician, I waited for that this is the one feeling, but settled for, “I like Canadian people.” And I loved her, mostly because she was a young mom with a child about the same age as mine. As it happens, she missed the viral infection and gave me some ineffective skin cream. And let’s face it, anyone with a toddler is hard to reach by phone, my doctor being no exception.

I know I didn’t know, but what do I know? I faltered on the beam big time.

Showing him an Elmo video on my phone seemed a brilliant distraction once when he was sick in the middle of the night. Now, every time he sees my phone, he freaks out and screams for “Elmo’s Song.” Don’t open Pandora’s box, because it’s filled with technology and Sesame Street characters.

Almost every bad idea could have been a great idea. If I hadn’t been up the past three nights tending to a kid with a fever, I could see that better.

That’s the paradox about new parenthood. Much like Navy SEAL training, we are expected to learn fast, under pressure, without sleep, and it’s life or death. Except you can’t ring the bell and bail (at least that’s how they did it in “G.I. Jane”). You can’t give up. So that leaves trying and failing, second-guessing, feeding him apples only to learn they make him choke, choosing a sitter only to find out she likes beer and hates clean dishes, buying generic diaper cream only to realize you never, ever go generic below the waist.

When the baby is well and we’re all rested and rash-free, I can embrace the trial and error nature of the whole endeavor. The rest of the time, I still can’t believe I’m actually behind the wheel. And as has always been true of my non-metaphorical driving, I’m not much for orienteering. I get there, but not without lots of backtracking and some dodgy U-turns. The best I can do is endure the scenic route.

Want to Feel Isolated? Try Social Networking

General StuffTeresa Strasser15 Comments

On Facebook, “ladies night out” never ends with you getting cornered by a former Arizona State sorority girl who is two mojitos past dullard. On Facebook, the valet doesn’t lose your dirty Honda for twenty minutes while you calculate how much sleep you’ll get if there’s no traffic on the way home. On Facebook, it’s all sombreros and private jokes and close-ups of sushi and magnificent, unattainable Bourbon-hued camaraderie. Your online “friends” have more community, more sisterhood, more fun than you do. Science can now prove it.

When it comes to parenthood, all the children on Facebook do adorable, precocious things with both pets and instruments. These angels wear stain-free sailor suits. They make sand castles, kiss puppies and giggle with rash free cheeks. That’s why every time you sign off, you feel just a little bit depressed by the vividness of their joie. Their brightness dampens you. This is something you’ve always known, but now science has an explanation.

Thanks to researchers at Stanford, we pretty much have proof that social networking is bumming us out.

Okay, I’m extrapolating here, but what they found (in a paper titled “Misery Has More Company Than People Think”) is that as human beings, we tend to overestimate how much fun our peers are having, while underestimating their negative experiences.

After perusing the photo album “Jordan Turns Two,” you will never know the cake wasn’t moist, the pizza made everyone gassy and Jordan had to be carried out like a surfboard when the pony peed on his shoes. You will never know most of the kids left sunburned and at least three viral infections were spread like cheap dip.

Personally, I don’t post much, but I lurk. I watch. I silently compare myself to these gleeful visions, especially to other moms, whose online family portraits have often been shot through a lens of manufactured, carefully produced joy and spiked with a dash of selective storytelling. No matter. It still sends me into a mood.

It’s not that I don’t have moments of transcendent joy, it’s that I don’t know how to share them.

No, not spiritually, I mean I literally can’t figure out how to make photo albums or upload images efficiently. Or, as I’m on the verge of mastering some major misrepresentation of the totality of my life with one kick-ass shot of my toddler’s dimples, he actually needs me to stop him from tumbling down the front stairs. I have neither the time nor the aptitude to fake you out.

I guess I don’t get the spiritual part either.

Last night, when my son got home from daycare, he pointed down the block, so I walked with him. He ran ahead. He ran four straight blocks, his hair flying up, little shoes smacking the pavement, going nowhere, just toward the flat-out euphoria of his body moving through space. I welled up and thought remember this remember this remember this.

Sure, he cried when I washed his face in the bath later, and left most of his rice on the floor, and whined when I put his arms in the sleeves of his pajamas, but I had that moment.

The thing is, that moment is boring. In fact, I’m sorry for boring you with it. If there’s a way of sharing the beauty without sounding braggy or hacky, I haven’t figured it out.

I do know this: I rarely feel happier or more connected after checking FB or Twitter.

There is often documentation of some social function from which I suddenly feel horribly excluded.

Intellectually, I know it’s just an illusion. Stanford proved it. No one is as happy as I think they are, and of course, I understand nobody posts a shot of their positive herpes test with a :-(

Armed with this new information, I can at least adjust for the human condition. I can assume your reunion was 33% less “awesome” than it looks, and that your kid probably crayons the wall after eating a frozen dinner you failed to chronicle for an album titled “Sodium won’t kill him.”

This column originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The World's Fattest Toddler: I'm Not Worried

General StuffTeresa Strasser13 Comments
Not making fun. Bless his heart.

 

Step aside, infamous Indonesian smoking baby, there’s a new gross-you-out and get-you-incensed Internet sensation in town. It’s the obese Chinese toddler!

Perhaps you have seen photos of Lu Hao, a 132-pound 3-year-old who eats three bowls of rice at a time and refuses to walk to school. It’s compelling stuff, the swollen kid crammed into a raft, floating in a pool, the massive baby gnawing on a chicken bone or being hoisted by his sweating, regular-sized dad as his girth tests the tensile strength of a T-shirt.

If you see the story anywhere online, don’t even bother reading the comments section. This is very predictable, the kind of kid story that causes parents to do one of two things: A) lots of pontificating about how mom and dad need to take charge and are actually abusive in their neglectful/idiotic parenting or B) feel sorry for the child and post about their pity, which causes group A to attack group B. These two groups will go round and round while missing the point: This fat baby is onto something, and I don’t just mean a steel-reinforced Bumbo chair.

I don’t know exactly what Bethenny Frankel does or is, but I know her name, I know she has written a couple of bestselling books, and I know she regularly trends on Twitter and has been featured on five reality shows, two that focus solely on her life.

Forget about the Strasberg Institute or the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Skip Juilliard, practicing your guitar, attending classes at Second City or even going to culinary school.

Just have yourself some brawls like the "Desperate Housewives" or the cast members of "Jersey Shore." In other words, embrace your total lack of impulse control, and you will be on the road to fame and fortune.

If you find you can’t keep your mouth shut, you might end up getting punched like Snooki and become an overnight sensation. If you can’t restrain yourself -- from toppling a table at a party, screaming, conniving, drinking, vicious gossiping, smoking, having inappropriate sex, having a zillion kids or, in the case of little Lu, eating -- we are going to be very interested in you. You could be five bowls of rice from your own series.

Discipline gets plenty of lip service, but if you want to “trend” in our culture, don’t call a therapist when you can’t control your impulses. Call CAA. I think they are opening a special “Impulse Control” division because that’s how profitable it is to completely give in to your urges, at least if there’s a camera there to capture it. Only suckers bother with training, practice and long, boring, expensive educations that mainly lead to working mundane jobs while hacking away at manuscripts that will never sell. You know who sells books? The Situation. He sells books, and last I checked, he hadn’t “paid dues” or “even read a book” himself.

If TLC doesn’t get ahold of this obese baby, they are missing out on a chance for a docu-soap that could fit nicely into their lineup, the way Lu’s diaper fits perfectly over a queen-size bed. “Little People, Big Baby” could be the story of two little people struggling to raise a giant child. Look out for “The Littlest Biggest Loser,” in which Lu competes in weight-loss challenges with other chubby babies from around the world.

Lu could move in with the Duggars or be disciplined by Jo Frost or perhaps team up with the smoking baby (who has finally quit smoking, by the way) to live in a house on the Jersey Shore with Bethenny, her new family, a few MTV Teen Moms and an aging Puck from “The Real World.” A swirl of ids could provide new catchphrases, books, spin-off shows and viewing parties.

This fat baby is already learning something important about making his mark. The only thing he really has to worry about? The next 500-pound 4-year-old knocking him off his top spot. Or the smoking baby picking up again. Fame is a hard habit to break.

 

* This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.