Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

Raising toddlers

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.

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.