Thursday, August 23, 2007

Please don't watch this tv show . . .

I haven't been blogging much for a variety of reasons. I've been busy with a new job but, more importantly, I started becoming more concerned about my kids' privacy and safety. Because of their more or less public extra-curricular activities, having personal information about them on the Internet becomes more dangerous for them. Plus I've been feeling ambivalent about my stagemotherness - I don't really care how it might reflect on me but I care how it reflects on the rest of my family. So I decided that when I start blogging again, I need to try to steer clear of more personal things.

So what topic has brought me out of my blogging stupor? My anger at CBS about its upcoming reality show, Kid Nation. (I refuse to link to CBS' website for the show for reasons that will become clear).

CBS took 40 kids and plopped them in a "ghost town" in the middle of the New Mexico desert without running water or electricity for 40 days and asked them to "build" a new society. The parents weren't allowed regular contact - most, if not all of them, were not even in New Mexico during filming (none of the kids were residents of NM). It's no accident that - until recently - New Mexico was the only state without child labor laws. It's also no accident that none of the kids in the production are from California or New York - two areas where parents are more savvy regarding the child labor and safety rules. (And, of course, none of the kids were in the union so union safety and work hour rules didn't apply). This was (apparently) billed to the parents as an experience akin summer camp. Except with cameras on 24/7. And no camp counselors. And no state oversight/permits/inspections.

Here's a recent article from the New York Times about some of the controversy surrounding the show and the contract the parents and kids were made to sign. If you're interested, The Smoking Gun has published the entire contract here. Warning - if the idea of signing away your child's privacy, safety and life story ("in perpetuity and throughout the universe") bothers you, don't read it.

CBS claims the kids weren't "employed" and therefore no work permits were required and they weren't required to follow work safety rules. At least not for the kids. The crew was employed by CBS so presumably their unions had jurisdiction and all safety rules were followed for them. They didn't have to work 24/7. They didn't have to sign away their privacy rights or their right to say whether anything bad happened to them on the job.

CBS also claims that there were plenty of adults around to ensure the kids' safety and well-being. But the main job of every one of those adults was to make good television. All of those people were on the payroll of CBS. None of them were required by law to report signs of child abuse (unlike teachers and doctors). And since the families signed away their ability to talk honestly about their experience (or be liable to CBS for $5 million for breaching their confidentiality agreement), we'll never really know what happened during production. CBS can claim all it wants that nothing bad happened and no one with any first hand knowledge can contradict them without subjecting themselves to significant financial risk.

These kids were out of school for eight to ten weeks without a set teacher or other tutoring. Don't we have mandatory schooling laws in every state? I'm all for the idea that life experiences are as important (if not more important) than classroom learning. But how could parents have known in advance that this experience would be a good one? Sure, it could be a good experience but isn't there a significant risk that it would be a bad experience? Would you take that risk?

One of the reasons this bothers me so much is how it makes "stage parents" look. Just because we allow and encourage our children to act, doesn't mean that we would go to any lengths to get our children on TV or make them "famous" at all costs. Most parents of acting children take their child's safety and mental/emotional well-being very seriously. But these parents signed away their children's rights and their own parental responsibility just so their kids could be on TV. If this show is successful, it tells production companies that the public doesn't care about child safety and welfare on set as long as it's entertaining television. It tells them that it's ok to look for loopholes in the law and union regulations. It sets back children's rights on set immeasurably.

You'll see people compare this to summer camp or boarding school but those are very different. Those are ostensibly in business to educate children in one way or another. In most cases, parents aren't prevented from seeing or speaking to their kids. The kids do not sign away their right to privacy or their life stories. This was a TV show. The purpose is to sell advertising time and make money for CBS and the producers. These kids were exploited - whether they feel that way or not.

CBS is currently casting the second season. From what I understand, the child labor/safety laws in every state (now that New Mexico changed their laws) would prohibit CBS from filming the show (at least the way they did the first season). I don't know where they plan to film the show but they've asked those who are auditioning to bring their passports. Unfortunately, there are still places in the world that allow child exploitation. I'm sure the CBS execs will have fun jetting around trying to pick just the right one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I fell for their beauty . . .

but my feet are paying the price. My nine year old warned me before I went shopping at the Nordstrom 1/2-yearly sale (LOVE that sale). She said "Remember - don't fall for the beauty of the shoes!" (That's her code for "I know you like totally impractical shoes with ridiculously high heels but those aren't good for your feet so be practical and get something comfortable." Or maybe it's code for "Act your age, not your shoe size." I'm not really sure.)

Unfortunately, I can't be trusted to shop on my own. But she's in California so she doesn't get to supervise my shoe shopping.

But tell me - are these not totally pretty shoes! I got the white patent leather. The pictures are deceptive. Note that the heel is 3 1/2". Um, yeah. That's a bit high. But I swear they didn't feel that high at the store yesterday. Really.

Ok, I gotta go soak my feet before they rebel and refuse to take me to work tomorrow.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Santa Barbara

I'm in Santa Barbara and this is the second time I've been here. I'm not sure how it happened but I actually forgot how incredibly beautiful this place is. The last time I was here (about two years ago, I think), we stayed at San Ysidro Ranch and this time we're staying at the Four Seasons Biltmore. (One of the very few perks of my job is getting to go to these "off site" meetings at super nice resorts.)

The Four Seasons is a beautiful place and, for some unknown but very welcome reason, my room got upgraded to a suite. I have two rooms, a king size bed, two flat screen TVs, a balcony that looks out over the ocean (but first it looks out over the entrance to the hotel but who's complaining) AND the bathroom has a steam shower and a warmed tile floor. The only thing that could make this better is having my husband here with me. Oh, and not having to spend most of my time in a conference room.

One thing I haven't been impressed with here is the food. At dinner last night I had a $40 piece of salmon that I couldn't eat. It was supposed to be "lightly smoked and slow-cooked" which really meant heavily smoked and dry as a bone. And the garnish was awful - too salty eggplant slivers, weird tasting black potatoes and some other unidentifiable vegetables. I also had mushroom soup which was okay but the mushroom soup in our office cafeteria is equally as good (seriously) and a heck of a lot cheaper. Plus, one of the waiters spilled a carafe of hot soup on one of the other diners in our group. Right down the guy's back! And they originally gave us the wrong menus. I think it's reasonable expect better from a place where the bill was over $500 for six people. But the wine was good. We got a bottle of Pinot Noir from Hitching Post Winery which is the place from the movie Sideways. So, that was cool but not cool enough to make up for the bad food and the equally bad service.

This afternoon I had time to take a walk. I actually brought my iPod with me but when I thought about it, I realized that it's one thing to drown out the nerve wrangling sounds of the city with my own personal soundtrack but it's just ludicrous to drown out the calming sound of the ocean. So I walked and actually listened to the sound of the ocean and the sea birds and the screaming of kids running away from the waves on the beach. And the sound of my own thoughts (which is something I do way too little of). Actually, I spent most of the walk composing this blog post and I'm not sure what that says about me.

I ended up walking into town, or what seemed like "town" because there was a boulevard, with parking and lots of little shops. It reminded me a little bit of Port Clinton Square, a sort of in-town walking mall-type area in Highland Park, IL where I grew up. Except this is prettier, smells nicer (because of the gardenias) and has lots more high end real estate agencies. And as it turns out I had walked into Montecito which is really a suburb of Santa Barbara. I ended up walking farther than I planned so I had to stop for refreshment on my way back. I stopped at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for the best Chai Latte I've had (yes, even better than Starbucks). It kept me warm for the rest of the walk back. (I know, I have no right to complain about it being cold here when it's a heck of a lot better than the weather my family is suffering through in Chicago.)

For dinner, a few of us went to Downey's which is apparently one of the best restaurants in Santa Barbara. It certainly lived up to its reputation. For an appetizer, I had crab toast with curried fruit. Sounds weird but tasted awesome. Then I had a salad with garlic and Stilton cheese dressing followed by a lamb loin with green beans and mushrooms. But the kicker was the dessert - I had their version of Mille-feuille (I totally had to look that up). Freshly made pastry filled with creamy white chocolate mousse and fresh raspberries. Yummy. Oh, yeah and we had some terrific Santa Barbara wine. But not too much.

The only bummer of the night was that I missed the entire Oscar telecast. It's one of my favorite TV shows of the year so that sucked. As we finished dinner and headed back to the hotel in a cab, the CEO of my company used his Blackberry to look up the winners. Thank goodness for technology.

So now I need to get some sleep. Did I mention that I have a king size bed? Nighty night!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Too little time

Work is (again) kicking my ass. I'm getting ready for a Board meeting that starts on Sunday. Yes, Sunday. The good part is that the meetings are in Santa Barbara and L.A. And I'll be staying at really, really nice hotels. The bad part is - well, there are several bad parts. I won't be with my family. I'll be sitting in conference rooms most of the time and won't get to enjoy the California sunshine. Also, there's a reason they call them "board" meetings. (ha, ha - I totally crack myself up). Did I mention that I won't be with my family?

My little family is the only thing that keeps me going some days. I hate like heck being so far away from them.

So now I better get back to work so I can go home at a reasonable hour. To watch American Idol. I hate to admit it but I love that show. Watching it is one of my guilty pleasures.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Car trouble - Blogging for Books

Here's my entry in the February Blogging for Books contest. Jay says we have to write something about a dream we had - either waking or sleeping.

As a kid, I was a sleep walker. I also talked in my sleep. A lot. According to my parents and my bunk mates from summer camp, I was capable of having whole conversations, although none of them made much sense. I never remembered any of it when I woke up which, I guess, is par for the course.

I don’t do much sleep walking anymore but there are times when I wake up standing next to my bed wondering what exactly I’m doing standing next to my bed. Sometimes I wake up thinking I need a glass of orange juice even though I rarely drink the stuff (and we don’t even have any in the house). More often I have dreams that a spider is swinging down towards me from the ceiling above my bed and I wake up swatting at it. That used to freak me out but now I’m able talk myself out of an imaginary spider-induced panic. Most of the time.

As annoying as they are, these night wakings don’t usually hurt anyone. But a few years ago I had a dream that there was a shelf above our bed. On that shelf was a toy car – a big one that a child can ride in. Suddenly the shelf tilted and the car started sliding down and was going to land on my husband. Being the good wife that I am, I tried to protect him. I’m sure he would have appreciated my heroics if he hadn’t been sound asleep and if I hadn’t punched him in the nuts in the process. Lucky for me, he’s still willing to sleep in the same bed.

Friday, February 02, 2007

More from the stage mother

I've written a lot about my stage mother tendencies. I think I'll always struggle with that aspect of my personality. I'm so damn proud of A Girl - not because she's a good actress (and I mean that in the most non-stage mothery way) but because she's a good person. She's focused and hard working but she's also a really nice kid. She has fun with what she's doing even though her schedule would challenge the most driven Type A personality you know.

Despite her success and the fact that people often say super nice things to her, she's still down to earth. This is due primarily to my husband's influence. As I've said before, he has always maintained that acting is merely an extra-curricular activity for her. He's tried to help her see herself not as an actress but as a kid who likes to act. He doesn't want it to define her because if it does, she's more likely to be crushed when (if?) the work dries up or if she doesn't get a role she wants.

I whole-heartedly agree with his approach but I struggle to keep myself from being too invested in her success. Part of it stems from my own childhood desire to be an actress. Part of it stems from plain old mother pride.

She's currently in a show at a theater near our apartment (very convenient). They've been in rehearsals since the day after Christmas and they open on Saturday. The rehearsals in the three or so weeks prior to the open are called tech rehearsals - that's when they rehearse on stage and work out all the technical aspects of the show - lights, sound, costumes, stage set. During the last two weeks of tech rehearsal, they have shows that are called previews. These shows are basically dress rehearsals that people pay a discounted price to see. At this point, they don't have all the kinks worked out so previews can often be a bit rough around the edges.

Last week I went to pick A Girl up after one of the first preview shows. As I was walking into the theater, the last of the patrons were walking out. As I walked past one couple, the woman said "Well, they do one bad show a year and this one is it." I felt like someone kicked me in the gut.

Rationally, I know it's not a big deal. There is no reason for me to take that personally but I did. I know and respect all the actors, the director, the crew. I know how hard they've worked. I like the script (but I haven't seen the show all the way through) - it's a funny and heartwarming story. My husband and I have talked about how we would handle it if A Girl got a bad review. He's always given her great advice about this - "Don't believe all the good things people say about you because then you'll have to believe the bad things, too." We're prepared for that if it happens. It just never occurred to me, until that moment on the theater stairs, that anyone would dislike the show as a whole. I wasn't prepared for that.

The show she did this fall was controversial to begin with. When the show was performed in New York, there were people who left at intermission. The same thing happened in Chicago. And although it was a critical success there were lots of people that didn't like it. But because I was prepared for that it didn't bother me. But A Girl didn't have a large role in that show but in this one she plays a lead. It just feels more important.

I still feel a twinge when I think about it but I've pointed out to myself that there are plenty of shows - at this theater and others - that I haven't liked. This was during previews so her dislike of the show might have been due to the roughness of the production. In the end, it is what it is - one person's opinion. Even if the show's a flop and even if A Girl never works again, it's not the end of the world. I truly believe that this work shouldn't define her. Not just because she's too young for that. Being successful in show business depends so much on external factors - how other people view you, whether you're lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time - it's not healthy to invest your self esteem in that.

That's all easy to say and easy to believe. It's just hard in practice for me to separate myself emotionally. Thankfully, A Girl seems perfectly able to maintain that healthy separation so far. I just worry that my stage mother tendencies will somehow make her think that I'll only be happy as long as she's successful in "show business." And nothing could be farther from the truth.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The kid's gotta eat

I've been out of the breastfeeding business for five years now so I haven't read much about breastfeeding lately. I was really surprised when I read this article talking about problems that nursing mothers are having with breastfeeding in public. I find it so funny that people make a big deal out of mothers feeding their babies just because it involves boobs. As someone says in the article, people are so overly focused on breasts as sexual objects that they tend to forget their practical and very important use as a food supply unit.

I breastfed both girls - A Girl for well over a year and M Girl for a year - while working full time. I have such wonderful memories of that time with them - even though it was a hugely painful struggle at first and even though I had to lug a ridiculously large and heavy breast pump to and from work everyday. (Of course now they have these small yet powerful pumps that get stowed in a cute black backpack. They also have maternity clothes at The Gap when all I had was the mu mu crap from Motherhood Maternity that I could only find at sprawling suburbans malls. But that's a rant for another day.) I fed them in public many times without incident. Of course I didn't make a big deal out of what I was doing and I tried to be discreet.

One time I fed A Girl at the table while we had dinner with friends at a busy restaurant - and no one noticed. Our table was right next to the hostess table so there were people all around. A Girl was in her stroller, pulled up to the table. She got fussy so I picked her up and managed to get her latched on without lifting my shirt all while carrying on a conversation. When she was done, I put her back down and my husband (who is the most observant person I know) said "Don't you need to feed her?" Granted, it was fairly dark in the restaurant, which helped a lot. And to be fair - A Girl and I were a veteran nursing pair by then. I couldn't have done that within the first three or so months. The point of the story is that it's possible - in many situations - to be discreet about breastfeeding.

The article talks about a woman who was kicked off of a plane because she refused to cover up while she was breastfeeding. I always had a blanket or shirt or towel draped over my shoulder. It's not because I was ashamed of breastfeeding but because it's polite to at least try not to offend the people around you - even when you think they shouldn't be offended. You can't tell from the article but I wonder how exposed she was and why she didn't cover up when asked. Even if the flight attendant was being prudish and stupid, why make a big deal out of it? It's not like they were asking her to feed her baby in the plane's bathroom. Frankly, the stress on the mother (and the baby) of fighting about it was probably more of an issue than just putting a damn blanket over the offending boob and being done with it.