I don’t know a lot. But I do know that I don’t want to be that Mom.
Let me explain. I’m a freelance actress. Mother of ten month old. Wife of hotshot doc. Something of a failure but not completely hopeless yet.
Yesterday I was at the dragon lady's commercial casting office. The office where there’s never anywhere to sit and if you stand in the hallway the other tenants of the floor yell and throw things at you. The one where I am always a bridesmaid but never a bride. I have never met "herself". Or shall I say I've never been introduced to "herself". Perhaps I have met her several times. Listen, I’m sure she’s actually a lovely woman. I just hear things…
So I’m waiting to go in for what ended up being actually a very fun commercial audition for whipped cream (yeah not that fun…hold your horses there John Wayne) in which I actually got to use one or two of the skills developed over years and years of classical training (yeah did I mention I do Shakespeare…or rather I did Shakespeare…? Now, if I’m damned lucky, I sell chewing gum). So actually thanks for that fun audition, dragon lady. See you're not so much of a dragon after all. That audition made me feel like a bit more of a person and a bit less of a walking, talking, lactating boob for the ten minutes or so I was in there.
Anyway, I’m looking over the fairly humorous copy when a mom carrying a ten-month-old or so in a Bjorn (look into the Ergo lady…I’m just sayin') and her sweet 7 year old daughter arrive for the Cruise Ship call. Mom sighs dramatically. Flops down. Very nice girl Karen who will audition with me smiles at her, and Mom sighs again and says “yeah, it’s hard.” Wah wah. But anyway, it is hard, so I find a moment of generosity for her.
Mom starts to fill out size card for seven year old (How do I get my friggin adorable kids into commercials? you ask. I’ll tell you later.) and discovers that sweet young seven year old needs to be in her bathing suit now. For the audition. This I was aware of because I had seen the other little girls walking around in theirs to get their Polaroids (yeah commercial casting used to be the only thing keeping Polaroid film alive…but no more…requiem for Polaroid) and thought they were so sweet and fearless and why don’t I like wearing bathing suits anymore—oh yeah it’s that big fat undulating donut encircling my bowels. So Mom says to sweet seven year old “you need to be wearing your bathing suit.” Sweet seven year old looks horrified. She scans the narrow hallway for some privacy. A bathroom. I know the bathroom is outside near the elevators. Nothing. “NOW!” says Mom, “I didn’t carry your sister down here for you to…” Oh my god. Sweet seven year old mutters something quietly. Mom says loudly and very indiscreetly “No one is looking at you! Now change right now!” I stare at the copy which I have now completely committed to memory.
And right at this moment, I failed you sweet seven year old. I had a large coat. I had no ten month old strapped to my chest. My baby was at home. I was once a terribly self-conscious seven year old who would have become paralyzed from the neck down had my mother insisted I take off my clothes, and put on a bathing suit…on a cold metal bench in a HALLWAY! I could have offered to hold up my coat so you could have undressed behind it. I could have taken you to the bathroom. But I, too, was scared of your mother. And I didn't want to intrude. So I did nothing. I stared concertedly at the Xeroxed paper and cringed and hoped you could change quickly. And I feel you did. But still, I should have helped you.
I am a bit traumatized by what that Mom made that young girl do. Not just the auditioning. Because God knows that auditioning for commercials is soul-killing enough after adolescence let alone before. But the public nakedness too.
Resolution to self: as a mother and an actress, help any young girl who needs it. At any time. Regardless of how scary her mother seems. Because you are a grown up now.
Also apologies to Karen. Who I think was actually trying to make friends as we left the building. But I was thinking about the babysitter and if I had time to stop for salmon and I’ve lived in New York for so long that I’ve forgotten I’m a nice girl from Pennsylvania. I think Karen actually reached out her hand when we were leaving and I didn’t take it. It wasn’t until I was descending into the bowels of the subway that I realized, my gosh, I think she would have talked for a few minutes and then maybe even made a date to meet for coffee. Maybe she has a baby too. Maybe she could have been my friend.
I’m sorry to you too Karen. I’ll be looking for you in the shadow of the dragon lady.