Friday, April 25, 2008

Shame on you, J.Lo!

I find the increasingly common practice of celebrities pimping out their kids for profit disgusting. It is one thing to sell the 'first photos' of stars' babies to the highest bidder, it's another thing entirely to use telegenic tots as chum to reel in lucrative and publicity generating television shows in hopes of resuscitating a stalled or otherwise non-existent career.

Okay, so the motive for selling these photos some times goes beyond greed. Really. There is a legitimate case to be made that stars have become such hunted prey by the paparazzi that they could be putting their child in danger if they don't agree to a photo op to feed the ravenous tabloid machine. Both Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts granted exclusive access to People and promptly turned over the considerable sums they were paid to charity. (Full disclosure: I work for the magazine) That said, consider this: Arguably the most eagerly anticipated celebrity spawn, Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, was photographed for free by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair. The couple, who were constantly chided in the press for 'hiding' their new baby, took their time and handpicked the magazine for their debut as a family. No cash was exchanged. So for all the slings and arrows TomKat have endured in the press for their alleged eccentricities, they seem downright wholesome in their approach to introducing their baby to the world. Sarah Jessica Parker also chose to handle things with a sense of grace and dignity that is sadly absent today. When her son James Wilke was born in 2002, she and husband Matthew Broderick arranged for a photo call at the hospital and stood outside holding their son allowing the photographers that had been gathered to get their shots. I love that SJP could be heard shushing the shutterbugs so as not to upset the baby.

Fast forward a mere six years and the practice of celebrities selling their kids to the highest bidder has reached an all time high -- or, more appropriately, a stunning new low. Fresh off pocketing a reported $6 million for pics of twins Max and Emme, Jennifer Lopez has announced she will be starring in a 'reality series' for TLC that chronicles her life as a 'working mother.' But 'reality series' has such a tacky connotation -- J.Lo prefers to consider the venture a 'docuseries.' Come on!

What a difference a few years make. Back in June 2006, I interviewed Lopez for Variety. Newly married to Marc Anthony, I asked her to reflect on that period when she and then fiance Ben Affleck were keeping Us Weekly in business while basically living every moment of their lives as a couple in front the cameras. Who can forget the Oscar winner kissing Lopez's famous bum for posterity in her music video? (I bet Ben would like to) The couple became non stop tabloid fodder with the attention all but eclipsing her -- and his -- career. "That was a really tough time," she said. "I said, 'I don't want this. How do I change this and get the attention off this stuff and back onto what it was in the beginning -- the fact that I was an actress doing interesting projects and a singer making music?'" Ironically, she credited her new husband with helping her set new boundaries between her professional and personal lives. "He's an ultra-private person," she said at the time. "I needed to put up those boundaries and say, 'This is okay and this is not okay.' It wasn't easy, but I did it."

So, what changed? I have some idea since Lopez's latest film projects bombed. El Cantante, which costarred her husband, garnered mix reviews and did little at the box office and Bordertown went straight to video. Since audiences obviously have not embraced Lopez as a dramatic actress why not go the yummy mummy route, put those designer duds on the babies and trot them out in that $2,ooo pram for all the world to see? After all, everyone knows that in Hollywood, children have replaced designer handbags as the must-have accessory.

I am not debating the idea that these women love their children. I'm sure J.Lo adores her kids. But that's not the point. The real question is why she and other 'personalities' like Kimora Lee Simmons act as if their children are the supporting cast in the 24/7 extravaganza of their lives? Have you seen 'Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane?' Simmons' reality show is unwatchable as she exploits her children week after week. They're adorable now but if there's any justice they'll grow up to be just like mommy. Denise Richards, locked in a furious custody battle with Charlie Sheen, who she has characterized as the world's worst father, wanted to do her reality show featuring her two girls so badly she took the actor to court in order to get permission to do so. The show is supposed to be "about her career" says producer Ryan Secrest who has also said her girls will be featured. Quick: name the last thing you saw Richards in? Exactly. Chances are there will be a lot more time spent following her around as she wears her mommy hat than any behind the scenes look at her red hot career.

I've never talked to these other women but I do know, based on what she told me, that J.Lo is jumping back into the fishbowl that almost swallowed her whole. One would think motherhood would have made someone who has experienced what she has all the more cautious about exposing her newborn children to the camera's constant glare.

But that's showbiz. And that's sad.

Note: This was orginally written for The Huffington Post.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rob Lowe, I feel your pain!

I read this morning's stories about Rob Lowe's nanny woes with more interest than I would have just three years ago. No, not because I cover these kinds of stories for a living. Besides, trying to find out what church Beyonce and Jay Z got allegedly got married at in Scarsdale had already taken up too much of time over the past four days. And not because I remembered the last scandal involving the actor all those years ago at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.

I was drawn into the story because I can relate. I am the mother of a 3 year old and I have been to the depths of nanny hell more times than I thought possible.

When I think back to those days when I was an innocent interviewing babysitters (Who are we kidding? These people aren't nannies any more than I'm Lois Lane) before my husband and I left for China to adopt our daughter in November 2005. I put an ad in the local paper which yielded a handful of incredibly diverse -- and totally unsuitable -- candidates. Although my ad clearly said I was looking for someone Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m, virtually everyone that came through the door tried to negotiate different hours. The most otherwise qualified of the bunch asked -- with a straight face -- to go home every day by 3:30 "because my husband expects dinner on the table by six." Sure, why not? Needless to say I went to China without having hired anyone. I was blissfully unaware of how difficult the nanny game would prove to be.

We when returned, a family in our building called us to say that their 'nanny' who I'd seen every day for years, was available because the husband had lost his job. I interviewed her -- or rather we chatted -- and she was hired. Looking back, I had it made -- until things fell apart. For about nine months she was never late, my daughter was always clean and happy and my house was immaculate (although I never asked her to do the household duties she took on). I overlooked the non stop ringing of her cell phone. (I was too timid to say anything). Then things changed. Her young daughter who had been living elsewhere had to come stay with her for good and the stress of taking care of her own family for the first time in many years was taking its toll. I would have loved to have known because I would have welcomed cutting her hours -- I was paying for full time help which I couldn't really afford at the time because I was told you could never find quality part time help.

I will never forget the night the whole thing fell apart without warning. I was on my way to ABC's holiday party and had this sinking feeling that something was going to happen. (After that night I became a true believer in mother's intuition). Since I had never asked this woman to work a minute past six o'clock, I chalked it up to my 'hovercraft mother' tendencies. (My husband had taken to using that oh so endearing term to describe me.) The evening train from Scarsdale to New York was late for the first time in about ten years. 'It's a sign I shouldn't go,' I thought. But I felt like an idiot. I went to the party.

It turns out I was right. When I got home my husband was sitting in my baby's room with my daughter's back to the door. "Something happened," he began. I could barely breathe as I raced towards the baby. When I turned her around she had a burn about the size of the my pinkie nail on her face just below her lip. When I asked my husband how this happened, he said he asked the babysitter but she literally had run out the door muttering something to the effect, 'The baby burned herself.'

I tried her cell phone for hours until she finally picked up. She started screaming, "I did nothing wrong!" I told her in no uncertain terms that was expected at my home tomorrow so we could discuss the incident. I couldn't sleep that night. Was this the first time something bad had happened to Madeline? Was she always neglectful but had just never gotten caught? I was sick with worry and guilt.

The next morning when she arrived, she was silent. She offered no apologies for the second degree burn that had now blistered on my baby's face. No explanation other than to say that her husband didn't like her working extra hours. From what I could piece together she'd been on her cellphone, taken the food out of the microwave and just given it to Madeline because she was too busy talking. Then, she admitted that the food was too hot. Clearly, I said and then asked, 'Don't you test the food before you give it to her?" I asked. "No," she responded. "Madeline always tells me when it's too hot." My daughter was 18 months old!

I should have fired her on the spot. I still can't figure out why I didn't. I think was in shock over the whole thing. Christmas was weeks away and I thought you just don't fire people at Christmas. I am cringing as I write this, but I gave her the requisite one week pay for a Christmas tip because as some friends told me, "She'll take it out on your baby if you don't." Then, a few weeks later as I was getting ready to go to a meeting with a new editor at Redbook, I got that feeling again that something was wrong. Eight o'clock came -- no sitter. 8:20. 9:00. 9:30. No word. She wasn't coming back. She'd burned my baby, never apologized, taken my Christmas tip and vanished. I packed up my daughter and went to New York in a snow storm to make the meeting.

Still a nanny neophyte, I was incredulous but undaunted. The very next day, I put an ad on Craig's list and got 300 responses. We hired another nanny. She talked non stop about her "other family" who had moved out of state. The mother of that baby clearly did everything perfectly based on the endless stories she repeated over and over again. She refused to do anything I asked without making me feel as if I was requesting she paint our building in the middle of a blizzard. To my great relief, she left after two months. She was followed by a string of part time people until after a visit to my pediatrician examining my daughter for a cold noticed what he was reasonably certain was a human thumb print on the upper inside part of her ear. "Do you have a nanny cam?" my doctor asked. Horrified, but with no proof, I dismissed the girl -- who had the audacity to ask for severance (she'd worked for us less than a month).

For weeks after that, I had my assistant play with my daughter in the other room whenever I had an interview. One afternoon Jennifer Lopez was scheduled to call. She did -- four hours late. When I told her I had to hang up sooner than I would have liked because my "sitter" had to leave. She said, "Oh, I understand. I'm sure I'll have the same problems when I have a baby." That's exactly what I was thinking when I saw the million dollar nursery for her twins in People.

That was almost one year ago, and the misadventures in babysitting just keep coming. Two weeks ago, a girl who swore to me she was fine with the part time hours I was offering (because my full time person who my daughter has come to love over the past year only wants to work two days a week) quit with no notice because she'd been offered a big job in Greenwich for more money. I had my first assignment for a national magazine that I'd been pitching for a solid year the next day. My husband stayed home from work so I could go. My daughter, now old enough to form bonds with her sitters, continues to ask for her.

I have gotten incredibly resourceful. I schedule my interviews whenever I can during her preschool hours or I try to judge when she'll take a nap. Sometimes it actually works. Today I sent her to school with a "bellyache" which would ordinarily keep her home because I was already late with filing my latest story for Variety. Then, bless her heart, she came home and slept for two hours. Just enough time to do my last interview and hit the 'send' button. Whew.

I don't know what happened in Rob Lowe's house but I do know what's gone on in mine. I have put my trust in people to help me care for the most important thing in the world to me -- my child who have deceived and betrayed me. I have left her in the care of strangers who held themselves out to be one type of person and proved to be anything but. I am constantly in rebuild, restructure, regroup mode while I attempt to keep my child happy and my career from imploding. Single male editors do not want to hear that you can't make a deadline because of nanny issues. Come to think of it, after the first ten times, female editors don't either.

I am sure there are plenty of wonderful nannies out there. I hear stories from people who have had the same nanny for years -- "they're part of the family." I hate those people. (Just kidding! Not.) I don't want someone to be a part of my family. I just want a nice, responsible person who isn't surgically attached to a cell phone to help me care for my daughter without drama. Too much to ask for? Evidently, yes.

Mary Poppins doesn't live in Scarsdale. My guess is she's working for Jennifer Lopez.