Friday, November 6, 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

I thought I’d convinced myself--thanks to the recent swirl of requests from Facebook friends to vote for their various children in various cutest-child-on-earth contests (The cutest baby smile! The most-cutest-ever GAP kid!)--that I’d not stumbled into the Gosselin circle of hell for pimping my kids’ cuteness on a TV show. I mean, it wasn’t like they got paid. Or that I forced them to pretend they were trapped in a flying object.

All I did was write an article for Philadelphia Magazine. It was about Sprout, the new preschool channel for kids based in Philly that runs live shows and uses local kids in promotional spots. When the head of Sprout e-mailed to tell me he liked the story, I responded with a P.S.: “If you ever need any cute girls for promos, I have a couple.” As it turned out, they did.

The shoot? A promo for Thanksgiving to air during Thanksgiving week.

The instructions? “We'll be asking the girls about the Thanksgiving holiday and 
what they are thankful for.”

Sitting around the dinner table last Monday, I posed my first prep question: “What are you girls thankful for?”

“My little sister,” Blair said. A tear bubbled in the corner of my eye. My first thought: She is the sweetest four-year-old who ever walked. My second: Sprout will eat that shit up. But, then, Blair went on: “And my fork. I’m thankful for my fork. And my chicken. And my salt shaker. And my rug. And my door….”

“Drew,” I said. “What are you thankful for?”

“My poppy,” she said. Again: the bubbling mommy tear. Unfortunately, only three people on the planet could translate what Drew had just said, and they were sitting at this table. When she said it on national TV, the world would hear, “Ma poopy.”

Against my better judgment, I decided not to read aloud to them from Stanislavski's An Actor Prepares.

A few days later, the afternoon before the shoot, I called my mom. I was driving home from Marshalls, where I’d gone to look for shirts for the kids to wear on TV, since I wasn’t satisfied with the two shirts each I’d bought for them to wear on TV at Kohls the day before.

MOM: “Have you coached them on that they’re thankful for?”

ME: “I’m SO not doing that. I want them to say what they’re thankful for, not what we told them to say that they’re thankful for.”

MOM: “But what if that means Sprout doesn’t use them?”

ME: “Then, Sprout doesn’t use them.”

(Long pause.)

MOM: “I hope the shirts you bought are fall colors, at least.”

On the morning of the shoot, the girls and I left the house at 9:36, which meant we were already six minutes behind schedule. I was drinking my sixth cup of coffee. The girls were in their car seats—Blair wearing a Kelly-green shirt with an abstract apple design on the front, Drew in a purple shirt, which complimented the thin purple stripe in the abstract apple. Hanging on hangers, were an additional five shirts for each of them, two sweaters for Drew, and one for Blair. In a bag on the passenger seat--since the producer told us to bring any specific items the girls were thankful for--were their blankets (a.k.a. “cakeys”), a pair of drum sticks, and a ukulele with a hot pink pick.

I took inventory in my head. Outfits? Check. Things they are thankful for? Check. Factoids about the Thanksgiving holiday? Um….


ME: (deperately) “Blair? Where do we eat Thanksgiving?”

BLAIR: “Turkey.”

ME: (more desperately) “No, where do we celebrate Thanksgiving?”

BLAIR: “After Halloween.”

Crap. Crap. Crap.

ME: (like a woman in need of lithium) “Who is coming to our house for Thanksgiving this year?”

BLAIR: “To our house?”

ME: “To our house.”

BLAIR: “Nana and Poppy, Grammy and Pappy, and Barack Obama.”

And, with that, suddenly, I transformed. Hearing that line--imagining Blair delivering that line...that most-honest, most-perfect, most-marketable line...on a Sprout Thanksgiving promo--extinguished my soul. Immediately, it was replaced by the spirits of the Holy Trinity of Vicarious Living--Dina Lohan, Kit Culkin, and Mama Rose Lee. (“Sing out, Blair! Sing OUT!”)

“Blair...tell me again...what are you thankful for?”

“My sister. My cakey. My thumb.”

“Brilliant! Say it again! Say it again!!!” I wondered how long it would be before she was cast in a major motion picture movie as the charming and wise-beyond-her-years daughter of Bob Saget. No, of Bradley Cooper. No...of Brad Pitt! “Who is coming to Thanksgiving dinner, Blair? Who? Again! AGAIN!”

We arrived at the shoot. There was a producer, a director, a camera-man, a grip. Blair and Drew were instructed to sit at a table that was covered in very-carefully placed craft items--crayons, construction paper, pipe cleaners, mini pom pom balls. In the middle was a little turkey, made by tracing a hand on a piece of paper and cutting it out. The director pointed at it: “That’s what you’ll be making, girls. You need to trace your hands.” And the camera started rolling.

Drew was far more interested in trying to consume the mini pom pom balls. Blair grabbed a purple crayon. She flattened her little hand on the paper. She traced. She proved to be a very serious tracer, unaware of the cameras, of the crew, of anything but what was right there in front of her.

“Look mommy!” she said, holding up her traced hand. “Look!”

“Perfect.” I said, seeing, too, what was right there in front of me. "Perfect!"

Only after the shoot was over, after we left, did I realized it: the girls weren’t asked to recite a single word.