DID THE YOUNG WOMAN who approached us at the U Village QFC hold her hands in the shape of a TV screen around my daughter’s face? Funny, I don’t remember. What I do remember, in high-def slo-mo, is her question to my 11-year-old daughter—“Have you ever wanted to be on a TV show?”—and the wide-eyed response of pure, elated arrival etched into her ingenuous little face.
“Mom!” she gasped once we got in the car. “They want me to be on a TV show!”
“Uh, sweetie…” I started, clutching the “Congratulations! You’ve been invited to a Free On-Camera Modeling and Acting Workshop!” card in my hand. It was from a big-name modeling agency, inviting her to a one-hour workshop coming up in a few weeks at an Embassy Suites in Lynnwood. Invitees were asked to bring a guardian, a photo, and a memorized line: “With new Clear Mobile’s unlimited talk/text plan, I can talk anytime, anywhere, and not break Mom and Dad’s bank account…you shouldn’t have to either!”
While I worked out how best to tiptoe into this minefield, she was already practicing. “Do you like, ‘ You shouldn’t have to either!’ or ‘You shouldn’t have to either!’?”
How about: I never wanted to learn that chasing easy fame is futile, grasping, and vain. You shouldn’t have to either.
Besides, this wasn’t exactly Hollywood’s biggest magazine publisher discovering Lana Turner at the soda fountain. To her father and me, our daughter is a cutie-pie, of course. But the sole standard for this famously profit—oriented agency appeared to be “tweener who is breathing.” They were flattering her toward the workshop to flatter us into expensive modeling classes. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that those produce-aisle scouts are searching less for potential child stars than they are a certain breed of visibly avid mother.
Do I look like that kind of mother?
Absolutely not possible! The minute I told her father—once he managed to wipe the revulsion from his face—we broke it to her that since she had never before voiced the least interest in TV acting or modeling, this opportunity qualified as random at best. It was not an affirmation of her worth, which of course transcends outward appearance, nor some apocryphal “big break.” It was a cynical play for profit, pure and simple, that we would not support.
She slumped, crestfallen.
Really, who could blame her? She is coming of age in an era when nobodies achieve overnight celebrity on the quarter hour. Not just American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance? contestants, but any dork with a video camera, a YouTube account, and a limited grasp of personal boundaries. Even an uncanny proportion of the TV programs aimed at her demographic—from Hannah Montana to iCarly to Jonas Brothers to Big Time Rush—are shows about regular kids who by some magic wand of fate are suddenly thrust onto a worldwide stage. She probably couldn’t believe it had taken her this long.
“All right,” I blurted. “As long as you understand that it’s not going any further, I’ll take you up to the workshop.” My husband shot me an incredulous, that’s-not-in-the-script look. “I mean, where’s the harm?” I nattered. “Workshop’s free, right? File it in the ‘new experiences’ column. Haha! Hahaha!”
What had gotten into me? I wondered all night. I was still wondering the next morning as she began the creative assault on her closet, all week as she covertly test-drove runway strides, and the morning of the workshop as I stood painstakingly curling her hair by the half-inch clump. I was wondering still as we stood in line with the other primped wanna-bes and their painfully obvious stage mothers in the atrium of the Lynnwood Embassy Suites, with its waterfalls and glossy tropical plants—even as I stole glances at this daughter whose beauty was suddenly taking my breath away.
Even as I fretted that the damn humidity might flatten her curls.
The program turned out to be an infomercial about how the modeling and acting taught by the agency instill essential life skills such as poise and self—confidence, then listed some of the “big-name child actors” who had graduated from its ranks. “Mom,” my daughter whispered, confused. “I’ve never heard of most of these kids.”
And then the big moment, in which each child walked into a hot pool of klieg light to recite her line for the camera. First up was an annoyingly animated little blonde who could talk anytime! Anywhere! And not! Break Mom and Dad’s bank account!! Ham, I dissed inwardly. The next was slicker, more practiced, better. Meh, I thought. Nowhere near cute as my kid.
And my kid did great, really, never mind that she went a little deer-in-the-headlights on camera and had to be asked to speak up. Twice. “A bit of a shy actor but could thrive as a print model,” came the verdict from our personal consultant. My daughter’s verdict? “Ugh…deadly,” she declared. “Honey, you were great!” I chirped. She looked me square in the face. “Mom, I was so not great.”
“But was it…fun?”
She fixed me with that are-you-out-of-your-mind gaze preteen girls invented. “You know, Mom, you and Daddy were right,” she said. “This whole thing just really does not feel like me. It’s so…so… gloppy.”
A hundred phrases formed in my head, then lodged in my throat. Honey, you were terrific! You were! So much better than that little pink princess with the updo! You have so much more…depth than the rest of these posers! You could be a star!
I looked into her eyes and, for the millionth time since she was born, admired her. “You have no idea how proud I am to be the mother of a girl who knows who she is and who she isn’t,” I told her. And how appalled I am to be a mother who so readily loses sight of the difference.
But…print modeling, huh? On our way out I discreetly tucked a flyer into my purse. College fund, you know.