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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why Not?

We took Erin on one of those Duck-boat tours in San Diego. You know, the ones where you board on dry land, drive around for a while having things pointed out to you, then drive into the water and motor around for a while having things pointed out to you, but lower, with chance of spray?

I think Erin had a good time. I know that Emily and I did, but not because we could see the seals in the harbor (or sea lions, I don't know the difference) or watch helicopters take off from North Island in pursuit of imagined bad dudes.

We had a good time because we watched people gush over our daughter. Sure, that happens all the time (because like every parent our child is the cutest one in the world and gets the most attention and blah blah blah...leave me alone), but this time it was particularly charming because Erin was the object of attention from an entire group of Japanese tourists.

Picture, if you will, the stereotypical, mildly racist archetype of the Japanese tourist from every 80's film and television depiction. Now, add smaller cameras. That's the group.

They laughed, smiled, pointed, took pictures, and eventually we let Erin go play with them for a while. She posed, she was bounced, she laughed, she stole glasses and hats. They couldn't stop passing her around, almost fighting over the chance to steal a few extra moments with her.

I know how they feel.

That kind of attention goes right to my heart. I love knowing that other people are just as enamoured of my daughter as I am. I am proud of her and her enthusiasm for the world and its inhabitants. I love sharing her with the world when the world asks, both because that kind of sharing will benefit Erin in the long run as she remains fearless and confident, and because it's really flattering, as though I have something to do with the way that she is and it is being recognized. A tiny little award for having some awesome sex one night fifteen months ago. (Uh. Where did I just go? Getting back to the family show...)

So, that's the feeling that I took with me Wednesday morning as I rode the train up to San Francisco to meet with a modeling agent. Constantly seeing pictures of babies in magazines and thinking "My baby is cuter than that!" or people asking if we've considered letting Erin model finally piqued my curiosity. One of Emily's friends does some modeling, and she has allowed her toddler to do some modeling as well, so eventually we slid a picture her way and it was passed along to the agency. Why not?

Why not?

Why not?

Do you know, "why not?" isn't really a question? It's a statement. A statement about an inability to see reasons, not an invitation to someone to provide reasons that you can't see. It says "I can't think of anything compelling the other way, so...."

I walked into the swank office in downtown San Francisco, with it's posters of movies on the wall signed by actors the firm had represented, and I suddenly missed suburbia.

Yeah, this guy missed suburbia.

The agency was alien. Certainly it was an office like any other, with small rooms off to the side of the waiting area, and hardwood flooring throughout. But I couldn't escape the feeling of "factory" as I looked around.

The agent who had been in contact with us came out from behind a wall after I had finished filling out Erin's "stat" card. (She batted .327 for the Silicon Valley Toddlers last year with 47 goals and a 92% pass completion.) We sat down in her office and she gave us the run-down on the business side: little to no-notice calls, the agency handled both print and film castings, the need to get a work permit, late-morning weekday sessions, the trust accounts set up for earnings. It was all straightforward. She asked about our flexibility, and I felt the need to assure her that even though I'd be in school full-time in the fall I'd only have classes a couple of days a week and could be very flexible.

It was a straightforward "I think your daughter is cute, and has a great disposition, and I can find work for her" conversation.

But something turned my stomach about it. The agent was pleasant, and I immediately felt like trusting her judgment about things: she had the confidence that her position probably requires of her.

So it wasn't her.

It was the factory. Erin would go in, be processed, and come out as some refined (as in sugar, not as in hoity-toity) version of a toddler.

And I realized that the flattered joy that I took out of seeing the world appreciate her would never be captured if this were a job. And she wouldn't learn to love and trust the world as she does in those innocent, random encounters with Japanese tourists: she would learn to let the world love her.

That reversal was stark and bright at the same time. Stark like coming up to the edge of a chasm and feeling your intestines jump into your throat; bright like the hot lights of a police interrogation: "Why Not, Shawn? Why Not? Why Not? Isn't it true that this is Why Not? Admit It? No. No lawyers here. No phone calls. Why Not?"

We left the agency and I was already dressed in mourning black. I mourned the death of that naive dad who thought he could say "Why Not?" without asking it. There was no way I was going to be comfortable letting Erin do this (or making her do it, I suppose you could say. It's not like it's been at the top of her little toddler list of things to do this year: (1) Be a model. (2) Learn how to use a spoon. (3) Figure out why the cat doesn't respond to "kittykittykittykitty!!!!!" and sudden charges in its direction.)

Plus, they wanted 20%.

Fuck that noise. We'd burn the rest in gas just to get to the jobs.


Anonymous said...

I have a blue-eyed Curly-red-haired daughter who rivals the beauty of Nicole Kidman at age 5. I know, I know, just like you said the most beautiful child in the world, blahblahblah, but she really is stunning,and stops the room anywhere she goes.

Anyhoo what I am getting at is I totally feel you on the modeling. We have looked into it after being told many times she should model, but have decided she is too busy being a ballerina and taking her stuffed animals on picnics to be bothered with fame.

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Good for you, dude. Go with your gut. Daddy instinct is always right.

PS. You are fabulous. I hope you know that.

MereCat said...

You did good.

AEA said...

Your explanation of the meaning of "why not?" reminds me of what one of my old professors, the venerable R.J. Bernstein, called "Yiddish Modus Ponens": if not this, then what else!? (Voiced in a hoarse, mildly racist Hasidic voice.)

for a different kind of girl said...

Also? Cocaine, strung out rock stars always hanging around your place, and a half-assed reality program on E! in 10 or 15 years. You really want that? No. No one does.

Swirl Girl said...

You are a great daddy once again.

I gave you something over on my gig. Check me out.

Anissa@Hope4Peyton said...

Good for you! I too have that tunnel vision in how cute-fantastic-charming-photogenic my kids are. We get that "ooh, future models" thing all the time too.

Then we got to the office and the chick barely looked at my kids and said "oh, we always need ethnic kids, yours will find all kinds of work." Wow, that lays it out there doesn't it?

We didn't go back, we chose to let our kids just be kids.

Then I saw Lindsay Lohan's mom's reality tv show for a milisecond and was glad I made the right choice on that one.

Amanda said...

What they all said and more. You thought she was good enough, now you know she is too good.

Great job, Daddy!

Kyddryn said...

Lucky child, to have parents who give her the world to delight in. Lucky tourists to be viewed as fellow admirers of a wee sprite's sweetness and not as threats.

It is a fine thing to see others adoring one's child, too.

She'll grow up well adjusted, wise and fearless, if you keep that up.

You know it's funny...I once thought to try the Evil Genius in the mini-modeling thing, but never went as far as you. Something about it was off-putting. Thanks for finding the words to explain what, and why.

Shade and Sweetwater,
K (truly AND sincerely)

Black Hockey Jesus said...

Are you using a stimulant, Backpacking Dad? You're posting out of control.

Missy said...

Dude, you really need to send me that pic of us, so I can tell the internet about how I totally got up in your space, and then I printed out your Bloggess comment and put it on my refrigerator to read every day.

SciFi Dad said...

I think, aside from the agency visit, your story rings true for a lot of parents. Like you said, we all think our child is gorgeous, and we have all watched them captivate a room, and been told that our kid "could make it". But ultimately, most of us realize that we're not ready for everything else that comes with formalizing (or perhaps professionalizing) that side of our kid.

Busy Momma said...

I love the feeling of my child making someone else smile...altho my children aren't quite that outgoing and would probly scream while being passed around by tourists of any kind.
Sounds like Erin has that natural ability to make friends and be comfortable in any situation already, how great. she is a doll.

Forever In School said...

But your daughter is gorgeous. I am saying that and I am not her parent, so you can trust me on this.

Do whatever feels right to you and your wife. Later, she can decide for herself, if she wants to enter that world or not.

Assertagirl said...

Instinct is so powerful, isn't it? I think you did the right thing, too.

Badass Geek said...

I don't have any children, so perhaps I'm out of my place by saying this, but I'm going to anyways.

Let kids be kids, man. If she wants to pursue that when she is older, then let her do it and encourage it so long as she stays healthy.

Kristen said...

So glad you asked why not.

Suzy said...

A friend of mine has twins. Almost 2 years old and not gorgeous, but cutish. They got a major Sprint commercial and were regs on Y&R and their college education is now paid for. TWINS.

Can you tell I don't have kids?

heather said...

We've been approached a bunch of times with Maddie, but we haven't gone as far as to take her to the agencies. We have the same feeling about it. As nice as it would be to have people smile at her in ads, we'll stick to strangers on the street.

Headless Mom said...

.327 is quite impressive.

Can she come play for our team?

Robin said...

I should have read this before we spent $250 on our daughter's headshots. Totally get where your coming from.

New to your blog. Dig it..

Melanie @ Mel, A Dramatic Mommy said...

Backpacking Dad, I think The Universe brought me to your blog. We too have heard the modeling comments about our son since he was little (not braggin', just sayin') and now that I'm a SAHM we wondered if now would be a good time to look into it more seriously. I think I'm going to wait. If it's meant to be, it will happen.

Carolyn...Online said...

Two words: Jon Bonet.

Ali said...

you have to go with your gut.

emily modeled for years. it was the best experience for her. she loved being in front of the camera. the agency she modeled for was fantastic. and i only took jobs for her that she didn't have to audition for (when they are young, it's purely based on whether they fit in the clothing etc)

she got paid very well and has a wonderful college fund set up for her.

we stopped when she started school full time because there were so many things she wanted to do. dance. be with her friends. the school play. i didn't want to be driving her all over the city for shoots etc.

for us, it worked. it was right for her. when the agent came to talk to me about josh and isabella, i politely declined. they are different kids. and i was at a different place.

but i just wanted to give you a different side. not all children who model turn out like jonbenet or lindsay lohan. for some kids it's a GREAT experience.

but as a parent, you just have to watch out for them. and always have their best interest at heart.

the end.
off my soapbox.
as you were.

Always Home and Uncool said...

Way not to pimp out the girl. You rock, BD.

kate anon said...

I find so many children beautiful, and those who play into my adoration break my heart, reminding me of the children I don't have. Her pure affection for being admired would only be spoiled by the process involved in the "factory" I think you made a wise choice.

Mommy Melee said...

Any time you feel a gut instinct to protect your kid, you have to run with that.

Loved the story about the Duck Boats. I haven't been back to SD in ten years and I miss it terrible. I'd visited every two years or so my whole life before that.

Isn't it the best feeling on the planet when people fawn over your kid? Like fuck yeah, that's my kid!

Mandy said...

We signed Nate (our first) up for modelling after everyone told us we should. And he got a lot of calls... and a lot of call backs. Unfortunately, he did not have the presence of mind, when ripped from mommy's arms and taken into a room full of strangers, to smile and be charming.

Eventually, I decided it was enough. I told them if I couldn't be in the room with him during the shoots, it wasn't going to work.

And there went his college fund (our yacht, second country home, sports car) up in a puff of smoke.

Christy said...

I went through a similar experience with my oldest daughter when she was a baby. People would often comment on her--"she should be a baby model" all that stuff. I knew nothing about the whole thing really, but I figured if nothing else it would add to her college fund. So we took her to two agencies in Boston & both wanted her so we had to choose. She was chosen for one job from her picture and that wasn't bad, but then we had to do our first "go-see."

It was ridiculous. All these moms talking shop and complaining about why their kid didn't get this or that, and all of their future plans for their kids' very serious careers. It literally made me sick to my stomach. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of there. That was our foray into the child modeling industry. YUCK!

Laura said...

I was an agent and have seen it all. To be honest, the worst aspect of it all were the other parents...the stereotypical stage parents. The ones that pushed, punished, gave the other kids dirty looks, etc. And then there were the great you...who kept things in check, and had a good time with it. And when that is the case, it can be really fun.

My feeling is this: if you have a super cute baby, who has no idea who is holding her, filming her, playing with her, and is OK with it...go for it! Make some college money and be done with it. Then, when your super cute baby is around 5 or 6, and is ASKING to go on go sees because THEY love it, and THEY want to be on TV, then try it again. (And FYI..super cute has very little to do with is the personality, and fearlessness that they look for)

I will say, I took my daughter to my agency a couple of years ago, after she begged and begged...and while we were waiting to be seen, I noticed her, with her messy knotted hair and freckled nose, and school uniform...I noticed her for the FIRST time, notice ANOTHER girl...the girl with the perfect pony tales , matching ensemble, and t shirt that read "almost famous". And I hated what I saw. I hated that I put my daughter in a position where she learned to compare herself to another.

It is all about going with your gut. What is right for one kid/parent, may not be for another.

Oh, and people...DO NOT pay for head shots for your child! Two snap shots, 1 close up, and 1 full body, is all you need. Kids grow too fast, so save your money please!

You did right. And next time those Japanese tourists want pictures of her, tell them she will pose with them for $5!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story of the Japanese tourists playing with your daughter. I was recently at a park with my niece and two Japanese tourists indicated that they wanted to take a picture with the two of us. I was a little weirded out (why do these strangers want a picture of my niece?), but they seemed sincere. I drew the line when they asked to have her sit on the man's lap (she'll sit on MY lap, thank you), but we took the picture. I wasn't sure what to make of the whole thing, but after your story it makes more sense. Maybe they're just from a more friendly, trusting culture, and they like kids. Funny, living in a city I didn't think of that!

Thanks for the post.

Carmen said...

We did the whole agent/head shot/sign up for work thing with my oldest daughter, who is and always will be stunning. It creeped me out and I put my foot down.

I don't want it for my kid.

amelia said...

Found you through Amalah and wanted to say "hi" and you're a talented writer. I've had a good time reading through your archives.

that girl said...

I think we've all pictured our little stars as a huge star for the world to ooh and ah over, but you're right - there is a creepy factor.

Miss Grace said...

Gabriel's dad has always wanted him to do modeling, and I've always resisted, for just that reason.

kittenpie said...

You know, I had somewhat the same experience with Pumpkinpie. People were always stopping me in the street to ask if I'd ever considered having her model and whatnot, so I checked it out, curious, and thinking that if she could do it a bit as a baby before the inherent creepiness and weird priorities of the industry could affect her and make her some college money, great.

The agents were nice and said she looked like an angel, but the studios tend to be out of downtown, and children work for only an hour. Typically, they hire two babies, and choose one when they are both there - the chosen gets $50 for her hour, the standby gets $25. Which means that if you don't get chosen, you could make what you spent on gas, and that's if you drive, which I don't. It's not enough money to be worth it for tuition savings, and I am not a stage mom type who wanted it for any other reason, so I didnt' pursue it, either.

followthatdog said...

Smart daddy. I'm sure you made the right choice. It is pretty high pressure for all involved. Let her go on being loved by the masses at large for free.

I got a lot of the "your kids should model" thing and have never done anything about it. not so much to protect them, but because I'm far too lazy. But I think we're all happy with the decision.

Babybloomr said...

I was raised in the South where child modeling is the gateway drug to the pageant world.

Good call.

Mr Lady said...

Any man that says "Fuck that Noise" in reference to parenting is a'ight in my book. :)

Deb said...

You convinced me to ignore the pleas of people begging to put my kid in their capable model-building hands.

20% is way too much.

Backpacking Dad said...

I think I'll just write a nice big THANK YOU to everyone who chimed in here. I started writing individual responses and ended up saying "yeah" a lot.

So if it's appropriate to what you said, imagine that I'm saying "yeah".

also, I'm lazy and I've been writing a lot lately and responding individually today would probably kill me. :}

Backpacking Dad said...

Except that Ali gets a direct response, because she's awesome and I know that she let her daughter model for years.

I totally get it. This is all about me. In fact, so much about me that I went ahead and unilaterally decided for Erin and that sure as hell didn't go over well at home :}

Other deciding factors were the location of the jobs, the commision (seriously, 20%?), the pay ($50/hour, for 1 hour jobs), and the short notice on calls. All of these things could have been swallowed, tolerated, if I had had the enthusiasm for the idea. As it is, they contributed to me being unenthusiastic when I was already doubting.

It wasn't simple, or easy, but my choice was clear at the end of the day. It's easy for me to see how other parents will have circumstances that are different enough for that pendulum to swing the other way.