My Days as a Crappy TV Mom
Now that this chapter of my life is behind me, I can talk about it. What's it like to be the real life mother of someone who wrote a best-selling book that was made into a TV series? Now try to imagine that real-life story being fictionalized to include a much-less-than-flattering version of yourself.
Does some of it hurt? I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a bit, but I'm fine. Really.
The Netflix series Girlboss was (is -- it's still streaming as of the posting of this piece) about the life of a quirky female entrepreneur who, with no college and no seed money, sold edgy vintage clothing online and became an almost overnight success. When watching it for the first time, my thought was that a lot of people would be clueless when reading the words that flashed across the screen before each episode: “What follows is a loose retelling of real events...real loose.” To many, it would not be interpreted as a work of creative non-fiction — from the characters to the timing to even the nature of the events taken from the book itself. People who never read the book, after all, would never know. And there was little I could do to enlarge the mental capacity of viewers who couldn't grasp this disclosure.
I will admit that I have been in disbelief over a LOT of things that have happened in my only child's life (she is, after all, the reason I began writing about bringing up challenging kids for Psychology Today) over the past ten years since she first started her eCommerce business out of a bedroom. I watched as her almost otherworldly life blossomed and she got added to list after list of accomplished people.
My daughter and I agreed that the moment either of us took all this too seriously, however, it would be a sad day indeed. Instead, her goal was to stay grounded, continue to connect with friends and family who pre-dated her fame, and to never look back as if any of this were more than the result of a smart, hard-working kid who put blinders on in an attempt to never have to answer to a REAL boss. Now in her 30s, she is still in that mode, thank God, and continues to write in one of the most authentic voices I have ever heard.
But how can you not be thrilled when you are first told about someone wanting to make a TV series about your kid? When I heard about it, I was told it would become a comedy and that the characters would be fictional, while the storyline would use many of the elements from the original book regarding how my daughter built her business. I was often asked if this was truly necessary, and this has been my answer: Depicting a snapshot of my child's life at the time would have been patently boring. In real life, she sat in a suburban rented pool house for hour after hour in her “sad bunny” robe in front of an iMac surrounded by piles of outgoing packages, grabbing cold water bottles from a dormitory-sized fridge, and schlepping to the main house to do laundry. She hated the suburbs, so if it were not for her unparalleled focus on this business that was growing like a weed in a summer storm, she would have gone crazy.
Soon she outgrew the pool house, hired her first employee, moved from place to place, and eventually ended up with corporate offices and hundreds of employees. Even she was in disbelief. Then things got messy, but the series did not get that far. Unlike the series, however, no best friend had her back and no colorful characters kept her entertained. Apart from a supportive boyfriend-at-the-time and some gorgeous young girls she used to model vintage fashion who did not demand much pay, there was the lone voice of a proud mom cheerleading in the background like a drunken sports fan -- one who occasionally tried to organize her daughter's living quarters, the way many mothers do when they realize they failed to teach their offspring how to do anything domestic.
While the book as well as her real life story so far are chock full of interesting tales to tell, a huge amount of creative license went into creating an entertaining, off-beat show. In the end, however, the world was not ready for a strong, flawed, unlikeable lead female character even though the public has have been accepting of males in roles like this for years (think American Hustle and Breaking Bad).
On to my surrogate on-screen part in all this. At first I was told my character was to be killed off before her daughter reached adolescence. Then I magically got resurrected as a nasrcissistic alcoholic mother who abandoned her child and slept her way to the bottom in an elusive attempt to get a plumb acting job. I, like many other mothers of real life people who are portrayed in movies or on TV, had suddenly gone Hollywood. I knew the general public would think all of this was true about me no matter what assurances were given of the characters being fictional and there was nothing I could do about it. Whatever.
Now picture an angry, lost, defiant young female character who at first alienates people who show her kindnesses and eventually begins to value them only after realizing how their absence would create a horrible void. This is the caricature my daughter was spun into. And it was evidently too abhorrent for the average viewer to stick with through the last episode of the single season the show ran. Since it made sense this character grew up with an AWOL mother, it all fit the narrative and were I not a writer myself, I may never have ever been able to grasp this.
Even though I could explain it all away, however, it did not stop friends, family, and Facebook fans from being angry over how I was portrayed. My answer to them? Had my daughter never become someone notable, none of this would be a topic of conversation, so in the big scheme of things, none of this was an insult. I know the truth, my baby girl knows the truth, and that's all that matters to me. Rest assured that instead of this entire experience causing alienation between my daughter and myself, it only caused us to get closer, since we were BOTH made into caricatures that belied our true relationship.
I thank you for this opportunity to tell my side of things, even though this is not the type of article I generally post here. This will, however, be the extent of my self-defense as a crappy TV mom. New doors open while others close with the sound of a memorable slam behind you. This is one of them.