Look, I’m not saying things are perfect. But they’ve goddamned well improved.
A couple weeks ago I learned that a company named Happy Family was interested in working with me for a blogger program. Right away, I was convinced they had contacted me by mistake: Happy Family is all about healthy, organic kids’ food. It’s not that I’m opposed to healthy, organic kids’ food, it’s just that … well, I’ve always been pretty up front about the fact that my children are insanely picky and have gone months at a time living off of processed carbohydrates and whatever pinkish dye goes into those squeeze yogurt tubes.
Happy Family wanted me to come to New York and to tell a funny story or two on camera about kids and food, and they promised it didn’t have to be a successful story. Are you sure? I asked, over and over again. Because I have exactly ZERO stories that end with my kids happily munching on a stalk of broccoli after I convinced them it was a tiny delicious fairy castle tree, or whatever. But if you want a story about the time my son suspiciously refused to try an orange because he “didn’t know what flavor it was” and I ended up shouting “IT’S AN ORANGE! IT’S ORANGE FLAVOR, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!” out of sheer frustration, well, I’m your woman.
After I’d clarified for the millionth time that they weren’t looking for a healthy-eating spokesperson, I said sure, I’m in. I like the brand, I’ve heard good things about their products, and I imagined sitting in their groovy, low-key company office somewhere — photos of grinning babies adorning the walls — while I casually chatted into someone’s iPhone camera or something.
Then I got the itinerary, and realized I was going to take part in an actual commercial shoot. At a studio. With, like, a rehearsal and a call time and everything.
I came thisclose to canceling the whole thing out of sheer pants-shitting terror, but I kept thinking about a values worksheet I did recently where I marked that adventure felt important to me, but that I have virtually none of it in my life right now. I could chicken out of the video shoot because I’m a giant fucking pussy whose comfort zone doesn’t extend three inches past my living room, or, you know, I could get on the goddamned plane.
So I got on the goddamned plane. I spent two nights in New York, which was a thrilling change from my usual routine:
The video shoot was at a studio in Brooklyn. The rehearsal was fairly low-key, but when I showed up for the actual filming the environment had totally changed: There were crowds of incredibly busy people clustered around monitors and monitoring equipment and strategizing wardrobe, and there were billions of cameras and enormous lights, and people were barking “Aaaand … action!” and “Cut!” and when I tell you I was nervous this doesn’t even come CLOSE to describing how it felt to wait my turn to walk on set.
Everyone was incredibly kind and encouraging, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the makeup artist who buffed and glossed me, then put his hands on my trembling shoulders, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Honey, you’re going to be fabulous. And if you’re not, what the hell, it’ll make a great story.”
I do not think I was in fact fabulous, but neither did I sink to the floor in a twitching, urine-dribbling faint once the cameras started rolling, which is what I had become increasingly convinced was going to happen. The most awkward part was my introduction, where I said something like, “Hi, my name’s Linda Sharps, and I’m going to tell you about the time my kids …” — but I had to say it over and over again for the different takes they wanted, and pretty soon I felt like it all sounded like gibberish. MY! HI LAME’S SHINDA FLARPS!
The lights were insanely hot and I could feel sweat running straight down into my shoes and I didn’t know what to do with my hands and I had a really hard time keeping my gaze pointed in the direction they wanted. I was also helplessly, stupidly apologetic, even though I knew it wasn’t charming or remotely useful for a busy crew to hear some lady repeatedly yapping about how sorry she is that she’s so awful — they just wanted to get the footage and move on, for god’s sake, but I couldn’t help it. “HA HA HA OH MY GOD I’M SORRY,” I’d say, and the producers would smile and say I was doing great but could I try it this way, and I’d be like, “OKAY SORRY! HA HA HA HA BOY I AM BAD AT THIS!”
Anyway, I found it marginally easier once I was past the scripted stuff. I don’t know what they’ll use in the final video, but I told a story about how I’d made Riley a healthy organic carrot cake for his first birthday and he reacted like this:
I also talked about the time Dylan barfed hotdogs all over his car seat and I learned that the human digestive process does virtually NOTHING to that particular food, since it came out in the exact same coin-shaped slices he’d eaten HOURS ago. At the end of that story I cracked a joke about how that unpleasant experience ruined my otherwise intimate relationship with hot dogs, at which point I clapped a hand over my mouth and shrieked in pure horror to the entire studio: “HOLY FUCK DID I JUST SAY INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH HOT DOGS??”
The concept of the video is that a handful of bloggers (eight, maybe?) tell their stories about kids and food, then a team of improv actors take those stories and act out some related skits. Basically once I was done with my part, the improv folk got on set and leaped into action, performing a bunch of off-the-cuff scenes that were unbelievably funny. For instance, I’d said something in my intro about how my husband is a professional project manager, but he’s kind of a hillbilly at heart, so they did a scene with a super-businesslike guy who occasionally lapses into “y’alls” while giving a presentation, until his suspicious coworkers pull aside his shirt to reveal — gasp! — his hidden overall sunburn. They also did a skit about a guy who’s trying to move on from his relationship with hot dogs, until his phone rings while he’s on a date and a deep voice says, “It’s me: Hot Dog. I’m … slathering myself with mustard right now.”
Okay, it’s sort of hard to explain, but the results were hilarious. I sat there and laughed until I had to be re-powdered by my BFF, the makeup guy, and then once the improv folks were done I did one more awkward bit of talking, then that was it. I ran straight from the studio to my airport car, and flew home with an inch-thick layer of foundation on my face.
The video will be posted in Happy Family’s Facebook page for a campaign called “Stories from the Bright Side,” and I believe it’s scheduled to go live April 10th or so. I am equally excited and terrified to see the final product, because I am hopeful it’ll be funny and awesome … but I’m super freaked at the idea of seeing my footage. I will, of course, let you know when it’s available, even if I look and sound like a complete goon.
Thanks so much to Happy Family for including me in the program. Although their intent was surely not to provide me, Shinda Flarps, with the personally rewarding experience of pushing past my comfort zones to try something utterly new, I’m hugely grateful to them for the opportunity.