By Andrea Marcusa
To most parents of private school children in areas such as New York, Washington, DC, and LA, having celebrities in the parent body are a fact of life. Yet even some of the more worldly moms and dads at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington are understandably star struck with the prospect of President Barack Obama’s two daughters becoming their children’s classmates. Sleepovers at the White House? The idea of such an event could cause even the most seasoned private school parent to fawn.
Before my youngest child entered kindergarten, I learned from the private school sidewalk gossip that among his incoming class would be the offspring of a household name celebrity – a name even my mother would recognize. Although I should have developed an ennui about A-list parents, having a superstar dad sit next to me during a “meet the teachers” evening added some pizazz to my hum drum, Upper East Side life. In addition, dropping the name of my son’s classmate to easily-impressed out-of-towners, provided a good New York tale for them to bring home to the boondocks. Such name-dropping was also effective at neutralizing jabs from non-urban family members and friends about how difficult it is to raise kids in New York City.
Even though my son was only a kindergartener, I had already had several parent/celeb encounters at his pre-school, which had accepted several celebrity kids in the grades above and below him. Each time I rode the elevator with one of them, their close proximity touched off a self-consciousness that made the automatic tasks of swallowing or pressing the elevator button a challenge. It was stupid, I know, but there was something destabilizing about coming face to face with a person with whom I’d already formed a relationship with from Jay Leno interviews and gossip pages.
Privately, some of the parents complained about a celebrity mom’s clothes, wondering why she dressed so poorly. Others were put off by the stream of babysitters that seemed to cycle through the home. I was just plain curious, as I saw that there was more to them than the quips exchanged on late night television. Who were these people, I wondered, as they arrived together each morning at school holding hands with their child.
When the annual class coffee for the grade’s parents was hosted by this family, I jumped at the chance to attend. I had only been inside the apartment one time before, to pick my son up from a late play date. Although my son and the celebrity child hadn’t really connected in the classroom, he was friendly with another boy was who had invited him along to play. I had heard about the apartment — that it was nice but not overdone and usually that the parents were busy in other parts of the home so that the sitter or housekeeper would deliver my child to me.
On the day of the coffee, we were all welcomed into the kitchen by the A-list mom, who was sporting nondescript jeans and a pullover that ably showed off her thin frame. There the other parents and I mingled with one another, nibbling on the usual Upper East Side parent breakfast fare of fresh fruit, a few muffins, OJ and coffee. I noticed that some of the other moms had dressed up a bit more than usual with a stroke of lipstick, a bit of blush, a little mascara. As we chitchatted, an older woman sat on a stool near the phone, saying hello to each of us as we arrived. She looked like such a normal, heavy-set early 70s, that I mistook her for the help.
The woman turned out to the celeb’s mother-in-law who was visiting for the week. There was an easy exchange between them, the kind one would expect to find in a more conventional family. I scanned the large and roomy kitchen that offered bright views of the city. Near the phone stood a stack of notes and un-filed papers, not unlike the ones in my own kitchen, while their son’s artwork decorated the refrigerator. As I talked to the mother-in-law, the pride she had in both her son and grandson was unusual in that it was so predictable, almost clichéd. As the morning unfolded further, I began to feel let down. I had expected a scene more like the ones depicted the movies, more red carpet than down-to-earth.
I stepped on to the elevator to leave along with another mother who had attended the event. “The grandmother’s great. Wasn’t that fun?” she said. I began to say something and then stopped myself from complaining that they were too normal. The cardinal rule of private school parents is not to dis the celebs, at least not to a parent you don’t really know. I smiled and said, “Yeah she was very nice. So down to earth.” I sensed she had more to say, but like me, she kept it to herself.
Celebrity Classmates: Dos and Don’ts for Parents of Young Children
• Don’t encourage your kid to befriend the child of a celebrity so you can hob knob with the parents.
• If your child befriends a celebrity child on his or her own, refrain from commenting about the child’s parent’s talent, latest movie, song, etc. during their play dates.
• Celebrities’ lives are different from other people’s. Don’t use your own criteria to evaluate them.
• If you go to a celebrity home to pick up a child, respond to the surroundings as you would want someone to respond to your home. In other words, don’t be overly nosy.