The paparazzi start trailing me the moment I pull out of my driveway at 532 Rockwell Circle. My street sounds fancier than it is – mostly ranches and capes dot the landscape of postage stamp size lots, a slice of blue collar in this middle class Long Island town. My street has never seen a line of paparazzi follow anyone and they certainly have never seen the paparazzi follow a worn out mom dragging her cranky son to Shop Rite for eggs and milk. My neighbor glances up from watering her mums and stares at the spectacle, jaws slack, until muddy puddles form at her feet.
It is an achingly beautiful October day, the kind of day that reminds me why autumn is my favorite season – blue skies and no humidity, the tiniest bite of a chill in the air, mild enough though, that the sweatshirt jackets necessary this morning will be stuffed in backpacks by this afternoon. I would love to take a detour, take my four year old son, Sam, to the playground. I would love to catch him at the bottom of the slide, give him a push on the swings while he pretends to be on a spaceship, valiantly pumping his little legs. Only, I can’t. I constantly glance in my rear view mirror. Are they still there? Where will these pictures end up? How much more can my family take? Like the silver spheres of a pinball machine, these thoughts bounce around my brain.
In the parking lot I shield Sam from the cameras exploding like flashes of lightning around us as we try to make our way into Shop Rite. He is gripping a handful of my shirt in each fist, his face pressed into my stomach. His voice is muffled, as he wails, “Why are all these people around us, Mommy? Why are they keeping us from going in the store?”
“Please,” I beg the faces behind those massive lenses, “you’re scaring my son. We just need to get food.” One photographer steps back a few feet, letting us by. Maybe he’s a parent, maybe he just feels bad for me. Maybe, he’s realized I’m not that interesting.
So, how in the world did I, a bedraggled suburban mom of four just trying to get through housework, carpool, homework and errands end up fodder for the tabloids, a sex tape of me whipping its way around cyberspace? I’m no Kim Kardashian. Let’s get that straight. I’m one of those people sometimes referred to as a “pillar of the community.” You know, I’m the mom in the PTA you can count on to run the book drive for needy kids and then lug all the books to the community center three towns over. I’m the one you can call at 8:30 Monday night with a Tuesday morning cupcake emergency. I’ll stay up until midnight swirling icing and sprinkling sparkly sugar just so, a nod to my pre-child life as a pastry chef.
This year I chaired six East Hollow Elementary School PTA committees. That didn’t even include the Hebrew school Mitzvah Fair I organized. So, yes, I am a good person with morals almost to a fault. My own mother used to tell me that I was too good before she passed away. “You’re always bending over backwards to please people, Maxie,” she tsk tsked every time I put my own needs aside, which I’ve done pretty much my whole life.
I’m not what you would call sexy, either. Maybe I was circa 1988 with my big, wild, caramel curls and tight acid wash jeans. Now my uniform consists of a velour tracksuit (Target, not Juicy) and my hair up in a ponytail. It’s not even a chic, glossy ponytail – it looks more like a rabbit’s tail, puffy with bits of frizzy fluff framing my cheeks. If my bangs weren’t side swept, they’d be grazing my nose, it’s been so long since I’ve had a haircut. It’s the only spot I bother to beat into submission with a flat iron and every time I do it, I swear I am going to make a salon appointment that day. Oh and that lustrous caramel – my favorite thing about myself – gone, replaced by Garnier Dark Natural Blonde, #80, bought whenever it’s on sale at Walgreens or CVS. The day I noticed my honeyed locks growing in gray was a sad one.
After I finally make my way into the store, I turn from the end cap of Cheerios to see my face staring back at me from the cover of Us magazine, the lovely sunny yellow letters below, proclaiming me to be the Suburban Sex Goddess. I squeeze the box of Multi Grain Cheerios in my hand until it has fine wrinkles lacing the top. Sam whines, “I want the Fruity ones too!”
“Ask me in your nice voice,” I chide, glad to be snapped out of my reverie by my usual task – instilling manners in an instant gratification obsessed I want it now child.
“Mommy, please may I have the Fruity ones?”
“Yes, you may,” I answer, hoping no one notices me giving in to sugar and artificial colors, which may be as bad in this town as my face plastered across Us with a tawdry headline. I can just hear the whispers, She’s embroiled in this Internet sex mess – and she feeds her kids sugar in the morning. She’s not what I thought she was…