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Winning Mishegas Column Debuts in Hollywood ‘Webisode’

As the expiration date on the gallon milk jug gets closer to the day of Jack’s bar mitzvah, the reality of this major lifecycle event hits me like a ton of bricks. I’m not old enough to have a teenage son, especially one dressed in a designer suit, silk tie, and a mezuzah necklace. As Jack polishes his prayers everyday, I frantically run in circles and make changes to the guest list, menu, party favors, music, programs, decorations, entertainment, speeches, biographical slide show, and, of course, my outfits. Every chance I get, I rearrange the seating chart like I’m playing musical chairs.

Obviously, I’m in bar mitzvah mode full force right now. Nothing can distract me from my list of things to do. Not even the flu. Then suddenly, without any warning, my party planning comes to a screeching halt. That’s when I find out that I’m going to Hollywood, California, for the trip of a lifetime.

It all started on the Monday before Valentine’s Day, which is the typical countdown to whether my husband will end up in the doghouse or not. That’s when I discover through an email that I’m selected as the first grand prize winner of a writing contest for “In The Motherhood,” a groundbreaking online comedy series starring gorgeous and talented actresses Leah Remini, Chelsea Handler, and Jenny McCarthy. Seven days later, Scott and I are on a plane heading to Los Angeles to meet the stars and experience the behind-the-scene making of my story that I wrote on my family camping disaster (“Mishegas of Motherhood”, May 2006). The Internet-based episode is called a “webisode,” and this online sitcom series represents the wave of future entertainment, according to Hollywood insiders.

The unique concept behind “In The Motherhood,” which is the brainchild of MindShare Entertainment, is that real moms, like you and me, submit over the Internet a few simple paragraphs about mom-focused topics, such as, toddler tantrums, sibling rivalry, and other embarrassing real-life moments. Then, online readers and an advisory committee vote on their favorite entries. Next, professional screenwriters bring to life the best stories in a series of innovative, short scripted comical films. Last year, more than 5 million viewers tuned in to watch the hysterically funny “In the Motherhood.”

My webisode is scheduled to air sometime in March during season two, episode three on www.inthemotherhood.com, so check it out or just visit my website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com., and I’ll take you there.

Needless to say, my ordinary suburban life as a stay-at-home mom (who never stays home) is changed forever, or at least for a few days. Here’s how it all got started:

So, one evening I’m about to whip up something spectacular again for dinner—a recipe that involves Rice Krispies cereal, over-ripe bananas and skinless chicken breast—when I decide to check my emails again, a compulsion of mine. As I routinely delete a bunch of junk messages, I stumble across an email marked urgent with an exclamation mark. I open it up and start to read the letter from New York when my concentration is interrupted with my toy poodle Luci barking non-stop at the garbage truck outside. As if the noise isn’t deafening enough, Jack and Sari nag me, “Mom, we’re starving! What’s for dinner?”

I ignore their demands and quickly skim the letter again that explains how I’m invited to Los Angeles next week to see the taping of my show that is based on a story that I submitted to the “In The Motherhood” writing contest last year. I have less than 24 hours to accept my first place grand prize, which is sponsored by Sprint and Suave, and I’m required to notarize an affidavit that proves my identity to the promotional company in New York.

I can’t believe what I’m reading. Surely, there must be a mistake because I never win anything, except maybe a free lottery ticket that still pays nothing. I figure that either I have to buy a case of Suave shampoo and conditioner every month for the rest of my life or at least upgrade my cell phone to a Sprint BlackBerry in order to be eligible. This incredible prize package also includes a three night’s stay at the Hyatt hotel on Sunset Boulevard, a makeover at Lukaro Salon in Beverly Hills, a photo session with a celebrity photographer, limo service, and some other surprise perks.

I reread the email again out loud about 10 times. Finally, when the news about an exciting free vacation and a possible big break in my writing career starts to sink in, I scream, “No way! No way! No way!”

Jack and Sari hear the commotion from the kitchen, where out of desperation they crack and devour shelled peanuts because mommy still hasn’t preheated the oven, and it’s almost bedtime by now. “What’s wrong? What happened? Why are you yelling?” they holler at me as they run upstairs to my office and stare at me like I’m a deranged person who’s been in isolation too long.

I try to catch my breath as they read the email over my shoulder, and then we all scream some more. “No way! No way! No way!”

Sari scrambles to find the phone underneath a seat cushion. “I’m calling daddy and telling him that you won a trip,” my nine-year-old-daughter exclaims as if I actually won the lottery. I overhear their conversation while I read each word of the document another time.

“Daddy, guess what? Mom won a writing contest…her camping story is going to be a movie…she is going to California in a few days… I can’t hear you daddy because mommy is still screaming….what?…no, she didn’t make anything for dinner…”

I ditch the bar mitzvah plans like a bad blind date and make a new list of things to do to get ready for my spur-of-the-moment getaway and sudden taste of fame. As the sleet outside my window freezes the mailbox shut, I can’t wait to soak up the warm, California sunshine. I waste no time and drag a heavy suitcase from the basement. I start to throw in clothing when I realize that my wardrobe needs some spring-cleaning. I ask a flight attendant, who I meet on Wednesday at my daughter’s Valentine school party, what women in California are wearing these days. She tells me anything short and tight, like that’s going to happen. I settle on a few cute blouses, flared jeans, a hot pink swing jacket, hoop earrings, a black patent leather handbag, and high heeled sandals that I can barely walk in.

All this time I think I’m traveling solo, so I don’t worry about who’s watching the kids while I’m gone. Scott plans to stay home and bond with Jack and Sari. Then on Thursday, four days before I’m supposed to leave for my whirlwind holiday to the land of the movie stars, I find out that I can bring a guest. I debate on whether to bring my husband or a girlfriend, but Scott gives me no choice. He needs a vacation as much as I do. Besides, if I ask a friend I might cause another one to not speak to me again.

I call Scott at work right away and announce, “Happy Valentine’s day, honey! You’re going to California! Now it’s your turn to shop for a few nice dress shirts to go with your stonewash jeans. By the way, who’s taking care of the kids?”

Fortunately, Grandma Vicki and Grandpa Norman come to the rescue and offer to stay with Jack and Sari and schlep them to school and all of their activities. Meanwhile, I hurriedly put everything in order to get ready for my Hollywood debut. Plus, to prepare the grandparents, I type a detailed itinerary of my children’s upcoming schedule and a comprehensive list of names, phone numbers, and addresses of their pediatrician, dentist, orthodontist, orthopedic, dermatologist, otolaryngologist, school principal, neighbors, close friends, miscellaneous emergency hotlines, and, of course, the veterinarian.

I feel like I’m making progress and start to get excited about meeting the actresses, especially since I’m a huge fan. Remini stars on reruns of the popular television sitcom King of Queens; Handler is the outrageous comedian who hosts The Chelsea Lately Show on the E! network; and McCarthy is famous in her own right and for bringing much-needed awareness to autism.

Whoa—if I’m really going to meet these celebs then someone pinch me now because I must be dreaming. Then a nightmare happens. Jack wakes up Friday morning with a mysterious rash. He is itchy from head to toe with red bumps all over his body. I freak out that he might have chicken pox. I’m even more worried that Scott has to stay home, and I have to find my own way around LAX Los Angeles International Airport.

I call the doctor, and she tells me to immediately bring Jack into the office for a cortisone shot because his symptoms sound like an allergic reaction to his acne medication. She asks me if his tongue is swollen or if he has trouble breathing. “No, he seems fine, but I’m ready to pass out,” I say in a panic over the phone.

As I silently drive Jack to the medical building, I rationalize in my head that my trip to Hollywood isn’t meant to be. Maybe fate is interfering with my plans so that I don’t board a hijacked airplane or something. Instead of feeling happy, I’m stressed out and exhausted.

When we get into the exam room, Jack hesitantly drops his drawers and the nurse pokes a stinging needle into his hard-as-rock buns. “Don’t worry,” she reassures both of us. “The quick acting medicine will give him immediately relief.”

Afterwards, I let Jack miss school and drag him to Macy’s so that I can buy myself new makeup and underwear. My embarrassed son, now 13, wishes he is in school detention instead of with me in the lingerie department.

When we get home, I overdose Jack with Benadryl so that he finally conks out and stops complaining. Eventually, I get into bed after midnight and fall into a deep, comatose sleep when Jack wakes me in the middle of the night because he feels even more miserable. Before my very eyes, his hives manifest into red splotches all over his body, eyelids, hands, and scalp. I give him more antihistamine, and the next morning we schlep back to the doctor’s office for the second day in a row.

I’m in a fragile state of mind as I grip the steering wheel and stare through the dirty windshield. I begin to cry quietly to myself when Jack notices tears rolling down my face.

“Are you thinking about my bar mitzvah again, mom?”, Jack asks me out of concern. “Because if you’re crying already, then you’ll be a basket case when I’m on the bimah.”

I chuckle as I pull into the parking lot and head to the pediatrician’s office. As we sit in the waiting room, I warn Jack not to breathe in too deeply or touch anything because of germs. After looking at Jack’s rash, the doctor prescribes a quick round of prednizone and is confident that the boost of medicine will do the trick.

With that crisis resolved, I feel a little guilty about leaving the kids, so I call a family powwow in our bed on Sunday morning, the day before we leave for Los Angeles. We like to snuggle under the blankets while Luci jumps on top of us.

The meeting comes to order:
Me: “I just want everyone to know that we’re all winners of the ‘In The Motherhood’ contest.”
Jack: “What are you talking about?” he mumbles from underneath a pillow.
Me: “Well, without you guys we wouldn’t have gone camping, and there wouldn’t be a story.”
Sari: “But you get to go to California with daddy. No fair.”
Me: “Daddy and I deserve a little time to ourselves. Besides, we’ll take you on a cruise this summer.”
Scott: “What?! We have a bar mitzvah to pay for!”

To find out how “Mishegas of Motherhood” meets “In The Motherhood”, don’t miss next week’s column.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is obsessing over the reply cards for her son’s upcoming bar mitzvah, so please feel free to send any advice to: ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.