How being a Hollywood assistant prepared me for motherhood
by Jill Effron
I had big Hollywood dreams to become a writer and director. When I moved out to Hollywood fifteen years ago to pursue my dreams, the only job I could find was as a receptionist juggling seven phone lines. I then worked in a mailroom where I ran around town to deliver scripts, pick up lunches, and buy toothbrushes. I was actually handed a run slip with a used toothbrush attached. I think writing ‘Oral B’ in the comments section would’ve been all the instruction I needed.
Then I worked as a PA on a couple of TV shows where I kept creative adults hydrated and fed around the clock. If there were an Emmy category for Best PA in a comedy series, sub-category, “not screwing up lunches,” I would have definitely won.
During those assistant years I kept reminding myself that juggling phone lines, buying toothbrushes, and ordering 2-3 meals a day for the office, were all in preparation for the BIG studio movie I was going to write and direct. Yeah…no. Instead, it prepared me for motherhood.
Here are the similarities I found between working as a Hollywood assistant and motherhood:
Pleasing the boss. It was a good day if I didn’t get yelled at for some inane thing I did or didn’t do. And it’s a good day now if I can keep a child from crying. Both take skill. But a tear-free and tantrum-free day is always welcome, whether it’s a baby or a boss.
Mind reading. Sometimes a boss would mistake me for a mind reader. My college degree was in TV/Radio, not telepathy. One example was when I was told I was not taking enough initiative when it came to feeding the writers. I’m supposed to guess when they’re hungry? Of course this conversation from years ago makes complete sense to me now. Until kids are able to speak, you’re constantly guessing what they want by their gestures, whines and cries. It’s like a never-ending game of charades, which looking back would have made some of those stressful mind reading moments at work enjoyable.
You’re always cleaning up someone else’s s**t. I did so many dishes and stocked so many fridges that I let the dishes pile up and my fridge go bare at home. I can’t do that now because as much as I would love to train my kindergartener to do dishes – and don’t think I haven’t tried – something always breaks and I have to clean it up. Whether it’s poop, toys, food, noses, hands, clothes, etc., the cleaning is never-ending. There is no secret night PA I could pawn off these chores to. But it’s not a bad idea to find one…
Post Traumatic Beeper Disorder. This affliction occurs when you think your beeper (or a mobile device of today) is going off when it’s not. As a PA, I was on call 24/7. On hiatus, I frequently grabbed my hip thinking my beeper was going off, but I wasn’t wearing a beeper. Now, instead of phantom beeps, I hear phantom cries. I shoot up in bed, or run in from another room, or stop whatever it is I’m doing because I thought I heard the baby cry, when in reality, he was silent. Insurance does not cover therapy for this condition. I’ve asked.
Working overtime. It’s everyday, in both worlds. Only in Hollywood, you’ll sometimes get paid for it.
Job security in any business is hard to come by these days, but there was nothing secure about working in television…as an HR person once warned. The one thing that is different with my motherhood gig is job security. My kids can’t fire me because there is no one lined up at our door eager to change diapers or wake up at 4am. Now, instead of a bi-weekly paycheck, I get daily payments of smiles and hugs. Sure, you can’t pay for a latte or cable in smiles and hugs, but for now, it’s okay.
Looking back to where I started and thinking about where I thought I would be, I’ve realized that sometimes the original dream you were chasing turns into a different kind of dream altogether. Your legacy might not be a blockbuster movie or hit TV show (for now); instead it might be really cute kids who love you unconditionally. And the weekend Hollywood house parties with booze are now weekend bouncy house parties with organic apple juice. But if you can survive the workplace, then you can definitely survive motherhood!Tags: Assistant, Hollywood, Mommyhood, Television, Writer