My name is Denise and I work at Lil’ Cuties, Inc. You recently filled out a survey on Craig’s List [sic] for the opportunity to be a part of a focus group at Lil’ Cuties. We want to know what real moms think of some of our products and we believe you will be a great fit for our focus group.”

I am not a mother. I am not an actress. I feel, however, as though I can confidently project competency in both fields. Which is why I recently filled out a survey on Craig’s List [sic] for the opportunity to be a part of a focus group at Lil’ Cuties, Inc.

This isn’t the first time I’ve lied for fun and/or profit. I’ve committed return fraud. I’ve cheated on a partner. I’ve pretended to be fertile, for chrissakes (that experiment, however, ended in tears). This ain’t my first rodeo. Nevertheless, I’m paranoid. What do “real moms” really think of the real products they buy for their “real children”? How do they describe said children? Glowingly? Passively? I realize that, my own mom included, I have never met a “real mom.” Shit. Lil’ Cuties appears to be in the business of pacifier manufacturing; I Google the phrase “pacifier brands,” scribble down a few names, and attempt to dress as dumpily as possible. (“Real moms,” I assume, have no time for self-respect.)

Lil’ Cuties HQ is located in a nondescript, soul shatteringly bleak business park situated squarely within the asshole of the San Fernando Valley. I park my car in the lot, next to an SUV with a car seat in the back seat. I instinctively turn around to examine my own back seat. There is, unsurprisingly, no car seat present. I pray no one notices. I realize that I am acting needlessly paranoid. I continue acting needlessly paranoid.

Lil’ Cuties interior belies its nondescript surroundings. The clean, modern office is filled with expensive looking paintings, African fertility dolls and, bizarrely, a sculpture that creates and emits smoke every two minutes. The receptionist explains that I am surrounded by “the owner’s art collection.” If I knew being a “real mom” was this profitable, I would have gotten pregnant a long time ago. It’s close to Halloween; the receptionist brings out a trough of candy that the REAL “real moms” surrounding me eat with aplomb. They’re talking amongst themselves about their (presumedly real) children. I try to keep a low profile.

I tell the moderator of the focus group that my daughter is three months old and that the two of us live with my fiance. For reasons unknown, I feel as though it would be disingenuous to say that I’m married. I have actually been married. I have never been a mother.

In spite of it all, I do a perfectly fine job of pantomiming motherhood – no one bats an eyelash when I say that I prefer MAM brand pacifiers. The other mothers seem to be more into their own anecdotes than mine; this bodes well for yours truly as it means I get to spend the majority of time staring into space. My mind is elsewhere; as a “real mom,” however, I’m still expected to be emotionally present.

In much the same way people in lines will give each other a “Can you believe this shit?” look whenever they have to soldier through the same horrible experiences, these “real moms” collectively look at one another and nod whenever one relates a motherly anecdote. As “real moms,” we all fish from the same barrel of existence. In lieu of nodding, I make a point to swig from one of an ever-increasing pile of water bottles whenever a “real mom” says anything that appears to be “real.” My bladder quickly fills. I’ve read that pregnancy weakens the bladder – I’m method acting.

A woman in pink velour track suit, face pockmarked, a pair of enormous silver hoops hanging from her ears, yammers on for what seems like a gestation period. Her miscellaneous face piercings do an admirable job of distracting from her pockmarks. She, a woman with penciled-on eyebrows and a tattooed-on personality, informs us that breast milk makes children intelligent. In lieu of scientific evidence, she presents the fact that she fed her two kids breast milk. One has a 4.0 GPA; the other is, uh, also smart. She seems to think that breast milk is the solution to the world’s intellectual ailments. She appears to have been a bottle baby.

Two hours pass. The focus group is over. I made it. Before we leave, the gals gang up and insist we drink the glass bottle Diet Cokes in the conference room refrigerator. The moderator insists that said Cokes are property of the art-loving owner of Lil’ Cuties, who probably won’t want to part with them. The “real moms,” however, are real thirsty; they won’t leave empty throated. The moderator sighs and caves; the mothers snatch the Cokes up, giggling like school girls all the while. I’m not thirsty, but I take one anyway. I don’t want to rock the boat.

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