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Empire of the Alpha Mom

Does the world need a Martha Stewart of parenting? Isabel Kallman would like to submit her résumé.


The birth of the alpha boy was a planned event—“Very much so,” said his mother, Isabel Kallman—and occurred when the timing was right, on a fine spring day, after an intense 29-hour labor.

His parents were both Ivy Leaguers and lifelong New Yorkers, people with “a lot of self-starter DNA,” as Craig Kallman said, “wired for an insane pace.” Craig by that time had become co-chairman of Atlantic Records, and Isabel had recently stepped down from her 100-hour-a-week senior-vice-president position at Salomon Smith Barney. Given who they were and the known, ancient history of parenthood, what happened then perhaps should not have surprised them. Isabel, who had always looked after herself (“I am very independent”), suddenly had complete responsibility for someone else—a baby who, according to Craig, was “nonstop motion, a complete tour de force, the Energizer Bunny 24/7, unbelievable!” A baby who, according to Isabel, became “the hardest job I ever tackled.”

This April day was, in fact, little Ryland’s 2nd birthday, and reflecting on that in the doorway of the Kallmans’ Upper East Side apartment, Isabel “was just realizing, two years ago, I pulled an all-nighter.” But no time to think more, because she had the party to prepare for and meetings to attend and right now a music class with Ryland. She picked up her son—a bundle of curls, big blue eyes, and on a finger, as he said, a “booger!” “Yes, booger,” mumbled Isabel, whisking him away, and soon they were in traffic together, where Ry-Ry wanted a cookie, wanted to take his shoes off, where little Ry-Ry started to cry because he could not touch the green traffic lights. Isabel puckered up to baby-talk with her son—“I know you want to touch the light, sweetheart. I’m so sorry you can’t touch it”—and then crisply explained her methodology. “I try to use something called ‘empathetic communication’ with him,” she said. “I try to intellectualize the process, because it’s easy to get mad.”

The Sunshine Kids’ Club, on East 83rd, is a bright little slot in the wall where Isabel rushed in with Ryland in her arms. She was soon among others of her kind, dancing about, tipping over to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot.” This sort of thing is fun for the children, allowed the club’s director of admissions, “and a little fun for the mothers.” She was a gray-haired woman named Carol Zuckerman, and outside the music room, she spoke of the changes in parenting since she had little ones. Many people in the city wait to have children until they have high-powered jobs, she said, “so when they finally do have a child and stay home, a lot of that same intensity is transferred home. Do you know what I mean? They put more energy into it than my generation. Like what’s the best stroller, the best nursery school, the best classes—all of it. It’s not like everyone doesn’t want the best for their child, but to me, it seems people these days have a more professional attitude toward raising their children. A lot of it is very intellectually thought-out and very scheduled, almost like they have a business plan for their children.”

“But I don’t want you to think this is a knock on them,” she went on, “because they’re under so much pressure from the media and other parents.”

Zuckerman was still speaking as mothers began streaming out, and she paused to remark on Isabel’s weight loss and to ask her secret. “It’s just called work and mommyhood,” Isabel answered shortly, as she rushed off to a meeting.

The meeting involved the business she was founding: an all-day, all-night, on-demand cable channel where “mothers seeking excellence,” according to press releases, would be able to find “the latest, best-of-breed information” on everything from preconception and child development to how women can “maintain their style, sophistication and sense-of-self upon entering mommyhood.” Isabel’s channel, Alpha Mom TV, was for “the new breed of ‘go to’ moms who are constantly looking to be ahead of the curve and ‘in the know’ on the newest innovations, hippest trends and research breakthroughs.”

Isabel, with a saucy wag of the head, would later describe the typical member of this breed as, “you know, the maven of mommyhood, the leader of the pack.”

“Definitely dominant,” she said.

Which didn’t sound too cuddly, but as Isabel’s business partner, Vicky Germaise, explained, that was the point. The logo of Alpha Mom TV is not pink and blue but red, white, and black, she said. If not to become strong, for what should a modern mother strive? “Soft and mushy mom?” Come on, said Vicky. “Betty Crocker’s over!”

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