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Empire of the Alpha Mom


The sales job became just “a war of endurance,” Vicky says— a matter of time. Turning again to her “golden Rolodex,” she contacted an acquaintance at Comcast, the country’s largest cable carrier, and there, too, executives “flipped” for the idea. The women poured in their own money, refusing outside investors, Isabel says, because “we need to have control of our company—as much control as possible.” The channel is like the baby, she says. “You want it to succeed, and you do what you have to, to make it succeed.”

The deal with Comcast is just the first domino in what Vicky quite seriously describes as a plan to “conquer the world.” In May, Alpha Mom TV became accessible, at no extra charge, to some 8.5 million Comcast subscribers around the country (“a tremendous value for our digital cable customers,” says Matt Strauss, Comcast’s VP of on-demand content), including viewers in New Jersey and Connecticut. Though you can’t see Alpha Mom TV in Manhattan yet, the company is in negotiations with Time Warner Cable and is throwing local promotional events (a “mommy makeover” with Liz Lange on June 28 at the Loews Cineplex on 34th Street), expecting to offer service here by the end of the year. The brand that began with screaming Ryland will eventually sprawl, if they are right, from television to radio, to broadband and wireless, and on into toys, beauty products, books, and music (adult-friendly lullabies like remakes of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Rock Lobster”). The end goal is for the Alpha Mom brand to become like Oprah, who is so “inspiring,” says Vicky, so “empowering,” and who is “the template for success in media today.” Vicky divulged that she and Isabel have even invented a term “to refer to our eventual world dominance”—AlphaMOMnimedia.

Which leaves to be explained what it is that Isabel unleashes upon the earth. Her vision of national motherhood is grim: these “women who live in the Snow Belt, and they have just one car, and the husband drives off with it in the morning.” Isabel has known isolation like that. She wants to do something to help. Her channel will be like a support group or a church—the church of the immaculate perfection. Goal-oriented parents can go there and find comfort that they’re not alone, that others are also struggling to grow the perfect child. They’ll be told what to do and what not to do and how to do it better—discover how to boost their newborn’s coordination and strength; learn massage that “can help babies eat and sleep better”; hear “research-based explanations of how children separate and attach”; and obtain guidance on “raising overachievers.”

And when inevitably they’re frustrated in their goals, they’ll find programs for that, too: some calm high priestess of motherhood, some Oprah-meets-Martha image of perfection, coming on to absolve them for failing to be perfect today and bolstering their resolve to be more perfect tomorrow. You can do it, the message goes. You can raise “best of breed” children without ever losing your “sense of self.”

Isabel seems truly to believe all of this will help. (How she views herself is perhaps evident in a show called Alpha Mommy Moguls—The Altruists, concerning several mothers who were “inspired to develop businesses which reach out to other moms.”) She herself found solace in data, and she can’t seem to imagine that her television channel won’t have the same effect. “Alpha Mom TV is not meant to bring more anxiety,” she says, but it is after all Isabel’s channel, reflecting Isabel’s goals. Simply by calling herself and her network Alpha Mom, she presents an ideal and promotes the notion that perfection can be achieved. Isabel ratchets up the tension; more mothers go nuts. The work of Alpha Mom TV, like that of the church, will be to allay the fear it creates.

Isabel herself is still caught up in that cycle. She still has days that she’s incredibly insecure and worries that she’s not doing it right—as when Ryland was rejected from the Harvard of 2-year-old programs, and Isabel wept. In such moments, she turns again to the experts, such as the psychoanalyst Michelle Ascher Dunn, whom Isabel has recruited to host several Alpha Mom programs. At a recent meeting with Dunn, Isabel arrives with a list of issues she wants addressed, including “exactly what it is that a child needs from a mother?” “What happens if you can’t find your inner mother voice?” And “what happens if the child doesn’t develop? Does that mean you’re a bad parent?” On this last question, Isabel waits for an answer. Dunn explains that babies are strong, elastic; that “human DNA is very hearty”; that it’s really hard to go wrong as a parent. Isabel takes this in, clicking her pen. She proposes a segment called “The Just-Right Mother,” but Dunn demurs on the title, explaining that a mother cannot be “just right” to anyone but her baby. “You’re looking for that authentic attachment,” Dunn says. “Oh, I love that!” says Isabel, leaning forward. “This is key, Michelle, all very key. And we need to put it out there. And I think you’re the right person to convey that message.”

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