Real Housewife Alex McCord and Real Househusband Simon Van Kempen have a book out and are doin' the rounds. Little Kids, Big City is all about urban parenting, though it may not ease our curiosity over why they named their kids Francois and Johann.-
On the cusp of embarking on their book tour (with kids in tow!), Alex and Simon met up with us on their home turf of Park Slope. The rundown: The McCord-Van Kempen duo is quite polite - even to painfully awkward bookstore browsers - and unnervingly earnest. More importantly, Simon was wearing bright pink loafers, which he confessed he has in several colors. Alex is very leggy and much prettier in person than on the show, perhaps because she always looks faintly terrified by the other television housewives on-camera.
How do the kids feel about the hullabaloo? Are they excited?
A: Oh, they’re excited. The funny thing was, they wanted to know why their names weren’t in the byline. And I said, well okay, we wrote it, but, uh, you’re in the picture on the cover.
And they’re the muses.
S: They absolutely are. Without them there would be no book.
A: No, there wouldn’t be.
S: There’s a little bit about us before we had children, but it’s really about the roller-coaster of being a parent of a toddler, and how it’s changed our relationship.
A: The book’s a he-said, she-said, and we interchange writing, and I found that when I was sitting on the laptop writing something and one of them would come up behind me and start speaking, I would just incorporate that into what I was writing sometimes. They’d come up and ask me something totally off the wall, and I would just put it right into the book.
Were there any things they tried to veto?
A: There was one thing which I wound up cutting not strictly because Francois asked me to, but because it just didn’t really add anything to the book. We certainly wanted to be sensitive to not embarrassing them.
S: No stories for their first girlfriend to go "Awwwwww Francois!"
So no naked baby pictures.
A: No! No.
S: They’d be shocked.
A: Oh, maybe we should check now. [Simon flips through the book]
S: I think I’m naked there. No there aren’t any of the children.
Self-nudity is always excusable, I think. Aside from the photos, what has been your favorite thing about having kids?
A: That it added more to our life instead of taking it away. I mean I was one of those judgmental people prior to having children - I saw people either chopping off all their hair or buying a minivan or just turning into people I didn’t like. And I saw women completely change upon having children, and that certainly played into me not wanting to have kids, because I certainly didn’t want to give up my life and cease being me. But I’ve realized that you don’t suddenly morph into this pastel-wearing women with a bag that says B-A-B-Y on the side. And, like, we go out, we have fun.
S: And then you learn that love is infinite. Alex and I love each other passionately, have done now for eleven years next month, married for 10, and initially we didn’t want to have kids, kids were not going to happen. But our love just kept on growing and growing and growing – and once we were pregnant we decided very quickly we wanted to have two. Didn’t want to have an only child, but didn’t want to be outnumbered, so two is the number. And we talked about how when the second came along, it’s hard for the first. And it’s hard for me, because you know for a father, when a baby’s born and breastfed, it’s all about the bonding and the nurturing, because the baby’s being fed by the mother’s body. And then when Johann was born, it took me a while to bond with him, because I spent all my time with Francois.
S: In seasons 1 and 2 we both had office jobs. For those seasons we were filming during the weekends. And I wasn’t about to not be with her just because she was filming this reality show. There were times season 1 where there was sort of a staged set-up. The Girls Night Out [In which Simon crashed lady-time, and Ramona freaked out and made the inevitable crazy eyes] was created drama.
Did the producers ask you to show up at it unannounced?
S: I was going to Jules for dinner for a long time! I didn’t know it was going to be Girls Night Out until right before.
A: There were bits of that evening that we didn’t really realize were afoot. [Laughs]
S: But Ramona’s reaction was real. Me crashing Girls Night Out wasn’t real, but the reactions of people once I got there were real, and you sort of understand, you’re making a dramatic tv show. But that scene particularly made people question our relationship. “Why is he always along?” Also, you saw me saying “Alex can do whatever she likes,” and then you saw Alex say the same thing later in the show. Honestly, I don’t know whether I said it first or she said it first. Because the way it’s shown on tv . . . but now in season 3, she didn’t have a desk job –
A: Yeah, I work longer hours than I ever did before, but from home. Certainly we have adjusted our lives
How do the kids feel about the show?
A: Oh, we don’t show it to them, but they’ve seen clips from time to time.
Do they get any kind of ego boost from that? Or are they very blasé about the whole thing?
S: Yeah, I don't think ego doesn’t seem to come into it. Francois, at 6 is a little young for that kind of thing.
A: Yeah, they’re pretty down to earth about it. They take it in stride. Francois has sometimes said to me, “Do we know them or did they just see us on tv?” when people have come up and talked to us. But not in an “Oh, I’m a star” sort of way, just sort of like, “Oh wait, do we know them?”
S: I remember last year at Francois’s school, they made a movie. And he was like any sort of shy five-year-old, hiding behind the chair. [Whispers] “I’m . . . Francois.”
A: He hasn’t turned into Macauley Culkin!
S: It’s been really cool to have the experience of writing the book. When Francois was born,I almost immediately started writing down stories of the stuff that would happen. Simon and I had collaborated before: shortly after we were married, I’d helped him write a 400-page hotel manual. So we knew that we could write together. So we said, Let's write this ourselves. We were always going to write it ourselves. Unlike a lot of our cast members, we don't have a ghostwriter.
So can we look forward to a teenage edition of the book in ten years or so? Slightly Larger Kids, Big City.
A: Medium-Sized Children, Big City; Super-Size Children, Big City.
S: We did have so much fun writing it. The weirdest thing was that we took three days to read it to each other. It's very important that our words come through, and people who have bought it this week have told me that they read my parts in my accent! Which is quite cute.
So if ever a book-on-tape version comes out, you'll obviously be doing the narration yourself.
A: Oh, we would have to do so. Don't you think?
S: Oh yes, yes, absolutely.
As a closer: Given that we're in Park Slope, do you have a pet peeve about New York parents?
A: There's a whole section about Park Slope and babies taking over the neighborhood, and other people's neurotic vitriol at living in urban areas. There's Park Slope Parent.com? Oh my gosh! There was this huge thing that I think made the New York Times about gender-specific baby hats.
S: Someone found a boy's light blue baby hat, and suddenly it was "How do you know it's a boy?! Girls can wear blue!" And it went on and on and on.
S: You know what people write on parenting blogs?
A: It's just dogma.
S: In the book, we talk about I Saw Your Nanny. To me, when you hire a caregiver, if you can't trust them, then you've hired the wrong person. If you're not around 24-7 to watch your kid, then you can't watch the person being around 24-7 to look after your kid. If I were a nanny, and you interviewed me for a job, and you said there was going to be a nanny cam, I'm not interested. You've gotta delegate respectfully.