There's a video you can find online of a topless, quite swole man at a gas station doing raised pushups off the fuel bowser while his car fills, as though he couldn't last two minutes without working on his body. It is, the person filming the cellphone video notes, peak L.A. I think about it all the time, I think, "God, what kind of arms race is parenting like out there?" This is relevant today because noted Los Angeles-based parents Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell are pouring nonstop unfiltered tea at the launch of their new organic baby-line, Hello Bello.
"Before I had kids, I was like, 'I'm going to have all wooden toys,'" Kristen Bell tells Romper as we pick at long gourmet chips shaped like canoes, "'and they're going to watercolor all day,' and then I got them and I was 'Whoa, turn on the TV!'"
That said, she does ask their local restaurant to reuse their carryout containers to save on plastic waste. Bell is so petite and cheerful, if she asked me right now to tip my lunch into a used takeout container, I can't imagine telling her no.
"You can be weird in L.A." She explains.
Her husband and the other half of their real-life comedy duo, Dax Shepard, will tag in a little later at our table and reiterate that maybe parents are overdoing it a little: "We don't need to do as good a job as we think."
"Just because your kid loves something for an hour doesn't mean you need to put them in a class for that thing," he says, and I scratch that exact thought off my mental to-do list.
He goes on, "It's way more about the parents than it is about the kids, this anxiety that I'm not doing it perfectly, as if anyone in history has ever done it perfectly."
While Bell has been preened and styled into a sunflower-yellow satin robe-dress, eyelashes affixed, Shepard seems to have simply woken up and stepped into his pants. There is a visible sunglass tan, his hair has not been Dyson'd. They embody, in other words, two ends of the personality spectrum, two different types of parent, two different types of child (Bell and Shepard have 4 and 5-year-old daughters, each a person of her own).
"Our almost 6-year-old loves rules," says Shepard, "she's perfect, she's Kristen. And I think I've cracked exactly what it is."
Here's where he explains why we get so intense about dangling colors and shapes books in front of infants who have yet to find their own hands, and why we feel the need to fix every wrong, head off every tantrum: "The real thing is psychologically they're an extension of your ego, because they're you, so you're really preventing suffering for yourself, weirdly."
And birth order naturally impacts our ability to super-parent our kids, as you'll see. (Shepard is a middle child, while Bell is the only child of her parents, with four step-siblings from their subsequent marriages, so a kind of ur-first child.)
"So the first-born, you give them all your attention. There are two parents staring at them at all time. The second-born is trying to get the attention of the older sibling, and the older sibling doesn't have any time for then, so they are from day one getting rejected three-to four-hundred times a day," explains Shepard. "Rejection to them is no big deal: Oh you're going to be mad and reject me, yeah this has happened like a hundred times today. I'm cool with it, I'll live."
In conclusion: "I think that's why they don't give a sh*t."
In other words, the disappointment doesn't hurt them, it makes them more resilient. "Often you shouldn't solve [a child's problem], they should be disappointed, they should be heartbroken, they should pine for something, you know, they should regret something." (This is my life, Dax.)
Where the couple overlap and agree is on helping make the basic essentials available to average parents, hence Hello Bello, an affordable line of organic products available in Walmart stores across the nation. "My wife is very meticulous about everything that went into our babies, onto our babies," says Shepard, "and I have a big chip on my shoulder about rich people."
Bell reiterates that making organic products affordable for people like her own sisters back in Detroit, Michigan, was key, "Dax was really particular about [the price point] because he's frugal as sh*t."
In other words, they're parents just like you. Only with gnarlier Tupperware.