Laissez-Faire Mom Laura Bennett: Let 'Em Eat Cake! Forget about food worries and birth plans: Project Runway finalist Laura Bennett has written a new book about a less anxious -- but no less caring -- brand of parenting. Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? covers everything from giving in on junk food to playing favorites -- and doing it all with style.
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Laissez-Faire Mom Laura Bennett: Let 'Em Eat Cake!

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Laissez-Faire Mom Laura Bennett: Let 'Em Eat Cake!

Laissez-Faire Mom Laura Bennett: Let 'Em Eat Cake!

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Laura Bennett is the mother of six children - one grown daughter and five sons; the youngest is 3. Bennett found out she was pregnant with him when she was a contestant on season three of "Project Runway." As a finalist, style guru Tim Gunn visited her New York apartment, and her family welcomed him in their own special way.

Mr. TIM GUNN ("Project Runway"): What's that? What is it?

CHILD: Turtle poop.

Mr. GUNN: Ew. I don't think I want any turtle poop.

Ms. LAURA BENNETT: My littlest one offered him turtle poop. Maybe that was sort of an olive branch, to sort of offer Tim the turtle - here, welcome to our clan. Have some poop.

HANSEN: Laura Bennett has just written a new book, "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday: A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos," and she joins us from our New York bureau. First, welcome to the program.

Ms. BENNETT: Oh, thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.

HANSEN: Were you laughing when you heard the turtle poop tape?

Ms. BENNETT: It was funny because someone asked me this morning if I've ever asked Tim Gunn to babysit. And I told them that I think that after the poop incident, he would look for a much more germ-free environment if he ever chose to babysit.

HANSEN: I feel like the first question I have to ask you, because I'm in Washington and you're in New York: What are you wearing?

Ms. BENNETT: Oh, I'm wearing a very favorite dress of mine. It's a bright blue dress with a big Superman emblem appliqu�d onto the chest.

HANSEN: Now, is this one of your designs?

Ms. BENNETT: Well, I did make the dress. I wouldnt necessarily take any credit for the Superman emblem.

HANSEN: No.

Ms. BENNETT: But I do enjoy wearing it.

HANSEN: You don't call yourself a soccer mom, a PTA mom, a helicopter mom; you're not mother of the year. The publicity material says you are another brand of mom. What is that?

Ms. BENNETT: You know what, I don't think I'm another brand of mom. I think I'm the same old moms that were around when I was growing up. And for some reason, we kind of drifted away from that sort of brand of motherhood. I think there's just so much information now out there for women, and they feel like they need to act on every piece of it or they're somehow being less of a mother than they could be. And it's just making them crazy. It's too much. It's making the kids crazy, and then the kids end up at my house.

HANSEN: Right. So, trying to become the perfect parent, in your opinion, really can do more harm than good.

Ms. BENNETT: Yeah, you're setting yourself up for failure. You know, it's just things have gotten so crazy and out of hand - with helmets and seatbelts and what they eat, and what preservatives are in there. And I just think to a certain extent, that can just make everyone crazy. So, I think I just try not to focus so much on the little, tiny tidbits that tend to trip me up, and I kind of look more at the big picture. And if they're getting, you know, four healthy meals a week and maybe three kind of, not exactly - that's OK.

I mean, I survived, I'm sure, you know, you survived. And I feel certain that all six of my children are going to survive.

HANSEN: Now, you've written: A family of eight in Manhattan - and it was a small apartment - is practically grounds for forcible commitment to Bellevue. You know, it's easy for me to ask how do you manage it, but you manage it. And you manage to find time now to write, which I always associate with a - is it, usually you need quiet.

Ms. BENNETT: The black time hole.

HANSEN: Yeah, you know, time for yourself.

Ms. BENNETT: Well, I can block out a lot of noise and chaos, because that's just the environment that I live in. And I'm really careful to set time aside for myself every day. That's another thing I feel really, you know, really strongly about. That if I - and I call it, in the book I call it the oxygen mask theory - that if I take some time for myself every day, that's not selfish in any way or hurting my children. It's actually helping them because then I'm better for them. I'm, you know, more whole and more complete and more sane - and that's my thing.

HANSEN: The oxygen mask theory is basically, when you're on a plane, you're told to put on your mask first before the child's. And you extrapolate that to mean, you know, take care of yourself as well as your kids.

Ms. BENNETT: Yes, definitely. And I actually recently heard a version of that that I really liked: If you're traveling with more than one child, choose your favorite. So I thought that was a good twist.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: All right. You have these vignettes about your kids in the book. You write about how your oldest son picks up dates online; how another son might be a little too affectionate to the point it's a little creepy; how your 6-year-old calls himself sexy and has webbed toes. Are you worried, at all, that this is going to embarrass them?

Ms. BENNETT: You know, I get this question a lot, and I think what people forget is that my children have sort of the same sense of humor that I have, because -obviously - they've grown up with me. And these are things that we joke about within our family all the time. So for my children to see it in writing, it's really not that much different.

HANSEN: I want to talk a little bit about your stint on "Project Runway." Why did you audition for it?

Ms. BENNETT: Oh, my gosh. Because I was completely na�ve, and I had no idea what I was doing. I think at that time, the show was not nearly the phenomenon that it is or became. It was sort of ramping up to there. And I was a fan of the show, and the auditions were at Macy's, which - are just a few blocks from where I live.

So, I, you know, grabbed three dresses that I had made from my closet and walked over there, totally not knowing how huge it would become, or how it would impact my life or - you know, just had no idea.

HANSEN: Wasn't there a time, too - I mean, your apartment was close to the Parson's School of Design and Mood Fabrics, where the action takes place. Did I read you could see your apartment window from the workroom?

Ms. BENNETT: Not from the workroom, from - we stayed at an apartment building called the Atlas.

HANSEN: Right.

Ms. BENNETT: And I could literally see - because it was only seven blocks away from my house, I could see my children's bedroom window.

HANSEN: Oh. I can't tell if that was comforting or a distraction.

Ms. BENNETT: Well, I think, in a - I think it was comforting, especially because I was pregnant. I never felt at any moment that I had to be there. Or, you know, I could literally have walked away at any moment. And I did. When it was all over, I walked home. They said, oh, do you want us to give you a ride home? I said, you know what, I don't want a producer near me. I just want to walk. So literally, I just, you know, felt I wasn't trapped the whole time.

HANSEN: Well, you were able to keep your energy up while pregnant, doing this show. And the pace of the show is grueling. What piece of advice would you give to potential "Project Runway" contestants?

Ms. BENNETT: It's so much harder than it looks on television. But it's probably not harder than raising six children. So here I am. I'm used to having to take care of all these other people every day of my life and suddenly, I'm sort of like the fashion-conscious toddler, where someone's taking care of me - driving me where I need to go, providing meals when it's time to eat. So, it was kind of like fashion spa.

HANSEN: What advice would you give to other mothers?

Ms. BENNETT: To learn to let go. And, you know, children grow up so fast. You know, as funny as I am in joking about my kids, you know, I know. I have a daughter about to graduate from college, and I know how fast it all goes by. And, you know, you can't get lost in the little stuff. You just have to sit back and enjoy it because it's just going to be gone before you know it.

HANSEN: Laura Bennett, former contestant on the show "Project Runway" and author of the new book, "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday: A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos." She joined us from our New York bureau. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. BENNETT: Thanks for having me.

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