John Dolan

"I Got It From My Momma" honors mothers and mother figures of every stripe, with one new essay appearing each day until Mother's Day.  

Jessica Siskin
May 12, 2017 @ 11:30 am

I’ve always wondered how other people find their mom in the grocery store. My mom’s voluminous halo of blonde, curly hair makes her impossible to miss in a crowd. She has the kind of wild hair and quirky personal style that says “I give zero fucks about your arbitrary standards of female beauty and I’m still the most beautiful person in the room,” but she would never actually think that, because most of her aesthetic choices are so instinctively cool that ascribing too much thought to them would subtract from their authenticity.

I’m a food artist, and with my custom Rice Crispy Treat company, @mister_krisp, I’ve taken the traditionally domestically-female kitchen space and transformed it into a venue for my creative craft and a successful business. Flipping and reversing gender roles is nothing new to me, since I grew up with a stay-at-home-dad and a working mom.

My mom is the CEO of her company, where she helms cool-girl brands like Cinq á Sept and Likely. When I was in high school, she was part of the team that launched the premium denim brand 7 For All Mankind. As I began to notice the brand’s signature embroidered pocket squiggle appearing on the backsides of all the coolest kids in school, the coolest kids in school started to notice what I already knew: my mom was way cooler than me.

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When I was growing up on Long Island, my mom worked in the city while my dad shuttled my younger sister and me to dance classes and math tutors, made sure we did our homework, helped us build scooters from milk crates, roller-skates, and two-by-fours, and cooked our meals.  But after work, my mom would always help with important school projects—I consistently had the best-looking book reports in school. I have no idea whether the homework inside them was legit, but whatever, they were stunning. My mom would sit with me for hours as we crafted elaborate covers and played with layouts. This was before we had a computer, so it was all very handcrafted, before handcrafting was an act of nostalgic irony reserved for people in Brooklyn. I remember collaborating with my mom on a 4th grade report on the Pilgrims, its cover done in delicate tissue paper, a minimalist design featuring a powder blue sky, several shades of bright ocean waves, and a small, brown Mayflower floating its way to Massachusetts. To this day, it’s probably the creative work I’m most proud of, and that’s saying a lot because I’ve made Rice Crispy Treats for Kim Kardashian.

            When I graduated college, my mom was launching Elizabeth and James, so I took a job managing sales for the brand. Working for my mom, I had the opportunity to observe what I already knew: my mom is the most creative person I have ever met.

            I knew from those sick book reports that my mom was crafty, and I knew from loving and wearing her brands’ designs over the years that she had an uncanny instinct for identifying, interpreting, and inventing trends. I knew she dressed better than anyone I knew; her style was editorial in a way that never felt contrived, and I swear she’s the originator of high-low dressing, pairing converse with Comme des Garçons before they thought to collaborate themselves, and working sporty details into her everyday wardrobe long before “athleisure” was a portmanteau.  But I didn’t realize until I worked for her that my mom’s creativity extended to the way she thought about and handled her business. I’d come to her panicked with what seemed like an insurmountable problem, and she’d calmly provide savvy, creative solutions that had never occurred to me. (In addition to being cooler than me, my mom is also chiller than me. They’re different things.)

            For as long as I can remember, I’d aspired to be just like my mom, embracing my creativity while pursuing the strength and empowerment of running your own business, doing what you love, and being great at what you do.  I’d proudly tell anyone who’d listen that I was going to be a working mom one day and own my own company, just like my mom. I said it because it felt like a provocative thing to say as I grew up alongside girls raised by stay-at-home moms and hoping for that same future for themselves, but as the words escaped my mouth they always tasted true.

I always thought I’d eventually take over her fashion empire, but as much as I loved my job, the clothes I sold, and the people I worked with, I felt creatively unfulfilled in my sales role. My mom encouraged me to find something that did feel fulfilling, so after 5 years of working for her, I began to take creative writing classes at night after work.

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Once I’d started running the tap on my creative juices, other weird ideas began to emerge. I came up with the idea to make cake-sized Rice Crispy Treat sculptures by accident, when I was invited with a friend to bring dessert to a potluck birthday dinner and didn’t know how to cook. My friend knew I could make Rice Crispy Treats, which I’d always mold into simple shapes, like hearts and stars. Since the birthday girl was a surfer, my friend suggested we make a Rice Crispy Treat surfboard. And since I’m a millennial, I googled “Rice Crispy Treat surfboard.” And since it was 2012, a recipe for just that thing existed on the Internet. The recipe contained food coloring, and as I added the pigment to the side-of-the-box crispy treat recipe, I was struck by the immediate and overwhelming impulse to make a Rice Crispy Treat cheeseburger.

The next night, after I assembled the sugary sandwich, I screamed out loud because I thought this Rice Crispy cheeseburger was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. None of my neighbors came to check on me. I posted a photo of it on Instagram, where I broke 100 likes for the first time, and brought it into work, where the whole office devoured it.

I continued experimenting with Rice Crispy creations for about a year before I started the @mister_krisp Instagram account. The day I launched the Instagram account, I received my first order request. I burst into my mom’s office, stunned, and asked her what to do. She told me to take the order, and we’d figure it out from there.  It seemed like a good plan.

Soon, more and more orders were coming in from people who had discovered my Instagram. Some days, I was waking up at 5 am to fill orders, and coming home after work to make more until I went to bed. I was exhausted, but I felt creatively satisfied and validated in a way I’d never experienced.

Around this time, I’d been exploring going to graduate school to continue studying creative writing, and suddenly I had a side hustle that could help make that a reality. But I loved working for my mom, and at least part of me feared that in leaving and abandoning fashion altogether, I’d be admitting that I didn’t have what it took to be like her.

I thought that following in my mom’s footsteps meant running a big, successful fashion company and having the vision to set trends, but once Misterkrisp took off, I realized that I was following in my mom’s footsteps by leaning into what I was good at and by refusing to simply submit to the stubborn cultural narrative that guides how women should behave and what roles they must pretzel themselves into.

            These days, everyone wants more followers on Instagram, so the question I’m asked most about how to build a brand that exists mainly on social media is how to attract and keep followers. And each time, my answer comes from the most important lesson I’ve learned from my mom, without her even trying to impart it: to be authentic, always, to be yourself, and not to try to emulate someone else. Embracing your own form of creativity will serve you infinitely better than trying to follow too closely in someone else’s path.

 

Click here to order Jessica Siskin's book Treat Yourself!: How to Make 93 Ridiculously Fun No-Bake Crispy Rice Treats.

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