The supermodel: "I can't do my son's math homework!"
Former Victoria’s Secret supermodel Helena Christensen is strikingly beautiful when you meet her – no surprise there. But the model-turned-photographer is also funny and surprisingly down-to-earth, especially when conversation turns to her son, Mingus, 10, who she had with her ex-husband, actor Norman Reedus. We caught up with Christensen at a Bali brand event to chat about her love of the TV show iCarly, her son’s super-sophisticated food palette, and why she refuses to give any parenting advice.
What has been your biggest parenting challenge so far?
Giving birth. Everything after that is a breeze! But really, [parenting] is the best thing ever. It’s the only true miracle still left in this world – that as a women you can give birth to another human being and get to be with this little person and watch them evolve. Everyday is exciting. Kids are so smart; it’s crazy. I can’t even follow Mingus’ assignments in school anymore. I went to his parent-teacher conference and his teacher said, “Your son is a bit of a mathematical genius,” and I thought, oh great! He plays chess and beats people, and I’m like, how did that happen? He was just this little tiny boy reaching his fat arms up, and now he’s a real person competing. [Parenting] is awesome, but I wouldn’t call it a challenge – although the challenge will probably start as soon as he turns into a teenager!
What books is your son reading?
In fourth grade, they have book projects, so he was just learning about slavery. And they just moved on to the Resistance movement in Denmark. He’s always being asked to pronounce the words in the book correctly for the rest of the class.
What TV shows is he into?
Our favorite show is iCarly. I watch it even without him. I’m like, yes! Three episodes in a row!
You’re quite an accomplished photographer. Is your son your favorite subject?
I take so many pictures of Mingus that he’s annoyed with me. He says, “Why do you keep doing that, Mom?” I try to explain to him that [photography] is a passion and a profession and he’ll be extremely grateful when he’s older and has decent shots of himself. Right now he can’t see the point, but I can’t help myself from taking pictures of him, [especially] when he’s not noticing and you can be a fly on the wall in their private, little moments. Taking pictures of any child is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a different feeling because they’re just so open and honest and vulnerable. As people get older, they become intimidated by having their photographs taken. You point a camera their way, and they’re like “No, don’t take my photograph!,” so it’s always a joy to photograph kids.
Do you self-publish any of your photos?
No, but I work with different publications, like fashion stories or nature stories. I went to Peru with Oxfam and did a series of the melting glaciers and photographing the indigenous people living in the mountains who are affected by climate changes. That exhibition traveled for half a year and they’re still traveling. Ideally, I’d love to work for the New York Times [as a photojournalist.] That’s it – that’s all I want to do.
When did your passion for photography start?
I was 16 and hitchhiking around the world when I started photographing, and I realized there were so many beautiful parts of the world where anyone could take a photo. [But] it’s not just about pointing and taking a photo of some woman in Nepal all dressed-up, looking amazing, because anyone can take that. You have to find other angles, things that might escape the eye, all the little details in between the obvious.
What’s off-limits in your house?
Nothing really. I’m not a strict parent; I don’t have a lot of rules. Mingus hasn’t challenged me in that way – he hasn’t demanded something that I would find totally ridiculous. I haven’t deprived him, like you can’t watch television or play videogames, because kids usually overdo [those things] for a bit but then they get over it because it’s not enough stimulation anyway. He wants to be out in nature all the time. He found a snake the other day in New York, and he said, “We have to bring it home.” So I had to empty a water bottle, and in it went. Then I took it to the pet store, and they identified it. It’s not a cobra, so we took it home and it’s now living in a big cage, and I have to buy grasshoppers every week.
What’s your best piece of parenting advice?
I don’t know how to give advice. When you have a child, you learn something new every day and I couldn’t give any precise rules because there aren’t any. Every child is different. You’re different. I worried a lot when I had Mingus; the responsibility is so heavy if you think about it. If you think too much about it, it drives you crazy, so just let it happen. All [kids] really want is love and routine and a good night’s sleep and delicious food. He certainly complains if there’s not enough garlic in the food.
How does he cope with your traveling schedule?
He’s with his dad then, so he gets ample attention. Whenever one of us is away, the other one is home. He’s lived like that since he was little so he’s used to it. As long as [kids] feel they’re being loved, I think they can deal with anything. [My schedule] really works out perfectly. I’m gone for a week and then I’m with him for three weeks constantly. He sees me in the morning and after school; we spend the whole evening together. [Kids] are so busy at that age. I’m like, “Are you kidding me? You’re not done till 5:30 today? I don’t get to hang with you until then?” Then when I finally pick him up he’s like, “Oh, can you come back in half an hour?”
What’s his favorite meal that you make him?
He likes mussels and oysters. I think its because I grew up that way. Since I was born, my mom fed me everything – probably more than what’s the norm. And I do the same with him. I make him a Peruvian soup that he really loves that my mom and grandmother made. He likes chili and Moroccan chicken. I cook every night for him, and he cooks too. He makes goat cheese in the oven. That’s his specialty.
Any weird cravings when you were pregnant?
I didn’t go crazy with sardines or anything, no. What happened with me is the stuff I normally craved, I didn’t anymore. It was depressing. I was worried it’d continue after giving birth but it didn’t, thank god.