True Stories of Mamas, Toddlers, and Banned Books:
An Interview With Writer Jennifer Margulis
by Amy Anderson
Jennifer Margulis is the editor of Toddler: Real-life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent, Tiny People We Love and the author of Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained, and a regular columnist for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She's also one of the two authors coming to our Sacramento Mother Talk on January 14. I interviewed Jennifer via email this past November.
mamazine: How did Toddler come about? What themes about parenting toddlers emerged as you edited the essays in the anthology?
Jennifer Margulis: Toddler was the book that I needed but couldn't find when my children were little. My two daughters are only 19 months apart. Believe it or not we planned it that way. A few weeks after Athena was born there was a huge snow storm in South Hadley, Massachusetts where we lived at the time. My husband took our toddler out to music class (he's originally from Buffalo and is not afraid of a little snow) and they fell on the ice and she broke her leg. I had two kids in diapers and neither could walk for two weeks, one still smelled like amniotic fluid and the other weighed 25 pounds. I was going out of my mind and I wanted to know how other people did it. But I wasn't interested in quick easy fixes or how-to books. I wanted a book of real stories about real people parenting their toddlers every day. I guess I wanted to know that I wasn't alone, which is how I felt at the time. I should add that my firstborn had been a very easy mellow baby who morphed into an incredibly willful toddler and my newborn was a very high needs baby (who later morphed into an easy toddler) so we had it doubly hard in the first few months of Athena's life.
What themes emerged: I received hundreds of submissions for the book (and enjoyed reading all of them though I could not use most of them. It was almost therapeutic to read through the submissions and realize that so many others were going through the same struggles we were). I think the theme that emerged the most was the unexpected nature of life with toddlers. Just when you think you've understood them, they surprise you with something different. It's a very irrational time of life and living with irrational beings who are desperate to control their own destinies is incredibly challenging. Today my son (who turned two in October) refused to take off his soaking wet diaper even though he hates to be wet. When I finally wrestled it off of him he cried as if I had stuck him with needles. I put on a dry diaper. How could I have committed such a terrible injustice?
mamazine: Toddler was banned from being sold at a fundraiser for the Ashland (Oregon) school your children attend after there were objections to some of the "adult language and themes" in the book. What, in your opinion, causes people to have such strong reactions to honest writing about parenthood?
Jennifer Margulis: This is such an excellent question, Amy. I could write a book about it! I think despite the women's movement the Madonna/Whore complex is very much alive in our society (and perhaps even more accentuated now that we have a president who is a born-again Christian). The story the good people on the PTO and the superintendent objected to the most is called "Slow to Warm." It's really raw and honest and very funny, though I think some of the humor was lost on those readers. In it the writer Brett Paesel—an actress in L.A. who has a book coming out next year called Mommies Who Drink—fantasizes about sex while the other mommies talk about how to get little Johnny to eat vegetables. At one point she writes, "What I really wanted to say is 'I don't know about you ladies but what I could go for right now is a big hairy cock.'" She doesn't mince words. At the same time, if we good mommies didn't have sex there would be no toddlers.
There's a postscript to that book banning story that I'd like to share with you. We sold the books contraband to Lincoln School parents and I donated all of the money to the kindergarten class that my daughter was in. The teacher used it to do six weeks of music with the children and also to do some wonderful end of the year crafts projects.
mamazine: Can you tell us a little about your new book, Why Babies Do That?
Jennifer Margulis: I'd love to. It's a book about 40 baffling baby behaviors and includes gorgeous color photography.The book explains things like why babies produce enough drool to fill a bathtub and why such little babies make such a big mess. It's meant to be educational, informative, and inspiring.
mamazine: Have you read any good books lately?
Jennifer Margulis: Yes I have! Though most of them aren't about mothering. Right now I'm reading a novel [by Sarah Smith] called Chasing Shakespeares, a fictional account of the whole fascinating theory that a man named Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was the one who wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. I also recently read I Wanna Be Sedated, which is a wonderful collection about parenting teens. My children are 6, 4, and 2 and I was a little grumpy when I received a review copy in the mail--it didn't seem like a book that would speak to me. But once I started it I couldn't put it down. Some of the stories in that book are incredible. I also just bought a copy of Andrea Buchanan's new anthology, It's a Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons, which I have a story in. I've only just started it but it's wonderful so far. I read a book today to my kids that we all loved called When Pigs Can Fly, about a cow named Ralph who wants to ride a bicycle. His father tells him he'll buy him a bicycle the day that pigs can fly. So Ralph finds a way to make that happen. We all liked it so much we read it three times.
mamazine: What are you working on these days?
Jennifer Margulis: Are you sitting down? Then I can tell you. I've actually applied for a scholarship to spend next year in Niger, West Africa. Niger has the dubious distinction of being ranked last (177 out of 177) on the UNDP's Human Development Report 2005, which means that it is the poorest country in the world. I lived there more than 10 years ago and I'm working on a book about it called Slowly Slowly Doesn't Mean You Won't Arrive.
yellow lamp on blue book
beach blanket mamas