Thirteen years ago, a friend gave me a book to read saying that I would love it. And I did. A curvy, Jewish girl who had a neurotic dog and is dating a doctor? Check, check, and check. I felt an immediate kinship with Cannie Shapiro and the woman who created her. With each subsequent book by Jennifer Weiner, I, and thousands of other women, fell deeper in love with her heroines and their creator.
I sat down with Jen to discuss her fantastic new book, “All Fall Down,” about a suburban mommy blogger who succumbs to an addiction to prescription meds, her boyfriend (he loves her kids!) and what makes her kvell (same thing as most of us!).
What was the hardest part of writing “All Fall Down”?
People tell me they’re reading it with their hearts in their throats because every time Allison takes a pill, it’s like, “Is this going to be the one where there’s a real bad consequence?” And the hard part for me was my dad died of an overdose. It was sort of like putting myself into that headspace of: you know you shouldn’t be doing this, you don’t really want to be doing this, but you’re addicted. So your body is telling you “no” and your brain is telling you, “Oh just one more, doesn’t matter, no big deal.” And you know, Allison puts her kid at risk, so basically, just even imagining doing it, just writing the character of a mom who’s an addict, was hard.
Yeah! You know, I think that she, like a lot of my characters, is funny, warm, self-deprecating…I think she’d be a really good and loyal friend. She can be snobby and judgmental and opinionated. You know, when she’s in rehab and she’s sort of looking at these other women and she’s like, “I’m not like that! I wasn’t living in a car. I wasn’t selling myself.” But yeah, I think I would like Allison if she were real. I think she and I would be the moms hanging out in the back row of the fancy school–or the “learning community” that won’t call itself a school–and we’d be rolling our eyes together.
You have a big social media presence. Do you have a separate Facebook account for friends and family?
You know, I set up my Facebook before they had fan pages, so I don’t. There’s a Jennifer Weiner page that has like 5,000 people; obviously I do not have 5,000 friends. I think sometimes about setting up a secret Jen account so I can share pictures of my kids. I don’t have a separate Facebook account, but I do have boundaries. I’m OK with being pretty open about myself. My kids are a whole other story. I don’t put their pictures online, I hardly ever use their names, and they have their dad’s last name. It’s funny because the little one, she wants to be on Facebook like yesterday. She wants me to tweet everything she says. She is fascinated; she says, “How many tweeters do you have?” And the older one wants no part of it. She’s fiercely private. Part of that is being an 11-year-old girl. But you know, I’m careful about my daughters, because I see how people are to celebrities’ kids. I’m far, far, far from a celebrity. I’m not like Jay-Z and Beyonce where, God forbid, if your kid is having a bad hair day people start petitions about it. But yeah, a lot of people are like, “I feel like you’re my friend; it’s like I went to camp with you!” I love that… I love that, but there is stuff I would not ever, ever, ever talk about.
When will you let your daughters read your books?
AAAAHHHH!!! Oh my gosh, I live in FEAR of the day that they’ll be interested. I’ve thought about it a lot, obviously. Erica Jong, who wrote “Fear of Flying,” tells the story of her daughter Molly Jong-Fast, who’s now a writer herself, being 14 and picking up “Fear of Flying” and reading a couple of pages [and deciding]: “This isn’t for me.” And I hope and pray that someday Lucy will pick up “Good in Bed” and read a couple pages and be like, “This isn’t for me.” There’s a blow job in the first chapter!
Of course I wrote that back when I didn’t have children, and I just wasn’t even thinking along those lines. The books are out there in my house, and I suppose if Lucy wanted to pick one up and read it now she could. So far she’s not interested. And the joke that I say is: Probably by the time they’re old enough to sort of get it, the idea that mommy wrote books on paper that were sold in stores is going to be such an alien concept it’ll be like, “So was this before or after you made the whalebone corsets?” They’re just not gonna get it.
But you know, I think that after she’s bat mitzvahed, I don’t know if I’m really going to be able to tell her [not to read my books]. Well, I don’t really tell her that much now. I let her make her own choices. I’ll steer her away from things that I think are too mature for her, but she’s really bright. She can read everything and understand it, but she is pretty good about policing herself. She doesn’t want to read “The Hunger Games.” She says, “They bother me. They’re pretty rough.”
Wow! 11-year-olds read “The Hunger Games?” Holy cow! I’m not ready!
Eleven is an interesting age. For her birthday I told her she could take two friends to see “Phantom of the Opera” and then we’d go out to dinner. One friend shows up, and she has long hair that she’d blown out or straightened or done something to, and she’s wearing skinny jeans, knee-high boots, a little jacket. She looked like she could have been 16. She had a very teenager-y presentation. And then the other had a teddy bear headband, her little flowery dress, Tevas with socks, and could not have looked like more of a kid. And Lucy, I see her walking the line. And I see her have one foot in childhood and sort of dipping a toe into the teenager stuff. Part of her is very eager to grow up and to be treated like an adult person, but part of her wants to be a kid. So, it’s an interesting moment.
What are you insecure about?
What am I not?! Like everyone with a job, you worry if you’re doing it well. Like anyone with kids, you worry if you’re raising them right. I went through a divorce, and of course I worry, “Have I done inestimable damage to my daughters, and are they going to be in therapy forever?” (They’re not. They’re going to be fine.) You know…my hair. I do yoga and they’re always like, “Use the mirrors to correct your poses, don’t compare.” Everyone compares! And I’m usually one of the rounder people in there, so it’s tough. You know when you’re looking at someone who is six feet tall and is bendy like a slinky, it’s rough.
If you could give one piece of advice on how to successfully balance motherhood and working, what would it be?
What made you laugh out loud recently?
So my boyfriend and I are in bed and he says, “Did you hear about the dog with diarrhea?” And I’m like, “What?” And he’s like, “Oh my God, how did you miss this?” There was a flight, and there was a service dog, and the service dog had diarrhea. And I guess it was so disgusting that the passengers started getting sick and they had to make an emergency landing. And I’m like, “How could I not have known about this?!” And so then we started making all kinds of jokes about the headline and “evacuation.” And then I was pretending I was my dog who was getting very indignant about the way all dogs were being portrayed badly: “Rarararawr, I would never do such a thing!” So the crapping dog, the dog who joined the wrong mile high club, gave me a good laugh.
How long have you been with your boyfriend?
Oh! Let’s see…Well, it’s interesting. We dated when I was in my 20s and then I was sort of ready to move things along and he wasn’t, so we went our separate ways and then we reconnected… My husband and I split up in 2009, and my boyfriend and I hooked up in 2010. So it’s like four years now. Four years for this version 2.0.
So four years? You look happy. You sort of twinkle when you talk about him.
He’s lovely; he’s great. He loves my daughters. And it’s really nice because I feel like they’re getting the very best of their dad. He’s a great parent, and when they spend time with him he’s completely focused on them because there’s no me there to pick up the slack. So he really plans great trips for them, great adventures, they cook together. He’s terrific with them. And then, they have me and this sort of bonus man in their lives who loves them and I think that you can never as a girl have too many men in your life who tell you how beautiful and smart and special you are.
Kveller’s tag line is “a Jewish twist on parenting.” What’s your Jewish twist on parenting?
My daughters are going through the stage that every Jewish kid goes through of “Why can’t we have Christmas? Why can’t we have Santa?” I think that is sort of the hallmark moment of Jewish parenting, when you have to explain to kids that we’re not the majority. We don’t believe the same things that the majority of people you meet believe. We don’t celebrate the same holidays. And what we have is wonderful and special and important. And specific to you. It makes you who you are, and made me who I am, and made your grandmother who she is, and your nana who she is. It’s letting them know how important Judaism is to me and how special it is to me and how special it makes them.
They went to Jewish preschool, they both go to Hebrew school, and Lucy’s going to have her bat mitzvah in a year and a half. I have a half-brother who’s 9, and I spend a lot of time with him. And this year, for the first time, he came to a seder. So, he’s not being raised Jewish but his mom sort of wants him to know that this is a part of who he is, so I explained that to Lucy and Phoebe. I said, “David and I have the same father. By birth he’s at least part-Jewish, but he doesn’t know anything about the holidays.” Phoebe’s like, “I will tell him! I will tell him!” and they taught him the Four Questions and explained about Passover…it was amazing. You don’t know as a parent how much of what you say is actually landing, how much is getting through, or how much they even remember. But they told him the Passover story and they explained, “We were slaves and we have to remember that we were slaves. We have to be kind to everyone and we have to work for Tikkun Olam.” Lucy said “Tikkun Olam”!!!
One of my questions was going to be “What do you kvell about?” That’s it right there.
Right there. Yeah. You know, think that there’s a part of them, as there’s a part of every kid–every Jewish kid–that has Santa Envy. But they know that they’re Jewish, they know what it means, they know that it’s important, and they’re proud if it. So that’s what I kvell about.