In honor of today’s paperback release of Amy Wilson’s When did I get like this?: The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, & Other Mothers I Swore I’d Never Be, I’m reposting the interview I did with Wilson last year and giving away copies of the book. So raise your hand if you want one. Or, better yet, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I only have a few, so … one, two, three, go! *UPDATE: I’m all out of free books. Thanks to all who requested one.
“Sorry, I’ll have to call you right back as soon as I put my two-year-old down for a nap,” I say, phone against my shrugged-up shoulder as I work my daughter’s highchair straps. I don’t normally begin an interview this way, but I have subconsciously rendered When Did I Get Like This? author Amy Wilson into best-friend-hood, someone for whom I don’t mind conjuring the rather unprofessional image of me in a mess of a kitchen wiping yogurt splats off my sleeve. That’s fine, she assures me, because her two-year-old is just going down for a nap as well. Which doesn’t help. In no less than five minutes of our resumed conversation, I’m slouching at the kitchen table with chin to fist lamenting that I don’t wear earrings anymore either and that The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy had once crushed me by asserting that pregnant women should never, ever have short-hair lest they look even “fatter.”
“I mean, I obsessively check Consumer Reports before I buy anything for the kids,” I found myself admitting while running a fingernail between the seams of the table leaves. “Why doesn’t he worry about these things?”
“Because your husband knows you’re going to do it,” Wilson tells me with the closed-eyed kindness of a school counselor on the other end of the line.
Such is the spell of When Did I Get Like This?, a trick of heart-warming, belly-laughing, gut-wrenching familiarity. “Love this woman! Wait, we ARE this woman!” a real-life best friend tapped out in an email after I’d told her the full title of the book. Which is, by the way: The Worrier, The Screamer, The Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget Buyer, and Other Mothers I Swore I’d Never Be.
“What I’d thought was so specific to my experience – well, I’m the kind of person who worries about all this stuff, I’m the one who thinks every little detail should be perfect – was a much more universal experience than I had realized,” Wilson says, because this is, after all, an interview. With Wilson. “And it was that universality that people wanted to laugh at, if that makes sense.”
More to her credit, what they’re really laughing at is the way Wilson in particular mines humor with unflinching candor from the everyday experiences of motherhood they readily recognize. Most of the milestones Wilson covers in When Did I Get Like This? – from pregnancy to applying for preschools – were first honed in her one-woman, off-Broadway performance in Mother Load. The book, she says, allows for a more “fully realized” account of life with three young children.
CH: You provide a much more grounded, realistic view of motherhood here. What would you think if your book became the new must-read model for new moms?
AW: I would love that. My fondest wish is that somebody might read this book while she was still pregnant and that she might as a result not waste the time that so many of us waste, you know, thinking, “oh my god I’m getting so fat,” or, “I had a c-section, I’m such a failure as a mother and I’ve just begun.” And all those things we spend time worrying about …. If somebody pregnant could read this book and avoid even some of those pitfalls I would be so gratified that I’d saved somebody the trouble. I do wish I knew then that all this stuff I was worrying about, that much of it was just nonsense.
CH: Of all the parenting books you’ve read, what’s the one piece of advice that has seemed to ring true for you?
AW: I heard this somewhere from a mother: “You know what you realize? You realize with the later kids that this isn’t forever. This is just for right now.” And I thought, oh my god, number one I wish I’d put that in my book, but number two I wish that someone had told me that when I was going through all these things for the first time. When my first child had reflux and I was up all night with him, I would think, this is my new reality. My baby cries all the time, and it will always be this way. I will never be able to leave the house again. Or I’ve gained forty pounds and now the baby’s born, and I still have thirty-eight pounds to lose – I’m not sure how that happened. And you live through all that stuff, and you’re so stressed, like it’s your new reality. When you’re a more experienced mother you realize, “Oh, this is the terrible twos. I know this, and it lasts six months. It won’t last forever.” And I think that’s advice I would give to a friend who was pregnant right now, that all these things you’re going through that seem so overwhelming in reality, it’s over in the blink of an eye. Then you’re onto the next stage.
CH: What’s the worst?
AW: The worst piece of advice, I’d have to think about that cause there are so many. I think the one that jumps out at me is the nipple confusion. I do talk about this in the book too, but the thing called nipple confusion, that if you’re going to breastfeed your baby they can’t ever have a pacifier, they cannot ever have a bottle, because you will put your entire way you feed your child in jeopardy if you for one minute let them do this …. Having gone through with that, having nursed three kids, I think it’s crazy, and I never met anybody whose baby had nipple confusion. Many women I know who breastfed successfully for a long time like me — I breastfed up to a year — were the ones who realized it’s okay for my mother-in-law to give him a bottle once in awhile. It’s okay for me to let the baby have a pacifier so I can leave the house for twenty minutes …. It just means you can get a haircut or go lie down and not be a bad person.
CH: Does anything you’d learned as an actor ever come in handy as a parent?
AW: It does, yeah. There’s this Shakespearian voice teacher that I study with whenever I can. She comes into NY a couple of times a year, and what she teaches is that there are sort of different circles you could be in when you’re communicating with somebody. There are three different circles. The first circle is that you’re very shy and withdrawn, and the third circle is that maybe you’re like your uncle who’s had too much to drink or a bad actor on stage, emoting. But if you’re in the second circle, you’re really connecting, really listening to the other person, really in sync with them. And that’s the key to good acting on stage. Don’t be worrying about what you should be doing with your hands or what you look like. You just really listen to the other person, and you’ll be acting well. And the example that she uses as the most incredible second-circle communication is a baby who is nursing, looking up at its mother and the mother looking down at the baby. That they’re just in such sync with each other. I’ve thought about that a lot. And I try very hard with my kids to be in second circle with them. When they come up to me with a drawing or a Lego creation, to not say, “yeah, uh-huh, that’s nice honey, I’m on the phone, whatever,” but to give them ten seconds, thirty seconds, whatever it is, of my full, undivided attention. It’s so important to them, but frankly in the long run it’s important to you as a mom. If you can focus on your kids for five or ten minutes, then they’ll play nicely for half-an hour. They might! If you don’t give that to them, I find, if you give them your distracted self, that’s when they get whiney and start fighting with their brother and give you a hard time.
CH: And this is even harder to do now that we have such easy access to things like email and texting on our phones.
AW: That’s the latest thing I’m really discovering about myself. I’m really trying to sort of take a hard look at myself, my addiction to my iPhone. It’s so nice to be at the playground and be able to check my email or see what’s happening on Twitter. But I don’t necessarily want my kids to think that that’s how adults should behave or that that’s all they deserve from me — a little attention while the rest is focused on this little screen. Something to think about. Definitely.
CH: Just wait until they’re teenagers, and they’ll be doing it to us.
AW: Exactly! I’ll be feeling the burn when my son won’t look up at me because he’s texting.
CH: How has motherhood evolved for you since you’ve taken Mother Load on the road and are preparing to promote this new book?
AW: That’s an interesting question because of course it takes me away from the kids to do it. There is another actress who sometimes does Mother Load when I can’t. But sometimes I do go do it, and then of course writing this book took me away from my kids to an extent. I mean, I had a really concentrated amount of time in the day when I’d go hide or go to the library or get away so I could do this work. I think when you’re a mom you learn very quickly to compartmentalize. You don’t have all day to do something …. So I’ve been away from them more as the demands of the work have gone up, but I think that when I’m with them I’m much more content, much more fulfilled and just very happy in my creative life. I think that’s made me a more fun mom to be around. I think there’s something to be said for a happy mom. Whatever you need to do to have your act together. Whether it’s going for a run or writing every day. I think for me, when I can do it, I’m much more the mom I want to be.
Find more information on Amy Wilson here.