Ayelet Waldman is the author of RED HOOK ROAD, one of our book picks for parents. She's also the author of The New York Times bestseller BAD MOTHER: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace, LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS, DAUGHTER'S KEEPER and the Mommy-Track Mysteries. Ayelet and her husband, author Michael Chabon, have four children: Sophie, Zeke, Rosie and Abe. You can find her on Twitter @ayeletw
1. If we were to film a reality show of your family, what would the camera catch in a typical day?
Let's take a weekend, because carpool and homework are too dull to write about! Our family suffers from regular obsessions. Ideas, books, movies, TV shows, sweep through our house, scooping up everyone into a nearly hysterical frenzy of play-acting, drawing, set construction etc. Lately it's all about Dr. Who. The kids spend hours at the kitchen table drawing their own versions of Dr. Who characters. They dress in Dr. Who-inspired outfits, they write Dr. Who-inspired stories. It's pretty much all Dr. Who, all the time. We've gone through similar obsessions with Sherlock Holmes, Captain Nemo, Harry Potter, the Fantastic Four, etc. etc.
2. What's one of your favorite daily rituals with your children?
Every day at dinner we go around the table and recount the high point and low point of our day. It starts when someone shouts "High point, low point, first me!" and then we take turns. My favorite times are when someone says, "My high point is this dinner."
3. Are there any traditions you and your husband have taken from your respective childhoods and have now passed on to your children?
My husband is the chef of the family, and he cooks all the food his mother cooked for him. Grandma's spaghetti and meatballs is my personal favorite.
One of the things we've taken from my family is the way we sing on Chanukkah. There are certain songs I always sang on every one of the 8 days, and we sing those. We've improved on the tradition by incorporating a dance around the table.
4. In "Bad Mother" you write about leaving your job because you were jealous of your husband, who was staying at home with your daughter. Can you fill us in about how you made the decision and what the transition was like from lawyer to stay-at-home mom?
It drove me crazy. I would be sitting in my car in the parking lot of the Metropolitan Detention Center, desperately trying to pump enough milk for the baby the next day. I'd call Michael and he and the baby would have just returned from story time at the library, and be on their way to the park. It sounded so bucolic. He spent the whole day dressing the baby up in various outfits and taking her picture. I wanted that! I wanted Gymboree and Music Together and story time and costume changes.
I quit my job, and it was just what I imagined to me. It was Gymboree and Story Time, and long walks with the stroller. And that was Monday. And Tuesday it was Gymboree and Story Time, and long walks with the stroller. And Wednesday it was Gymboree etc. etc. You get the idea. Within a week I'd gone out of my mind.
5. Since both you and your husband work from home, what's the division of labor like in your house when it comes to childcare?
We divide things very evenly. He's much more involved in the floor time of parenting. He loves to draw and to play Lego. All the things our kids love to do. I'm less talented at that. I'm not so much with the Lego. On the other hand, I tend to be the person you go to when your feelings are hurt and you want a shoulder to cry on.
6. You write openly about your worst "Bad Mother" anxiety being "the idea that lurking in my DNA is something that could hurt my children …" and go on to talk about your struggle with bipolar disorder and the affect you fear it has on your family. We have several members on the site who have echoed the same fears when it comes to their own mental health diagnosis. Can you tell us a little about how you/your family deal with the times you do end up cycling?
We are very open about it. We tell the kids what's happening. If I flip out, he'll comfort them and make sure they know it's about ME, not them, that none of it is their fault. We tell them it's a disease, like their uncle's diabetes. It's also very important to me that they know that I'm working all the time on my cognitive behavioral therapy. It's important to me to apologize when I've been cycling, when I've been unusually irritable, when I flip out.
7. With four children who range somewhat widely in age, what is your current parenting challenge with each of them?
My challenge with my teens is transitioning from the role of boss to that of consultant. When they were small I was the ultimate authority. Now, my job is to help them reach their own decisions. Obviously, we have rules that they still must comply with, but by and large we're trying to help them learn to rely on their own judgement.
The challenge with my younger kids, the thing that makes me the craziest, is bickering. I loathe the bickering. It makes me crazy. My rule is that I don't get involved, I don't act as judge. If you bicker, you simply have to go to your separate rooms until you can get along without driving your mother crazy.
Growing up, what was your favorite …
Half Magic was my favorite book. I loved it beyond all measure. My favorite movie was The Parent Trap. And please don't even talk to me about the remake. Yuck.
9. Who was your inspiration and why?
I read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was about 13 years old and, like many Jewish girls (and probably non Jewish girls, too) I idolized her. I wanted to be like her in all ways. I got a diary for my birthday and named my diary, like she did. I even named my diary after Anne's best friend. Unfortunately, her friend's name was Lies, which no doubt sounds lovely in Dutch, but meant that every day I wrote, "Dear Lies" on the top of the page.
10. If you could tell your younger self (at any age) one thing you know now, what would it be?
Don't waste the skinny years! I can't tell you how much time I wasted obsessing about my weight when I weighed all of 100 pounds. It kills me!
*Photos by Stephanie Rausser (on home page) and Jennifer Chaney (family photo)