Mothers: The Ordinary Life of an Ordinary Mom

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The Ordinary Life of an Ordinary Mom

WebMD Live Events Transcript

If you are a mom, you know there is nothing very ordinary about raising kids: the things they say and do range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Humorist Amy Krouse Rosenthal joined us on May 5, 2005 to share her funny take on the ordinary life of an ordinary mom.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, Amy. Thank you for joining us today. Who are you a mom to - and how many?

ROSENTHAL:
I am mother to, I believe three children -- the best I can tell from the activity in my house. Justin is 12, Miles is 10 and Paris, she's 8.

MODERATOR:
How's it going? Are you looking forward to Mother's Day or is every day a mother's day?

ROSENTHAL:
Well, I don't know about you, but I definitely don't get some kind of meal in bed, brought up to me by my children, every day. I'm looking forward to some serious hard labor on their part.

MODERATOR:
I'm happy not to get anything burnt in bed myself. Mine kids are past that age. And I did survive.

ROSENTHAL:
How old are your kids?

MODERATOR:
Sara is 21 and Tyler is 17. Safely past the burnt breakfast age and almost past the "can I have some money so I can buy you something" age.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Amy, do your children think you're funny?

ROSENTHAL:
No, they think I'm cheesy. I mean, in that sort of rare moment where the stars are aligned, one of them might be in a good enough mood to say, "Oh, mom, that was really funny," or "That was so corny."

"I wonder if eye rolling at parents is a universal thing in all cultures, like babies in remote tribes in Africa -- are they kind of "whatevering" their parents, as well?"

MODERATOR:
At what age do we become corny to our kids?

ROSENTHAL:
Pretty much out of the womb. I think there's some kind of class in vitro where they teach the fetuses upon arrival to roll their eyes.

I wonder if eye rolling at parents is a universal thing in all cultures, like babies in remote tribes in Africa -- are they kind of "whatevering" their parents, as well?

I think "whatevering" should be a verb.

MODERATOR:
"Whatever" -- the one word I can no longer listen to; I think it's worse than a four-letter word.

ROSENTHAL:
Yes, I'm with you on that. It's the kind of thing where I say, "You can say that to your friends, but you can't say that to me." I have sent many a children up to their room for that.

MODERATOR:
Does your husband share your sense of humor about parenting?

ROSENTHAL:
Yeah. Don't you find in parenting, regardless of who has what personality, who has what job, it's an everyday extension of the good cop, bad cop thing, and you trade roles? You're not always the good cop. Sometimes I'm the good cop, sometimes I'm the bad cop. Sometimes one of us is laughing, the other one is upset. Do you find that to be true?

MODERATOR:
Yes. But want to drive the kids crazy? Both of you stand there and laugh!

MEMBER QUESTION:
What about your kids' friends? Do they find you are very different from their "ordinary" moms?

ROSENTHAL:
I don't know, I guess we'd have to ask them.

I think my kids are at the age where they're aware that their friends know I'm a writer and are starting to see my book in bookstores. I'm not at the level of a rock star; maybe a notch above carpool-mini-van-driving-mom, which is primarily how they know me.

MODERATOR:
Are you the cool mom?

ROSENTHAL:
No, I'm too short to be cool.

MODERATOR:
Let's describe "ordinary." Does any mom think her kids are ordinary? Is any life really ordinary?

ROSENTHAL:
I think I would back up and answer it this way: I don't think ordinary is bad and ordinary does not mean plain or dull. Ordinary is kind of where it's at.

Some of my happiest moments reside in the ordinary, whether it's with my children making a S'more, or snuggling in bed together. That's extraordinary to me. I have a respect and a fondness for what is considered ordinary.

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MODERATOR:
My biggest thrill in the last month was having my son hang up his towel without being asked. An ordinary act -- that was extraordinary.

ROSENTHAL:
I've said to my son about the very same thing. As a toddler he was coming up with these inventions -- one of them was, for example, he thought there should be such a thing as food tape. So, if your pretzel broke you could get out the food tape, put it back together and eat it. The other thing relevant to your towel story is the notion of having a floor hook, so when he would throw the towel on the floor or the backpack on the floor instead of the hook right by the back door, he would actually be hanging it up if the hook was on the floor.

MODERATOR:
Do you keep a check list of things that happen during the day and think, "That would be good to put in a book."

ROSENTHAL:
No, not now -- for a time, yes. I think for me, I sort of vacillate between a state of hyperawareness when I am in the throes of writing a book and then like any high, you need to come down and just sort of be.

MODERATOR:
Are your children aware of your writing to the extent that they have concerns about you writing about them?

ROSENTHAL:
This book in particular, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life , is not solely about motherhood, it's about life in general. So my children have a role in it, but they are not the stars. I believe this is the first time I really sat down with each of them and showed them the entries about each of them, and they thought that was pretty cool, like, "Show me another one, Mom, where else am I?"

But my two previous books about motherhood, which I wrote when they were younger, they haven't read those yet. I do hope that they will read them and experience them as a gift.

I don't think I have ever incriminated a child or embarrassed them unless I'm really delusional here. The highly personal I have kept personal to myself.

"I think that maybe what my role here is: for whatever reason, I just happen to be enamored with this notion of the small everyday stuff. So my radar is sort of tuned into that."

MODERATOR:
The titles are so funny! The Mother's Guide to the Meaning of Life: What I've Learned in My Never-Ending Quest to Become a Dalai Mama and The Same Phrase Describes My Marriage and My Breasts: Before the Kids, They Used to Be Such a Cute Couple. Also: Notes While They Nap . What did you find as the meaning of life as a mom?

ROSENTHAL:
Let me begin by saying that the first part of that title, The Meaning of Life , was given to me because it was part of a series done by my publisher.

The second part of the title was more my voice. I'm not sure why I said that, but there's some relevance there. I think that book, if you were to sort of stand it up to this, my recent book, you might see the same theme of the meaning of life is, in fact, in the ordinary, everyday, in-between moments.

MODERATOR:
Is the message, if there is a message, to notice ordinary moments?

ROSENTHAL:
I guess. I think that maybe what my role here is: for whatever reason, I just happen to be enamored with this notion of the small everyday stuff. So my radar is sort of tuned into that. And I think most people have a similar affinity. But perhaps because we lead such busy, full and un-empty lives, there just needs to be a sort of very subtle tap on the shoulder with someone pointing, saying, "Hey, look at that."

MEMBER QUESTION:
How do you use your sense of humor to get to through some of the tough times that we all experience as parents?

ROSENTHAL:
That's an excellent question. There's an expression that the only difference between tragedy and comedy is timing. I think that mostly I, like anybody else in the midst of something frustrating, upsetting or disconcerting with my children, have to give it some time. If I give it some time -- it may be an hour and it may be a week -- more often than not there is something humorous to be found in it. I think it's the only way to survive; otherwise we would just drown in our concerns and our worries.

MODERATOR:
Reading your book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life , I was repeatedly struck by "ah-ha" moments. Things I thought but never considered whether anyone else thought them. Have you heard that before?

ROSENTHAL:
Here's the remarkable thing: I have heard from hundreds and hundreds at this point, emails through my book's web site, and whether it was a letter from a 16-year-old, or a 70-year-old grandmother or a 40-year-old librarian, or a 20-year-old hipster, that is the single most prevailing comment I receive. That blows me away, and it's either really comforting or maybe a little depressing to know just how similar we all are.

MODERATOR:
I can open this book to any page and see something ordinary that has happened to me or I have thought about. But because you wrote it down, it seems more common and more special at the same time.

ROSENTHAL:
It's really astounding to me, the comment I just made. I wouldn't have guessed it, I certainly didn't know when I was writing it; that in telling my story it seems that I'm really telling a lot of people's story.

"There's an expression that the only difference between tragedy and comedy is timing. I think that mostly I, like anybody else in the midst of something frustrating, upsetting or disconcerting with my children, have to give it some time."

MODERATOR:
You wrote a piece asking for a medal for being a mom.

ROSENTHAL:
That was I believe, for Parenting Magazine . That piece is on my mommymommy.com web site.

MODERATOR:
It's one of the funniest pieces I've read about motherhood since Erma Bombeck passed. ( If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries What Am I Doing in the Pits? )

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ROSENTHAL:
I've loved Erma Bombeck ever since I was a kid. She's one of my heroes. She probably planted the seed years ago about how to structure a title.

MODERATOR:
The thing that I find common to both you and Erma is your attention to the common, the ordinary. It makes it possible for most of us to relate. Are there other writers who have helped you to see the ordinary?

ROSENTHAL:
I'm an avid reader and I'm not sure I would be able to sort of trace it back that way. I gravitated, up until rather recently, towards nonfiction. I just couldn't get enough autobiographies and essays and any kind of collection dealing with the human condition. I've only recently graduated into the realm of fiction and I'm having fun with it now.

MODERATOR:
Your approach is opposite the usual male notion of "great men, great ideas."

ROSENTHAL:
I can tell you that I hear from as many men as I hear from women. Does that surprise you?

MODERATOR:
That does surprise me.

ROSENTHAL:
I do. And interestingly, I'm hearing more and more from husbands and wives together; one started it and the other took it. Maybe the book is more androgynous than you'd expect.

MODERATOR:
Actually, when I think about it, I do tend to read passages aloud to my husband. What are you working on next?

ROSENTHAL:
Children's books.

MODERATOR:
Little Pea is your new children's book.

ROSENTHAL:
Yes, Little Pea is officially out. And I have two more coming out in '06.

MODERATOR:
Why children's books?

ROSENTHAL:
I love children's books, I always have. I had been trying to break into the children's book market for many years. The fact that Little Pea is not seeing the light of day at this moment on the heels of Encyclopedia is just a function of timing. I wrote Little Pea long before I wrote Encyclopedia .

Little Pea is a story of the children's reality of hating vegetables and loving candy, but the story is turned upside down in this case; if you're a pea you have to eat candy for your meal. Little Pea hates to eat candy and he reluctantly eats his five bites of candy before he gets dessert.

My forthcoming book is called Cookies, Morsels to Live By . I took 20-some, kind of big words, big concept words, and defined them all through examples of a cookie. Trustworthy means if you ask me to hold your cookie, when you come back I will still be holding your cookie. Compassion means it's OK that you dropped your cookie, you can have some of mine.

"I love children's books, I always have."

MODERATOR:
You have such a wonderful way of noticing how language is used in everyday life. Did you notice anything about how children use language?

ROSENTHAL:
Some of the greatest things my children have said, in the big scrapbooks I keep, are in fact about language.

We had a classic line just last week. We were in the car. I have a first-aid kit in the car, and my 12-year-old, who only just recently is allowed to sit in the front seat, opened up the kit. He pulls out of the kit, along with the ointments, scissors and various Band-Aids, a tampon. He says, "Is this a tampon?" And my 8-year-old daughter, who was in the back of the minivan and couldn't quite hear, piped in, "Is what a camp song?" We just laughed for so long and so hard.

MODERATOR:
Are your kids tuned in to your brand of humor?

ROSENTHAL:
I think so. I shouldn't say my humor, I think each of them have a really good sense of humor.

My 12-year-old, he came up with this idea of the incorrect English dictionary. And he wrote:

  • STUPID definition: Someone who is way too smart and eats roofs.
  • PEAR definition: The thing you sit on for relaxation.

He had this whole sheet for definitions of strange words. All of them came together for a really fun surreal piece of text. To walk means the actions of picking apples, of course.

MODERATOR:
Are you planning any new works about parenthood?

ROSENTHAL:
I'm always trying to write articles. I have some coming out in Parenting and Real Simple magazines soon. Those are pieces about the home front.

MODERATOR:
You mentioned that your oldest son is 12 now. Have you given any thought to survival as the parent of a teen?

ROSENTHAL:
I'm ready to move to a farm in New Zealand. You got any good tips for me as a mother who's been through the teen years?

MODERATOR:
Just keep reading funny books and talking to other parents. And remember to breathe. Eventually they do pick up the towels.

ROSENTHAL:
Awesome, there's hope.

"Any day is a good day when you don't get a call from school."

MODERATOR:
Amy, we're about out of time. Any final words for us?

ROSENTHAL:
What best captures the essence of what we're talking about, the everyday small moments, is on the book's web site, which is encyclopediaofanordinarylife.com.

At the top of the home page is a section called Purple Flower Moments. That is where the readers have written in because of a prompting in the book under the entry titled Purple Flower where they were asked to share where they were, what they were doing or what they were thinking at the moment they were reading that passage in the book. The moments that the readers have written in and are posted on the web site are magnificent. The hundredth person who emailed in their moment, as promised in the book, received a homemade pie, which I made and FedEx'd to him. Pecan pie. His photos are up there. So, no more pie, but hopefully lots more Purple Flower moments.

One more thing: Any day is a good day when you don't get a call from school.

MODERATOR:
Our thanks to Amy Krouse Rosenthal for joining us today. For more information, please read The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life , as well as Amy's other books about parenting.


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Reviewed on 5/20/2005 7:06:56 PM

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