March 19, 2012

Jacob Sager Weinstein

You may recall that I did an interview with Jacob Sager Weinstein in January.  You may also recall that my archives disappeared in February. Well, Jacob’s book, How Not to Kill Your Baby, comes out this week, and I want to be sure his interview is up and searchable, so I’m reposting this.  If you missed it the first time, it’s worth the read.  But only if you want to laugh.

 Emily: Talk about your inspiration for How Not to Kill Your Baby.

Jacob: Briefly, if your career goal is to write something that will terrify parents into giving you money, you have two options: ransom note, or parenting book. I chose the latter.

Less briefly:

A fellow comedy writer once told me, “All the best humor comes from anger.” If so, I’m not usually the best humorist, because I’m not a very angry person. But when my wife got pregnant, and we started shopping for baby products, I got angry. There are plenty of books and products created in good faith with the genuine intent of helping parents, but there are far too many that seem designed to induce panic through worst-case scenarios, and then exploit that panic for profit.

For example: Here’s a website that helpfully warns you that “Over 318,575 baby & toddler head injuries are recorded each year!” before offering to sell you, for the low price of $42.95, a foam helmet that your child can wear, presumably at all times. This is a real product. I didn’t make it up for my book, although I wish I had, because it would be pitch-perfect as satire.

Emily: Tell me a bit about your family.  You and your brother both write comedy, yes?  Who is funnier?  Does your sister feel compelled to laugh at all your jokes?  Do you compete for family laughs?

Jacob: My brother Josh does indeed write comedy– right now, he’s writing for Futurama. I think he’s funnier than me, but the only way for your readers to be absolutely sure is to buy all of my books, and then buy every season of Futurama on DVD, and then reach their own conclusions. If, at the end of this experiment, they’re still not sure, they should buy more copies of everything. Eventually it will all become clear.

My sister Teme also has a comedy connection.  She interviews stand-up comics for the Chicago Tribune– you can see her articles here: http://triblocal.com/members/temering . I actually think Teme is the funniest of the three of us. In those articles, she’s being a good journalist and playing straightwoman, but nonetheless, if your readers want their Which Sibling Is Funniest? experiment to be scientifically thorough, they must immediately subscribe to the Tribune. (Bonus tip: when you’re done reading the Tribune, it makes handsome wrapping paper for gift copies of How Not To Kill Your Baby. In fact, you’ll probably want to get two subscriptions, just in case you can’t bear to part with one.)

My dad is a lawyer, and my mom teaches anthropology. They both have excellent senses of humor, but I think they do wonder how they ended up with three children in the comedy business. My theory is that my mom has always been a great comedy audience. She loves laughing, and she always laughed at all her kids’ jokes. Plus, from a very early age, she exposed us to Mel Brooks, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and all the other major figures of Western civilization.

Emily: Does having a sense of humor make this parenting gig any easier?

Jacob: One morning, my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter threw up on me. As a veteran parent, I wasn’t grossed out. I simply changed my clothes and took a shower.

Later that day, as I was sitting at the table eating meatballs in tomato sauce, she looked over and said, in a neutral, observational tone of voice, “That looks like my throw up.”

Now I was grossed out. I took my plate to the kitchen and dumped all the sauce in the sink. I kept the meatballs because, while they did look a bit like throw-up on their own, getting rid of the sauce brought them, barely, within an acceptable eating threshold of grossness.

Anyway, the answer to your question is “Yes.”

Emily: There seems to be a big interest in fathers writing about parenting lately. From where I sit, there seems to be an attitude that mothers should stop writing about parenting already because we’ve already heard it.  So why is it so different to people for fathers to write?

I think that attitude towards fathers who write is symptomatic of a general attitude towards fathers who… well, father. I’m a part-time stay-at-home dad, and when I’m out with the kids during traditional working hours, I sometimes get well-meaning but condescending reactions, from the nurse who asked me if I was “taking the day off” when I brought my son in for a vaccination, to the total stranger who came up to me at a traffic light and said, “It’s so great to see a dad taking care of the baby!” (That last one was all the more annoying because I was with my 3-and-a-half-year old daughter, who is not, in fact, a baby. Because, you know, she’s three-and-a-half years old.)

So I think, to some degree, the assumption is that fathers who are involved enough in parenting to write about it must be fascinating and exotic creatures, and we should all pay close attention to what they have to say. Needless to say, this is inaccurate, and unfair to everybody. The true rare birds are the left-handed Jewish fathers who live within a seven-minute walk of a Jubilee line station on the London underground. They are the ones we should be feting like kings.

Emily: You are parenting oversees.  Do you find expectations of fathers are different in London versus what your friends are experiencing in the US?

Jacob: I think the expectations for parents are a little different. Broadly speaking, I think the work-life balance is better here than in the US. People don’t work quite the same insane hours they do back in the States. People get more vacation days, and they’re actually expected to use them, and employers tend to be a little more flexible about working hours, all of which means that working fathers (and working mothers) can be a little more involved in their children’s lives.

That’s just one of the many things that makes Europe a socialist nightmare that America must never emulate.

Emily: As a mother, I find I’ve been swallowed in my parenting duties.  Sure, I’m also a writer, but I have largely lost touch with my pre-parenting self and friends.  As a father and writer, do you have that experience?  I’m interested in details on this one!

Jacob: Huh. I’m surprised to hear you feel that way, because I — HEY! PUT THAT DOWN! — I don’t find — no, we don’t play with sockets, you know that– anyway, I’ve never found that — GIVE YOUR BROTHER BACK HIS TOY RIGHT NOW!!! — I’ve never found it hard to stay focused on who I — sure, sweetie, one minute, can you hold it in until then? You can? Great!

Sorry, what was the question?

Emily: Since we’re talking about not killing babies, do you find that London rules of what you should/can or shouldn’t/can’t do with babies and toddlers is different than what people in the US are experiencing?

Jacob: I think there is less of a lawsuit culture here, which means you can have exciting and innovative playgrounds that feature a very slight chance of killing your child. Near our house, for example, is an “adventure playground” with a giant treehouse that was probably very carefully designed, but looks like it was hammered together by a madman out of scraps left over from a handcrafted wooden doomsday device. As long as you don’t let your three-year-old run around it without supervision, they’re probably not going to fall off one of the unfenced two-story drops and break their neck.

In the US, you’d never have this kind of exciting, very slightly risky place to run around, which is why American children are less likely to break their arms but more likely to need a coronary bypass by age 8.

And, in fact, I’ve never actually seen anybody get hurt on this treehouse. Because it feels just a little bit dangerous, even normally suicidal toddlers display a modicum of caution when playing on it.

Emily: Does your daughter think your wife is the coolest person ever because she’s in charge of the trains and busses?

Jacob: First, for the record, I should note that my wife isn’t actually in charge  of the trains and busses, but she does work for Transport for London, which is the organization that is in charge of the trains and the busses.

Anyway, I don’t think our daughter has quite realized how cool her mom’s job is. If Lauren drove a bus, our daughter would be truly impressed.

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