Well, folks, I’m moving up the echelons in the interview world, and I'm no longer just interviewing family members!
Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Todd Kessler, co-creator of the award-winning children’s show "Blue’s Clues," about his new book The Good Dog.
As someone who works in television and has aspirations of writing a children's book one day, this was even more exciting for me than meeting Brad Pitt (Yes Todd, you can use that as an official quote for your book review. And no, I've never actually met Brad Pitt.) Moving along...
Brad Pitt Talks About His Dark Side
I was sent a copy of the book last week, and I spent a good amount of time reading it with Cole. A lot of time, actually. Because it’s a long book. Really long. 100 pages long, to be exact. But guess what? At two and a half years old, Cole sat still the entire time and was completely captivated by both the story and the stunning illustrations. He had a ton of questions, "Why doesn't the doggy have a home? But why, Mommy? Why?" (Okay, maybe not a ton but a repeat of the same one.) Luckily, I was able to distract him because the characters were so compelling (or perhaps it's the delicious drawings of the treats in the bakery?) Either way, he was happy and excited every time we turned the page.
What I loved most about this book, however, is how Todd Kessler challenged convention with it's length. He had a story to tell, and he wanted to tell it. He didn’t worry about the word-count. He focused on telling a rich story with interesting characters. A story that would take his young readers on an adventure and challenge them with concepts of good vs. evil, morality, and ultimately ask them difficult questions: when is it okay to break the rules?
Well I was lucky enough to speak with this rule-breaking writer / director today, and here is what he had to say about his new book:
JW: I’m not sure if your publicist told you much about who I am...
TW: She told me you were very important.
JW: Ha! Yes. So important that I’m interviewing you while wearing my pajamas. (Probably shouldn't have said that). Anyway, I have some formal and some informal questions for you. Let’s get started.
JW: "Sesame Street" was a big influence for "Blue’s Clues," did you have any children’s authors influence you for The Good Dog?
TK: That’s a good question. Certainly, more than anyone, Dr. Seuss. Seuss’ books were unique, as many of them were long and a similar length to The Good Dog. Horton Hears a Who is actually the same word count as The Good Dog. I was excited that he tells stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, for the most part. Many of his books have quite a bit of adventure in them as well.
JW: Tako is main canine in The Good Dog. Why do you think children relate so well to animals?
TK: I think on a really basic level, dogs are great characters for pre-school and young audiences because dogs are like young children: they’re trusting and they want to please. They have a lot of qualities that are very kid-like. Children identify with those characters. Tako is like a pre-schooler. He wants to be good, but he has trouble sometimes.
JW: Before you published the book, you work-shopped it with groups of children. Did you make any changes to the story based on their feedback?
TK: There were some things that were emphasized more than others...I believe I added the toddler twins after hearing what kids had to say...Interestingly, they (the children in the workshops) did drawings too. Jennifer (the illustrator) wasn’t sure how to depict the town and the relationship of Pritchard’s store to the Happy Family Bakery and she was inspired by some of their drawings which were confidently two dimensional depicting that street. So some of her visual depictions of the street came from kids' drawings.
JW: The illustrations in the book are beautiful. What do you look for in an artist when choosing an illustrator to help your story come to life?
TK: I look for character work. Especially for this. I looked at various sources, hundreds of portfolios of artists, and finally I found Jennifer and I really liked her work. I sent her the story and she read it to her kids and they were excited about the villain, and they loved the concept so she called me back and said she wanted to work on it.
JW: What would your criticism be of some of the children’s books that line shelves today?
TK: Kids are really tuned into adventure and conflict...the world of publishing wants to be nice to children and coddle them a little bit, but villains are really missing. There are people in the world that do things that are not nice, and I think it’s exciting to kids to encounter those characters and see how a character like Tako deals with an imperfect character in the real world.
JW: On your book’s website you have some adorable “expert” reviews by the real experts: kids. In Mary’s review, she says she hopes for more stories about Tako. Is this something we can all look forward to?
TK: Oh absolutely. When I had created the story in my mind there was another character, a cat. But that part of the story didn’t really fit into this book. So Jennifer and I, as we speak, we are halfway through the sketches of illustrations for the second book. It’s called “The Good Dog and The Bad Cat.” It will come out in the spring of 2016.
JW: What do you hope The Good Dog readers will take away after reading your book?
TK: I hope that they’ll take away the idea that although there are rules in the world, you also have to apply your own knowledge and common sense in decision making.
THE INFORMAL QUESTIONS
JW: If you were to write a book about your life, what would it be called?
TK: I guess it would be... “One Thing Does Not Follow The Other.” (laughs) In my career I’ve done television shows, I’ve done a love story for teenagers, I’ve done work for very young kids so I think it drives the entertainment industry crazy. They like their artists to be branded and do one thing, but for me I like to go where the story is.
JW: In another life, if you weren’t a writer / producer / director, you would be a...
TK: I would be a musician maybe.
JW: If you could have one super-power it would be?
TK: I’m not good at these questions (laughs). I don’t know. I kind of like not having a super-power. You know? Because that is what life is all about...trying to figure out how to do things.
JW: If you could give your 10 year-old self one piece of advice about the future it would be:
TK: Keep creating. And don’t follow the rules.
JW: I like that. I like that a lot...My sister-in-law who is ten years younger than me grew up watching "Blues Clues" so she’s going to faint when she finds out I got to talk to you today.
TK: If she comes to Los Angeles she can come to my house and sit in the Thinking Chair.
JW: Do you really have that?
TK: Yes I do.
JW: That is amazing. Thank you!
Well folks, I've officially reached my exhaustion breaking point.
I lasted almost three years. I've had a good run. Sure, I've had plenty of exhausted meltdowns up until this point, but last weekend I reached a new low. A new level of energy-sucking exhaustion I've never felt before.
Has Sleep Deprivation Ever Made You Do Something This Crazy?
My Mom (who lives with us) was away for the weekend, so we were a man down and no longer had a power play advantage. It was just my hubby, myself, and our two non-sleeping children (which I realize is the norm for most households).
By 2pm on Saturday I could feel my body starting to ache and fall apart. At one point, I climbed the stairs and rested for a few minutes with my head halfway in the hall closet on a pillow. The thought of walking another step seemed too daunting. You should never be aware of your internal organs, but I swear I could feel the weight of my kidneys, and damn - they were heavy. Everything was heavy. So, so, heavy. I couldn't even muster a fake smile. My cheeks were too...heavy. I was on the verge of tears all day, and had zero patience for anyone or anything. Even the wind was pissing me off. Stupid wind.
And then, while I was peeing with the door open so I could keep an eye on the kids (don't be jealous of my glamorous and sexy life), my son was being rough with my daughter and I screamed at him. And I mean...SCREAMED. A demonic, bottom of your gut scream. It was terrible. I feel sick even thinking about it. But in that moment, I felt trapped, exhausted, and utterly spent.
How To Be The Parent You Want To Be
Right away, I pulled my son aside and I apologized. I tearfully hugged him and told him that I should never yell at him like that. I also asked him to be a better listener and not be so rough with his sister. Everything was okay, or so I thought...
Ten minutes later, while we were quietly snuggling and laughing on the couch (and I was feeling slightly better) he started bawling. I was so shocked, and concerned, "Are you okay? What happened? Was it the spaghetti and meatball song? Don't worry, the meatball doesn't really turn into mush! He turns back into a meatball!" It was all very confusing, but I realized he was probably crying from the yelling episode earlier. He'd never seen me that upset before, and it scared him.
Instantly, I felt like a huge pile of shit and told myself that something had to change. I vowed to never yell at him like that again.
But how do you just stop being so exhausted when you have two young children who are terrible sleepers? Two young children who both want Mommy Mommy Mommy all of the time time time?!? Isn't everyone this exhausted? Isn't this just normal? Don't I need to just suck it up? Yeah, probably. But I was too tired to even suck it up. Fuck.
So later that night, once the kids were in bed, I cried some more, had a small glass of wine, read some articles about dealing with anger/ exhaustion, and came up with a SURVIVAL PLAN.
1) GETTING REST IS MY #1 PRIORITY. I hate napping. It feels like I'm wasting time. But I'm clearly not functioning like a normal human anymore, so I need to try to sneak in naps whenever I can and not feel guilty about it.
2) I WON'T GET UP WITH MY 2.5 YEAR OLD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT ANYMORE. That is now my husband's job. Yes, I should have relinquished control of this night-time ritual 8 months ago when Maeve was born, but it just seemed easier to get up and settle my son myself rather than have him freak out and throw a fit at 2:30am because it was Daddy going in, and not me. But I figure after a few nights of Daddy going in, he'll just accept that this is the new normal and we'll all move on. I just *can't* do it anymore. Plus, my husband likes the snuggles (once my son stops crying snot bubbles).
3) I NEED TO EAT WELL AND TAKE MY VITAMINS. Pretty self explanatory.
4) ALL OF MY AMBITIOUS PROJECTS WILL HAVE TO WAIT. This is a hard one for me, because I always have things I'm working on, but right now...they'll just need to collect dust bunnies in the corner of my mind until I have the energy to pursue them.
5) I NEED SOME TIME AWAY FROM MY KIDS. I'm never alone. Ever. I always have one of my adorable little kiddos in my arms or hanging from my neck. 99% of the time I love it, but right now, I really need a breather. I need some time away from my house and away from my sweet little energy-sucking kids (said with love) so that I can feel like a somewhat normal human again.
6) I NEED SOME YOGA. It's been too long since I've had some time to stretch, breathe, and fall asleep during shavasana. Oh how I crave the hypnotic and soothing voice of a yoga instructor telling me to breathe into my shins. Even if I can't figure that out for the life of me, it still feels really awesome to try.
And there you have it. My survival plan. And guess what? So far, I'm a week into this plan and I feel so much better. I've yet to check numbers five and six off my list, but I've been doing the first four and I feel pretty great. My nights are still sleepless, but at least it's with one child, and not two. I'm napping more, getting less done, but am feeling more like my old tired self and less like an exhausted beaten bag of ass. I consider that a small victory and step in the right direction!
So if you are like me, and you're at your wits end and need some help coping, I highly suggest you check out these articles by my fellow YMC bloggers: Steps To Help Calm Yourself Down When Emotions Rise Up and How To Create A Stress Management Plan.
Are you exhausted? Do you have grown-up temper tantrums some days that rival your toddlers? Do you find yourself looking in the mirror thinking, "What the hell happened to my breasts?"
Then yes, you must be a Mom.
Do you log onto Instagram or Facebook and see pictures of other mothers you know and think, "How the hell do they have their shit together?" And then proceed to hate yourself, just a little bit?
Well, fear not my frazzled-mom-friend, I am here to help!
I am here to wave my magical wand and help YOU (yes, you) look like a brilliant mother on all social media fronts. Just follow these three easy steps! (Said in my best 1950's housewife voice)
Bags under your eyes? Splotchy skin? Somewhat smeared mascara from last week? No problem. Instagram has several different filters to make even the most wretched photo look like something that belongs on the cover of Today's Parent.
Your house might look like something that belongs on an episode of Hoarders, and your kids ate nothing but PB&J all week, but you managed to craft something fabulous enough to give Martha Stewart an orgasm, so...take a picture. Take three. (Just make sure your un-pedicured toes or mountains of laundry don't find their way into the background of the photos, or your cover is blown!)
Did it take twenty-five minutes to dress your children for a walk in the park? Was one of them crying with snot dripping down his face just minutes ago? Shhhh, no one needs to know. So start clicking. Chances are you will be lucky enough to catch a moment where one child is laughing (or crying so hard they look like they're laughing) and everyone will think, "Aww, sibling love!" (You can even use that caption if you'd like.) BONUS NOTE: Adding heart embellishments and a trendy text will even further support the message.)
And there you have it, friends! Easy, right? And now that you know the tricks, there is one important thing you need to remember:
We're in this thing together, frazzled-mom-friends. I can see beyond your filters, and I hope you can see beyond mine. I hope you can see the genuine smiles and the oh-so-real-love, but I also hope you can see that no one's life is perfect. Just perfect moments woven together by many not-so-glamourous minutes of motherhood. I love it, I wouldn't change it, but it sure is an all-consuming ride.
And in case you are wondering, here is a picture of me right now as I write this blog post.
#NoFilter #Obviously #Husbandshirt #keepinitreal
If you'd like to hear more of my truth telling, here is the letter I wrote to my breasts "Dear Breasts..." Or, you can also check out this post where I talk about pooping while you push. Enjoy!