Julia Dixon Evans With Her Kids: Usually You Just Sit There
It’s a Monday night when I sit down with my kids and open the voice memo app. “Let’s do an interview,” I say.
My kids are eight (Edie) and ten (Ollie), and I don’t know if there’s something about the way I’m raising my kids, or the way everyone is raising their kids nowadays, but the cutting insults (technically they’re “observations”) that fly out of their mouths towards me on a daily basis would never have happened in my own house as a kid. Or maybe I dished out plenty of insults but have long since forgotten, idealizing decades-past behavior.
We’re eating dinner, which played a significant role in my experience transcribing the recording. I speculate this, on the recording, at this moment and this is all I wrote down in response: [Edie describes dinner].
I should add that, dinner long finished, my children hung like monkeys from my shoulders and climbed on my chair as I played back the recording and typed up what we’d said. They laughed, they were fascinated, and kept wanting to replay certain parts, notably the fart, which I have left out of this interview.
JDE: I’m gonna ask you guys some questions about me being a writer.
Edie: Okay. My mom is a writer!
I move in with the big guns early, because this is what it means to be a mother in 2018: I was bracing myself for their insults, for the criticism of how much I work, how even though I’m with them so much more than their father, who spends his working time in an office far away and never has to work in front of them, it doesn’t matter because I am the mother and I’m supposed to not be on my computer and I’m supposed to play and answer every single question they ever ask me and also give them food all the time. The physical demands of motherhood loosen with each passing year but the guilt ramps up in exchange. They spare no expense in criticizing me, daily. My reaction is usually a blurry mixture of guilt, shame, resolve, anger, annoyance, inequality, slight hatred, slight self-hatred, etc. But they don’t go there yet, and that surprises me.
Me: Okay. Yeah. What’s it like having a mother who is a writer?
Ollie: Uh, interesting.
Edie: [extremely show-off-y voice] Good! And great and it’s a jolly thing in life cause she can write, a lot. And I love writing too.
The theatrics piss me off, and I regret everything. I regret telling them I’m interviewing them. I should have worn a wire. I regret doing this on a Monday when everyone is always extra emo after the first day of the school week. Maybe I regret even talking to them at all at this dinner. However, I power through it. I think about how if nothing else, even if this interview rips me of all of my self-esteem and self-worth as a human, mother, and writer, maybe I’ll get a funny, self-deprecating tweet out of some of this! I try to dig in. Think of the sweet tweet.
Me: How does — just answer as if we’re talking okay, pretend that we’re not recording— How does it affect YOU when I write?
Edie: It makes me sad cause you don’t do anything with us.
Oh. There it is.
Me: Anything, ever?
Edie: Sometimes you do—
Ollie: (interrupting) No comment.
Edie: -- but usually you just sit there doing this [mimes typing] TYPE TYPE TYPE TYPE TYPE
Me: What does it look like to you when somebody writes? Is that how it looks?
Ollie: either typing [mimes] or [mimes pen writing] like writing with a pen.
Me: Please don’t write on the dining table
Ollie: Look NO PEN [shows me unclicked ballpoint pen]
Me: Then please don’t scratch on the dining table.
Here’s where I deleted several lines about broccoli and our cat, unrelated items on the table. The cat climbs on our table despite us asking her in English not to do it. Every single dinner involves lifting the cat down more than once.
Me: Is it easy to write stories?
One of my least favorite things about the rise of modern, constructivist and project-based learning is that my kids think they’re goddamn experts on publishing by the 2nd grade. They’ll probably write and publish at least 20 books before they get to high school and once I told them I just finished writing a book, my then-first grader shrugged and said oh cool me too.
Me: Have you ever written a book?
Edie: Yeah, I am.
Me: You’re writing a book right now?
Edie: It’s nonfiction.
I suddenly feel shitty for thinking ill of their education and their amazing school. I love hearing my eight year old daughter say “it’s nonfiction” all nonchalant like that. I’m pretty sure I’m feeling something like pride. Which is maybe why I ask the next question.
Me: Do you think it’s easy for ME to write?
Ollie: Probably not.
Edie: No! [weirdly cheerful voice] Not easy for you to write because we keep distracting you and asking you to get us food or to play with us...or get me some tomatoes to put in my cheeks, or to... lock the doors… or to… turn on the light.
Me: Okay now you’re just naming things Edie, what about if I didn’t have any distractions. Do you think it’s easy for me to write?
Me: it’s still hard?
Edie: [with increasing sass] Yeah it’s still hard because you can’t think of anything to write about.
Me: Concentrate on just answering naturally, don’t think about this [pointing to recorder].
Edie: [long, vibrato singing note]
Me: Stop it, I won’t be able to use any silly answers. I’ll have to edit them out.
Edie: (cheerful) I’m getting in trouble!
Me: [through my teeth] I’ll have to edit that out.
I think I know I’ll probably use the silly answers. I don’t feel any remorse for lying.
Me: Okay, have you ever read anything I’ve written?
Ollie: Actually yes
Edie: Yeah! In CityBeat.
Ollie: Yep, newspaper articles.
Me: I work from home for So Say We All, so can you tell the difference between my writing time and my work time?
Ollie: Nope. Pretty much the same.
Ollie: Normally, sometimes you edit on a piece of paper [gestures]
Me: — A printout?
Ollie: Yeah, with paper but also you need to work—
Edie: [interrupting] PAPERCLIPS
Me: Yes I use paperclips.
A lot of the visible work I do for my day job feels a lot like writing to an innocent bystander. Editing, planning readings, writing, using paperclips, sitting at my computer going TYPE TYPE TYPE TYPE. Here’s where I fancy myself an educator, capitalizing on an important teaching moment about the importance of editing, which ends up being about editing supplies and accessories.
Me: What does it look like to edit?
Edie: You use a red pen, your special red pen, to do the stuff and you like draw circles around it, and then you draw hearts
Me: I do draw lots of hearts.
Edie: And you color them in.
I also write lots of insightful and critical comments in the margins but wtfever.
Edie: And you put tape flags and they’re cute, they’re cats. KITTIES.
Edie: [whispers] Are you sending this to anybody?
Me: No! I told you no one’s gonna hear it! Just me, when I’m writing out the parts that work, for the story. OKAY.
Parenting in 2018 means they just kind of assume anything they say while I’m holding my phone is getting texted to someone or tweeted. They’re not usually wrong. I usually feel like shit.
Me: Okay, so what did you think of the things that I’d written? What did they make you think?
Edie: Uh, BORED.
Both: [wild laughter]
Ollie: I like it!
Edie: [laughs more]
Me: Stop it. Please stop it.
Ollie: Stop laughing.
Me: This is distracting.
Ollie: [loud slurping]
Again I should probably quit. I should quit this interview. I should quit trying to have sensible conversations with my children. I should quit trying to use my children to somehow get an interview published. I should quit this exploitation. Quit writing. Quit parenting. Or maybe since they weren’t entirely negative enough earlier when I asked, I should ask this one again:
Me: How does it affect you when I write?
Edie: Um, it affects me because you’re not doing anything with us.
Me: OK that’s one answer.
Me: Are you ever inspired or proud, or do you mostly just wish I would play?
Edie: Mostly I just wish you could play.
Ollie: Same here.
Me: So you’re never inspired or proud that I’m a writer?
Edie: I’m never inspired or proud!
This is a lie because she recently dedicated her 5th or something published class book on landforms to me as her inspiration. This interview is probably all lies.
Me: Do you remember when I wrote my book?
Ollie: Uh, kind of?
Me: Or were you too little?
Ollie: I just thought you were doing regular work.
Me: When I wrote my book, How to Set Yourself on Fire, it was in 2013.
Ollie: [incredulous] it was in 2013?!
Me: So you were in kindergarten or 1st grade or something, and Edie was in preschool. I wrote a lot of it at coffee shops when you were in school or at night when you guys went to bed—
Edie: [offended] HOW COME YOU DIDN’T TELL ME?!
Me: I would write for a couple of hours after you went to bed.
Edie: You used to play with us then.
Me: You also used to go to bed at 7 back then, so I had a lot more time to work after you guys went to sleep — oh kitty cat, get down—
Me: Does it make you want to be a writer when you grow up?
Ollie: I wanna be something else.
Edie: Nico said she wants to be an ice cream truck driver… [tangent]
Me: I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer when I grew up when I was a kid
Ollie: LOUD WHISTLING
Me: Ollie, this is gonna be really hard to transcribe later, to type out everything we’ve said, because I’ll have to deal with those loud noises, okay?
Ollie: [Loud slurping noise, gurgle]
In my head: I should give up.
Me: Do you ever wish that I hadn’t written this book?
Ollie: Nope. Except for the times that you won’t let me read it.
Me: So, wait, when are you gonna be allowed to read the book?
Ollie: When I’m 25.
This is actually something I stole from Kevin Maloney, author of Cult of Loretta. He once said that his daughter isn’t allowed to read his work until she’s 25. I doubt he’ll stick to that, and I doubt I will stick to that, because obviously parents have literally zero control over the children, as shown in this interview.
Me: You were three or four and five when I started writing this. So that’s a long time, right? I’ve been working on this book for half your life and it’s just coming out. That’s crazy.
Edie: How come you didn’t tell me!
Me: I told you many times.
Edie: When I was like a baby-baby?
Me: No I wasn’t writing it when you were a baby.
Me: Okay, more questions. What does it mean to be a writer? What does a writer do?
Edie: It means that you go BLAH BLAH BLAH [mimes typing]
Ollie: You WRITE and you TALK
Me: Why do people write?
Ollie: To tell stories.
Edie: No! So that people—
Ollie: --to express themselves!
Edie: —-so they can, so more people can have books, and more people can have fun by reading them. And more people can have fun by writing it.
Me: Okay, so we write to make books, but we also write to express ourselves, right? And why do you think I write?
Ollie: I don’t know, same reasons?
Edie: Because this noodle looks like a worm.
The part of the interview where they ask me questions is probably my favorite part. Probably because listening back to this it’s easy to recognize the desperation in my questions to them. Am I asking them incredibly cutting questions because I want to hear the insults? Maybe I’m asking them those questions with some sort of urgent hope that the answers won’t be as bad as I hope they’ll be.
Me: Do you have any questions for me?
Me: About being a writer.
Edie: [raises hand]
Me: Yes Edie, just ask.
Me: Did you forget your question?
Edie: Um um um like, fireplaces.
Me: Ollie do you have a question?
Edie: No! I actually have a question. Why do you write?
Edie: [evil laughter]
Me: I write to sort things out, to sort out my feelings, and because I have lot of ideas in my head, a lot of crazy ideas that can’t really happen in real life so I have to make them into a story.
Edie: Yeah and they explode into a story!
Me: Yeah they do, oh, that’s beautiful Edie.
Ollie: I have a question.
Ollie: What’s your name?
Me: Julia Dixon Evans
Edie: DOT COM
I’m sorry. Ollie once said he googled me when they had free iPad time at school and found my author website, and since then he prides himself on being able to list the URL. He must have said it enough for his little sister to pick up on it. I’m sorry for all of this.
Me: Do you have any other questions?
Me: About me being a writer, or you having a mother that’s a writer. That’s what this interview is about.
Me: Yes Edie?
Edie: In your story did you put a lightswitch in it?
Me: Yes, there is, electricity in fact plays a significant role.
Ollie: [raises hand]
Me: Yes Ollie?
Ollie: Why is it called How to Set Yourself on Fire?
Me: Um, it was really hard to find a title actually.
Edie: Cause you didn’t like any of them.
Me: At first it was called Sheila, the main character’s name.
Ollie: And then you changed it into Other Burning Places and then people thought it would be like a short story thingie because it has “other” in it so you had to change it.
Me: You’re amazing!
Ollie: What are those little things on the book cover, like slips of paper?
Me: Oh, those are, okay, so my book has a bunch of letters in it.
Edie: Letters! [sings alphabet song] abcdefg
Me: Sheila finds letters that somebody sent to her grandmother, her grandmother just died.
Me: and she reads all the letters, and the person who signs the letters, instead of just saying “sincerely,” which he does every so often, he signs something clever.
Edie: (incredulous) He?
Me: His name is Harold, the writer of the letter of the letters, the grandma’s name is Rosamond, you just dropped some broccoli in your hair. And the main character’s name is?
Edie: Why Sheila?
Me: Uh, I just really like that name.
Edie: Well why didn’t you just name me that?
Me: I didn’t like it as much as Edith.
Ollie: Well why didn’t you name the person Edith?
Me: I can’t name a character in my novel my daughter’s name.
Me: Because she makes poor choices. Everyone would think I think you make poor choices.
Edie: Which I do.
Me: No, you’re a good person. Sheila’s a good person too, but anyway, I’m not naming any characters after my kids. Not happening. When I have them do weird stuff, it’s not okay.
Ollie: What about Harriet?
Me: Um, no Harriet’s our cat.
Ollie: Harriet does weird stuff.
Me: Okay are you guys all done asking me questions?
Me: Have I got enough good material here?
Edie: Nope, I’m raising my hand.
Me: Yes Edie?
Edie: I don’t like that you work all the time and we are late for school too.
Ollie: 24. 7.
Well it looks like they just triggered me.
Me: Wait, why are we late for school? Is it because I’m writing? No, it’s because someone won’t put their shoes on or brush their teeth when I ask.
Edie: No, it takes a long time for you to do your face and put your lotion on…
Me: Edie. Wait. Just answer me honestly. Why are we late to school? Is it because you guys don’t move or—
Edie: No I meant YOU’RE late to get there after school to pick us UP is what I mean.
Me: Oh! yeah, that’s because I’m busy working.
By now it seems like I am unabashedly fishing for absolution of my sins by asking them this one more time. I don’t know why I can’t admit to myself that I’m not going to get any absolution.
Me: What else don’t you like about me being a writer?
Ollie: [whispering] Nobody talk so we can have an awkward silence.
Me: [through teeth] Nobody is going to hear this. Is there anything else you wanna say about what it means to have a mother who is a writer? Do you tell people that I’m a writer?
Me: Who do you tell?
Ollie: My friends!
Me: What do people say when they find out your mom is a writer?
Ollie: “ooh cool, nice” “that sounds very interesting.”
Me: Edie what do people say when you tell them that I’m a writer?
Edie: They say OOH AAHH OOH AHH, AWKWARD SILENCE, AWKWARD SILENCE.
Me: What kind of things would you like me to write next?
Ollie: I want you to write a kids book!
Edie: Yeah, I want you to write a kids book.
Ollie: About a cat.
Me: I’m not good with animals in stories.
Ollie: Okay about a person.
Edie: About a soccer player!
Edie: About a rock star!
Me: How about you guys write that book?