Tome of the Mommy: When to Make a Grown Man Cry

Cryingman I'll admit it, I love to make grown men cry.

On the page, that is.

Does this make me a passive-aggressive bitch? Heck, no!

Say all you want about “alpha” and “beta” males, but bottom line: if you want to make your heroes come to life, you have to do more than just scratch the surface of their characters with a frown, or a grimace, or a curl of the lip. 

At the right time, for the right reason, maybe they need to shed a tear or two.

They're only human, right? Particularly when their marriages are breaking up, and they suddenly realize they can lose all they've taken what they hold most dearly for granted: their wives, their children, their homes.

Their real lives.

In my upcoming book, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, my heroine, stay-at-home-mom Lyssa Harper, hears a rumor that the neighborhood's “perfect couple” have split up. This is confirmed by the husband in question, a workaholic lawyer named Harry Wilder, whom Lyssa runs into, on the playground. I've got an excerpt for you, below.

Just call me a tearjerker,

—Josie


Harry pulls off his Bluetooth headset for
good to find Temple and my son playing nicely together on the climbing gym.
Mickey has gotten over his wariness of girl cooties (imaginary), and Temple is
reassured that Mickey’s cooties (real, but gone) won’t be invading her full
head of sun-kissed sateen curls. All is right in the world.

Harry smiles his unabashed
gratitude. “Sorry. East Coast,” he says, by way of explanation. “Had to catch
those guys before they go home for the day.”

I nod understandingly, and then
stick out my hand. “Lyssa Harper. We’ve met before.”

Vagueness clouds his eyes. “Sure,
I remember. You’re the Stuckeys’ au pair, right?”

I don’t know whether to be
flattered or miffed. True, both the au pair and I have long dark hair, although
mine is somewhat curlier. Okay, make that frizzy. And yes, it strokes my ego to
be compared to a mere woman-child some ten years younger (not to mention ten
pounds lighter). It’s more likely that he’s suggesting that I don’t seem worthy
enough to live in Paradise Heights—unless I’m in someone’s domestic employ.

Only in my wildest fantasies
would I assume that this is his way of hitting on me. Still, the thought of
being picked up on the playground by the neighborhood DILF (the “dad I'd
like to—.” well, you get the picture) does give me a cheap thrill.

Then it hits me: What if he’s
asking because he thinks he can buy my services, which would leave the Stuckeys
high and dry? Ouch! And those twins of theirs are a handful . . .

Gee, I wonder how much he’s
offering, anyway

Turns out he’s not offering at
all. He just doesn’t remember meeting Ted and me at the Crawleys’ Christmas
party last year. Or sharing a picnic table with us this past summer at the
Paradise Heights Annual July Fourth picnic. Or that we were the ones who found
Lucky after he escaped under their fence in order to chase after the Corrigan’s
tabby.

My God, as oblivious as this guy
is, I’m surprised he remembers his way home.

Then again, maybe he doesn’t.
That might be why DeeDee had an affair in the first place.

“Um . . .no. I'm just a mom
here in the Heights.”

As my black-and-white image of
the Wilders gradates to chiaroscuro in the harsh light of reality, Harry tries
to make amends for forgetting how many times our paths have crossed by
complimenting me on how well my son plays with Temple.

Now it’s my turn to blush. I’m
not used to hearing compliments about Mickey from other parents, only pointed
remarks about how much more “rambunctious” he is than their own perfect
progeny. “Thanks,” I stammer, then add, “I think his patience comes from having
a younger sister.”

“Oh yeah? My son isn’t half that
great with Temple. Of course he’s somewhat older, a teenager.” He gives a
conciliatory laugh. “You know how they are.”

“I know your son.”

Surprised, he
blinks, then leans away slightly. He seems wary of what I might say next, so I
continue gently, “Jake, right? He’s a sweet boy, too. He and my son, Tanner,
play together on the basketball team. Very few of Tanner’s friends let Mickey
join in when they come over to shoot hoops. You know how they can be: snubbing
kids who are younger, or not as well coordinated. But Jake doesn’t seen to
mind.”

Harry nods uncertainly. “Well,
I’m glad to hear he’s not so—so judgmental all the time.”

“I never thought of it that way.
I just think some kids instinctively know what to do with younger children.”
Upon hearing this, Harry frowns. Quickly I add, “I’m not saying that that’s a
good thing or a bad thing. In fact, I think it shows that, some day, they’ll
make pretty good parents.”

Harry stares off in stony
silence. As we sit quietly, I wonder what I’ve said wrong.

On the other hand, what does it
matter? It’s my guess that he will forget our conversation the minute we gather
up the kids and say our awkward good-byes. And the next time we meet, be it in
the carpool line, or at a school function, or a neighbor’s party, he’ll vaguely
wonder what the Stuckeys’ au pair has done with the usually caterwauling twins.

Right then and there I make up my
mind that that is not going to happen, that I’m going to make a big enough
impression on him that my name will finally be emblazoned on his brain, or at
the very least that I crack his typically icy demeanor just this once.

Suddenly I remember another thing
we have in common: our daughters.

“So, you’ve decided to give
Temple a day off from school? In fact, my daughter, Olivia, is in preschool
with Temple. Every now and then I let her do that, too. Kindergarten can be so
overwhelming for little kids, even with a year or two of preschool under their
belts. It’s not like they’re missing calculus, or anything really important,
right? And the trade-offs are some wonderful memories. To be honest, though, I
hate when it’s called ‘quality time,’ don’t you? I mean, every second with your
child is memorable. Even watching them while they sleep is precious–”

I’ve been blathering so much I
hadn’t noticed that Harry is crying.

The tears roll down his face in
two steady lines. He turns his head toward me so that the children don’t see
this, but my look of shock must be just as dismaying to him because he ends up
burying his face in his hands.

And sobs even harder.

Harry Wilder, captain of
industry, neighborhood enigma, one half of Paradise Heights’ Perfect Couple, is
now a puddle of mush.

And it's all my doing.

Out of habit I still carry Handi
Wipes. Although they aren’t ideal in situations like this, I can tell that
Harry is appreciative for anything that will sop up this mess that is now his
life.

When he's able to face me again,
he looks me in the eye. “My wife left me. She’s left
us.”

At this point I could feign
ignorance, but since we’re both striving for honesty here, I have no desire to
muck things up with a polite albeit face-saving (for him) lie, a “Gee! Look how
late it’s getting” exit line, and another year or two of polite neighborly
oblivion. Instead, I nod and say, “Yeah, I heard. On Halloween.
I’m—I’m so sorry about it.”

“You know about it? But I—I
haven’t said anything to anyone, yet! And she’s—she’s long gone, so I know it
didn’t come from her.” He shakes his head at the thought that his personal soap
opera is being bandied about the local Starbucks. “Jesus! And I thought news
moved fast on Wall Street.”

“Yeah, well, you’ll find out
about the Height’s mommy grapevine soon enough. I mean, if you plan on sticking
around—

“I am, for sure. I’m not going
anywhere.” The lines on Harry’s face once again realign into a steely
implacability. “This is our home. My kids love it here. We’ll…we’ll work
through it somehow.”

“Sure you will,” I murmur
reassuringly. “There’s no place like the Heights for raising kids. That’s why
we’re all here. Hey listen, really, I didn’t mean to scare you off. You know,
about the way we mommies talk and all. It was just such a shock to everyone.
The two of you always seemed so—so happy.”

“Yeah. Happy. I thought we were,
too.” With this, his eyes get moist again. This time, though, he shrugs, then
passes a broad palm over them. I assume that he’s decided that the Handi Wipes
give off the wrong impression. “You were right when you said that every minute
you spend with your kids is important. And I haven’t been around for most of
it.”

Well, of course you weren’t, I
want to say. You were out making a living! Bringing home the bacon, playing
this millennium’s version of caveman . . .

And boy oh boy, your stucco
palace has all the bells and whistles to prove it.

Too bad you found another
Neanderthal in there, with your wife.

But I keep my mouth shut. Because
you don’t hit a man when he’s down.

 (c) 2010 Josie Brown


The online magazine, Jezebel feels like I do about men: it's good to seem them being human beings. This article profiles 67 Hollywood movies in which men actually cry on camera (and on cue…)

Here's the video that goes with it. Enjoy!



SecretLives400  Josie' s Next Book: Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives

Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press

(ISBN: 9781439173176)

Look for it in bookstores June 1, 2010

From Amazon

From Barnes & Noble

From Bigger Books

From Books a Million

From Borders

From Copperfield's

From Your Local Independent Bookstore

From Powell's


Tome of the Mommy: Ask Yourself, “Why did I Marry Him?”

Sad_bride 01

I've been blessed with a wonderful relationship. My husband, Martin, and I have been together for over twenty years.

I'm always amazed when unhappy couples stay in a marriage. Isn't the  goal to be with someone who makes you happy?

Not because each party feels some obligation to stay in the marriage.

When questioned as to whether they are wasting their time, energy and emotions on a relationship that will never get better, the reasons they usually give for sticking it out never has anything to do with his or her own happiness, but some sense of obligation: to their children, their parents, their perception of relationship success.

I feel sad for them. So much time is spent complaining about the fact that neither can satisfy the other. 

What they don't realize is that either one party has  lost the respect, or trust,  of the other. Unless they take the time to earn it back, no amount of passion will ever make it right again.

My own parents' union was not a happy one. I reveled in the unabashed love both
my mother and father showered on me, and I will always appreciate them
for inspiring me to never doubt my own abilities or my potential. That is all a child can ask of a parent, is it not?

But children want their parents to be happy, too.

As a child, I remember wishing they'd break up, so that each could find the happiness that eluded them in marriage.

When I was sixteen my parents had one particularly raw argument. Afterward I sat on the front porch with my mother during a thunderstorm. As the sky crackled overhead, I asked her: "Why don't you two just get a divorce?"

She paused, then answered:  "Because children should have two parents."

"But we're happy when you're happy. And you aren't happy."

She nodded in response, but my words never moved her to action. She stayed in the marriage until the day he died, some three years later. During that time, she was angry. Nothing he did for her made her happy.

Maybe she was afraid she couldn't be happy without him, either. The devil you know is better than the one you don't. Isn't that how the saying goes?

I've always wondered if, had they made the break, he might have lived longer.

People who are happy don't want to give up on life.

In my book Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, my heroine, Lyssa Harper, ruminates on her own parents' divorce, and how it affected her views toward dating and marriage. This small excerpt gives you a small piece of her backstory, in her own words.

Enjoy, and happy new year,

Josie


I accepted Ted’s proposal even though I wasn’t really sure that he was The One.

I said as much to my mother, the day after he proposed.
“What is ‘The One,’ anyway?” The smoke from her Kool Menthol streamed out from the high corner of her curled smirk and floated toward the ceiling like a serene genie. “Hey, nothing’s perfect, right?”


It wasn’t a question, but a warning. During the twelve years of her own marriage she had assumed my father had been The One for her. I had, too. He’d been my first and only love.


As it turns out, Father wasn’t The One for either of us. He proved it when I was ten. That was the year he left us both for his secretary, the giggly Patti-with-an-i, and the penthouse apartment where he’d stashed her.

Our consolation prize was our two-acre country club estate in tony Atherton, with its over-extended mortgage. But of course we couldn’t afford the house on our own. Within a year we had downsized to a one-bedroom rent-controlled walk-up in San Francisco's Upper Tenderloin—a “transitional” neighborhood—where we crammed in as much of our large overstuffed furniture as we could fit.


The only good thing about that roach-infested hole was that it was a five-minute bus ride to the Saks Fifth Avenue on Union Square. My mother got a job at the cosmetics counter alongside the same women who, when she was married and flush, showered her with Clinique and Estée Lauder samples as she swept by them on her way to the designer showroom. After the divorce, the Puccis, Guccis, Yves St. Laurents and Blasses she wore to the weekly cocktail parties at her country club either subbed as very expensive work attire, or found its way to consignment shops, where they sold quickly at bargain rates. Whereas she was no longer living proof that you can never be too rich, she certainly proved that you could be too thin—if all you could afford to eat is canned tuna on Saltines.


Like a good girl, I didn’t blame my father or complain to my mother. Instead I threw myself into my other love: painting big sad canvases that made people stop, look and react . . .

 Copyright © 2010 by Josie Brown



BestSLHW Josie' s Next Book: Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives

Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press

(ISBN: 9781439173176)

Look for it in bookstores June 1, 2010

From Amazon

From Barnes & Noble

From Bigger Books

From Books a Million

From Borders

From Copperfield's

From Your Local Independent Bookstore

From Powell's

Tome of the Mommy: How to Tell Your Child There Is No Santa

SantaCon There is no "right time" to tell your children that there is no Santa.

Worse yet, there is no right way.

If you're lucky, as you're stumbling to get the words out, your son will pat you calmly on shoulder and say, "Look, Mom, I know what you're trying to tell me, and it's okay. I've already figured it out."

Sort of like he's figured out that whole birds and bees thing.

Yeah, yeah, I know: happy new year to you, too.

Well, here's hoping he'll spare you that look of condescension when he tells you these little facts of life.

And that he knows to keep his mouth shut about the bully who let the cat out of the bag. Because we all know that there's no accounting for a mother's revenge.

(That photo of SantaCon, the Santa Convention in New York City's Washington Square, I'm sure broke many a child's heart. To add insult to injury, The New York Times asked some noted writers their opinions on it. You can read what they say as to when and how, here…)

That said, those of us who've already gone through this trial can tell you who yet to have this displeasure one very important thing: don't wait too long, or you'll find out that someone else has beaten you to the punch.

We did, with our son. He heard it instead from his fourth grade teacher, whom I guessing, was afraid the other kids would tease him unmercifully if they found out.

For years afterward, he told us it would be the first issue he'd bring up with his therapist.
He also told us that he was never going to tell his children that "lie."

My response: "Oh yeah? We'll see." He's never relished the role of killjoy. I doubt seriously that he'll do that to his own kids.

Instead, he'll do what we did: try to put the whole Santa myth into perspective for them. To discuss with them the joy of giving, and how Christmas is really about the birth of baby Jesus.

Hopefully not as their ripping open their presents. They'll never hear him over the rustle of wrapping paper and their own squeals as they plug in that generation's version of wii.

Our daughter started doubting the existence of the Easter Bunny when I accidentally left the price tag on the chocolate rabbit in her basket.
I've never lived that one down.The grilling she gave me was worse than anything they do in Gitmo. By the time we were done, I was so soaked with sweat, you would have thought I'd been waterboarded.

Today she's just beyond teendom, and she still looks forward to her Easter Basket, but the scars are still there. I know. I could tell by the way she rips off the chocolate bunny's head and munches on it. No dainty bites for her.

Doubt can do that to a girl.

It can also do that to a marriage. In my book Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, the heroine, Lyssa Harper has no reason to doubt her husband's love, but he seems to doubt hers — particularly when he hears from her so called friends that she's been spending too much time with the neighborhood DILF.

But, hey, it's almost Christmas, so I'll leave you with heartwarming excerpt instead.

— Josie


Olivia is bouncing on our heads at five in the morning. "Can we go downstairs now? Please? To see if Santa has been here?"

Mickey's voice chimes in from the hallway. "Olivia, of course he's been here! Just look over the banister, for crying out loud! The whole floor is covered in them."

Ted peels our daughter off his chest, tossing her onto the foot of the bed. "Yeah, sure, go! GO! . . . Hey: you can look, but don't touch—until your mom and I get down there, too."

"How long will that take?" Olivia tries to pull the covers off the bed, but I hang on fast to it on my end.

"It will take longer if I don't get my first cup of coffee." I know I sound grumpy, but that's the breaks. It's been a long stressful week. We put out the gifts after midnight, and I'm dead tired.
Besides, I don't do crack of dawn too well.

"I'm on it, Mom!" I hear Mickey tromping down the steps to push the button on the coffeemaker.

Olivia flies down the steps, too. "Wait for me! WAIT! . . . Oh! It's bee-U-ti-ful!"
The tree, she means.
Well, more honestly, the field of dreams that surrounds it.

Tanner, too old and too cool for such a show of unfettered giddiness, growls from his room for everyone to shut up. "I'm an atheist! I don't believe in Santa, so shut up!"

"Santa is secular, you moron!" Mickey yells from the kitchen.

I know, though, the minute Tanner hears Ted and me stirring, he'll be right on our heels.

"Are you up?" I nudge Ted because he looks as if he's falling back asleep.

"Hell yeah. You know that Christmas always gives me a woody." He reaches for me and pulls me close. "So does the thought of more office sex, by the way."

"I'll remember that. Only next time let's wait until everyone leaves for the day. I didn't like the fact that Vanna couldn't look me in the eye when I left."

"I'll make it part of her job description." He stretches as he rises from the bed. "Alright! Showtime . . ."

Copyright © 2010 by Josie Brown



SLHW fauxsmall  Josie' s Next Book: Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives

Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press

(ISBN: 9781439173176)

Look for it in bookstores June 1, 2010

From Amazon

From Barnes & Noble

From Books a Million

From Borders

From Copperfield's

From Your Local Independent Bookstore

From Powell's