The New Sun: What are some of the things that you wish people had told you beforehand about motherhood? Something so obvious that people forget to mention it.
Mary Lyon: Well, it's sort of a catch-all thing, but I would say: try not to lose your sense of humor. To do that, imagine that the entire world, or the situation, is a large face that you can throw a cream pie at. I have "pied" I don't know how many situations. It's a corollary to the job interview advice: if you're really intimidated by the person, you imagine them sitting on the toilet. You have to take it down a couple of notches because there is just so much coming at you.
It's like children's reason for being is to throw you curveballs and you just have to be ready for that. You won't know what to be ready for! Now my son is into hair paint, for example. Some of it is washable but some of it isn't. Kids can also paint with Smucker's Preserves, mustard, ketchup, and Chef Boy Ardi -- and some of that is irreparable. You're going to get on you, and on one of your nicer, professional "credibility suits," whatever it is they were just eating for breakfast.
Children do not immediately put a properly-held spoon directly into mouth and back down onto plate. It's usually hand to mouth, and then they turn around and lean against the back of the chair, tilting all the way. There is an amazing variety of ways to sit on a chair that you would never think of.
I'm going to a Cub Scout Pack meeting tonight and I can't wait because it's one of the most absurd things possible. If you can get over being aghast at what you see, it is riotously funny. There are about 100 little boys, none older than 4th grade. You would never even fathom all the ways there are to sit in, or around, or under, or on top of, chairs. Then it's: throw hats, hit your neighbor, pick you nose, pick your teeth, chew your shirt. It's amazing what they're doing. It's like a panorama and if you just scan the room, you'll be on the floor.
NS: You clearly see how funny it is.
ML: Yeah, you have to because otherwise some of the stuff could really get to you. The only way I've been able to survive is by keeping my sense of humor. It's a survival tool. Why are so many comedians of the Jewish persuasion? They went through the ovens and the holocaust. I mean, my God, you'd be nuts, you know? There's a reason why, down through the ages, humor has come from calamity. It's the only way you can really survive it and keep your head on straight.
I have a great anecdote My best friend in all the world, to this day, from the first grade, is my friend Annie Lockhart who is an actress and a producer. Her mother is June Lockhart. June was married to an architect at one point who was extremely flamboyant. Now that I've grown up I can really appreciate some of the stuff he did. He was my kind of guy. His specialty was making white elephants. Whenever I'd go over to Annie's house there would invariably be large pieces of newspaper spread on the floor somewhere, with a silhouette of whatever he had spray-painted. It was usually gold.
He'd take something that had been thrown away or something he'd found at a garage sale, like an old bowling ball or an antler or something really weird. Then he'd spray paint it gold and place it in the middle of the coffee table -- basically to laugh at it. So, the buzz phrase of the neighborhood became "Spray it Gold and Laugh at It."
You've got something where you don't know what to do? Spray it gold and laugh at it!
That has become my mantra for life. In my mind, I have sprayed my children gold and laughed at them. I have sprayed the school principal gold and laughed at her, I have sprayed the IRS gold and laughed at it. It applies to anything. It's like your private joke with the world. Let's be perfectly clear, I not talking about getting a can of spray paint and actually doing it. But if you do that in your mind you can diffuse the hassle and the rush that comes with being a parent, especially a working parent. You've got to squeeze all kinds of stuff in all kinds of hours. If you're not a multi-tasker already -- as many working women have to be anyway -- you will become one when you add in motherhood. You have to figure out a way to do many things at once.
I got some great training for that when I was an assignment editor at one of the t.v. stations. It's like on the old Ed Sullivan Show, the guy with the spinning plates. You start spinning the plates on one end and by the time you get all the way to the other end, the first plate you started spinning is almost toppling over. And you have to race back there. It's nuts. It's really nuts. And to keep from pulling your hair, and to keep from getting mad at somebody you really care about, you have to keep your sense of humor.
So I maintain that image in my mind all the time -- either a splat with the cream pie or my imaginary can of spray paint.
NS: Speaking of humor, how about advice for women during pregnancy and the birthing process?
ML: All the old adages work very well. "Say whatever you want," "Yell and scream however loud you want." And my same rules apply. I "cream-pied" half of the maternity ward. My husband brought candy bars to bribe everybody with. Use whatever you think will work.
In the Lamaze and breathing classes that I took, there were certain kinds of breathing for certain stages of the pushing. At one point you're supposed to go, "Hoo-hoo-hah!" and then at another point you're supposed to go, "Hee-hee-hee!" When you're actually there, you're not going to remember anything! All you know is that you have to get the baby out of there. Don't worry about it. Don't sweat the details. Just get through it.
My biggest piece of advice is: if you're noble enough to do it without pain relief, wonderful, but you're not in there to come home with a medal of valor, or a certificate of how brave you were.
NS: And also to tell your doctors in advance that you might need medication, so if you change your mind, it's already been cleared beforehand.
ML: Yes, that was one of the biggest pieces of advice that sort of fueled the birth of the book. I found that out the hard way with my daughter Elizabeth. I had a pretty easy labor and delivery, but I woke up about 4:30 the next morning in the most incredible pain. It felt like I had been beaten up from the inside by an elf with a baseball bat. There was nothing in the chart except Tylenol.
The little old lady nurse was reluctant to call any doctor at that hour and wake them up at home. She brought me a hemorrhoid pad. Uh-uh, sorry, that ain't gonna do it! I laid there and suffered until 7:30 in the morning when she felt okay about calling the doctor at home and waking her up. If it's not written in your chart, in black and white -- in advance -- it ain't gonna happen. You need to cover that base around the 5th or 6th month.
I ended up needing two or three shots of morphine for the pain. That's how bad it was. I'm not advocating drug use or any of that, but if you need it, you need it. It's not going to make you a junkie. You're not going to build a habit. You're going to be kind of soupy through that time, and sleep through it. You're milk isn't going to come down yet anyway.
You can certainly decide to do the brave, courageous thing and go without, but better to have it written in there. With my second baby, I had it all written down in advance. Didn't need it. But I was glad it was there.
NS: I hear the birthing experience in hospitals is getting a bit better for women, compared to say 10-20 years ago.
ML: Yeah, they're evolving, and I think it's because there are more women ob's and gyn's. I think it's because many hospitals have really gotten very, very progressive. They don't have a maternity ward anymore, they have a "birthing center." They are okay with the idea of midwives. There are many women who like to go the whole natural route. It's sort of paralleling the willingness of some doctors to consider -- and not automatically dismiss or rule out -- alternative medicine. Our pediatrician will take all that into consideration now, along with standard western medicine. We have a very comprehensive, wide-reaching approach to things and it's really wonderful.
NS: And I think what people are finding is that it doesn't have to be either one or the other. Traditional and alternative medicine blend nicely. It can be "both/and" rather than "either/or."
ML: It can be like a real cafeteria -- you can have a little of this and a little of that. You can make your own formula. It used to be that husbands were never allowed in the deliver room. Now, it's almost routine. Those who don't, will kick themselves for life for not having done so. The more you bring your partner in the less disenfranchised he (or she) will be.
I've known many men who've been really squeamish about it to begin with. Or, if reality starts hitting them and they suddenly realize, "Oh my God, my life is going to be changing" -- you'll want to make them full partners in it. Believe me they will thank you and they will love every minute of it.
I know many fathers who can't wait to get home from work so they can put that baby in the bath, or take a bath with them. With the rubber ducks and the boats. Lots of bubbles and stuff. It's really, really sweet.
It gives men a chance to be little boys. They get a child's view again.
NS: How did this book come about? How did you write it and get it published? How hard or easy was it?
ML: First I just was, like, blabbling. I'd stumble upon this stuff or learn something the hard way or I'd come up with a good idea. Sometimes my husband would come up with a good idea. I never hesitated to pass that along. It was because of where I was in life. I had kind of a long broadcasting career and I went from being the only girl in the newsroom to the dowager Empress of the newsroom. Just because I was a little older than the other women, I was getting there before most of the others. I had been married for a while. I was pregnant when the other ones were just getting engaged. Or maybe they didn't have a solid relationship, or they were just getting their new boyfriend. They'd ask me how, and I would pass along my advice as well as the advice and tips I'd pick up from various celebrities. A lot of it was, "Don't make this mistake!" Sometimes I'd interview someone and they'd have a really interesting thing to contribute.
My favorite one is the Deidre Hall anecdote. I went to interview her on the set of "Days of Our Lives." Her dressing room was full of kid pictures. One of the ones that was prominent where we sat to do our interview was this 8" x 10" beautiful photograph of a kid's butt sticking out of the dryer. This kid had gone to the dryer after it had opened up. He's just out of the bathtub, stark naked, and he bent into the dyer to smell the nice clean smell and find his favorite blanky. She thought it was so cute that she took a picture of it.
She had hidden one of those throwaway cameras in virtually every room of her house, so there was always a camera in easy reach. You don't have to fumble with buttons and knobs and all that. Just point and shoot. Then you never miss that "Kodak Moment." I thought that was a great idea because you never know when that picture is going to come.
NS: So you started to write all these things down?
ML: Yeah, the reaction was always the same: "Oh man, I never thought of that." It's like the advice about getting through the delivery. I got enough of those, and I began to realize that I should be writing this down.
NS: Then did you draft a proposal?
ML: Yes. I decided to back off the full-time work and I went into semi-retirement. I timed it, not only financially, but I had a manuscript finished by then. Then my next career became sending the queries out and finding a publisher. I did it without an agent.
I retired in early June of that year and by that November I had a publishing deal. It helped to keep my sense of humor then too because not every publisher "bit" right away. I went down the list of the "Writer's Guide," which is updated every year, and called to double check that the listings matched the reality of the moment. About half the listings were wrong. You can also find out which ones will take open submissions without agents and which ones won't.
I sent out 42 letters. Be prepared for rejection because people who don't have a lot of imagination or willingness to experiment -- it's easier just to say no. Or maybe they just can't be bothered or they're having an off day. Just go on to the next one. Next!
On the flip side of the humor thing, I even allowed it to get me a little bit angry because I decided rather than becoming depressed, I would become indignant. How dare they not take my book! I'll show them! That fired me up and I finally found somebody.
It was funny because as I proceeded more towards getting a yes, instead of a lot of no's, the rejections became nicer. It was no longer a form letter. I started getting handwritten rejection letters or ones that said, "We passed this around to everyone on the editorial board. We all laughed a lot, we thought it was great, but we're changing our orientation a little bit and it just doesn't fit, but we love it." And then finally somebody said a flat out yes. It was really interesting how it started to sort of soften up for me. If you want to try writing something for yourself, don't take no as a no.