Jancee Dunn knew there was something wrong she realized that she knew more about the lives of celebrities than her own family and friends. It wasn’t just because of her job as a former Rolling Stone writer and MTV2 veejay; we live in a world that can’t get enough of the endless minutiae of the Britneys, Brads and Mileys. So Dunn decided to change that, and writes about her experiences in her refreshingly candid, funny new book, “Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo? And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask .”
For an author who’s written so lovingly about her quirky family, it seems somewhat odd that Dunn herself was ambivalent about being a mom for the longest time. As fate would have it, at age 43, believing a baby was not to be despite not using any birth control for years, Jancee Dunn became a mother.
The author and Huffington Post blogger lives with husband Tom Vanderbilt, author of “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) ,” and their baby daughter in Brooklyn, New York.
You said you were fearful that having a child would mean the loss of your freedom, identity and the joy you took in your work. In what ways were you wrong and right about that?
Well, it has definitely curtailed my freedom. I still blithely say yes to invitations to things and then realize that I have a baby at home and I can never just sail out of the house again. And I love to travel, it's my favorite thing to do, and I just can't see myself traveling for a while, so I wistfully look up travel sites sometimes when the baby is napping … And also, with a 3-month-old, I am just starting to regain my marbles, so my writing is more like “typing.”
So I've lost some freedom, yes, but I find that I don't mind. When I have been out to meet an editor for lunch, I find I can hardly wait to race back and squeeze that baby. As for my identity, adding the title “mother” to it has enriched and enhanced my life. And I take just as much joy in my work, but I don't obsess about my Amazon numbers as much. The baby has reset my priorities in the nicest way.
After being a couple for so long, you’re now experiencing your husband as Dad. How has that changed him, and what have you learned about him because of it?
I was a little apprehensive, frankly. Because my husband likes things the way he likes things. He won't eat ice cream from an ice cream truck, which he calls "Mr. Soft E. Coli." Nor will he eat ice cream on the street. Nor will he walk and eat anything.
So he's set in his ways. But he surprised me. He is so patient with that baby. He dotes on her. When he takes her out in the stroller, he's the annoying dad on the sidewalk that you run right into because he stops every few feet and fusses with her blanket. I find that incredibly appealing. I was so afraid that we would snap at each other all the time, but I think the advantage of being older — I'm 43 — is that you are more patient with both the baby and your mate. Or maybe you're just worn out.
What's funny is that he confessed that he was apprehensive about me, too.
How has being Mom changed you?
I am so ridiculously mushy, dripping tears on the baby's stomach when I change her. And you're talking to a person who hasn't cried in years. I have burbled all the clichés that everyone tells you (“It's different when it's your own!” “Your heart opens up!” “You gain a new appreciation for your own parents!") The only thing I've heard that I don't agree with is, “You don't mind the smell when you change your own baby's diapers!” Oh yes I do.
Your husband is also a writer, so you’re both at home. Does all that togetherness make things easier or challenging? What works, now that you have a baby, and what drives you crazy about it?
It has not been easy. Right now he's in one room, writing, and I'm in another, and the baby is sleeping. We do shifts, but right now he's getting more work than me, so I've on baby duty more often. I find that I'm literally racing to do things, which I never believed new parents actually did. My friends would tell me that they ran to empty the dishwasher, and then raced through the house to pick it up while the baby slept. I'd think, “Um, aren't you being a little dramatic?” Well, they weren't.
What drives me crazy is that Tom always tries to get out of the early morning feeding shift. I argue that I was pregnant for nine months, and can he please give me a break? Also he snores through any nighttime noises that she makes while I rise instantly up out of bed.
Who does the domestic duties, and how has having a child changed that?
Baby-related duties are split down the middle. But we do squabble about clutter. If it were up to me, my house would have one chair, a bowl and a spoon — and now, a crib. I'm compulsively neat to the point of being insane, and of course babies add more clutter. We have baby gear everywhere and I have to stop being nuts about it because there's nothing I can do. Tom doesn't see clutter. He's always been comforted by teetering piles of New Yorker magazines, and now giant boxes arrive by the day of more baby gear that he's ordered.
Most of us are well aware of the ways in which we think our parents “failed” us. In what ways will you parent your daughter the same as and different than your parents?
My parents were extremely strict. I will be strict but maybe not as strict as they were. And my parents were not my buddies, they were my parents; I will do the same thing. I am hoping that I will be OK with not being liked if I'm doing something in the best interests of my kid. I can remember my folks didn't give us choices about what to wear in the morning or what we would eat for dinner — it was, “Here's what you're going to wear” and “This is what's for dinner, eat up.” I really hope I can do the same thing, but I can see all the eye rolling from more experienced parents right now! And we ate dinner together every single night, and I was expected to make conversation. I want to do the same thing with my daughter, because that skill has helped me so much in life, and in my career.
Your work gave you insight into all the dirty little secrets of hundreds of celebrities, but yet you said you knew little about your mother — other than as a “Source of Cash Obsessed with De-Cluttering.” When did you start to ask her about her life and why?
When I realized I knew more about Loretta Lynn, whom I had interviewed a few years ago, than my own mother. Before I interview celebrities, I obsessively memorize everything about them so that I'm not caught unawares, and so that the celebrity is flattered and pleased.
But after I interviewed Loretta in her Tennessee home, I was telling my mom about my encounter and I realized with an unpleasant jolt that I couldn't write a biographical sketch about my own mother. I knew some stories, but there were big gaps, too. You take your folks for granted and think that someday you'll archive all that stuff. Well, I learned not to wait for “someday.”
When do you hope your daughter will ask you about yours?
The poor thing won't have to ask about anything, will she? She can read piles of books and articles. God forbid I not chronicle every moment of my life. But I hope she will be interested in some of the things I've done, most of which scared me to death before I did them. I'm sort of timid by nature, but I made myself do all these crazy things.
You confessed to doing coke “Scarface-style” and almost ODing in your book “But Enough About Me.” It’s one thing to be the one doing that, and another being the parent of a kid who may be doing that. How honest will you be with your daughter about your “youthful indiscretions” and do you worry about what hers will be?
I am not looking forward to that conversation. God. But I will be honest with her. I've had parents who have read that book ask me for advice on what to tell their kids, and I've said, “Tell them that coke makes you hideous-looking, and tedious, and that may scare them away.” It's true: you're sweaty, and red-faced, and you spit when you talk, and you're twitchy, and gross. Plus you're jabbering on and on about nothing. So I may try to appeal to her vanity. And I can paint a legitimately scary, sickening picture of how it feels when your heart is racing out of control.
We’re such a celeb-obsessed culture. As parents, we want to protect our kids from the world for as long as we can, but the world eventually wins to some extent. Do you want to insulate your daughter, or do you have faith she’ll figure it out for herself?
You have hit upon something I've been thinking about a lot. I do want to insulate her, even though I know that's impossible. I want her to have that goofy innocence that I had when I was a kid. My nightmare would be to have a kid who is jaded. I hope so much that she takes delight in little things, and that she's kind, and has all kinds of different interests. I can, hopefully, equip her by being a good example.
What will you do if she tells you that she wants to be a rocker chick?
I'd rather she became a scientist, or a conservationist, or something. Something gentler, with steadier pay. But I should shut my mouth, I suppose, and not project my own hopes and dreams onto her. It's hard not to, though, isn't it? I've also dreamed about her being a doctor.
Any chance your next book going to be about parenting?
Let's face it — the thought has crossed my mind.
Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?  author Jancee Dunn was interviewed by Vicki Larson, Around the Watercooler  contributor. She is a journalist and single mom. She also blogs at The OMG Chronicles .
Fans of journalist and author Jancee Dunn should check out our Mommy Tracked interview with New York Times columnist and working mom Michelle Slatalla , author of The Town on Beaver Creek.