Laughing and Loving – One Mom’s Take On the Insanity of Parenting
Author Interview with Lisa Barker, Just Because Your Kids Drive You Insane…Doesn’t Mean You Are A Bad Parent
by Lisa M. Hendey
I first “met” Lisa Barker over six years ago through my CatholicMom.com web site’s message board. I don’t think I knew her by anything other than her moniker “Little Mom” for the first several years of our acquaintance. What I did know, however, from those very first days, was that the woman could write! As busy as my days were, I always made time to read Lisa’s posts on the message board. She had the stunning capacity to blend spiritual insight with a lighthearted humor that never failed to touch me. I knew it was only a matter of time until I’d be promoting Lisa’s work through my CatholicMom.com Book Club.
Well, here we are, six years later, and the time has arrived. Lisa Barker’s newly published book Just Because Your Kids Drive You Insane…Doesn’t Mean You Are A Bad Parent (Lulu, January 2006, paperback, 216 pages) is a must-read for any parent! Barker, the mother of five children and countless pets, takes a humorous look at family life and all of its insanity. As I’ve grown to know Lisa and her family, I’ve learned that as a wife and mother she’s faced some uphill challenges. Rather than going crazy, Barker finds the hilarity of family life and delivers it with such sweet wit that you can’t help but laugh out loud. Lisa’s book is one of those I keep within reach for precious moments of quiet “mommy” time to myself. I find, in reading her work, that I’m not only entertained but also inspired to look at life a little more lightly myself. I would recommend Just Because Your Kids Drive You Insane…Doesn’t Mean You Are A Bad Parent as a perfect gift for any parent, or especially to mothers as a gift just for you. As an added benefit, the book benefits the wonderful work of the Hugs and Hope Club for Sick Kids.
I’m pleased to share my conversation with Lisa Barker and to give her fabulous book Just Because Your Kids Drive You Insane…Doesn’t Mean You Are A Bad Parent my highest recommendation. Keep writing Lisa – I can’t wait to feature your next book!
Q: It feels as though we've known one another forever through our online acquaintance, although we've never actually met in person! For our readers, could you please briefly introduce yourself and your family?
A: My husband Simon and I live in California in a modest little house bursting with kids (5), cats (9) and a one Chihuahua. Our kiddos are Rachel, Nicole, John Daniel, Rebecca and Aiden, ranging in age from almost 12 (twins!) to almost 3.
Lisa Hendey and I know each other because I help administrate an online message board community for Catholic moms (Catholic Mom Community - CMOMC.org) that actually started on CatholicMom.com.
Because of this community and my husband’s unwavering support, I have grown tremendously in faith and as a writer. My husband and I were married in the Church in October 2004 and now I write an award-winning parenting humor column, “Jelly Mom,” that is syndicated through Martin-Ola Press / Parent To Parent.
Q: Please describe your own personal faith journey, and how your spirituality has impacted upon your writing.
A: When I was fifteen I knew I wanted to write. At that time I thought I would be a romance writer. (I may still try my hand at that because I love a good romantic comedy.) But I have always struggled with writing. On the one hand I have a deep need to write. On the other hand I’d fight myself and destroy what I’d created. What an insurmountable conflict.
Growing up we didn’t go to Mass very often, but there was a period of time that we did and it is filled with fond memories of family members, priests, sisters, godparents and neighbors. Those memories, and the sense of God that my parents and grandparents shared with me, were little seeds that began to sprout years later in college and led to my confirmation at the age of 22.
Well, my faith journey since my confirmation, plus treatment for bi-polar disorder, has mellowed and smoothed out the rough and jagged edges of my writer’s soul. I’ve learned to trust God, to keep my eyes on Him, and to outdo myself each time I write – think: Jonathon Livingston Seagull.
Only recently have I thought that perhaps writing humor is worthwhile spiritually. (See? I’m still fighting myself to some extent.) I’ve come to the conclusion that what I write doesn’t have to be apologetic or heavily stamped as “Catholic” to be a talent well spent. I think a good Catholic writer always leaves a Catholic ‘essence.’ Flannery O’Connor and Erma Bombeck didn’t stamp “Catholic” all over their writing, but the ‘essence’ is definitely there.
Marriage is my vocation. The fruits of that vocation are my children. The fruits of that of that sub-vocation are the stories I share. Writing is simply the way God gave me to share my vocation with others.
A friend of mine recently quoted Pope Benedict XVI: “Humor is in fact an essential element in the mirth of creation. We can see how, in many matters in our lives, God wants to prod us into taking things a bit more lightly.”
I think that is very true. And I hope that those who read my work will laugh and renew their joy in parenting.
Q: How would you describe your writing style?
A: Funny? :) :) A college professor once described my writing as something that would appeal to the supermarket checkout crowd. At that time I was working on a novel, so the comment stung. But it turned out she was right! I write for the parents and grandparents standing in the checkout line with a whiney kiddo hanging on their arm.
My writing is definitely very informal and down-to-earth and the stories I share are written as if I were telling a good friend about the ups-and-downs and ins-and-outs of parenting and all that sticky stuff in between.
Ninety-eight percent of the things I write are true, but some things are bald-faced fantasy and just about everything is exaggerated to the hilt…mostly. I leave it up to the readers to figure out what really happened.
It took the first seven years of my life for my mother to get me to stop telling stories (lying) and then another decade to get me to stop exaggerating. Now I get paid to do both! And the overwhelming response from readers is usually: I can so relate! That happens to me!
As the column develops, I find that my confidence is growing and that I’m not afraid to go for that laugh. I try to write as if am doing stand-up comedy on paper. That’s what I am aiming for and that is how I see the column developing. I’m going for that punchline. I want to make people laugh. I’ve only just begun to see my writing this way (as stand-up), so I’m excited to see where it leads.
Q: Please share with us the origins of your "Jelly Mom" column and how this project evolved into your new book.
A: Everyone has a blog. I have the Catholic Mom Community message board (www.CMOMC.org). And I spend enough time there for my posts to qualify as a blog! Well, I tried yet again to write a real blog, which to me is very much like a journal, and that meant that I was definitely going to fight myself and destroy whatever I wrote.
So one day I wrote about the kids. My love for writing short stories and my experience as a community columnist for my hometown newspaper fell together (with my love for my kids) into something that read like a column. I thought, “Hmmmmmm……”
Now at the same time I had discovered Tim Bete’s writing through the CatholicMom.com website. (He’s wonderful!) Then, I discovered the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop (online). Click, click, click! Tim has a wealth of information out there for beginning columnists. I followed it to the “T.” Step-by-step it led to the creation of “Just Because Your Kids Drive You Insane…Doesn’t Mean You Are A Bad Parent!”
Why that title? I had written a column with the same title in response to a harsh critic. I like to turn my lemons into lemon pie.
Why “Jelly Mom”? Well, my kiddos love SpongeBob. SpongeBob loves to catch jellyfish and after giving birth to five kids I’m pretty amorphous myself. But I couldn’t create a jellyfish for my website to save my life, so I went with the fruit motif. From jelly handprints on the wall to the jelly that my brain has turned into raising kids, it’s the perfect catchy name for a column written to ‘preserve’ the sanity of parents.
Q: How can humor help us cope with the "insanity" of parenting?
A: Humor helps me not take myself so seriously as a parent otherwise I’d beat myself to death with the yardstick of perfection I have. Seeing the humor in a situation lightens the moment and gives you the opportunity to respond with love. It also helps stoke that quiet joy you can experience when you are living the vocation you were called to.
Q: How do your spouse and kids feel about your writing?
A: My husband saw the value of “Jelly Mom” long before I ever did. I was still working under a very dark cloud. But, happily, I listened to him and will continue to do so.
My kiddos are my laugh barometer. When I read a column to them and they bust a gut laughing, I know it will be a winner.
Q: Why do you write?
A: Because I have to. I have no choice. I honestly tried to quit a few times. Once I donated my typewriter to St. Vincent De Paul’s…and then went down the next day and bought it back. I don’t use my typewriter anymore. I use a computer. They’re too expensive and too heavy to throw away.
Q: What is your greatest hope for your writing?
A: Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see it go as far as it could possibly go. But I am very, very satisfied with what I have done so far. My kids are proud of me. My son, John Daniel (3rd grade), who has not yet developed a passion for reading books (without pictures), pores over my book, laughs out loud and reads passages to me. THAT IS TOTALLY AWESOME.
Q: Please tell us a bit about the Hugs and Hope Club and its important work.
A: Earlier last year, while I was developing my column/website, Marsha Jordan, the founder of Hugs and Hope, asked me to review her book “Hugs, Hope & Peanut Butter.”
She has a remarkable talent for splitting your sides with her comical sketches of life and then wrapping you up in hope. I was so impressed with her writing and her cause that when it came time to publish my book, I thought of her because I wanted to donate the proceeds of my book to a good cause.
Truthfully, my daughter’s illness was diagnosed in October 2005 and I was putting the book together while my family and I were trying to process the news. (Becca, 4 ½ years old, has been diagnosed with Batten Disease.) I wanted to respond to my daughter’s illness in the most positive and faith-filled way that I could. I wanted to be able to DO something so the disease didn’t have total control of our lives. So I looked for a cause to support and I wanted something more immediate than research, even if for Batten Disease. The Hugs and Hope Club was the perfect fit. They bring cheer to critically ill children and their families and that means a lot to me because I know what those families are going through.
Here, let me quote Marsha Jordan:
“Part of the motivation for starting this group was the following plea I heard from a heartbroken mother: "My child is dying. Doesn't anybody care? Won't somebody do something to help me?" I determined that even though I couldn't do much, I could do SOMETHING to help ease the burdens of parents who must watch their little ones suffer. I can at least offer the hand of friendship, share the love of God, and walk with parents through their nightmare. I created this website to enlist other caring people to join me in befriending these families who need folks to get personally involved in their struggles.”
The Hugs & Hope Club shares God's love with sick children and their families by encouraging and comforting them. They accomplish this through "happy mail," goodie packages, wish granting, balloon bouquets, Christmas gifts, and more, and the following passage from Scripture sums up their inspiration:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ." (II Corinthians 1: 3-5)
How great is that!
It’s also a nice “God-incidence” that the “Queen of Peanut Butter” (that’s Marsha) and the “Jelly Mom” are offering the proceeds from their books for some really deserving kiddos. (Pssst! Marsha’s book is illustrated by those kiddos!)
Q: How can readers get a hold of your book?
A: Visit http://www.jellymom.com/Books/JustBecause.php - The book is a print on demand book and can be purchased through Lulu.com. Why not Amazon? Hey, I’m a mom on a budget and I know you are, too. Selling through Lulu.com let’s you save more than 50% of what it would cost to list on Amazon. And the proceeds go to a great cause.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to share with our readers?
A: Hug up your kiddos. Laugh as much as you can. Eighteen years fly by too fast and you can’t laugh too much or too hard.
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.