How did you come up with the topic of "But I Waaannt It?"
Kids are gimme machines. It's not because they're evil. It's because as children, they do not have a perspective about money, about self-discipline, about charity. They don't have concepts like these. They're all about "I want to eat, I want to play, I want what I want."
They have to learn to be civilized, learn how not to indulge their every impulse, learn how to share, and how to care about somebody else. They have to learn the things that make them human beings.
Last time you worked with a writing collaborator; this time you did it alone. What was your writing process on this?
Titles come to me first. Then I power-walk--three miles, 50 minutes! I let my mind wrap around the title, and the storyline comes to me. Then I come home, sit down, and type. But it's not as if these are brand-new issues. These are things I've been dealing with on the air and when I was a therapist, not to mention in my own life. Then they all filter into the funnel of the moment.
And how did you address the issue in this book?
Well, the problem shows its ugly face when Mom take Sammy shopping for someone else--for her little niece who's having a birthday. Sammy can't see past his own desires and thinks if he had everything he wants, he'd be happy. Rather than arguing with him or screaming at him, Mom says, "Let's see if that's true." So she buys him a bunch of the dolls and they bring them home, and he's happy as a pig in mud.
But while Sammy's busy playing with all of these toys, Mr. Cat is lost under the bed. It seems he's not important anymore because Sammy has all these new toys. Pretty soon, Sammy realizes he can't sleep without Mr. Cat. He thought having all these toys would make him happy, but it was Mr. Cat who was there when he was sick, when he was scared, when he was having fun. Mr. Cat means something. Having a lot of new stuff only means you have a lot of new stuff. That's how Sammy learns the value of things that have meaning, as his mom explains it to him.
At the end of this book, she says, "What shall we do with all these toys?" and Sammy wonders if there are children who don't have a Mr. Cat. Mom says, "Yes, at the orphanage." So they drive there and give them all the new toys. That makes Sammy happy--giving them away. I think it's a wonderful lesson. I think we'll be having kids getting to the end of it and giving all their toys away!
There are a lot of kids' books out there, and a lot of them repeat the same stuff. But they don't have the learning issue that is so important to me about these books. I mean for these books to teach parents and kids how to talk about important, difficult things.
It must be tricky to do that in the short space of a children's book.
Not when you realize that I deal with calls on the radio in three minutes! My style is to cut the issues down to their essence--and frankly, I've got the courage to face the true essence of an issue. I'm trying to give people the courage to do the same.
You can tell a story in an imaginative, creative, emotionally powerful way, because it's the interaction between the parent and child that gives [it] power. You've got the complaint from kids, the love from the adults, and the growing safety and security they feel with each other. They can talk about anything, and that's what I'm trying to get parents to do.
You hear me ask on my show all the time, "Have you discussed this with the other person?" "Well, no." That's rule number one! You have to discuss these issues!
Why won't parents discuss these important issues with their kids?
Because they're afraid to face the truths in their own lives. And because it means they might have to do something uncomfortable. And it's scary to deal with kids' growing loss of innocence.
Also, they can't discuss issues when they're not around. I'm seeing greater separation between parents and kids as the parents become more and more involved in their own lives. With divorce, sleeping around, and shacking up, parents have less attachment to their kids.
Too many parents put their children on a par with furniture and pets. It takes time and attention to raise kids. That's why I keep nagging people to be their kids' mom and dad. They're not pets, they're children, who need to be raised into decent, civilized people.