Bold and Strong: Coffee Chat with Author Jenny True

Jenny True, Author of You Look Tired: An Excruciatingly Honest Guide to New Parenthood,

When Jenny True’s book was still in pre-order status, my friend Patty reached out to me and said, “I think you should check this book out. Looks like a great fit for your blog.” I reached out to Jenny and found that not only is her book hilarious, but she’s just a really freaking awesome person. 

Jenny writes an advice column for Romper which led to the publication of her book, You Look Tired: An Excruciatingly Honest Guide to New Parenthood. Fill your mug with coffee (or tea) and join Jenny and me for a quick chat about breastfeeding, hiding from your kids, and why it’s not your fault that you feel overwhelmed and exhausted as a new parent.

Me: Are you a coffee drinker? Describe your caffeine habit.

Jenny: I hate to admit this, but I’m a serious tea drinker, and my go-to café drink is a latte — so it’s coffee-adjacent! During pregnancy I tried to abstain from caffeine but found it harder than abstaining from alcohol. Then I read Emily Oster’s Expecting Better and said, fuck that! Bring on the caffeine. During the pandemic I switched from one to two cups a day to one to two pots. Thanks, 2020.

Me: Describe your writing process. Any particular requirements for your space? What time of day are you most productive? What’s your favorite snack to eat while writing?

Jenny: I’m definitely most productive first thing in the morning, more so when I’m well rested (of course!). My head is not yet filled with distractions, and I can plow through entire drafts. If I have something complicated that needs my undivided attention, I set my alarm and make sure to do it first thing when I wake up.

I got my book deal in April of 2020, after California was in lockdown, so I wrote the whole thing during the pandemic. I wrote from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., and my partner did morning child care to make it happen. I wrote on my laptop on the couch because I didn’t have a desk yet. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it worked!

I drink lots of tea, of course! PG Tips with whole milk and honey from the bees in our backyard.

Me: Your book title: How did you decide on it? Did someone actually tell you that you looked tired?

Jenny: I am so pleased to say that I hired my co-worker, an excellent copy writer, to brainstorm ideas, and she came up with it! I knew it was the one. So funny and relatable. I get comments on it all the time. Women laugh. Men: Crickets.

Me: Describe when you realized you needed to write this book.

Jenny: I’ve always wanted to publish a mass market book — I just thought it would be my novel. I stopped working on it when I was 39 and started blogging about my path to motherhood, which happened the next year. Through my blog, I got a job writing the pregnancy and parenting column for Romper, where I realized I had a platform that would make me more attractive to publishers. I thought, Now’s my chance! I really was motivated to finish a book proposal while I had that column (which I still do).

That’s the mercenary answer. The other answer is, I read a lot of baby books when I was pregnant and a new parent. They all gave the same kinds of information, although a lot of it was conflicting, and they all centered White, cisgender, heterosexual, married, middle-class women. WTF, I thought. At the same time, I was knocked on my ass by a ton of things I hadn’t learned from those books that apparently was common knowledge. My book is meant to be an antidote to that.

Me: Your subtitle is “An Excruciatingly Honest Guide to New Parenthood.” How is your book different from other parenting guides? 

Jenny: Intentionally, I don’t address any of the issues the other guides do. There’s nothing about sleep, or breastfeeding, or bonding with your baby, or “getting back in shape.” I talk about the crime that is maternity wear, how sanctimonious other parents can be, what the squeeze bottle they give you at the hospital is for, how to react when someone touches your belly without asking. It’s meant to be funny, and a relief, and readable, and it’s full of charts and quizzes.

Me: What is one piece of advice you can offer parents?

Jenny: I’m an advice columnist, so what advice wouldn’t I give? Seriously, though, I want to tell U.S. parents that the system is stacked against you and it’s not your fault you’re exhausted and anxious and overwhelmed. You’re doing nothing wrong. The expectations on you are unreasonable. 

Me: What is the worst/most obnoxious thing you were told when you were pregnant? As a new mom?

Jenny: I think the worst thing was what I wasn’t told. I wasn’t told about dysphoric milk-ejection reflex, for example, a breastfeeding condition that is not that fucking rare but that no one has invested money into studying, no one tells pregnant women about, and is so miserable it leads some women to quit breastfeeding. Also no one told me that postpartum anxiety is intense and more common than postpartum depression. I could have used a leaflet on both instead of multiple leaflets on postpartum depression, THANK YOU VERY MUCH KAISER.

Me: You wrote, “pregnant people’s bodies belong to everyone.” Why do you think people find it acceptable to touch a pregnant woman’s belly?

Jenny: I have to be honest: Even though I write about it in the book, I did not have a bad experience with this, because of my relationships with the people who did it. The problem is that a LOT of people really hate it, and other people need to err on the side of asking first, if they really, really for some reason want to touch your body. It’s especially layered when you get into people touching Black bodies. Why do people do this? Female bodies, and especially Black female bodies, have been seen as property since the beginning of time. You can’t extract that from the culture.

Me: Describe your research process for this project.

Jenny: I looked back at three years of blog posts for chapter ideas and anecdotes. I interviewed a midwife and talked to a doula, but mostly this is not a research-heavy book. It’s not even a real guide. It’s meant to make pregnant people and new parents laugh with the validation of being seen.

Me: You mention freezing in place when you hear the “pitter patter” of little feet. I won’t lie. I’ve hidden in the bathroom (more than once) to eat a candy bar. Have you done something similar?

Jenny: Oh, god, yes. I never, ever jump up to open the door when I hear my partner on the porch with my kid. I don’t want them to get inside the house any sooner than they need to. I go into battle station: closing any video window on my computer my son might beg me to watch, running to the kitchen to fill up my water or shove my tea in the microwave so I won’t have to talk to them while doing it when they’re inside the house. 

Me: What’s a new mom product you wish you had been given? What was perfectly useless?

Jenny: I can’t think of a single product that was indispensable, but I did have to get a really good water bottle when I was breastfeeding because I was thirsty as fuck all the time. Someone gave us a side sleeper, one of those massive things you attach to the side of your bed that affixes under the mattress. It was huge and my kid didn’t like it. So that went into the garage until my neighbor got pregnant and I gave it to her. Same with a crib someone gave us. I hate to admit it, but we took it to the dump because we never used it, and you can’t resell those things or give them away to someone you don’t know because of liability and safety issues.

Me: Talk to us about work/life balance (can you hear me howling??). 

Jenny: Never heard of it.

Me: Next project?

I want to write a funny book about menopause, but I haven’t gone through it yet, so I think I have time to rest on my laurels (famous last words!).

Jenny: How can readers find you?

So many places! They can sign up for my newsletter at my website, follow me on Instagram and Facebook, and read my column, “Dear Jenny,” on Romper.

***If you would like your book (or one you represent) considered for an upcoming Coffee Chat, please email melissaface2008@gmail.com.

Purchase a copy of I Love You More Than Coffee.

Visits with Pop

Delaney, Pop, and Evan

By Melissa Face

My children spot their grandparents’ vehicle from an upstairs window. They drop their iPads and tablets and run to the front door where they press their smiling faces against the glass. My mom gets out of the car with her bag of treats and walks toward the front porch.

“Where is Pop?” Delaney asks Evan.

“Maybe he’s getting something out of the trunk,” Evan replies.

“I don’t see him,” she says.

My mom rings the doorbell and the kids open the door and ask, together, “Where’s Pop?”

“He’s playing golf,” she tells them. “It’s just me today.”

“Aw, man! I had some things I needed to show him,” Evan says.

If my mom is offended by the overt snub, it doesn’t show. When Pop is around, he is the star, the rest of us just extras. My children compete for his attention and work to impress him with the most recent trick they’ve learned: a cartwheel, a cannonball in the pool, or a knock-knock joke.

“Pop! Come watch me ride my bike!”

“Do you want to play outside with me?”

“Pop! Let’s go to my room and look at stuff!”

They hold his hand, sit in his lap, and wrap their arms around his neck. When each visit comes to an end, they cling to him and beg him to stay.

“Just a few more minutes, Pop,” Delaney says. “I need to show you one more thing in my room.”

He agrees and climbs the stairs to my daughter’s room where she shows him her belongings with the detailed explanation of a museum curator. He examines the tiny bottles of glittery nail polish and cat figurines with awe and pretends to be seeing them all for the first time.

“On your way out, can you just look at something on my bike?” Evan asks.

“I reckon I can,” Pop laughs.

“See this attachment? Now when I pedal my bike, it sounds like an engine! Listen, Pop!”

Evan speeds across the yard and shows Pop his tricks. He stands, then lets go of his hands, as he escorts Pop to his car. 

***

“Please. Take me with you,” Evan begs. “I won’t talk or even make a sound. I’ll just sit in the corner.”

“Not this time,” I tell him. “I want to see Pop by myself.”

I don’t do it often, but sometimes I need to visit my dad alone. We eat take-out and chat about the pandemic, world issues, and a personal situation that is bothering me. I don’t need him to fix this particular problem, only listen. He does, and I feel better immediately.

There were times when I did need my dad to fix things, though. He once climbed under my bed to console me when I was a child, and he waited patiently through teenage sobbing to tell me that no boy was worth my tears. He made small repairs to my car each time I came home on college breaks and checked the air in my tires before I left again. He helped me move into my first apartment and stayed a few days to assemble, straighten, and adjust my new furniture. 

Even as an adult, a visit to my house usually includes my dad tightening a wiggly door handle, repairing an appliance, or fixing a grandchild’s toy. When it comes to household items and my spirits, my dad simply makes everything better.

In this stage of our relationship, I value my dad as both parent and friend. I am grateful for his humor, wisdom, and calm demeanor, a part of my life that has remained constant when few things have. I am glad he and my children are close, and I understand, better than anyone, when they complain that visits with him never last long enough.

***Previously published in Prairie Times, Nov. 2020.