by Patricia Grandjean
Mar 1, 2011
02:52 PMBox Office
Q&A: Ann Leary
(page 2 of 5)
Having looked through your blog ["Wicked Good Life" at annleary.com] a little bit, I discovered a number of things I didn't know. According to one of the entries I read, you're training to do some rowing . . .
That's a fantasy, sort of. A friend and I bought this little shack on Lake Waramaug; we're in the process of fixing it up making it a nicer shack. I'm really outdoorsy: I like to ride and hike; I'm always outside. At one point I had a kayak someone sold me, but I didn't love kayaking. A friend of mine talked to me about rowing, and explained how much fun it is. Both of my kids did a little bit of crew in high school. I learned that there's this online community—you can even do it with a machine—there's a little card in the machine where you clock your times, and then you can go online and compare yourself to other people all over the world.
I've never liked the gym because it's so boring, but I'm seriously competitive—even if I lose, I just want there to be a possibility of beating somebody. That's what I'm doing now, working out on this rowing machine that I got for Christmas, and it's such fun. I just run down there every day and try to beat yesterday's time. I guess in the spring I will actually get a boat that you take out on the lake. I haven't actually done that yet.
As I've told you, I read your first book—An Innocent, A Broad, about your son Jack's premature birth in Europe—when it first came out in 2004; I think I had the advanced proof. It seemed very guileless to me; you were fearless about talking about experiences that other people might be embarrassed to admit to. Like the story about not knowing tea was a meal . . . you don't pull any punches.
I think what I really wanted the book to be . . . a lot of people didn't read it because they thought it was about a premature baby—so if you didn't have a premature baby, why would you read the book, and if you did, it might depress you. But it's really a fish-out-of-water story. I was very young, and in England—which really isn't that foreign, they speak the same language—but I really was clueless. I think there were a lot of laughs at my expense, but I knew people would relate to the experience of trying to be sophisticated and trying to fit in. You kind of feel like a rube when you're an American in another country.
In some instances, the book made me look completely clueless, but I was! I really was. Not only did I not know anything about having a baby or becoming a mother, I really didn't know anything about the political system—there were huge political upheavals that year. There were poll-tax riots; that was the year mad-cow disease was discovered. Until I went there I thought of myself as extremely intelligent and worldly, and once I got there I felt unbelievably provincial and ignorant. And so thought everyone who met me. I was stuck there for six months, and grew up a lot in many ways.
And there was the added tension of trying to maintain your marriage, with a husband who was coming and going . . .
Denis's career was suddenly taking off, which it hadn't been before. And I was trying to sort out the major medical issues involving this baby, and sort out the medical system there—the National Health Service—which is remarkable. The care Jack got was amazing.
The book is something I wrote when he was 10, and until he was 5, I literally couldn't tell the story without bursting into tears. He became very, very tall for his age, so when he played sports people would ask me if he was always big. And I'd say, "No, he was really tiny as a baby, and then I'd have to wave my hand in front of my face and excuse myself. But then, I got past the trauma and when I would tell people about it, I would start to tell the funny stuff. That's when people encouraged me to write the book. It was a case of "tragedy plus time equals comedy." And of course, it didn't hurt that my son is totally healthy and had no lingering problems.
I also wanted to write something for people who have premature babies. When Jack was born, the only books I could find on this subject were sad. It was a long time ago, so the babies that were born weighing 2.5 pounds often didn't survive. Now they usually do. But I wanted to read everything I could, and I couldn't find much. So this book was also meant to be something for parents in a similar situation to ours to relate to: "We understand; this is how you feel when your baby is in an incubator. Here's something with a happy ending."