JB: I like that sentiment. All We Know of Heaven sounds like something I'd love to read. I put off asking this next question as long as I could. You have a very large family. How have you managed to be so prolific? Have your kids raised themselves, are you annoyingly well organized or what?
JM: I do have a very large family. [Between] Dan, my late husband, and Chris, my now husband, I have nine children (that I know of!) through birth and adoption. And I also am holding on for dear life, by a thread, just about every second.
And I am annoyingly well-organized. Each child has a book (like a criminal has a jacket) and in that book is all the relevant information -- from friends' names to Social Security numbers, from passports to prescriptions. I cook triple of everything, and it's often vegetarian curries and stews, and the next week's dinners go into a freezer the size of a small car.
Very large families have their own ecology, and it definitely is true that the older kids, and the younger kids, have responsibilities that kids in two-child families do not have. They don't have to be asked to clear the table or put away their clothes, or walk the dog. The older kids will say, "I'm going out. What do you need?" They are not saintly, and they are not annoyingly well-organized. They have the full complement of mouthy, neurotic excess and laziness.
My oldest daughter never saw a floor she didn't consider as good as any closet for storage of even just-laundered clothes. She has a new electric toothbrush she hasn't seen for two years. I have to be tolerant of the fact that my house would make Martha Stewart get down on her knees and tear at her hair. As for my work, my children are tolerant of that. Because I literally have to work all the time, I make a point to stop everything both predictably on some days and unpredictably on others. I make a point to zero in not on just which one needs me but on which one is quietly doing exactly what he should or she should be doing, so that it's clear that I see it, I know it, and I don't take it for granted.
We have dates. I had a date last week with my seven-year-old, alone, to go to the beach and fly a kite and then out for pizza. When I go to a conference in a place that's attractive, like Hawaii or even New York City, often I'll take one of them with me, and the alone-time with me is as much a destination as Maui is (almost).
My children are somewhat free-range children in the sense that I'm not the one who's going to worry about whether little Will is going to make the elite soccer squad because that's about Will, not about my ego, but if Will is persistent, I'm going to get him to those games and tryouts. I didn't know Martin could sing until he stood up at an audition to which I'd taken his older brother and belted out a song, and " now he is a professional actor and singer. This is not benign neglect or neglect of any kind, and it isn't all a bad thing. My grandmother used to say that children should pay more attention to you than you pay to them. It's true.
JB: What a lovely way to grow up, actually. Why fix what ain't broke? Before we wrap this up, what haven't we talked about yet?
JM: My friend Richard and I are writing a pilot for a comic family drama, based on an older brother having to move home -- and back in with a huge multi-ethnic family -- called The Boomerang. These stories are the modern-day Cheaper By the Dozen, and they should be told.
My novel-in-progress is not, for the first time, in any way a domestic drama. It's about a Chicago police officer, retired young because of an accident, who rescues a little boy from the Christmas Eve tsunami in Brisbane and can't give him up, and then realizes that this little boy has an ability -- not a supernatural ability but a power -- to stop any human being or any animal from acting crazy. So, potentially, this kid could bring about world peace. What would people want for this kid? To harness his gift? To take him out? It's called Mercy . I'm also writing a novel about the epic end of an epic friendship between two women, an actor who's just a little bit over the hill and the younger director who revives her career.
I want adventures.
I don't want the life-risking kind.
I don't want to anticipate my 60th birthday, when that happens in several years, by learning to surf, or sky dive, although I'd like to ride the London Eye at sunset.
JB: What a full life, Jackie: a lot going on, now and into the foreseeable future. What's so great about the London Eye [ed. note: a giant Ferris wheel, almost 450 ft high located, of course, in London] that it's caught your fancy?