Monday, June 25, 2007

'The Three-Martini Family Vacation' Author Q&A

As faithful readers of this blog and my Parents and Kids columns know, I’m a huge (embarrassingly huge) fan of the book The Three-Martini Playdate. It’s a tongue-in-cheek call for parents to chill the heck out, to stop centering their lives solely around their young charges and to just act like adults for gosh sakes. And if the adults have a little fun while sipping a martini every once and while, well that’s just fine with the author.

In fact, witty author Christie Mellor has a new book out, The Three-Martini Family Vacation, a series of essays on how to survive traveling with children, recreating with children (and without) and how to survive extended visits from family and friends. Mellor has kindly obliged me by answering five questions about the book and her work. Here are the questions and answers:

Meredith: You provided some very funny family vacation tips, ranging from how to survive flights with young children, to how to muster up vacation-like excitement in one's own backyard. What's your favorite "travel with kids" tip?

Christie Mellor, author of The Three-Martini Family Vacation: One of my favorite -- completely real and very useful tip -- is the “King or Queen for a Day” idea. Traveling with kids can often lead to disagreements over who wants to do what, and when — but if every family member has a chance to be King or Queen for a day, the dissention disappears like magic. Everyone has a chance to plan at least one vacation day, making a list of things they want to do -- within reason, of course --and everyone else has to go along with it.

This started with a visit to San Francisco to see my dad; my husband has very specific things he likes to do there, so he came up with this idea. When you are doing someone else’s dream day, you can anticipate your own, and it can be a surprise how much you end up enjoying someone else’s day. If you are a family of four, and you aren’t going to be anywhere for four days, well, get creative and divide up the days between two or more family members. The point is, the vacation isn’t planned entirely around the children and their perceived needs; Mom and Dad get to do what they want to do, too.

Meredith: You skewered kid-centric, theme park vacations as very, shall we say, unfun. I loved your piece of advice, "If all else fails, bring a flask! Adding a fine vodka to your juice box helps cut the sugar and imparts a general feeling of well-being when faced with giant walking plush toys, dancing bears, and talking cartoon figures, apparitions that can be a little unnerving . . . in a state of sobriety."

Tell me what you REALLY think of Disney, and whether you think it'd be improved by selling Absolut at the concessions stand.

Mellor: First of all, whatever I may or may not add to my juice box, some of the suggestions in my book are, shall we say, meant in fun. Not all of them. I am dead serious about most of them. However, in all seriousness I would not encourage thousands of sun-stroked, exhausted parents to start swilling vodka in the middle of the Country Bear Jamboree just before they hop on the Indiana Jones Roller Coaster. Disneyland probably has a very good reason they don’t serve hard alcohol, for the clean-up factor, if nothing else.

Meredith: I loved the essay in your book about coping with a parent who stays with your family for an extended visit. How did you get away with being so, uh, HONEST about your experiences with your mother-in-law? To get over her tension, hovering and unsolicited advice, you suggest plying mothers-in-law with Manhattans.

Mellor: Oh, dear, your readers are going to think that all my advice entails heavy drinking. However, in this case it really worked. I actually ran that piece by my husband, since it does concern his mother. He approved wholeheartedly, and I believe he considered it a tribute, of sorts. His mother passed away a few years ago, which is how I got away with it. Although I fully expect her to show up on my sofa any day now, with her crossword puzzle and a pout on her face, having heard through the celestial grapevine of the homage. But seriously. Poker and a cocktail. Fun for the whole family.

Meredith: You lampoon holiday family letters, particularly letters accompanied by photos of children dressed in plaid. What's the most obnoxious holiday card you've ever received?

Mellor: It really has more to do with who is sending you the card. One couple we know always puts their only, perfect child -- and his faithful hound -- on their holiday card. We know this child to be insufferable and annoying, so it’s always a good chuckle to get the yearly card.

Usually it’s the most horrible child you know, and there he is, alone on the card, in a red suit and a plaid vest. The lengthy, chipper, overweening newsletters are, at this point, such an object of mockery I can’t believe people still write them, but there you go. Intimate, personal details of people’s lives, sent out for the entire world to see.

Meredith: Do you ever get grief from people over your sarcasm, particularly in light of the "Today Show" hullabaloo over moms who had cocktails during playdates?

Mellor: You know, that was almost me on that “Today Show” segment, which sounded like a real ambush. I think one of the reasons I ended up not being on, was because in the pre-interview I guess I didn’t talk about alcohol enough. Look, it’s a metaphor, people. Just adding a pitcher of cosmos to your playdates is not going to help you be a more relaxed parent; if you are still ferrying your children to nineteen enrichment classes a week and catering to their every whim, adding alcohol to the mix will only make you a very busy drunk.

The point is, make your children be a part of the family, not the tiny suns around which you all revolve. It will be better for the family, and better for your children. And if you enjoy the occasional cocktail, then send the kids into the other room (encouraging them to happily play by themselves) and enjoy some well-earned grown-up time. And then read my books!

E-mail Meredith
(Image from Christie Mellor's web site.)

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