When did you stop abandoning your child? and other FAQs from the road

Why is it no one ever asks John Updike where hiskid is while he's on book tour?

Published October 2, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

So while you're on tour with your new SEX book, Miss Mother of the Year, who is taking care of your young daughter?

OK, most people don't ask this question with quite that amount of sarcasm. More often, they just sound dreadfully concerned, as if they were asking about a terminal illness or a scary lump. I'm tempted to reply, "Oh, I dunno about Aretha, have you seen her?"

Here's why the question "Who's taking care of your child?" bugs me so much: I bet in the history of author book tours, no man has ever seriously been asked who's taking care of his kids. "Oh, excuse me, Mr. Updike, Mr. Rushdie, Seqor McCourt -- who is at home minding the baby?"

My daughter is home with the rest of her family. Her father is doing the driving, the feeding, the laundry, the tucking-in and the homework. He is a great "mommy" at all those things, whether I'm home or away. I think of all the single dads I know, and wonder how they put up with people imagining that they don't know how to kiss a skinned knee or whip up a killer macaroni casserole. This is parenting, this is love, it does not require the biological female touch!

My daughter is going to school, jumping rope furiously, reading Harry Potter volumes in one sitting (I call such fans "Pot-heads"), bossing around our four cats -- and, yes, missing me. When we talk to each other by phone, the sound of her voice makes me ache, and I think the same is true for her.

She is in the fourth grade, and her class is learning different geographical definitions like "peninsula," "archipelago" and "isthmus" -- please don't ask me what an isthmus is. They are memorizing spelling and definitions, but also molding these land forms out of saltwater dough. They sculpt and color their continents, and Aretha said that after she painted hers, "I named my island 'Mommy Come Home.' "

Oh, twist my heart in two! She asks me to sing certain songs to her, and I say, "Yes, but if you cry I can't bear it." We can very easily work ourselves into a Romeo-and-Juliet frenzy of unrequited longing. Thank goodness she will suddenly change the subject, and ask, "So are you making lots of money, Mom? Are we rich yet? Dad says I have to vacuum my room and I can't take it anymore!"

Yes, darling, I'm trying to sell as many books as possible so that you will never have to lift another finger again, and when I come home in five days, we will lie in bed and eat crackers and examine every treasure that has accumulated in my suitcase and her backpack. Her father will say to me, "Baby, I want to go surfing for the next six hours," and I will say, "I can dig it! See you later!"

What is the best "sexpert" advice you've ever received?

I have learned an erotic treasure from many good lovers and friends, but I have to say the best little pep talk I got recently came in the mail after my last Salon
where I posed the question of whether my love life on the road was fated to be disappointing:

Dear Ms. Bright,

I just read your article in which you complain about ending up alone in your hotel room most nights of your book-signing tours. After hours of signing, answering questions and smiling politely, you probably want to be alone, but if one of your ardent fans makes your heart flutter, you have no excuse for spending the night with only a battery-powered bed companion.

I can't speak from experience, but I believe many attractive people suffer from the same insecurities as the rest of us. It's clear that you, despite your attractiveness and many other wonderful qualities, have your share of self-doubt. Also, most if not all of your readers probably have fantasies, but are intelligent enough to not want to make any assumptions. If you want to get lucky on your book tour, why not be a little more direct? You'd be surprised how many of your readers would willingly follow you to your room, and not just for the pleasure of sharing a chocolate milkshake.


C. A. W.

You may not speak from experience, but your wisdom speaks volumes to me. I have an open relationship with my partner of 11 years, and he said more or less the same thing to me -- "No more whining, Susie! Put up or shut up!" Last night I was awakened by a dream that I was fondling a beautiful redhead on stage at an Al Gore rally -- that's a start! Clearly, my own whistle-stop tour is just beginning to fire up.

By Susie Bright

Susie Bright is the author of the new book "Full Exposure" and many other books, and the editor of the "Best American Erotica" series. For more columns by Bright, visit her website.

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