What Do You Do All Day?: A Novel

What Do You Do All Day?: A Novel

by Amy Scheibe

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Bright, witty, and covered in homemade play-dough, Jennifer Bradley has traded her fabulous job at a New York auction house for the life of a stay-at-home mom. No one said it would be easy. Between the alpha moms all around her and a backstabbing mother-in-law, there's little hope that maternal instinct alone will save her. And perhaps it was less than helpful of her husband, Thom, to suddenly take off on business to Singapore for the next who-knows-how-long, leaving behind the faint scent of an extramarital affair. And this may not be the best time for Jennifer's old flame, a former child star, to show up on her doorstep, looking to patch things up.

What Do You Do All Day? is a sparkling story of love, lust, and the joys of modern motherhood.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312425623
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 08/22/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Amy Scheibe is the author of What Do You Do All Day? She has written for Dame Magazine, Seattle Weekly, The Forward, The Jewish Quarterly, and other publications. Born in Minnesota and reared in North Dakota, she now lives in the Catskill mountains with her husband and two children.

Read an Excerpt



WHEN THE PHONE RINGS I know it's going to be bad news.

"Jennifer? Hillary. You do speak Spanish, don't you?" Hillary Jacobs asks me, her voice on the edge of a scream, no friendly hello to kick things off. "Sorry for the commotion, we're having a pool put in downstairs—don't ask me how we're ever going to pay for it—and you wouldn't believe the mess."

"Well, no I don—"

"Great, four, then? Hortensia will bring an almuerzo. What, Chloë? No, Mommy's got a playdate with the lawyers. Okay then, Jen, it's settled. But let's have that dinner soon, okay? Ciao ciao."

As I set down the phone, my heart sinks even further. I'd call Thom and complain about this development if he weren't on a plane to Paris, damn him. I guess I have to face up to spending an hour with Hortensia and Chloë without her mother present. Georgia hasn't made friends easily, and Chloë's the only child who has taken to my daughter in her first few weeks of school. Hillary Jacobs had approached me for this date, and now she's second-tiering me off to her nanny, with whom I cannot communicate.I spent four years studying French at Columbia University with a semester in Tunisia when I could have been learning a more useful language, for exactly how often do I use it? Frère Jacques, if you know what I mean.

The buzzer rings at 4, and even with an hour of pre-playdate planning I'm still not ready. Georgia has, as of 3:45, decided that she hates Chloë, and all the Christian charity pleading in the world has not swayed her from her pole position. Or should I say "pool position," as it is the small matter of Chloë's new pool that has put Georgia in her snit. It seems that she thinks we should put one in as well. In where? I ask her. In a better apartment with a garden and trees seems to be her solution. Getting my precious cargo into the very exclusive Park Street Preschool is looking more and more like the mistake I told Thom it would be.

I go to the door, homemade play-dough in my hair where Max smeared me with his greasy little hands. Two in four years seemed like a good idea at the Club Med "we entertain your child, you have sex" getaway beach in Jamaica. Now I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong, Max is a dream, but he's a giant baby and has given me more than a little sciatica during his slow acquisition of walking skills. He also refuses to crawl when I'm around. He just lies there, or sits there, eyes scrunched, and screams when he wants "up, up, up." No words yet either, except the aforementioned up and that old standby, no. And if I were to tell you that he has some teeth, I would be lying.

Hortensia is a shockingly exquisite woman, which is more than I can say for her charge. Chloë is carrying what looks to be a homeless woman's full load of assorted upscale shopping bags: brown striped Bendel, silver SFA, elongated pink Pink, and every schoolgirl's favorite, the Barneys chic black-and-white rectangulartote. Chloë herself is a study in noir: tights, Tod's ballet flats—no doubt special order from Bergdorf's—corduroy skirt, turtleneck, and yes, God love her, beret. I expect she would snap her fingers if they weren't entwined in silk cords. Underneath all this decoration is an exceedingly homely child. She looks at me like I've stepped in shit. And not the good kind.

"Where'th Georgia, I need her to help with the bagth," she squeaks out of her too-small mouth. "Mira, Hortenthia, buthca la cocina y hacerme almuerzo."

I know enough restaurant Spanish to get that I'm supposed to set Hortensia up in the kitchen, so I usher the two into our "modest" three-bedroom loft. Through Chloë's eyes, I see how poor we are, with our Pottery Barn furniture and concrete floors. Note to self: kill Chloë. Make it look like an accident. Of course, through Hortensia's eyes, we are rolling in it with our Sub-Zero refrigerator and our enormous living room that my PC guilt reminds me is fueled by more wattage than the average Mexican village.

By the time I have understood through broken Franglish (Hortensia: I need a pan. Me: What kind of bread?) that all of Chloë's food must be steamed according to the South Fork Diet—swear to God, the flounder fillet and twigs of broccoli look like something you'd give a fifty-year-old man with a heart condition—Chloë and Georgia have emptied the shopping bags onto the middle of the living-room rug and are discussing the finer points of having one's hair straightened thermally or reverse-permed.

"You want it to look like Malibu Barbie, thirca 1971, not Growin' Pretty Hair Thkipper of that thame year," Chloë instructs, using the vintage dolls as her models. I could cry—I hadthese very dolls thirty years ago. I sink into a chair and observe the tutorial. "Though you don't want the tan, or you'll need Botoxth by the time you're twenty. If you mutht tan, you can get the thpray thtuff at the thpa, it'th much better for you."

My daughter sits with her wide-eyed expression propped up on little fists, her gorgeous tangled curls spilling down to her elbows. She's clearly given her hostility a rest. Up until this moment, her knowledge of hair and skin products was limited to No More Tears and NoAd SPF 30. She has one Barbie, because for the longest time she thought there only was one Barbie. Hers. I am likewise entranced, as I've never seen a child Chloë's age quite so articulate. Mind you, I'm not exaggerating the lisp. On the plus side, it makes her Spanish sound impeccable.

This is Georgia's first rub with the truly wealthy, and my stomach twists on itself when I think about the years to come. We really have tried to keep her needs modest, but I can't kid myself that she won't be saying "I really mutht have a pony" sometime very soon. I'm also not crazy about her school's solution to sorting the children. Rather than following the public-school standard of having an age and grade designation, Park Street has open classrooms, and G routinely mingles with kids both younger and older. She is verbally advanced for her age, apart from the usual verb tense mix-ups and lazy r, but is she really ready to hang with prepubescents like Chloë?

"Up up up" comes from Max's room, where he has finished his "power nap." He sleeps like an SAT math problem: six hours a night in two three-hour shifts, with two thirty-minute naps spaced four hours apart during the day. Is my darling thirteen-month-old sleeping through the night? Bite me. It seems that about the time he does fall into a full sleep, Georgia finishes hernightly trek across the Arabian desert, and though she has four full sippy cups surrounding her bed, she's decided that the faucet in my bathroom, which she can't quite reach, is the only one that makes the water cold enough to extinguish her parch.

Hortensia, with some sort of baby sonar hardwired in her soul, glides through the room and lightly presses me back into the armchair from where I've been witnessing the destruction of my commercial-free daughter. She then proceeds to my son's room, in complete defiance of my "No, no, I'll get him." Must have been the whimpering, choking-back-a-strangled-sob tone in my voice.

When she returns, she says "Siesta" and points to my bedroom. I don't argue: this word I know.


The alarm rings thirty minutes later and I feel as though I've slept for days. I wouldn't have set the clock at all, but I couldn't risk having Hillary find out that I was asleep for the entire playdate. When I emerge from my room, I can't believe what I see. Chloë and Georgia have set a tea table with the fish and broccoli, and my daughter is holding her blunt knife and Pooh fork in the European manner. They are joined by more Barbies, Skippers, Kens, and Francies than I've ever seen. Max is in his high chair, spooning what must be mashed heart-attack diet food into his own mouth instead of the mouth of his good friend Teddy the Bear. All the toys are put away, and Hortensia is writing in what appears to be a journal while our usually unfriendly cat, Peeve, purrs in her lap. Tears spring to my eyes. I am a bad mother.

"Can you come again for another playdate tomorrow?" I ask Chloë, once they have packed up and are ready to leave.

"You'll have to check with Her," she says, apparently referring to her mother. "We're booked up awfully far in advanthe."

"Well, do you think that maybe Hortensia could come without you?" I say this after the door has closed, and mostly to myself.

WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY? Copyright © 2005 by Amy Scheibe. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think of the voice that Amy Scheibe creates for Jennifer? Her use of humor? Do you feel that Jennifer is an honest narrator, or is she sometimes unreliable?

2. How might this story have been different if Jennifer were a single-mom? How might it have been different if Jennifer and Thom lived out in the country instead of Manhattan? And what if Thom didn't travel so much? How might it have been different if it were set in the 1950s?

3. In chapter 11, Jennifer tells the story of going to visit Portia, her friend from high school who had triplets. Portia describes how she had been passed over for promotion and was thinking about quitting her job and becoming a stay-at-home mother. After making a pro and con list,

Jennifer immediately tells Portia to keep her job. Why does she do that? Did Portia have an unrealistic idea of what being a stay-at-home mother would involve?

4. In chapter 12, Jennifer talks about her childhood and what it was like to grow up poor. She ties this in to the idea of wanting your kids to have a better life than the one you lived as a kid. How does this desire affect the way Jennifer mothers Georgia and Max? Is this a positive driving force for Jennifer, or is it making her uptight?

5. Jennifer lists some of the contradictory advice out there for parents: "Sleep with your child,

don't sleep with your child, keep her squeaky clean, dirt wards off asthma. If you don't put your child in day care, he won't be socialized. If you do, he will be aggressive..." How do you think Jennifer decides which advice to follow? Do you think she makes the right decisions?

6. What Do You Do All Day? contains many child characters. What do you think are the challenges of writing characters who are children? What is the difference between a child and an adult on the page and what nuances of children's behavior were revealed in this book?

7. On page 241, Jennifer realizes that Angie is a generous friend, and that she had done nothing to deserve it. Jennifer then comes to the conclusion that the reason Angie is such a good friend to her "is not because I'm special, but because Angie is." How is Angie special? Do you think that a person needs to deserve to have good friends in order to have good friends,

or is it just a matter of luck?

8. Do the events related to Bjorn's criminal activity and his implication of Thom's infidelity detract from Jennifer's search for meaning, or do they put her struggle in better perspective?

Would she have been able to make the decision to return to work if it hadn't been for the difficulties with her husband?

9. If you had been in Jennifer's situation and were presented with the evidence that Bjorn had given her that her husband had been cheating, would you have believed him? Would you have trusted Thom more than Jennifer did or would you have been just as suspicious?

10. Do you think Jennifer has a good relationship with her parents? How do you think it will be altered after learning the truth about her origins? Do you think she is good at handling her rocky relationship with Thom's mother Vera? Why do you think Vera disapproves of


11. What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother? The best thing about being a mother? Do you think Jennifer would agree? Why or why not?

12. Will Thom have some of the same difficulties that Jennifer had now that he is a stay-at-home father? Will it be different for him since he is a man? How should Jennifer support Thom?

Are Jennifer and Thom able to maintain a marriage based on equality?

13. Do you think that part of the reason Jennifer feels the need to pursue her career is because there is a pressure in society to go out and work? Does Jennifer put pressure on herself? How does her self-identification as a feminist alter the way she looks at being a stay-at-home mother? Does it get in the way of her capacity to feel satisfaction as a mother? Or does it push her to achieve her potential as a person?

14. What do you think is the future of the Bradleys? Do you think that Jennifer will still keep her job after the third baby is born? Do you think that she will find satisfaction now that she is actually pursuing her own career? Do you think she will find it difficult not to spend more

time with the children?

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