Jen Dixon is a secret hero. We first met this brash, yet lovable classroom parent in Class Mom, Laurie Gelman’s debut novel about kindergarten parent politics. The book won the 2018 Vine Award for Canadian Jewish literature in the fiction category and was a shortlisted finalist for the 2018 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.
“Winning the Vine Award was an amazing surprise. I couldn’t believe it,” said Gelman. “Writing the book, I thought, was the cake, the accomplishment. And then finding someone to publish it was the icing on the cake. And then finding that people actually liked it and wanted to read it and wanted to make it a bestseller, that was the cherries on the icing on the cake.”
“It was like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers to sit down again and write about these people and be in their world,” said Gelman.
Moms love the inimitable Dixon because she says what every class mom is really thinking, whether it be in her hilariously blunt emails or comical interactions with the sweep of difficult parents.
“Jen’s journey through both books has been to try and be a better person,” Gelman explained. “I think she realizes that as nice as she wants to be and tries to be, her inner voice is judging and not that nice … and she wants to try and fix that for herself.
“Her daughters are out of the house and she doesn’t have control of their lives anymore. Her husband is trying to take on new challenges at work. Her parents are getting much older and are needing her on a daily basis. And (her son) Max is now in third grade and no longer the sweet little kindergartener. He’s like the sass-master. Plus, she’s class mom again and in charge of safety patrol, so there is a lot going on.”
You’ve Been Volunteered is a page-turner filled with wit and laughter.
“I do hate safety patrol. I’m not going to lie,” said Gelman. “What’s the worst job you can do at school besides being a class mom? Safety patrol, snack mom or head of the fundraising committee! I think Jen is the first character in a long time that has just come out and called it what it is and made a little bit of fun. But not in a cruel way. She just lets everyone relax and not take it all so seriously.”
Dixon’s husband, Ron, is based on Gelman’s own hubby.
“My husband, Michael, is my Ron. He’s this very fit 50-something husband who is just always in my corner and I’m lucky to have him,” Gelman said, beaming. “If there is one character in the book that’s based on somebody real, it’s (Ron). He’s a wonderful husband who is so supportive.”
Gelman’s daughters are growing up.
“I see, even at 15 and 18, I’m very much on the sidelines of their life. I’m there to make sure everything is OK, but they make their own schedules, they do their own things,” said Gelman. “I think a little bit of that anxiety leaked out to Jen in her inability to control her 20-something daughters, who are living life on their own terms.”
In a surprise twist, unbeknownst to Dixon, she did a mitzvah.
“I think we all have a time in our life when we realized that we impacted someone’s life and there was no ulterior motive. We just did something because it was kind, and then it comes back to you in all good ways,” said Gelman.
Like its predecessor, You’ve Been Volunteered is filled with class emails, all imaginary except for one that really happened to Gelman when she was class mom.
“I realized I had to send this email and I had been out all night and I was really not in any shape to write an email,” Gelman said. “But I did,… yet it wasn’t as bad as Jen’s all-telling email.”
Another awkward email that Dixon wrote was when she had to call people at 3 a.m. to tell them it was going to be a snow day. “I just sort of ran with that idea and made up the scenarios of how they would answer the phone at 3 a.m.,” said Gelman with a laugh.”
Gelman is excited to write the third and last book in the Jen Dixon series. “To have people care about what I write and interested to talk to me, that is such a gift.”