Halloween has come and gone, so naturally everyone is thinking about the holidays. Actress, playwright, and now children's book author Amanda Peet is no different. As a Jewish mom to three—Frankie, 8; Molly, 5; and Henry, 11 months—who worries that her kids feel left out during this time of year, the star decided to co-author Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein about a young Jewish girl who wishes she could celebrate Christmas and her journey to embrace her identity. The book was published last month, and a porition of the proceeds goes to Seeds of Peace—a camp bringing together Israeli, Palestinian, and American kids in an effort for harmony.
Here, Peet gives us the dish on her toughest mommy challenge, all things holiday time, and her plea to parents during flu season.
P: As a Jew who has always loved Christmastime, I'm in love with this book. Is Rachel's desire based on your childhood experience?
AP: You know, I celebrated Christmas and Channukah, but my husband didn't. My husband is what Grammy would call a "real Jew." We decided to just stick with Channukah for our kids and I think the book came out of [my co-author] Andrea [Troyer]'s and my desire to help them and explain. Originally we wanted to write a book about how great Channukah is. We were gonna write about the Maccabees and we failed. I guess we wanted to talk about what it feels like to be left out of a huge holiday. The feeling of being on the sidelines when everyone else is a part of it. We wanted it to be fun and not didactic about Jewish holidays. Hopefully we achieved that.
P: Has there been an instance in particular where you've had to say 'Oh, we don't do that because we're Jewish?'
AP: YES! Of course! The Christmas tree place is very close to our house so we'll drive by it almost every day and they are just really bewildered. 'Why don't we have Christmas?' And I'd say, ''Cause you're Jewish.' And they'd say, 'But why don't we have Christmas? Why don't we have a tree?' Then once they understood Ok, we're not gonna have Christmas, it was, 'Why don't we have a tree? Why don't we have decorations?' It's a little weird when you watch The Grinch and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and [A Charlie Brown Christmas]. I think it's confusing. What's all the hoopla? Why aren't we doing it?
P: Outside of this book, how have you handled their questions?
AP: 'Ask your father.' I was stumped. I felt like I needed help, and so oftentimes when I need help I go look for a book that I can read to them and no such thing was in existence. It's one thing to find a book that celebrates Channukah or talks about some of this stuff, but it's hard to find something that isn't really preachy and entertains both us and them. So that was the problem.
P: What is your favorite Jewish tradition?
AP: I like seder [for Passover] the most. I just love the way everyone participates and the kids participate. I love the way my husband runs the seder and I love when the kids get really competitive about the afikomen [finding the hidden matzah]. I love how it's very literal with everything on the plate. I think it's very good for kids, that it's very concrete. It sometimes even makes me feel emotional that we've been observing it for so many thousands of years. So I think that's probably my favorite. Though I love Channukah, too. Unfortunately, I'm still wrestling with my jealousy of Christmas. I'm sure the kids get way too many presents. David thinks I'm nuts every year. Usually we celebrate it when my sister is here. We do the candles and the prayers and everybody has presents. Pretty ridiculous.
P: What is it like being the mom of an 8-year-old and reliving that new mom sensation with your 11-month-old?
AP: It's strange. It's easier in a lot of ways. I feel a little bit less worried. A little bit more playful. There's such a community around him. When it was me, David, and Frankie, she was watched like a little plant. It was so intense and so precious, but probably overly precious. With Henry we just kind of pass him around.
P: How do you go about mediating sister squabbles between Frankie and Molly?
AP: You know, I fought with my sister a lot so it doesn't scare me that much. I think that it's just par for the course. We try to let them work it out as much as possible. I stuck a pencil in my sister's forehead when I was 4 and she still has the piece in her forehead. She loves to show it to everyone. Their fights are pretty tame compared to how we were.
P: When is the last time one of your kids made you laugh until you cried?
AP: I can't even say because I'm not gonna hang her out to dry. I think my daughter would just be too embarrassed. But...the other day I took Frankie to hear the L.A. Philharmonic to see Beethoven's Ninth and slowly she started leaning on me and slowly I felt her getting really heavy and I looked over and she was sound asleep and for some reason it was just so cute. It was just so funny to me that she was asleep as it was culminating. It was almost like as it crescendoed she was like SNORE.
P: It's not only holiday season, it's flu season. You've spoken out in favor of vaccines. What can parents who are pro-vaccine do to rebut the anti-vaccine theories?
AP: I think so much of it has to do with who your pediatrician is, and that's a very personal thing. There are a few pediatricians in L.A. left who talk out of both sides of their mouth, saying that they aren't anti-vaccine but that they agree with parents who are worried. That's tantamount to being anti-vaccine. The only other thing I'd say is when you talk about something being a personal choice as a parent, usually you're not talking about something that could potentially harm other children. I really think that's a big part of it. And it's worth reminding people about that. It's not just about your child. It's about your neighbor's child and your daughter's friend's infant sibling at home. We've really lost our sense of neighborliness. We're so splintered.
P: On a lighter note, before Channukah is Thanksgiving. Do you have plans?
AP: It's chaos here 'cause we have a lot of kids, with my sister's family and everything. Last year it wasn't going to be at our house, but then the person's son got sick so David made a beer chicken at home. So we just ate a beer chicken, the four of us. Henry was about to be born. It was kind of fun. It was very peaceful.
Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she's practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is our resident theater aficionado and can be found constantly running around New York City to find the best new show, the most awesome dance party, or the hottest Bikram yoga studio. Follow her on on Twitter @RuthiesATrain.