October 6, 2015

Juice Box Jungle: Preschooled by Anna Lefler

Anna Leflter
Contemporary Women's Literature
October 1, 2015
Full Fathom Five Digital

Behind the toddler-proof gate of Santa Monica’s exclusive Garden of Happiness, it’s the grown-ups who are getting schooled.

When new preschool parent Justine discovers that the man who broke her heart back in grad school is a dad in her daughter’s class, she tells herself she’s immune to the superficial charms of the ex she calls “the crapwizard.” But when his presence opens a time tunnel of potent memories from her life before motherhood, she must find a way to defuse her old attraction to him before it undermines her marriage.

Then there’s Ruben, rookie stay-at-home dad and standup comic who quits his day job to pursue his TV-writing dream on his wife’s condition that he take her place among the “power mommies” on the school committees.

And ruling the sand box with an iron fist is Margaret, whose ongoing divorce from her dentist-turned-New Age-surfer husband forces her to rely on her dubious people skills in order to keep the school that has become the cornerstone of her identity.

When the new school year kicks off with a flight-risk rabbit named Ozone, a school secretary in desperate need of a social filter, and some double-barreled committee recruiting tactics, it’s not all juice and cookies for Justine, Ruben, and Margaret as they struggle to play nice.

Anna Lefler is here today to tell us more about her novel, PRESCHOOLED, which sounds like a funny, tongue-in-cheek, Mommy novel that has a lot of heart and intrigue to keep us entertained.

Hi there, Anna Lefler! Thanks for stopping by Talk Supe.

I've heard of preschools like this and as a mom myself, I just can't wrap my head around it. Is this book loosely based on real events? Personal or anecdotal? 

The backdrop of PRESCHOOLED is inspired not so much by actual, specific events but rather by predicaments and challenges that seem to be pretty universal, such as the requirement to participate in school fundraising activities or the need to navigate the politics of different parents’ child-raising styles. The characters have their own, very specific experiences that are influenced by the affluence of this particular setting, but I think the themes are relatable to readers whether Garden of Happiness feels like their own school or not. The substance of the three story arcs are pure storytelling – my “kryptonite guy” did not show up at my preschool. Thank God!

Can you tell us more about PRESCHOOLED? Is it a mommy book, women's lit, romantic comedy? 

PRESCHOOLED is a comic novel that technically falls into the category of Women’s Commercial Fiction. It has a lot of moms in it, but it’s not about parenting per se. Rather, it’s about how life as a grown-up – and all the baggage you were already carrying – continues full steam through life as a parent. If it were made into a movie, it would be a romantic comedy (my favorite kind – I admit!).

When I read the synopsis, it actually reminded me of the TV, Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, so I can see this as being a funny story. Let's talk about Justine, who is she and why is she a relatable heroine? 

PRESCHOOLED is told through the POV of three characters. Justine is the primary protagonist, along with Ruben (an aspiring comic/stay-at-home dad) and Margaret (the owner of Garden of Happiness Preschool). I think Justine is relatable because she’s relatively down to earth, but still susceptible to outside influences, of which there are many when she arrives at the school. She’s a good and reasonable person, but - like all of us - she’s also flawed, so we get to see her struggle with her identity, her sense of duty and, ultimately, temptation.

That's good, better than a corporate power mom who could care less about her kids outside of the child's school achievements. What is the main "conflict" of PRESCHOOLED? 

Well, there are three, the primary one being Justine’s struggle not to get sucked into the “time-tunnel” that’s opened by the unexpected arrival of the man who broke her heart in grad school, all while navigating the competitive parental landscape of the new preschool. Ruben, on the other hand, is on a quest to write a sitcom spec script that will open the door to the TV-writing world while taking his wife’s place in the preschool world, but in a deeper sense he struggles to shed some of his man-child ways and become a confident, grown man. Lastly, Margaret is dealing with loss on several fronts: her only child just left for college, she’s in the midst of a divorce, and now she discovers that – as part of the settlement – she is in danger of losing her school, which is the cornerstone of her identity. 

Quickly, 3 tips on how to deal with meanie-moms. This mom-war is ridiculous btw, proof that some girls just never really left HS.

I have a theory that high school basically NEVER ends – in any respect – and it has served me well. Let me add to that I was basically queen of the marching band in high school (and proud of it). Which is to say that the “cool lunch table” is pretty foreign territory to me, but I suspect is home turf to the meanie moms. As for tips for dealing with them, I’ve always found it helpful to come across as sliiightly unstable. Volatile, even. If you’re not following the rules of their BS game, then it’s hard for them to as well. They’re looking for people to crush – not people whose behavior is unpredictable. It’s also helpful to remember that there are other people like you at the school: nice, normal moms who aren’t into stabby drama. Find a couple of these other parents, bond with them, and flip the meanie moms the bird. Tyrants must ALWAYS be overthrown. 

Can you share with us a scene? 

Orientation began with an informal “mixer,” which translated into roughly twenty well-heeled couples milling around in the sand among the play structures while trying to look like the kind of people who begat geniuses—or at least exceptional offspring who would someday exhibit a genetically superior ability to accessorize.  On the wooden deck at the edge of the sand was a table loaded with fruit trays, cookies, cheeses, and other snacks, along with iced juices, sodas, and waters.  The sandy play area was surrounded on three sides by the school—the former house in front, three classrooms on the side and one more in the rear, the top floor of which was Margaret’s private office.  On the fourth side was a five-story office building.  The school’s neighbor on the other adjacent lot was a 1950s apartment house whose tenants had attempted to restore their privacy by shrouding their balconies with a rain forest’s worth of climbing vines and hanging plants. 
Many of the parents seemed to know one another already and gathered in lively groups among the slides and push toys, pulling in a teacher to answer questions or chatting among themselves.  Justine worked her way through the crowd, gathering bits of information and making conversation.  After thirty minutes of forced socialization, she was not only on the verge of dehydration, but had foolishly outed herself to two helicopter parents as a follower of the Ferber sleep training method. 
“I don’t understand,” said the mom.  She exchanged a disapproving glance with her husband then turned back to Justine with what Justine imagined was the same expression Jeffrey Dahmer had received during group “share time” in prison.  “You just ignore her?  And let her cry herself to sleep?”
“No, see, there’s an actual scientific process and—”
“We could never do that to Denim,” the dad said with a firm shake of his head.  “His therapist has explained to us that he’s an extraordinarily sensitive child—”
“And gifted,” the mother interjected.
“Yes, exactly,” the dad continued, “which is both a blessing and a curse.  Denim’s exceptional nature causes him to experience the world around him on a much deeper level then an ordinary child.  As his parents, we bear the responsibility of shielding him from negative stimuli of all kinds.”
“Geez, I wouldn’t call learning how to doze off ‘negative stimuli,’” Justine said.  “I mean, we all have to figure out how to do it, right?”
The husband and wife exchanged another look.  “We need to go talk to Margaret about Denim’s dietary restrictions now,” the dad said, touching his wife’s elbow as he turned to go.
“Good luck,” the mom said.  The couple distanced themselves from Justine as though they had seen her name on some Internet parenting watch list. 
“She only cried for fifteen minutes,” she called after them.  “She’s a fast learner.”  The knot of tension behind her eyes began to throb.  She walked across the play area, heels of her new sandals sinking into the sand, and stepped up onto the deck.  Grabbing a bottle of water from the refreshment table, she took several deep swallows and wished once again that Greg were there with her, not because his networking skills were any better than hers, but because she knew he would be as amused and/or appalled by the night’s encounters as she was.  Later, they would find ways to work snippets from the night into their evening routine, such as, “Due to my extraordinary level of giftedness, I find this mint toothpaste to be an assault on my senses.”
Right now, though, she didn’t feel like laughing.  If phones weren’t verboten on school grounds, she would pull hers out then and there and text Greg:

I am bombing preschool orientation.

Okay, maybe “bombing” was too strong a word, but the sense of quiet triumph that had buoyed her for the past few days had evaporated the moment she heard Harry’s voice.  Before his appearance, she had been primed to accomplish her goals for the evening, which included asking questions that showed she was an informed/caring mom but not a smothering/soul-scouring/nightmare mom, sorting the potential mom friends from the emotional remoras and mean girls, and—most importantly—making a stellar impression on Margaret, thus reinforcing that her decision to accept Emma into the school had been a shrewd—albeit last-minute—one.  Trying to do all this while avoiding a heinous former boyfriend in the play yard, however, had put her off her game. 
She took another drink.  As she lowered the bottle, she saw Harry starting across the play area toward her, alone.  Before she could pretend to be otherwise occupado, he was standing next to her. 
“Hey,” he said.  He plucked a cluster of grapes from a bowl on the food table and ate one, munching with obvious contentment.  
Her mind scrambled for some Cosmo-approved response that would simultaneously make it clear she had not given him a second thought in the last eight years and drive home the fact that leaving her had been the worst decision he’d ever made (including the time he let that Macy’s salesman talk him into buying a pair of “man capris”), while also hinting that she had probably received a Nobel Prize—or at least a Grammy—since he last saw her and was now way too B&I (busy and important) to give the time of day to a femme-pants-wearing ex.
“Hello,” she said.  Nailed it, she thought and looked away.
“Same school.  What are the chances?”  He ate another grape and took stock of the crowd.
“Insert obligatory ‘it's a small world’ observation here,” she said and reached for a tortilla chip.
“A lot of people would get uptight in this situation, but I say let's not be uncomfortable.  We can just be normal, right?”
Had he always talked like this?  And where the hell was the dip?  “How very...European,” Justine said as she foraged across the food table, her chip poised in the event of guacamole. 
“What does that mean?” 
“Oh, you know, disregarding the messier parts of past relationships to preserve some facade of friendship.  Highly evolved and all that.”
“But haven’t we always been friends?”
A blue pottery bowl of guacamole appeared behind a tower of mini burritos like a mirage in the desert.  “The best,” she said and jabbed her chip into the green mound.  “Feel better now?” 
Harry gave her a wary glance.  “Better in what way?”
“You know, you get to be the good guy who took the high road.  You came over here to smooth things over and now you can check me off as ‘handled’ and go on about your business.  That’s got to be satisfying.” 
Harry chuckled, but not before the irritation showed in his face.  “Wow.  Well, I guess you’ve got me all wired, then.”
“Just keepin’ it real.”
Harry scowled.  “I hate that expression.”
She popped the last bite of chip in her mouth, shrugged, and then checked the time on the red rooster clock hanging under the eaves outside the classroom. 
“Oh, my God,” Harry said.  “I’d forgotten about your eyes.”  He stepped toward her.  “I never could find the right word for that color.  Somewhere between blue, gray, and green.”  He brought his face close to hers, studying one eye then the other.  “Why do they make me think of the desert?”
“I don’t know,” Justine said, wiping the salt from the corner of her mouth.  “Maybe you spent your honeymoon there.”        
Harry opened his mouth as if to say something, then looked past her toward the main building.  “There’s Bette waving us in.  Mixer’s over—time for the lecture.”
She saw Bette gesture at him to hurry up and he took the few steps down into the sand.  “So great seeing you,” he said and headed toward the back of the little house without waiting for a reply. 
“I guess we’re done talking about my eyes,” she mumbled and hitched her purse up on her shoulder. 
When Harry reached the kitchen steps, Bette’s voice cracked across the play yard.  “Come on, let’s get this over with.”
“Ah, the little woman ,” Justine said, then trudged through the sand and into the school to find a seat. 
Forty-five minutes later, she doubted she would ever walk upright again. 

5 things we should expect and/or shouldn't expect to get from PRESCHOOLED?

  1. You should expect to laugh. And maybe even cry.
  2. You should not expect any parenting tips.
  3. You should expect to root for a character or two in spite of themselves.
  4. You should not expect a guide to surviving preschool.
  5. You should expect to look at Girl Scout Cookies in a whole new light.

Thanks for sharing your book with us today, Anna! Good luck and I wish you much success!

Thanks so much for having me as a guest on your site! XO Anna

Anna Lefler is a humorist, comedy writer, and author of the novel PRESCHOOLED. She is also the author of the humor book The Chicktionary: From A-Line to Z-Snap, The Words Every Woman Should Know, which The Chicago Tribune called "a wry celebration of modern femininity." She was a staff writer on the Nickelodeon/NickMom TV show "Parental Discretion with Stefanie Wilder-Taylor," where she also served as a recurring on-camera performer.

Anna is a three-time faculty member of the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop and her humorous essays have appeared on, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and The Big Jewel. She has performed standup comedy in clubs around Los Angeles including the Hollywood Improv and the Comedy Store. Anna lives in Los Angeles with her two children, whom she regularly embarrasses, and she can always be found at: Website | Facebook | @AnnaLefler | Goodreads

Talk Supe


  1. It sounds intriguing and different, the cover is curious, thank you for sharing the interview!

  2. I do wonder what happens with those meanie mums now

  3. I'd have to agree that high school never ends.....ugh! Preschooled sounds like a fun read. I'm thinking I could totally get behind Justine, Ruben, and Margaret. Thanks for the entertaining interview and for putting this one on my radar! :D

  4. So cool Braine, great interview. I want it! :)

  5. Different, but sounds like something to get behind. I'm not a mother, but I've attended my niece's and nephew's school enough to wonder about the moms there. Some are off in groups gossiping, others are focused on their child, and then there are the lost looking ones. Like, they are sitting wondering what their life would be like without kids or whatever. I'd definitely take a peek at this. Plus, the cover has one of my favorite ice cream treats, orange cream. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I saw something else for this and thought it was crazy and it made me so thankful we don't have those challenges here where I live, or at least, not that I'm aware of LOL!
    Great guest post!

  7. I taught preschool for eight years. The universal nature of these stories about the adults sounds oh so familiar. We had the old flames, the meanie moms, the stay at home dads, and oh so many more. I want to read this one.

  8. This feels fresh and smart. Will check it out :) Happy Tuesday!

  9. I totally need to read something like this. I am already tired of dealing with meanie moms and my kids are only five and seven. I think this one will make me laugh.

  10. Meanie moms makes me think Mean Girls but older lol

  11. Yeah, some people just don't grow up past the high school years. :\ I never did understand that. Luckily for me I don't have kids so I don't have to deal with meanie moms on a daily basis.

  12. Def a different sort of read, but things I am sure I can relate with

  13. Oh my. And that's why I kept to myself. lol. I'm stressed thinking about all that stuff! And, sadly, it never gets better the older they get. *sigh* I've got a teen in high school and parents are terrible and all that we have to do with them in sports and school.... Exhausting!

  14. Haha this sounds like a really unique book! I wonder what my mom would think if I bought her a copy for Christmas :D

  15. Sounds like something I could definitely read and connect with the mc

  16. Meanie moms. Well now I know what to call them. I knew a few meanie moms when my daughter was n school.

  17. This sounds good, and I bet every Mom can relate to some of the stories and situations within

  18. HI All!

    Thanks for stopping by to comment and check out the book and interview. Personally I stay away from mommy groups because some parents are judgy like they feel their methods are better than the rest. Prevention is the key so staying out of cliques is the best solution for me. Thankfully I don't have little ones anymore so I'm spared of the mommy wars!


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