The salacious secrets of Desperate Housewives meet the aspirational lifestyles of Sex and the City in San Francisco’s most elite mommies group.
The Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club is the most exclusive children’s playgroup in all of San Francisco. For the city’s ultra-competitive elite, the club’s ten annual spots are the ultimate parenting prize.
But not everyone is PHM&TC material. The club’s founder, Bettina Connaught Cross, adheres to strict membership rules: Moms only. No single parents or working mothers allowed. Membership is an arduous commitment. And there’s no room in the club for scandal, bad behavior, or imperfection…from tots or their moms.
In a world of power and prestige, no one has more than Bettina. And as every mom in Pacific Heights knows, you simply cannot cross her. But this year’s admissions process is more rigorous than ever, pitting prospective members against each other to prove their mettle.
But four of the six candidates vying for the remaining four slots have a secret that would knock them out of the running. Jade is a former stripper and porn actress, who has been absent for most of her son’s life. Jillian’s husband cleaned out their joint accounts and left her for his pregnant assistant. Ally never even had a husband—just a sperm donor—and she’s hiding a high-ranking corporate job. And Lorna fears that her son may have special needs… just the excuse her sister-in-law, Bettina, needs to deny her entry to the club.
Can these hopeful moms keep up appearances long enough to outlast the competition? Or will their chances—and their private lives—go up in flames?
This is the first of four books that follow our heroines during “the Onesies,” their inaugural year in the club. Upcoming books—to be released in four episodes each year—will follow subsequent years: the Twosies, Threesies, Foursies, and Fivesies.
Friendship. Lies. Seduction. Betrayal. Welcome to Totlandia.
Monday, 3 September
Since the very first moment she had laid eyes on him, Lorna Connaught had loved Dante with a hot fierceness that both excited and shamed her.
The excitement came from the knowledge that, from then until the day she died, he would always be hers. Her shame came from the realization that she’d never felt such an achingly deep love like that before.
Not even for her husband, Matthew.
And yet, if it hadn’t been for Matt, Dante wouldn’t be in her life now.
She watched him as he warmed his feet in the sand. Alta Plaza Park crowned one of the highest peaks in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, affording marvelous views of the surrounding city. To the north, musky green Angel Island lay in the hazy turquoise bay. To the east was the mod white vertical square dome of St. Mary’s Cathedral, backed by the city’s skyscrapers. And from the south, the three candy-striped prongs of Sutro Tower pierced the cobalt blue sky. As on most days, the wind was brisk, whipping through the branches of the park’s weeping willows and palms.
Lorna had come to realize that the park was just as much a haven for Dante as it was for her. Only here did he relax his usually rod-straight stance, so that his dark curls grazed his rounded shoulders.
Nothing made her happier than seeing him so content.
She breathed deeply, taking in the moment—
Taking in something.
What was that awful smell?
Oh, damn. Dante had crapped in his pants.
Lorna scooped up her one year-old son, slung his diaper bag over her shoulder, and headed for the nearest picnic table. She reached in the bag for Sensitive-Wipes, a changing mat, and a diaper. To her disappointment, there was only one in the bag. How typical of Matt to forget the one task she’d given him this morning: re-pack the diaper bag.
Well, one would have to do for now. In a few minutes, she and Dante were supposed to meet Matt at his mother’s home for the family’s annual Labor Day brunch. Eleanor Morrow Connaught, Lorna’s mother-in-law, owned the largest mansion on the Jackson Street side of the park. While Lorna helped set the table, Matt could slip out to the store and pick up a few more since they were staying through dinner.
Dante was so antsy that it was hard for her to hold him and unfold the diaper at the same time. Frantically, she pulled off his pants, then removed the dirty nappy and cleaned his bottom with a wipe. She was about to grab the clean one when the wind whipped it out of her hand, where it hovered just out of reach, before floating over her head toward the playground.
“No! Oh, heck—” Running through the park in heels with a naked baby was not Lorna’s style, but it was better than showing up at Eleanor’s with her bare-bottomed grandson.
The diaper dipped and skipped in the cross-currents over the oblivious heads of the other mothers who sat on the benches all around the swing set. On holidays, the park was busier than usual, and this Labor Day was no exception. Lorna used her hands to shade her eyes from the sun’s glare as she scanned the sky for the wayward diaper. She caught a glimpse of it sailing higher on the hill before plunging into a thicket of cypress trees.
By the time she got there, it was being wrapped around an 18-inch Journey Girls doll by two five-year-olds playing house.
The doll was laid out on an open paper napkin. Other dolls were propped up in a circle around her, as if watching a life-or-death medical procedure.
Lorna smiled down at the future mothers. “Your doll is very cute. What’s her name?”
The little blond girl who had just patted one of the adhesive tabs in place over the naked doll’s belly looked up at her warily. “Mewedith,” she answered. Her lisp was the result of two missing front teeth.
“Yes, well, Meredith is quite pretty. But I think you’ve got my little boy’s diaper.”
“No, it’s Mewedith’s! See? It fits.” The girl held up her doll.
Lorna kept her smile in place, but she shook her head firmly. “But you didn’t bring it to the park. I did. I was putting it on my son when the wind took it out of my hand.” She pointed to Dante. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t be naked right now. So please give it back.”
“No! I found it. It’s mine now.” The little girl frowned and grasped her doll tightly to her chest. The other little girl, thrilled at her friend’s impudence toward an adult, moved behind her in solidarity.
“Excuse me?” Lorna couldn’t believe her ears. “It belongs to my little boy. Hand it over. Please.” Her tone made it clear that it was not a request.
The girl shot her a bird. “Skwoo you.”
What a little brat!
Cradling Dante in one arm, Lorna snatched the doll out of the girl’s hands with the other. Both girls squealed as Lorna attempted to strip the doll of the diaper.
“Is something wrong here?”
The woman who confronted Lorna could have been Brat’s adult twin. An infant boy sat on her hip. He was around the same age as Dante, but unlike Lorna’s son, he chattered and cooed as his arms waved in circles like little pinwheels.
The other little girl, who was now whimpering, ran over to the dark-haired woman who had accompanied Brat’s mom.
“She wants to steal Mewedith!” Brat screamed.
“What? No! I’m not stealing anything.” Lorna held up the diapered doll. “I’m just taking back what belongs to my son.”
The woman frowned. “Are you trying to say that Meredith is your son’s doll?”
“No, you don’t get it. Your daughter has my son’s diaper.”
The woman shook her head, confused. “I beg your pardon?”
“This diaper, on her doll, it belongs to my son. I was putting it on him when the wind blew it out of my hand. Your daughter picked it up before I could retrieve it.”
The woman leaned down, nose-to-nose with her daughter. “Piper, honey, is that true?”
The little girl shook her head adamantly. “No, Mommy. It’s mine.”
The woman stood up straight. Turning back to Lorna, she shrugged with a smile. “I’m sorry, you must be wrong.”
Lorna couldn’t hide her shock. “Seriously? You’re taking her word over mine?”
Josie Brown is the author of these novels: Totlandia: The Onesies, Book 1 (Fall), [2012, Coliloquy], The Housewife Assassin’s Bloody Valentine [2012, MSW Press], The Housewife Assassin’s Handbook, [2011, Signal Press], The Baby Planner, [2011, Simon & Schuster], Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, [2010, Simon & Schuster], Impossibly Tongue-Tied, [2006, HarperCollins], and True Hollywood Lies, [2005, HarperCollins; 2010 Diversion Books].
Her novel, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives (Simon & Schuster), is being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer as a dramatic series for NBC-TV.
Josie is also the author of three non-fiction books: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right [Alpha/Pearson]; Marriage Confidential: 102 Honest Answers to the Questions Every Husband Wants to Ask, and Every Wife Needs to Know [Signal Press]; and Last Night I Dreamt of Cosmopolitans: A Modern Girl’s Dream Dictionary [St. Martin's Press].
As a journalist, Josie’s celebrity interviews and relationships trends articles have been featured in the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, Redbook and Complete Woman magazines, as well as AOL, Yahoo, AskMen.com, Divorce360.com, and SingleMindedWomen.com.
Follow Josie at www.josiebrown.com.
Mary: What inspired you to write this story?
Josie: When I wrote The Baby Planner, I so enjoyed the opportunity of delving into the tsunami of emotions women experience during pregnancy, and loved writing about how our feelings color our view of ourselves: our lives, our relationships, our future. My book tour was hosted by baby planners all over the country, and was attended by many women who were in playgroups. As I watched their interactions with each other and with their children, I realized there was a story to be told about women in that particular time of their lives: when new friendships are forged while our children are too young to choose their friends themselves.
We parents seek out others who share our hopes, dreams and values. What we come to find out is that true friendships are tested over time, and under the most stressful circumstances. It’s one thing to enjoy a conversation while sharing a park bench on a sunny afternoon. It’s another to feel comfortable enough to divulge a heavy heart, over a scary medical prognosis, or a separation, or a shady past. We all have secrets. We have to weigh the definition of friendship with that of our ability to trust, and to honor a friend’s trust.
Totlandia is all about friendships and trust. Granted, the setting and circumstances are sometimes over-the-top farcical, and sometimes tragic. Then again, so is real life.
Mary: This book makes me want to go sit in a coffee shop in the Marina and just eavesdrop on conversations. I’ve also started paying WAY more attention to people with babies. What were the funniest conversations/comments you’ve overheard, and that you’ve been tempted to include in the book?
Josie: Ha ha! Now you know my secret: eavesdropping! Not to mention some diligent online research within some of the mommy loops.
Heads up: practically every playdate scenario in the book was something I heard or witnessed, or it was ranted about on some loop. I may have ramped up the silliness but yes: people act in crazy ways, especially when their kids are involved. If you see your child as a reflection of yourself, you’ll do the very things we ask our children NOT to do to others. I call it “parents behaving badly.”
Mary: Our own co-founder, Lisa, is a real-life “momtrepreneur” like Ally. She’s pretty laid-back about the whole parenting thing, but what if she didn’t have Coliloquy as an entrepreneurial outlet? The idea of her attacking admissions forms with the same gusto is actually kind of scary…What happens when your child becomes your full-time job?
Josie: Oh. My. God. I’ve actually seen that happen, from both mothers and fathers! I’ve observed the helicopter mom, the overbearing dad, and the parents who project their own successes onto their child, or who force their child into do-overs, for some still-smarting failure, hoping their child gives them the victory they still need in their lives. I look back at my own parenting foibles and sometimes wonder, “What the heck was I thinking?” The great new is: I can laugh at myself. By taking it up a notch in Totlandia, I hope the reader can laugh at these parents, but also relate to them as well.
Mary: I’m really curious about the kids in this book, and how they turn out as a result of growing up in these families—will we ever get any insight into their perspectives? Really, I’m just begging for a letter from ballet camp…
Josie: Yes! The children of our heroines are have wonderful personalities in their own rights. Some will be chips off the old blocks, and others will have minds of their own, to their parents’ chagrin. And as with real life, some of the families will experience tragedies.
Mary: This book is really funny, but it also explores some more serious themes—like buying into something that you don’t fully believe in, and trying to guarantee happiness for your kids (when these characters can’t even manage to find it for themselves). What are your thoughts about that?
Josie: When our children are infants, we are an omnipotent presence in their lives: we are their universe, their everything. As our children grow and develop, their personalities come to the forefront. They strive for independence. In fact, they fight us for it! A good parent will let them win. A great parent will also realize that, no matter how much we may want something for our children, they may not want it for themselves. They have their own hopes and dreams. A great parent lets their children live their own lives, and applauds them for doing so. In Totlandia, the parents will learn this lesson, sometimes the hard way.
Mary: One of the things that makes your writing so refreshing is that you manage to paint fully-formed characters—flaws and all—without seeming to pass judgment. In many ways, it reminds me of Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives with that human connection.
Josie: Thank you for this! No heroine should be perfect. Otherwise, she is a cartoon character, a “super-heroine.” I strive to write “real” people, which means they have flaws. I want them to have a bit of me in them, a bit of the reader, and a bit of someone whom the reader knows. Sometimes they do stupid things, but in the long run, they make us proud.
Mary: Tell us about your research process. Did you sit in on mom groups and stake out the parks in Pacific Heights?
Josie: I met so many new moms while researching and touring with my last book, The Baby Planner. Many of the baby planners who hosted that me into my touring cities were young parents themselves. In fact, a couple of them were pregnant, just like the many readers who attended these events. My children are beyond the age of Totlandia, but I have friends who are going through that experience now, or have children who are edging into ‘tweendom. Observing them and the issues they face–some which I avoided, thank goodness!–has been great fodder for the book.
Mary: Who will love this book?
Josie: That’s easy! Anyone who has ever been a parent. Anyone who is pregnant, and already angsting over their fears of parenting. And anyone looking for a fun read, especially something with more than a touch of satire on (to paraphrase Anthony Trollope) the way we live now. One of the reasons I’m so happy this book is a series is because I will enjoy writing characters who grow and change, just like their children. I hope my readers enjoy the journey as much as I do.