Zibby Owens: Welcome, Paige. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Paige Peterson: Thank you. How are you?

Zibby: This is so nice for me because you were my first boss ever. How old I was? Eleven or something. I babysat your kids. How old was I?

Paige: I think you were ten. Alexandra was just born.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. How old is she now?

Paige: She’s almost thirty-four.

Zibby: Yeah, I was ten. Oh, my gosh, that’s crazy. It was so great. I got to spend all those summers and watch Alexandra grow up and then go to school with her.

Paige: We picked Trinity because you went there.

Zibby: I hope she liked it.

Paige: We followed you through your education.

Zibby: This is such a coming-full-circle moment. I’m so excited I can have you on the podcast. Your book is so beautiful and so beautifully written. I have to say — let me back up. Why don’t you start by telling listeners what your book is about and what inspired you to write it? Then I will continue my raves about it.

Paige: Thank you. I actually was at dinner in New York with a friend of mine, David Patrick Columbia who has a blog called New York Social Diary. We were sitting together. I was just telling him what my childhood was like. He said, “Oh, my god, you must write about this. This is incredible.” The way I wrote this book was to get very, very quiet and to kind of channel that inner child of mine and remember what it was like to be a little girl. I started writing vignettes. I just started writing paragraphs, nothing connected. In the end, nothing sort of connects in the book either because it’s childhood memories. They’re just capsules of moments. I was extraordinarily blessed. I’m sixty-five years old. In 1955, I was born in Northern California. Belvedere and Tiburon was still a railroad town. It was a rural, wild place. It was great.

Zibby: Your book is such a great combination of your own memories about growing up there and the place itself, but also your childhood and then so many amazing photographs that you have dug up from the past hundred-plus years, which is amazing.

Paige: We took those photographs from the Miwok Indians up. There’s an amazing history here, one that America should not be proud of. What the Spaniards and the Mexicans and then the white men did to the American Indians is appalling. This whole peninsula that I live in where I’m talking to you from was just beautiful, peaceful land with Indians. Of course, in a very short amount of time, we decimated them. The missionaries put them in Western clothing and turned them into slaves. It’s really an appalling history here. Then we moved forward. I did write about a hundred years of history in Northern California. It’s amazing. This railroad town was an amazing place.

Zibby: Your childhood, literally, I was reading it and I was like, this is the backdrop for any movie about America. I felt like I was reading a set for a novel or something. I couldn’t believe that’s the way you grew up with riding your bikes all day and no playdates and just so many things that you think of as so traditional America, small town, whatever. Yet there was San Francisco right over the bridge too. Crazy.

Paige: It was crazy. You know Zibby, I raised my kids on Central Park West just the way you were raised and you’re now raising your children. My childhood was so vastly different. Of course, our parents just sort of said, make your own lunch and leave the house. It didn’t matter if it was raining. It didn’t matter. We would go to the library. We were told to go. We wouldn’t come back until the four-thirty whistle blew. Nobody paid any attention to us. We used to take swings and swing off over the cliff. Nobody cared. More importantly, kids didn’t get hurt. I think sometimes the hovering things, kids aren’t as mindful as they should be because everybody’s always hovering around them. I feel so very blessed to have been raised here.

Zibby: Tell me about this. You put water in the freezer, and that was your water for the day. You would take it out and wait for it to melt.

Paige: Yeah, in a glass jar. We all did it. Collectively, all the kids always had a glass jar in the basket of their bikes. We all used to drink out of garden hoses, which of course now we know is completely toxic and horrible to do. I would never let my child, but we did it. We did it. We weren’t dependent on anyone. By the way, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was all one needed for nine hours. There were no such things as snacks. It was so simple.

Zibby: There was part of me reading your book sighing with longing as I think about the effort it takes just for me to get my kids to school, and the fifty-seven snacks and water bottles. That’s just to literally cross the park. That’s a ten-minute —

Paige: — I did it. I was you.

Zibby: Yeah, I know.

Paige: Just preparing to get out of my apartment, I used to think, oh, my god, I cannot even believe this. My mother never did this. It was a much simpler time. It was really beautiful. One of the things, Zibby, I live on the water. The Tiburon Peninsula has water on three sides of it. There were no life jackets. Kids swam in the bay. Kid swam in the lagoon. We were competent on boats and kayaking. There was no safety of any kind. There were no helmets when you rode your bike. There was nothing. It’s amazing. By the way, I don’t know any kid that got hurt. There were things that happened later on as teenagers, but it wasn’t about playing and being free.

Zibby: You had this great passage. It just stayed with me, one of your many descriptive scenes that takes the reader back. You wrote, “For years, the snack bar at the club only offered bags of potato chips. After some remodeling, the menu upgraded to include grilled cheese, hot dogs, and hamburgers with chips and pickles, mayonnaise and yellow mustard on the side, paper cups for ice water. The thin plywood changing rooms stayed the same for years, lockers and hooks for hanging wet towels, the smell of never-ending dampness. Don’t we all have such memory rooms composed of tastes, smells, and textures? They stay with us always.” Aw, that is so nice. Then later on, and maybe this goes to what you were saying about the teenage years, you write, “Like any town, we had our share of tragedy. What happened inside the homes of our friends was none of anyone’s business. People didn’t talk about their problems outside of home. Ours was a culture of silence and secrets. In the 1960s and ’70s, at least eight of my friends died before the age of twenty, some from drugs, some by suicide. All these decades later when I see the parents of those children, their eyes still carry sadness. As my grandmother would wisely nod to us, there but for the grace of God go I.” Beautiful. You’re a beautiful writer. That is haunting, the culture of silence and secrets in this idyllic waterside town. What’s really going on inside the homes? This is a novel. It’s like a thriller. I don’t know what it is.

Paige: It’s interesting. I haven’t heard somebody read that before. I was raised as an Episcopalian, but I went to a Catholic girls’ school. It’s interesting, this gang of girls. One of them ended up being schizophrenic and jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. Another one died of an overdose of LSD. It was in the sixties and seventies. Drugs were just being introduced to California, free love, and everything else. I think I was saved because I had a very strict mother. I was scared of her, and so I didn’t do any of that stuff. I didn’t follow. I wasn’t allowed to. One of the things I write about, I wasn’t allowed to go to Main Street. There were definite boundaries for me. I feel so very lucky and, as my grandmother did used to say, there but for the grace of God go I. It was so sad. Belvedere and Tiburon are two towns. It’s divided by a road. It’s not unlike East Hampton, one side of the tracks to the other. There was a lot of alcoholism here because of cocktail parties. This is a yachting community. This involves a lot of drinking. I still don’t know what went on behind closed doors, but a lot of it wasn’t very nice.

Zibby: Interesting.

Paige: And sad. Kids didn’t go to psychiatrists. There wasn’t much divorce. I was the product of a divorce. My parents were divorced when I was eighteen months old, very, very early on in my life. Most of the people I knew in this community were married and settled. Nobody took vacations because nobody had any money. We just played outside. We were together. Those years were complicated. I bet all over the world people could talk about the sixties and seventies being a hard time for kids in some respects.

Zibby: It seems like the trade-offs — your childhood sounded just so perfect. Obviously, nothing is perfect. Maybe the secrets in your house do not want to come out either. Maybe you’re keeping those locked inside.

Paige: I certainly didn’t write about what happened inside the house. That’s another book.

Zibby: I want to read that book.

Paige: Outside the house, I think I was absolutely — I look back on my childhood with such delight. I was so lucky. I just was so fortunate. Also, I was open to it and took advantage of it and didn’t fight any of it. We were big tennis players. My mother was a professional tennis player. She is ninety-four and in the other room. We were on the courts all the time playing. There was amazing structure in that, being an athlete. Then the freedom that we had was just amazing. I don’t see kids here having that freedom at all.

Zibby: Even there? Now I’m feeling all guilty that I have kids in New York City. What is it like for the kids growing up there now?

Paige: I have to tell you, Zibby, I loved raising my kids in New York City. They just had a completely different, wonderful experience. There are nannies holding their hands. There are hovering mothers. You don’t see kids off on their own at all. It’s just different everywhere. This idyllic time that we had I think was a capsule in time. It doesn’t exist anymore. It’ll never go back. First of all, the population exploded. We still had lots of empty lots on the island where we did box sliding and made forts and kept all our sleeping bags up there and put them under branches. That can’t happen now. We’re overpopulated. There’s still a sweetness to this small town, but it’s different. It’s definitely different.

Zibby: Do you think that yields different kids and different grown-ups? What do you think the impact of that is on a societal level when you have a whole generation of people who grew up with all this independence? Now obviously we have these kids who we have to buckle up six ways and sideways just to get around the block in the car seats and everything. What do you think? What type of society does that lead to?

Paige: It’s a really good question, Zibby. I’m glad I’m not raising kids. I’m sorry. I just think it’s so hard. It’s so hard now. I don’t know. What do you think?

Zibby: I just think that it dovetails with the increased anxiety everybody has. Kids feel that we’re so weary of everything that goes on around them. I think that it creates a population of kids who are not as inherently brave and bold to go forth. They’re always looking behind them. Maybe that has some benefits as well. We like to believe in the sense of control and everything. I don’t know. I look at you. I remember when I used to babysit. You were always painting these amazing things. You were just so cool. Not that you aren’t anymore, but I just thought you were the most amazing woman, and so creative. Now you’ve written your book about Blackie. You’ve already written a children’s book and now this beautiful book. You beat to your drummer much more so than most people that I grew up with knowing.

Paige: Thank you. You know something, Zibby? I didn’t have any information when I was a kid. There was no information.

Zibby: Did you go to school?

Paige: Yeah, I most definitely went to school.

Zibby: Okay, good. All right.

Paige: We’re stating the obvious. There were no computers. There were no phones. I mean that kind of information. Our lives were so simple and small. Parents didn’t talk to kids. In those days, it was completely — I remember being told once — I was horrified by it. Not by my mother, but I was told, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” We didn’t have the kind of information that our kids have now. I think that creates more anxiety for children. I wasn’t anxious at all when I was a kid.

Zibby: Are you close to your mother now? What’s your relationship like?

Paige: I have a wonderful relationship with her. She’s at the end of her life, ninety-four. She’s still full of pep. She was a two-term mayor here in Belvedere, so she’s very political. My mother was a working person. She didn’t have that much time to fool around with us. She played sports with us. She was a wonderful mother. When I look at how interactive the parents are with the kids, I just think, oh, my gosh, give them some space. I don’t think children need to have as much information as they’re getting. One of things I did is that I just had endless hours of daydreaming. I liked to paint when I was a little girl. I didn’t have a scheduled time. Even after school, there was freedom to do nothing. Out of that nothingness came, for me, creativity. I started painting when I was very young. I didn’t think anything was impossible. Then when I started reading, I thought, I want to be Gertrude Stein. I don’t want Alice B. Toklas, but I want Gertrude Stein’s life. I want to be surrounded with writers and painters and creative people. I was very attracted to that kind of world. That’s where my creative brain was. I was always painting and writing, not necessarily reading. I was an action person. I was raised in Belvedere-Tiburon with Anne Lamott who was a childhood friend. Annie always had a book in her hand. I never did. I was finding things and making things. I was much more into being more creative.

Zibby: I saw her quote at the end. I read your book online in the PDF that you sent me, so I’m hoping that the final copy has this on the cover or something.

Paige: Yes, it does.

Zibby: All right, great. It says, “I love this new book by Paige Peterson and the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmark Society. Always amazing and meticulous in its discovery and preservation of historical photographs, the Landmark Society has found the perfect narrator for this new collection. Paige is both precise and charming in capturing the wild and natural beauty of our shared childhoods and habitats in Belvedere and Tiburon in the fifties and sixties. She extols the days of getting on our bikes after breakfast and not coming home until dinner, covered in blackberry juice and dirt, scratches and bliss. This combined effort brought me nostalgia and cheer. Anne Lamott.”

Paige: Aw, Annie. I was very touched by that. We had the same childhood. She was a great tennis player. We all played tennis all the time together. She was so much smarter than I was. She always had a book in her hand. When you started this blog, I used to think about Annie. Also, Zibby, you were always reading. I remember you as a teenager always reading. As a little girl, you always brought a book with you. This is innately within you. I was not a reader. I was a painter. The other thing I used to do is that I used to make forts. Then I would make houses and play houses. I was much more out there creating things than I was reading. I am trying to catch up with that now. I read more now. Annie was great. You were reading all the time. I was trying to think about something. On your twelfth birthday, I gave you a book by — he was a Lebanese poet.

Zibby: Kahlil Gibran?

Paige: Yes.

Zibby: Yes, I loved that book, The Prophet. I ended up quoting from it in my bat mitzvah speech the next year. In fact, if you gave me enough time, I would get up and start looking for it because I know that I still have it. I’m going to go search. If it’s not in this room, it might still be at my mom’s. I will find it. I loved that. I loved it.

Paige: In thinking about you and loving you, I remember thinking, what can I do for Zibby? I thought, oh, god, she loves to read. This is sort of out of the wheelhouse. It was just something different that I had been impacted with. It’s wonderful.

Zibby: There you go. It’s the power of a book. That book has stayed with me ever since. That’s the best gift you could’ve given me. Plus, you gave me a painting of yours. I had it hanging in my room for years. Those are the gifts that have true meaning. Imagine if you had given me an LOL doll or whatever kids are getting now. Thank you. This conversation has made me feel better too because I’ve been doing a lot more work lately. I’m on my computer more. I’m around the kids. I usually have my laptop upstairs. The kids just play. They play. They draw. They just do whatever. I’m not on the floor with them anymore. That’s in part because they’re older. I’m talking about my little guys, not my teenagers. I put them to bed last night. I was thinking to myself, oh, god, I worked so much today. I was next to them all day. They would jump on my lap. I’d kiss them. They’d run. Then they’d go do their own thing again. I was like, I didn’t really spend that much time on the floor with them, except for the three hours in the morning when they got up at the crack of dawn. We were baking together and whatever. Once the workday started, I was focused. I felt so guilty when I went to kiss them at night. I was like, ugh, I was such a bad mom today.

Paige: You were a great mom today. To just be present and let them be, I think that’s the best. That’s what my mother was like too because she worked. She had a retail store. She also was in politics. She was available, but she wasn’t on us. I think that’s a gift. What you did today was great. It lets them figure it out themselves. I see these parents and I want to say, leave that kid alone. Let them figure it out.

Zibby: My mom would always say to me, “Zibby, benign neglect.” I was on top of my twins when they were little, literally just like a hawk watching them as they scampered every single second. She’s like, “It’s okay.” Then I watch home movies where my mother is lying on a lounge chair by the pool smoking with her long, red fingernails smoking Vantage Lights with a little plastic eye protector so she didn’t get a tan around her eyes. You see my brother and me almost falling in the pool. Then fortunately a babysitter might sweep in and save us or something. Now she’s like, “I don’t understand what you’re doing, the way you parent.”

Paige: That’s really funny. That’s really good.

Zibby: Different times. Different times.

Paige: Different times. I’m glad you’re giving your kids space to just be themselves. One of the things that I did with my kids, I painted with my kids a lot. I was always doing their homework. They were Trinity kids. God only knows, we were always doing homework. We worked side by side, not necessarily integrated, but side by side. Good for you. I applaud you.

Zibby: Thank you. Paige, this has been so nice, just so meaningful, and so warm and loving. I’m just so happy we got to do this. I’m so proud of for your latest book. It’s great. Enjoying this Blackie on my shelf. Congratulations on the book.

Paige: Thank you so much, honey. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Of course. My pleasure. Enjoy now that I know where you are. I’m jealous. Bye, Paige.

Paige: Love you, honey.

Zibby: Love you.