I I I I I I I  

MOM AND POP
CULTURE: 

Let Me Entertain You
by Marrit Ingman

Before my friend Tracey was profiled on Mommybloggers.com, she was a little wary, so several of us discussed it—where else?—on her blog. We know that Mommybloggers.com “are smashing the myth that moms who blog are nothing but fluff writers.” We know the name of the site is tongue-in-cheek, poking a hole in the vilification of “mommybloggers” in the New York Times and elsewhere. When a woman who is a mother sits down to write about her world and is read by the public to any extent, the Legitimate Journalists are quick to smack her down because each keystroke disproves the conventional wisdom of lifestyle editors, major publishers, and the rest of the firmament: Mothers are boring and should never write unless they are celebrities (Brooke Shields, Jenny McCarthy), parents of celebrities (Linda Armstrong Kelly, with whom I shared a panel at the Texas Book Festival, and who stated quite clearly during the Q&A that she is not a professional author but a retired Ericsson executive with a “collaborator”), or otherwise spectacularly accomplished people who have something other than motherhood to write about.

In other words, mothers are permitted to write in flowery keepsake journals from Barnes & Noble, but you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re worth reading. About this time last year, David Hochman wrote for the Times a lifestyle feature in which several respondents expressed naive surprise that anyone would write—or read—about parents’ lives: pinworms, stomach flu, school choice, discipline struggles, depression, and the complex interplay between our public and domestic selves. Isn’t that narcissistic? Aren’t these “mommybloggers” just sucking up bandwidth with their “cute” reminiscences and virtual brag books? Who cares how many diapers you’ve changed in the past year? Who cares if you just introduced sweet potatoes to your infant and she spit them into your hair? You do not possess the literary or journalistic gravitas to merit a readership beyond your mother-in-law and her quilting circle.

Perhaps, as the article did point out (with the help of Heather B. Armstrong of Dooce.com), these blogs do provide a survival mechanism for at-home parents who are struggling with isolation or adjustment problems. So if it’s going to keep you from tossing your children off a bridge, we will tolerate your presence in the blogosphere, where your narcissism and irrelevance will exist in digital perpetuity alongside the more significant musings of young, single people who rediscovered Jets to Brazil or perfected their enchilada recipes and saw fit to inform the world.

Mothers who blog fair as poorly at popular portal Salon.com, where sometime contributor Ayelet Waldman, a mother of four who writes openly about her bipolar disorder, took a gargantuan drubbing from readers for violating her family’s privacy (Jane Smiley wrote in to defend her, fortunately). Last March, Meg Wolitzer (daughter of novelist Hilma Wolitzer) extended the argument to all mothers who write in a piece nominally about The Sex Doctors in the Basement by Molly Jong-Fast (daughter of Erica Jong, and also angry at her mom). Here, writing about your motherhood and your children is the apparent opposite of frivolous and self-serving: it is dangerous to your children and will cause them to resent you.

So, in other words, shut the fuck up.

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By the way, quite a number of ostensible feminists, for whom the personal might well be political, are also quick to dismiss blogs and zines about motherhood. In case you didn’t get that memo, check out Linda Hirshman’s response to Miriam Peskowitz on the LiteraryMama blog, in which Hirshman slams mothers who stay at home or work flexibly as betrayers of the feminist movement and reserves particular disdain for the mommyblogger: “I don't blog on about my roofer or my morning sickness or whatever qualifies as sincere feminism in the weird space the internet [sic] creates.” During her talk at the Mothering & Feminism Conference at York University’s Association for Research on Mothering, Meredith Michaels—co-author of The Mommy Myth--likewise expressed skepticism that mothering blogs, communities, and other electronic means of expression and coalition-building are useful for feminism. LiteraryMama’s Amy Hudock and I listened, agog, while, like so many staunch second-wavers, Michaels entirely dismissed independent media and self-publishing (which blogging is, most purely) as divisive and superfluous.

Back to my friend, Tracey, who is needless to say, hesitant about touching this tar-baby. So before her interview, she asked us, her readers, “Am I a mommyblogger?”

Most of us said no. A mommyblogger, some opined, writes only about feeding and changing and never touches the culture around us. Or else you rise above “mommyblogger” status if you write well, with good prose style, reflection, and insight. You can’t be a “mommyblogger” if you’re at all punk or indie or poor or ugly: “The term 'mommyblogger' conjures up images of well-fashioned women with smart haircuts brandishing iBooks and roaming down the streets with torches affixed to their strollers, sniffing out and ripping apart the uterus of any woman left in town,” one reader wrote (which is to say that “mommyblogger” is a lifestyle designation and not a literary one).

The problem here, I think, is that there is never a clear line between changing a baby and smashing the suburbs; they could be the thin and thick ends of the same wedge. There is never a clear line between being a post-punk indie princess or the Girl Who Found That Band First and being a hausfrau in sweatpants who is obsessed with her child’s seeming inability to break a tooth through. It’s all part of the enterprise of womanhood, and we are prisms who reflect different surfaces in every moment of the day. If caring for a child—especially a young child—is a part of your daily life, there will be moments in which you are a cool parent with Real Opinions, and there will be moments in which you are brought to your knees by crumbs of playdough and bedtime struggles, and since you must always be the adult around your at-times strange and unpredictable growing children, you will cry out for commiseration wherever you can get it.

I’m going to go ahead and say it: I’m a mommyblogger. I’m going to bore you with anecdotes about how the in-store music at HEB really sucked yesterday while I was picking up a king-sized pack of string cheese and dish soap. That’s the stuff that’s on my mind. Having to be fascinating and trenchant all the time in your personal musings is a kind of tyranny imposed on a writer. My to-do list does not include fighting the straw woman of Mommy (for the record, my child has called me Marrit since he acquired language). I’m going to embrace her and dance with her, and if I need to change partners later in the evening, I will. We should write about the experience of motherhood in whatever language comes from our hearts: exultation, crushing boredom, frustration, bemusement, righteous anger, fluff, or any combination thereof. Evidently it makes a lot of people furious. We must be doing something right.
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 About the Author:
 
Marrit Ingman
is a freelance writer, film critic, occasional educator, and constant mother. She is a frequent contributor to the Austin Chronicle, and her writing on popular culture has also appeared in Brain, Child, Fertile Ground, Alternet.org, Clamor, and Venus. Her first book, Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health out with the Diapers, describes her experience with postpartum depression and was published in 2005 by Seal Press.

 

 

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