How Being A Mother Made Me A Better Writer

A year after my daughter was born, I was talking with my friend Anna about some new writing jobs.

“…but” I added, “they are all mom sites. They only like me for my uterus!”

It was a self indulgent whine to be sure. Look at all the places I’m writing! But they’re only for moms! Waaah! In my whine, was the fear that no one would ever take me seriously outside of writing about parenting.  I was afraid that this is all I would be, some words and a uterus.

“Maybe,” Anna said, “you are just getting better. Maybe being a mom is just making you better at writing…”

I hated her for saying that. Like expelling a human out of my vagina makes me somehow better at things?! Come on, Anna! But her words have hung over me these past three years. I know she is right. Motherhood has broken me. It’s rebuilt me. I cry more. I laugh more. I sleep less. I work harder. Sometimes, I tell people that just watching my children grow so rapidly, is a visual reminder of my own quick walk to the grave. It makes me waste less time.

But there is something else, too.

Before my daughter was born, I had been writing professionally for five years. In college, I set out to be a lawyer. But I started working for the newspaper as a columnist and I got addicted to writing. It’s not that there were all of these people pulling me aside saying, “You should write.” Actually, there were none.

Mostly people just screamed at me in the cafeteria or while I got coffee in the commons. Sometimes, I had things thrown at me. More than once, guys would come up to my table in the campus coffee shop and block my exit, telling me to tone down the way I talked about the Greek system or the campus Republicans or the Greens. It was a little scary and absolutely exhilarating.

For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a voice. People were listening to me. My words could make people laugh, make them yell and in at least one case that I knew of, make them cry. I come from a family of yellers. Thanksgiving dinner at my house is kind of like the real life version of the Huffington Post comments section. So, no, I wasn’t scared, I was amazed. Writing meant, I could be heard over the din. When you write and people read, there is silence. They have to focus. They have to think. And my words, they were thinking about them.

So, I decided to be a writer. Of course, god bless my liberal arts education,  I had no practical idea how to make that happen. And no one to ask. I knew no writers who weren’t also academics. And academia didn’t hold any sort of special appeal. Fortunately, Google was invented then, so I started there. Insert five years of freelancing, working as a proofreader, copyeditor, blogger, marketer, assistant editor for a taekwondo website and a social media manager for a love and sex website.  But in those five years, I never went anywhere much. I had gotten in, but I was floundering. I watched my husband grow in his job and gain responsibility and new challenges, but I felt stuck. I was writing and editing, but nothing beyond one or two sites. Every thing I pitched was getting rejected. All my essays were being turned down.

Then, my town was flooded, I lost my job, the recession happened and I couldn’t even get a job at a coffee shop so what the hell, I got an MFA. Nine months after that, I had a baby. And that’s when things started to change.

Maybe it was because I finally started learning how to pitch stories. Maybe it was because I had time working as an editor, so I knew a little bit more about what worked as an essay and what didn’t. Maybe it was that in my MFA program, I learned how to write a lot better. Or maybe it was the fact that after pushing something the size of a watermelon out of something the size of a lemon, not being able to sleep and crying almost every day for a year, something in me changed.

Here is not what I am saying: to be a good writer you must be a parent. That is ridiculous. I couldn’t sustain an argument like that. There are so many amazing writers who do not have children. Who seem to have learned all the things that being a parent has taught me through other ways. I envy those women. They probably saved a lot of money and don’t pee when they sneeze. My way is not prescriptive. But here is what I am saying: Something about being a parent has made me a better writer. I don’t know what it is.

A few months ago, on a school tour, I talked to another mother about my dilemma for my four year old: Did I put her in a school where I know she would thrive? Or hold off a year, and put her in the school that had better hours for my work.

“Sometimes,” the mother said, “we have to be parents first.”

me and JQ2

I don’t think she was trying to be rude. She was just speaking from the place where she was. But it is a false binary. Motherhood is all encompassing. It has shaped how I think, the size of my ass and even, weirdly, my earlobes. It complicated every boundary that I have always tried to keep between the personal and the professional. A few weeks ago, I had to interview a source, while I walked around the park. I tossed fruit snacks to my toddler so he’d leave me alone. My four year old wanted to change her shirt because she dribbled some water on it and started wailing and chasing me. I tried to remain calm as I jogged, making mental notes and holding up my index finger behind me. “One more minute,” I mouthed to my daughter. “One more minute.” I ended up tossing all the fruit snacks on the ground and hiding behind a tree. They ate the whole box, but I got my story.

Two years ago, I did a segment on HuffPost Live. It was in the evening, so Dave was home. But before I slipped into the office, I made sure the baby was fed and everyone was happy. The talk took longer than I anticipated and my son, who was only 8 weeks old at the time, started wailing.  The door to my office has windows, so I peeked over and saw Dave holding the baby, both staring miserably at me. I began to lactate. I slipped down in my chair as milk spots formed conspicuous circles on my shirt. I remained calm. Smiling and nodding.

“Oh yes, I agree, that’s a salient point…” I began when the moderator called on me to comment. All the while, the baby screamed and milk poured forth from my chest.

I have a million of those stories–forgetting to turn off the milk pump during a call in meeting. Hiding in the bathroom while my daughter screamed for more cookies and I calmly asked Sarah Vowell more questions about her writing.

Life and work. The boundaries are never clear to me. I sometimes envy my husband. He gets to go to work. He gets to come home. Rarely do his roles bleed into one another. But when we talk about it, he say he envies me all those little moments I tell him about our day–our son dancing in a diaper and a princess crown, our daughter teaching her brother to fight dragons, catching them sneaking treats from the fridge and just letting them, because they are working together. He envies those and all the moments I don’t tell him. The ones I don’t remember, because they are so common to my life–tears at the pool, sand in a shoe, a lost toy, a misplaced crayon.

Here it all mixes–my books for review reside among pop-up books about dinosaurs. My interview notes often bear stickers and careful pen marks that I am told are the words to a magical song, so magical my daughter cannot sing it because she is afraid I will die.

I send email at the park. I jot notes as we take walks in the stroller. One source laughed when I called her, because she recognized the “Super Why” theme song in the background.

Mother. Writer. I don’t believe in the binary any more. I believe in the dissonance of that place in the middle, where boundaries blur, where chocolate milk spills on my manuscript and my interview recordings have the shouts of “Dora the Explorer” in the background.

I sometimes dream of the time, when I will once again, just be able to be a Writer. When I can just Work. When I can finally have The Time. When Motherhood isn’t the constant narrative arc of my days. But then I think, why do I want that when my best work happens here, in the middle of all of this? In this scrum of phone calls and soggy bottoms. Feminist theory and goldfish crackers. I am neither mom first nor writer first. I just am.

And by the way, I picked the school that gave me more time. I am sure it won’t affect my daughter’s Harvard application.

Not everyone needs to be a parent to be a good writer. But some people, like me, have to learn a harder way. We have to take a longer route to settle in to that place where we can create. What being a mother has taught me about writing is that there is Art and there is Life and where those things are made is in the nebulous space between.

jq the artist

Why Blog?


The first thing I was warned about when I signed with an agent was not to let my blog go dead.

“Oh, I won’t,” I said.

Famous last words.

I suppose you could blame being in the throws of book revision. I suppose you could blame children. Or paid work, blame the paid work, especially.

Because I don’t get paid for this blog right here. I used to earn money with ads and some sponsored posts. But I quit that when I realized that it compromised what I wanted to say. I felt bad getting things in the mail and having to tell the PR people that I couldn’t review them because never in a million years would I buy my children $4/pouch yogurt, or $50 T-shirts for babies (who will crap on them!) because we aren’t freaking Beyonce over here. And neither are you and what the hell? How can I write a post that’s all, “My life is great now that my baby wears clothes worth more than my life!”?

One day, I got so frustrated, I just took the ads down. I  let PR people know that I was out of the game, unless they were Coke-a-Cola, or Cheetos (which will never happen, but not because I don’t consume enough of their products, amirite?), I’m done with WRITING A BLOG FOR PROFIT (and I have been for over a year now). And I like that.

There have been a lot of bloggers quitting this year. Big bloggers. Bloggers who made the genre. They are done. They blame the caustic comments and the heavy pressure of putting their lives on display. In the game of click-throughs its easy to lose. Because we all know the formula something racy+list+mom judgement=click gold. Better yet if you can make a passive-aggressively condescending letter out of it. “Dear bitchmom I hate but I’m going to pretend not to hate because I’m a bigger person” is my favorite genre of post. Right next to, “Dear woman I observed doing something normal but inspired me to live more freely and better than you.”

So many blogs and blog style sites I love have fallen victim to and gotten lost in these tropes. Or even lost themselves to a kind of self-parody. Like style aping style. It’s like how my imitation of my mom is more my mom than my actual mom. I’m trying to avoid that.

I have half a mind to start my own mom site, something that is more than “Good Family Meals That Cost A Million Dollars And Have Kale Because It’s On Trend!” And product round ups and baby name round ups with a dash of, “ENJOY EVERY MOMENT BECAUSE ONE DAY YOUR KIDS WILL LEAVE AND YOU’LL HAVE TO ACTUALLY LOOK AT YOUR HUSBAND OMG SAVE US!” Something that is funny and complicated that speaks to the experience of motherhood without being drowned in it. Something that allows women to be who they are as mothers but also the other manifestations of themselves–ghost hunters, witch lovers, historians and whiskey drinkers. But I don’t have the money. That’s really the only thing stopping me.

Plus Dave tells me the internet will end one day after China blows it up.

I have this idea that one day in the far future, I’ll be visited in the old folks home by my great-grandchildren and I’ll be all, “Did granny ever tell you what and internet is?” And they’ll put down their post-apocalyptic hatchets and bonnets and sit still while I tell them of that one time on the Huffington Post when I went viral.

They probably won’t care. And it won’t happen (because they won’t visit, I know them). Nothing is over. Life happens in cycles. It’s boom it’s bust. But people who love writing, who can’t stop writing will always write. Blogging is a genre now, no more, no less. It has its absurdities and its purities. I love it for what it is, a place for me to place things that I cannot place elsewhere. It’s the sum of thoughts and jokes and moments that I want to share.

Last year, I bought two journals to write down memories for my children. The things I won’t share here. Things that might be embarrassing or too intimate to reveal. Or at least, too intimate for me to make that decision to reveal. I’ve been filling them up. I love them. That too is a different genre and a different mindset.

I’ve always said as my children grow older and their stories grow separate from me that I will have to find new ways to talk about them and me, ways that walk a line of respect and love, but also honor the intricacies of our lies. I’m not sure how to find this place. So, I find myself in a time of listening, to my children, to other writers, to ideas and thoughts and voices. And I think of what I want to say here. What do you want to hear here. And I almost feel flummoxed by possibility.

But maybe I hit on it before. Maybe that’s just what I do, keep writing things here that honor motherhood and all the other iterations of self–ghost hunters, witch lovers, historians and whiskey drinkers.

One time, after something I wrote got a lot of attention, someone asked me why I wrote it on my blog. “Because,” I said, “it’s the place I say things that no one will pay me to say.” She was confused and I realized that she wanted me to say that I was inspired by something or another. But I wasn’t really. I had just been wanting to say it for a long time and I kept pitching the essay but no one bought it, so I pooped it out on this blog. Voila.

But I keep going back to that thing I said to her. This is the place I say the things I really want to.

I’ve tried to quit blogging before. Once when I was 20 and my blog had become a little too big for me to handle. I was getting creepy emails and comments that I couldn’t handle at the time, so I shut it down.

I started again a few years later, when I was unemployed and bored. I kept it anonymous because I thought that’s what truly serious people did–they hid themselves. But I gave up that ruse because it was unnecessary cloak and dagger. Say what you need to say, don’t hide it.

Then, I came here. I think I’ll stay here. Even if it takes fits and starts. Even if I pause now and again to do work that actually pays, because, again, I’m not Beyonce, I need the money.

But here, you aren’t money, you aren’t clicks, here we are all just people, eating Cheetos, talking about life in a place where no one pays us to say it.

This Is A Self-Indulgent Post Full of Links and Brags: Do Not Click

I really hate curtain lifting posts. They seem so meta and self-indulgent. Like you just come here for the stories, so who cares how many emails I get asking me to shill $50 onesies or $6/a pouch organic yogurts, right? Sometimes I write back, “That is expensive, babies poop on that!” Mostly I just delete them. This is why my blog will never make it

But of course, this is a curtain lifting post. Do you like how I did that?

A lot of you know I finished a memoir manuscript last summer. I worked on it in my stolen moments between nap times and pool times and 2-5am, because the baby was still waking up at 2am last summer. And now, this happened:


!!! HOORAY!!!

Don’t worry. I’m not turning this into a writing blog. I always give terrible advice anyway. Sometimes people email me asking for writing advice. (Note: this doesn’t happen often.) I think maybe sometimes people think I might have insider information. But I really don’t. So, I always write super long email responses with tips on querying and pitching and lots of “hang in there” “you got this!” cat poster kind of stuff. And I never hear back. I imagine that most people, upon receiving my advice, delete it and just decide that buying a motivational calendar would have been a better use of resources. And to that I say, probably.

Or just go buy Dear Sugar.

Anyway. As I understand it, the work has just begun.

So, now, so I feel like I’m giving you something. Here are some links and just because I just finished a brag. I’ll give you links to other people’s stuff.

And yeah, okay fine. Here is some of my own stuff too. One time someone told me that all my self-promotion made them feel more bold about their own self-promotion. So that was a thing that happened.

Cut! Cut! Cut!

As we were leaving a friend’s house the other night, JQ walked up to me and handled me a long metal pin. “Oh man!” He said and walked away.

It was the pin for the door hinge.

JQ is only 19 months old.

Send help. Send the National Guard. Dear Lord, save me. I am going to die.

This is of course in conjunction with all his other activities, like two months ago when he ripped a door off the cabinet. Or just a week ago, when he scooted a chair over to the counter, climbed on it, climbed onto the counter, grabbed a knife from the magnet strip, and started stabbing his snack cup yelling, “CUT! CUT! CUT!”

But on the bright side, he’s turning into a great talker. He knows how to say all the important words like, “Sweet roll,” “candy” and “time out.” He’s also recently started trying to potty train himself.

After potty training E, I decided I would never potty train another child again. They could wear diapers until someone made them ashamed in first grade, I don’t care. But E told her brother that if he peed on the potty he could get candy. So, he started running around yelling, “Poddy! Candy!” I completely ignored him for the first week.

Then, like a chump, I said, “Fine, you want candy, sit on the potty and pee.” Then, I put him down on the Elmo potty seat. He stared at me with a look that was more of a glare. It’s this look he get’s when he’s about to run away or stab a snack cup with a knife. A look that says, “Listen up, you are going to freak the hell out in about two seconds, so gird your loins!”

He looked at me and peed. Then, held out his hands and said, “CANDY!”

Ever since then, he will come up to me and say, “Poddy! Candy!” I put him on the potty and he pees. He did this 5x in one day once. More often it’s just once a day in the morning while we are trying to get out the door. I don’t think this is potty training. I think this is using urine as an act of aggression.

The other night, Dave and I lay in bed and he said, “That baby is going to be a handful. He’s too smart.”

I snorted. “Going to be?” Then, I laughed so hard I started to cry.


It has been quite on this blog because I have been working a lot on some different writing projects, which I hope will go live soon. I know I don’t always do the best job of keeping people informed of where I’ve been writing, so I made a page here to keep better track of my clips and also, I do my best to spam the hell out of people who are my Facebook fans. Sometimes I regret having that page, but one of those marketing people who follow me on twitter told me, IT’S ALL ABOUT BRAND! Right before I blocked them.

Some links:

I wrote about Sulfates and Triclosan for Jane Marie’s beauty site, The Milli, which is awesome, you should read it.

I also wrote about evil mothers for Jezebel.

And why I’m afraid of people calling CPS on me.

Also, advice for what you should do when your baby threatens you with a knife.


Don’t Be Fooled, This Is Not A Real Blog Post

You know when comic actors try out indie roles so people take them seriously? I feel like that is where I am right now. These past few weeks, I’ve been working on some very research heavy articles that I hope see the light of day (honestly, you can never be sure).

I’m really excited about the opportunities. But it’s also meant that I’ve spent every possible moment on work. Which means that E has taken to washing the windows with tissues as a fun game she likes to play called, “Mommy is neglecting the housekeeping and me.”

And I just changed a diaper from JQ that had an obscene amount of glitter in it, but I honestly don’t even care where it came from because he is happy and hasn’t tried to stab anyone in at least 20 minutes.

Also, we’ve all been sick and every night I soothe my guilty conscience with a serving of Nyquil and denial. “I’m fine. We can do this. My kids are okay.”

I also tried to do a week of no TV, because I hate myself. But that all went out the window on Thursday, when I had an interview for an article and everyone was sick. So, it was just like, please watch the “Octonauts” and don’t scream while mommy is a professional.

And then Dave came home and was like, “Have you heard about Yemen?” And I was like, “Have you heard about me not taking a shower in five days?!” And then, I became a stereotype.

I know. Whine. Whine. Whine. We all have kids (maybe, if not, you do you, no pressure). We all make choices, this is where our choices bring us. And that is right. It’s just that lately, my choices seem to bring me to the end of the night mainlining cake and Nyquil.

Also, Dave thinks “selfies” are pictures that other people take of you.  When he asked me if I wanted him to take a selfie on our date night, I was like, “Yes, I want to see you take a selfie.” Then he took a picture of me and I was all, “SON, DO YOU EVEN MILLENIAL!?” It’s clear Dave has been born in the wrong time. He also wants me to tell you to get off his lawn.

Also, my dear, dear neighbors are moving and I think I might be an emotional mess about this. BECAUSE IT’S ALL ABOUT ME.


So in lieu of any intelligent thing being said on this site, I give you links to other things I’ve written lately that you may like.


Here are a couple of my posts: 5 Things I Didn’t Expect About Having Two Kids–Like enjoying their mutual pain and tandem time outs. Ranting about maternity leave v. paternity leave

And I have a kind of semi-regular thing on Jezebel, which I’m acting all casual about, but really I’ve pooped myself maybe five times. So here is a second installment about the lady who gave birth to 365 babies at once.

Also, the inestimable Jane Marie launched a new beauty site called Millihelen. I may be writing a kind of sciencey feature for her over there. Unless it gets cut, then forget I said anything. But the site launches Monday, so look forward to that.

I did not write this. But it’s a great look at the childcare problem in the US, which is relevant to all people with children or not.

Women and body hair. So fascinating.

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