I am not a writer.
Sure, I wrote this book, but I am not an actual writer. At least, I don’t think of myself that way.
I’m a graphic designer by trade, and I took some time off from work when my kids were babies. I knew I’d eventually have to go back to a salary to help pay the bills, but I was going to milk living in yoga pants and not showering until dinnertime for as long as I possibly could. There was nothing about wearing heels and lipstick to an office that I missed, but the slothfulness did come with a cost. While I certainly didn’t miss the work, I missed having something—anything—to myself. Endless games of peekaboo and board books were not as fulfilling as I thought they would be; I felt like I was drowning in boredom and lame nursery rhymes. So, on a whim, I started a blog.
It seemed like as good a solution as any: I’d be able to keep a baby book of sorts for the kids—kind of a modern-day love letter—and it would give me something to focus on between laundry, diaper changes, and grocery shopping. Plus, it meant I wouldn’t have to send those annoying picture-filled e-mails to friends and family. What did I have to lose? Nothing, it turned out, but I had no idea just how very much I would gain.
I wrote about my struggles to get the “perfect” photo of my children and my frustrations with the terrible twos. I shared cute little pictures and art projects and stories, but I never dreamed that anyone not closely connected to me would ever read them. But a few weeks in, something amazing happened: I got a comment from someone other than my mother or my best friend. Someone, from thousands of miles away, who had somehow found and related to me. I clicked on her name and found that she had a blog of her own, where she, too, shared her views on motherhood and parenting. They were different from mine but fascinating to read about. From there, I clicked around and found that there were hundreds, thousands of moms writing about their lives and views. It was a whole wide world I’d accidentally fallen into. And I was hooked.
As my site grew, so did the sense of community. Where I once felt alone in my feelings of exhaustion and imperfection, I suddenly had other moms from all around the world understanding and relating to me. Likewise, the honest thoughts about motherhood that had existed only in my head started creeping up on the blog. I began to consider my posts as facilitators for the larger discussion that took place in the comments. People added their own experiences and stories, and I laughed and cried and learned from them. We all have stories to tell, and I loved that people were using my space to open up with their own.
A few years after starting my site, I added an anonymous confessional, sensing that there was so much more my readers might say if they could do so without leaving a username or picture. The reaction was amazing. Some confessions were sad, some were pee-in-your-pants funny, and some were brutally honest, but they were real. You’ll see confessions at the start of each chapter and that’s where they’re from. Real moms leaving real thoughts, without fearing judgment or negative reactions. I’m sure you’ll be able to find reflections of yourself in at least a few of them. We’re really not all that different from one another.
It’s my hope that this book will act in much the same way my blog does. While you may not be able to comment on posts the way you would online, the book may inspire you to connect with people—to talk about some of the funny stuff and the hard stuff—in ways you might not have before. Open up with your friends about how hard it is to raise a girl. Admit to your neighbor how much you despise the pool. Use this book as a lifeline when you find yourself drowning in mommyhood.
To my Scary Mommy community members: Thank you. Thank you for showing me a side of me I never knew existed and for making a dream I never knew I had come true.
BEING A SCARY MOMMY
• I confess that most days, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. Everyone thinks I have it all together—good wife, good mom, successful career—but I really don’t. I’m ready to stop pretending to be perfect now.
• I tried for seven years to get pregnant and now that I’m a mother, I wonder whether it was all worth it.
• If I have to watch Barney one more time, I may have to stick a fork in my eye. Actually, then I’d get some attention. Maybe not such a bad idea.
• I sometimes try to get sick, just so I have an excuse to go to sleep at 6:00 p.m.
• I joined a gym just for the free day care. I drop the kids off and read magazines and blogs in the locker room.
• I pretend to be happy being a stay-at-home mom but sometimes I feel like I’m slowly dying. I cry every night in the shower. This isn’t what I thought it would be.
• I kiss my young teenager good-bye in the morning as she leaves for school, rising above the hormone-fueled snarling and histrionics. Then I close the front door and flip her off, with both hands.
• I miss the career I gave up more than I miss my son when I go to the grocery store. But I always get to go back to him.
• Hidden in the pantry in a box labeled “flour” is top-of-the-line chocolate and a few joints. I rarely resort to it, but it’s a comfort knowing it’s there.
There are a million ironies in motherhood: The day you decide to change the sheets will inevitably be the night your child wets the bed. With a million toys in the house, your baby will without a doubt prefer to play with pots and pans from the kitchen cabinet than with any expensive learning game, and your kids will always fall asleep early for the sitter who gets paid by the hour to entertain them. It’s unfair, uncool, and unjust, but, unfortunately, it’s the way it is. Perhaps, though, the biggest irony out there is that despite never actually being alone (can you remember the last time you peed in peace?), as a mother you can feel totally isolated.
A few years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom to three kids, ranging in age from a newborn to a four-year-old. I was living in a new house, in a new town, among unfamiliar neighbors. It was lonely and overwhelming and I was bordering on miserable. A fellow mom from down the street stopped by our house to introduce herself and ask how my days were going. Half joking, I responded, “The baby is a bit of an asshole, but he’ll grow out of it. We’ll survive.” The look on her face was enough to let me know not only that I had offended her, but that we would not be spending our afternoons commiserating together. She had three young kids, as well—was she not going slowly insane, too? Did she not long for an afternoon without kids wiping snot on her jeans and a baby spitting up constantly? Did she not lock herself in the bathroom, ignoring the whining on the other side of the door? Apparently not. Or she faked it a hell of a lot better than I was able to.
We like to paint motherhood as a picture-perfect experience, filled with idyllic children and beaming mothers. A perfect newborn peacefully resting on his mother’s chest. A toddler taking tentative first steps into the loving arms of his mother, who is smiling proudly and wiping tears of joy from her cheeks. A mother’s long, blond hair trailing in the wind as she holds hands with and runs alongside her beautiful, impeccably dressed children. A mother and daughter sipping tea and painting each other’s nails, telling each other their deepest secrets and dreams. A mother leading Girl Scout troops and chairing PTA events and fluffing her daughter’s prom dress before her nervous date knocks on the front door.
Those moments of motherhood are indeed miraculous and joyful; they can also be few and far between.
What if that baby never latches properly and breast-feeding becomes a nightmare that results in both baby and mother sobbing for hours on end? What if instead of happily reading together with her child for hours, the mother of a tough toddler wonders, just for an instant, whether there is something more to life than puzzles and ABCs? What if a mother, once her teenage child leaves the door, breathes a sigh of relief that the drama is temporarily on hold and drinks a glass of wine alone in the bathtub?
Do these things make motherhood any less perfect?
Of course not: they make motherhood real.
Motherhood isn’t a chain of wondrous little moments strung together in one perfectly orchestrated slide show. It’s dirty and scary and beautiful and hard and miraculous and exhausting and thankless and joyful and frustrating all at once. It’s everything. Anyone who claims that motherhood is only the good stuff is simply in denial (or she’s on some serious drugs). Admitting that this job isn’t always easy doesn’t make somebody a bad mother. At least, it shouldn’t.
We’re all on this ride together. We are not the first ones to ever accidentally tell our children to shut up, or wonder—just for a moment—what it would be like if we’d never had children. We aren’t the first mothers to feel overwhelmed and challenged and not entirely fulfilled by motherhood. And we certainly won’t be the last.
Nothing can be lost by admitting our weaknesses and imperfections to one another. In fact, quite the opposite is true. We will be better mothers, better wives, and better women if we are able to finally drop the act and get real. Who are we pretending for, anyway? It is my hope that no other mother feels as alone as I felt those first few months of motherhood. There are millions of us mothers, all feeling the same way, all across the globe. All we need to do is find one another.
Scary Mommies of the world, unite!
The Scary Mommy
Please solemnly recite the following before proceeding:
I shall maintain a sense of humor about all things motherhood, for without it, I recognize that I may end up institutionalized. Or, at the very least, completely miserable.
I shall not judge the mother in the grocery store who, upon entering, hits the candy aisle and doles out M&M’s to her screaming toddler. It is simply a survival mechanism.
I shall not compete with the mother who effortlessly bakes from scratch, purees her own baby food, or fashions breathtaking costumes from tissue paper. Motherhood is not a competition. The only ones who lose are the ones who race the fastest.
I shall shoot the parents of the screaming newborn on the airplane looks of compassion rather than resentment. I am fortunate to be able to ditch the kid upon landing. They, however, are not.
I shall never ask any woman whether she is, in fact, expecting. Ever.
I shall not question the mother who is wearing the same yoga pants, flip-flops, and T-shirt she wore to school pickup the day before. She has good reason.
I shall never claim to know everything about children other than my own (who still remain a mystery to me).
I shall hold the new babies belonging to friends and family, so they may shower and nap, which is all any new mother really wants.
I shall strive to pass down a healthy body image to my daughter. She deserves a mother who loves and respects herself; stretch marks, dimples, cellulite, and all.
I shall not preach the benefits of breast-feeding or circumcision or homeschooling or organic food or co-sleeping or crying it out to a fellow mother who has not asked my opinion. It’s none of my damn business.
I shall try my hardest to never say never, for I just may end up with a loud mouthed, bikini-clad, water gun–shooting toddler of my very own.
I shall remember that no mother is perfect and that my children will thrive because of, and sometimes even in spite of, me.
A01: Jill Smokler
Bio: Jill Smokler is a New York Times bestselling author and domestic satirist whose candor about marriage and parenting has made her an unlikely hero among a new generation of women. She holds a degree in graphic design and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and has three children. Married to her college sweetheart, she and her family live in downtown Baltimore.