I got a call from a local newspaper today. A reporter who's interviewing Heather Armstrong (Dooce) wanted to talk to me as an accompaniment to her article on Heather. How the email got to me I don't know, but whatever the karmic path it did, and I responded. We spoke for a while on the phone, and as usual when I talk to a reporter I flubbed my way through the interview. I'm not a good speaker. I write much better than I speak, but of course it's easier for a reporter to get the scoop immediately via phone than going back and forth by email. I don't even recall what I said, and it was only a couple hours ago. I think I've blocked it out to save my ego.
Anyway, Heather writes one of the best "mommy blogs" out there, and she's currently on a book tour promoting her memoir about her stay in a mental hospital for severe post-partum depression after the birth of her first child. She's written a lot about that, and how she got through it, eventually stabilizing and coming to love her life and her daughter.
Though she doesn't write exclusively about her daughter – and the baby on the way – an awful lot of her material comes from her 4-year old, Leta. Leta's funny, quirky and cute as a button. She's also had some behavioral challenges, sort of like phobias or maybe OCD issues more than "bad" behavior. So it hasn't been hard for Heather to find enough to write about her.
In addition to her wonderful writing about life as a wife, mother and writer, Heather's also a kick @$$ photographer. She's been an all-around inspiration to me and what I write. Her honesty about her problems has helped me find a way to be brave enough to talk about some of mine. No wonder she has one of the absolute best blogs out there. Her honesty and forthright writing does so much for so many. It gives a lot of people courage, and shows them they aren't alone.
Mommy blogs like this are huge. People like reading them, I presume either because kids are so darn cute, or because they have little ones of their own and like hearing other peoples' experiences. Or both. Several times I've gone searching for other bloggers like me, those with older kids whose blogs don't necessarily focus so much on them, but mention them from time to time. But they're all but non-existent, at least as far as I can find.
Though I wish I'd have found blogging when my children were small (were they even out there in the 90s?), I didn't. Otherwise I'd have written the same sort of things Heather does – posts about preschool, potty training, milestones, etc. Getting the stress off my chest would have been such a relief. And now that Heather's having another baby in June it'll start all over again for her. No doubt this baby will be as photographed, and written about, as her big sister. And, again, all from the very beginning.
But what about those of us who've already been through that stage? Blogs talking about children the ages of mine – 11, 13 and 15 – are few and far between. It's not like they aren't interesting, just because they're older. They're into very different things, but their lives are no less entertaining or important just because they don't say cute or goofy things as often. They say funny things, but very little on the cute scale you find in pre-schoolers. It's a natural by-product of older kids.
I mention my kids sometimes, but unlike Heather I don't photograph them or give out their names. Maybe I'm being uber-cautious. I don't know. But there's something kind of creepy about the idea of posting photos of my children online, save of course baby photos, since that stage is so far behind them no one could recognize them from those. But blogs like Heather's have little ones splashed all over the place. And that's fine. It's a decision she and her husband made. Leta's life is very public, though her mother assures her audience she keeps some details to herself. What those could be I don't know, since what she does tell seems pretty revealing. But I believe she doesn't reveal all if she says so.
I guess I'm a little bitter blogs about teens, and parents who aren't as young as Heather, don't seem as big or important as those about little kids. I wouldn't say my blog's about my kids, but I think I'd write more about them if I thought there was more interest in teens. Or, maybe I should just go ahead and write more about them, instead of mentioning them only occasionally. Maybe that would help boost interest about older children instead of blogs just about kids still in diapers. After all, it's not like I'm the only mother of older children, and that they aren't worth writing about. They each have very distinctive personalities, everything from my semi-outgoing daughter and her crush on the Jonas Brothers, to my middle child who's caught in between and predictably suffers for it, to my youngest who's impish, to say the least.
The challenges parents of teens face are no less frustrating, and occasionally rewarding, than those of the parents of little ones. They're a whole other breed, as far as I'm concerned, and frankly I wouldn't want to ever go back to having them small again. I've been through that, and I thought it would kill me. I thought they were adorable. Sometimes. Like Heather I had post-partum depression with my oldest, but unlike Heather I didn't wind up institutionalized. I was depressed as all hell, and should have gotten help, but I didn't. I can identify with what she felt. I've seen all the stages she's seeing. It's just been a while.
Having three kids born two years apart made me so tired, so often despairing. Things like going through potty training were hell on earth. My children likewise had their OCD moments, like the time my daughter refused to swallow food because she'd developed an irrational fear of choking. So she'd store food in her cheeks until it just dissolved. My middle child had intense separation anxiety, and for two years of pre-school we had battles getting him into the car, knowing playing with other children his age was exactly what he needed. And my youngest? He's been working to correct a speech impediment since kindergarten, and is so painfully shy – partly because of that - I worry like crazy about how he'll be treated next year in middle school.
And I've been through the screaming instances in grocery stores, when they'd buck in their baby seats and yell 'til their faces were beet red. I've gotten those looks from other people, those who question why I left the house with such a crabby baby. They either never had kids or have forgotten what little demons they can be. And was I going to apologize for needing to get out now and then, having to buy groceries? Hell no!
Pretty soon my stories will be about my daughter starting to drive. Then boyfriends (oy vey!), graduating from high school and moving onto college, all rites of passage children go through. Then will follow my middle child, and my youngest. And I'll no doubt go through a crisis or three before it's all said and done, once the nest gets more and more empty. Me and every other parent, who'll get to that stage eventually. Before they know it, actually.
The sorts of stories I have now are about bullies at school, my children playing in the orchestra, goofy things they sometimes still say, fighting like cats and dogs, and the occasional story from times like last night. My middle son was sick, and watching TV in our bedroom. I opened the door to check on him and all three kids were in there, keeping him company and eating Jelly Bellies. It's the kind of sweet story you have with older kids, though not as funny as the quirky things toddlers say and do.
I don't have to follow them around anymore. I have to worry about them getting into trouble, but they can feed themselves, dress themselves, bathe themselves, etc. It's not the same as with older children, but I think it's no less interesting – just not as cute.
Now I'm beginning to see the sort of adults they'll be. How the way we've raised them will have an impact on all they do, and that's including the mistakes we've made. If I had to do it all over again there's so much I'd change. Who wouldn't, given that chance? I'd have gotten help for depression earlier, cut my parents out of my life before my children knew them. I wouldn't have stood for the passive-aggression in my marriage. We'd have gotten help so much sooner. I'd have worked toward a career sooner, maybe started graduate school earlier. Who knows?
There are always things you'd change. And even if I'd have another run through there'd likely still be things I'd change, given a third time through. Life's just like that. You don't see how things truly are until you've passed into another stage. We all make mistakes, we all have things we regret – things we'd do differently had we only known.
I've learned it's destructive dwelling on the past. I still do it sometimes, but I know it causes a frustration that can feel insurmountable. Even knowing what's right or best doesn't mean you'll do it. It just means you're wiser, and you know what you should do though you don't always choose to.
I wish I'd have had a mommy blog from the beginning of my children's lives. Or at least I think I do. Maybe if I had I'd never have branched out to book reviewing. Maybe I wouldn't have met the people I have, wouldn't have had some of the cool experiences. There goes that thinking about the past again, forgetting there's no changing what's been, and no knowing how differently life would have lead you had you followed a different path.
Be that as it may, blogs that focus partly on the mommy role can be like a walk down memory lane for those of us with older kids, but no woman should define herself solely by her role as a mother. We're all more complicated than that. If we weren't things would be awfully boring. Those of us with older kids bring experience to the table, as well as empathy for everything young mothers are going through. But we're more than that, more than the sum of our parts. Maybe that's why some of us love reading blogs so much, love writing them. Seeing what you think can be enlightening. Sometimes it's a big surprise, sometimes not so much. But what it never fails to do is show us how complex we are, how complex life is. And that no matter where we are in life we're never, ever alone.