As I was taking my 16-year-old son to school the other day, I heard the thud, thud, thud sound that only means one thing: a flat tire. We circled back and caught his Dad before he left for work in his car. After a call to the school (tardy slip averted) and a call to a tire place down the street, I grabbed a dog and drove the one minute down the street to drop the car off. I had already driven on the tire, so I figured it was shot. We wandered into the lobby and, as usual, I breathed in deeply. Odd, I know. But the mixed smell of automotive exhaust, motor oil, and stale coffee reminds me of childhood. My Dad was a car dealer and I spent a lot of time inhaling that scent, in between cleaning toilets on the weekend, washing cars when I had to pay off a $98.50 underage drinking citation, and working the reception desk during grad school when my sister made the executive decision that I was definitely not cut out to help her with the accounting.
The pup and I brought our outgoing mail and left on foot for the post office (another odd smell that I really enjoy) and made the loop through our little side of town as we walked home. It occurred to me that in early motherhood, a flat tire would have thrown my entire day off and stirred up anger and frustration that I was the one dealing with this kind of shit. At 51, the only emotion that it stirred inside me was the irony that it wasn’t a Monday morning. Better for the humor and story telling at the end of the day.
I’m many years and three states away from when and where I was a young mother. PA > NY > IL > MA. The kids are 16 and 21. One is in college exploring the world and one is getting ready to. I’m a long way from “Mothers in the Middle” and “Imperfect Mommy” and talking about the challenges of raising young children. I’m not sure my own mother has ever recovered from me publishing the story about one of my children having pinworms. But you know what? I should have Google Ad-Sensed that shit. When I finally shut down that blog (yay for misogynistic death threats!), it was the most popular post of all time. Because no one talked about when your kids get pinworms. To this day, it is the only time I called the pediatrician in the middle of the night. It really should be an appendix in “What to Expect When You Are Expecting,” because as many times as I’ve seen someone’s water break on TV, I’ve never seen the “very special episode” about the time Blossom got pinworms.
These are the times when I could really use a blog. I mean I guess I still have one because here I am writing on it, but you get my point. The last year has been one of the hardest in my life, but of course none of it is for public consumption because deeply personal writing ended soon after the kids could read. For bloggers, that signified the time that it wasn’t our story to tell anymore. It turned out that the family members had lots of opinions about what we talked about on the internet and we went back to our boring day jobs or soldiered on with full-time motherhood and bought a DSLR — a perfectly logical companion when you are attempting to hoist a toddler into a swing while holding a sippy cup, right? There were a few who were good enough to write books and create new projects from their writing. Heather, Liz, Mindy and others. But social media took over and the audiences splintered. And blogs began their slow morph into the influencer culture we see today.
I remember when my husband told me to check out Dooce and I had never seen anything like it. She was honest and irreverent and wrote about young motherhood in a way I had never seen. The only role model I had in that space was Erma Bombeck and her column in the newspaper. To think that *anyone* could write in the blogosphere was terrifyingly interesting to me. I always loved writing but never knew how necessary it was for my own mental health. Some people scream or act out when they are unhappy. I write.
And Heather Armstrong showed me that I could write. For an audience of 1 or 100 or 1000. I could write to make sense of my world. I could write to memorialize the cute things my kids did or the anxiety I faced on an almost daily basis. I could write for others who might wake up in the middle of the night with pinworms crawling out of a child’s butt and HAVE QUESTIONS.
I could write.
And the community that followed us dipping our toes in the blogosphere turned out to be the magic sauce. We supported each other and held each other up. Before this, there was no way to have a distant community of people cheering you on and helping you navigate early parenthood. If your local friends were “mean girl moms,” you knew that, somewhere, there were people like you. People who were hanging on by a thread and angry and fiercely in love and afraid and knee deep in maternal emotions. And by the way, we announced pregnancies with a cute little acrostic poem or some other silly post. Not with gender reveal fireworks explosions. KIDS THESE DAYS.
But of course, it ended. We splintered and scattered. Checking back in on some of my favorites revealed divorces and mental health problems and deaths and estranged children — all of the things that happen in real life. We find ourselves now in the gynecologist’s office for abnormal findings and not to see whether the baby is currently a grain of rice or a peach. We are slathering ourselves in serums, botox-curious, and figuring out how many more days we can postpone scheduling that colonoscopy. (That answer is four, by the way.)
And while I never really knew Heather well, she gave me the courage to write. We had friendly exchanges back in the day that made me laugh. I kept up with her on Twitter until Elon Musk went and ruined that. She was honest about her mental health struggles in the blog and her books — but I clearly know nothing about her real pain. When I saw someone post on Facebook that they couldn’t believe “Heather” was gone, I quickly checked her blog. And then Instagram. And it was *that* Heather. I don’t know why, in a world of millions of Heathers, I thought of her in that moment but I did.
Of course, her children are first on my mind. We never really knew them obviously, but it is a testament to her writing that we felt like we did. And my heart aches for them. And for everyone else who knew and loved her. It is an unimaginable loss. I hope they all know how many people she gave courage to — courage to write and speak their truths about how hard motherhood was and still is. Regular people with stories to tell. Moms who were labeled “mommy bloggers” rather than the correct term: FUCKING WRITERS. They wrote the stories that gave us sanity and community in a way that filming a reel about how we are all cleaning our kitchen sinks incorrectly does not.
And that is not to say that those expressing themselves by filming reels or influencing others’ purchases are doing it wrong. It is to say that NONE of it exists without Heather or the early blogging community who began writing with no grand financial plan or expectations of fame.
Just words dancing in their heads and, finally, a place to put them.
RIP Heather Armstrong. You put a dent in the universe.