Just to show how un-blog-savvy I am, I had no idea who Heather B. Armstrong was until I read a news article (by chance) about how famous people were leaving social media. Armstrong was cited as an example. Apparently, she was fired from a job for talking unfavorably about her workplace on her blog – and then became a wildly successful “mommy blogger.”
Even having read this article, I had completely forgotten who Armstrong was by the time I picked up her book (maybe a week later?) because it was in a Dewey Decimal section I was working my way through (306.8743 – mostly memoirs or sociological treatments of motherhood). It wasn’t until I saw “creator of Dooce.com” under her name that I remembered the article I’d read.
So I entered this memoir of motherhood with few preconceptions.
First impressions: Heather Armstrong is NOT A MORMON. This is the defining feature of her life. Every page of this memoir screams out her insistence that she is NOT A MORMON any longer. Even if her family is all Mormon and she lives in Utah and she went to BYU. She is NOT A MORMON any longer. Lest anyone start thinking she’s a Mormon mommy blogger and uncool, she must remind them that she drinks alcohol (NOT A MORMON!), listens to cool bands at cigarette-smoke-filled bars (where all the other people in Salt Lake City who are NOT A MORMON! are), curses like a sailor (NOT A MORMON!), and doesn’t wear holy underwear (NOT A MORMON!)
Hearing Armstrong declare (implicitly and explicitly) that she is NOT A MORMON! was exhausting. I wanted her to tell me something about who she was that would make me like her. Does she have interests, beliefs, passions, personality traits of her own? I couldn’t tell. It seemed like she only stood against, never for. Yes, plenty a memoirist drinks, goes to live concerts in bars, curses, and dresses immodestly – and sometimes I still manage to like them. But in order for me to like an alcohol-obsessed, rock-concert-going, cussing, immodest memoirist, they have to tell me something real about themselves – about who they ARE, not just who they AREN’T. I wasn’t a fan.
And then there was Armstrong’s tendency towards hyperbole. She just positively eats up her baby – slathers her with butter and jam and eats her up. And motherhood is absolutely the most awful thing ever and she throws things at her husband when he walks in the door from work because he’s done something other than try to entertain a baby all day and how dare he get her pregnant in the first place. Motherhood is awful, awful, awful, she says (and then goes off on eating her baby again.)
The thing is, nothing she was describing about her own situation sounded that awful to me. Her baby smiled at her at one month. Her baby slept through the night (12 hours!) at three months. My baby didn’t smile at me until three months and still hasn’t slept twelve hours. Armstrong complained about naptimes and how they have to be just right and blah-blah-blah-blah. My baby gave up napping the same time she started sleeping eight hours (about 3 weeks ago). But you don’t see me whining and complaining that it sucks and then I cried. Yes, I probably complain more than I ought – but I also recognize that this is how life with a baby goes, so sometimes I stop my whining and just do what needs to be done.
So, imagine my surprise when I discovered somewhere around month six of Baby Armstrong’s life that Armstrong has actually been clinically depressed all this time and is now checking herself into a psychiatric hospital because she’s afraid her husband will leave her if she doesn’t get a grip on things!
What? She’s not just a whiner? Something is actually wrong with her? See, I assumed that all the awfulness of her really-not-very-awful experience caring for a new baby was hyperbole to balance out all that hyperbole about sweet-smelling baby whose smiles seem straight from heaven-that-I-don’t-believe-in and who I eat up every day with a side of caramel sauce.
Maybe that’s saying more about me than about her. But I think maybe it also says something about her writing. She couldn’t tell her story well enough that I could figure out that she was experiencing something more than just what every mother experiences?
So, yeah. I wasn’t a fan.
Rating: 1 star
Category: Memoir of motherhood
Synopsis: Armstrong is NOT A MORMON. Turns out, she’s not just a crazy hyperbolist who whines more than is necessary. She’s actually suffering from rather severe postpartum depression and anxiety. Bummer she couldn’t have somehow communicated that to the reader before she commits herself to a psychiatric hospital.
Recommendation: Nothing redeeming in this one. Skip it.