An internet timeline pinpoints the first Mommy Blog as appearing in the spring of 2002, when Melinda Roberts began posting on TheMommyBlog.com.
Well, I suppose if you consider the technical definition of Mommy Blogs as a “weblogs which feature commentary and discussions especially about home, family, and parenting,” this is about right. But if you consider a Mommy Blog to be a forum in which a writer reaches out in the media to talk about her life and her family in ways both funny and poignant, a window through which readers get a familiar glimpse of the life in another household and feel affirmed about their own lives – well, if this is a Mommy Blog, they’ve been around for quite a while. Indeed, it’s possible that my mother was one of the original Mommy Bloggers.
My mom, Margaret Miller, began her work as women’s editor of a suburban Detroit newspaper, the Farmington Observer, early in 1967. Her youngest daughter had begun kindergarten that year, and a colleague from her years at the Associated Press summoned her back to the newspaper business. A few months later, she was asked to start writing a regular column for the paper. As she told an interviewer much later in life, “All I saw of the women’s columns at that point was the social kind. And I wasn’t interested in doing that.” What she was interested in doing was using a few column inches each week to comment on her world – and a lot of her world at that point was the four girls growing up at 23734 Warner. And so M.M. Memos was born.
The first memo, published on August 23, 1967, mourned the loss of a beautiful tree in the middle of our front yard to Dutch Elm Disease. Mom noted that “the children of the neighborhood were desolate. It had been the ‘goal’ for so many hide-and-seek games,” and talked about the 47 rings counted on the trunk confirming the story that the tree had been planted as a memorial to Farmington’s First Methodist Church which had burned down on the lot in 1920. She also described plans for a new garden planted around the stump – a garden we were asked to help weed until my parents sold the house in the late 1970s.
Many memos followed – I have over 500 of them from scrapbooks mom saved, but it’s likely there were more. Though some consider larger concerns of American life at the time (bussing, the energy crisis) and some provide glimpses of work in the newspaper business, the vast majority chronicle a typical busy household in the 1960s and 1970s. Holiday celebrations, Girl Scout cookie drives, dinner table conversations, coping with rising and falling hemlines, pulling dandelions, summer camp. All of this and more was fodder for M.M. Memos. Our names were never used (I was, for example, “daughter number 3” or “Miss Jr. High” in various memos) but we did acquire some local status of the most minor kind. Here, for example, is a typical memo from the spring of 1968 (I’m “the medium-sized one” in this column).
For the umpteenth time recently, we watched “The Wizard of Oz” on television. As always, a small blonde head was buried in my lap during the scary scenes. Over the years, it’s been four different blonde heads buried there, but always I have to hold someone during “The Wizard.”
It isn’t just Judy Garland and company, either. I remember when the youngest was so frightened at a children’s theater production that she almost missed her sister’s performance as one of the witch’s cats. The young cast member was convinced the Cowardly Lion got his courage by scaring her.
Anyway, I wondered aloud why, with so much violence on television, that story is such a perennial hair-raiser.
“It’s because there’s a little girl,” explained the ones who are now big girls and beyond the terrors of “Oz.”
“And a witch,” added the small one, and ducked again as the being came into view.
“I haven’t had to hide my eyes once,” bragged the medium-sized one, but she looked a mite apprehensive.
The day is not far off, I suppose, when everyone will be able to watch “The Wizard of Oz” with complete composure. Come to think of it, I’m not looking forward to that day at all.
The most famous of these first wave Mommy Bloggers was Erma Bombeck. Erma was born in 1927 and worked for student and local Ohio newspapers when she was young but, like my mother, decided to stay home full-time when she and her husband started a family in the early 1950s. Again, like my mom, after her youngest started school, she resumed her newspaper career, writing a column for the Kettering-Oakwood Times in 1964.
Unlike my mom, though, Erma Bombeck rose to widespread prominence. The Dayton Journal Herald picked up the column in 1965, and after just three weeks the column – titled “At Wit’s End” – went into national syndication and her career blossomed to include books and speaking tours. The photo on the left shows my mother talking to Erma during one of her stops in suburban Detroit. Though Erma, sadly, died in 1996, for three decades she was the most well-known chronicler of the humor to be found in day-to-day American life. As biographer Lynn Hutner Colwell noted:
Leaky toilets, leaky toddlers, newly licensed teenagers, giving birth, getting even, slow husbands, slower cars, hair, teeth, fingers and toes, too fat, too thin, too anything at all, new-fangled gadgets or old-fashioned love. Whatever the situation, Erma Bombeck steers her readers through the difficult waters of life with nothing more substantial than laughter. But then, what else do we need?
So Mommy Blogging didn’t begin in 2002. Erma and Margaret were doing it 35 years earlier – just without all that fancy internet stuff. And others followed in newsprint. Some of these were well-known (Anna Quindlen with her “Life in the 30s” column or Joyce Maynard with “Domestic Affairs”) and there were undoubtedly others throughout the country at newspapers large and small. The tradition continues today through columnists such as Kathleen O’Brien at the New Jersey Star-Ledger and has been provided a thoroughly modern sensibility with the contributions of Chicago area stay-at-home dad Howard Ludwig in the Southtown Star.
These columns – and their blog cousins – provide a journalistic record of family life, then and now. That’s what we see in the archives, and this record is fascinating. But the columns and blogs mean so much more in the moment of contact, when a woman in the 1960s opened the newspaper or a parent today opens her web browser and connects with a kindred spirit over a cup of coffee. I’ll give the most eloquent Anna Quindlen the final word on this:
“I feel like I’m not alone,” some of those who wrote to me said, and that sentiment changed my life. That’s what’s so wonderful about reading, that books and poetry and essays make us feel as though we’re connected, as though the thoughts and feelings we believe are singular and sometimes nutty are shared by others, that we are all more alike than different. It’s the wonderful thing about writing, too. Sometimes I would think I was the only person alive concerned about some crazy cul-de-sac of human behavior. Then I would get the letters from readers and realize that that was not the case, that we were not alone, any of us.
Amen, Anna. Amen.
Lynn Hutner Colwell quote from Erma Bombeck: Writer and Humorist, Enslow Publishers, 1992.
Anna Quindlen quote from Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, Random House, 2012.