We, the mothers of untold multitudes of children, in order to form a more tranquil household, establish firm bedtimes, ensure adequate nutrition and attempt to save a tiny shred of the sanity we had before giving birth, do here forth establish a “mommyfesto” for motherhood.
If you’ve ever wished that some parenting truths were, in fact, self-evident or desired the kind of iron-clad guarantees that peace would reign throughout your household, at least from the hours of 7 pm to 7 am, then you’ll want to dive into Mommyfesto: We Solemnly Swear ($%*!) Because We Have Kids: A Book About The Reality of Parenting.
The latest in funny business from Canadian author and Ironic Mom blogger Leanne Shirtliffe, Mommyfesto is a gift book collection of gentle witticisms and wry observations put out by Skyhorse Publishing. It’s Shirtliffe’s third book to be published in the last eighteen months, following her memoir Don’t Lick The Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say To My Kids (May 2013) and her children’s book, The Change Your Name Store (May 2014).
Science of Parenthood caught up with Leanne Shirtliffe by phone to find out how Mommyfesto came to be.
Norine Dworkin-McDaniel: You, my friend, are on a serious roll. A memoir, a kid’s book and a gift book. If I could wolf-whistle I would.
Leanne Shirtliffe: So yeah … third book. It’s fun.
Norine: You’re making the rest of us look like slackers! So, how’d this latest book come about?
Leanne: I have a writing partner; someone who started blogging around the same time I did. We Skype once a month to encourage each other and talk about writing ideas. So he was talking about a manifesto for something. And I said, I should write a “mommyfesto.” Then the conversation carried on about writing goals for the next month, etc. But then later I got an email from him that said, Mommyfesto is way too good to pass up. Pursue that.
I started drafting some things. Sometimes the discussion around Motherhood can be a little sanctimonious. And this was my way of poking some fun at something that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to be as good of a parent as we possibly can, but we also need to maintain our sanity. So I thought maybe this Mommyfesto would be a giveaway on my blog. But when I showed it to my own critique group, they said, You’ve got to show this to your agent. So it just started developing a life of its own.
Norine: Some of the “points” and/or wry observations of your Mommyfesto seem like they might have started off as snarky Facebook updates or tweets. Some of my favorites:
“Putting yourself in a timeout is a viable parenting strategy…So is mixing yourself a martini.”
“If you want to live on the edge, wear white and serve your kids spaghetti.”
“Parking yourself on a bench at the playground teaches your kids independence.”
“Eating your kids Halloween candy helps reduce childhood obesity.”
“To parent a difficult child, move closer to grandparents.”
“It’s important to celebrate the small things. Like bedtime. And screw-top wine.”
Did you raid your timelines or just sit down and pound these out?
Leanne: A little of both. I did mine my past Twitter and Facebook updates and tweak and twist them. But it’s amazing what happens when you just start being more conscious about what you say and even what you think about. Like, I’m pouring milk into my kids’ Cheerios, and one twin’s freaking out that I didn’t pour enough milk, and one’s freaking out because I poured too much. So, clearly getting the ratio of milk to Cheerios is a key point in parenting.
I tried out some things on Facebook and Twitter just to see the reactions because sometimes the things you think are really funny in your own head fall flat.
Norine: Yeah … we’ve had that happen with a couple of cartoons that we thought were really banging, and they went nowhere.
Leanne: And then the opposite happens. You think something is pretty mundane, and it takes off. I think humorists are really a neurotic bunch because we can’t trust ourselves too much; we just have to put it out there. And that’s what I was doing with a lot of these. Some of them are a little more serious, a little more “manifesto,” like Throw the parenting books in the garbage. But hopefully it’s mostly lighthearted, laugh out-loud.
Norine: Oh yes! This is definitely a gift for someone who wants to laugh.
Leanne: And there are blank pages at the end of the book. I just envision a bunch of moms sitting around with glasses of wine, passing the books around and writing in their own bizarre observations or cheeky comments or the parenting beliefs they’ve thrown out the window since actually having children.
Norine: Pretty much every preconceived notion I ever had about children went phewwwwww out the window as soon as I brought the baby home.
Leanne: Isn’t amazing how we can be “experts” on parenting before we have children. And then your “expertise” just slowly drains away like dirty bathtub water.
Norine: I suspect many people take a look at a fun gift book like this and think, Oh, she whipped that out in a weekend. Easy-peasy. Walk me through the actual process.
Leanne: It took longer than you’d think. There are close to two hundred sayings or maxims or whatever we want to call them. I remember I was at thirty-eight sayings when we signed the book contract, then I worked to get to fifty after that. I was like Whoa! We have a ways to go here.
It took work and research and editing and figuring out a structure that works. And there was quite a bit of editing after the layout process. It’s a fairly high design book. Placement was important. For comedic bang, some sayings needed to be placed closer to each other, so it was a bit more involved than I had anticipated. But it wasn’t the hundreds of hours that my Don’t Lick The Minivan was.
But the thing with Mommyfesto was that I’d read it so often, by the time we were in the editing stages, everything ceased to be funny to me. It became so predictable, it became a cliche in my own head. Then I’d ask my husband to step in to tell me whether something was funny or not. Because it wasn’t funny anymore in my own head. That’s the problem with editing humor and being too close to it. You lose a bit of perspective on whether what you’ve written is funny or not.
Norine: Absolutely. I’ve found I’ve needed to put things down and walk away, even for a couple of weeks, so that when I went back to it, I could have a more genuine reaction to what I’d written. Whether it made me laugh or made me cry. I’ve had both responses to my own writing.
Leanne: It’s pretty amazing when your own writing makes you laugh. That’s a pretty magical place. Or maybe it’s an egotistical place. It’s like Omigosh, that was actually funny!
Humorists, and probably comedians would say this too, we tend to be harsh critics of ourselves, and so when something actually does work, most of us are surprised. We almost expect it not to work.
Norine: That’s my thought as well. I’m usually surprised that something reads as well as it does after I’ve left it for a while. I’m like Wow, that actually did work. How ‘bout that?
Leanne: Absolutely. It’s nice to meet a kindred spirit. I haven’t actually really expressed these things before. You really tend to do the art … or the craft … writing’s more of a craft … so you do the craft, and then you get out of your head a little bit. It’s kind of neat to reflect on it.
Norine: Did you always want to be a humor writer? Or did you fall into writing humor?
Leanne: A little of both. I wanted to write. And when I started taking writing a bit more seriously after having kids, I tried to write everything: children’s stories, prose poetry, creative nonfiction, some travel writing because I’ve been around the world a couple of times.
But the voice I kept coming back to and that probably got the best response was humor. It’s my “default voice.” I’m not always the funniest person. I teach high school English and I think sometimes my students look at me and go, You’re a humor writer? No! Especially in class when I’m going, You need to do this! But I love finding that unique detail that you can kind of twist, like looking at that bowl of Cheerios and being goofily philosophical that this is what parenting comes down to, getting the ratio of milk to cereal correct.
Norine: Those are the things I like zeroing in on too; finding the funny in those tiny moments in everyday life. I grew up reading Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry. Who are your humor heroes?
Leanne: We had Erma Bombeck laying around the house. You know, If Life Is A Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? But my mom is very funny. I think it took me a while to realize that, but she is very witty. And so is her dad, my grandfather, who’s since passed. Wit is valued in my family. And I was also the youngest of three children by quite a bit. I grew up on a farm, and we all ate dinner together at a big circular table. And really the only way I got heard or felt praised by my older siblings, who were six and eight years older than me, was with quick wit. And they’d be like Oh good one! So I think I was encouraged, without them meaning to. It was Look what she did. I remember dressing up like Carol Burnett when my parents had friends over. There’s a picture of me in overalls with my hair tied back and a mop in my hand and a pail, like I was doing a Carol Burnett sketch. Clearly that was how I got attention as the youngest child, and I suppose I’m still clamoring for that at 43.
Norine: I love that humor comes down through the generations in your family — your grandfather, your mother, you. Maybe there’s a gene for wit.
Leanne: Maybe there’s a gene for it. Or maybe it’s learned. It’s hard to say. My husband’s really very witty and funny, and I can really start to see that with my own kids.
Norine: When you’re not parenting or writing books about parenting, you teach creative writing and English.
Leanne: I primarily teach English to grades 10 through 12. I really enjoy working with teens. It’s probably my favorite age. This will probably change when my own children become teenagers. Or maybe I just like parenting other people’s teenagers. It’s easier to deal with kids in ninety-minute segments.
Leanne Shirtliffe’s new book is Mommyfesto: We Solemnly Swear ($%*!) Because We Have Kids: A Book About The Reality of Parenting. Find it in bookstores and on Amazon. Follow Leanne on Facebook, Twitter and her blog Ironic Mom.