“Scary Mommy” creator Jill Smokler dishes about the thing that REALLY ticks her off; what she WISHES had happened when she gave birth; and that time she had a RUN-IN with the FBI.
If you’ve found your way here, you’ve no doubt already figured out that this whole motherhood thing is not the ticket to the fair you thought it would be. Trust us. We know. We eventually figured out that motherhood was less carousel ride and more Tilt-A-Whirl … after downing a dozen or so chili dogs. But what you may not have realized (yet anyway) is that plenty of other moms have also discovered that motherhood looks decidedly different from this side of the baby shower. And that on the days when you’ve slept just 12 hours of the last 72 … and mopped up the third diaper blowout of the day … after the kiddo vomited down your back … well, those are the days when you just want to huddle in the closet with your pals Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.
But after you’ve hyperventilated into a paper sack … and handed the icky-sticky-stinky baby off to Dad (or the nanny) while you take a few precious secs for your blood pressure to stabilize, you can hightail it over to Scary Mommy, where you’ll find a place to vent your exhausted, confused, frustrated mom spleen in 225 characters or less.
Because that’s what Scary Mommy, er … Jill Smokler … is all about. The patron saint of imperfect motherhood, who “always felt like I was the only one who wasn’t doing everything right and wasn’t happily experiencing motherhood every step along the way,” not once … not twice … but with each of her three children, Jill has created a safe, funny, snarky, enlightening place for moms of all stripes to read and connect and vent and share the good, bad and the very, very ugly of being a mom.
We first interviewed Jill last month for our Mother’s Day Truth About Parenting column on Parenting.com. But there was so much more to our fun, fascinating conversation, we couldn’t resist sharing the rest of it here.
Norine: On Parenting.com, we talked a lot about how your enormously successful blog, Scary Mommy, came to be and how you started it as an online baby book for family and friends. And I know you love being a mom — though, like most of us, not always every minute of it. But I got the sense that pregnancy wasn’t exactly fun for you. I remember reading in your first book, Confessions of a Scary Mommy, that you were at work, unpacking a box of cookbooks, and the picture on the book cover — not even real food, a picture of food — made you vomit. I’m sure you’re not the only one who had such hellacious morning sickness, you wonder how anyone survives pregnancy to procreate the species. Tell us what happened.
Jill: I was the visual manager at Anthropologie — that’s the person who designs the look of the store, the windows, the displays, etc. I thought I might be pregnant when I was unpacking a box of cookbooks with a picture of scallops on the cover, and just the sight of it made me throw up. I loved scallops — though not anymore. Between the cookbooks and the food we had for the holidays (my first was born in early February, so I was pregnant during the Christmas season) and the store being right next to the mall’s food court, it was not an ideal working situation. I was so sick, it was awful. And it didn’t go away! My entire pregnancy, I was throwing up constantly. I used to take six of the store’s mini brown tote bags and use them as barf bags on my way home. I’d throw them all away in a trashcan near my house. And then I would keep extra bags in my car for the ride to work. It was horrible. The only thing that ever made me feel better was eating, so I was constantly shoving my face with food, then throwing up half of it. But since I was still eating such an insane amount of food, I gained 60 pounds. Ugh! God, I hated pregnancy. I hated it Every. Single. Time. It’s amazing to me that I have three kids, considering how much I hated being pregnant.
Norine: Does anyone’s morning sickness ever just occur in the morning? I was sick all day too. And, like you, the only thing that stopped the nausea was food, so I ate like a teamster all day long. Fortunately, the nausea stopped by week 14. I do, however, have the lamest birth story ever told. I mean, I was ready to go. I arrived at the hospital with a steamer trunk full of supplies to get me through labor and … nothing. I didn’t feel a single thing. I’m still not sure how that happened since they induced me. But I spun my wheels all night and I ended up with a C-section in the morning. It was kind of a let-down actually that I didn’t get the labor experience everyone else talks about.
Jill: With each of my three pregnancies, all I wanted was for my water to break in some dramatic fashion. I don’t know why. I sort of thought that would be fun! I kept putting myself in these situations to make it very easy to have this Epic Birth Story. My husband, Jeff and I went to this really nice restaurant on my delivery day, and I ordered the spiciest thing on the menu. I was really trying to set it up to happen. And nothing happened.
Norine: We live near Disney World, and we went to Epcot just before my delivery date. The OB had said, Any day now. So I was walking around Epcot, trying to shake the baby loose. All I ended up with were Braxton Hicks contractions every 30 minutes, all through dinner. Every time, my husband would say, Now?!? Are you having the baby, now?!?
Jill: It was just the beginning of our children not cooperating with what we have planned.
Norine: No kidding. Even in utero. I think that there is probably one of the reasons women just love to visit your site. We can go and vent about all the things that confuse us and piss us off on your Confessional and talk with other community members on your message boards. As women, we really need to share stories like that. Tell me how these areas of your blog came about.
Jill: After I started the blog in 2008, I realized that if I wanted it to become a website for all different kinds of moms, I needed to offer more than my super-limited perspective and experiences. So I started taking guest posts in 2010. Then I started the Confessional at the end of 2010, beginning of 2011. The message boards stemmed from the Confessional when I realized people didn’t want to just confess, they wanted to talk. For every I’m hiding in the bathroom, my baby is screaming and I can’t take this! confession, I’d have 50 messages following that were like Have you tried ____? OMG, I can relate! What about ______? So, I started the message boards as a place where readers could react to the confessions. And it’s grown from there.
It’s very therapeutic to just get something off your chest and know that it can’t be traced back to you and that you’re not going to be judged for it. And seeing the reaction of X many people who have Liked It or clicked the Me Too button can be very helpful when you feel like you’re the only person in the world who’s ever experienced something. With my site and the Internet in general, I’ve realized I’m so much less unique than I thought I was. We tend to think we’re the only ones who’ve done this or thought that, and there’s always someone who’s done the same thing. Or something 10 times worse. You’re much less alone than you ever think you are.
Norine: I was scrolling through the Confessional at one point and was struck by a woman who was really quite concerned that someone would guess that her baby didn’t belong to her husband. I mean that’s a serious secret to confess. At this point, is there anything that comes up on the Confessional that shocks you?
Jill: I take the confessions with a big grain of salt. I don’t know if that’s just my way to cope because the confessions can get so depressing and heavy, if I imagined every single story that went with every single confession, I think I would go crazy. So there’s some stuff where I’ve thought, who knows if this is a terrible confession … or just some 12-year-old boy playing around on his mother’s computer.
But about a year ago, we did have something on the message boards. My husband Jeff and I had gone out to dinner with his brother, who was visiting. I’d not planned on working. I’d had three glasses of wine. I was not sober in any way, shape or form. Then about 11 pm, I get a text from one of my community mangers: You need to look at this conversation on the boards right now! A woman said she’d just logged onto her computer and found this whole folder of kiddie porn with little, little girls that belonged to her husband. People were responding, and it was disturbing and obviously illegal … and all of a sudden I was completely sober. I was like Oh my god. What am I going to do about this?
My dad’s a lawyer and so I called him. We could track that the woman was in Canada. I called the police here, and they forwarded my call to the correct people in Canada to take over from that point. Meanwhile, as all of this was happening, Jeff and his brother had gone out to walk the dog, and they’d come back into the kitchen, all boisterous and happy. And I was like, I’M ON THE PHONE WITH THE F.B.I. … NO! REALLY! … NOW GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE KITCHEN!
But the worst was emailing the woman myself, and saying I’m terribly sorry you found this. I’m also terribly sorry that you will have to deal with the fallout from this because I had to report it to the authorities, and they will probably be contacting you soon. That was the ickiest thing that’s ever come from the community confessional. And she was a well-known member of the site. She wasn’t just some person who Googled, I want to confess something and found my site. She’d had a good 300 to 400 posts. Then she disappeared, and we haven’t heard from her since. But I couldn’t not do something.
Norine: Clearly. And you did the right thing. Speaking of doing right, how did your nonprofit foundation, Scary Mommy Nation, start? What’s the story there?
Jill: The nonprofit started in 2012, right around mid-November. I’d noticed this flurry of confessions on the Confessional from people saying they couldn’t afford Thanksgiving dinner, and they were going to have to cancel the holiday. I was in the midst of my own menu planning and not really stressing about the cost of turkey versus the cost of something else, and what I would have to sacrifice in order to have Thanksgiving. It just struck me that there were a bunch of people echoing the same sentiment. So I wrote a blog post saying, These are people in our community who you readers interact with on the boards or in the confessional or in the comments, and they’re struggling. If anyone has anything extra to give, we can help them out. I offered to buy turkey dinners for the first two people to step up and say they could use some help. And I said, If anyone else can do the same, maybe we can help connect the people. I thought it would be maybe a half dozen or a dozen people at most. It wasn’t. The first year, it was 550 families. And that first year, I matched people, by region, myself. It was overwhelming. I realized I needed a better system, and that if I was going to do this, it had to become more legitimate. So I made it an official 501(c)3 nonprofit. [Last Thanksgiving, Scary Mommy Nation provided Thanksgiving dinners to nearly 3,000 families.]
Norine: So, Jill, I gotta say, you don’t sound very “scary” at all … I mean, unless you’re a child pornographer, then look out. You’ve got the FBI on speed-dial, as well you should. But so, you’re super supportive of moms. You feed hungry people. You’re legendary in the blogging community for being kind and generous and very supportive of up-and-coming bloggers. You clearly use your powers for good. So please, tell me, where does the whole “Scary” Mommy moniker come from?
Jill: I know! I’m not scary. That’s very disappointing, isn’t it?
Norine: Just a nice surprise. So, is your blog name a reference to the moments when we might all become “scary mommies”? Those moments when we temporarily become unhinged and lose our grasp on reason and logic and start screaming like lunatics? That’s scary.
Jill: The name actually came from my middle son, who happened to be in a phase where he had just seen some Disney movie that terrified him and he went through a two-week period — at the same time I was looking to name the site — where he was afraid of everything, and everything had the word scary in front of it. He wouldn’t go to school because school was scary. His bed was scary. His brother was scary. He referred to me as Scary Mommy, and I thought it was funny. That’s where it came from. Now it’s evolved to be sort of an accepting mom, who doesn’t take things seriously, who realizes that motherhood isn’t perfect, all that stuff. But it started completely accidentally with him just using that phrase and me thinking it was funny.
Norine: You’ve written two books — Confessions of a Scary Mommy and Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies) — and you run your foundation, you speak at conferences. And of course, you run your blog and website. Do you post yourself anymore?
Jill: Nooooo. I rarely post these days. I miss it a lot. But I miss having kids I felt like I could post about. It was very different when I had a baby, toddler, preschooler, and everything was so funny and generic, and I just told funny little stories. But now even our funny stories have layers to them. The funny stories now are the sex talk we had, and I don’t feel comfortable sharing that, and I don’t want my daughter’s friends’ parents reading it. It’s just more complicated. I don’t feel like I have fodder I can write about, and that’s hard. I’ve often thought that for the sake of the site, I should just have another baby because that would make things so much easier. It would give me nine months of pregnancy to document and then a whole babyhood and toddlerhood.
Norine: Oh Jill! Confess! That’s why you had Number 3 isn’t it? You didn’t want to run out of material!
Jill: If I ever had a fourth that would be why. The third? No!
Norine: I often say that the reason writers have kids is so we’ll never run out of material.
Jill: It’s true. I feel like I have more to write about than ever. It’s just sort of off-limits now. There’s certainly an abundance of things I could write about, and they’d be excellent conversation starters and everyone could relate. But they’re not my stories to tell the way they were when the kids were little. Being a tween and teen is all hard enough without being documented online. We’re the first really generation of people to be doing this. There’s no evidence that kids who’ve grown up with mommy bloggers love it and they’re so happy their moms did this. I just didn’t want my kids to be the guinea pigs if we look back and say, That was a really bad idea. Let’s not do that.
Norine: Certainly there have always been writers who’ve written about their children in newspapers and magazines. One of my favorite essays ever is one by Dave Barry about the time his teenaged son lost his passport and all of his traveler’s checks on the plane from Miami to Germany and what he had to do by remote to get the kid into the country so he could backpack through Europe. I think his last line was something like, If war broke out, we’d all know why.
Jill: But there wasn’t the same level of cynicism and skepticism and nastiness that there is now. It was all sort of innocent and jolly.
Norine: True story. Though if you want to see some ridiculous fights, stick around my kitchen. How silly is this: (And by the way, it’s totally my fault. I take full responsibility.) My husband and I actually had a fight over how much jam he put on our son’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We fought about jam.
Jill: Jeff and I fight about the same thing. Is your husband the “over-jammer” or the “under-jammer?”
Norine: Ah ha! I’m NOT the only one who fights about this! I knew it! My husband is an over-jammer. A terrible, horrible, habitual over-jammer.
Jill: I’m the over-jammer in our family. Jeff puts such a thin coating of jam on, it’s not even flavoring the sandwich. I can’t understand the point. But Jeff actually does something far worse: He uses … the SAME KNIFE for the jelly AND the peanut butter. It kills me! I like toast with jelly for breakfast. And if there’s the faintest taste of peanut butter in it, it’s disgusting and it makes me angry. I even had a hidden jar of strawberry jelly in the back of the refrigerator that I NEVER use with the peanut butter because I want to keep it separate and mine. HE DISCOVERED IT! We’ve been married for 15 years and a couple for 20-plus. This is a very sore spot in our relationship. The argument that he’s “saving a utensil” is completely irrelevant since I’m the one who does the dishes. I’m washing anyway. Use another knife. Or I’ll buy plastic! I don’t care. Just. Don’t. Double. Dip!
Norine: I hear ya, sister. And you heard it here, folks. That is how to make a mommy really scary — double-dip the peanut butter knife in the jam. Take heed. After all, Jill’s got the FBI on speed dial.
Jill Smokler is the author of Confessions of a Scary Mommy and Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies) Follow her on the Scary Mommy website, Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about Scary Mommy Nation.