One late night in early August, Kate Baer ’07 received the email that every writer hopes for. This one was from an editor at the Huffington Post, asking for permission to share Baer’s recent blog post, “When You Are Tightly Wound.”
The attention from one of the most heavily trafficked blog curations on the web wasn’t totally unexpected. Baer’s July 9 post about the stresses of balancing career and parenthood had gone viral, with more than a million hits on her blog, www.kbaer.com.
But still, at a time when Baer says she was struggling, more than she usually does, to be patient with her professional goals and the fact that she wasn’t achieving them due to “trying to get a toddler to poop and an infant to sleep,” well…here, at last, was an email affirming that the former English major and aspiring memoirist was, indeed, moving forward.
“I sat and stared at the screen, trying to figure out how to write back in all capital letters, ‘OBVIOUSLY, YES, YOU ARE MAKING MY LIFE,’ without sounding desperate,” Baer remembered.
Then the mother of two, tired and tightly wound herself, didn’t fall asleep for several hours.
It’s exactly that feeling she describes in the post, an anti-paean to motherhood that begins, “It is the unwashed dishes. The dirty kitchen sink. The four baskets of clean laundry being scattered over the crumb flavored carpet by a drunk toddler…”
So stressed she cannot sleep or find the energy to think, let alone to write, Baer finds solace in the multitudes of other mothers facing the same challenges.
We shame ourselves into thinking we’re the only ones who are overwhelmed, who cry in the bathroom, who sit in the grocery store parking lot as a ‘vacation.’… I see you…We are in this together. You and me and the 42-year-old mother at the library who has finally had that baby after twelve years of trying but still feels tightly wound at the end of the day.
The post eventually garnered more than 216,000 likes and 15,000 shares on Facebook. The comments from her readers equaled hers in honesty. One mother wrote that she was sitting in her car in the driveway, reading Baer’s words and sobbing. Another asked, “Are you living in my house?” Many older mothers shared both joy at being parents, but guilt at wanting to be free from responsibility.
“I think parents want their feelings validated,” Baer said, reflecting about her post from her home in Pennsylvania which she shares with husband, J. Austin Baer ’06, son Waylon, 3, and daughter Eva, 8 months. “There’s a lot of glorification of ‘doing it all’ despite what everyone knows is the truth, that we can’t do it all. There is also a loss of community in many circles that has left a pretty deep void and it is always a relief to know we’re in this together.”
“In this together” are three important words for Baer, who first started blogging (and graciously answering every reader’s comments, until recently) in 2011 with a “mommy blog” called Motley Mama. Thirty weeks pregnant, she had just been let go from her job at a bankrupt non-profit.
“Motley Mama” provided the stay-at-home mom with a reason to practice her craft. When Baer felt like she’d outgrown its title and format, she created the current forum, where she writes about the highs and lows of parenting, from trimester tips (“How to Dress a Large Mammal,” “How to Eat Your Weight in Sandwiches”) to bonding with a second child, postpartum depression, potty training, and television for kids.
But she makes regular and humorous observations about life with a perpetual student (her husband is in his fourth year of medical school), books, writing, holidays, swearing, church and technology.
Baer says her recent success on Huffington Post briefly threw her off balance: she didn’t write for two weeks after the “Tightly Wound” post went viral, “paralyzed” by the pressure and fearful that her “tiny success” was a fluke.
Yet her first post back, about her experience with daughter Eva called “Letting Go of Breastfeeding,” was picked up by Huff Post Parents. She is now a contributing writer.
With her readership now blossoming to 30,000 hits a day, Baer is realistic about her sudden notoriety. She still hasn’t made a penny from her three-year-journey into the blogosphere, though she’s now selling ad space on her website.
“If my goal was to make any money writing, I would have surely given up by now,” she said. “The amount of time, effort, and physical turmoil it takes me to write a sentence would never be worth a paycheck.”
Reflecting on long-term goals, Baer says she’s bound and determined to publish “one measly book, so I can die an author.”
And in the meantime, there’s manna to sustain her: the virtual fistbump she gives—and gets—from her growing community of readers “in this together.”