How an unexpected companion got me through
I first discovered Dooce the summer our daughters were born. I was working an office job in the final month of my second pregnancy when a coworker pointed to a picture on her screen of a newborn baby girl.
“That’s Dooce’s baby,” she told me. “You should follow her blog.”
What is a Dooce? I wondered. I passed some sleepless nights of that third trimester learning about Heather Armstrong—the brilliant, honest, irreverent, and hilarious blogger known as Dooce.
Armstrong started blogging about her life as a single gal working as a web designer in Los Angeles, long before she became a mother. When her employers discovered she’d written some posts about her workplace, they fired her. Armstrong kept on blogging. In fact, she blogged her way through meeting her husband, moving to Utah, and becoming a mother to two daughters.
When my own daughter was born weeks after Dooce’s, I left my office job and raised my kids while working from home. Dooce kept me company. She wrote candidly about the insanity of parenting, the challenges of marriage, and her struggle with postpartum depression. Dooce felt like the kind of friend who you wish lived next door to keep you company during those head-spinning days of bringing up babies.
In the fall of 2011, Dooce and I became Solo Moms not long after our youngest children turned two. Though she acknowledged her separation and divorce on her blog, she didn’t talk much about it. She couldn’t, really—her family needed privacy as they made their way through such a difficult transition. Dooce and I went into crisis mode, and I fell away from the blog that had been such good company.
Recently, a friend of mine told me Dooce had a new podcast called Manic Rambling Spiral. Armstrong and cohost John Bray (a solo dad) named the podcast to reflect the chaotic ups and downs of life in single-parent families. The two infuse humor, humility, and insight into episodes about working from home, handling sick kids, running to stay sane, and the fresh hell that is single-parent dating.
Armstrong’s and Bray’s parenting situations mirror mine: each of us has primary custody of our children, and this kind of 24/7 solo parenting creates what Armstrong calls “compressed time.” You know that feeling when every minute matters and you think you will spend the rest of your life chasing the tail end of an overwhelming to-do list? That’s compressed time.
When my former spouse moved states away, my life fell into that state of compressed time. Or, to use Armstrong’s spot-on analogy: it felt like I was at the bottom of a swimming pool looking up. I barely had a moment to catch my breath, yet I was painfully lonely. I longed for an adult friend who could pop in daily to listen, nod, make me laugh, and remind me that things wouldn’t always be so hard.
Manic Rambling Spiral is, for me, that kind of friend. Listening to Bray’s and Armstrong’s lively rapport acts as an antidote to the isolation that often goes along with life as a Solo Mom. Though I often can’t get out to meet friends for drinks and conversation, I can turn on a podcast while driving from errand to errand, tackling my mess of a bathroom on a Saturday, or fitting in a run while the kids are in school.
Every time I hear Bray or Armstrong articulate some intimate thought or behavior I consider specific to my life, I feel less alone. Whether it’s Armstrong talking about long-distance dating or Bray admitting that he (like me) screens calls from the school so he has a moment to regroup if his son is sick, Manic Rambling Spiral is the best kind of company. It reminds me that I am part of a larger tribe. To find such good medicine in free, downloadable, single-hour segments is a gift, to say the least.
Nearly seven years after our daughters were born, I feel like I’ve grown up with Heather Armstrong. Her wit and insight remind me to let go of any shame I might have about what my family is not. She continues to inspire me to embrace my little single-parent family for who we are: a manic, rambling unit of three—lovely and in love.
Editor’s note, 5/6/19: Armstrong’s latest book, The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times in Order to Live (Gallery Books, 2019), chronicles her years-long struggle with depression. In this raw memoir, she shares with readers a particularly severe depressive episode, which led to her participation in a clinical trial in March 2017 for those with treatment-resistant depression. During the trial, she was put in a chemically induced coma 10 times to approximate brain death, an experience that not only helped her recover but also gave her a renewed focus on mental health. As she shared with Vox, “I want people with depression to feel like they are seen.” After having been on hiatus from blog writing during that time, she relaunched Dooce in 2017. As she told the New York Post in April 2019: “I know [blogging] has contributed to bouts of sadness throughout the years,” . . . [b]ut the outpouring of people saying ‘thank you so much for talking about this’ far outweighs the criticism.”
Melissa Stephenson is a writer, runner, and solo parent to two amazing children. All three are happy to live in Missoula, Montana.
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