Moms on the Internet
Plus, what it takes to see 10,000 bird species
An old colleague once told me that one of his biggest pet peeves was when women became mothers and all they wanted to write about was being a mom. I agreed with him. “I’ll never be like them when I have kids,” I thought to myself. “I’ll never lose sight of the hobbies and interests that make me me.”
And then one February night in 2022—I don’t actually know what time because the clock in the room was broken—I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. And three hours later, I lost half of my blood and almost died. The experience rocked my world. When I returned to consciousness, I felt like I had a second chance and decided that it was time for me to shift my priorities. I would devote as much energy as I could to doing the new job in front of me. A lot of parents, but especially women, make the same shift, and I probably would have even without the traumatic birth, but I think that aspect of my experience amplified a change that was already underway. I became a different person, and while being a mom wasn’t all of me, it absolutely was the most important part of me.
I lost hundreds of followers when I started tweeting about motherhood. Writing about kids and poopy diapers and sore nipples and sleepless nights wasn’t part of my outdoorsy internet persona. But it was my life. I couldn’t talk about running ultramarathons or rock climbing anymore because that’s not what I was doing with most of my time. Most of my time was spent feeding my baby, trying to get him to sleep, healing my body, and posting on mom forums in the middle of the night.
I think about that comment my colleague made ten years ago all the time. I wonder if he still follows me on social media and if so, when he sees my Instagram posts that are almost all of my son, whether he thinks to himself, “Oh, there’s another woman who became a mom and now that’s all she is.”
The reality is that we all have a lot of different aspects to our personalities, a lot of different interests, a lot of different things that are important to us. I spent this entire week wondering what I was going to write about in the lede of this newsletter. I didn’t have any funny anecdotes about a trail I was on or a mountain I’d climbed because all I did was take the dogs and my kid for walks, work from home, bake some bread, and spend time with my family.
I’ve been writing this newsletter for almost seven years (!!), and over its lifespan, it’s grown with me. Sticks and Stone can no longer be primarily about the outdoors. Of course, I’ll still share stories of environmental issues, long reads about epic tales of adventure, and highlights from the best outdoorsy publications, but I will also ramp up the volume of stories about women, politics, motherhood, and parenting, because that’s what I’m actually reading these days.
When I look back at the archive, it’s clear that this change was already in motion. I’m sure a lot of you saw a shift happening long ago, probably before I saw it for myself, but this newsletter needs to be more well-rounded, and if that loses me followers like it has on every other platform, so be it, because I am about more than the outdoors. After all, I’m a mom now.
What I’m reading
Speaking of moms on the internet, the world lost an impactful one this week. I was a little behind her in terms of our life stages, so I didn’t read her religiously like so many did. But I knew of her and as I got older, I saw Heather Armstrong’s influence everywhere: in the frankness of essays about motherhood, in the gory details of unglamorous Instagram posts about birth. She helped paved the way for women and moms to be themselves on the internet, even though she was continually minimized for being a woman and mom. She was a complicated person: She struggled with her mental health, substance abuse, and an eating disorder. She wrote a transphobic post last year that rightfully lost her many readers. Her early work changed the landscape of digital storytelling. She died by suicide this week.
When I couldn’t get my writing published, when editors wouldn’t answer my email, when it seemed my life was nothing but spit-up and baby wipes and bleeding nipples, I decided, heck, I’d publish it myself — and started my own blog. Heather had shown me that I didn’t need to ask permission, I didn’t need to wait for approval.
Reading Heather, I learned how to write with humor and heart and skin-peeling honesty. She was like the Hunter S. Thompson of birthing and child-rearing — a wild, weird gonzo journalist of domesticity and dog poop.
She once described her sick toddler as acting like a “drunken blues singer whose wife done kicked him out of the house.” Writing about a visit to the gynecologist, she noted wryly, “Somewhere there has to be a Garfield comic that talks about how Mondays aren’t bad enough already, and here you have to go and throw an enlarged ovary into his soup?”
One women-led website I did (and still do) visit often was Jezebel, which is why I was eager to read Ben Smith’s “We’re Watching the End of a Digital Media Age. It All Started With Jezebel.” essay for The New York Times. But it didn’t sit right with me. It almost sounded like he was blaming Jezebel for where we are now within the media industry. And then I went to Twitter—a site I don’t visit nearly as often these days in light of everything—to see what writers were saying about it. Those are the words I want to share here:
I’ll just leave it at that.
On a lighter note, this story of a super-birder on a mission to clock 10,000 different kinds of birds is a delight. For a long read for Outside mag, writer and bird researcher Jessie Williamson heads to South America to go birding with Peter Kaestner.
Kaestner believes that it’s much easier to get to 10,000 today than ever before. Though some species have become rarer due to habitat loss and climate change, the tech resources, road access, and tools that now exist have made finding birds significantly less challenging. But the game remains far from easy. “The only question is whether I have the drive and funds to continue doing it,” Kaestner says.
Stopping short of 10,000 seems unlikely. Kaestner doesn’t waste time, and age hasn’t slowed him down. In our six days together searching for 12 rare birds, we took two flights and drove over 1,500 miles on winding mountain roads. We spent more than 50 hours in the car, sometimes nearly 11 hours per day. More than half our meals were skipped or eaten in the car. We slept less than four hours on three of the six nights, arriving at our destinations in the dark and leaving well before sunrise.
Read “What It Takes to See 10,000 Bird Species” here.
The good stuff
DASH Mini Maker for Individual Waffles ($10): I got this tiny waffle maker that’s roughly the size of my hand “for my son” two weeks ago and use it almost daily. At this point, I keep a stash of blueberry waffle batter in the fridge so I’m ready to make waffles at a moment’s notice. This thing comes in a bunch of colors and only costs ten bucks. In going back to grab its link for this newsletter, I noticed that they also carry versions that make waffles in the shapes of hearts, skulls, pineapples, you name it. You better believe I’ve got the pumpkin-shaped one in my cart for Halloween.