Blogging about sex, drugs and nappies netted this mother a fortune – but also a lot of hate mail
She posted this uproarious rant when her daughter soiled her nappy: “The smell hit me LIKE AN AX [sic] IN THE FACE. I managed to turn her body away from mine and then I saw it, the Pasta Poop, an explosion of meatballs and sauce out the top of her diaper splattered up like the spray of a fountain into the back of her hair.”
Her saintly husband, Jon, is also regularly in the line of fire, and she gleefully reports their rows and misunderstandings as well as episodes like the time they tried to have sex on the sofa: “Within a few minutes there is a cloud of shirts and pants and pillow cushions that has sex-ploded in a giant burst over the entire living room.”
But opening one’s private life to scrutiny also has its drawbacks. She gets vast amounts of hate mail, has been accused of misusing her blogging power and attracts jealousy because of her wealth and success. “A spoilt bitch with a distorted sense of entitlement,” is one of the kinder comments levelled at her in cyberspace by a group called Renegade Moms.
At the six-bedroomed home in Salt Lake City that she shares with Jon and Leta, aged 7, and 20-month-old Marlo, which also doubles as the headquarters of her company Blurbodoocery Inc, Armstrong describes the past decade as like being on a “wild, vomit-inducing car chase”.
She started her website when she was single and working as a web designer after moving to West Hollywood, spilling the beans about her sex life, making plain her contempt for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and dissing her boss.
Her online musings were meant to be read by only a close circle of friends, so when her blog was discovered, her devout parents were devastated.
Shortly afterwards, her cover was blown at work and she was fired.
The episode led to the term “dooced”, referring to someone who loses their job because of the contents of their blog.
Chastened, Armstrong eloped with Jon, moved back to Utah and, while living in her mother’s basement — the couple were saving money for a deposit on a house — began blogging again.
She was felled by postnatal depression after the arrival of her daughter Leta and poured out her feelings online, saying that she cried all day, couldn’t sleep and had crippling anxieties.
“I was alone in the house with this kid screaming at me and the only people I could turn to were the ones who read my blog,” she remembers.
After six months of misery, Armstrong checked herself into a psychiatric ward and posted the following: “I am very scared that if I don’t go ahead and do this that I may experience some sort of nervous breakdown. I can barely eat anything and I still can’t sleep, even though I’ve tried every sleeping pill available at the pharmacy. It’s seriously out of control.”
She was put on a cocktail of Prozac, Neurontin and Valium — “enough to knock out an elephant”, she observes — and got her sanity back. While in hospital, Armstrong scribbled handwritten progress notes thatwhich her husband posted on her behalf. Readers hung on every word, willing her to get better. Her web traffic quadrupled.
When she returned home she got back on her computer, and dooce — the name came about because of a typo — went from strength to strength. In 2004, dooce was one of the first personal blogs to seek out paid advertising.
Armstrong’s husband gave up his job to manage the business full-time.
According to market research by Nielsen, she has four to six million page views a month — and she also has a staggering 1,556,578 followers on Twitter. Big companies such as the telecommunications giant Verizon and American Family Insurance eagerly advertise on her website.
She is reluctant to talk about money but will say that the site makes enough to support her and her family comfortably.
Why does she think she is so popular? “I think my success has been a combination of several factors: one of the big ones is that I’ve been around for a long time, I’ve stuck with it, I’ve had a lot of life events that made the trajectory interesting. Also, I’ll tell you anything you want to know. I’ll probably tell you too much. It’s cathartic for people to read all the shit that goes down in my life,” she says.
“It’s the small stories of everyday life, about bringing up kids and dogs in the suburbs and being married. It might sound so boring that you want to stick forks in your eyes but I work hard at it. I really do sit and craft it, like a column. People relate to the ups and downs, the joys and the sorrows — they feel connected to someone who’s going through the same things they are.”
She has always had tsunamis of hate mail, however. “Every horrible thing that can be said about a human being has been said about me,” she laughs drily. “As minute a celebrity as I am, when you are confronted by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people who absolutely hate you, it’s a lot to deal with. I’ve been in therapy.”
Her critics implied that she had her second daughter, Marlo, just for something new to write about. Another time, having posted a story about her eldest daughter’s mobility problems, she was accused of having Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Some of her followers felt as if they had been let down when she commercialised her site.
Then there was the Maytag incident. In 2009 Armstrong bought a front-load washing machine for $1,300, which broke down a week after it was installed.
A repairman came twice without the correct parts and, as dirty laundry piled up and days turned into weeks, Armstrong finally lost it. “I did everything I possibly could before resorting to Twitter,” she says. “I called and called and took every road open to the consumer but after getting off the phone to some snarky person at corporate HQ I just went nuclear.”
She tweeted: “So that you do not have to suffer like we have, DO NOT EVER BUY A MAYTAG.”
Her message was then retweeted everywhere. Within 24 hours a Maytag engineer was fixing her washing machine and she accepted a donation of another washing machine from another manufacturer, which she gave to a local women’s shelter. “A lot of women in the mommy- blogging community were outraged and said things like, ‘who do you think you are?’ and ‘just shut up’. They were accusing me of bullying a multimillion-dollar corporation,” she scoffs. Armstrong is unrepentant. “I knew how many followers I had [on Twitter] and I was thinking ‘this is going to be an interesting social experiment’. If I’m spending that kind of money on something that doesn’t work, don’t expect me to be nice. These companies . . . they’re not going to sell their stuff through commercials on TV. From now on they’re going to sell their stuff by word-of-mouth recommendations on Facebook and Twitter and blogs, so they can’t dick us around any more.”
She has polarised opinions in the blogosphere about revealing too much about her children’s lives, a criticism that she appears to have taken notice of, since she has recently pulled back from writing about Leta. “The first three years are the same for any baby. There’s a lot of poop and screaming and not sleeping and then they start to develop their own eccentricities,” she says. “There’s a lot about Leta that I would love to share but I want to keep it sacred to our family ,” she says.
She never reads her hate mail now. “Because I make a lot of money and I’m pretty and skinny, I have no right to have problems?” she asks rhetorically. “No good can come of reading it.”
She used her blog to campaign for Barack Obama but mostly steers clear of politics. “I don’t want to alienate some conservative Christian mother in Middle America who’s feeling isolated because I’m bad-mouthing Sarah Palin,” she says.
She feels passionate about the cost of healthcare — “we’re paying up the wazoo for ours and it makes my blood boil”, she says — and about mental health issues. She was one of the first to question whether Jared Loughner, the gunman accused of killing six people and wounding the Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Arizona in January, had adequate access to medical care that may have prevented the tragedy. She took only Prozac during her second pregnancy, but after the birth her panic attacks returned and she is now back on Prozac, Neurontin and Valium. “That’s my regime — I’ll be on it for the rest of my life,” she says.
She and her family have just returned from a holiday in Mexico where, for the first time in years, Armstrong switched off her computer and telephone. She had stored up content for the website that could be posted daily. “It was a revelation. I read books. We talked. It’s made me realise I’ve got to go back to basics and not do too much,” she says.
But she still enjoys writing her website, and hopes to continue for years to come. In recent postings she has talked about her daughter’s pigtails, a home-decorating project and a bout of explosive diarrhoea suffered by her husband on their holiday that clogged up the hotel toilet. “Too much information!” she whoops happily.
Confessions online: From divorce to cupcakes
Dulwich Divorcée (dulwichdivorcee.blogspot.com)
As the name implies, the saga of fortysomething mother-of-two divorcée Alice who lives in the London suburb of Dulwich.
Sample extract “It was the school’s Easter concert tonight, my favourite of the year. Bittersweet, as ever, though, as I watched the other parents wander in two by two and wave at their children. There’s no place where I feel more like a single parent than on a shiny wooden pew at a school do.”
Diary of a Desperate Exmoor Woman(exmoorjane.blogspot.com)
Middle-aged mother Jane is “juggling work, life, marriage and motherhood, and frequently dropping the balls” — and, while she’s at it, throwing in some lyrical descriptions of the countryside for good measure.
Sample extract “Thinking, thinking. Mainly about my son, my lovely son — and the man he will become. It made me ponder the principles I hope I have offered him. Stand up to bullies and stick up for the underdog. Now he stands between the bully and the bullied, even when it means going against the crowd — and for that I am so proud of my young knight.”
Working Mum on the Verge(workingmumonverge.blogspot.com)
Anonymous mum tells the truth about “having it all” — if having it all means a full-time job, a six-year-old and an insatiable urge to make cupcakes.
Sample extract “I know I’m getting stressed because I was supposed to go to Ikea this afternoon to buy the storage for daughter’s bedroom, but the M60 is closed due to a jumper and I find myself thinking ‘how inconvenient of them to commit suicide when I need to go to Ikea’ rather than ‘how terribly sad’. Need to get some perspective.”
Metropolitan Mum (metropolitanmum.co.uk)
Mum Deborah lives in London with her husband, Big M, daughter, Little L.
She doesn’t limit herself to parenthood but also muses about the metropolitan interests of fashion, food and travel. Unusually among Mummy bloggers, she has a post asking PRs not to send her products to review as “there’s too little time, too many things to do”.
Sample extract “I have been struck down by the flu last week. For the first time in a very long time I had to stay in bed for two consecutive days, unable to look after Little L. Suddenly, 20 months after becoming a mother, it hit home: there’s no one I can call to tell them I am not coming to work. And you know what? It really sucks.”
Sticky Fingers (stickyfingers1.blogspot.com)
Run by mother-of-two Tara from the West Midlands, who loves taking pictures, the best thing about this blog is “a virtual art gallery” where people are encouraged to send in their own photos, and given a theme every Friday — such as ugly, or friendship, or numbers — to help them.
Sample extract “At the age of 4 you learn that money is a strange and wonderful thing. When you try to poke a £10 note between some floorboards, everyone really freaks out.”
A Modern Mother (amodernmother.com)
Less confessional than some others, and packed with offers, lists and giveaways. Expatriate American Susanna started it because “blogging was cheaper than therapy”, and she now runs the British Mummy Bloggers network, an umbrella organisation for the thousands of UK mums with their own blogs.
Sample extract “Ever wonder what it’s like being an American living in the UK? After nearly 20 years, I’ve seen it all. I’ve been loved and I’ve been hated. For the time being I’m pleasantly enjoying the ‘Obama Effect’, which is a bit like giving a local pub another go after they have advertised they are under new management.”
Potty Diaries (potty-diaries.blogspot.com)
This started as a blog to get mum Clare through the hell of potty-training two boys. That stage has passed and it’s now more about “stopping me becoming potty” as she deals with being a stay-at-home mother recently relocated to Moscow.
Sample extract “Six words from my beloved guaranteed to send me to the nearest beauty counter in search of cosmetic assistance: ‘You’ve got snow on your moustache’. For goodness sake. That has to be one of the last things one needs to hear when trying to ski through a snowstorm, surely?”
Mum Writes Books (mumwritesbooks.com)
A mother of three girls juggling the school run and trying to “write books wherever I can find space — surrounded by the chaos of washing and various pink plastic items”. Unusually for mummy bloggers, Jo Rees was a novelist first and then a blogger. Interesting insights into parenthood and the process of writing.
Sample extract “The poor Little One. She seemed so positive about the whole starting nursery thing, playing ‘school’ every day, ransacking the kitchen drawers to put all the plastic cups and cutlery into her backpack for an imaginary party with her new schoolmates. In her head I now see that nursery was going to be one long party. Her party. With her in charge, of course. Watching reality slap her round the head has not been pleasant.”