Mary Katherine Backstrom, MOM BABBLE

Mary Katherine Backstrom, MOM BABBLE

Zibby Owens: I could not stop laughing when Mary Katherine Backstrom and I did our podcast. It was late on a Friday afternoon/evening during the quarantine. We were both a little bit giddy. I kept getting interrupted by my kids. She thought there was some sort of dinosaur intruder in her house. It was very informal. I almost decided to cut all of it. Then I said, you know what? This is what life was like that day. It’s fitting because she is the founder, viral blogger, and essayist, and personality behind Mom Babble, a growing community of about half a million followers. Her social media pages have more than eighty million views. MK, as she goes by, has been featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and awarded the Today Show Iris Award. Her latest book is called Mom Babble. MK is married to her college sweetheart. They currently reside in Florida with their son and daughter.

Welcome, MK. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Mary Katherine Backstrom: What an aptly named title it is right now.

Zibby: Totally, oh, my gosh.

MK: I’ve already tried to struggle to make time, but oh, my gosh, right now in the middle of all of this, crazy.

Zibby: We’re talking April 17th, mid-pandemic craziness. In New York, they said a whole nother month of — what?

MK: We’re in the COVID crisis. If this is in the files later and people are listening to your season, we are smack-dab in the middle of it. Depending on what state you’re in, I feel like we’re on day 30, day 50, day 190, wherever your captain’s log may be.

Zibby: Can you please tell listeners what your book, Mom Babble: The Messy Truth about Motherhood, is about?

MK: Mom Babble: The Messy Truth about Motherhood is basically a Chicken Soup for the Soul-style book. It is a cross-section of every, the good, the bad, the beautiful of parenting. The book was written in the trenches of new parenthood for me when I was — honestly, I was struggling with postpartum depression when I was started the blog, which was actually titled Mom Babble. I had been a blogger for about five years. The book covers the first five years of my parenting journey. I guess I had a lot left to learn. But a lot of life was lived in that five years of time. What it covers is just the new phase of parenting and that coming into one’s self as you start that — yes, I know, I was laughing because as you were asking me this question, your daughter was sneaking in from the background. She’s a ninja.

Zibby: Is that who you were waving at?

MK: Yeah, I was waving at your daughter.

Zibby: I thought you were waving at somebody on your screen.

MK: In my house?

Zibby: Yeah.

MK: No. She was behind the chair, and I was waving.

Zibby: Sadie — she’s not even wearing any pants.

MK: That’s okay.

Zibby: She’s running in in her underpants.

MK: Who needs pants?

Zibby: Have I now proved my stripes that I am a mother?

MK: I’m impressed. I’m just really relived that with my unbrushed hair and your pants-less daughter that this is the style that we’re going with for this interview.

Zibby: We will get a —

MK: — No, that’s perfect. I am in my zone now. I understand this. I see your Play-Doh. I feel you. I am so comfy. But that’s it. What I am just now seeing in your house is exactly what I cover in this book. Honestly, I didn’t want it to be too serious. I didn’t want it to be a prescriptive book. I wanted it to be like a conversation between two parents from one mother to another like a casual conversation on the couch. My entire goal was just to make parents feel a little less alone. I repeat a lot sometimes that I struggle with postpartum depression, but that’s where really all of my writing career was born from. I had a very hard time leaving my house when I had my first son. Just the anxiety was very paralyzing. I found the majority of my supportive community online. Being able to share just very normal experiences of parenting through stories helped me feel less alone. Being able to write those and then share those with other parents has been a really gratifying experience for me. The feedback that I get from other parents is just awesome as well. I love hearing people say, oh, my gosh, I thought that I was alone in that. It always cracks me up because I will share the craziest freaking story. I will be like, this one time when my son wrapped my dress around his head and my entire butt was exposed to Starbucks and he looked like a lollipop, you think you’re alone sharing these stories. You’re like, I can’t believe this happened. Then another parent will be like, oh, yeah. Really? That happened to you too? I love it because you’d think that no matter how crazy it gets, you throw a story out there and another parent’s out there to match you. They’re like, oh, no, you thought you were alone? Baby, let me tell you. They’ve always got one for you.

Zibby: That is so great. I feel like when my kids were little, I did not rely — I wasn’t even on social media. I feel like that was a huge loss. I think it would’ve been a lot easier for me had I had that community to reach out.

MK: In some ways, yes.

Child: Mom? Mom? Mom?

Zibby: This is my son.

Child: Can Sadie do YouTube?

Zibby: What?

Child: Can Sadie do YouTube?

Zibby: Sure, Sadie can do YouTube.

Child: Can I do games on YouTube?

Zibby: Sure, honey, whatever you want. Can I do my podcast? Can you close the door? Close the door.

Child: It was already open.

Zibby: I know.

MK: I have some really good YouTube channels we recommend. Jake the Jiggler is pretty awesome.

Zibby: I’m so sorry. I don’t usually even get interrupted when I do podcasts because I’m like, I’m doing a podcast, but they don’t even care anymore.

MK: On the messy truth of motherhood, is this not perfect? I feel like it is.

Zibby: Yes, if it was ever going to happen, I’m glad it was your episode.

MK: I feel good about it. My kids are with Daddy right now. Otherwise, they would be in my lap or licking my ear. I promise you. We’ve been using all kinds of interesting bribery to get them away while I’m working. Sometimes it doesn’t work.

Zibby: No matter what movie I put on, suddenly, they hate it.

MK: I feel like there’s a dinosaur in my house. Honestly, the ground of my house is shaking, and I don’t know what that means. We might actually have a visitor here in a moment. We’ll see.

Zibby: Okay, great.

MK: It could be a Tyrannosaurus rex. It might be a husband or a child. We’ll see as .

Zibby: We’ll play it by ear. When we did our Instagram live, you mentioned that you had written this book and sold it to a small publisher. You were happy, and you just wanted to give all the proceeds — you made a deal that you would give all your proceeds to…?

MK: The Mighty Acorn Foundation.

Zibby: The Mighty Acorn. Now it’s coming out and you’ve gone viral, and it’s going to be a huge thing.

MK: This is one of those funny things where, look what God can do. I joke about this because we’re greedy with what we give to God sometimes, like, God, here’s my tithe. Here’s my two-dollar bill that you can have. When I was a kid, I would go to church. I had this big old change bowl. I would grab a couple dirty things out of it and bring it to church. This book is not my dirty change out of the bowl. Please don’t let that be the takeaway here. Of all the things that I’ve been given, I was given this beautiful book deal. This publisher in Nashville, Tennessee, reached out to me. They were like, “Would you like to do a book? It’s full color. It’ll be named after your blog.” I thought, this is the coolest thing in the world. I knew it was going to be a limited release. It was a medium-size publisher. I thought, you know, I can do something pretty cool here. I can make some money. Authors are not rockstars. It would be a little bit of money or I could give money to charity. How cool would that be? I decided early on that I was going to tie this project to charity and then work my behind off to just see how much good we could do with it. I was like, all right, medium-size project, this will be pretty cool. So I said, here’s your token, God, I’m going to give this to you. Let’s see what happens with it.

The next thing I know, this video goes viral. I’m on Ellen. The book gets picked up by Barnes & Noble and Target. It sells out on Amazon twice. I just think it’s so funny because who knows what kind of success the book would’ve had otherwise? It probably would’ve done great. I am so proud of it because I really did pour my heart into these stories. I just feel like God kind of laughed at me a little bit, like, oh, are you going to give me that little book, Mary Katherine? Are you going to let me do something with it? He was like, let me do my thing, okay? It’s wonderful. I cannot wait to see what is going to get done with the proceeds raised from the sales of this book. I think the book itself is very special. I think it’s going to make parents feel less alone. Then it just makes my heart even extra happier that when all is said and done, the money is going to be sent to the Mighty Acorn Foundation. They’re going to get to change lives in Kitale, Kenya. How cool is that?

Zibby: It’s so cool. It’s a beautiful thing that you did. I really do believe in the whatever goes around comes around school of life.

MK: Let’s hope so.

Zibby: When you do good, it will come back around at some point. Not that that’s why you do it, but I do believe —

MK: — I feel like sometimes the gift is just in the giving. I don’t say that to be cheesy. If you’re a parent and you have seen your children open presents on Christmas, sometimes just watching somebody get something is the coolest thing in the world. I cannot imagine a better feeling than just, when all is said and done, watching the Mighty Acorn Foundation do something cool with this book is going to be as good as it gets, I have a feeling. I don’t need an additional something after that. If something else comes from it, then that’s the cherry on top. This is going to be special. I’m going to keep telling people, you buy this dang book, okay? because it’s going to an orphanage in Africa. That sounds like I’m trying to trick you into buying it, but like, for real.

Zibby: It’s so funny you say that about celebrating the holidays because I remember being in fifth grade or so myself, and I had a secret Santa at school. I was in my closet wrapping everything. I poured my heart and soul into this gift for Abigail Shraft who I have not seen since fifth grade, so on the offhand chance that she’s listening. She was my secret Santa. My mother came in and she’s like, “You should stop because no one else is going to put that much effort in a gift for you. You’re going to be disappointed.” I was like, what? You’re missing the whole point. I don’t care what I get. This is what I need to do. This is what makes me feel good. I don’t even remember what I got. I remember what I gave.

MK: Same thing, right? You felt so good.

Zibby: I felt amazing. And she needed it. She really was clearly having a hard time.

MK: Let’s hope that I ever love a book as much as this one. I’m going to have to give every book away. Then I’ll be a broke author forever.

Zibby: Maybe from this, then you get a five-book deal. You’re like, I’m not going to give a penny away.

MK: It’s all mine. We’ll have to figure something out.

Zibby: This is what happens when you get together to do a podcast on Friday afternoon in the pandemic. We’re so fried, the two of us.

MK: Hot mess.

Zibby: Let me read you this one passage from your book that I loved about the challenges of raising of a son with a ton of personality and energy which I think many parents can relate to. I’m going to quote you. You said, “I spend all day clashing with his strong will, iron against iron, until the sun goes down. Then I go to bed feeling like a worn-down nub of a human being. So many of our interactions are composed of frustration and noise. I establish a boundary. He crashes straight through it. We are in a constant tug-of-war for power. And most of the time, if I’m being honest, he’s winning.” I love that.

MK: I feel that one in my soul right now. That’s my little boy. Honestly, my girl has grown into it as well. The book Where the Wild Things Are, so much of my son is Where the Wild Things Are. I was that child. Growing up, my mom always told me, “One of these days, you’re going to get what’s coming to you, Mary Katherine.” I was just a kid. It’s not that I was a child that tried to make life hard for my mom. I was a child that, I loved adventure. I loved to push boundaries. I just had a, I don’t want to say a zest for life. I did try and find trouble. I guess I did. That’s just the truth of the matter. I was very good at it. So is my son. He gets it, it’s probably from me and his dad. It’s been a challenge being his mom, but in the best way possible. The hard ones, sometimes it’s just so rewarding. My daughter is a little more, I’ll be honest, she’s more pliable. At times, she’s like the breath of fresh air. It’s like, oh, thank goodness I have a child that’s just going to do what I ask her to the first time, sometimes. Then if you have a rough day with your wild-at-heart kid, the one that just really pushes your buttons and then you go and tuck them in and you know you got through it, sometimes those snuggles are extra sweet. You know you’ve earned it. It was just a little bit harder work. See what I mean?

Zibby: It’s true.

MK: It’s true, she says, as her daughter comes in.

Zibby: Now she came to take my phone. Wasn’t it ten minutes ago she took my iPad?

MK: You don’t need it. You don’t need either of them.

Zibby: I’m sorry. I am so sorry. Nobody seems to care that I’m doing a podcast. That’s fine.

MK: As long as she doesn’t take your microphone, you’re okay.

Zibby: That’s next. Next, my laptop.

MK: You’re fine as long as she — I think this is the cutest thing ever. Are you kidding me? It is so on brand for you.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. This is appropriate, one of your chapters in the book is called Every Day I’m a Mother, a Little Piece of Me Dies.

MK: It’s so appropriate, she says.

Zibby: When you wrote that chapter, tell me what you were referring to.

MK: To be honest, when I first started writing that piece, when I first wrote that line, I was meaning it. It was one of those, I am literally the most miserable. I am dying here. This was in that phase — I was not a good baby mom. There’s different types of moms. There’s the good baby moms, the good toddler moms. Some moms are just really with it as teenager moms. I’m not a good baby mom. I’ll be honest, both babies were really hard for me. They drool. They need things. They poop a lot. I just didn’t get a lot feedback from that phase. That was so hard. I felt like I just spent a lot of time couch sitting and breastfeeding and crying. I remember sitting there and being like, wow, I am just slowly dying. My soul is shriveling away. I sat down as a writer and wrote that one time. Every day I’m a mom, a piece of me dies. I thought, how can I redeem this? This is terrible. I’m like, okay, what else of me is dying? What bad parts of me are dying as I’m a parent?

Well, there’s some stuff of me that needed to go away, like my selfishness. There’s things of me that are being pruned right now. As a person of faith, I think about being pruned like weeds are being pulled. Frankly, you don’t know how selfish you are until you become a parent. Our world just revolves around us, especially from the time we’re teenagers. We go through high school. We go through college. We go through that newlywed phase. Everything is so egocentric. Then all of a sudden, we have these little humans pop up. Oh, nothing is about us anymore. It’s just an entire axis shift. It’s hard. I think it was the most challenging time of my life spiritually, honestly. I think that was where that piece went. It started off with me being so selfish, like, wow, I am just dying on the inside. Then I realized that parenting is a redemption story. I’m literally becoming a better person. Yeah, there’s parts of me that are kind of dying away, but they’re not necessarily the bad parts. They might have needed to go.

Zibby: That’s interesting. That’s a good way to look at it.

MK: It’s not wrong. I wasn’t wrong. There’s part of me dying away every single day, but they might have needed to go. They were overdue.

Zibby: I know you reference the postpartum depression. Had you ever been depressed before then or after then? Was it only when the kids were born? Was it both kids or just your first?

MK: With Ben, it was postpartum depression. With Holland, I had postpartum anxiety. I think I’ve always struggled a little bit with mental illness, but it was very significant with my son. That was kind of an introduction to the world of mental illness. Frankly, the door was never closed after that. Hello, welcome to this new world.

Zibby: I’m like, I have postpartum anxiety. My twins are almost thirteen, but, you know.

MK: It never goes away.

Zibby: It doesn’t go away.

MK: What’s really fascinating is I didn’t get diagnosed until I was like a year and a half into it. I did not know that you can really have it for almost two years. I suffered for quite a while. Then some of it, it’s like, which part of this is just postpartum and which part of this is who I am now? I don’t even know. I spend a lot of time trying to pick that apart because part of being a mom is being perpetually nervous about your children and what’s happening in the world. It’s nerve-wracking, right? It’s like your heart your body.

Zibby: I’ve been feeling so, during this coronavirus pandemic, just so mama bear, want to tackle all the kids and lay on top of them and not let anything happen. I’m like, I don’t care. This is what I’m doing. I don’t care if I’m overreacting. From the beginning, I was just like, no, no, no, this is all about the kids.

MK: There’s this really weird scarcity mindset that I noticed. It started with toilet paper. People were like, I need all the toilet paper for my family. I was like, that is so weird. Then one day, we were running out of toilet paper. I was like, my family needs the toilet paper. That is a really ridiculous example, but it’s just funny how you get into this very instinctual-level need to get all the things for your family and prepare for your family and protect your family down to the freaking toilet paper. I’m an anxious mess over here. I feel like I need to collect all of the things and protect all of the things. Really, I have no control over this, none, none whatsoever.

Zibby: I feel the same way about milk. We can’t get enough milk. We have to dole it out. I found some oat milk I could get. Now I’m trying to get them to — they will not have any of that, so I don’t know.

MK: My husband was like, “Honey, we’re okay with cheese. We’re going to be okay. We don’t need any more cheese. We’ll be fine.”

Zibby: My son’s like, “But where is the lactose-free milk that I like?” I was like, “Yeah, you’re not getting that. I can’t find that. Good luck. Have some water.”

MK: Good luck with that.

Zibby: Now that you’ve written this book, tell me about your plans coming up. Are you like, I love this, I want to write books, one a year for the rest of my life? Or are you like, I never want to do that again, that was terrible?

MK: Oh, my gosh, no. This is my favorite thing in the world. Are you kidding me? I could write a million books a year. I really could. As a matter of fact, every night when I lay down, I put my kids to bed, say my prayers, I go to bed. I roll over and I ignore my husband, and I play on my phone. We’re being honest, right? I log into my Facebook page. This is where I work, though. This is my excuse. I’m allowed to do this. I write a blog. It’s my way of connecting with people. I just love being creative. That outlet of writing six hundred to a thousand words every single day, I feel like I am learning through the writing process. Sometimes I hit publish and I read it, and I’m like, wow, dang Yoda, I just learned from myself just then. That’s really cool. I’ve got a book that I am writing right now. That’s kind of new news, I guess. I can’t really share a lot of information because the legal announcement hasn’t been made, but the fun news is something’s in the works. There will be more coming. That’s always fun to say because I guess that means I’m like an official-official author.

Zibby: You are an official-official author.

MK: One on the shelves and one in the pipeline, baby.

Zibby: Congratulations. That’s amazing.

MK: I’ve got work. Thank you so much. I feel very lucky. I do, I feel so lucky. Maybe I will always have one on the shelves and one in the pipeline. That’s the dream.

Zibby: That’s the dream. That would be amazing. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

MK: Oh, gosh. I was once an aspiring rockstar. It was the saddest thing to watch that dream die. I chased it forever and ever. To be honest, the journey of chasing that dream was so much fun. It was a ten-year journey. I did country music festivals. I wrote music. I have albums full of songs that I wrote. I will tell you that that was a dream that I chased, and it didn’t come to fruition. I still have no regrets having chased that dream and still having the albums full of music that I created in the process. I’m thirty-six years old. There have been multiple dreams that I’ve chased. Ninety-nine percent of them I never achieved. One of them I have. I think that in life, if you’re passionate about something, it’s always worth pursuing. Be okay if it is not going to come to fruition because, like most things in life, the majority of the joy comes along in the journey anyway. If you’re not going to be happy just writing, you’re not going to be happy making money writing. Like I said earlier, it doesn’t really make a lot of money to begin with. Do what you love for the sake of it because you love it. If you can make a career out of it, great. If not, just do it for joy. Is that terrible advice? It seems like bad advice.

Zibby: I think that’s great advice. I love that advice.

MK: Okay. I’m not sure if that even was advice. That was kind of just all over the place.

Zibby: It was advice. It answered the question. It was perfect and inspiring and centering and very reflective of your overall ethos.

MK: Good. See? I sucked at music. I succeeded at writing. I was actually pretty darn good at music.

Zibby: You’re only thirty-six. Why does that dream have to die?

MK: Because, remember, I got caught pumping my boobs by the producer of The Voice, and I’m never going to do that again.

Zibby: I think that you should — now that you have this newfound independence and you’re developing this brand, I do not think this is the end of the journey for you there, unless you want it.

MK: I just don’t foresee that ever turning out well for me, but we’ll see. Maybe we’ll revisit that story in another time.

Zibby: Okay, sounds good. Thank you for this very unprofessional but probably one of my favorite-ever podcast episodes.

MK: The best interview ever, Zibby. Are you kidding me? We’ll have to do a part two sometime.

Zibby: We’ll have to do a part two.

MK: How about we do an exclusive, Zibby, when I’m allowed to tell you about my book?

Zibby: I would love that. I would love it. Let’s do it.

MK: Let’s do it.

Zibby: All right, perfect.

MK: This was so much fun.

Zibby: This was so much fun. Have a great day.

MK: Thank you.

Zibby: Bye.

Mary Katherine Backstrom, MOM BABBLE