Dirty minivans, stripper barbies, and Things 1 and 2: Leanne Shirtliffe, "Ironic Mom"
“If you can’t laugh at yourself, laugh at your kids.” That’s the tagline of Calgary-based blogger Leanne Shirtliffe’s hilarious blog on all things parenting. With topics ranging from “Is It Possible to Outsource Brushing Your Kids’ Teeth?,” “Decorating Kids’ Rooms: Why Bother?” and “Kindergarten, Planets and Fist Fights,” Leanne’s musings on modern parenting are unfailingly self-effacing, honest and wickedly funny.
In today’s instalment of our series on great Canadian blogs, we caught up with Leanne and got her take on her Mom (thumbs up), surprising connections with her readers (thumbs up) and exercising (thumbs down).
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
I’m a Calgary-based humour blogger, mom, wife, author, and teacher. Like many Calgarians, I was not born here. I grew up on a grain farm near Winnipeg, went to university in Ontario, met my husband (a guy from Edmonton) while teaching in the Middle East, and birthed twins while living in Bangkok. Then we moved to Calgary, and I decided I needed to write in order to notice what adventure there was in my suburban life.
You have written a book, a humour column, and articles in publications across Canada. When and why did you decide to start blogging?
The reason I started blogging is incredibly unromantic: in 2009, several literary agents told me that if I wanted to get a nonfiction book published, I needed a platform. Once I figured out that platforms weren’t just shoes from the 1970s, I started my blog, Ironic Mom. The reason I keep blogging, though, is different. Blogging helps me be more alert to my surroundings, to find the humour in minor disasters, and to practice my craft. I also love my readers, many of whom have become my invisible friends.
You are a teacher. You have twins (known to your readers as Thing 1 and Thing 2). Where do you find the time to blog?
I don’t think it’s so much about finding the time; it’s about using the time I have wisely. I generally subscribe to the theory that people make time for what they value. Given that, I don’t watch TV. Apparently, I also don’t value exercising or cleaning much. Once I have an idea or a deadline, I write quickly. In most of my blog posts, I capture a moment; the more recent the post, the more focused that moment seems to be.
You have blogs titled, “5 Reasons I Hate Crafts”, “Children, Swearing, and the Middle Finger”, and “The day I denied my kids their vegetables.” What do your parents think?
My parents are incredibly supportive. My mom was my first reader. She has the best sense of humour of any woman I know. I could likely title a post “Top 5 Ways My Parents Annoy Me” and she’d still think I was wonderful and hilarious. From an early age, she instilled in me the values of humour in diffusing tension, ridiculous love, and laughing at yourself. If there’s anything I know that’s worth sharing, that’s it.
You frequently ask your readers for their thoughts and experiences. What is the best piece of advice you have received from a reader (parenting or otherwise)?
My readers regularly out-funny me in the comments, and I love that. They do, however, offer advice, even when it’s unasked. There have been times when I’ve wondered, What’s the point of sharing my little stories? Who cares? It’s just humour. During one of the weeks I was questioning this, I received an email from a reader. She was the wife of a Canadian medic who’d done a few tours of duty in the Middle East and who was now on the long road to recovering from PTSD. She told me that reading my blog was unofficially part of her husband’s recovery, and it was one of the few times he ever laughed. She told me to keep writing. That advice humbled me hugely and stopped me from questioning the purpose or triviality of humour writing.
You turn each post into a story. How did you develop your storytelling abilities in writing? How does it differ from telling a story aloud?
Practice and share, then repeat. There is something about writing for a fairly immediate audience, which is what blogging ultimately is, that forces you to hone your craft quickly. Plus, I read a lot, from other blogs and humour books to award-winning literature. I wrote a lot of letters as a kid to faraway cousins. I also travelled a lot as an adult and kept travel journals, focussing on the funny and the bizarre, so that trained my eye and my hand.
When you tell a story aloud, you have the benefit (not to mention the pressure) of a live audience, people whose expressions let you know your success in communicating immediately. Writing is one step removed from that. I like it because I can press the delete key if something doesn’t come out right. I have yet to figure out how to do that when I’m talking.
What advice do you have for aspiring bloggers?
Jump in and do it. Write, and then write some more. Write primarily for yourself; otherwise it will be depressing at first when your mom is the only one reading your blog. Participate in the wider blogging community. Ask for help. Carry a notebook everywhere. Venture outside your comfort zone. Reach slightly beyond your ability.
All images from Ironic Mom
Read profiles of other Canadian bloggers: