October 8, 2004

Clancy Ratliff Quoted in Pioneer Press

The Pioneer Press recently quoted Rhetoric doctoral student, Clancy Ratliff, in an article about Web logs for parents.

Outlet for parents — fun for the masses
Pioneer Press

When co-workers ask Alecia Davis if she has any photos of her baby son,
Colum, she doesn't pull out her wallet — instead, she sits down at the
computer and logs on to her baby's personal Web site.

"I think it's the new baby book," Davis says. "It's a whole new way of

Baby Colum's site is actually an online diary — a Web log — kept by his
dad, John Davis, a stay-at-home dad who is also an English teacher.
Besides photos, the site also includes regular entries about daily life,
comments from readers, poems and statistics (number of teeth, height,
weight, etc.). It is a grandma's paradise.

But the funny thing is, it's not just friends or family who log on to the
site to look at 10-month-old Colum's latest candid photo. Strangers do,
too (often other parents). In fact, a whole community of parents from
across the globe has gathered on the Internet to share stories and advice
and musings about parenting small children. Many are doing this via Web
logs — also known as baby blogs.

"I haven't written in Olivia's paper journal for months and months and
months, but I'm on the computer all the time, checking my e-mail, making a
note about our day (on her online journal), taking a break to see what
that 2-year-old in New Jersey is up to," says Julia Janousek of
Minneapolis, a mom to 2-year-old Olivia and 6-week-old Xavier.

Janousek belongs to Live Journal, a Web site that helps people create and
maintain online diaries. As part of that service, Janousek can link to the
Web logs of "friends" she has discovered on the site — in her case, that
includes parents who have children about the same age as hers.

"I started this as a way to talk to other moms," Janousek says. "I'll
write that Olivia will only eat cereal out of my bowl, and I'll get
comments like, 'Oh, yeah, that happens at my house, too.' It's almost like
real-time advice.

"I keep this journal as a way to get things down on paper to remember
them, but also as a way to have a community of parents, to know I'm not
alone and crazy," she says. "We read each other's journals all the time."

Clancy Ratliff, a student of rhetoric and feminist studies, is studying
the Web logs of mothers for her doctoral dissertation at the University of
Minnesota. Ratliff said she got to thinking about how Web logs that
discuss the Iraq war and the upcoming U.S. presidential election — often
written by men — get as many as tens of thousands hits a day, but that the
Internet audience is not as wide for the women who write online about
politics in a more personal, everyday-life kind of way, such as parental
leave policies of corporations.

"People may think, 'Oh, this is just someone's blog about changing a
diaper,' but these are women who are using blogs to have a voice in the
public sphere, to get their opinions out there," Ratliff says. "It's a
pretty powerful thing for a lot of women."

In a way, these blogs are documenting everyday history: "These people are
talking about the daily work of motherhood," Ratliff says.

Kelly Brown, a mom and a blogger, realizes the importance of parents
sharing their daily life. Brown founded blog gingmommies.com in 2000,
which links to about 850 Web logs of moms and yes, even some dads. They
include everyone from pregnant moms to moms detailing life with a newborn
to women seeking to adopt a child to moms whose husbands are serving in

"Their sites are usually read by other moms," Brown says. "It's like high
school, where you stick with your clique. This is the mom clique."

Of course, dads write, too. Like Ben MacNeill, a stay-at-home dad from
North Carolina who writes in humorous and touching detail about life with
his 11-month-old daughter, Trixie. The site includes diaper, bottle and
sleep logs and charts, as well as a "Trixie Picture of the Day." The New
York Times recently mentioned The Trixie Update, which typically draws as
many as 1,000 to 1,500 visitors a day, sometimes from as far away as
Brazil and Japan.

"Initially, it was mainly for my wife's benefit, because she went back to
work much earlier than we wanted, and this was a way to keep her feeling
connected," MacNeill says. "If I knew now the scope it would take on, I
don't know if I would have started the thing. But it's a creative outlet
for me — I'm a designer and artist by trade. When I write, I try to write
as if it would be interesting for me to read even if I didn't have a
child. I try to keep my eyes open to what is interesting, what is new."

MacNeill says he appreciates and learns from the comments and parenting
advice he receives from visitors, who have formed an online community of

That community includes Ben Manevitz of New Jersey, father to a baby girl
about Trixie's age. After happening upon Trixie's Web site, Manevitz is
hooked and now reads it at least once a day, often posting comments.
Manevitz says MacNeill's musings speak to him as a father.

"I feel like I kind of know Trixie, and if I saw her on the street, I'd
recognize her, not as if she were a celebrity, but like I was a member of
her extended family," Manevitz says. "In the 'It takes a Village to Raise
a Child' theme, I feel like part of the village."

And of course, you can imagine how Trixie's grandma feels about the site.

"The community has wrapped their arms around Trixie in such a dear, sweet
way," says Grandma Becky MacNeill. "I check it about four or five times a

"It's something every grandmother would love to have."


To view some interesting online diaries of parents, visit:


Want to know how many diapers 11-month-old Trixie has used in her life?
You can also view the "Trixie Picture of the Day" and her bottle and sleep
logs on this site, maintained by a stay-at-home dad. The New York Times
recently wrote about Trixie's site.


"If my heart emerged from my chest/to become its own clean, tiny being,/it
might be you…" So goes a poem about 10-month-old Colum on an
artistic-looking site created by Colum's dad, an English teacher and
stay-at-home dad. Other highlights include homemade movies.


"A Pickle is Touching My Sandwich" and "The Last Diaper" are just some of
the fun stories you can read about this mom's life with two children under
the age of 5.


Kelly Brown, a mom to 6- and 13-year-old daughters, developed this site to
bring together other moms who journal about their kids, themselves, life.
Brown links to the sites of about 850 members, who have included teen moms
and even dads.


This site is subtitled "4 Flights of Stairs. 2 Kids. 1/2 a Job. 1 Blog"
and chronicles the life of an introspective urban mom.


If you'd like to start your own online diary about parenthood, many sites
can help you get started, sometimes for free. Check out www.blogger.com or

Tips for baby blogging:

Privacy: If you're concerned about privacy and security, parents
interviewed for this story suggest keeping a password-protected site, so
only people you know can view it. Or, keep out identifying information,
such as your last name or the city where you live. Consider calling your
children by nicknames. Think ahead about safety, just in case: Don't write
about going on vacation until you've returned, or that the kids are alone
after school for a few hours.

"When I first started, I quit after my site started getting 1,000 visitors
a day," says Kelly Brown of bloggingmommies.com. "I'm OK with a few
visitors, but I thought, 'Who are all these strangers?' All it takes is
for you to mention 'Average Joe' for Google to pick it up."

Content: An online diary, like a paper diary, can be anything you want it
to be. If you wish, document everything from your child's sleep schedule
to vaccination history to cute stories. You can write about yourself, too,
and the challenges of parenthood. Post photos regularly, a popular option
on baby blogs. Get creative: Write poems, spell out a day in your life
from morning until night, etc. Most of all, remember: Blogging is supposed
to be fun!

Document: Don't feel pressure to write literature. Even your grocery list
will make fun reading in 10 years.Says Sonya Austin, a blogging mom from
Minneapolis: "Before my son was born, my live journal used to be like
artwork, really beautiful. Now, my entries are shorter and more to the
point, like everything else in my life … it's fun to go back and read the
entries from the first six weeks of my son's life. I don't even remember
writing them."

Keep the stories succinct. Write short stories — a few paragraphs — with a
beginning, middle and end. You don't need to write every day, says blogger
dad Ben MacNeill. He posts two or three times a week about his baby
daughter Trixie, letting an idea simmer for a while in his mind. Write as
if it would be interesting to read even if you didn't have children, he

Keep it real: Aim for honest, thoughtful writing, says doctoral student
Clancy Ratliff, who is studying the experience of motherhood through Web
logs. After all, it's more interesting for other mothers to relate to you
when you get real about how you are sick of the baby crying versus how
motherhood is the best job in the world (they know, they know).

On the other hand, don't complain constantly, says Brown.

"Constant negativity is a no-no," says Brown. Write about the joys of
motherhood, too.

Statistics: How many diapers does the baby use every day? How many
bottles? How many teeth does the baby have? Keep track of the numbers for
a fun side element to your writings.

Linking: Link to other Web logs you find interesting, or other sites, such
as op-ed pieces that speak to you. Also, post some of the comments you
receive from visitors.
Molly Millett can be reached at mollymillett@pioneerpress.com or

Posted by rhetoric at October 8, 2004 10:45 AM