Thursday, January 16, 2014

Happy Birthday, Science of Parenthood!

Science of Parenthood is the co-creation of writer Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, "Chief of Scientific Snarkiness," and illustrator/web designer Jessica Ziegler, aka “CEO of scribbles.”

When Norine is not blogging about her misadventures raising a 7-year-old, she is a freelance magazine writer whose work appears in More, Parents, American Baby, Health,, iVillage, Redbook, Shape, Prevention, Marie Claire and All You to name a few. Norine’s humor writing has been featured on Lifescript,  Scary Mommy  and Bonbon Break and in the anthologies Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding and Not Your Mother’s Book ... On Being A Parent. She lives in Winter Garden, Florida.

The daughter of famed New Yorker cartoonist Jack Ziegler, Jessica divides her time between directing social web design for VestorLogic and Trail Sherpa, sketching out science-y principles on her drawing tablet ... and cajoling her 9-year-old to put down the iPad and go out to play. Jessica is also the creator and publisher of StoryTots, a series of customizable children’s books. She lives in Denver.

For more info or to arrange interviews, please contact Shari Smith at

You two are “blog-married.” Tell us how you met and how this union was consummated.  

Norine: Ha-Ha!! That’s a great way to think of it. Some days I certainly do talk more to Jessica than my own husband! But of course, a good partnership is exactly like a good marriage. We have to communicate well, balance each other’s needs, work through differences -- not that we’ve had any. We’re still honeymooning, as it were. But as with a great marriage, it helps if you like each other. And Jessica and I have been friends for years. She was at my wedding! We met in Vegas, at a mutual friend’s holiday party and immediately discovered we had tons in common. We were both in media — and the media circle in Vegas at that time was small and tight — and we were both from the East Coast. She was from Connecticut; I was from New York City. I think we probably bonded even more quickly over being East Coast “outsiders” in Vegas. 

Now, our sons are good friends and our husbands share a real bromance — they’re both science geeks — which makes it even easier for our families to be close. I’ll tell you, tapping into our husbands’ collective science knowledge comes in very handy for the blog too.

Jessica: Our blog union was proposed as all great marriages are, with the romantic request for a shit-ton of free labor. Instead of laundry, cooking and childcare, it was web development and illustration.

Anyhoo, Norine called me on New Years Eve in 2012 and began describing her idea of taking the science-y explanations of parenthood that she had been posting on Facebook and pairing them with illustrations to really make them pop. Her initial goal was to create a gift book of these funny illustrations. As we talked, I began thinking that this might be a really great thing to build an entire blog and social media presence around Facebook, Google+, books, products — the sky was the limit! Norine was very wise to get me all excited before dropping the “I don’t have any money” bomb. While we were still on the call, I jumped online and found that was available! I grabbed that, the Facebook name, the Twitter account, and we were off. Within two weeks, we had the site built, the first ten illustrations created, and we launched.

Norine: In the Fall, we made it “official,” forming the Science of Parenthood LLC in advance of opening our online retail store. Now our “union” is recognized everywhere ... or at least where credit cards and PayPal are accepted.

You're celebrating a one-year anniversary with some major successes in your cap.  Besides having a Science of Parenthood flag flying on top of the White House, what are your goals for the year?

Norine: Well, we do keep @MichelleObama informed of our doings at Science of Parenthood. After all, she’s a mom too. And who needs to laugh more than the First Mom, right? Unless it’s the rest of us moms.  

Jessica: We’re still very much in the audience-building phase, though I suppose that phase never really ends. We definitely want to do more writing on our site this year. We recently began syndication every Friday on the online women’s magazine, BonbonBreak. And we’re planning to be more active on Google+, since Facebook has decided that they hate giving stuff away for free. They CLEARLY are not run by an illustrator/designer.

Norine: LOL. But you’re a lot prettier than Mark Zuckerberg! And I’m positive, much nicer to work with.

Jessica: You’re too kind. We are batting around a lot of ideas right now. We’re still thinking about the gift book idea. I’ve self-published several children’s books at StoryTots. Our gift books would basically be created the same way, so we‘re already ahead on the learning curve there. The trick is to winnow down our ideas to focus on the best ones.

Norine: We’ll also be stocking the store with items for Mother’s Day. I wonder what size T-shirt @MichelleObama wears 

To celebrate your blogiversary I hear you're giving away some major swag.  It's like an online party! Tell us more!

Norine: Of course! What’s an anniversary or birthday without presents?!? We’re going to be giving away mugs and magnets, featuring our favorite illustrations, through the rest of January. We’ve got a Happy Birthday Pack that’s loaded with Science of Parenthood goodies. And for our grand prize Mommy Party Pack ... well ... you know that the first year anniversary gift is Paper. Well, over this year, we made some incredibly good friends in the blogging world, and some of our friends generously gifted us with signed copies of their books to give away to our readers. Tucked in among the chocolates and wine in our Mommy Party Pack are these incredibly fun reads. And they’re all signed by their authors! You can enter the giveaway here!

* I Heart My Li’l A-Holes by Karen Alpert of Baby Sideburns
* Lost in Suburbia and Rebel Without A Minivan by Tracy Beckerman
* I Just Want to Pee Alone, edited by Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat 
*Moms Who Drink And Swear by Nicole Knepper
* You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth, edited by Leslie Marinelli of In The Powder Room
* Motherhood Comes Naturally & Other Vicious Lies by Jill Smokler

I often wish I had a partner at my site, instead of it always being a solo show.  What's it like having a partner on your blog?  

Jessica: It is really great. As you know, it is a LOT OF WORK to consistently create good content; engage with your people on social media; manage the technical side of your blog; and tend to your family on top of it all. Finding the right blend of skills, time availability, commitment, and vision isn’t easy. You really can’t just pick up any random mom on the soccer field.  

Norine: Jessica is contractually obligated to tell people I’m fabulous to work with. It’s in our partnership agreement. But honestly, I don’t think even we initially appreciated how lucky we were to hook up together because neither one of us realized the huge amount of work that’s necessary. First you gotta create great content that someone might want to read; then you’ve got to promo the hell out of it to get it to your readers. We constantly marvel at the workload. But our skills dovetail really nicely; the work just naturally gets divvied up. Jess handles all things visual, from the illustrations, to how the blog looks and functions, to what products we stock in our store. I handle most of the writing, the editing and blog promotion. Jess is the “look”; I’m the “voice.” The funny thing is, we never sat down and assigned tasks. Our roles and responsibilities evolved organically from our skills and who we are.

Jessica, you are the daughter of a renowned cartoonist. Have you been drawing for as long as you can remember?

Jessica: Oh god, yes. I was definitely the kid who was thrilled to get new sketchbooks and art supplies for Christmas. My father, Jack Ziegler, always worked from home, so I would pop into his office whenever to see what he was working on. He also had loads of New Yorker cartoon books and other art books that I would spend hours pouring over.

You know what’s funny, when I was a kid I’d often run around asking my parents for ideas of what to draw. They would suggest terrible things, like, "Draw that plant!" WTF??? No! The beauty of what Norine and I do is that I don’t have to come up with the ideas! I have a list of ideas to work from, I get to pick whatever strikes my fancy that day. I LOVE that. It totally takes the pressure off. Then when I do come up with my own ideas, it’s like a bonus.

Norine: Jessica’s being modest. Some of our most popular illustrations, like Distance to Deuce, were Jess’s ideas. She’s great at seizing on something in the zeitgeist and immediately illustrating it. That’s yet another benefit of having a partner: two minds working to create content takes the pressure off everyone!

Writing a blog is like lovingly nailing your fingers to the computer.  How do you stay balanced, and find time for other things like, say, yourselves?

Jessica: It ain’t easy. I’m a web designer/developer as my “real” job, on top of Science of Parenthood and Storytots. If I didn’t have Norine as a partner, well, I wouldn’t be doing Science of Parenthood, and I probably wouldn’t blog on my own. Of course, now I couldn’t give it up, I am far too in love with the community of bloggers we have met, and I really LIKE doing it. I love the illustration work, of course, but I also really like the writing. So balance. We both only have one school-aged child, that helps. I have no idea how bloggers like Bad Parenting Moments or Ninja Mom (both of whom I love, big-time) do it with three or four kids. Seriously, HOW DO THEY DO IT??

Norine: I am just as mystified since I honestly couldn’t find Balance with a trail of breadcrumbs and a GPS. I’m pretty much a workaholic, which essentially means I’m only really happy when I have crossed something off my To Do list. Not having something to do produces enormous anxiety for me, so blogging is the perfect profession because there is always something that needs to be done — writing, editing, commenting, posting, promoting, brainstorming. I’m pretty sure the key words my kid will remember from his childhood are “Mommy’s working,” which is actually pretty good for SEO. But seriously, balance ... Balance is the Holy Grail of Motherhood. It is a marvelous thing to contemplate. But I’ve yet to meet a mom who’s actually found it.
PS: If anyone does find it, would you kindly put some in a bag and mail it my way. COD is cool. Thanks!

So much of blogging is about stuff that pisses us off like kids, husbands or other adults.  What's something people do in public that makes you want to tackle them?

Jessica: Parents being assholes to their kids. It is so hard not to go mama-bear on them, it just breaks my heart. It’s the main reason I avoid Walmart at all costs.

Norine: True that! For me, it’s the Playground Politics. I have zero patience for Queen Bee bullying or excluding other moms. Puhleeze. Motherhood is hard enough. Do we really need to gang up on each other?  

What were your three favorite shows growing up in the 70s/80s?

Jessica: I was a total Thursday night line-up fan. I loved The Cosby Show and Cheers. I really wanted to be as cool as Lisa Bonet (spoiler alert: I was not). I also loved ThirtySomething, I was convinced that’s what grown-up life would look like.

Norine: Me too! I loved Lisa Bonet! And ThirtySomething! I watched A LOT of TV in the 70s and 80s so it’s hard to pick my favorites. And, of course, I wanna look all cool and stuff, so I don’t want to mention all the Love Boat and Fantasy Island I watched on Saturday nights while I was babysitting (whoops!). But my all-time favorite show from that time, was and still is, M*A*S*H. I had a 9-year-old-girl crush on Hawkeye Pierce/Alan Alda like no other. I still watch the episodes today — they really hold up. My other two go-to shows were All In The Family and One Day At A Time. Norman Lear was an absolute genius for creating intelligent comedy around issue-based stories. And because I clearly can’t count, I’ll toss in LA Law, which I loved for its soapiness and its treatment of the issues of the day — AIDS, gay partnerships, immigration, domestic abuse, adoption, pay equity, race. Fodder for the national conversation ... with a side of sex. Squee!

Advice to just out-of-the gate bloggers?  

Norine: Make friends with other bloggers. Join groups on Facebook. Join communities on Google+. Just connect with others. Writing is solitary; blogging is communal. I just read a statistic on Kimberley Grabas’ blog Your Writer Platform that there are 164 million blogs out there. 164 million blogs! Finding blogger friends — your tribe, as it were — helps you find readers and helps your readers find you in the crowd because your friends will introduce your content to their readers and you will in turn share their content with yours. Everyone grows together.

Jessica: To be fair (and to calm the new bloggers’ nerves) a huge percentage of those 164 million blogs are abandoned.

Norine: Absolutely true! Gosh, I hope I didn’t frighten anyone off. My point only was that in finding your friends, you can help each other rise above the noise. Plus other bloggers can help you learn tricks so you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel. Veteran bloggers are happy to share their knowledge. My all-time favorite story involves Ellen Gale Williams, who’s one half of Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms. She walked me through PicMonkey and uploaded a plain white square to a file on a Facebook group we’re both in so I’d have a template to work with. Ellen also got Science of Parenthood an invitation to pin to a popular group board on Pinterest. Keesha, you mentioned that we’ve had some successes this year. I can honestly say that we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have in our first year without our blogger friends. Hillary Clinton famously said, It takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a tribe to raise a blog.

The one other thing I’ll say about this is Don’t be afraid to ask. Even veteran bloggers with huge followings are accessible and usually willing to help. Not to get too Hallmark Channel on you, but the support we’ve gotten from the blogging community in our first year out really is the most amazing birthday gift.

Jessica: Yep, all of the above, for sure. And if you are going it alone, try to take it one day, one task, at a time. The list of the things you “should” be doing is completely overwhelming. Think of it as a slow ramping up. Maybe today is the day you focus on your Facebook page. Tomorrow you write a post. On Monday you put the social share buttons on your blog. If you keep at it, take baby steps, you’ll get into a rhythm. The big annoying pieces, like building the website, will be out of the way and you can focus on the reason you wanted to do this in the first place: to write, share and connect.

Norine: What Jessica said. As I’ve learned over the last year of being her partner, she’s usually right. Yes, dear!

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