Meet! Brandy Mann

If you want straight talk on life as a parent, you'll find a daily dose of it on Mannly Mama (motto: Where Motherhood Meets Moonshine). Blogger Brandy Mann (the last name is what makes her so Mannly) of Raleigh offers observations on handling day-to-day things like potty training, nosebleeds, and, these days, being very, very pregnant. But she also delves into more serious topics, like postpartum depression and coping with miscarriage. She uses her words most of the time (including some we can't repeat on this blog, at least not while the kids are awake), but on "Wordless Wednesdays" she lets photos do the talking. You never really know what you're going to get when you head over to Mannly Mama, which is why you might find yourself returning day after day.

Tell us a little about yourself, and about your family.At 29 (no really), I am a hodgepodge of things. I work by day as a software developer for an educational product and come home to wear many hats as wife, mom, dog trainer, chef and even activities director to a "spirited" toddler. I am a nerd and enjoy the fact that I can surprise most people with my petite stature and list of more "male" credentials. I sport two engineering degrees, I curse like a sailor and I enjoy sports. I get a lot of "really?" reactions.

As for my crew, we are a happy family of 4.5 at the moment. My husband and I met at N.C. State in the engineering department. We both tote engineering degrees and work at the same company (doing TOTALLY different things). We married in 2005 in Cary and adopted our shelter dog, Jack Sparrow. In 2009, we welcomed our baby boy, Landon, and all that came with him. He has sprouted into quite the character and will soon have his third birthday right behind the birth of his new baby brother. Dolphin, which Landon has coined as the unborn child's name, is due to arrive at the end of the summer. We are a family of constant laughs and I am blogging my way through it ... potty training and all.

What's the story behind Mannly Mama? When and why did you start the blog, and what motivates you to keep posting to it?I started blogging before we ever got pregnant. It had a completely different name and was just a family journal, really. Within two weeks of my first post, we found out we were pregnant. I started journaling away like all first-time moms, but at six weeks, we lost that baby. It was hard, but I found it felt good to write about my feelings. I realized I could talk openly about these things without becoming overly emotional. I saw it as my chance to help people cope.

I blogged through the waiting period of trying to get pregnant again. The more I did it, the more I had fun. Then I got pregnant with Landon and blogged all about that. I tried to show the TRUE side of pregnancy, birth and all the secrets of motherhood. But it wasn't until I was in the throes of new mommyhood that I started to move outside my family and friends. In a late-night nursing session, I got bored and joined Twitter and thought of "mannlymama" in my sleep-deprived state. I shared my blog with other mommies and vice versa. I realized I had something to say that people wanted to hear. A year later, I bought the domain name and the rest is history.

I joke about it but a lot of my blogging is because I have to repeat myself on things. So say someone asks my advice on the things I found most useful as a pumping mom. Instead of rattling it off every time, I found blogging helped me just get it out there for anyone. So basically, I’m lazy and efficient.

How do you find time to write so frequently, given that you work full-time AND chase a toddler around AND have another on the way? Do you sleep?I have to say most of the credit goes to a super supportive husband and a toddler full of blog-worthy antics. I also can multitask like a champion. We carpool to work and I blog on my phone while I ride. I exercise a lot and use that time to formulate ideas and then just have to find a few minutes here and there to get it down. Also, my writing is not Pulitzer-prize winning. True fact: The only English class I took in college was technical writing. This is why most of my posts are written like how-to guides and bulleted lists. I can’t write witty prose but I can put together a sweet instruction manual.

And I get at least seven hours of sleep a night. I don’t really function after 10 p.m. My secret weapon? Exercise. I am 36 weeks pregnant, I still work out 2-3 times a week, and I have boundless energy. With that bonus fuel, I can spend the other 17 hours of the day going full tilt. I use my position as a contributor at Liberating Working Moms to promote a healthy work-life balance. I believe as a working mom, you have to learn to plan and execute like a well-oiled machine.

You write very frankly about all sorts of things, including postpartum depression and miscarriages. What kind of response do you get from readers on those posts? And how does it make *you* feel to write about such personal, difficult topics?First off, in real life, I will talk to you about anything (and I mean ANYTHING). I have become known for this. Boobs, childbirth, depression, education reform, the superiority of NCSU over UNC all of it. You can tell me anything and I will either A) try and fix it or B) let you vent. By bringing that to the online world, I feel as if I am making a difference one person at a time. I get emails from moms in the first few months of mommyhood that are just lost. While I am not a doctor or psychiatrist, I feel as if sharing my stories and memory bank of useful resources helps them formulate a plan to cope. I realize I am a very open and analytical person and decided to use that for good. I can get outside my emotions and focus on the “problem” and get over it. I hope I can help others do that.

Yes, I cry over the keyboard in some cases, like when I talked about my dad dying, but I still get comments and emails from that post thanking me for sharing that emotion and saying how it made them less alone. That’s why I do this to share experiences and grow.

You've mentioned on your blog recently that you're "a bit obsessed" with Instagram. What role does it play on your blog and on how you see the world?Well, I love photography. I'm not saying I am really any good, but I enjoy taking pictures. I have had a smart phone since before Landon was born (old-school nerd) but not until I got my iPhone and realized I could take pictures of ALL THE THINGS did I really start using it so much. I think it is one of the tools of being a working mom. I get to see my kid only a few hours a day. Keeping those memories are important to me. From just playing in the sand table to wearing a bike helmet to dinner, I need to keep those small nuggets forever and Instagram helps me do that. I am actually in the process of printing all the fun things we do and letting Landon choose them for a gallery wall in his room.

What's your favorite thing to do with the whole family in the Triangle?We have recently fallen in love with two things. 1) The Midtown Farmer’s Market at North Hills. It’s a perfect size, has stuff for the kids, great farmers and vendors, live music and even a Starbucks RIGHT THERE! We can make it a quick trip or play more depending on the atmosphere. 2) The Millbrook Exchange Splash Park: $7 for the family to play all morning and a tired toddler to boot! It’s a great location for us and a lot of fun without a giant crowd. In the non-summer season, you can see us at MANY of the parks around the area because we haven’t found a bad one yet!

What's your favorite thing to do around here when you get a few hours to yourself?You mean besides going to Trader Joe’s alone? But seriously, I am probably doing errands. Most moms I know would agree that walking the aisles of Target without someone screaming “I WANT THAT” is a blissful time. I can look at the clearance rack in peace and then get an Icee on the way out!

What's the best parenting trick you've picked up so far?The power of choice. Never ask a toddler “do you want to brush your teeth?” Instead you ask, “Do you want the blue or red toothbrush?” SUCCESS! This applies to all facets of parenting, and a big one I blog about is with dinner. My toddler dinner series looks at all kinds of hurdles in feeding those tiny tyrants including offering healthy choices early on and making it “their” decision. I have found letting them think they are in charge helps you win some battles.

What's the best advice someone has given you about being a mom?All kids AND families are different. I know that is cliché, but it’s so true. It helps me rationalize that just because someone else's kid loves a nap doesn’t mean mine will. And then on the more “mommy wars” side, just because co-sleeping didn’t work for us doesn’t mean it can’t work for someone else. It is basically a mantra when dealing with family and friends about parenting choices. Luckily my group of mom friends all have this same philosophy and know to ask for advice and take what works for their situation.

What's your least favorite part and most favorite part of mommyhood?Least: The tantrums. Oy. We are in a phase now where negotiating with him is mind numbing. The rage is strong with this one, and it drains me a good bit at the end of a long day. I think this is almost harder on my brain than anything else. I am always trying to “figure him out” but realizing that is just dumbThey make no sense to anyone.

Most: Watching them get SO excited over something so simple. I can see this is a slippery slope where you get a spoiled child. When you get them that Matchbox car for doing such a good job on the potty and they squeal with excitement and tell everybody “Mommy and Daddy got me this car!” you just want to keep doing it. Just today, seeing Landon's mood spike when I reminded him that he could wear his Lightning McQueen swimsuit to day care was priceless. I am a sucker for the squeal.