Bunmi Laditan, Creator of @HonestToddler, On Why You Have to ‘Laugh or Just Expire’
Some parents get through the terrible twos with the help of a nanny. Others, with a nightly glass (or several) of wine.
Bunmi Laditan’s outlet was creating the Twitter account @HonestToddler (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781476734774), written from the perspective of a bratty but sweet kid who, like two-year-olds everywhere, “wants what they want when they want it, and on the right-color plate.”
Those tweets went viral –– and got the attention of publishers. Bunmi’s “The Honest Toddler” was a satirical guide to parenting based on her fictional kid’s “advice.” A sample:
"Adults, do you enjoy running errands? That’s fantastic. Go on your own time. There isn’t a toddler in the world who wants to accompany you on a thirty-six-store whirlwind of boring. The worst part about running errands is that actual running is discouraged. And we’re never rushing out to pick up Popsicles or glow sticks; it’s mostly dry cleaning and cupboard liners."
Motherhood is absurd, isn’t it? Bunmi, a self-proclaimed “domestic failure,” says humor is how she deals with anxiety. And she’s got a lot of it.
Bunmi went on to channel that anxiety into “Toddlers Are A**holes: It’s Not Your Fault,” a laugh-out-loud hilarious satirical parenting manual, and a novel, “Confessions of a Domestic Failure,” which tells the story of a first-time mother’s struggle to find a support network –– a thinly veiled version of Bunmi herself. “Dear Mother,” a volume of poetry about motherhood, was next.
Her latest book, “Dear God,” (Zondervan) is her most personal effort yet. It’s a compendium of prayers, written as letters to the Big Guy himself. And although it’s every bit as funny as her prior work (I need money. Like thousands. I don’t want to be rich; I just want to buy cheese without thinking about it), it’s also poignant, lyrical and relatable. Which makes sense, because Bunmi is super relatable herself.
On an episode of Wild Precious Life, Bunmi talks to host Annmarie Kelly about rediscovering her faith, practicing gratitude and finding the funny in everyday life.
Born and raised in California to first-generation Nigerian immigrants, Bunmi grew up “pretty poor” and left home when she was about 16.
Having lived through some difficult circumstances, including a period of homelessness, is one of the reasons she’s developed such a wicked sense of humor. It’s not a coping mechanism –– that would mean it’s intentional, Bunmi says.
She thinks her brain is just “wired differently.” But not everyone finds the humor in a toddler’s propensity to throw a bowl of oatmeal across the room, finger paint with lipstick and refuse to wear pants in public.
Having a kid “just takes your life to such a strange place,” she says. “You have to either laugh or just expire. And there is so much humor in parenting.”
Are you there God? It’s me, Bunmi
Bunmi is never one to shy away from contradictions. She once said:
"I've noticed a lot of speculation about what I am. It's quite simple actually. I am a Jewish woman who believes in Jesus as the Messiah, who keeps Shabbat, regularly prays in Arabic and reads the Quran, goes to church when she can, partially covers her hair in public, prays multiple times daily, reads the Tanakh and New Testament, is obsessed with the story of Ruth, and talks to –– and argues with, and loves –– angels, and is a Taurus. See? Simple."
She says doesn’t read the Quran anymore, but she did study it –– she wants to understand anything that millions of people believe.
Bunmi grew up in a strictly religious home –– “but it never took,” she says. When she got married to her now ex-husband, she converted to Judaism, but not because he and his family insisted upon it. She “fell in love” with the Jewish faith, but when the marriage ended, so did her practice of it.
So she sampled every variety of spirituality and religion. And she eventually found herself at her lowest point, when she lost her faith entirely.
“I just cried out to God,” she explains. “I said: If you're there, if you're listening, I need help.”
And, in a way, He answered. It was the moment the book “Dear God” was born.
Vulnerability is a practice; imperfection is her personal brand
While her other books were written in different voices –– a toddler, a snarky, foulmouthed parenting guru, a fictional character –– “Dear God'' is emphatically written in her voice, from the deepest part of her soul. It’s not contingent on her role as a mother, she says: “It’s just me in the purest sense.”
But Bunmi says it was easily the hardest thing she’s ever written.
She tried to get out of the book deal twice before she finished it. When the publisher sent her the edited manuscript to review, she couldn’t bring herself to do it –– because even after years of writing online (often about quite personal topics), it was too raw and she felt exposed.
One could say that being perfectly imperfect is her personal brand. Bunmi is refreshingly open on social media about living with anxiety, depression and neurodivergence.
So many of us are taught that anxiety is atypical. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems like everyone experienced the highs and lows that many folks with mental illness deal with on a daily basis. Now people don't have the energy to pretend they have it all together.
Bunmi appreciates this shift: “And when they see that other people aren't pretending, it gives them strength and permission too.”
Grace and gratitude (everyday)
Some of the best parts of “Dear God” deal with doubt. Bunmi wonders if she made God up, writing: “What if, in my desperation for someone to love me, what if I drew you out of the ashes of my dreams?”
Bunmi thinks doubt is just a part of faith –– the mere concept of which wouldn't need to exist if we didn't have doubt and take a leap instead.
Faith changes as we practice, too. It deepens. And it changes us, she says. So when she reads parts of the book today, she can see where she was at the time she wrote them.
Even though she’s on the other side of that rock-bottom, faithless moment when she cried out to God for help, she is still stunned by the boundlessness of the love she feels in her relationship with him. She feels God’s grace “in the moments where I don't even expect it,” she says.
That sense of support is everything when the going gets tough.
“You know how when you remember things, they always seem so much sweeter?” she asks. “Facebook will remind me of something three years ago and I'm just like, oh –– everything was easier then. But in the moment, it felt overwhelming.”
Bunmi thinks practicing everyday gratitude “helps us enjoy some of that sweetness that we usually only get in hindsight,” she says. “That sweetness that's reserved for memories. Sometimes. It helps.”
This article is based on an episode of Wild Precious Life, hosted by the author Annmarie Kelly. Join Annmarie as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.