Suffer the Little Children

I am pleased to share a guest post from my friend Mandi about her experience of the time she and her family spent at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Process Tragedy

I watched my 10-year-old and held my breath. We were standing in front of Ground Zero, the memorial for all those lost lives, where the names were engraved around that beautiful dark fountain. Above us, buildings rose up, construction was a constant sound, along with the not-too-distant traffic.

But inside the memorial park, it was like being in the eye of a hurricane. There was stillness and reverence.

And I had brought my ten-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter who seem to be fueled, most of the time, by equal parts adrenaline and chaos.

Process Tragedy

I had prepped them, of course. Ineptly, but I had prepped them. I talked about “bad guys” and airplanes and immense, nationwide sadness and fear.

Their questions were pointed:

“Did the bad guys get punished, Mama?”

“Of course, definitely,” I answered. But so did everyone else, I kept to myself.

“Did any kids die, Mama?”

“Yes, but they are in heaven now,” I said. And their families lived through hell, said the dark part of my soul.

There were so many things I didn’t tell them. I didn’t describe things that are etched into my brain, like how I came out of the shower that unforgettable morning, sat down on the edge of my bed in front of the TV news and didn’t move – other than to desperately dial friends’ numbers – the entire day. At 6 PM, I realized I was still wrapped in a towel.

I remember candles lining the sidewalks of the Los Angeles street where I lived, silent streets where stunned, lost people walked. Even the walking was strange – people don’t walk in L.A. But they did that day. Restaurants were quiet. Except in one, a man began singing “God Bless America” and people around the room joined in, in almost whispered tones.

You have your story, I’m sure. Full of strange disjointed details that don’t mean that much – and at the same time, mean everything.

I tried to distill things down for my kids in language that wouldn’t scare them, but would impart the seriousness of the day and the importance of the place. And as we approached the park, I was a little afraid, I’ll admit, that they would be silly, that they would come across as disrespectful, that they would be too loud or offend someone.

They approached the stone around the fountain where the names were engraved. They ran their fingers across the letters. They touched the water. My daughter began to loudly sound out the names. She was disappointed that I didn’t know any of those people.

Her brother turned to her. “Shhh!” he said. Then he laid his head down on the warm stone.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Hugging them,” he said. And he rested his face against the names of the lost and closed his beautiful eyes.

Process Tragedy

Mandi Broadfoot is the homeschooling mom of two: a 10-year-old son with autism named Billy and a seven-year-old daughter named Willow.  She is also the Creative Director of Making Light Productions, a nonprofit dedicated to making the arts accessible to kids of all abilities, and you can find her blog posts here.

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Talking About Children on Social Media

Sometimes, I find it impossible to make my point in a succession of 140-character tweets. This recent tweet about an article titled Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children

…led to an exchange that got me thinking and also resulted in me feeling like I hadn’t really articulated my thoughts on the subject thoroughly.

Social Media Choices

The exchange led to two thoughts:

  1. Honestly, my first impulse was a knee-jerk reaction to the term “mommy blogger” rather than an urge to delve into the article the tweet linked to. I don’t love the term. Or, to be specific I don’t love the term as it applies to me. I’ve always incorporated MANY topics into my blog in addition to the fact that I’m a parent. I enjoy blogging in leadership and public relations circles, and I recoiled the first time a “leadership blogger” acquaintance referred to me as a “mommy blogger.” Had he NOT READ my blogs about customer service, supervision, and corporate culture?
  2. A desire to dig a bit deeper into the topics the article addressed.

NOTE: Christine wrote a post related to this topic on August 15. Click here to read it.

Blogging About Our Children

I am glad I didn’t start blogging when my kids were little. 

I published my first-ever blog post on May 17, 2008. It was a whopping four sentences long and did not contain any images but it did contain a reference to my son, who was 8 at the time. On June 28, 2009, I declared my intention to blog weekly (and I have, missing maybe five weeks in the seven years between now and then). At first, I intended for every blog to be about running (although the blog declaring my intention to post weekly contained a picture of my son too!).

As time progressed, I branched out from running. In the 700+ posts I’ve published since then, I’ve discussed my sock drawer, people and companies that provide incredible customer service, running (in prison and elsewhere), a convenience store bathroom, causes I love such as Shot at Life, and many other topics.

am glad I didn’t start blogging until my kids were 7 and 10. I am pretty sure I would have been an oversharer if I had been blogging through my pregnancies and childbirth, as well as my children’s early years. I have read quite a few blogs where I thought “holy crap this blogger is sharing a LOT of personal info” and “I’m not sure that kid is going to be glad his mom shared that picture of him at eighteen months wearing his sister’s tutu on his head and his superhero underoos on his butt when he is 18 years old.” But that’s up to that blogger, and I can always move on and read something else.

Does an alias name protect a blogger’s children?

Some bloggers use aliases to protect their children’s identities. They may call “Susan” a name like “Ann” or they may call “Susan” an amusing moniker like “Doodlebug.” Frankly, one of the reasons I don’t do that is I could not pull it off consistently. It’s a lot of work to a) remember and b) implement.

My incredible friend Jess (Diary of a Mom) explained her rationale for using alternate names here, to give you one parent’s thoughts.

One of my earliest lessons.

Back in 2009, I thought it was HILARIOUS when I tagged my son’s stuffed animal in a picture. I just happened to show him, and he (at 10 years old) didn’t laugh – he immediately burst into tears. This incident was one of my first lessons in “what you find hilarious as a blogger, something you think your readers/Facebook friends will laugh at, will embarrass your child.” Hmmm.

Here’s what I wrote after that incident:

If I had not offhandedly mentioned to Wayne the “tagging,” he never would have known. However, it was something I did for me and not at all for him. I learned a lesson that a certain set of parents of 8 children [I was referring to Jon & Kate + 8] is completely missing right now (in my opinion): our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts. I may have 572 friends on Facebook who would get a chuckle out of something like this, but I only have two children counting on me to give them an emotional safe haven.

Nothing is Temporary on the Internet

I mean, nothing is temporary on the internet (even Snapchat). On the one hand, my blogs create a better “virtual baby book” than the paper baby books I’ve managed cobble together for my two children. On the other hand, what on earth is going to pop up 20/30/40 years from now when they google themselves?

So many opinions

I asked the smartest, savviest people I know (my friends!) their thoughts on the NYT article. Here are a few:

I wonder what it will be like for her [referring to her daughter] to read something at 10, 11, 12, 13. She’s very sensitive so I try to be mindful. But I think it’s a matter of personal choice and temperament. – Sili of @mymamihood

I think that we have a tendency to overshare on social media. When it comes to your own life, that’s up to you as an adult to decide if your trials, tribulations, joys and secrets should be shared with the world. Writing about your children – especially about topics they might find embarrassing – should be tread on lightly. – Kim F.

This really speaks to me. I had a blog a few years ago about parenting my son with autism. I stopped writing that particular blog for the same reason this writer discusses: He is a person and deserves his privacy. Both my kids still find their way into my work, but now they are carefully disguised as some kind of talking animal in a children’s play or the lyrics to a song. – Amanda B. of Making Light Productions

I share my failures in mothering because blogging is a virtual water-cooler of sorts.  I reveal *my downfalls* not her shortcomings. – Carla Birnberg of Unapologetically Myself (read her full post on the topic here)

I am very careful to not over share on social media. I feel strongly that it is their story to tell. – LeeAnn K.

I have been burned by over sharing in real life and online. I say things that are not ugly but brutally honest. That’s the way I was raised, but I always thought it was a southern bell thing. At some point I realized that it’s not the way my kids developed. They are quite opposite from me. – Kathy D.

There is a balance that is needed and each writer has to find it. – Velva K. of Tomatoes on the Vine.

My kids are old enough now that they actually ask me not to post certain things, not to take pictures of them, not to share stuff. It has become an issue of trust, and I pray I never violate theirs. – Rebecca B.

With all the problems we have in this world, we focus on things that are byproducts of overthinking. – Will L.

I stopped posting pics of my children online and talking about them is limited – when I was working on research project and learned how often pics of children are stolen and used on child porn sites. They take what would be innocent pics and pervert them. – Kora R.

For Me, It Boils Down to This

If I were to scrub references to my children, my parenting, and my family life from my blog and social media presence, that would be as much a misrepresentation of who I really am than it would be to share every moment, even those with the potential to embarrass or humiliate my children either now or decades down the road.

When I began blogging, it was “to exercise my writing muscle,” but it has become much more. It is part diary, large part therapy, part family documentation … it is many things which bring me joy and hopefully educate/inspire others along the way.

What I don’t want it to be is an ill-considered instrument of destruction. To repeat what I said back in 2009: “our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.”

I suppose with seven years of blogging experience behind me, from the perspective of a parent of a 17-year old and a 20-year old, I would change the “think before taking liberties” phrase to something different:

Our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking not knowingly take liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.

What are your thoughts on parents who blog about their children?

Social Media Choices

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Hung By the Chimney with Care

When my daughter, Tenley, helped decorate for Christmas this year, she hung the stockings up on the mantel.

Because we never seem to have a full inventory of stocking hangers, there were only three hangers available in our Christmas supplies box. We needed six (my husband, me, her, my son, my father-in-law (who lives with us) and the cats (who share one stocking)). When she completed hanging stockings, the three she had put up were my husband’s, mine, and my son’s.

When I said, “we need to get yours up there,” she said “it’s okay. I’m not going to be here anyway.” While it is true that she was not home for Christmas (because she is at Disney World with a friend, has been there since 12/23/15 and will be there till 1/3/16), it’s not true that her stocking does not need to be there.

I should give her kudos for putting her brother first. There have been times in the family history where I might have predicted she would put her stocking up and let him fend for himself.

That one visual of the mantel without her stocking has stirred up so many thoughts. Forget those creatures not stirring (not even that mouse); my thoughts and feelings were stirring.

I am thinking of the time Wayne and I went to Lake Butler for a wedding when we had first started dating and refused to stay with my parents, in an attempt on my part to make some kind of statement of independence.

I am thinking of numerous friends who feel distant from their adult children, like everything they say is misunderstood, ridiculed, rebuffed, or minimized.

I am thinking especially of one friend, a fantastic and devoted mother, whose only child has broken off all communication with her. I simply don’t understand.

I am thinking of the pros and cons of how I have handled being a parent, of the times when for various reasons Wayne and I have both walked on eggshells around our daughter, thinking of that extremely unrealistic filter that is Facebook which makes almost every other family look happier, more relaxed, more whole.

I am grateful that, on balance, I have what I consider to be a solid, honest relationship with my daughter, and for the fact that she is a lot nicer to me at 19 than I was to my parents at the same age.

I am acknowledging that I still desperately want to matter, that I can’t help myself insecurity-wise when she is leaving after a visit from saying, “you’re going to come back and give me a hug before you go, right?”

I was okay (mostly) with her being gone over Christmas because a) Disney is her happy place b) our home with all the eldercare issues is not all that relaxing a place to be and c) making her stay would have only led to having a resentful teenager around over Christmas and who wants that?

What I’m not okay with is the idea that this mantel is complete without her. Therefore, while I didn’t get a picture of the original setup, the one that matters is this one, with its full complement of family members.

 

Mother Daughter Relationships

Ten Thoughts on 100,000 Tweets

As I compose this post, I am 26 tweets away from my 100,000th tweet.

Ten Thoughts on 100,000 Tweets

Although Twitter says I have had an account since September 2008, apparently I didn’t tweet until April 2009. And boy howdy was it a profound one. The program “First Tweet” says my first tweet was this:

Ten Thoughts on 100,000 Tweets

In the six years and eight months since April 2009, I have amassed almost 100,000 more tweets. Hopefully, on balance, some of them were more profound than “going to bed!” (although I am a BIG FAN of sleep, don’t get me wrong).

To do some rough math …

If each of 100,000 tweets were a full 140 characters, that would be 14 MILLION characters (if my words averaged six characters each that would be 2,333,333 words!).

I just timed myself composing a tweet, and it took 27 seconds. For ease of math, let’s say each one takes 25 seconds, that’s 694 HOURS (an average month has 730 hours).

All those characters and seconds add up!

In preparation for hitting 100,000, I am trying to manipulate things so that I can have control over that 100,000th tweet. It isn’t as easy as it sounds! I’ve stopped sharing from Triberr for a few days. I have deactivated my Revive Old Posts plugin. I’ve realized that tweeting has become a reflex for me and for the first time in years have found myself thinking, “do you really want to spend a tweet on that?” (perhaps it is not a bad thing to think before tweeting, honestly……). Keeping this post family friendly, I’ll just say it feels a little bit like foreplay, because I am having a lot of fun but want the big moment to be really special.

Ten Thoughts As the Big Tweet Approaches

WRITING

Ultimately, Twitter is just another way to write. Hence, as a lover of writing, I love Twitter.

GREAT PEOPLE

I have connected with incredible people on Twitter who I would not have met otherwise. They have entertained me, consoled me, informed me, inspired me. They (especially the running community) have shared my passions and given me a sense of community.

AWFUL PEOPLE

Fortunately, this is a much shorter list than the “Great People” list but there are some bad actors on Twitter. YUCK. Specifically, the guy whose bio says he is in the top 2000 of Twitter accounts. The guy who told me to “EFF OFF YOU C*NT” (this is a sanitized paraphrase). Yes, I do find it humorous, profane guy, that you blocked my main account but haven’t figured out I have a second Twitter account that you have not blocked. All I can say is meanspiritedness is never ever ever in style.

VENTING

There’s no place like Twitter for safely getting something off of your chest. When I say that, I mean things like “holy cow this traffic stinks.” I don’t mean being obnoxious to a business without giving them time to rectify the issue. After all, I wrote this and need to practice what I preach.

THE SWAG!

When you’re a frequent tweeter, you never know what goodies are going to show up on your doorstep. I think my favorite was the fact that I ended up in the Pretzel of the Month club for a year. All of a sudden, a huge variety box of pretzels showed up on my doorstep one day. The same thing happened the next month. And monthly for the following 10 months! Thanks, Snyders!

HELPING CAUSES

I love using social media to promote worthy causes. Twitter has changed the landscape for getting information out, fundraising, and catalyzing action! Favorite causes I have tweeted about include Shot at Life, Unbound, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Linda Freeman’s efforts to help children in Cambodia get The Shoe That Grows, all the Donate a Photo causes, and all the Charity Miles causes.

NO WORRIES ABOUT GETTING NAMES AND FACES WRONG

As a faceblind individual, every in person interaction carries with it the likelihood that I will fail to recognize someone I should recognize or, if I take the risk of using the name I think is correct, of making a social gaffe. Thanks, Twitter, for telling me exactly who I am dealing with and eliminating that whole social awkwardness potential!

TWITTER BRINGS OUT MY EXTROVERT

My extrovert/introvert tendencies are pretty much 50/50 but I know in my heart of hearts I am an introvert. Not on Twitter, though! I love connecting on Twitter. Maybe because I can disengage at any time and go recharge.

TWITTER IS NOT THE BEST FOR FAMILY RELATIONS

I’ve come a long way since social media was younger. Of course my children were younger when I first got involved with social media. Five years ago, I was hurt and floored when my daughter unfriended me on Facebook. Now I am glad we are Facebook friends but that connection doesn’t carry the same emotional weight for me. I sure as heck don’t follow her on Twitter anymore after the one tweet I saw where she was venting about my crappy parenting. (Guess that “it’s good to vent on Twitter” thing goes two ways, no?)

THE BIG GREEN PEN GETS AROUND

Nothing makes me happier than meeting a twitter acquaintance in real life for the first time and having them say, “oh YOU’RE the big green pen!” A handle that was born of my intense and meticulous editing has ended up allowing me to compose some fun life adventures, 140 characters at a time.

Those ten things in mind, I do know that Twitter is just one piece of the human relationship puzzle. Nothing replaces looking someone in the eye, and I do regret time I have lost interacting with my family because I was fixated on a screen, as well as the role my intrigue with social media had in the degree to which I lost interest in my previous job and failed to do the quality work I owed my employer.

In addition, all that tweeting undoubtedly led to the fact that I now get to tweet for a living as part of my responsibilities with Weaving Influence and Lead Change. I still love to tweet, and it is icing on the cake to get compensated for it.

I do have a specific tweet planned for number 100,000, if all my machinations to make it happen work. I will post it here after it tweets!

Ten Thoughts on 100,000 Tweets

UPDATE: I hit the big 100K mark just after midnight on Christmas Day 2015! With heartfelt gratitude to Lou Kellenberger for permission to use his image, here’s the tweet!

Official Tweet 100K

Lessons From Behind The Door

My daughter and I set out to replace a doorknob at her new apartment today. It was my first time ever replacing a doorknob (never too late to learn new things, right?) as well as hers.

Over the course of the past week, she had been beginning the process of replacing the doorknob but had some questions. Since I had planned to visit her today and help with some other tasks, we decided to tackle the doorknob as well. I arrived equipped with all sizes of allen wrenches (because we had figured out that one of the hurdles was those little tiny screws holding the cover plate on).

We set about removing the old doorknob. We were being all methodical about it, laying the pieces out in order as they came off (because I figured that might give us some insight into the process when we needed to install the new doorknob).

We were in the process of unscrewing the long screws which hold the whole mechanism together. One of us held the door; the other loosened the screws. Eventually, the door closed against the pressure of the screws being loosened and components started falling off as the screws were loosened. That didn’t seem like a problem.

……….UNTIL WE REALIZED THAT THOSE PIECES WHICH HAD FALLEN OFF WERE THE HANDLES WHICH WOULD TURN THE MECHANISM WHICH WOULD LET US OUT OF HER ROOM. 

Through a combination of funky creative allen wrench manipulation, prayers, screwdriver wedging actions, more prayers, and willing some law of physics into submission, the door finally opened (hallelujah!). It was time to tackle the new doorknob.

As we tried to make sense of the instructions for the new doorknob, we finally took advantage of the fact that it is 2015 and there are people out there like Leah of See Jane Drill who make videos like How to Install a Doorknob.

Thanks to See Jane Drill, the process went pretty smoothly once we took some deep breaths and followed the steps she gave.

The realization of the day which most spoke to me came when we realized we were trapped in her room. Our choices after that unlocked a few takeaways which could apply to life beyond a DIY task:

  • It is oh-so-easy to inadvertently segregate yourself from most of your options
  • Adversity will bring out your ability to manifest effective options you did not think existed
  • Humor brings much more lightness to an adverse situation than anger would

Lessons From Behind The Door

I guess we could have avoided this whole blogworthy experience by hiring a locksmith, but where’s the learning (or fun) in that? She won’t have to wait until she’s 50 to learn how to install a doorknob and I have to admit being a little proud to have figured it out too.

I am feeling courageous enough to tackle some of See Jane Drill’s 161 other videos.

See Jane Drill’s motto (which gives me flashbacks to Bob the Builder) is You Can Do This!

Mostly, I am proud to be parent to a young adult who is willing to learn alongside her mom, one who knows she can DO THIS! 

Time for Peace

I have a blog post in my head that hasn’t made it to the “page” yet. This is partially because as much as I would like to process via the blog some of my parenting concerns, my blog is a public place and both of my kids are on social media so it simply doesn’t seem fair to them to post the one in my head.

The blog in my head would be about the challenges of coming to terms with your child not being who you envisioned them to be, but rather who they are meant to be.

Even as I write this, I am feeling hypocritical because I am the first to post or share those pieces of content on social media that encourage acceptance, appreciating people for who they are, and embracing all different kinds of abilities.

In all honesty, as my son comes closer to turning 16, I am still not sure what to do with the part of myself that wanted to be a “baseball” mom (and it didn’t have to be baseball … name any sport or activity that involves endless practices, uniform purchases, trips to matches, etc.). Baseball came and went. Football came and went. Gymnastics came and went. Soccer came and went (fleetingly). Speedskating came and went (but is still sort of on the radar screen). Running and triathlons came and went (but hope springs eternal in this running mom’s heart that he will find joy in running again someday).

Time for Peace

Breakfast on the Track 2010

I have also struggled with my son’s lack of deference (not that being deferential has been the way to go for me, in retrospect) to elders. With my father in law living with us for the past ten months, it has been a hard time in many ways. My son has shouldered his own share of the burden in ways I perhaps have not sufficiently thanked him for, but I still cringe when he is short with my FIL or tells me “not to engage” when my FIL is combative (for the record, he is right but still…).

Time for Peace

For one moment today, that all went a little bit out the window.  After Fr. Jim gave a homily about “things you can’t unsee” (which this visual learner appreciated since it had graphics to accompany the message!), it was time for the “passing of the peace.”

As we were greeting the other attendees, I was shaking hands/hugging the fellow attendees but there was an elderly gentleman seated directly in front of me who clearly had mobility issues. He had stayed seated during the Passing of the Peace. It was easy to miss him … to not make the effort to get his attention, make eye contact, shake his hand.

BUT that is exactly what I watched my son do out of the corner of my eye. Wait for the gentleman to see that Wayne was waiting on him, then shake hands and exchange a wish for peace.

On an Easter when our responsibilities for my FIL kept my husband home instead of attending worship with us, when my daughter was at her church home with her best friend and her family, it was a day to put aside “normal” hopes and expectations. In the interaction between Wayne and the gentleman, there WAS a moment when all of the expectations and hopes I have clutched so tightly to my really didn’t matter.

Because the gentleman in the row ahead of us needed something that only my son was prepared to give.

ALLELUIA.

Time for Peace

Easter at St. Luke’s Anglican Church, Tallahassee, FL