Calm down. I'm not pregnant. I was at the gym yesterday, spinning furiously on the elliptical, savoring the delicious dregs of Hyatt Bass's debut novel THE EMBERS, when my BlackBerry buzzed. Ever the modern multi-tasker, I folded the page down in my book, slowed my stride, and checked my messages. There was an email from Husband. A link, actually. To a wonderful post by Lisa Belkin on NYT's Motherlode about protecting the privacy of our children in this modern age. Under the link, Husband wrote a quick note: "Thought this was interesting. Do not take this the wrong way."
With consummate efficiency, I continued my calorie-burning/mind-clearing quest and clicked over to read the piece. On a basic level, Belkin considers what obligations we have as parents to protect the privacy of our children. She notes that her post was inspired by a recent article about a British novelist who wrote a memoir about her teenage son's drug addiction as well as by an earlier Motherlode guest post about a mother's decision to terminate an adoption. In the wake of these twin controversies, Belkin, it seems, raises two questions: (1) As parents, what stories are ours to tell?; (2) In this Internet age, where anything put online can be retrieved in an instant (by anybody with fingers to type) are we exploiting our children, or problematically sacrificing their privacy or safety, by blogging about them?
As you might imagine, both of these questions made me immediately nauseous. Because here I am telling stories and blogging (however cautiously in my estimation) about my children. These questions stirred insecurities and doubts that plagued me when I began ILI and friends and family expressed concerns about privacy. These questions are the very reason that I have refused to reveal the names and faces of family members and why before publishing anything I think long and hard about whom my words might affect. But still. A suckerpunch of nausea.
I willed myself to return to my book and bypass the flurry of comments in the wake of Belkin's evocative and provocative post, but I couldn't help myself. And, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of said comments were reactionary and judgmental and angry in tone. The general thread running through the bulk of these comments: we must, at all costs, viciously protect the privacy of our kids and the sanctity of our families. Accordingly, stories that affect or involve our kids and families should not be told. And if they are told at all, they should not be uttered on the Internet, a medium that intrinsically and immediately compromises privacy and integrity and safety.
Woven within the tapestry of criticism, though, were a few more moderate voices. Voices that suggested that, like it or not, we live in an age of rapidly evolving technology, that privacy itself is being redefined, and that blogging is not always narcissistic or harmful. Thank goodness for these voices, for the graying of that alarming black and white terrain of commentary. Because it's not this simple, is it?
It never is.
Maybe I am deceiving myself (and that's always a distinct possibility), but I believe that storytelling is both beneficial to the teller and the told. I believe that one can tell loving, but cautiously circumscribed, stories about life and love and family and yes, children. And that these stories can be celebratory in nature, laced with humor and exasperation and affection. And the very fact that these stories are immortal can be a gift. Because time is ruthless and rambles on and sometimes the very best memories fade and flicker.
I do believe that it is our duty to be the best parents we can be and that this means different things for different people. For some, this might mean shrinking inward into the home, carving a more traditionally protective and private nook of nurture. But for others, this might mean something else. It might mean pursuing a dream, a dream of expression and discovery that involves fashioning a slightly more public persona, that involves navigating a more interactive course through the world, real and cyber. For some, for me, bartering words and stories and philosophies is important to my identity. As a person. As a parent.
Because this is what we are ultimately worried about, right? Being good parents?
You will be relieved to know that there are limits to my naivete. The Internet is at once a charming campfire and an alarming abyss. I believe that no one today can fully grasp the impact this technology is having on each and every one of us, and our families, and our relationships, whether we choose to participate in it or not. I believe that the Internet, frankly, is like life. There are dark alleys and evil spirits and bad things sometimes happen. But there are also fertile stretches and rich meadows and the occasional rainbow. I think all of us, bloggers and luddites alike, need to be exceptionally careful and wary in and around this world.
Participation in this world has its costs. Some known. Some unknown. Of course. But it also has its benefits. I know because I've experienced them. Because in the short time I've been doing this, blogging stories, I believe that my own life and the life of my family has improved in elusive, but detectable ways. Like so many other mothers, I have found motherhood to be bliss punctuated by moments of drudgery, magic peppered with moments of monotony. Motherhood is a road to both profound inspiration and profound isolation. Blogging has given me the license to pursue self amidst overwhelming other, to take a bit of time every day to ponder something - who I am as a person and a parent, what I worry about vis-a-vis each, what I want for myself and my family. Thinking about these things, writing them down for me, for you, for time immemorial, has made me a happier, fuller person and a happier, fuller mom and wife.
Again, this could be a masterful example of self-justification, but I genuinely believe that my kids, the creatures whom I love rabidly, are benefiting from this, from having a mother who loves them enough to take the time to ponder her own happiness and alongside it, theirs. If I didn't think blogging or pursuing a writing career were good for them, for us, I would never do it. Never. And if there ever comes a time when I stop believing this, I will stop. And never look back.
And yet. I'm still nauseous. Shaky. Unsure. Why? Because we are dealing in gorgeous grays. Because there is no way of knowing how any of this will or will not affect Toddler, Baby, and Husband and my broader family down the line. When my kids are applying to college, will admissions departments not like that their mother once blogged? Will future friends of ours and our kids scour my stories, lovingly crafted, for details about my darlings? Will my girls start their own blogs as teens because they see it as the norm? I don't know. And not knowing makes me a bit sick.
What amazes me about this continued debate, and the incarnation of it on Motherlode, is the apparent (and deceptive) lack of anxiety, anxiety that must be felt by people other than me. Individuals are so quick to defend the little plot of earth on which they stand. If they steer clear of the Internet, the Internet is the devil. (It's worth knowing that in order to leave a comment on NYT, one must leave an email address, so even these naysayers are in some way leaving a trail on the big, bad Web.) If people blog, they argue blogging is fine. But where are all those souls out there like me who are doing the writing or blogging thing, loving it, instinctively feeling its palpable personal and familial promise, and also worrying - to the point of physiological nausea - about the effects it might have? Why is it so impossible for so many of us to admit, to the blogosphere, to each other, to ourselves, that this is just another instance where we don't have the answers and never will?
Husband, thanks for the link. I didn't take it the wrong way. I took it as a wake-up call. As a reminder to proceed with caution. I'm nauseous, yes. But in the best possible way.
What are your thoughts on this? If you are reading this, you are not viscerally opposed to the Internet as such. Do you fear participating because of the ramifications it might have? Have you ever contemplated blogging?