As a writer, I face rejection on a daily basis. People love or hate my work — or worse, they’re indifferent to it. Agents say no, publishers say no, magazine editors say no. What that’s done for me is thicken my skin. (Not thicken my rear end, although some would beg to differ.) My point? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Until I get a response like I did yesterday. A “Mom” response. An attack, really, if you want to split hairs. Every blogger says he or she has reached the blogging pinnacle when they begin to acquire “haters” and “trolls” and “naysayers.” I have my share of those. But the response I got yesterday — on the heels of this bitter and nasty and accusatory election season — really got under my (thick) skin.
Because it wasn’t just personal, it was divisive. It was the classic Good Mom/Bad Mom scenario. It was from the I’m Right/You’re Wrong playbook. It broke my Number One Rule: A Way/The Way.
In case you missed it, the Mom who commented insinuated that I was a bad PARENT (all caps were hers) who made a POOR choice and GLOATED about it on my blog. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that was the gist of it. And she commented as if I were a non-entity — a nameless face on the other end of a keyboard. That’s what our online obsession has given us, I think — a basic disconnect from other human beings, an inanimate keyboard to hide behind as we type our vitriol.
This particular comment was not written to promote a civil discussion, it was written to incite a riot, to judge, to assign blame. And that’s where I have a problem.
You see, Mamas, we’re all in this game together. We really are. I used to laugh when old Hillary used to say, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but I’ll be damned if she wasn’t on to something. I would never have admitted to that when my kids were young, when I was infallible, when I knew it all. But now that I’m older and more seasoned, I get it.
My kids are most certainly not just raised by me and by Chris. They are raised by their friends, their teachers, their neighbors, their grandparents, their bus drivers, their aunts and uncles. And thank God they are. Because I most certainly would fail them on so very many levels if it were all up to me. I need you, fellow Mamas and Dads and Human Beings. I need your wisdom, your input, your experiences to help guide me and to help guide them.
But what happened in response to my blog post yesterday wasn’t helpful. It was hurtful — to me, to you, to all of us who are doing our best to raise good kids in an imperfect world. A “My Way or the Highway” attitude serves no one — least of all, our children.
Given a second opportunity, I would take my daughter and her friends to see that movie all over again. (And just for the record, her friends’ parents knew which movie we were seeing and gave their individual okays.) You know why? Because the conversation that followed, the openness, the insight was irreplaceable.
And any parents out there who think that 12, 13, and 14-year-olds who exist and participate in this world aren’t already privy to the themes this movie presented might want to open their eyes and their minds a little bit wider. If your kids go to school, if they ride a bus, if they have friends, if they have neighbors — they are learning things far beyond your scope and comprehension.
I can clearly remember when I was a newly-minted double-digit girl and a neighbor boy flashed his itty bitty penis. He asked me to touch it. Asked me to show him mine. Cliches be damned, that’s exactly how it happened. I also remember walking in our 20-something neighbors while they were smoking pot. I clearly recall the sickeningly sweet haze in their living room, the Bob Seger playing on the turntable.
Did I talk to my mom about these things? Hell to the no. But I knew her door was open if I needed or wanted to.
I distinctly remember traversing the mysteries of my own body during puberty and being paralyzed with fear that I was different, abnormal, broken in some way. It wasn’t till I read a little Judy Blume from the adult section of the library that I realized what was happening to me and within me was normal. And then I figured out a little more when I ventured onto some seedy V.C. Andrews.
My point is this: movies, music, books — they all have the power to inform us, to guide us, to change us. They elicit discussions and open doors. And for me? I want my door to be open. Always. To my kids, to their friends, to my friends, to their kids. Closed doors, for me, equal closed minds. This movie may have scraped the outer edges of what these girls were familiar with, but those themes were not foreign to them. Trust me. Their conversations and questions proved that they were far more aware than any of us might have given them credit for.
It was ME who was uncomfortable. And I was uncomfortable only because when I close my eyes, I can still smell the baby sweet scent of my Mary Claire’s newborn head. Now she wears bras and mascara and skinny jeans. That unrelenting march of time is often too much for me.
And yet, it continues. Whether I like it or not.
Mamas, we’ve got to stop dividing. We’ve got to abandon words like “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad” when we talk about the paths others may choose to take. I’m not a homeschooler or an attachment parent or a nurse-’em-till-they-walk kind of gal, but I don’t begrudge those who are. Your way is not my way, but that doesn’t make it any “less” of a way. It doesn’t make my way better. It doesn’t make your way worse. It just makes our ways different. And I’m certainly grateful for a little diversity.
Unless you’re hanging with meth heads and child abusers, we’re all doing our best to raise the most fabulous kids we can. We should be celebrating that, encouraging it, throwing a little party in its honor. (I’ll bring the wine!)
And here’s the other thing… when we release these kids out into the wild world, we all have to live with them. Whether they believe in Buddha or they pick their noses or they listen to Metallica (no offense, Kirsten), whether your boy loves boys or your girl pierces her belly-button, they’re ours to have and to hold and to honor and uplift… just as they are.
They’re ours to love, all of them. Every single one. Unconditionally.
So, let’s keep opening our arms and our hearts and our eyes instead of assigning blame and passing judgment. Let’s choose kindness. What do you say, Sisters, Brothers, Friends?
Wouldn’t that be a crazy wonderful world? That’s where I want to live.