Only Slightly Shorter Than The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, But at Least You Don’t Have to Memorize It.

by Alexa on March 29, 2011

{Delay in posting brought to you by Seeing My Father for the First Time in Four Years, Under Circumstances Appropriate for Depressing and Overwrought Short Fiction—no, no I’m NOT kidding, and like most every other event of the past three months, this is a matter deserving of a whole entry of its own, and I don’t mean to sound paranoid, but just between us? I think 2011 might be trying to kill me.}

Before we get started, I’d appreciate it ever so if we (well, YOU) could agree to read this whole thing before commenting. It might seem like an odd request, but there is a part of this entry (possibly more than one, now that I think about it) that might tempt a person to emit a screech of fury and skip directly to typing. Maybe, instead, that would be a good time to take a cleansing breath or throw some small, unbreakable object. That’s a fine idea, actually. Find yourself something for throwing and have it nearby, next to your snack. But no typing until the end.

So! she says, clapping her hands briskly together: let’s begin.

A few days after Simone’s birthday, I opened my Inbox and saw the subject line indicated below by a helpful red arrow:

(WAIT! No typing! Use your small, unbreakable object!)

I am posting this screenshot not for dramatic flourish, but because I can think of no other way to adequately covey the experience of seeing an email titled “[YOUR CHILD'S NAME] Must Die.”
My first thought, bizarrely, was about punctuation: At least it’s not an exclamation point at the end, I thought. Then I decided the period was worse—more chilling. Then I realized that while I was thinking about punctuation and feeling my insides go cold and then hot and then cold again, I still hadn’t opened the message.
I wanted to recreate that stomach dropping flush of horror in you not just because I am A Giver, but because if I’m going to ramble on and on (and ON) about my reaction, you might as well understand what I was reacting to. Only you will just have to trust me as to what information is necessary to that understanding, because I won’t be posting the rest of the email. I’ll tell you about it, but without quotes. If my emailer wants the rest of his words public, he is going to have to pay for his own damn hosting space, or visit one of the many public forums where people can (and do!) mock children. (HINT: This is not one of them.)

Here is what I will say:

-Nowhere in the message did the author actually threaten Simone. Or me, for that matter. He said he hopes she dies a horrible death before adulthood—but, well, wishing doesn’t make it so. He did propose, in so many words, that *I* kill Simone, which suggestion I have rejected.

-While the vitriol was ostensibly directed at my daughter, it was largely of the UR BAYBEE’S UGLY!!!1!! variety and seemed specifically designed to provoke *me* (which makes sense, as Simone isn’t much of a reader just yet).

-The author has a history of commenting here and elsewhere online, if you expand the definition of “commenting” to include “lobbing hate speech and inflammatory statements with the obvious intention of creating an outraged kerfluffle.”

-The author is grievously misinformed about the impact of Simone’s early birth upon her current medical status and the likelihood of her need for future assistance from the state. (This lack of reading comprehension is maddeningly rampant among my hatemailers and online detractors. I give to literacy programs, I volunteer, and still people manage to come away from hours of perusing my website with the impression that my daughter is blind, deaf, and in possession of a stunning array of developmental problems that leave her with little quality of life.) I’m sure it says something unflattering about me that I find it far more difficult to not respond to these factual errors than I do to ignore the insults.

-Nothing in the text compared to seeing the subject line, but it was a profoundly ugly message.

After reading it in full, I instinctively closed the door to my office, not wanting Scott to see it before I was ready to show him. I felt sick and angry and weirdly ashamed. After all, I had thrust Simone out into the online nethersphere, exposing her to these sneering halfwits. I didn’t much feel like trusting the world with my baby anymore, and not just because of this most recent salvo—Simone has been a target of Internet mischief-making since her birth, and three years of studiously ignoring cruelty takes it out of a person. I’d been happily sorting pictures of her 3rd birthday celebration for a post, but after the email I was disinclined to share them. I wanted to write about the email, and the ways its alighting upon the already heaping weight of online ugliness had tipped some internal scale of mine, but I found I couldn’t.

I strongly suspected that I was either over or under reacting—possibly both—and decided I shouldn’t post about the situation until I figured out which it was. Maybe people would think I was making a mountain out of a molehill: this was a documented shit-stirrer trying to get a rise out of me, nothing more. Maybe people would think I wasn’t taking this seriously enough; they would lecture me about lawyers and scold my naivete. Probably there would be some of each.
I swung from one extreme to another myself, alternately flippant and litigious. I did file the pertinent reports, and in the process had a conversation with a kind police officer who characterized the emailer as “some nut giving unsolicited parenting advice.”
“If you can call ‘Kill her’ parenting advice,” I said, and we both had a good laugh.

Part of what made my own thinking about redrawing Internet boundaries so muddled was that I kept stumbling back upon Conventional Wisdom gleaned from the writing of others who’d dealt with similar dilemmas. Alas, Conventional Wisdom made contradictory demands upon me. One such set of demands goes like this: Do Not Acknowledge Internet Trolls/Do Not Let Internet Trolls Dictate Your Behavior. The idea is to proceed as if the incident never happened at all, so as not to give them the satisfaction of knowing that they “got to you.” Attention will only encourage them, because attention is what they want, so we mustn’t give it or The Terrorists Win. But if the reason I am not posting about something someone wrote is directed at producing or not producing a certain reaction in said someone, doesn’t it seem to anyone else like that is allowing said someone to influence my behavior just as much as writing about it would? {Ed. Note: Whew!}

“There’s this idea that If I post about it, he wins,” I explained to Scott a few days into my internal stalemate. He snorted, and then said something very wise:

“He doesn’t ‘win.’ Trust me, this guy isn’t winning anything—he’s not taking time out of his busy WINNING Schedule to make fun of 3-year-olds.”

Of course, he was right, but I still couldn’t seem to write anything, so instead I thought about it. A lot. Not just about the “Simone Must Die” email, but about writing online, and privacy and honesty and anonymity and cruelty, and how the lines we are unwilling to cross move when there are children involved. And now I am ready to inflict share this jumble of thoughts upon with you.

(Oh, you thought we were done? Sorry! I’m just getting started.)
(I did warn you, after all.)
(This would be a good time to unwrap your snack.)

People are tediously fond of comparing the online community to high school, but there is one way in which this comparison is in fact very apt: both tolerate a lack of basic decency that would be unthinkable in most other public environments. In high school, on a daily basis, I saw people pushed, humiliated, taunted, and laughed at. I can honestly say that I never once did the same (and Simone had better be able to say as much when she is older, because that right there is one behavior I will not abide). There was one girl in particular at my school who was the butt of seemingly every joke, and one day while she was being teased by a gaggle of our classmates I slid into the seat next to her and tried to be friendly. It didn’t go well. She assumed that I was making fun of her myself; why else would I be talking to her at all?
Treating a person so badly for so long that she is suspicious of anyone who would do otherwise changes who they are. I’ve never understood how anyone, teenager or no, can be so intentionally, casually cruel. How can you think so little of another human being that you feel entitled to belittle them for your own amusement?

We all have unkind thoughts, and I’ve said unkind things privately that I would not want repeated in public. I try to do this as rarely as possible, even between friends, but I’m human, and like most humans, I don’t like everyone. I also don’t go around *telling* people that I don’t like them, online or off. I may argue with them, but I am capable of remembering that not every opinion needs to be expressed. There is nothing noble about taking time out of your busy day to tell a stranger that she is a bad mother, even if you think she is one.
(It’s children, more than their mothers, who are considered public property. The less utopian side of “It Takes a Village” is the woman scolding you for taking your baby—the VILLAGE’S baby—outside without a hat.)
People often get stroppy about the first amendment at this point in the argument, and it tries my patience, that it is so difficult for some to understand what is a relatively simple concept:

Having a right to do something does not necessarily mean that doing that thing is right.

For a long time—years—I never deleted a comment. With the exception of spam, they were all allowed, no matter how hateful. I had the vague impression that to do otherwise would be tenuously adjacent to censorship, that if I was going to “put myself out there,” I had to be prepared to take whatever anyone wanted to dish out. Eventually I managed a distinction between dissent and irrelevant bile, but that still left a strange breed of commenter who, while not flinging obscenities for sport, made a habit of consistently posting extraordinarily rude remarks, often overlaid with a veneer of topic-appropriateness. A few months ago I started banning those as well, and posted the following update to the previously nonexistent comment policy here at Flotsam:

1. I continue to welcome respectful dissent, but I will no longer welcome those who make a habit of leaving snide, passive aggressive comments exclusively or anonymously.

2. Comments that are cruel and/or irrelevant, i.e. those that are composed of pointlessly insulting remarks upon my appearance/my child’s appearance/how boring or unamusing you find my website (you know, THIS site, the one you’ve chosen to devote your limited time to perusing) will be promptly deleted and the commenter blocked.

Criticism has always been part and parcel of writing for public consumption, but the tenor online is different, and seems to foster a uniquely depersonalized nastiness. For some reason, the Internet has given many people the impression that social contracts and standards of decency are suspended online, as a corollary to the possibility of anonymity. They aren’t. The presence or absence of consequences for bad behavior is irrelevant. The wrong thing doesn’t stop being wrong when no one is watching.

Some of my sternest censure is reserved for those who profit by cultivating outrage. There is money in outrage now, lots of it. I wonder how some sites reconcile posting high-minded musings on the horrors of bullying alongside headlines and articles designed to polarize and infuriate. I’ve seen the courting of controversy defended as “sparking debate” in a revoltingly disingenuous attempt to apply a Serious Journalism patina to what is essentially an online successor to The Jerry Springer Show. Comment sections explode with personal attacks; moderators and authors call for civility but do little to enforce it. Then they publicize the conflagration—Have you seen this? Have you heard what These People are saying about Those People?—in a manner that seems equal parts mischievous teenaged Mean Girl and I Claudius-worthy guile.

I write creative nonfiction; I am used to navigating the tricky ethics of writing about people who actually exist. I am already selective in what I write about my family, both online and off. Considering a subject’s reaction to what I write about them is familiar territory, but considering their reaction to criticism of what I write about them is not. People are quick to remind one another that The Internet is Forever, but I wonder how many think about the fact that “forever” applies not only to their own websites, but also to those discussing them. How will Simone feel stumbling across strangers opining that she ought never to have been allowed to live at all? I can hope or believe that she will be able to roll her eyes at their stupidity, that the love and gratitude expressed by other strangers will far outweigh it, but I’m not sure that I have the right to assume that risk on her behalf. Simone is three, and at this age I do have a tremendous amount of control—for now, her exposure to the world is largely at my discretion. Why not take advantage of what—with the advent of Facebook and Twitter and tweenagers broadcasting their every movement in poorly-spelled shorthand—is becoming an increasingly brief window of opportunity? I can’t prevent anyone from ever saying a cruel word about my daughter, but I can make a decision to limit the access I provide to her.

In short (ha haaa!) the question is this: if I KNOW that writing about my young child has made her a target of mockery—however irrational and ill-informed—do I have a responsibility to protect her stories and pictures from being used as fodder for it? Does this send a message that I value her right to privacy, or does it say something much more complicated by giving weight to the words of a bully?

******

The People of The Internet seem to agree that we have a responsibility to avoid trampling upon our children’s privacy online, and to consider their possible future feelings about our writing. On the other hand—a triumphant fist, really—there is an increasingly defensive mandate for truth-telling, and not as in “not lying.” This is a touchier, feel-ier, CAPITALIZED Truth-Telling. This goes along with the Conventional Wisdom dictating that letting hatemail stop me from writing about my family means ceding some nebulous advantage to Evil.

I have two problems with what I have observed among those proposing this stance. One is what I will call Rosa Parks Syndrome (if you have not read that essay by Sarah Vowell, you owe it to yourself to take a break from this screed treatise novella post and do it now). In this case, the syndrome manifests itself in a lot of We will not be silenced! We are mothers who blog! Un-silent mothers! Death to The Patriarchy, one lyrical anecdote at a time! sort of talk. Before you retrieve your small, unbreakable objects in order to throw them at ME, let me say that even five years ago, I’d have been with you, and I still do believe that there is tremendous value in women writing about their everyday lives—as mothers and otherwise—online. Other People’s Archives were my What to Expect When You’re Expecting. However, at this point it seems a little thin to continue insisting that the voices of a group of largely white, moderately well-off mothers with Internet connections are being systematically ignored and silenced, especially when this battle cry is mostly taken up by people who have been able to turn membership in the largely-white-moderately-well-off-mother demographic into a financially viable business model.

I fully agree that motherhood is undervalued. (I also think it is overvalued, which is part of why mothers are subjected to such intense and unfair public scrutiny, but the intersection of those statements is a complicated can of worms and have you not SEEN how long this is already?) I especially agree that writing about motherhood is a good way to get yourself shelved in the Pregnancy & Childbirth section (AHEM), and I could write a whole other screed treatise novella post about the pigeonholing of female writers writing about traditionally female subject matter (with a subsection on the special circle of irrelevance reserved for those who add humor to the already dangerous combination of being female and writing about parenthood—Calvin Trillin and Ian Frazier escape by a penis-length!). Online, though, this ostensible persecution just isn’t there. If anything, domesticity is rewarded. Mothers online make up an extraordinarily privileged group wielding huge influence. It’s not that some people don’t take those who blog about motherhood less seriously than those who blog about technology—they do, and it’s silly—but mothers who blog probably face less discrimination for being mothers than most other segments of the mothering population.

My second, and primary, problem with the credo of Truth-Telling is the almost fanatically absolute value it grants to honesty. Over and over, I see honesty being treated like a magical forcefield. This attitude is not confined to the Internet—there are plenty of poorly written memoirs that attempt to stand purely on the rawness of their content—and in general the shocking and the bare have begun to be viewed as exempt from considerations of both taste and ethics. Honesty is not the same thing as artistic merit or moral rightness, and is not a defense to criticisms of either.

I haven’t written much about this, but I was teased fairly ferociously from kindergarten on. I was a weird kid, and then I was funny looking, and later I dressed like a cross between a drag queen and a Japanese cartoon character.
Even in the first grade, I was a big proponent of the don’t-let-them-know-they-got-to-you school of thought. I may have cried at home, but in the moment I did no such thing. Ever. Happily, I had a Smart Mouth, and this is a tremendous asset when confronted with bullies. Bullies are usually with friends, and thus especially easy to embarrass—make the friends laugh at the bully, and no one need ever know about the painful lump in your throat. You can convince people that you’d never believe that what the bully said was true, that being called ugly doesn’t faze you in the slightest.

By the end of junior high, the teasing had become so expected that I didn’t bother with my Smart Mouth anymore. Instead, I behaved as though the jeering figures were erased from reality, adopting the same middle-distance trance as one does when dealing with NYC Sidewalk/Subway Shouters. I won’t pretend it never upset me at all, but it became such a part of the fabric of my school day that I remember very few specific incidents. One that sticks stubbornly to the inside of my skull is from high school: my locker was next to a short, jock-y, popular boy who tormented me whenever he got the chance, and before Math one afternoon I was getting a book out of my locker when he and his friends ambled up and started in on me. I don’t remember what they said, but I can assume that deep-throated shouts of “FREAK!”—released as close to my face as possible—were in the offering. I ignored them, moving unhurriedly about my business, and then I walked to class. It wasn’t until I was seated at my desk that I unshouldered my backpack and saw the great, viscous pool of green snot that had been horked onto the top of it.

I didn’t like being shouted and laughed at or spit on. The teasing would almost certainly have petered out if I had stopped wearing giant platforms and fake lashes and sequins glued about my eyes. The strange thing to me, looking back, is that it never occurred to me to do so. I don’t mean that I considered the option but dismissed it out of hand, I mean that I did not consider it at all. This was not out of courage or strength of principle, though I will admit that it did take a certain settling of the shoulders to walk into school each morning. I wasn’t immune to the idea of “cool,” but I had the same unwavering faith in my version of it as my tormentors did in theirs: I would sooner have DIED than wear khakis or a button down shirt, and if the only way I could dress the way I liked was to make the clothes myself and put up with gawking, laughter, and tourists taking pictures of me at the mall, so be it. It wasn’t defiance for defiance’s sake, or because I felt honor bound to stand up for the rights of middle-class girls everywhere to wear goggles and dangerous shoes.
There was nothing especially admirable about my behavior, but I do admire the lack of calculation involved in it. I seem to be making a lot of grand, philosophical-type statements, so I might as well go ahead and make another: knowing that an action will result in criticism or trouble and doing it anyway is not inherently brave or good. When she is older, I hope that Simone feels secure enough to be true to herself in the face of opposition, but I want that impulse to come from inside of her, not from a self-conscious insistence on Not Backing Down.

As usual, I have failed to come to a pleasingly definitive conclusion. (I wonder sometimes if ever I will come to a pleasingly definitive conclusion about anything, try as I might.) There is no “safe” number of pictures or posts or mentions below which Simone will cease being a target, and mean people aren’t going anywhere. Why not excise her from my public life altogether? What’s the point of posting about her less? I don’t feel any closer to an answer than I did the day I saw that subject line in my Inbox, but I’m increasingly certain that’s because there isn’t one, not really, at least not a One True Answer, a Right Thing To Do. I think worrying less about carving out some sort of widespread policy on Internet exposure IS the answer, or as close as we get, and part of that is accepting that there is no rulebook, and maybe there shouldn’t be, because maybe the rules don’t come from anywhere but us, and probably they change all the time.
I do know that the idea of omitting my greatest source of joy, of keeping entirely mum on the topic of the strange and exhilarating and remarkable experience of witnessing and shepherding the growth of a whole new human…well, the idea of that makes this site seem pointless. Not because I exist solely as a mother (only one of the essays I am working on now mentions Simone at all), but because while I don’t believe that full disclosure is a mandate, or honesty a virtue unto itself, I do believe in the importance of telling our stories, and my daughter is, sometimes, an inextricable part of mine.

I often think that reading—most art, really—is like a vast, temporally flexible game of Marco Polo. (Not the most sophisticated metaphor, but there you go.) We are desperate to see reflections of our own lives and experiences pinned down and made richer and more coherent with language. They help us understand ourselves and our world, and give us the relief of knowing that we’re all in this together. I wrote a whole damn memoir, for god’s sake, and I wrote it because I know firsthand the loneliness of being unable to find an echo. When some woman carrying one live baby and one dead one, or sitting next to an isolette, whispers “Marco!” I want my book, flawed as it is, to be the “Polo!” called reassuringly back to her.
On our best days, I think that this is what blogging does, and with an immediacy that is breathtaking. We owe that immediacy to the Internet, along with unprecedented access to other people and their stories, and I often think I owe much of both my physical and mental health to that access. That access is also the source of comments that imply that I’m a bad mother because my house is messy and email messages that tell me to kill my daughter. It’s complicated.
So. I might post about Simone, or not, according to my internal whim. I have a lot of faith in my internal whim, or at least I am trying to.

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emma March 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Alexa I admire your eloquence in the face of such ugliness. I have no advice or even any position on privacy of your family but in a purely selfish way I am glad that you have the courage to share your life. Simone is beautiful (not that that is important).

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Life of a Doctor's Wife March 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

This is going to take some time for me to think through, but I wanted to take a moment just to say that I read every word and it resonated deeply.

(But, even after being lulled by your calm words and thoughtful parsing of the situation, I still want to throw something at whoever wrote that email to you.)

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Amelia Sprout March 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm

I feel like I should read this again, but I’m going to comment anyway. I did read the whole thing.

The last paragraph totally sums it up for me. I don’t want to feel alone, I don’t want anyone else to feel alone. I spent my life being bullied, without any lasting friendships. I still don’t make friends easily. I’m always waiting like that girl was for people to betray me. The Internet is my safe place, and while I still have a hard time trusting, here is the one place I don’t feel alone.

Your reaction to everything is more thought out and more reasoned than I think he deserved. I think you are winning! Duh!

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Jayne March 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Yow. It’s a good thing you made it a point of telling us to read the whole thing first. You’re going about processing this whole thing very maturely but, should you decide to go a different way, you know you have a whole little army of girls here who’d be happy to go rough somebody up if need be. That said, I have an autistic child, and a baby who was once a two pound preemie, both conceived with ART, and because I live in Canada and have awesome health care, they really are burdens on the state, boy howdy, so that really hits home.
As a mommy blogger, I self edit furiously, because of a gillion reasons, none of them even tangentially related to The Truth. I can’t offend some people I know are reading, I hate to dwell on some of the more negative/less glamorous aspects of my life, and I only have so much time. I don’t feel bad about it, but I don’t think I feel writing to as sacred as you obviously do.

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I self-edit for all the reasons you mentioned as well–not a thing wrong with that, in my opinion, and no need at all to feel bad about it.

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Cupcakekarate March 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I, too, am processing what you’ve written (it’s a good thing I had that salted beef!). I think what you’ve said is so important- the balance between bridging the chasm of solitude while protecting those you love from Internet Jerks is delicate. I trust your internal whim and I appreciate that everything I’ve read from you (especially lately) seems to be thoughtfully posted rather than thrown out there just to get a post up.

Thank you- I’m not a mother, nor do I plan to be one any time soon, but something about your writing speaks to me.

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Thank you. I will pass your vote of confidence along to my Internal Whim. Also, it is nice to know that a) motherhood is not s prerequisite for enjoying my writing (I worry sometimes that I bore non-mothers) and b) that you don’t mind my posting infrequency. I really would like to post more (a LOT more), but it is hard for me to separate my stifling and unreasonable perfectionism from my legitimate desire not to post utter crap. Work in progress.

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agirlandaboy March 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm

There are only two ways to go with this comment: 4200 words or 1. So: YES.

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Mimsie March 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Alexa, your post is unbelievably touching. I had to go back to your recent post and gaze at the photos of your darling Simone’s happy birthday parties and shake my head. HOW could someone write menacing and vitriolic comments about such a precious and innocent little girl who has been through so much in her short life. Oh, and the school bullying–it makes me feel sick. It happens everywhere, and does not end when the bullies graduate. Please keep writing to us, for us, for yourself, for your family. Hugs!!!

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carolyn March 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm

I have no words to use to respond to such a brilliant piece of writing. [Oh, wait. Maybe I do.] The issue of privacy and blogging is one often discussed but hot damn, you made it… I don’t know. You elevated it. You brought it to the forefront and made it difficult to ignore. I think everyone needs to read this and understand that there are PEOPLE writing these blogs. People with real children and real skin and real feelings. And there are freaks reading them who just don’t care.

I’m so sorry that you went through this. Of all the blogs in the world, yours is my absolute favorite, and it would be terrible if you were to leave. Yet I know what it feels like to want to shield your child. At least, until that first day of school.

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Oh, thank you! And yes, I think it is easy for people to think of the people writing blogs as paper doll versions of people, and forget that they are as real and familiar and mysterious as anyone else.

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Ginger March 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I have a feeling I will need to read this at least 4 more times, because you have stirred at least that many thoughts in my head. But I wanted to at least say this–as with all things, instinct and gut feeling go a long way. I’m not sure what I would do were I ever in your shoes, but going with your internal whim will likely guide you right.
I do want to throw things at that person though. Hateful, hateful person.

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Mir March 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I was too mesmerized by this to eat my snack.

Damn fine writing, and even better thinking.

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I have long been an admirer of yours (and anyone who hasn’t read Mir’s recent-ish post on the Pain Olympics should). Thank you, and I hope your snack didn’t congeal or anything.

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Ariel March 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Well, I DID read all of that, and my own two cents are that I would miss hearing about Simone if you stopped writing about her, because I’ve been cheering for her since before she was born. But obviously, you are her mama, and you must do what’s right.
Also, mean people suck. All the time, everywhere.

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Ariel March 29, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Right for her, and for you, obviously. Multitasking is not working so well for me today.

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Yes, and that is part of the difficulty for me–so many of you have been her cheering section since before she was born, and you got me through those times. Obviously Simone doesn’t “belong” to anyone, even me, but I feel like you are all her…aunts, or something.

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Patti B. March 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Speechless…but I’m with most everyone else that I DID read all of your words but sadly the heinous words that the freak loser idiot monster wrote to you still stand out. For someone who has fought so hard to be on this earth with her loving family, Simone seems to have been randomly plucked out of the blogosphere by this scum. Lucky for all of us she is strong, and then some, just like her Momma. I will miss hearing how your itty bitty baby plays on the playground and enjoys her school days, but I will understand if that’s your decision. I love your blog, loved your book and think you are an amazing mother. Better days ahead.

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Sara March 29, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Jesus fuck what is WRONG with people?! I am constantly amazed at the things they will write online or in email. I’m almost hoping that guy has some sort of mental illness, you know? Because if there are quote-unquote normal people walking around this world sending emails like that…like, do I have to go outside my house? It all seems like too much sometimes. I am so sorry you had to read that subject line, not to mention the email itself. So, so sorry.

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I think I know what you are trying to say. It is easier to accept this behavior if there is some sort of definable medical explanation for it, but unfortunately I think that as much as we’d like to be able to “other”-ize this sort of thing, the truth is that regular, ordinary people not so different from us are capable of awful cruelty.

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Ashley April 24, 2011 at 7:39 am

It struck me as I was reading and asking myself what would possess someone to post such hate (I’ve seen these comments before on your blog)…and you (Alexa) hit on it, I think. That all social norms can (not that they should) be abandoned online probably gives these depraved people some kind of strange rush..some kind of adrenaline high. And probably that high comes from wondering what will happen next…what reaction will I get? Perhaps these people are addicted to this rush in the same way freaks are addicted to porn, serial killers are addicted to control and recognition, etc. There’s probably a pathology or a profile here that needs documenting. If so, the naive part of me wonders if there’s a formula way for dealing with it.

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Mara March 29, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I very rarely comment, but feel the need to. You are so thoughtful, and I appreciate your honesty in sharing this with us. I don’t blog, and I don’t read any other blogs but this one, even though I have tried when it has been a while since you last posted. Your writing, your honesty, intelligence, humor and thoughtfulness is unique. It is sad that putting what I see as something very positive out in the world also brings hatred and negativity back to you, and I think you are certainly grappling with a very modern issue in deciding where the lines are drawn. You write, “Having a right to do something does not necessarily mean that doing that thing is right.” and I agree. It is a question of ethics and really morality, and it is sad when those who claim to be acting based on morals do not see this fundamental truth. On the other hand, I believe that those of us who truly to connect, and improve society- live happier and more fulfilled lives. So there, we have that on them!

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I am honored to be your one and only blog.
I agree that this is a very modern issue, which is what makes it so difficult. It seems odd that it should be an issue at all, because the issue behind the issue (treating people with kindness and respect) is a very old one, and you’d think everyone would have managed to master it by now…

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Melanie K March 29, 2011 at 5:13 pm

This is so very well written, its obvious how much thought you have given it. I wish the trolls were not so eager to spew their obvious unhappiness with the rest of us, but they are there and yeah its something to think about. I have wondered for years if I could blog but ultimately decided that because I didn’t know the boundaries, I couldn’t begin (can you tell I am kind of a rules person?). I certainly hope to read more about Simone, our daughters are so close in age (Allie turns 3 end of May) and I love to hear how she is doing, but I also respect the decisions you have to make about what to share and whom to share it with.

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Jenny Grace March 29, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I do not know what to say. But I did read it all.
I’m rather fond of Simone, and reading about her.
I grow quite attached to these darned kids on the internet.

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hls March 29, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Phew, I thought this was leading up to “and so I’m not blogging / not blogging about family any more”. Yay, we still get to read you! Sentences like this express a larger truth in a way that takes my breath away:
“When some woman carrying one live baby and one dead one, or sitting next to an isolette, whispers “Marco!” I want my book, flawed as it is, to be the “Polo!” called reassuringly back to her.”
not because I’ve been there – I haven’t – but it is the kind of understanding we all wish for. Thank you.

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Thank YOU. Knowing that what I write can provide that feeling of being understood to someone makes me so happy, and it feels pleasantly like I am honoring all the writers who did the same for me.

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Jane March 29, 2011 at 5:28 pm

So thank you. The “person” (and I use the term loosely) whose comment discomforted you (and rightly so) is obviously a toad…no, a toad wouldn’t even do that. He/she is an idiot, doubtless living in his/her mother’s basement and subsisting on cheetos and mountain dew. And he/she smells bad. And has orange hands. And has not spoken to another human being in several months. And who we would all avoid on the subway, possibly actually getting out before our stop because of the sheer loathsomeness of their non-personness.

Your “marco…polo” comment is perfect. We need to feel we are not alone. Sometimes, these days, that takes the Internet.

Post on! And all of us who wish you and Simone more than well….well, we will be happy.

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Tricia March 29, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Marco…

My babies were born at 27 weeks – two pounds each (I know, jumbo compared to Simone). We spent months in the NICU. I didn’t think they would EVER come home. I wanted to smack the doctor if he told me one more time, “They’re tiny.” (I. Can. See. That.)

So I started blogging. I introduced the world to my “muppets.” It never occurred to me that some people would find pleasure in mocking small children. But what DID become very obvious, was that I would eventually be done “doing time” in the hospital. Because someone sent me your book. (I even reviewed it on my blog: http://www.streamdoubletrouble.com/2011/02/06/book-review-half-baked/)

“I recommend “Half Baked: The Story of My Nerves, My Newborn, and How We Both Learned to Breathe” to everyone and anyone touched by prematurity – no matter how distantly. This book is a must read for anyone touched by a baby born too soon.”

Because, just as Alexa says above…

Polo!

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I’m so glad you found my book! If I were very, very wealthy, I would give a copy to every NICU parent (if they didn’t want to read it, they could use it for something else, like as a positioning aid or to toss across the room in fury when their discharge plan was changed for the umpteenth time). Your boys are beautiful.

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Bellevelma March 29, 2011 at 5:34 pm

My first thought, when Scott said the guy wasn’t taking time out of “his WINNING schedule” was, OMG, Charlie Sheen is threatening her baby?! So sorry you have to put up with people like that. I hope Simone’s birthday was fabulous and each year is better than the next.

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Alexa April 5, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I WOULDN’T PUT IT PAST HIM.

Simone’s birthday WAS fabulous. I can’t imagine next year (or any year) being better, but you never know.

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electriclady March 29, 2011 at 5:57 pm

I like Scott’s comment. This guy is not WINNING by any stretch of the imagination.

You are brilliant and wonderful and wise, and you put into words so much of what I think about mothers and mothering and writing and sharing and honesty and rights and rightness.

And you know, if you were any less of a freak I wouldn’t love you half as much. I hide it under my shiny glossy big city gal patina, but I was tortured all throughout school too. And it makes me actually not fully trust anyone who WASN’T tortured when they were young, because obviously someone who was never tortured must have been a torturer.

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Alexa April 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I’m better about it now, but I used to see a beautiful, shiny, put-together-looking person and automatically assume they would mock me if given half a chance.

Also, I miss you! I wish I were nearer so we could have another Noodle Lunch.

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electriclady April 12, 2011 at 11:27 am

Mmmmm, noodles…

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evany March 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm

On one hand, I’m so much sadder knowing that I share a world with such a terrible, rotting, outreach-prone monster. On the other hand, I’m so incredibly happy to be in a world where both you, your family, and your incredible writing thrive so winningly (it’s true, you really are one of the best writers going, online and off!). And in this particular good-vs-evil balancing act, I feel like your contributions are so fantastigreat, they outweigh the darkness.

So yeah: Thanks, you!!! (Pat, pat, pat!)

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jen March 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I am completely speechless on two levels. Firstly, that anyone could say such a thing about a child is…I simply cannot understand it. There are no words. And secondly, how you amazingly and ever so eloquently found the words. All the best to you and Simone and Scott.

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Sarah March 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I”m sorry life hasn’t been a bowl full of cherries lately. Genuinely. Without snark. I love your writing and miss seeing it on a more frequent basis. I was about a trimester behind you (with a singleton), and followed your blog the whole way through. It was scary to read, as were so many others I read at the time, but seeing other kids survive difficult, trying times helped me see how my own boy would too. And Simone did survive and thrive and my boy does too. BTW, isn’t toddler hood a hoot? :)

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Alexa April 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Oh dear! I always feel bad for the readers who were pregnant when I was…just reading along, sympathizing about morning sickness and then BAM! Pregnancy horror movie.

And YES to toddlerhood. I actually think 3 is my favorite age so far.

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Heather March 29, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Wow! I am so very sorry that people are just so mean. I have a few other thoughts too, but I will keep those to myself.

I don’t write about my kids, I don’t want them out there, so if you stop writing about Simone (beautiful girl) I totally understand.

Good luck!

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DAWN March 29, 2011 at 6:46 pm

As a follower of your blog and journey with Simone and Ames you are like family to me. I cannot pretend to know the way you felt when seeing that email. Several of the blogs I follow have gone to private for various reasons. I am not sure if that would be an answer for you, but maybe a spin off of your Flotsam blog where you would feel more free to share about your life with Simone. She is a fighter, she fought through adversity to live and you were meant to be her mom. And a damn good Mom at that. Don’t let anyone take that from you. Keeping a clean house is not the definition of a good mother. All the days you spent by Simones bedside indicated early on you had what it takes. And your candid blogging about Ames and Simone helped me when my best friend lost a child after a 58 day stay in the Nicu. And then myself a mother at 46 with help of ART spent only a brief week in the NICU, but again I said if you could do it, certainly I could get this 36 week baby girl home!! I am just one person here and you have made a difference in my life and have comforted me unknowingly. Just know, you MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Thank you. You must of course, do what is best for you and your family. That is a personal choice. I can only thank you for sharing with us your amazing blog and letting us enter a day in the life of Alexis.

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Pamela March 29, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Almost everyone else has already said much of what I wanted to…but I couldn’t let this go without telling you how insightful and thoughtful this post is. The issue of privacy and how much to share on a blog and how to handle comments is fraught with ambiguity and you captured this dilemma perfectly. Thank you!

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Aqua March 29, 2011 at 7:03 pm

You had me in tears by the end. Such an eloquent, thoughtful, rich, elegant response to what was evidently an evil — simply unimaginably vicious — comment. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time; yours is by far my favorite blog. You are a superb writer and such a warm and wonderful human being. I hope you know that you’ve touched the lives of strangers like me. I was pregnant while you were going through the nightmare you went though, and I cried with you and I feared the worst with you and I cheered with you and jumped up and down when the news was good. Simone could not have chosen a better mother.

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Annie H March 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Bravo. I liked your writing before today, and now I add you to the list of people whom I admire.

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yaya March 29, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Just sending a bit of soft pillowy love out for this post. Thank you for your honesty, strength, courage and huge heart in posting this. This is one mama who loves Simone like she is my own (and we have never met)…please know (and I know you do) how many people love & respect you and your family and your writing. Peace, Love & Gentleness.

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Georgine March 29, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I have been reading your blog for a very long time and have always marveled at how beautiful Simone is having such a rough start to life. I love reading about her accomplishments, you see, I have a grand=daughter that turned 3 in November and she had a few rough moments from the minute she was born. I admire you for the fact that you have been able to right about the difficult times as well as the wonderful times. Please don’t stop writing about your wonderful daughter or posting photos, she is amazing and a true gift from God.

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HereWeGoAJen March 29, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I am sorry that your awesomeness attracts some crazy.

But I am glad that you share. Your story, and the stories of others, have meant so much to me in these last few days of suck. And internet love is magic.

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Jen March 29, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I just love you, and Simone. I’m so sorry you had to deal with such vileness. I can only hope that karma has something special in store for that jackass pig.

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Amanda March 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I stumbled upon your blog last summer and could not stop reading your archives. I then immediately bought your book and devoured it. I admire you and your incredible talent for writing. You are witty, smart, honest, insightful, and just damn funny. I have no words of wisdom to offer for the dilemma you face. I have no doubt you will make the best decision for you and your family. Thank you for sharing whatever you choose to share with us. I truly enjoy reading it.

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tash March 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm

I think what gets me (in addition to eleventymillion other disgusting things) about this person (and the surrounding people) is the ungodly amount of time they have to read stuff they clearly disagree with, and then plot and write comments. Do they have jobs? Need to use the restroom? Eat? Have they checked out the latest in video game technology to release some nervous energy at the end of the day? I mean, why? (Munches granola bar.)

I am so with you on the whole “tenor online is different, and seems to foster a uniquely depersonalized nastiness. For some reason, the Internet has given many people the impression that social contracts and standards of decency are suspended online, as a corollary to the possibility of anonymity. ” Yes, yes, yes. I often wonder if the serious News organizations regret opening up because now their serious seriousness is the target of anonymous “U dunno wazzup” crap that must make their eyeballs bleed to have to wade through and moderate. Commenting online has made everyone an expert in everything, be it Middle East politics, the NFL lockout, or permature babies (or sadly, in the overlapping neck of the woods, dead babies and how their mothers should behave). It blows my mind.

I could comment long enough to make you get a snack but I won’t. I will miss (incredibly) reading about Simone but I understand completely if you never write about here or post a picture ever again. And I’m not just saying this to be nice because I think you write purty, but she’s a doll. She’s not teasable. Those cheeks? Those curls? Oh, and polo. I know different circumstances and all that, but grief and mothering is grief and mothering.

hang tough.

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Amy_Rey March 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Yes, internet assholes are what we call #LOSING, and they are legion. This is the single most unfortunate thing about the internet age—the lowered inhibitions people have. I suspect many of the online haters/trolls/Fomenters of Misery weren’t ever bullies in the flesh. They’re cowardly assholes who wouldn’t say “boo” in real life, but are emboldened by the anonymity to become Their Worst Selves at the keyboard. (Of course, the in-the-flesh bullies ALSO are online bullies, but they have so much company.)

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Sonya March 29, 2011 at 7:54 pm

This is one of those times when I am about to lose my faith in humanity, and then I see the supportive comments and think…yes, but there are kind and lovely people out there too.

My 15 year old daughter S, who I have mentioned before as a huge fan of Simone’s, has a weirdly excellent ability to understand and function well in a high school setting to the point where she has made being smart/geeky (she hosted Numbers marathons – the show where they solved crimes….with math) look cool. But regardless of her achievements, I am proudest of her for how she goes out of her way to be kind and inclusive and to not just avoid any of the ‘mean girl’ behaviour that can be endemic at even the best girl’s school, but refusing to spend time with those that behave that way. I like to think it is how I brought her up, but I think it is also that she has observed her older sister struggle with her medical and learning issues and the fact that she is just an astute and wise young woman, as I am sure you are bringing up Simone to be as well.

I will be very sad if we lose your writing and the lovely pictures and stories of Simone because of that troll, but I will understand why if that is your choice.

I hope that your 2011 (and mine, truth be told – thanks global economic meltdown!!) takes a u-turn to improve dramatically.

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Angella March 29, 2011 at 7:57 pm

“I do believe in the importance of telling our stories, and my daughter is, sometimes, an inextricable part of mine”

Yes.

I don’t write about my kids as often as I used to, now that they’re school aged, but they show up as part of the family story.

So sorry and appalled that you had to receive such a horrible email. I hope that the sender finds himself the recipient of Karma. Soon.

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laura March 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm

all i can think of to say is: i’m sorry, that troll is an asshat. and nolite te bastardes carborundorum. and maybe if you know who the punk is, i will put a flaming pile of poop at his doorstep.

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Cris March 29, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Preach! Really well argued, thanks for sharing your thoughts (and your child) with us…As everyone else has said, your last paragraph really sums it up. Being a mother can be very lonely and isolating and mommy blogs help you realize, in your most lonely mommy moments, that you are not alone. That someone else is going through the same nonsense/joys/battles at that very moment–or has been through them and lived to tell. Simone has every right to be proud of you.

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Editdebs March 29, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I’m a bit in love with your brain. And I’ve been in love with your daughter since I started reading your blog.

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Swistle March 29, 2011 at 8:39 pm

I think my favorite part was “alternately flippant and litigious.”

I think that if we take our children out of our blogs to protect them from anyone using them as mocking fodder, it’s not too far from the idea of taking them out of school to protect anyone THERE from using them as mocking fodder: i.e., it’s not a practical solution. “The internet” is a strange part of real life, but it IS part of real life: it wasn’t part of our childhoods, which makes it feel optional, or tainting—like the societies that ditch electricity because the world’s gone downhill from there.

My thoughts are not yet organized on this topic, but you see the gist of what is churning? If I were going to organize more ON THE SPOT, which will not work (I will see this topic while I should be sleeping, I can just tell), I would add that of course SOME “taking the children out of the target zone” DOES work: it isn’t all or nothing. I would drive my child to school if he were being tormented on the bus. I might even take him out of a school where he was having problems. But there would need to be a place where I would stop removing him from society in the name of protecting him. Not that I know where this would be, you understand.

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Agadoo March 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm

It’s nice to know you are going to keep blogging, but I get the feeling you think about blogging a lot more than you actually put pen to paper (so to speak.) Meaning, I won’t expect another post from you till around June or so.

Anyway, internet bullying is all the rage, and internet micro-celeb Julia Allison has made it her platform due to a rather active hate site created around her misdeeds. But the commentary on the site is a thing of beauty, so I’m a little conflicted. Sometimes a hate site can leave me rolling on the floor, gasping with laughter, so is that a good thing or a bad thing?

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sharon March 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm

What small-minded apology for homo sapiens could send such unmitigated hatred towards a small child? Your eloquence in the face of such moronic behaviour is astounding.

I have read your blog and commented with varying degrees of frequency since before the babies were born. Wept tears over the loss of Ames, held my breath as Simone battled her way home and have ached with tension and/or laughter at her progress since those early fragile days. Your writing is a joy to read and I would be very sad to see the blog come to an end, or even change from its current format, but if you feel that enough is enough, then so be it. It would be wonderful to see Simone through her school days and onto college and enjoy her future achievements with you and Scott (and possibly a sibling or two?) but if the price you pay is having to read such vicious garbage then maybe that price is too high.

So, if this is the end, I wish you all good luck, health and happiness for the future. Simone is a beautiful human being, both inside and out, just like her parents and never let anyone make you think for even a split second any different.

xox

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Heather March 29, 2011 at 8:51 pm

You are a beautiful writer, and I feel so privileged that you share your story with me (and also all those other people in the world, as I suspect you are usually not thinking of me in particular). I always look forward to your posts, and I will continue to look forward to them until they day (if it comes) your internal whim tells you to stop sharing them.

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Meg March 30, 2011 at 10:29 am

I second Heather. Thanks, Heather, for summarizing my thoughts so succinctly.

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Swistle March 29, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Oh! I forgot to say how much I loved the part about how having the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s right to do. And really that WHOLE THING about how the line can be hard to draw but there really still is “right” and “wrong” in some places, and writing a hateful email like that is just clearly wrong. Wrong behavior. Bad behavior. I’m so used to remembering not to say “bad” about things, but some things ARE bad.

I also forgot to emphasize that I have NO IDEA what I’d do in your shoes. No idea. Not even a “Well, I THINK I’d….” sort of thought stream. I empathized with all your mulling about various options.

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a March 29, 2011 at 9:05 pm

First, because the only small object I have nearby is the TV remote and I don’t want to lose that, I will get this out of the way. I think it is perfectly legitimate to call your email writer a jackass. That is unconscionably rude behavior, and I hope it is visited back upon him/her tenfold.

My instinct would be to never write another thing about my daughter, if I had been the one to receive that email. But I’m not a writer at heart, I blog for my own entertainment, my husband is a very private person and objects to me writing anything personal at all, and I am of the opinion that my family is grindingly ordinary (although we’re not actually, but we are so uncommon in certain ways that no one can relate).

As to Truth-Telling…well, I am one of those people who find it difficult to soften my statements, and often tell the unfortunate truth. But, unlike many people, I would prefer to say nothing at all, so if you are subjected to my truth telling, it’s because you asked me. And then insisted that I answer. Inflicting my opinion on you unsolicited is reserved for close friends who won’t be offended.

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It Is What It Is March 29, 2011 at 9:30 pm

I, too, read the whole thing (in one sitting!). I was struck by the depth and breadth of your commentary on this one comment and its possible ramifications. We all know that depraved people walk amongst us and they are depraved whether they have fodder to comment on from blogs. This sorry soul (soul-less soul?) would fall in that category. Yet, mothers are by nature protective of their young (and too bad we aren’t in real life lions because, as a pride, it would be very fun to hunt this particular prey and fell him).

And, there is a ‘the rules don’t apply’ mentality to the Internets and there’s just not a lot to be done about that other than rally the troupes when rallying is what needs to be done. I certainly do not want the Internet governmentized.

While I don’t have any earth shattering advice, I do want to thank you for writing about something that is often not discussed which is not what to do about cyber bullies so much as how much of ourselves (and our children) to put out there just because we can. When posting FB statuses or entries to my blog, I consider how he might react as he gets older and let that be my guide. I solicit in real life feedback or advice when a situation warrants it. The telephone for parenting advice from friends is a wholly underutilized piece of technology (and once you hang up, there is no record (well, now that Bush is no longer in office).

Mostly, I just miss reading your writing and am glad to see something from you even if I’d rather it be pictures of Simone being her too cute self.

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Kate(BeeInTheBonnet) March 29, 2011 at 9:33 pm

I read it all the way through, and I still kinda want to beat the everlovin’ crap out of the person who wrote such evil words about Simone.

I used to have a friend, who was for some time (like nine-ish years) my very best and closest friend. She, like everyone, had some personality faults, and for a long time, I tried really hard to pretend that her particular faults could mesh with mine, even though a blind person could have seen that an Honest To A Fault (she) and a Sensitive Weeper (me) were just not ever going to be able to figure it out. I was never quite able to eloquently explain to her just exactly why honesty was not always necessary, beyond my hurt feelings at some of the highly inappropriate and insensitive things she would say under the guise of “honesty”. She always trumped me with the virtuousness of honesty, and how I was quite a good liar (rather than hurt someone) and how often my lies came back to bite me in the ass. And I’m certainly not claiming that my way of interacting was superior in the grand scheme, but I do know that lies or omissions of mine came back to hurt ME, whereas her honesty hurt everyone but herself (and left her feeling awfully self-congratulatory at being willing to cause such hurt because it was sooooo important to uphold honesty).

And I think that’s where I felt like standing up to cheer while reading this:
Honesty is *not* a magical force-field. It does not (and should not) stand on it’s own.

And that as you said, having a right to do something does not make it right– and I might even add that just because virtue is on the side of that Truth-Telling does not make hashing out truths (simply for the sake of doing so) inherently virtuous.

Thank you for this (all novella-plex words of it). Screw the assholes of the internet. I wish they’d find something else to do with their time…

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Jennifer O'Brien March 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Damn. It was all good, but this…I often think that reading—most art, really—is like a vast, temporally flexible game of Marco Polo. (Not the most sophisticated metaphor, but there you go.) We are desperate to see reflections of our own lives and experiences pinned down and made richer and more coherent with language. They help us understand ourselves and our world, and give us the relief of knowing that we’re all in this together. I wrote a whole damn memoir, for god’s sake, and I wrote it because I know firsthand the loneliness of being unable to find an echo. When some woman carrying one live baby and one dead one, or sitting next to an isolette, whispers “Marco!” I want my book, flawed as it is, to be the “Polo!” called reassuringly back to her…” was amazing and spot on.

Also, it sounds like you’ve always trusted your inner self. Keep doing so.

…am still reeling from that last paragraph. Really, really lovely.

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