Life on Social Media: Edited for Content?

When I think back to the hallways of my childhood home, I remember the pictures my mom and dad had hung on the wall: a portrait of me, in second grade, posed in front of some sort of autumn farm scene… a family portrait that was taken at Sears where we are all smiling ear-to-ear… a picture of my dad with his arm around me standing in front of MGM Studios in Disney World when I was a teenager. Every picture was posed, every picture was staged, every picture looks happy.  Just a frozen happy moment in time.

I remember taking that class picture. I cried all morning because I hated my shirt. I remember being very fidgety waiting in line to sit down in front of that garish backdrop… just me… in a weird velour striped crewneck shirt, chillin’ in front of a picture perfect New England barn.  So weird, so artificial.  But the end result was a picture of a happy little girl with a crazy cowlick and a big toothless smile looking at the camera happily.  The picture in Disney? Yeah, my dad was yelling at me about two minutes before the picture was taken because I was 14 and hated the world (as all 14 year olds do), so I was rolling my eyes and sighing heavy sighs ruining the goddamned trip to the happiest goddamn place on earth. My mom had just gotten this really high-end 35mm camera and was itching to use it so I remember her saying something to the effect of, “GODDAMN IT, THE TWO OF YOU STOP IT. STAND THERE AND SMILE!” And my dad and I stopped what we were doing for just a moment to take the picture. About two seconds later he was back to threatening to get us on the next flight to CT and I was back to pouting.  I don’t really remember the events surrounding the family portraits at Sears, but I imagine at one point my dad probably said that my mom was taking too long to get ready and my mom probably told my dad that he was driving too fast and at some point, she probably told me to stand up straight because I was always slouching and my dad probably rubbed the back of his neck anxiously, the way he did when he was getting impatient because the photographer was taking too long.  But I don’t really remember those details because all I have left of the day is an image of me, in a stiff purple dress with that cowlick waving in the wind, sitting between my gorgeous twenty-something parents, smiling the biggest smiles.

But, that’s the way it was, back before we could snap 350 selfies a day on a mobile device. Taking photographs of events or people was a process.  Buy film, load the film into the camera, make sure lighting was right, point, click and then wait until you finished the entire roll of film to take it to the Fotomat to be developed. There were no do-overs. You took the picture and hoped for the best. I remember the excitement of taking a roll film to the photo developing booth and waiting for those pictures to be developed.  You chucked the blurry ones, framed the especially beautiful ones, and then put the rest into a photo album to be admired for generations to come.  Mom and Dad didn’t take 25 shots of you petting the dog or eating your spaghetti. No one wasted time taking duck-lipped selfies. Times have changed, though.  On any given lazy Saturday, I will take a hundred pictures of my daughter doing the most mundane things you can think of… helping my husband load the dishwasher, cuddling with the cat, laying on the couch.  My daughter is only 3 1/2 years old and I have already taken upwards of 15,000 pictures of her and have probably posted 4,000 of them to Facebook.  I don’t usually spend a ton of time considering what to upload to social media.  I think it’s cute, I share it.

Last weekend was Father’s Day and my husband and I decided that miniature golf might be a fun thing to do. I dressed my daughter in this really cute Hello Kitty outfit and made sure my phone was charged for what I thought would certainly be photo-op-palooza.  The minute we got there, she didn’t like the color of her putter.  She wanted to go right to the 5th hole because there was a waterfall there.  My husband hit the ball, she grabbed the ball and tossed it back to him.  We told her to be patient, she cried.  She wanted apple juice.  She wanted pizza.  She didn’t want apple juice or pizza.  It was a nightmare that we abruptly ended somewhere around the 8th hole and the 350th, “WILL YOU STOP IT ALREADY!?”  But somehow in the midst of the chaos, I snapped this picture of my husband showing her how to hit the ball:

aviary_1466814666359

Later, I sort of mindlessly posted the picture to Facebook, no caption, no funny quip about what a disaster it was, and I started to feel like a total imposter.  I felt like I needed to go back and edit the picture with an explanation or some little self-deprecating qualifier that the whole outing was an ordeal.  I felt like a phony and that somewhere, someone on my friends list was thinking, “there she goes again, trying to make life look perfect.”  I’m not sure why it mattered to me what my old coworker from TGI Friday’s who I haven’t seen since I was 23 or my husband’s great aunt might think I might be trying to portray.

FB_IMG_1466537156050

So I got to thinking… why do we feel guilty about NOT letting people in on the good, the bad, the ugly of parenting?  Sometimes, I take a picture of my kid in the living room and strategically crop out the pile of toys in the corner.  Sometimes I add a black & white filter if my carpet looks dingy.  And, sometimes I post pictures of my kid covered in toilet paper or the massive mess she’s made of laundry I just folded or my dog covered in Mickey Mouse bandaids.  Just because I let the people on my friends list in on the good and the funny, doesn’t mean I always want to chronicle the dirty and the disgusting and the less than happy moments.  I doubt friends of my mom and dad ever came to our house and whispered to each other, “Look at those happy pictures.  What phonies, trying to portray themselves as the perfect family! tsk tsk.”  That’s all anyone put out for the world to see- edited, sanitized snapshots of a moment in time.

aviary_1466820484562

So, why do we expect that sharing on social media is all or nothing?  I posed the question to one of my parenting groups, and it turns out we all edit on some level.

aviary_1466821298645aviary_1466821415388 aviary_1466821955298

aviary_1466820536831

And I was reminded that there’s no harm in posting that picture of my family without qualifying first.  It was a cute Kodak moment that I will look back on in 15 years and see it for what it was– a moment.  By then, maybe I’ll forget how much she whined or how we stormed out of there as quickly as we could, barely taking a moment to make sure we returned the golf balls and putters to the right place.  And, chances are, my daughter will look at it years from now and see it as this sweet picture of her and her dad on when she was a toddler.

aviary_1466822044955 aviary_1466822083319

And, there’s nothing wrong with telling the whole story either… some of us like to share tales of potty accidents and doggy haircuts when you were in the bathroom and permanent marker scribbles on the new couch.  These moments are real, they are often funny and they offer a minor reminder– to others, and to our future selves– that parenting isn’t always neat and pretty.

aviary_1466821603976

aviary_1466821886912

I think my friend Scott said it best:

aviary_1466821716054

We share and we overshare.  We get pissed off at a co-worker and fire off a vague status update about “some” people being lazy.  We are sitting in the doctor’s office and post a 10 line complaint about how inconsiderate it is to have a 2:45 appointment and at 3:15 we are STILL waiting.  We make an arugula salad and take a picture of it, add a filter, crop out the pile of mail in the corner of the kitchen and slap it up on Instagram.  And the thing is… a lot of what we share is not for others.  Social media is just one big huge photo album/diary hybrid… an ongoing chronicle of our lives that we add to on an ongoing basis.  So, Girl Who I Went to Grad School With and Second Cousin Once Removed and Person Who I Friended like 8 Years Ago but Don’t Remember Where We Actually Met, if you’re side-eyeing because I’m only showing you the sanitized version of my life, too bad.  You won’t look back on these pictures and posts 6 years from now… but I will.  And I want to remember the good and the funny and occasionally the icky and the messy and the sad.  It’s my story to tell.

But I do have to fess up: sometimes, I look at what others post and I side-eye.  “I’ve been to their house… they totally cropped out that huge hole in the wall…” or “Look at that couple smiling in that picture at so-and-so’s wedding… I was there and I know they spent like 45 minutes outside arguing”, and “oooh, girl, how many filters are on that selfie?  Cause I know what you actually look like!”  And strangely enough, I find that those thoughts seem to creep in the most when I’m feeling frustrated or angry or dissatisfied at something in my own world… that’s when pictures of others’ kids in crisp and clean white dresses or frolicking on the beach annoy me.  It’s the times when I can’t relate and I wish someone was feeling as down in the dumps as I am at that moment.  Our telling of our reality is very personal… but it also connects us to others and makes us feel not so alone in our trials and tribulations and potty accidents and piles of toys in the corner and temper tantrums at the Mini Golf place.

So… how do you decide what you share on Facebook for all to see?  Do you purposely “edit”? And, do you look at other people’s posts and critique the “realness” of the story they’re telling?  Tell us in the comments below!

Not me.

This morning I woke up to the news that yet another tragic event occurred in the city of Orlando.  A small child, only two years old, was wading in less than 12″ of water near the Grand Floridian resort and was suddenly grabbed by an alligator and dragged into the water. His parents, who were right there with him, attempted to save him.  They were unsuccessful.  A search was underway and the chance of anything but a tragic outcome was bleak.

I don’t know if my feelings were extra raw because of all of the tragic tales we’ve been bombarded with over the last few days, but this story struck a chord deep in me.  I knew the chances that he would be found safe were almost nonexistent, but my God, for a few hours I held on to hope.  I prayed.  I wished.

I started combing through the comment sections of the different Facebook posts related to the story, I suppose looking for some answers, and found myself becoming enraged.  Really– enraged.  For every comment that expressed sorrow or empathy, there was another one calling the parents stupid, ignorant, careless, reckless and so on.  The suggestions that somehow these people brought this upon themselves or even deserved this on some level were plentiful. We recently saw another event where a four year old boy got away from his parents and climbed into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.  For every sympathetic comment and hashtagged tale telling of the time #ivelostmykid, there were two more comments demanding the parents be brought up on criminal charges for negligence and that they be investigated by CPS.  Here are two sets of parents, both faced very suddenly with the mortality of their small child (albeit with vastly different outcomes) and all we can do is blame and criticize?

Is the problem that we have become so jaded, so quick to pass judgement that we automatically turn to cruel remarks and finger pointing when the unthinkable happens?  Are we so desensitized that we are no longer capable of expressing sympathy? We’ve lost our humanity, haven’t we?

I’m not sure.

What struck me today was the number of comments that were made by those who quite obviously hadn’t even read the very basic account of the event.  So many “Where were the parents?” and “Why was a 2 year old swimming alone?! Smh!” queries that could have been easily answered by clicking on the link they were actively commenting on.  I found myself shaking with anger and saying, “DID YOU EVEN READ THE ARTICLE, ASSHOLE?”

And, then I had a sort of epiphany.

We are so quick to heap judgement and victim blame because it is the only way to convince ourselves that somehow, some way if we do things the “right” way, we will avoid tragedy.  It’s mental self preservation at its finest, and the only way we can convince ourselves that xyz will never happen to us.  Because if we can not pinpoint a cause or identify a source of blame, then that just means that the universe is one cruel motherfucker and a terrifying twist of fate can find its way into any of our lives at any time… and that is downright horrifying.   If we are to make it through the day with our sanity intact, we somehow have to separate ourselves as the “us” (the good parents, the attentive and informed parents) from the “them” (the people that bring bad shit upon themselves).  We have to write off these tragedies as the result of parental failure because if we don’t that means we could very well be next.

Social media has allowed us to become hyperconnected.  Thanks to Facebook I can see what my cousin in CT, who I haven’t seen since I was 8, is eating for lunch… I can watch my nieces and nephews grow from a distance and celebrate their milestones and dance recitals and baseball games.  I can distract myself at work or in line at the DMV by reading Buzzfeed posts.  I can maintain my sanity by sharing tales of potty training or the last fight I had with my husband with my tightknit little mommy group.  I can laugh at viral cat videos or silly eCards.

But what Facebook giveth, Facebook also taketh away.  Thanks to the miracle of social media and the oversharing that occurs, I am all too aware what my friends’ and family’s political leanings are, and that alters my opinion of them at times. I read too much controversial bullshit and find myself angry.  A lot. I am privy to news stories of unthinkable disasters from small towns across the country that don’t make their way to the local news here.  I see the Gofundme pages for acquaintences’ children who are fighting cancer or for people who’ve lost their house in a fire.  I am completely steeped in reality: the good, the bad, the mundane, the tragic. So, sometimes a headline pops up and I judge the content of the story based on the clickbaitey headline because I. Cannot. Take. Any. More. Bad. News.  A child was ejected from a car?  (Probably bad chest clip placement.  Luckily I know my car sear safety!).  A baby is left in a hot car by a parent? (That would never happen to me!  I’m never THAT preoccupied!) A toddler eats a moldy applesauce pouch and this triggers a massive recall? (Lucky for me, I refuse to buy THAT brand as it is! Score one for me!)  So, I am–on occasion– one of those assholes that jumps to conclusions without the facts.  I scroll past and think “not me” and feel better for a brief moment.

But, I can never escape the feeling that maybe, somehow, some way…it’s only dumb luck that has allowed me to avoid tragedy… that maybe my superior choices and keen maternal instinct aren’t responsible for my child’s safety and well being, but that I have thus far been on the right side of parental luck.  And, that is equally humbling and frightening.

I’ve always thought that the root of sanctimommying is fear and uncertainty, and the mass reactions to events such as these seem to support that theory.  The vitriol and venomous criticism come from a place of fear.  The fact is… we aren’t angry with you.  We ARE afraid that we are, or will be, you.

I can’t imagine what those parents are going through right now.  My heart aches for them.  I hope they don’t ever read the comment section of any article related to their tragedy, because the Monday Morning Quarterbacking might be too much to bear.  But if they do, I hope they can see through what appears to be smug judgement and know that fear that we could be in their place is what guides the harsh criticism, and that their pain is all too palpable to all of us, even if we are afraid to acknowledge it.

 

 

Buffet Parenting

My friend Julie is one of those cool moms who just has her shit figured out. I’m sure her kids drive her just as crazy as mine do, but she is unflappable and seems to be content to just act as a battering ram against the chaos. That kind of go-with-the-flow mentality is crucial, not just for parenting,  but also for being a kick ass mom friend. Julie is someone who hears you’re on night one of letting your 10 month old cry it out, and instead of sending you a bunch of literature,  will talk you off the edge and send you a glass or two of wine. Snarky, but also empathetic, this mom of four boys knows things about parenting that all us newbies can only hope to understand.

This week, she taught all of us over in the Sanctimommy group a term that just knocked our socks right off.

It all started when our friend Susie came in to complain about how elitist and judgy some mom groups are on the internet.

2016-06-04 15.45.20-1

It can be hard to find support if you’re not a die hard proponent of one very specific and narrow parenting methodology. If you babywear, but don’t formula feed, it raises eyebrows. If you make your own laundry soap and cloth diaper, but vaccinate your kids on schedule, it arouses suspicion. There are rules to being a “crunchy” mama, but what happens when you’re too “silky” for the granola crowd, but too into natural remedies for all the Salk-ians?

2016-06-04 16.06.34

It’s a conundrum. Especially for those of us who don’t really care what other people do with their kids and just want some virtual asspats after a long day in the trenches.

2016-06-04 16.05.46

The cool thing about the sanctimommy group, is that we can have discussions that would implode most other parenting circles but keep it relatively clean. Maybe it’s because they know I’m screenshotting them for my blog so they have to be accountable for what they say? Or maybe it’s just because I have the best friends on the internet? Either way, we had a pretty great discussion about things we’ve compromised over the years and parenting philosophies we gave up and how we’ve grown, not just as gestators, but as women.

2016-06-04 16.09.39

It seems simple enough, but when Julie brought up the idea of treating parenting like a buffet line,  where you take what you like and leave what you don’t,  our minds were blown. Was it really that simple?

 

2016-06-04 16.08.00Can we make this a thing? In a limitless array of choices we have to make every day, can we lose the lofty ideology and just take what we need? It seems simple enough, but when we give up our labels, it almost seems like we lose our identity. If I’m not “Sam’s mommy, the AP normal-duration nurser” than who am I?

Myself. I get to be myself. And, BONUS! when I’m myself that means you get to be your self, and then we don’t have to bullshit each other about how rewarding motherhood is, we can just get together and cry because our 4 year olds won’t sleep through the night and our baby just got kicked out of daycare for biting. We don’t have to make all our decisions so cerebral, we can do what we need to to get through the day.

It seems extraordinarily simple, but could we pull it off? Could we stop looking for validation and instead offer solidarity? What would Julie do?

Tell me about your parenting style in the comments, in what way do you follow a specific philosophy and where do you deviate into doing what’s best for you?