Hell or high water, every generation of mothers has found a way to deal with social isolation. In my mother’s era there were coffee klatches, bridge clubs and consciousness raising groups. More recently relief came in the form of Bunco or bowling, playgroups, book clubs and girls’ nights out. These days there’s this little phenomenon called Twitter.
Show me a perfect mother and I’ll show you an episode of Barney that every adult in America will just love.
From the moment we exit the hospital with our swaddled bundles of joy and secure them in approved car seats, we’ve felt it. Some of us are more fixated and neurotic about it than others. We all know life isn’t a sure thing.
Everyone of us straddles the double yellow lines of life on occasion during the child rearing years. Hopefully we catch ourselves, and are allowed to revel in luxury of no one being any worst for the wear. Still accidents, both major and minor occur. Maybe a child drowned in a pool.
Much has been written about Shellie Ross, aka @Military_Mom, a “mommy blogger” who tragically lost her young son in a drowning accident this past Tuesday. If I could say something to her, I would say this: You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. Count on the people in your life who know and love you the best. Don’t waste your time with anyone else.
In the past perhaps a group of mothers were gathered around a kitchen table lost in conversation. Maybe they were sipping Cosmopolitans, or gulping coffee and munching on giant muffins. Maybe so and so was being too dramatic, per her usual. No one even saw the accident happen.
We’ve always lived in a world where danger lurks. Raising children is a fine balance, individually struck. Get your Teflon on, because everyone is about to give you their opinion. Every neighborhood has a hawk-eyed mother with special rubber under the swing set and video monitors in every room. Not far down the block there is another mother whose children ride bikes while barefoot and have a trampoline in the backyard. Most of us fall somewhere between them.
As someone who was born in the sixties, having hundreds or thousands of people as “friends” or “followers” is a strange concept. Friendships are still something counted on fingers and toes. They are investments in time and love. Sometimes they are too fragile to bear. Longstanding ones invariably bring joy and pain. Hopefully they are long and winding, two- way streets.
Much has also been written about Twitter and it’s power. As a relative amateur, I can’t really add to that. But I do know that this way of bonding is radically different from anything we’ve seen before. We don’t really know what it is yet. We shouldn’t make the mistake of kidding ourselves that it’s not always a potential and awful fray. If we think that every single one of these people really should love and agree with us, or even care about anyone but themselves, we’re setting ourselves up for a horrible fall.
Words have always been incredibly powerful, but I think these days when it’s so easy to perceive and sometimes even have an audience for every thought that runs through one’s head, we’ve forgotten this. The words we choose have always said much more about ourselves than they have anyone else.
Maybe it’s a generational thing, but to me having Teflon for skin sometimes means not tweeting. Hitting block, un-follow or turning off the BlackBerry are not just viable, but often the most powerful responses.
What disturbs me most is that Twitter makes it easy to forget that there is a difference between being opinionated and just being mean. I believe it is a grave mistake if we routinely attack anyone for voicing opinions different from our own. If something really bothers you about another’s words or actions, any decent therapist will tell you to look at yourself first. Then the priest or minister will tell you to turn your cheek.
Conversations in 140 characters or less and re-tweets can’t become the standard for meaningful discussion. And we’re in even more trouble if major news outlets give the fray credibility. Yes, I’m talking to you MSNBC. We have to think first, then speak for ourselves, often with lots of words. Then we must allow others to do the same. There will be gray areas. This is life.
These final lines from one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, popped in my head today. They seem fitting.:
“When they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice. . . .” His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.
“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.” He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.