Internet Hate: What You Don’t Know Might Hurt Me

Yesterday, I called “Uncle.”  I was done.  Over.  Wounded.  A tearful, salty mess on Valentine’s Day, when I thought I was long past those days.  It wasn’t my husband or long lost secret crush that brought me to that place, but strangers.  Yep, freaking strangers on the Internet.

I know, someone call the wahmbulance.  Mary Tyler Mom got her feelings hurt.  Boo to the hoo.

Truth is, I have been at the receiving end of some fairly hard core Internet hate for weeks now.  And for the record, I use the true definition of hate as it was intended, “intense and passionate dislike,” that results in malicious attempts to hurt or harm others.  Disagreement is not what I mean.  There are lots and lots of folks who disagree with me and my POV and that is always welcome.  Hate is irrational, disagreement is rational.  And welcome.

When a piece I wrote about adoption was featured on the Huffington Post last month, it attracted the attention of a particularly rabid subculture of haters.  Ones that I didn’t know even existed.  That was a wake up call.  And the hate was significant and brutal enough where I severed an agreement made with my editors over there to publish any future post I wrote about adoption.  That hurt, as I had fanciful hopes that our next child coming to us through adoption might be found through my writing, and The Huffington Post is a national platform where my words are exposed to a whole new set of eyes.

This week the hate has been much more contained, and with less volume, but no less personal and biting.  I dared write about my feelings related to the language used to describe sick and deceased children.  My feelings on my blog.  Well, 1,300 of you “liked” it, and man, did that feel validating, as many that I heard from were other parents of sick and deceased children who felt the same way.

What didn’t feel so good were the parents of sick and deceased children who did not feel the same way, and sadly, felt shamed and criticized by me.  Yeah, that was not my intent.  Ever.  What works for me does not work for everyone.  Of course, that is the case, but because I have a voice and use it and that voice is recognized, it carries some weight.  My intent with “Angels and Warriors” was to cast a bright light on words and language and to explain how the words and language most commonly used to describe my Donna never felt good or right or comforting.  End of story.

Honestly, I knew the “Angels and Warriors” post would cause a stir.  I did.  I knew it was a risk because I was removing a defense.  As a trained clinical social worker, I know that a cardinal rule of therapy is NOT to remove a defense if you have nothing to replace it.  My words did just that:  I trashed the defense that employs metaphors and romanticized imagery of angels and warriors to describe children with cancer.  I knew and accepted that risk going in, knowing that it would most likely hurt some parents I know and respect who take comfort with those metaphors and imagery.

Because I write so openly about Donna and pediatric cancer, I get a tremendous amount of support from those near and far.  Many, many of the kind notes I receive refer to Donna as an angel and me as a warrior.  Each time I read a note of support I feel grateful, but each time I am called a warrior or Donna is called an angel, it stings.  If I am a warrior, that means I am some sort of super hero that can handle each and every thing that comes my way.  If Donna is an angel, it means that she is flitting amongst the clouds, happy and peaceful as a clam.

Here is the truth.  I am a mom.  Right this very second I am sitting at my dining room table writing these words.  My dishwasher is humming in the next room, the clothes are moving through their own wash cycle downstairs.  My boy is playing with some Lego trains about ten feet away.  I am a mom.  No  more, no less.  I have no weapons, no shields, no super powers.  I am a mom with a keyboard.

Now I get that that can be a powerful thing.  Clearly, or neither of us would be here, right?  And I work hard to honor the power my words hold for folks.  I always employ respect.  I have grown that way.  I used to trash Gwyneth Paltrow for fun.  It’s not fun anymore, since I realized that when I trash Gwyneth in a clever and pithy way, others take it as a cue to call her a word used to describe female genitalia that I choose not to use.  Me making fun of her calling Chicago BBQ “meat heavy” was suddenly translating into a whole lot of heavy, ugly hate.  I stopped that.  I am happy I did so.

Me writing about the defenses we use to cope with pediatric cancer also lead to a whole lot of heavy, ugly hate.  My beautiful Donna and other children whose parents had commented to offer support were being exploited and called horrible, twisted things.

That is not okay.  And, yeah, dammit, I have feelings about that.

Apparently, having feelings about Internet hate that is being heaped and piled on me is a silly thing to do.  I am told time and time and time again to ignore the hate.  Move on.  Embrace my supporters.  Rise above.  Don’t let the haters win, blah, blah, blah.

That’s all fine and good.  Honestly, I wish I were a better, stronger writer that could do that.  Truth is, as already pointed out, I am a mom at her dining room table.  Not a warrior.  Not a super hero with deflective powers.  When people suggest I am a cold, thieving, narcissistic, heartless, self-righteous, baby stealing mother of worm food, yeah, guess what?  IT HURTS.

Don’t feed the beast, I am told.  Don’t respond to the hate, is the rule.  Here’s the deal.  I don’t make the rookie mistake of feeding the trolls.  I never responded once to the Huff Post hate, which is it’s own premium, top shelf brand of hate.  Not once.  I was, though, guilty of reading the hateful things about me.  Yep.  Guilty of that.  And made to feel stupid and weak because of that.  Just walk away, I was told.  Don’t read it.

I gots to say, I have a whole new level of empathy for kids bullied through social media.  It pulls you in, it does.  I am trying and learning, but my first time as a target of lots and lots and lots of hate, I failed.  I read every sick and twisted word about me.  Yep, I did.  And I kept it to myself for the most part.  Just me and the hate.  Opted not to write about it.  Opted not to send the amazing followers of this here blog and Facebook page to the site to defend me.  Nope.  Didn’t do any of that.  I am guilty of just reading it and carrying that shit around with me until it wears off.  My defense with Huff Post was to opt out of publishing anything that makes me or my family too vulnerable.  The sad truth is that I haven’t written a single thing about adoption since.  I am still feeling bruised and battered.

In my own safe place, here at MTM,  I ban and delete when I see offensive remarks,  as soon as I am near a device that will allow me to do that.  But if I am out with my boy and waiting for him to get out of school, and happen to check my comments in the car and see some hard core, hateful garbage written by a pathetic stranger taunting me?  Well, I have no way to deal with that on an iPhone.  This here MTM enterprise is me.  Just me.  There are no other admins, no one managing the fires at home.  Just me.  And as has been made patently clear, I lack the super hero street cred and yep, have pesky feelings that get hurt.

But damn if I will stop.  Writing is release and connection and probably the single healthiest thing I do for myself.  It hurts like freaking hell when people shit on that.  It does.  My go to response is to withdraw, hole up, and seek comfort in chocolate and a down comforter.  My haters would love that, wouldn’t they?  Such is the price I pay for exposing my vulnerabilities on this here Internet.

Cowardly haters love to say that when you put yourself out there, as I do, you best expect folks to have a response, and it won’t always be pretty.  Problem with that logic is that the same rationale is used to blame the victim in rape cases — “She asked for it,” “She was dressed provocatively,” “She was walking alone at night,” yada yada yada.  That is not acceptable.  I do not mean to diminish the pain and suffering of rape victims, nor to equate my hurt and bruised feelings with those of a rape victim, only to demonstrate how hate works in our culture and on the Internet.  People who violate others, either tangibly or intangibly, will always suggest they were provoked, that their hateful actions are justified.

By writing about my family’s wish to adopt and by writing about how I cope in my grief, I do not ask to be sliced and diced on the Internet.  But I am and it hurts.  My words cost me, expressing my opinions and POV cost me something.  The question, then, becomes, how much am I willing to pay?  How much am I willing to share?  How much am I willing to expose?  I hate that the onus is on me, but truth is truth.  The onus is on me.

I am figuring it out.  In the meantime, fuck you, haters.  Seriously, fuck you.

Best of 2012: Happy Birthday, Mary Tyler Mom!

Two Januarys ago I started Mary Tyler Mom.  I had just returned to work after four years of being at home after moving to Cancerville.  I was adamant that I would not be writing about cancer or grief with Mary Tyler Mom.  My vision, if you will (as all good blogs start with a vision that gets quickly tossed aside, right?), was to write a blog about working and mothering.  Ha! Two years later, I quit my job, am in the middle of the adoption process, and somewhat gainfully employed as a writer.  That is simply crazy to me and nothing that I would have imagined two years ago.

This here blog is one of my greatest successes in life, unexpected as it is.  I write my words and people read them.  For criminy’s sake, SheKnows.com named me one of the Top 10 Inspirational Bloggers.  I mean, SheKnows knows, you know?  And you readers voted me as one of the Top 25 Family Blogs by Moms (No. 2, yo) through Circle of Moms.  What a dream.  Seriously.  I feel lucky, lucky, lucky for that.

That said, anniversaries and birthdays always make me want to take stock.  I am one that likes to look backwards before I look forwards.  Mary Tyler Mom is evolving and I am still not quite certain what my blog wants to be when it grows up.  A book?  A newspaper column?  A Bravo reality series?

I don’t know, and that is pretty damn exciting.

In the spirit of looking backwards before I look forwards, here is a collection of my twelve favorite posts of 2012 — one from each calender month.  Turns out, I write a lot about emotions.  Pfffft.  Go figure.  For someone who didn’t want to write about cancer or grief, well, five of my top twelve posts are about cancer and grief.  They say to write what you know, so I guess I’m following that piece of advice.  And a reader turned friend once told me that my best writing comes when I have a bee in my bonnet.  There are no less than four bees that made this list, buzzing around those bonnets.

Without further delay (cue drum roll, please), I give you my own Best of 2012 list.  If you’re new to me, check them out.  If you’ve been around a while and feel taken for granted, this list is for you, too, as great blog posts are the gift that keep on giving.

January:  Barbie v. Cancer – the post that resulted in strangers saying I should be shot dead just for suggesting kids with cancer needed research more than they needed a bald doll.  Not to mention the American Cancer Society exploiting my words as justification for why they so shamelessly ignore pediatric cancer.  And I’d show you that post, but they deleted it.  Bastards.

February:  Toddler Ten Commandments – just a fun piece of humor about how raising a toddler is infuriating.  And exhausting.  And for the birds.  And one of the sweetest privileges I’ve ever had.

March:  Live Organ Donation:  A Tale of Two Kidneys – when my friend Andy opted to donate his kidney, he asked me to write about it.  That was pretty cool.  I learned a lot about kidneys with this post.  And what it means to be a decent human being.

April:  Easter for Heathens:  Religious Holidays When You’re Not Religious – I am so damn proud of this post.  I broke the rules and wrote about religion here, or more specifically, my lack of religion.  That took guts.  I remain really proud of the results.

May:  The Good Enough Mother – Ha!  This is a more thoughtful post than it seems about how my parenting and most everything in my adult life has been influenced by a mid-century psychoanalytic theorist.  Winnicott rules.  It’s also the very first thing I published under my own name on The Huffington Post, which made me feel like a real rock star.

June:  RIP Children’s Memorial Hospital, 1882-2012 – potentially one of the most meaningful and important things I have ever written.  I started the post with a bit of an axe to grind, as I was truly sad about the closing of Donna’s hospital.  In the end, it was cathartic and almost universally praised and featured in both The Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune (online edition).  I still hear from doctors, nurses, and fellow families from Children’s Memorial about how meaningful it was to them.

July:  Yin, Meet Yang – This might morph into an annual tradition, posting on the eve of Donna’s would be/should be birthdays.  It helps to get the sadness out, to grieve what should have been, but never will be.

August:  Adoption 101:  The Visit Ends – Sigh.  This was tough to write and tough to read, even five months later.  And while most folks who read this short series that chronicles our first visit with a potential birth family were supportive, some weren’t, including close family.  It still stings to read the raw power of so much sadness.

September:  Donna’s Cancer Story:  One Year Later – I am so glad I thought to write this exploration of what it was like to write about something so wrenching and emotional.  It still puts things in perspective for me.

October:  A Walk in the Woods:  Finding the Teachable Moment – I am still learning how to do this whole mothering thing.  Ain’t no way I have it figured out.  This post is about doing just that — learning in the moment so that our kids can learn from us.  I also just adore the photography in this post and hope to include more of that in 2013.

November:  Mommy Bloggers and Douchebags – well, I just love the headline and it goes from there.

December:  It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine) – written at the request of my dear friend, Nikki, from Moms Who Drink and Swear, who gave me my first big break in this here blogosphere.  A thoughtful post about a bottle cap and a life’s philosophy.

Thank you for keeping me company, reading my words, sharing my words, and sticking with me through the Terrible Twos.  Can I get a collective WOO to the HOO for 2013?

Ummm, cake.  Nom, nom, nom,
Ummm, cake. Nom, nom, nom.

Living Out Loud: The Underside of Blogging

I have been blogging regularly for over five years now.  Donna’s cancer brought me to the keyboard and I have simply never left.  For a person who is not religious, busy, and ‘taking a break’ from the clinical social work I am trained to do, the human connection the Internet affords me is invaluable — honestly akin to food, water, oxygen.

One thing that keeps me blogging are the folks who read what I write.  Between Donna’s online cancer journal and Mary Tyler Mom, there have been well, well over one million visits to my posts.  That is crazy town for me.  I am a geek, a dork, utterly unpopular and awkward.  That people care about what I write is something I have a hard time wrapping my head around.

And I know people read because you tell me.  So many comments over the years — sustaining, supportive, friendly, funny, loving comments.  Most of the time I want to crawl under the covers when I read the love you shower on me.  You shower love, I run for the covers.  It is humbling and awkward and I don’t quite know what to do with it except keep doing what I am doing.

Every once in a while, I touch a nerve.  You see, I am a woman with opinions.  I am.  I know this as I have always had opinions.  Ask my grade school classmates, and they would describe a mini-Mary Tyler Mom who argues about politics and religion.  True.  Freaking.  Story.  In the first grade I got into it with a classmate who said her mother let her vote.  Well my little first grade self was not going to stand for that.  I corrected her misrepresentation and felt justified in doing so.  In junior high, I proudly wore a ‘Harold Washington for Mayor’ (Chicago’s first African-American mayor) despite living  in the suburbs.  Ugh.  I can be smug and self-righteous.  I know that about myself.  I try hard to own it and dismantle it, too.

When I first started Mary Tyler Mom, I was resolute in not wanting to write about cancer.  I was going to separate myself from having been sainted as a Cancer Mom.  When you have a child with cancer, people tend to think you are somehow stronger, better, more compassionate, etc.  The thing is, you’re not.  You’re still who you’ve always been, just with something important to say that people may or may not want to hear.

Well, summer 2011, Mary Tyler Mom came out of the closet as a grieving mom.  I was still the same snarky, witty woman, but now I was snarky, and witty and sad, too.   When I wrote Donna’s Cancer Story last September, my Internet presence kind of ballooned.  I was grateful to get the word out about pediatric cancer and I was grateful that lots and lots of people were learning about my dear Donna.  If her mother doesn’t tell her story, who will?  No one, is the sad truth.  So I do.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the praise my readers give me.  It makes me uncomfortable.  I want to tell you about my flaws as compensation.  The things I do that I am ashamed of, the things I wish I did better.  I feel the need to humanize myself so no one treats me like a saint, cause a saint I am not.

I am snarky, opinionated, passionate, loud.  I was all those things before cancer, too, but now people listen to me.

Overwhelmingly, I get warm reception from my readers.  Great heaps and piles of love and support.  It’s crazy not only that people like what I do so much, but tell me about it.  All the time.

Enter a flaw.

For every hundred or couple hundred warm, heartfelt, loving, supportive comments, I get a mean one.  Or two.  When I write about something I am most passionate about — pediatric cancer, or bald Barbie dolls, or now, adoption, that is when I get the mean.  And while I will read those hundreds of positive, uplifting comments, and they will carry me and hold me up when I feel weak, I will obsess over the one or two negative ones.

See?  I told you I was flawed.  You should have believed me.

What the freak should I care about what a stranger thinks about me or my life?  I shouldn’t give a fig.  But I do.  Ugh.  It makes me feel needy and narcissistic, but I do.  

Here is the thing:  I chose to write about adoption.  I willingly chose to tell the story of our introduction into the world of adoption, as wrenching as it was.  When I pressed that ‘Publish’ button, I agreed to accept the consequences of that action.  People will question and judge and suggest.  It is human nature.  And the Internet kind of turns the volume up on human nature, doesn’t it?

Please know that Mary Tyler Dad and I are so grateful for all the virtual support shown to us in the past week.  It brings us back to the days of Donna’s journal when we would pour over the comments at the end of a long and draining day in Cancerville to fill us back up so that we could do it again tomorrow.  We are humbled by those who shared their own stories of adoption with us — birth moms and dads, adopted kids now grown, foster parents, and adoptive parents.  Thank you for that.  Your stories fill us with hope at the start of what we know will be a rough process.

Others made suggestions about all different types of adoptions, wondering if we have considered this or that — foster children, older children, international children, special needs children, even older, international, special needs children.  Please believe me when I say that we have considered everything.  You don’t enter adoption lightly.  You truly can’t, as the vetting process for adoptive parents is hard freaking core.  We are fully informed of all the adoption options available to us.  We know what is best for our family.  If others make assumptions about what that means, that is about them, not us. 

Also know that our decision to walk away from this birth family was not an easy one or lightly made.  Mary Tyler Dad and I did what was right for our family, our son.  It does not bring us any comfort to know this family will continue to struggle.  They are in the midst of things that affect many American families — drugs, theft, homelessness, emotional and physical violence.  They were using their baby as a carrot, dangling that unborn child in front of us, testing to see how tight they could squeeze us.  We can’t and won’t invite that into our lives.  If others would, please message me and I will put you in contact with their attorney.

Whew.  That feels better.

I’ll make you a deal:  you keep reading and I’ll keep writing.  I will do what I have always done — write about things that matter to me.  I will tell the stories that I think need to be told.  Maybe, someday, I won’t always be in the middle of them.  Maybe, someday, they won’t always read like a Lifetime movie script.  Maybe, someday, I will learn to not care about the haters.  Truth is, they get me all riled up in the moment, but then I move on.  Donna taught me that trick.

So hate away, haters!  I’ve gonna choose some hope instead.  Donna taught me that trick, too.  You should try it sometime.