Hi, loves. 🌿
On the limits of sharing.
Years ago, my dear friend Lauren abruptly stopped posting photos of her kids online. She and I had long debated the issue of sharing pictures of them in the first place. We even wrote duelling pieces about it for Brain, Child Magazine almost a decade ago — I was against, she was for; I think both essays have since been wiped from the internet. But some years later, when her kids aged out of toddler/little kid years, she mostly stopped, too.
At the time, she explained that it was because they were no longer cute in the sort of generic baby way; it is true that looking at photos of nine-year-olds doesn’t hold the appeal of ooohing over a baby. There came a point when I guess others didn’t get the same hit of dopamine from looking at their chubby cheeks. I’m not saying this is why she stopped — of course they were as beautiful and interesting to her as ever — but it was a sort of fascinating angle to consider these questions from.
My husband and I made a decision early on to not share photos of the kid online, not out of any sense of self-righteousness but simply because it felt like a bridge too far for us. It was always her life, after all, and who knows what kind of footprint it might leave later on? Was it up to us to leave a trail of her tears for anyone to find? We decided it wasn’t. I don’t judge anyone who does — it is way more common to share than not share, of course — but something about it always felt somewhere between dangerous and icky to me.
But this is where we get to the trickiest bit. As anyone who has been reading here (and elsewhere) over the last decade knows, I’ve been writing about her — or, perhaps more specifically, about motherhood, or about mothering her — since I peed on the stick. Can I really claim any, you know, moral high ground here?
I am loathe to speak of internet absences. I find it utterly odd when we announce our comings and goings online — taking a break from Instagram, byeeeee! — as though anyone was really keeping track of us? I guess we do, to some extent, track each other here (I really prefer the actual tracking of friends), but I have felt the desire to somehow explain why these letters went from being reliably weekly hellos to a scattering of random thoughts dropped in your inboxes once in a while.
I thought of Lauren’s decision to back away from sharing online because I’ve reached the stage of parenting at which she did this: the shift from little-kid to something more, something older. The tween years are harder (for me) and also harder to broadcast. I feel a ferocious desire to protect her privacy and also a ferocious writerly desire to broadcast, to make sense of it, to laugh at how difficult and wonderful it is, to write of both her maturity and the utter chaos, and to reflect on what it says about me as a mother, a woman, a once-preteen girl. The contradictions are insane! The stamina! The regulation involved all around!
But of course my loyalty will forever be to her first. I guess I’ve long felt that what I’ve shared was, to some extent, generic. Specific, yes, but also generically about babies/toddlers/little kids/parenting-in-pandemic-times. Maybe I am wrong, and maybe I will come to regret some of it. I have always been hungry for voices that can, as honestly and as deeply as possible, articulate the many joys and challenges of parenting, and of mothering specifically. I’ve gobbled them up, and I’ve wanted to be that honest in my own writing. I’ve never wanted to make something seem simple when it wasn’t.
But lately I’ve been feeling like my mothering is specific, of course, and also private. Or maybe I don’t care about my mothering being private (if you know me well, you know very little is actually private?). But I really care about her childhood being private from the internet world. About her growing up being private. About her growing up not being told through me.
Perhaps this is why I’ve instead launched myself into a novel about a family in Vienna with a two-year-old child. Of course we were, in the broadest strokes, this family! But the longer I work on this novel, the more it takes on its own fictional shape and heft, the more I am able to play and not feel beholden to anyone — not my child, not my husband, not anyone on whom it was loosely based. The more I get to feel beholden to myself, to my own creative whims, to whims I have no control over. And hence, the less I’ve been here, sharing about the actual people and their actual lives.
It is a strange balance, this world of essay-writing. The desire to open up completely mixed with the difficult acknowledgement that as much as you think you’re simply writing about yourself, this is never the whole story. It’s a line I’ve never been too troubled over; we have agreements at home that I hope I adhere to. But now I need to be in agreement with more people, and people who are too young for “agreements” of this kind. So I am walking a new kind of tightrope. Let’s see how I make my way across.
✨ CLASSES! I am teaching a on-off intro class in February! There are only a few spots left and I’d love to have as many of you as will fit. (Women only.) This is the last class I’ll run until Summer School. Sign up here! It will be a blast.
ALL THE (OTHER) THINGS I had the best time talking to my dear friend Rabbi Tova about ritual on her wonderful podcast, The Ritual House. I wrote about hiding from your family over the holidays for Cup of Jo. I’ve been rereading a lot lately — Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham and now Prep. Speaking of the above (!), I am also deep into Dr. Aliza Pressman’s The Five Principles of Parenting. I found this episode of Ezra Klein enlightening.
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