One topic I want to talk about more when I circle with women this year is how we move through the world now that social media is part of our everyday lives. We are at the forefront of figuring this out with little to no trail behind us to help us navigate. I believe that we will find our way by having conversations about it all, while also sitting in the quiet and listening to what is best for each of us.
I've talked a little about this from the perspective of how we live an entire world outside of our Facebook statuses and I often bring up the truth that we never really know the full story when we see snippets of someone's day online. I also think we fill in the blanks with our own assumptions, which is something I tend to do when I am pretty depleted and not practicing self-care. I can go from cheering on a friend or colleague on Facebook one day to feeling jealous or "not enough" when seeing a similar status the next day.
Today, I want to tell the story of this photo of Ellie that I Instagrammed last Friday. It was taken in the middle of our messy family room during our Friday evening "movie night" while we had picnic on the pullout sofa. One of her new favorite things is looking through my poetry books and pretending to "read" them. She sometimes just turns the pages quickly, and other times she reads the letters out loud or makes up her own words.
When I put this photo up on Instagram, I wrote: She's been "reading" my books lately. Tonight it's Elizabeth Bishop's poetry. "I'm reading Poet Trees Mama!!!" And she's pointing out the question marks and tiddles. #notkidding #tiddleisthedotabovethei
After I posted it, I had a tiny nagging feeling that it might read like I was boasting about my brilliant daughter.
But if you jumped to that assumption, you would be missing a lot of pieces of our story: Ellie Jane didn't start saying any words until she started pre-school last fall. She was 2 years and 4 months old when she started using about 15-20 words to communicate.
Everywhere you go as a new parent, they tell you "Two year olds should have 50 words when they turn two or you should be worried." When she said about two words at almost two (and we felt like we had evidence of her regressing since she seemed to have more words at 18 months), I took her to a speech therapist. She didn't think anything was "wrong" but was concerned about Ellie not having any words based on how clearly she seemed to understand. When I played the "speech therapy homework" games with Ellie, she would look at me like, "Have you lost your mind? This is bizarre. Talk to me like you usually do please." Or she would start laughing. I'm not kidding.
So I just went with my intuition and we didn't return for a third visit to the therapist and I stopped doing the games. Most days last summer were about trying not to get as frustrated as she was. And then she went to school and we quickly went from single words to three words together to full stories in just a few weeks.
But there were several months there when she didn't say anything and we couldn't help but wonder if we were finally seeing the potential long-term effects of her heart problems.
And each day I stand in the gratitude that this doesn't seem to be the case.
But here is the piece I really want you to hear today: Over the last three years, I've seldom shared Ellie's newest milestone, especially in short snippets on social media, because I've thought about all the moms out there who would give anything for their child to talk or run or clearly express emotions.
Because I was that mom for the first two years of Ellie's life. Willing her to gain weight. Hoping I was making the right choices. Feeding her things like chicken nuggets and milk shakes and not wanting you to know because I didn't want to be judged. Trying not to burst into tears each time another mom posted a photo of her baby's adorably kissable chunky thighs that Ellie would never have because she was always at less than 5% for weight because of her heart problems. (If you are new to this space, it is helpful to know that our daughter had open-heart surgery at four months old and was on medication for a separate heart issue for the first two years of her life.)
I didn't want to invite other moms to feel like I did in those moments when I wished we could just have a "normal" experience.
And along the way this spilled over into other areas of my life. I don't often share the celebrations about my business because I worry about the jealousy that can seem to be really present sometimes in our creative community. Or I worry that someone will begin to assume we are somehow rolling in money over here because one of my retreats sells out, when that person has no idea of what our financial situation is because those details are too personal for a blog or Facebook status.
I've even noticed myself not wanting to share the details of a really happy moment because I'm trying to be responsible for other people's feelings instead of letting them take care of themselves. I tend to share these moments like this Facebook status from a few weeks ago: This update could just say: homemade pizza in the oven, folk music in the air, Ellie and Jonny chatting and playing at the table. But those words would not convey how darn hard it is to be a parent and partner sometimes. Trying to just really notice when the beauty sneaks in amidst the everyday chaos.
It is important to note that I haven't felt like I've been stifling my stories. I share stories here and on Instagram every day. But, these pieces are still a part of my journey with social media and I think it is helpful to know that someone like me who shares a lot each day feels this way too.
And it isn't as though I think we shouldn't share the celebrations. Do I want mamas of healthy babies not to post their happy photos? NO! I want to see those happy chubby babies in my Instagram feed. Do I mean that I don't want my friends to celebrate their businesses and lives. NO! I am actually saying the opposite here.
But I think we need to have conversations about how to navigate all of this.
As I think about my experiences with social media during the last few years, and even the last few months, I've come to these three beliefs that I'm continually looking at:
1) We have to be able to find our way in telling the truths of our own stories (from the big truths to the every day little stories) while being mindful of others who will be reading them in the middle of their day. Pausing before posting and just thinking about it all feels like one way to navigate this "instant sharing" many of us do daily. Maybe beginning to to integrate more kindness, toward ourselves and others, before we click "share" is a place to begin.
2) We need to begin to notice if we are actually experiencing the beauty of our lives while documenting it. Taking time to notice if I'm sharing details more than experiencing my life gives me clues about how I'm using social media. Can I really be experiencing a gorgeous day with friends if I'm spending half the time letting my Instagram buddies know every detail? Am I listening to my child tell a story if I'm interupting to say, "Wait, I just really want everyone to see how cute you look right now?" Only I know the answer to these and similar questions.
3) And then I think we have to be responsible for the way we navigate other people's stories. Maybe this means checking in more to see if this is really the right moment to check Facebook. Maybe this means going outside and taking five deep breaths when you notice yourself doing the "Check email. Check Facebook. Check Twitter. Check Pinterest. Check Instagram. Check other email. Repeat." dance on your phone. Maybe this means putting up a sticky note next to your laptop that says, "We all have a story." Or "Are you in the right space to respond to this?" Or simply "Check yourself." We talk about how teenagers are wasting time on social media or hurting one another and themselves, when we are doing this too...perhaps in different ways, but it is there.
These are the conversations I want to have and I hope you will join me. Let's come from a place of truth and love and an openness to understanding as we find our way together. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts just as I hope you will be open to mine.
Thanks for reading and being out there sharing your stories and walking beside me.