Their Bad Mother

Before Emilia was born, I fussed endlessly about babyproofing. Never mind that it would be months before she would even enter the world, let alone move around it and find its electrical outlets: I was convinced that when it came to babies, there was no such thing as too many precautions taken too soon. So we did everything: plugged electrical outlets, purchased baby gates, secured the cords of window blinds, babyproofed cupboard doors, checked the house for mold and lead paint and random specks of dust. And we secured bookshelves to the wall. And paintings, and photographs, and pretty much anything else that could conceivably come loose and turn into an agent of harm.

Everything, that is, except the dresser in her nursery. It wasn’t that we disregarded it; it was that it was a late addition to the room, and got moved from corner to corner while I dithered about where it best served the nursery’s feng shui, and it was never in exactly the right spot, a spot that I could commit to. By the time in ended up in the place where it stayed, Emilia had arrived and I was distracted and dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on our extensive babyproofing efforts fell to the bottom of my list of things to worry about, and the dresser just never got secured to the wall. Until it almost fell — almost, I say, because its fall was prevented by a silly little rocking chair that she had, at eleven months old, pushed in front of it in order to get to something — I forget what — on top. The dresser toppled and knocked her off the chair and was halted in its crash by that same chair and really, I can’t remember much more than that, other than the absolute, abject terror that I felt when I chased down her screams into the room and saw what had happened. I never wrote about it. The horror — and the guilt — was too acute. She might have died. She was — I was — we were — lucky.

Others have not been so lucky. Dana, and her darling little Tiggy,were not so lucky. (A warning, which applies to the preceding link, and what follows: This story is deeply distressing. Really.)
It’s a simple story, but a horrifying one: Dana’s toddler, Tiggy, was playing near an unsecured dresser, a heavy one, and it fell on him, and it killed him. It killed him. Just one moment, one piece of furniture, one small child. And death. An utterly preventable death.

That the death was preventable is what adds an extra punch to the gut here. Because that whole idea, that death can be preventable, is what torments all of us, parents especially. It’s what draws us to the idea of so-called helicopter parenting; it’s what keeps us up at night, listening for our babies’ breathing; it’s what leads us to imagine that it’s entirely possible that we’ll never want to let our children learn to drive, or date, or even leave the house alone. We’re terrified by the idea — the idea that I think most of us know so intimately that we can practically feel it, touch it, see it glimmering in the air before us — that something might happen to our children that we could have prevented, that we might, someday, face the dreaded specter of ‘if only I’d… (not left him alone in the crib, not let her go outside to play, not let him out of my sight… not left that dresser unsecured)’. This idea is our monster, our bogeyman. This idea is our enemy.

This idea is our enemy, because if it is given too much power, it can overwhelm us and not only deprive us of the ability to enjoy our parenthood, but also, at the other extreme, lure us into a false sense of safety when we feel that we’ve taken all the precautions that we can. It draws us into a kind of magical thinking, where we can spin from one belief — that anything and everything can and will harm our children — to another — that if we just follow all the rituals, conduct all the ceremonies (batten down all the hatches, check everything for toxins, secure all the furniture and set all the alarms), we can save them from all harm — and in the process cause us to lose necessary perspective, the perspective that tells us: do everything that you can, but know that you cannot control perfectly the lives and lifeworlds of your children.

This important, I think, when we consider a story like Dana’s and Tiggy’s, because it is tempting — so tempting — to just shriek out, “SECURE YOUR FURNITURE! GO, DO IT NOW! GO, DO IT, SO THAT THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN TO YOU!” And, of course, you must go and do exactly this, you must make every effort to ensure that your home is safe for your children, that is your obligation as a parent, but, but… you must also remember that in doing so, you secure no guarantees. Taking every precaution does not inoculate your children against injury or death. It does not inoculate you from making mistakes. It does not inoculate anyone from acts of God or Nature or Fate. It does not guarantee that lightning will not strike or that cancer will not emerge or that you will not look away at just the wrong moment or that even if you never, ever look away that that something might happen right before your eyes and despite your best efforts. It does not guarantee anything, anything at all.

I consider Dana’s story and I tell myself, there but for the grace of a rocking chair… I told myself that all last night as I struggled to write this. There but for the grace of a rocking chair. I could have ended up there, despite all my best efforts, but I didn’t, and it all came down to a rocking chair.
Still, I will be checking all the dressers and bookshelves and appliances and electronics today and tomorrow and the next day, and when I am not doing that I will be obsessing about ice on the roads, and flu bugs, and toxins in everything.

End of the day, all I can say is this: Hug your children, and do your very best to keep them safe. But use your strongest and brightest energies to love them and enjoy them, not to fear for them.

I wrote this post a few months back, when I was in Africa. It’s worth reposting today, on World Aids Day, because I think that the reminder is an important one: that those of who have a voice – whether those voices are carried virtually, or otherwise – have a responsibility to use our voices for those who don’t. And the mothers and the children and the families that I met in Africa don’t have voices. I lend them mine.

I’m writing this post from a hotel room in Maseru, Lesotho. Lesotho,
in case you didn’t know, is deep in the southern-most part of Africa,
land-locked by South Africa. It is, you might think, an unlikely place
for a blogger to be. After all, what do bloggers have to do with aid in
Africa? But you’d be wrong. A blogger can have a lot to do with aid in
Africa, or any other kind of social good. I’m here for some very good
social media reasons.

I’m here because I’m visiting some on-the-ground projects that are funded by Born HIV Free, a program of the Global Fund, and I’m visiting these projects because Born HIV Free and the Global Fund want to raise awareness,
and who better to raise awareness than bloggers? Who better than
bloggers to take the real stories of what such projects look like, of
what they mean to real people, and not just the posters and soundbites
and late-night infomercials with Sally Struthers, and become part of
those stories and tell them in real voices? Who better than
storytellers, personal storytellers, coming at the story with their
hearts and telling and showing their communities what it all looks like
and sounds like and feels like?

Social media — this is an awkward and ugly term, of course, but one
that describes that mass of us, bloggers and publishers and twitterers
and Flickrers and others, and what we do — can make a difference in
cases such as this, such as the one that I am in right now, because
social media is conversation, it’s discourse. It’s all of us, talking,
telling stories and sharing stories and keeping stories going because
we’re invested in the stories that we tell and that we hear because we are a narrative community, and for any issue or problem that might be helped by getting its story told, we are the people to do it. So it was for me with Tutus For Tanner, so it has been for Heather Spohr and her work on behalf of Maddie, so it was for so many BlogHers after the earthquake in Haiti, so it is for too many bloggers to count here. We’re making a difference by telling these stories.

So it is that I am here, in Lesotho,
meeting mothers who are HIV positive but who have, with the help of
PMTCT (Preventing Mother To Child Transmission) treatment and support,
children who are HIV-free, and meeting women who are pregnant and
undergoing such treatment and meeting children who have lost their
parents to HIV/AIDS and also meeting children, some children, who are
not HIV-free. And I’m talking to you about here, now, and I’ve been
talking about it on my blog and right here
at BlogHer and I will keep talking about it, I will keep telling
stories, because there are so, so many stories here to tell. There are
all the personal stories to tell, of course — such as those about these children and their mothers — and my story in relation to these (because we always bring these narratives back to us, don’t we? I have complicated feelings abut this, which is another story altogether),
but there are also the bigger stories, such as how maternal health care
really works in countries such as Lesotho (especially in the furthest,
most rural reaches of these countries), and about how breastfeeding
debates really are different under these sorts of circumstances, ditto
debates about depression and mental illness and anxiety and maternal
shame and maternal fear and all those things. I’ll tell these stories,
and hope that they make a little bit of difference, if only by getting
other people to talk about them, and think about them, and maybe,
maybe, do something if they get the chance.

This Thursday, tomorrow, is Social Media For Social Good Day,
and it aims to celebrate exactly that — our power to make a difference
through the collective power of this new medium. It’s hosted by
Mashable and (RED), and what they have in mind is this:

We’re interested in unleashing fresh thinking about how
social media can raise awareness and create solutions for social issues
around the world. It starts with each community coming together and
contributing ideas and, more importantly, solutions. Whatever community
you’ll be participating in we want to know, “What’s your solution?” Let the world hear your ideas through social media!

You can find out more about participating in this at Mashable.
But you can also celebrate social media for social good in your own
way, simply by reflecting on the kind of change, or the cause, or the
hope that matters to you, and writing about it or tweeting about it or
uploading photos that capture it, or whatever expression of social
media speaks to you.

I’ll be celebrating by writing more about what I’m doing here in
Africa, and how and why social media matters to this work. But my cause
is not necessarily your cause, and although I’d love it if you spread my Lesotho/BornHIVFree story (and please, feel free to do so if it speaks to you) (or, you know, if these children speak to you)
(look, nobody said we had to play fair on the Internet), I’m more
interested in seeing you get inspired by the idea of using this medium
for social good and acting on that inspiration in your own way. Write
or photograph or vlog whatever change it is that you’d like to see in
the world, and leave the link here so that we can all share it. Because
that’s what this is all about. Sharing, and inspiring through sharing,
and making change through inspiring.

Let’s go be inspiring.

(Originally posted at

It’s Emilia’s birthday this weekend. Her dad made homemade birthday party invitations for her, and they kind of break my heart:
budgeday party invite.jpg

I’d have invited you, but, you know, Emilia will only share so much cake. Also, I need to not have too many witnesses when I break down over the fact that OH SWEET HEAVEN MY BABY IS GROWING UP TOO FAST WAAAAAHHHH!!!

So. Demi Lovato has, apparently, checked herself into rehab to address “emotional and physical issues.” The media, of course, is all over this: another young female celebrity, crushed under the weight of the pressure of being a young female celebrity. Oh, the tragedy! Oh, the inevitability! Oh, the legacy of Lohan! OH THE DISNEY CURSE!

I think, however, that we need to look beyond the obvious press-ready,lo-the-zeitgeist elements of the story. Sure, Demi Lovato is a young performer, presumably on the rise (she’s not on my five-year-old’s radar, so I don’t know all that much about her), presumably groomed to rise. Sure, it’s tempting to look at her case and lament the high cost of fame and murmur earnestly about how the Hollywood mill pulls in innocent young women and grinds them to pulp. Sure, one has to struggle to not ask, where were her parents? How could they let this happen? But there are deeper issues at stake, and we do Demi Lovato — and young women — a disservice if we overlook those issues because we’re distracted by the flickering lights of the True Hollywood Story.

Demi Lovato was, according to reports, admitted to rehab to address issues that relate in some part to eating disorders, and to cutting, and it’s been suggested that these issues might have some relationship to her having been bullied when she was younger. These are psychological issues — and in the case of bullying, a social issue — that too many teenagers face, regardless of whether or not they have contracts with Disney. By framing this almost entirely as a situation that is unique to young celebrities, we close off the opportunity to talk about how these issues affect the young people around us, and what we can do to support them in fighting those issues. Because girls develop eating disorders even if they’ve never been up for a Teen Choice Award (I know this too well) and girls can start cutting themselves even if they’ve never dated Joe Jonas and everyone, everyone, is vulnerable to bullying.

The fact that Demi Lovato took action to help herself is important. It’s far, far less important that she’s a celebrity — except inasmuch as her celebrity opens up the possibility for discussion about how even the girls who seem to have it all are vulnerable to emotional and psychological upheavals; that even the girls that the media deem “cute” and “skinny” can find themselves huddled over toilets, fingers down throats; that even the girls who you’d never expect could have ever drawn the attention of a bully, might have been bullied; that psychological hurt and emotional pain can hit anyone, regardless of wealth or looks; that when that hurt and pain hit, the thing to do is act, to seek help, to do whatever it takes to survive and to thrive.

We need to seize the opportunity offered here, and have those discussions; we need to sit down with our daughters and any and all young women we know and say, “look, this isn’t about Disney or celebrity or Hollywood. This is about the challenges that so many young women face.” Or, “this is about how hard it can be to grow up in a world of mixed messages about body and sex and maturity.” Or, “this is about mental illness, and that’s okay, and we should talk about it.” Or, “this is about what it was like for me, and maybe is for you, and certainly is for somebody that you know.” And: “this about needing to do something if this is about you, or about somebody that you love, because when it comes to this kind of stuff, it will NOT just ‘get better,’ not on its own.”

We need to talk about this. We need to stop focusing on how extraordinary Demi
Lovato’s story is, and instead talk about how ordinary it is.

We have to take this opportunity to say: “it can only get better if you take steps to get to better.

If you ask someone to help you take those steps.

If you do what Demi Lovato did.”

Cross-posted at