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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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In the locker room

The other day, at the Y, a lady got mad at me.

Her locker was directly next to mine, and she had her stuff kind of laid out all over, because she was doing her post-shower change. I live a few blocks away, so I never change in the locker room; I just take my stuff and get the hell out, because it’s hot and stuffy in there. I had no problem with this lady arranging her clothing and moisturizers wherever she needed to. Anyway, all I said was, “Excuse me.” In my mind, I was saying, “I’m just going to grab my stuff and get out of your way, because after all I’m not changing but you are, haha! So no need to move, pardon me, I’m running away now.” So I was trying to be quick, so I could get out of her way. But while I was grabbing my stuff she was huffing and sighing and whmmmphing. I couldn’t figure how why she was so mad, so I sort of assumed she was an angry person and I shouldn’t even address it. I took my coat and moved to the next aisle to get my stuff in order.

But as soon as I walked away she immediately started bitching about me to another woman, about how I hadn’t giving her a chance to move her stuff, how I was in such a rush and how impatient I was, how people are so thoughtless nowadays, no one thinks, no one cares, grumble grumble grumble. I was going to let it go and just leave, but I didn’t, I walked back and asked her what I’d done, because I didn’t see it. She immediately softened—as people often do when they’re forced to look into the faces of the people they’ve labeled as the enemy—and she explained her perspective, and we actually had a nice chat, and all was forgiven, and it was fine.

Except I felt bad. And I still feel bad about it. Not because of her, she turned out to be a genuinely sweet person who was having a crummy day, but it startled me, as it always does, how quick people are to assume the worst of each other.

It sort of astounded me that someone would read me as being insensitive—ME! The most Sensitive Person Alive!—but then I realized that people don’t know me, they project whatever the hell they want, just as I do to them, and I probably encountered the other most Sensitive Person Alive that day, but I was just as willing to pretend she was an old meanie who wanted to spread her unhappiness across the land. And it upset me to think that I could ruin someone’s day by just saying “Excuse me,” and how often had I blown past someone or accidentally bumped into them, and did that make them feel bad? I realize I’m taking on quite a bit of responsibility for everyone's feelings, but it’s true, those things can have an effect on you, those little jabs and bumps that are part of living in the city.

I’ve been feeling ever since like I should wear a shirt that reads, “CONTENTS ARE FRAGILE,” and actually that we should all wear that shirt, so that we can all remember to be kind to each other, because life can be so hard, and we’re only here for a little while.

If you’re a parenting blogger or avid blog-reader, you probably read the New York Times piece on “Bloggy Boot Camp,” and read the responses to it. I won’t add to them yet, but I did write a letter to the Times, and if it doesn’t get published, I’ll put it up here. If anyone questions whether there’s really that much hostility to moms and moms who blog, they should read the comments in the Motherlode blog at the Times. Or don’t read them. There is so much anger and derision directed at mothers, it’s truly staggering. We’re all narcissistic and neglectful and our children are awful. But how do they conclude all these things without actually reading a single blog, because after all they wouldn’t read us because we’re so disgusting?

Yesterday I received a bunch of emails from people who had seen my latest Redbook column on the MSN homepage. I didn’t know it was there, so I visited the site, where I made the mistake of reading the comments. And I learned that apparently I am the reason civilization is going down the toilet, and my child will grow up to be a serial killer. Ah.

You know, in both of these cases the comments themselves don’t bother me—I happen to know nothing they’re saying is in the least bit accurate—but it’s so sad to me that people fail to realize that they’re attacking actual human beings. Human beings whose lives they couldn’t begin to know. Or maybe they do realize that, and they don’t care, they feel so bad about themselves they want to make other people feel just as terrible. I’m not sure which is worse. I don’t think it’s my job to figure it out.

I was rooting around for comfort this morning, and I came upon a poem by Mary Oliver, one of my favorites of all time, so I thought I’d share. This is especially for Kate, beautiful Kate, one of the kindest people out there, who just lost her grandmother.


Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing

kept flickering in with the tide

and looking around.

Black as a fisherman's boot,

with a white belly.

If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile

under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,

which was rough

as a thousand sharpened nails.

And you know

what a smile means,

don't you?


I wanted the past to go away, I wanted

to leave it, like another country; I wanted

my life to close, and open

like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song

where it falls

down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;

I wanted

to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,

whoever I was, I was


for a little while.


It was evening, and no longer summer.

Three small fish, I don't know what they were,

huddled in the highest ripples

as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body

one gesture, one black sleeve

that could fit easily around

the bodies of three small fish.


Also I wanted

to be able to love. And we all know

how that one goes,

don't we?



the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.


You don't want to hear the story

of my life, and anyway

I don't want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.

And anyway it's the same old story - - -

a few people just trying,

one way or another,

to survive.

Mostly, I want to be kind.

And nobody, of course, is kind,

or mean,

for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to

swim through the fires to stay in

this world.


And look! look! look! I think those little fish

better wake up and dash themselves away

from the hopeless future that is

bulging toward them.


And probably,

if they don't waste time

looking for an easier world,

they can do it.

Reader Comments (103)

I heart you on so many levels! *sigh* Obviously the internet can be a trecherous place, but no one deserves such meanness.

But I must say, I'm not a mom. That part of my life has stalled and I'm counting the days until some man will decide his sperm is worthy of me and I can pop out a baby. Or even the day when I can go to the baby store and pick out a cute one. My point is that I love you mommy bloggers. I love hearing your stories and getting a taste of mom life. You guys are awesome for doing the one thing I can't yet: parent. And so for that, I'm giving you a huge, virtual HUG!
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea
Thank you for this; for the poem and for the straightforwardness.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl
This is something I've been struggling a lot with lately. Trying to be good to people. Trying not to judge and trying not to feel judged by others. Can't stop them from doing it but maybe I can think about how they might be having a crappy day and maybe that's the reason for the judging. Everybody's a person and we're all as much the same as we are different. Thanks for this post. It's nice to feel like somebody else is joining me in taking up the challenge of being good to people.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily
Oh Alice, I heart you. Yes, I think it is truly sad how quick people are to judge and spew venom. Your gym example -- noting how the other woman softened when approached -- is a nod to why things get so out of hand online... it's just that much easier to attack when you don't have to face the reality that you are hurting a real live person. It's cowardly really.

Ultimately, personal attacks are reflective of issues that the attacker has. It's hard to keep that in mind when you're just trying to go about and live your days, but it's the only thing that I can find comfort in and make some sense out of when faced with crazies.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBoston Mamas
Alice, I don't blog but I do read several blogs and occasionally comment on them (hopefully my comments are never taken negatively, because I certainly don't mean for them to be!). Have you ever read non-blog comments though? Like people's responses to articles about fires, car accidents and general news stories? There are a whole lot of idiots out there and I would say 9 out of every 10 public "conversations" I've seen are just a bunch of people spewing bigotry, ignorance, and anger. The relevant comments are few and far between. It's gotten to the point that I rarely read comments on "public" sites because they are always so horrible. I actually think the blog comment section (for the blogs I read) is *better* than the public norm, you know? (For the record, I've never read the Motherlode, or comments there - maybe that's more of a public thing and therefore brings out all the crazies.) I certainly know where you are coming from and can't imagine being on the receiving end of all that - if it were my own work, I could never just ignore it. But I hope you remember that it really isn't the norm. I can't believe I'm the only person who avoids such forums due to the negativity. I love your work. And I too think people need to be kinder to each other in general.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDani
I was just telling my husband the other day that the world would be a much better place if people smiled back when you smiled at them.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermermil
I am not a mommyblogger, but a blogger and a HUMAN BEING and I too was shocked to read the hate people had in response to the article.

I am so sorry that this has hurt you, and although the ignorant people of this world will probably unfortunately always be ignorant, you must take solace in knowing your loyal soldiers are here to help fight the good fight.

Hold your head up Alice, those people are morons.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAccidental Olympian
I thought that article at MSN was lighthearted and hilarious. When my kids were babies they use to clock me in the head with their giant Lego blocks when I wasn't looking. You have to be on the offensive at all times with those little ones! Do people seriously think you can just immediately stop a 2 year old's behavior just because you tell them to? So they may not headbutt you again, but they WILL move on to something else. Like trying to stick a Mickey Mouse spoon in your nose...not good.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLynne
I don't think people in general single out mothers as an object of hate, per se. There are several things going on. The distance/barrier of the internet gives people license to forgo the manners that prevent people who are face to face from being vitriolic. Three is no consequence to the rudeness, so people are rude. There's the Dr. Phil phenomenon - people judge from little, from afar. There is also that much is made of "mommy blogging" and people who don't understand it aren't afraid to deride it.

It is just as your locker room episode suggests - casual interactions can be misunderstood, but when the people involved take the time to discuss it, the problems are dealt with.

I too don't understand why people are so hateful. It takes so much energy to be mad at everyone. It is easier, I know, than trying to understand others or to see things from the other perspective but that still doesn't explain to me why they would rather hate people than like them.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob
My very favorite comments are the ones from people expressing their opinions about how Bloggers put too much importance on their own opinions. Irony is the to hyperbole.

And Alice, JD Salinger had this to say on the matter:

“Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behaviour. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as some day, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry."

Oh, and there is this little bit too:

“Mothers are all slightly insane.”

Always keep in mind you are putting history and poetry out into the universe.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreta
Lovely, lovely post. We are all just a bunch of sensitive nerve endings, walking around poking each other with sticks.

Reminds me of this from Vonnegut: "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

It also reminds me of Ingrid Michaelson's song Breakable:
This post kind of undid all the tight little knots I'm carrying around. Thank you. I've had an awful week.

Yesterday I broke a wine glass at work. I was stretching over some wine glasses to put it away, and it connected with the neck of a sturdy wine bottle and shattered. I wasn't scared, just surprised. It was as if the wine glass had shouted at me, or jumped out of my hands. I was disturbed to see the potential power and violence in what, for me, was just a movement of my arm. It was like my arm was a car, and all the glasses I'd been putting away were people that hadn't gotten hit by cars yet.

And when I looked around, I saw all the moving objects that people were negotiating and avoiding, so effortlessly, and for a second I was able to really see how complicated everything was, and how many consequences there were.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnna
I want to work where Anna works. With all the wine glasses.

Alice, ever since last week when I received a certain less than courteous comment on a column I wrote, I've been trying to describe the feelings you describe so eloquently above.

Some people can be so damn mean it boggles my mind. And knowing that their comments are false or misguided doesn't stop the sting. Love the t-shirt idea; may have to have one custom made.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda
Three things.

1) I was thinking about this quote (Plato) this morning: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Boy is it hard not to judge sometimes.

2) Such a gorgeous poem. I heart Mary Oliver's poetry.

3) I'm not saying anything new here, but I really do think the anonymity of internet communication can fuel meanness, what with the lack of accountability and all. :(

okay, 4) Keep fighting the good fight, Alice! Thank you for this post.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhi kooky
I get annoyed when people don't say "excuse me". But I'm usually the first to jump back say "oh sorry, let me get out of your way".

I've read that piece and a response to it about the bloggy boot camp. Some times I think that I couldn't have anything to say on this. I'm not a mom. But I do blog. No, it's not my job. But that's why I have so much respect and awe for those woman who do use their writing to help support their families. The thing is, to me, it just seems mean to belittle and snarky. And really that's just the lazy way. Some times (OK, probably most of the time) it's harder to smile and say the "right" thing, but you feel better for it.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCindy
Someone in my family died yesterday and the news story about the event had comments on it. I'm not a publicly known blogger, so it was the first time where those comments directly related to me and my family. It's incredibly hurtful, even though they were all misinformed (and the article was incomplete when the comments started being added). I knew they didn't know what they were talking about, but they had to have forgotten that the victim was a real person with a real family and not just someone who died in a car accident.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermj
It is good to know that civilization's decline is all your fault. I keep wondering who to blame.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAfter Words
I responded to the NYTimes article. Thankfully nobody has come over to my personal blog to insult me (or maybe they just died of boredom reading about my kids before they could comment).

I grew up with a mother who has a special gift for insulting and upsetting most everyone she comes into contact with. Thanks to her I have a thick old skin. But I'm still shocked by all the nastiness people direct towards each other, especially towards mothers. As a mother of six I have had people tell me to my face how irresponsible I am for having so many kids. But I have actually had more people stop and tell me how great it is to see such a beautiful big family. I happen to think that what I am doing is super wonderful, so I only choose to listen to the nice comments.

Maybe you should move to Texas. People here are so sweet and kind. I hardly ever get yelled at by strangers.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjennie w.
I'm not a mommy blogger, but the mommy bloggers I know and call friends are some of the most lovely women I've had the pleasure of meeting. It makes me sad that there is such hostility directed towards a community that can be so supportive.

As for that woman at the gym, I've been in that nearly exact scenario, and good for you for feeling bad. Typically, I want to ask her if she knows how insensitive she's being by spreading her crap everywhere, oblivious to the rest of the lockers.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy --- Just A Titch
My favorite quote:Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle-Plato.

Well said, Plato, well said.I do try to remember that as I live my life.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
I thought that the Redbook article was spot on. And a PP hit it right on the head - most 'comments' on articles are just for spewing nonsense and venom. They only rarely have anything to do with thet topic at hand. I think that they just like to see their vitriol 'published'. Blog commenters seem to be much more open to others' experiences.

All hail mommybloggers!
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDawn
It seems to me that although the anonymity of the internet leads to some awful, awful, awful things, it can also make it easier for people to be open and kind and generous with one another as well. It's a shame that the bad things are so overwhelming.

I just wanted to say that I was on the opposite side of your scenario in the gym the other day, except I wasn't at all spread out, the woman in question was not going but coming and said "Do you mind?" instead of "Excuse me", which seems ever so much more rude, and the locker she was going for was in fact empty with plenty of other empty options in uncrowded sections that were NOT right above my chosen corner locker as I was leaving. I didn't complain to a neighbor though, nor did I say anything to the woman, but here I am weeks later still thinking about that. It's less about staying offended and more that I Don't Get It. It's admirable that you stopped and said something.

That poem was marvelous. Thank you so much for sharing it.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily
My husband and I were talking about this the other day, sort of. The negativity. The apparent desire to make people feel like crap. We don't get it. I don't understand.

I just don't understand.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAimee
You may be my very favorite Alice ever. (Munroe just got bumped to number two.) I don't want to talk about the NYT article anymore, but your locker room story reminded me of being in a car with my husband, on vacation, on Rhode Island. He was driving and we were stopped waiting for an oncoming car to make a turn and he waved his arm and the woman making the turn yelled at him "BE A LITTLE PATIENT, ASSHOLE!" and he was just waving a fly away on the steering wheel.

Sometimes I still think about her, how she probably told the story of asshole New Yorkers and their sense of entitlement but it was really just a fly and she'll never know.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarinka
The woman in the locker room would have been accurate in assuming that I was grouchy, impatient, brusque--I so often am, these days. It's easy to forget that our moods are so easily transferred, especially to strangers who have no reason to cut us any slack. THEY don't know that you have a headache, or that you're late for the dentist. They don't know that someone else was short with you just a few minutes earlier.

But you know, that's not the same thing at all as saying awful things anonymously on the Internet. It's the fact that it's not possible to confront those people face to face--the way you did the lady in the locker room--that contributes to their behavior.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermundanejane

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