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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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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

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« I should post more, but then I don't post more. | Main | Don’t rub me like a Jedi knight. »
Sunday
Feb202005

Here's where I get all preachy. You can skim this one.

Here on the Internets, some or other bloggers have been criticized for talking about their troubles when others have it worse. This is an all-too-familiar routine on many blogs—the ol’ My Pain Beats Yours So Shut Up number. It goes a little something like this:

1. You shouldn’t be sad because your child has a scraped knee—my kid had to get stitches.

2. You can’t be upset about your kid’s stitches; my child is sick.

3. My child’s disease is worse, therefore you don’t deserve to bitch.

4. Shut up. My child is sick and I’m sick and also I’m writing this on a computer made out of cardboard because that’s how poor I am.

5. At least you’re alive. I’m writing this from my grave. Stop whining. Stop it. Booooo.

6. God, can you shut up, dead person? At least you’re not suffering. My life is a never ending festival of torment. Also I have hives.

(Please note: I’m not trying to make fun of anyone’s suffering. I cannot fathom how much suffering is out there, and I can’t begin to imagine the pain that other people withstand. Imagining such things would mean weeping and that would make the keyboard soggy, and the circuits and the whatnot would short out and cause some kind of Electric Dreams scenario, and people, I cannot afford to have my computer fall in love with me. )

And now for a story:

A while back, a friend of a friend was injured in a stupid, tragic accident that resulted in the loss of her leg. At the time she was also writing an advice column for teenagers. After I heard about her accident, I would at times wonder if she had ever responded to another complaint about the Tragedy of Bad Hair or The Heartbreak of Loserdom with, “I know how you feel. Because I LOST MY LEG. Which is just like losing your homework and getting a D. Except, you know, it’s a LEG.” Because I like to kill time with pointless activities, one day I went online and read a bunch of her columns. Week after week, she gave patient, compassionate advice to problems that the best of us would deem awfully silly. She never compared anyone’s pain to her own; she never even mentioned her pain. I know part of this was just her being a professional. But also, she clearly knew that pain is relative—just because you could hurt more doesn’t mean you don’t hurt.

That’s the thing about pain: perspective doesn’t necessarily ease it. Say I stub my toe: if you grab me and scream, “What if I had chopped that toe off with a cleaver! THINK OF IT!” I may be distracted by your odd behavior, but the pain in my pinky toe will not miraculously dissolve. When someone writes in their blog of some misfortune that’s befallen her, she is not necessarily writing her definition of the Worst Thing That Could Ever Happen to Anyone. Just because she could hurt more doesn’t mean she doesn’t hurt.

When I spoke to the New York Times, most of what I talked about was how the parenting blogs are, most of all, authentic. That’s all we’re after (I think)—some representation of authentic experience that we’re not getting elsewhere. We sure as hell aren’t getting it from the parenting magazines, which provide canned information about vaccinations and discipline and baking nutritious muffins that look like kitty cats, but will never help you feel less alone, less stupid, less ridiculous. This is the service we try to provide—we share our lopsided, slightly hysterical, often exaggerated but more or less authentic experiences. If one blogger writes about her traumatic doctor’s visit, then maybe at some point, some freaked-out new mother is going to read that and feel a little better—less stupid, less ridiculous—about her own breakdown at the pediatrician’s. Or maybe not. But what service are you providing when you tell her to shut up?

I now return you to your discussion of my son’s itchiness. He’s itchy! It’s the worst thing that could ever happen!

Reader Comments (92)

Have you licked him? I think its time to move in with the inlaws. They alone hold the secret cure for itchiness, do they not?

I totally hear what your saying. If it wasn't for blogging I would feel ALL ALONE in my wooden sppon aversion(ing). But alas I am not. Thank you bloggers of the world who do not like to touch dry wooden spoons.



February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKelly AKA Fat Housewife
rampant one-upmanship. Monty Python did a great skit on this, 4 guys in a posh club discussing the bad old days. "When I was a kid, I had to get up 3 hours before I went to bed, lived in a box on the road, had to lick the road clean before breakfast........

It really gets my goat when someone (NYT) writes about something they really don't understand and is judgemental to boot. sloppy pseudo-journalism.

I have seen so many examples in the blogs I read of events that happened to us when our kids were growing up (18 & 19 years ago). I wish that you had been around then to give us some needed perspective (& comic relief) on raising kids.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBob
when did parenting switch from "my honor student is better than yours" to "my child's life sucks worse than yours?"
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterkatie
Oh geez! Shut up already! I have cancer so my life sucks more than yours!

Actually, I'm kidding - not about having cancer - only about wanting you to shut up and my life sucking more than yours. I love your blog, I read it because it makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it makes me weep. Life does that you know.

When I'm really feeling sorry for myself you bloggers take my mind off of it. And if that isn't helpful, I don't know what is.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterchwatt
Sadly I do this myself. If I find out someone has sex less often, or more debt, or a messier house, or a bigger ass, I enjoy a smug moment. But then I find out someone has sex twice a day, pays their credit card balance without fail every month, has a spotless house and weighs what they weighed in second grade: and I am back to my usual state of desperate housewifeliness.

I do love that blogger parents are more likely to brag about the former than the latter though. And I do love that blogs make me feel less alone without my having to leave the house, which means either getting out of my sweats so I will feel better than the women who are left their houses in their sweats, or I wear my sweats and feel worse than the women who wear heels with their pre-faded pre-torn size 0 jeans.

February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSue
At least the guy on Dooce apologized. I liked him after that. He stood up and said he was wrong.

Another pet peeve of mine is when surfing the infertility blogs...when one person gets pregnant or has a baby..finally...the rest of the group gets all mad that she can't seem to stop blogging about her child. Like she's supposed to pretend that she never had a baby.

February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMary
Wow, I had no idea there would be such reaction to one off-the-cuff remark made in haste. OOPS!

If anything, I'm glad to see a positive discussion (mostly) resulted in what I said at dooce. I do want to reiterate that I made more comments, not just the one "quote" that ended up making me look like a despicable low-life, but I somehow faulted in what I was actually trying to communicate and tried to clarify my point, but apparently not many bothered to read or try to fully understand. I'm glad I was able to apologize.

I still feel terrible for spoiling everything and perhaps causing unnecessary grief and anxiety to Heather and others.

I am very fond of parenting blogs and frequently read many of them. Being a parent of a 2.5-year-old boy (who has given up his afternoon naps!!), isn't what it used to be when you have such a wide variety of blogs/communities on the internet to turn to for advice or similar stories.

BTW: I liked your post. It made a lot of sense. Even to a bottom dweller like myself.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDaddy Jones
Thanks for your comment--but just to clarify, this was definitely not just about you. This is everywhere, and you were but a recent (and relatively mild) example of the kind of thing I see all the time.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteralice
Amen to this post!
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterkaroni
are you reading my thoughts?

and, as for the itchiness, one time i had chicken pox. on my tongue. and now my tongue is ugly.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSarcastic Journalist
umm, yeah, what everyone else says. You make me feel 'normal' and yeah, I'm gonna bitch about my son's screaming on the bus, or his lack of sleep, or his inability to comprehend adult concepts of acceptable behaviour on my blog. It's my blog, and I'll write what I want, and I need to hear others say it too.

You can make muffins in the shape of kitty cats???? Do I have to pipe a collar and cut strips of licorice to make whiskers? (Will my child care?)
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlison
Absolutely! If only one person benefits from the reading of our experiences then it is all worthwhile.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMumpy
What a great entry (as usual), but I do have to say that any parent with a kid with huge medical issues who says that they don't have this initial reaction when reading an entry in which someone writes about how terrible their kids' skinned knee was that day is just a big, fat liar. It's like a knee jerk reflex, completely uncontrollable when you spend so much of your day worrying about your child and what kind of future they will have. NOW before anyone goes getting all huffy, my point is not that this is a useful reaction or even one worth mentioning (although sometimes it just slips out), but just that it's there (and completely understandable).

True enough, pointing out how much worse it could be is not helpful for either party involved. It's been my experience that trying to force "perspective" on someone is completely futile (and annoying), but it's not true that perspective plays no part in lessening pain. It's just that we are these odd creatures, the range of our emotions defined by our own experience and just not good at all at figuring out how to feel based on someone else's experience. So, for me, I remember that first blood draw on my daughter at 4 weeks, and it was absolutely horrible. The worst feeling I had ever felt in the world at that time. Within a year, we had gone to a place so much more horrible that that blood draw seems ridiculous now. We still go for blood draws on a weekly basis, and they're no big deal now. So I guess perspective has helped me, but I don't think anyone else's experience is going to help me find that place. Doesn't mean that I don't have that occasional urge to "enlighten". Thank goodness I'm not the kind to reach for the keyboard immediately (or open my mouth in those occasional face-to-faces), giving me the chance to remember that first blood draw 4 years ago.

Damn. I was hoping that my very first comment on this site would be funny.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermoreena
oh yeah?!? well... we used to have to live in a shoebox in the middle of the road and every day we'd have to get up and lick the road clean!
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermainja
Is it really, really mean for me to say that someone who gets over 40,000 hits a day (according to her advertising profile) is doing extremely well to get, say, 5% worth of negative comments, in addition to the probable 95% of positive notes, comments, and gifts that are sent her way?

And is it really mean for me to suggest that someone who is 29 years old should have long ago stopped being surprised that not everyone loves everything she does, and that, if at this point in the public-blogging game she is going to take to heart the fact that not everyone thinks she is a perfect mom and has a perfect right to everything she feels and thinks, that perhaps publishing her journal (or more specifically, opening up a comments section and publishing her email address so that people can comment on her journal) is not a great idea?

I think Heather is super. I love her writing. That said, she writes for a public forum. We cannot even think of suggesting that she is writing a private blog at this point. And I will bet that she gets hundreds -- THOUSANDS -- of emails and letters and gifts that support her and tell her what an incredible mother she is and how clever she is, and so on.

But it seems to me that, increasingly, attention is given to the few that do not support her (or any of you). Why do you lend credence? I'm not saying it doesn't sting that there are miscreants out there who seem to find cruel pleasure in tearing you down. But, in the desire for 100% acceptance and empathy, is it not possible for her -- and you, and whoever else -- to once in a while do what you claim to want for yourselves: put yourself in the shoes of the other? Ask yourselves what kind of person is driven to do this, or needs to do this. In Daddy Jones' case, is it possible that he really was more or less justified to feel the feelings he had? And is it not implicit that when a public forum like a comments space is opened up, that he should make free to share those feelings? Just as free as Heather is to feel and express hers? Sure, it's her blog. But it's also her finger that can close the comments section if all she wants is sunshine and light.

I'm sorry, but while I didn't think that Heather's experience with Leta's innoculations was trivial, I did totally understand what Daddy Jones was saying. It was one of those, "Well, gee, when you put it THAT way," moments. Imagine the pent up fear, anxiety, and sorrow this man has experienced. And yet the whole internet is coming out to slam him because he didn't honor Heather's right to her feelings one afternoon when her kid got a shot for 30 seconds? I think if I were Heather, I would not be hurt or outraged by Daddy Jones, I would be embarrassed. Let me rephrase that:

MY SON IS GOING TO HAVE AN MRI NEXT MONTH FOR THE SAME REASON THAT LETA IS, AND I WAS FRETTING OVER WHAT MODE OF SEDATION WE WERE GOING TO USE. WHAT WOULD BE MORE TRAUMATIC FOR HIM? WILL THE ORAL SEDATION HURT HIS SLEEP PATTERN? And I'm sorry, but after I read his comment on her board, I thought: Oh, God. I had seriously better snap out of this and count my blessings.

There are people in this country who really believe that everyone has the same opportunities and don't understand our domestic cultural divide. There are people who really don't know why Al Queda attacked us. We see the anger, but we don't often think about the fact that anger is usually borne from anxiety or suffering. There are people who give very little thought to the suffering of others around them -- those they see, those they never see -- because they are caught up in their myopic visions of their own drama. It happens to us all. But if someone takes the time to point it out to you, you don't get all fucking indignant and start spewing elaborately-constructed denials couched in self-righteousness. Instead, you say, "Christ. Thank you. THANK YOU for waking me up and stopping me from being a whining teenager all over again. Yeah, I had a crappy day/week/month/year, but all in all, I've got it pretty damn good."
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSidda
Whoa. Holy crap, lady. First of all, most of my commenters have defended Daddy Jones, and as I made perfectly clear, THIS IS NOT ABOUT HIM. DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I'M SAYING BETTER WHEN I WRITE IT IN ALL CAPS?

I'm not sure why you're so infuriated with Dooce here; this is my blog. And I don't know what you're responding to, but it isn't what I wrote. So take it elsewhere.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteralice
Oh, hey. I thought of a way that my comment could have been kind of funny (snaps fingers).So (4 comments ago) I'm rambling on about how other's experiences don't lend themselves that well to gaining perspective, but your own crappy experiences do the job just fine. And then I note that the analogy from your post still works perfectly here. That is, if you stub your toe and some idiot says, "hey what if I had chopped off your toe with a cleaver instead! doesn't hurt so much now, does it?" Then you're irritated AND you have a sore toe. But now if, a few years ago, you had, tragically, been chopping chicken after vaselining your hands while wearing flip-flops... Then, several years later, you stub that same toe, well then not so much pain!

OK, but funny is so hard.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermoreena
I'm not infuriated at Dooce at all.

Of course it's your web site. I was responding to your post. Your post about what happened with Dooce, and what happens when any blogger gets negative comments.

I think it's silly. I think it is not worth worrying over. I think that occasionally, the person making such comments either didn't mean them to sound so negative, or had a reason that they were negative that day, or sometimes, had something that wasn't pretty and shiny to say, but that was worth saying. Though obviously, sometimes things are said that are just ugly and unnecessary.

I don't think that what I said was ugly, or even particularly negative. I'm sorry I upset you.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersidda
sidda, a little judgmental, no? sorry alice, but i just wanted to say that people seem to think that i react to every single negative email or comment i get when in reality i publicly respond to about 2 percent. i am VERY WELL AWARE that people don't agree with me or don't necessarily like me. sidda, i doubt many people would continue to post the things i do considering the amount of hate that is spewed in my direction on a daily if not hourly basis. just because my readership is larger than others doesn't mean that i am not occasionally hurt. MY AGE CERTAINLY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdooce
Heather (sorry, Alice):

Did you read what I wrote? Where did I say that you need to be aware that not all people agree with you or like you? I said that I thought that you should not care as much as you seem to that some people don't, especially because of how many do. I also implied that people don't always dislike you just because they don't agree with you.

I have no doubt that you are often hurt. I don't think that's a good thing, at all. Yes, I'm judging you: I think you're a superb writer and I love your stories about Leta and your other adventures. I responded in this way because I saw your readers yesterday, and Alice, today (yes, Alice, I know it wasn't all about that man), seem to jump on this guy who had the audacity to say I'M HURTING HERE and sort of lash out in a not so graceful a way, and turn it into a thing about whether it's valid to write about things that hurt us but are not tragedies on a grand scale. It seemed cruddy to do to him. I didn't think he was saying that at all.

I wasn't talking down to you about your age. I don't mean that you get to a certain age and should not be hurt. I mean that you get to a certain age and know your own strengths and should not expect or care if not everyone is supportive. My mom used to always tell me "Not everyone is going to like you, and you can't worry about that." I think it is true, though unfortunate.

I also made a big point of saying that there are times, like in this most recent (public) case, when someone says something that on the surface has everything to do with you, but in fact has a lot to do with their own life. It takes a step back to see this. In general I don't understand a lot about why you give a lot of attention or time to the stuff that seems negative, but I'm not you.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersidda
Sidda your remarks are kind of interesting in that you mention the possibility that Alice is getting money from her blog. Most people who are reading and writing about bloggers have started thinking about the financial aspects and it comes down to this -- if Alice or Heather had a small business, say a store front where she sold trinkets, and you or anyone else came along and wrote something negative on the wall, that would be considered graffiti and nobody would be bitching if she decided that she should erase her grafitti. So I think if you want to make a point about freedom of expression you have to take the capitalistic context out of it.

But your bigger point is more disturbing. Somehow you think that when since Alice started the blog she has to be held to a higher standard than those commenting on the blog (or Dooce, or whomever.) All of us have the right to defend our actions. Part of the beauty of writing a daily blog is that you see your actions with some perspective, and you begin to understand something about yourself. But that doesn't mean that you should become complacent and willing to just shut up and take the cruelty or criticism flung your way. I am always shocked at how people, under the cover of the comment section, will be willing to be cruel. I think what Alice is asking for (and what every Blogger asks for) is that people stop hurting for hurtings sake. And that they take the time to think about how the comments, though faceless, are not without power. Being 'honest' and being cruel aren't always mutually exclusive. And asking for a cruelty free comment section is not out of line.
February 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
I'm kind of a new poster/reader, so I am sorry if this question has been answered before. Alice, do you and Dooce know each other in real life, or do you know each other only from reading each other's blogs? Either way, it's awesome. Friends rock, and friends who have each other's backs rock harder.

OK, so my question had nothing to do with anything being commented on right now, maybe. Sorry. Carry on.

(And this sentence "After the bath, instead of rubbing him like a Jedi knight, we pat him softly like a Sith lord" still -- STILL -- makes me laugh every time I read it. Thank you.)
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterColleen
For the last time, THIS WAS NOT just about Dooce. This kind of thing is all over the place on other blogs, but I didn't want my example to be about an infertility blog since I'm not infertile and I don't feel qualified to comment on that subject. And Sidda, if you say one more word here about Dooce I'm deleting your comments; I won't have this be another forum for Heather-bashing.



February 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteralice
Thank you. I recently wrote a Dotmoms blog entry about the isolation of stay-at-home parenthood and was surprised to receive an e-mail from a mother, listing the reasons why she had it worse. I couldn't have been more gobsmacked. My post wasn't written about me - it was written about mothers in general with the intention of reaching out and acknowledging what we all go through.

Love your blog.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
I get it sidda. You are pointing out how superior you are because you, and only you care about suffering in the world. It is your job to instruct us mere mortals as to how we can one day achieve the exalted state of compassion and knowledge you presently reside in.

/I am not worthy, I am not worthy
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterG. McFuzz

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