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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)

Nicely put.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterstephanie
Okay so obviously this is happening elsewhere, I thought it was all me! Because I'm self absorbed!

I swear, everytime I write anything I get some e-mail with "JUST THINK! YOU COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED IN THE TSUNAMI!"
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterVery Mom
Geez, sure seems like people are eager to jump on the bash-Sidda bandwagon here. I didn't see the original comments at Dooce and I defintely have no desire to check them out now, so I can't comment on that. But honestly, I don't think Sidda's comments here are so horrible. I think she makes some sense, and it doesn't seem to me that she is bashing either Heather or Alice. I think Alice's post was really eloquent and I agree with her point. But I also see what Sidda is trying to say. And if we're being intructed to not bash the bloggers, how 'bout let's not bash the commentors, either? (Of course I realize that some commentors are definitely trolls, but what I'm saying here is--I don't think Sidda is one)
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
Indeed.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
I have to agree with Amy. Sidda wasn't bashing anyone. I read both Finslippy and Dooce on a daily basis and am thoroughly entertained by it. But I can't help but think that, often times, comment section breeds a high-school level cliques. Everyone seems to jump to defend the blogger, even at the cost of not listening/seeing any other aspects and sides.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi
I have to say, my initial reading of Sidda was that she was bashing Heather, and it pissed me off for a couple of reasons: 1) because Heather's had enough bashing, and 2) because Jesus not everything is about Heather.

Then I read it again today. It doesn't read as so bash-y today. Maybe it was the all caps--that always throws me. Sidda, I'm sorry if I pounced on you for something that wasn't there.

That said, I'm puzzled by the characterization that I jumped on Daddy Jones, that I was "slamming" him--um, really? First of all, as I've said ad infinitum, this is a blog phenomenon, not just about him. Secondly, was my post really that angry? Or maybe Sidda read into my post, just as I read into her comment, something that wasn't there.







February 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteralice
I read her post as bashing.

However, my comment was entirely altruistic. I was trying to be the one to prevent sidda "from being a whining teenager all over again". I found her comments annoying but I know she accepts that not everyone loves what she says and does. Oh screw it, maybe I'm just a bitch when condescended to.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterG. McFuzz
Hi. In honor of our site's official Parent Appreciation Day, I just want to say I like your blog and really appreciate your insight and honesty and reality and compassion and perceptive-ness. You keep it real, and this post is a perfect example. Blogging, in and of itself is, in many ways, a testament to the fact many, many parents think through and care about their lives and children and families enough to write it all down - everyday. So, thanks and rock on.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentercooper
the comments were much less meaningful and loaded way back when i read them yesterday. this is why i come back, alice. you never know when you'll get a good fight. and i mean that in the best possible way.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterkatie
Crap. I'm sorry.

I was completely over the top last night. It's true, I wasn't meaning to bash, but it's also true that a lot of what I said was superfluous. I was all over the place and ranting like a dork. All I wanted to say was, please let's stop even paying attention to people who are mean. And also, as a person who usually befriends people who have painted themselves into a corner because of their bad attitudes, I have found that usually their junk is because of their junk. Make sense? Maybe not. I was just trying to take away even more steam behind the meanness out there, and say also, New York Times! (as bittersweet as that turned out). NPR! World News Tonight! Adoring fans! Why care about Joe Blow from Timbuktu?

I'm sorry I scribbled all over your blog, Alice. You are so funny and all mom bloggers who put themselves out there make all of our attempts at motherhood feel much more normal and less lonely. Dooce included. I don't know what got into me, telling you two what to do, while telling you not to care when people tell you what to do.

And finally I'm sorry to my friend, who I brought along on my bandwagon. She knows what I mean.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersidda
Oh my god! Sidda! Let's hug!

I love it when everyone is friends again.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteralice
Alice, I was with you until you said everything isn't about Heather. Are you trying to say that changing my legal name to "Dooce, Too!" and frequently shouting "OF FRANCE!!!!!" at pedestrians is overkill? That leaving 57 comments under each photo, every single day, weaving an intricate and virtually incomprehensible tangle of inside jokes along the way, smacks of some unhealthy obsession -- one that, I DARESAY, requires a restraining order?

I'm disappointed to hear that a certain unreasonable Utah judge isn't the only one with this perspective.

You are listed as "Heather 4" in my bookmarks, right below "Heather 2" (Google) and "Heather 3" (Amazon). If you insist on maintaining this "it's not all about Heather" farce in any way, you may well plummet to Heather 8. OR EVEN HEATHER 9.

Heather 1: Call me.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDooce, Too!
Who's this Dooce person?

Ha. Gotcha.
February 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLOD
All I can say is, who needs reality TV and Desperate Housewives when you can get entertainment like this? The only problem is finding time for the rest of my life in between following the blog wars.

I love all of you, really I do. You are my heroes!!
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdanigirl
Wow, classy sidda. I mean that for real.

Good on you.
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterG. McFuzz
But all this time, I've been waiting for YOU to tell me how to make nutritious kitty cat muffins! And, so far, you haven't. And that pains me. It pains me so much that I bet ten dollars that my pain beats your pain. ;)
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMartha
I've gotten some bitchy e-mails about stuff I've written on my site and it's the hardest thing in the world to reply nicely, but every time I do it's worth it because it starts a dialogue rather than a flame war. You treat the criticizer with respect, and then the criticizer melts under the heat of your love.

So, Bravo! Everybody! For being grownups and listening to each other.
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Kennedy
Sorry, looking back on my comment it seems pretty smug. Like, "Congratulations, everyone, for acting mature, like me!" When I meant for it to be more like, "It's difficult to take criticism, especially from strangers, but not all strangers are asshats, and sometimes taking the effort to talk to them puts you both in a better place."

Of course, some people are just asshats.
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Kennedy
Yes indeedily-doodily, well said indeed. One-upmanship always reminds me of the time I was in my therapist's office, horribly depressed about the possibility of divorce (which was very strong) and single-motherhood (very intimidating). She asked if she could tell me something about herself, which I okayed. And then she told me how, in the midst of her divorce, she found out that the home she and her 4-yr-old lived in was infested with mold. She had to move out, and lost EVERY SINGLE THING she and kid owned. All pictures, clothing, toys, books, everything. She lived in her parents' basement while she tried to find a new place she could afford. The whole time, she was going through the divorce and being OkayMommyWhoIsNotSadAtAll and, oh yes, listening to the moans and gripes of patients.

That put a lot of stuff into perspective for me...
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJT
Hi,I just posted this link on dooce's comments, in haste. Like I'm the only dooceling to visit Finslippy, duh. Seeing these comments, I find I'm completely superfluous. Sorry. And thank you Alice Brady ;-) for the brilliant post.- Jess
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJess
That's okay, Jess--I always enjoy seeing my hits go up by 150%.
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteralice
I found the link to this on Dooce, and I was totally amazed by your words. I have always wondered about this phenomenon. I remember complaining about my hair one time, and then thinking of the fact that my sister has no hair because she has alopecia, and I told myself not to complain about a bad hair day. I think it is good sometimes to compare yourself to others in order to put things in perspective, but I think it is completely unnecessary to tell someone else that they shouldn't complain because it could be worse. It is just rude, and we can never know exactly what someone else's pain feels like.
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKatie-be-bored-at-work
Linked on dooce.com AND mimismartypants? Warn your server!

Loved the post, and loved even more the follow-up discussion. It's wonderful to see civility in disagreement; humility is admitting mistakes; and ultimately, two smart people who can find common ground.

I'll be back ... this was fun.
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNils
You rock, Alice. Seems pointless to mention that NOW, some 70-odd comments later (have I mentioned that this job thing is seriously cutting into my blog time, both writing and reading??), but I don't like to miss an opportunity for a little appropriate hero-worship.

Also that new pic of Henry is fabulous.

And you're pretty. ;)
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMir
Well done, everyone. I heartily concur. Our blog was the site of some bashing of late when our dog attacked my husband and sent him to hospital to get 40 stitches. We put her down immediately, of course - it was a no brainer situation. I'm eight months pregnant and of course it was a blessing that it happened before the baby arrived, but it was still a huge shock. I wrote up the story of the attack and posted it for our family and friends. The English Setter and doggie online communities got hold of the story and all hell broke loose. Most of what we got in the comments were sympathetic and awesome support, though there were a few "it's a DOG, people" assholes and some trackback people who linked to the story on their blogs and proceeded to tear us apart and tell the world their two cents about how stupid we are. In the personal emails there were more, and lots of people who told us that we had nothing to complain about and that we'd brought it on ourselves, and to shut up because they'd been through something more devastating and so on. It's positively BOGGLING how insensitive people can be on the internet - walking into a community and shitting on the carpet and unrepentantly defending their right to do so. Goes to show how few people bring their manners with them when they go out in public, online or in real life.

In our house we have an old-timey hand-lettered sign. It reads: BE NICE OR LEAVE. Should be an overarching western-society rule.
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

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