Update: My op-ed on why we need to respect the online privacy of children in Al Jazeera
Update: Quit gawking and do something useful — donate to a Newtown charity
Update: Please see my joint statement with Liza Long. We do not want to be part of a “mommy war” and want to steer this conversation in a productive and respectful direction.
Update: Please see my follow-up post “A brief response on Liza Long”
Liza Long, the woman who wrote the viral post “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”, is being held up as a heroic woman warranting sympathy for bring the plight of her mentally ill son to the public.
Her blog tells a different story. Long has written a series of vindictive and cruel posts about her children in which she fantasizes about beating them, locking them up and giving them away. In most posts, her allegedly insane and violent son is portrayed as a normal boy who incites her wrath by being messy, buying too many Apple products and supporting Obama.
I feel uncomfortable speculating about someone’s private life based on a blog. But since these children are likely to be the object of enormous media attention, someone should be paying close attention to the words of their mother.
These children could be in real danger if her goal was to capitalize on the Newtown tragedy by creating a media campaign designed to give her sympathy. If I am wrong about this, I truly apologize. But there is a 13-year-old boy who has already had his reputation destroyed and who may be facing serious harm.
This “national conversation” on mental illness needs to include the mental illness of mothers and the online privacy of their children.
According to the blog, Liza Long is going through a bitter divorce and has violent and paranoid fantasies about her family. The father of the children is also portrayed as abusive.
Below, some excerpts:
Dear Progeny of Mine who cannot be in the car together for more than five minutes without erupting into screams that make a Japanese horror flick seem tame by comparison: No, you cannot ever have computer time again. Not ever. Your “I love to fart on you” song may seem whimsical or even clever to you, my dear seven year old. But it makes me want to throttle you.
And you, the 11 year old in the back, if you even touch your brother again, I will call your parole officer. I quit! Let the state take care of you and your compulsive inability to stop poking people.
And five year old, please only cry like that if you are facing imminent death—not if you drop your lollipop on the car floor, where it joins a two year food supply of discarded candy, fruit snacks, and cracker crumbs. Believe me, life will throw you much tougher challenges, and at this rate, you will be nothing but a fluffy cheerleader who drops the ball at the first sign of a chipped manicure.
Those of you who aren’t parents should really take my advice and stick with a puppy.
Because the puppy will never grow up to be a teenager.
Confession: My teen is driving me nuts. Oh sure, the rest of you see this poised, self-confident, polite young man who always holds doors open and helps little old ladies cross the street and can magically make your iPad work. Sure, he’s a straight A Boy Scout who can play anything in the key of Coldplay on the piano and writes English essays that make his teacher weep for joy.
What you don’t see is him shooting rubber bands at his siblings while he is supposed to be cleaning the Room of Doom. I have asked him to clean said room, every day for the past two months, roughly 14.7 times per hour. If you have a teenage son, you know the room I am talking about. There’s no point in even trying to guess if the clothes are clean or dirty, or what that strange bloodlike substance on the wall is, or where the two year supply of cookie crumbs ground into the carpet came from. Do not, under any circumstances, look under the bed.
My son’s room also features a bizarre altar decorated with icons and product boxes for every single Apple item ever produced. The only thing missing is a candle. A picture of Saint Steve Jobs smirks benevolently down on this collection, which I must confess I didn’t realize was a collection—to me, it looked like a lot of old product packaging that needed to be tossed.
“No, Mom!” my son screamed as I started toward the shrine with a garbage bag in hand. “That’s Apple stuff! Steve Jobs personally designed those boxes. By himself!”
In addition to worshiping Steve Jobs, my son is an Obama-loving Democrat. All day long I have to listen to him go on and on about how President Obama and Steve Jobs have made the earth a paradise right here and now, set to a Coldplay soundtrack (okay, at least the kid has decent taste in tuneage).
This is, of course, revenge for my own Ronald Reagan-loving years in a Carter-Dukakis-Clinton household. I still love Ronald Reagan.
We are in therapy because said father decided that he would abdicate his parenting responsibilities to the juvenile correction facility (i.e., he had his 11 year old incarcerated for not doing his chores, something I will admit I have fantasized about but never really considered as a viable parenting technique)…
And the very fact that I am even considering the possibility of thinking about option three tells you everything you need to know about just how bad that situation really is. The situation where he abandons his 14 year old son at a mental hospital. The situation where he has his 11 year old son incarcerated—four times!
I have a 12 minute recording made a few months ago in which he outlines the vast conspiracy theory by which I allegedly contrived to take his children from him. It’s not his fault, he says. It’s his violent and destructive children, he says. It’s my fault for encouraging them to accuse him of abuse, he says. He has to protect himself and his new wife, he says.
Safety is never anything more than a pretty illusion for any of us, at any time. We are all just one car accident, one cancer diagnosis, one unimagined catastrophe away from death. But what makes this situation bad—no, intolerable—is that someone, somewhere, for some reason, is actively seeking to destroy me.
I am not going to even pretend I wasn’t tempted—a sudden picture of Jesus standing on a mountain top with Satan, surveying the world, flashed through my mind. But my confidence factor was a mere 25%–in other words, I was only 25% sure that I could cross the space beneath me and cling to the other side. Nate started playing with his rope, putting a few “Man vs. Wild” moves into practice as he swung the teal nylon cord across the abyss, catching it on the opposite side. I had already made my decision when I said to him, with utter calmness, “Crossing that crevasse is a selfish act. If you want to do it, I will stand here and take your picture when or if you reach the summit. But it’s selfish. And I will not follow you.”
I was speaking to myself. But Nate heard me. For several minutes. he thought about what I said, and in the end, he too decided not to cross. I knew exactly how courageous that decision was.
“Why do we do this to ourselves, Mom?” my son had asked a few weeks before, as he moved with aching slowness down the back face of Timpanogos.
Why do we climb mountains? I think there are two reasons. We climb because we want to push ourselves to the limits of our physical endurance; we want to see just how far these sacks of skin and bone can take us. And we climb because there simply isn’t any other way to experience what we feel when we stand on the summit, feeling for a brief moment what the gods feel. No photograph, no mere description, can do it justice—that sense of absolute awe and wonder and pure freedom that assaults your every sense when you are quite literally on top of your world.
Why then do we choose not to summit a mountain? That question is more difficult for me. We choose because when we reach the moment of decision, we find ourselves insufficiently aware, informed, prepared. We choose not to succeed at some things because the risks outweigh the benefits. To give up something that you value greatly for those you love is to know the meaning of sacrifice in the Biblical sense. As I turned back from Mr. Regan’s taunting summit, as I wedged my body between sheer rock faces with vertical drops of more than 30 feet, as I scavenged for handholds in flaking granite, I thought of Abraham, knife poised above the body of his innocent son. Why does God give us these urges, then tell us not to act on them?
The story goes a little something like this. Last year I woke up and found myself living in a McMansion in one of those well appointed “lifestyle communities” replete with waterfalls and acres of precisely trimmed Kentucky bluegrass and 2.7 luxury SUVs per capita.
And I realized that my daydreams all involved a)my own death; or b)federal prison.
I had four beautiful children. A fluffy college degree in Classics (omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est, etc.). My husband was a handsome, successful attorney. I taught Sunday School. I served on a local school board. I was, in short, a soccer mom.
So I did what any reasonably bright person would do under the circumstances. I went stark raving mad.
Insanity is great fun. I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, dealing with the fallout from the nuclear blast that was my attempt to regain consciousness has proven somewhat more difficult than I expected. Especially for my kids.
Here’s what he got: the house, the minivan, 50% custody.
Here’s what I got: the Steinway, and the ability to solve the Rubiks Cube.
Learning to make my own way in the world: priceless.