Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Prompt: A blog post you wrote but decided not to publish

I was reviewing some old never-been-posted files recently and came across this one.  It's not complete, but you get the idea where it was going.

A love letter to my daughter, or why Mel almost got grounded from Facebook 

Dear Mel,

As you know, I've been a member of the Mean Moms Club since you were in kindergarten.  You and I would walk home with A and her mom, and the two of you decided early on that you had The Meanest Moms Ever.  Her mom and I used to joke about how we ought to come up with a logo and put it on the back of our jean jackets.  You were always pouty and petulant when you said it to me, and it always used to make me smile, because later you would whisper to me you didn't really mean it. While I've never expected that you wouldn't at some point join the generations before you who have played the time-honoured game, "My Mom is Worse Than Yours", I didn't expect that our smackdown would come about as a result of Facebook.

You know that over the years, especially when we were all still living in ***, that I made some unpopular decisions as far as parenting went.  Your nana and I repeatedly butted heads about my letting you go to the park by yourselves, or letting you stay there on summer nights until the street lights went on.  She was convinced I was just asking for the group of you to get abducted by pedophiles.  I was more concerned that you knew how to cross the street safely, because I thought, and still do, that on average it's more likely that you will get hit by a car than abducted or molested by a stranger.  Your auntie K actually defriended me on Facebook and in real life for the same reason...when your cousin came to visit us a couple of summers ago, I permitted him to go to the park with you, Maddie and Cal and the rest of the usual suspects.  I pushed back instead of backing down when she questioned my parental judgment.  I stood by my judgment, and held you and your siblings up as proof....my kids are bright, curious, courteous, they do well at school, they are well liked and well adjusted, so it doesn't seem like I'm making a whole slew of bad decisions.

I wanted you and your brother and sister to be able to play freely at the park with your friends without me hovering anxiously, calling out every few seconds to be careful.  To climb trees and have that dizzyingly good feeling that you were doing something daring, maybe even dangerous.  To go biking by the creek, knowing you would roll your jeans up to your knees and dangle your feet in the water and look for crayfish under the rocks, and then come home & swear you stayed on the path without me challenging you, because I used to do the same thing at the same age with my friends at the creek on the way to school or back home.  To explore, in a reasonably safe environment, the parameters that allow people to develop their own good judgment and to be able to think for themselves.  I did not want to keep you in a glass box, to restrict you so that when the time came when I could not confine you anymore, that you had already tasted some measure of freedom and had the tools to make good decisions without going too crazy.  

One of the conditions I put on you having Facebook was that I would observe and had the right to impose restrictions when I felt they were necessary.  Up until the photos a couple of weeks ago, I haven't.  I've wrinkled my nose a few times at the things you've "liked", winced at some of the language, but to me, those things were all within the parameters of you at your age...it would be stupid for me to be an oblivious prude and pretend that you aren't aware of the crude and the vulgar.  More importantly, those posts gave me some insight into the music you were listening to, the interests you have, the friends you interact with most regularly.  A few weeks ago I was concerned about some photos you and J had posted and tagged on her profile, and that was the first time over the course of the year you've had an account that I have had occasion to raise a red flag.  

When we talked about it, and if you recall, it was actual talking, without yelling or demanding, I explained why I felt the way I did, and you seemed to accept my reasons for feeling that way.  You complied with my request to ask J to remove the photos I was both uncomfortable with, she did so, and I was happy with that.  I was proud of the fact that while you had made what I considered a bad decision, you apparently recognized my perspective and corrected the problem.  I'm now guilty of one of the oldest crimes in the book...pride goes before a fall.

I was taken aback when I saw a picture of you two or three days ago, same flavour as before, tagged with your name.  I sent you a message on Facebook, please untag yourself, we've talked about this already, I love you and I can't wait to see you on Friday.  Your response was angry...what's wrong with the pictures, I promised if I didn't like something I wouldn't let her post them...not all of them.  Within a minute, another message dropped into my inbox, one which you did not intend to send to me, but to J.

"My mom is fucked in the head.  She pretty much hates the pictures we take."

I can't tell you I wasn't stunned and hurt, and angry, when I read your words about me, but I moved past those reactions pretty quickly, and made a decision about how to respond to them.  

My first and strongest reaction, which is a gut parent thing I don't expect you to understand, is the same emotion I had to defend myself against, both to your nana and to your auntie K.  I experienced the same thing pretty strongly this past summer, walking to the store to get ice cream and passing a couple of older teenage boys on their bikes riding in the opposite direction.  I watched them looking at you, lanky and slim and still innocent in your cutoffs and tank top,  with predatory and covetous eyes, and had to swallow the mama bear reaction...she's only thirteen, keep your eyes off my daughter!  All parents react this way.  It's part of the manual when you take delivery of your daughter.

Understand, I could remove your profile from Facebook without a qualm for that reason alone, because I don't want strange boys looking at you online and coveting you, or because I could work myself into a frenzy about how complete strangers COULD stalk you, but that's not realistic, according to my own longstanding beliefs.  And, it wouldn't help you understand why I need to make you think about this.

I always believed that letting you have a childhood unfettered by paranoid restrictions would give you a sense of independence, and I wagered, if I can use that expression, that that independence would stand you in good stead when it came time to standing up to peer pressure and refusing to give in to the demands of the herd.  I believed you would make good decisions when it came to teenage issues like smoking and skipping classes, sex and drugs, anything anyone could bully you into doing or trying.  

That was three years ago.

I had intended to ground her from Facebook.  No fanfare, no punishing post on her wall for her friends to read and gleefully post, "HAHAHA YOU GOT PWNED BY YOUR MOM!"  Just, a week off to think about our discussions, and for us to talk more.

I didn't end up grounding her.  We have always talked about internet safety, and my main issue was that she challenged me about the photos I objected to, saying no one would see them except her friends.  What I did instead was, on a computer that was not mine and therefore with no prior connection to my own Facebook account, in front of her, set up a brand new user account, let her pick the name, and then looked her up to see what her public settings were, what was visible to complete strangers.

To say that she was shocked was an understatement.  Seeing what she thought of as some fun photos she had let a friend had taken were not, in fact, anywhere close to private, because of her friend's privacy settings.  The friend in question was someone I would have preferred my daughter not to hang out with, and with an oblivious dad in charge, I felt really helpless to prevent things from going from bad to worse.  

I could have lived without the super-provocative poses, or the set of pictures featuring my thirteen year old daughter in a bikini in the snow, draped over the friend's brother's motorcycle with her finger in her mouth.  I could definitely have lived without the friend encouraging her to smoke, or cut classes, or that it would be more fun if my daughter dropped down to hang out with her in some of her applied-level classes as opposed to in the academic stream.  The part that really sent me over the edge was the day she tagged Mel in a post saying they were"going down to the creek with a couple of grade twelve guys, to...you know", with a smirky icon.

There was a happy ending of sorts.  Mel recognized, without my having to spell it out for her, that her friend was bad for her, as much because she wouldn't take no for an answer as because she did things I didn't approve of and didn't want my daughter participating in; that while fun, kinda-sexy selfies are totally okay with me, the ones J was tagging her in for the whole world to see weren't.   

More importantly, she understood WHY.

Grounded, then, but in a better way.  The way I always hoped she would be.

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