For years, Katie drew elephants ALL THE TIME. We found them everywhere – in the corners of her homework, on books and notebooks and binders, on takeout menus, in every birthday card she made. He looked like this — and his name was Bob.

Drawing by Katie – used with permission


I wrote yesterday about Katie’s birthday party. Sort of. I mean, I didn’t really write much at all. And while part of that was because I had promised to cut back on writing and I knew that I needed the extra 45 minutes of sleep in the morning more than I needed to tell you the story, an even bigger part of it was that I’ve been feeling less and less lately as though stories like that one are mine to tell.

Years ago, I was asked by a Boston news station for permission to profile Brooke for a story about children on the spectrum. They would come to the house and film her, well, being her.

After much hemming and hawing, I said no. More specifically, I said, “Although I essentially tell Brooke’s story every time I speak [publicly about autism], I tell it from my perspective, in my words, having decided for myself that I am comfortable doing so. Putting Brooke on television feels wrong. Until she can make her own decision, weigh and measure the advantages and the costs of telling her own story, I am not comfortable deciding for her. Until the day comes, God willing, that she can fully comprehend all of the consequences, I just can’t do it.”

I know that my logic was, at best, flawed. But it worked. And mostly still does. She’s in elementary school. For the most part, as long as I am respecting her privacy and not revealing anything that I think could potentially embarrass her, I feel like I’m on the right side of the line.

But Katie is not in elementary school.

She is beginning to learn to navigate the treacherous waters of social media – texting, e-mailing, Google chatting. She is making decisions every day (with our guidance) about what she is willing to put on display and what should be sacred – what becomes public fodder and what never can.

She’s an adolescent – with all the messy, terrifying, delightful discoveries that define that time. I can help her draw her own lines. I can no longer draw them for her.

If this really were a diary – ya know, the pink, fluffy kind under lock and key for no one’s eyes but my own – I’d record all the details of daily life – I’d write down everything that she does and says that I so desperately want to remember in years to come. But Diary is not pink and fluffy and it’s not under lock and key. It’s a digital weblog with an infinite memory and nearly 13,000 followers. And that’s very, very different.

In some ways, I wish that I could share it all here anyway, because we could all learn so damned much from that kid together. From her insight and self-awareness and from her biting, de Toccquevillean commentary on adolescence and the trials, tribulations and politics of middle school that are so ludicrously similar to the trials, tribulations and politics of so-called adult life. I know I’m her mom, but the understanding that she has of all of it is both heartbreaking and brilliant – it’s brilliantly heartbreaking.

But I can’t share it here. At least not freely. Because it’s not mine. It’s hers. And while that’s always been the case, I feel it now more than ever.

Every word that I’ve ever written on Diary has been written not just with the awareness, but the fervent hope that my girls would read it someday. That they would see these pages as a living, breathing testament to the wonder of their childhoods through their Mama’s eyes. Written with honesty, with love and, above all, with overwhelming respect for who they were at every moment — and who they would ultimately become.

Twelve has me at an impasse.

All of this had been percolating for a while when I stumbled across these words in Glennon’s post Sailing on her blog, Momastery. She wrote them over a month ago, but I just read them last night. Cause well, yeah. But you see, sometimes, as I’m guessing Glennon of all people would agree, we can only find the things that we need when we’re ready to receive them.

“When I started writing,” she said in the post, “my children were babies and Craig and I were new to marriage and all my stories were their stories and all their stories were mine. We all overlapped. But now my babies are growing up. They’re becoming their own little people with their own secrets and dreams and ideas that belong to them and them alone. They have their own decisions and mistakes and plans to make. And they need their mama to be a safe person to live in front of, knowing that she values their experiences as more than a series of anecdotes. I want to respect their stories as their stories. I want to teach my kids that each human being has a story as brutal and beautiful and sacred as the next, and so we don’t tell others’ stories unless we’re asked to.”

So there it is. This big, middle school-aged elephant in the room. And I’m really not sure what to do with it.

I know that I’ll have to figure it out. I know that I’ll have to discuss it with Katie, and ultimately, not too far down the line, with Brooke. And we will, as we always do, forge a path together – me pretending to lead the way while following them the whole time.

Yes, I’ll have to figure out what to do with the elephant. For now, I think I’ll just call him Bob.

14 thoughts on “theirs

  1. “I know that I’ll have to figure it out. I know that I’ll have to discuss it with Katie, and ultimately, not too far down the line, with Brooke. And we will, as we always do, forge a path together – me pretending to lead the way while following them the whole time.

    Yes, I’ll have to figure out what to do with the elephant. For now, I think I’ll just call him Bob.”

    You’ll do fine. Jess. You always do! Every parent should feel this at one time or another. I know I did. I know I still do.

    Love you,

  2. Thanks for sharing this perspective. It’s certainly something I need to consider in my own writing, in my case the child w/ASD is already in middle school and my NT child will be soon. Definitely food for thought.

  3. I don’t know if you know this, but I ceased all parenting writing and blogging a few weeks ago for this very reason. In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask Luau what your girls think of your blogging, because I’m curious how other people navigate it. I think you’re spot-on here. (Oh, and my daughter thinks it’s hysterical to call all pretend animals “Bob.” I think it comes from that Philadelphia Chickens song where all the animals are named “Bob.”)

  4. This is why I have been struggling with writing myself. I still need to get the stories out somehow – for me – because that is why I started writing in the first place. But life has become much more public, and my kids are older, and their peers are very savvy. It feels like it’s not my place to share the sibling stuff anymore, even though it is all so intertwined in the fabric of our everyday life. So instead of working through it like you did so beautifully here, I am just at a standstill. Thank you for these words and thoughts as I work to figure it out.

  5. I must admit I had to look up the meaning of “Toccquevillean.” It is quite fitting for Katie.

    I have heard, “Mom, who did you tell that to!?” I see where you are coming from. It’s so hard.

    13,000…wow. Guess a bunch of other people found my now not so secret pleasure of DOAM!

  6. You are smarter than I! I don’t write a lot about my younger son, but a few weeks ago he told me at school kids were googling each other and he said his friend said “google Z and watch all of the stuff that comes up”. I was taken a back. I vowed I wouldn’t do that to him anymore. Although I was always respectful of what I wrote and there are pictures he is 13. I also use my kids real names. I don’t have 13,000 followers! You are being smart.

  7. I have 14 and 13 year old daughters as well as my five year old son…. I feel your pain, it’s such a tough road to navigate. Some days I am just afraid to speak!! Never know if it’s “teenager” correct!! You’ll figure it out! You have a great family!

  8. thank you for sharing your thoughts on this and as usual so eloquently. I struggle so much with this. I wrote about it last summer as I juggled having myself been the subject of my mom’s activism and the conflicting felings that brought up for me as a young adult.
    But this fall my son has stated repeatedly and rightfully that he wants to be the gatekeeper of when discussions about his autism happen and to whom. While my blog is anonymous and I dont share it with family and friends, I can’t help but to think of his clearly stated wishes every time I sit down to write and so most days, since I don’t know yet what that line should be I just don’t write anymore. But, like Alyssia stated above, it’s hard because i still *need* to write as much as I ever did. anyway, I look forward to seeing how you walk this line and as always appreciate your words.

  9. This is a tough time for kids and parents to find a balance. Everything I have written about my daughter, I have asked permission to include in my blog. James doesn’t like some of my blogs because they are about some of his less shiny moments and he doesn’t like it. Those make for the best blogs but I guess I will need to start to ask his permission as well.

  10. What an incredible mama you are. Truthfully, I don’t know if I could have come to that realization on my own…. But, you laid it out ever so eloquently as always. These are “their” stories and maybe, just maybe you will have permission to share some of them here. In meantime, you will just do what you do… write about YOU and the way you feel about things, and how you want things to be better for your girls, and what you want for them. And that is okay…

    Blessings today!

  11. This now has “Magic” by B.O.B. running ceaselessly through my head. Before you write about Katie you’re going to need the opening lyric of that song…”Hi, my name is Bob, and I approve this message…”

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