dear jennifer


{image is a giraffe in a party hat with text reading, “Giraffe Party.” It is the profile picture for my friend, Jennifer’s public Facebook page. Click on it. Go ahead, it won’t bite.}

Dear Jennifer,

There’s been something that I’ve been wanting to tell you for a while now. The words have played again and again in my head, edited ever so slightly with each new iteration. But until now, they had yet to make their way through my fingers and out onto the screen.

I fear that I’ll trip over what I want to say, that it will come off clumsily and end up being a big old steaming mess that I will swear once made sense but seems to have since lost the thread – or any thread – entirely.

But what I want to say is important. So I’m willing to take the risk that it might come out all wrong. And I’m going to do it publicly, because, well, I feel like that part is important too. Partly because I want everyone to hear my gratitude for the really important role you play in my life, and partly because I want them to understand how important it is for them to find you, or to go find their own Jennifer. (I warned you that this might not make sense, right? Okay, bear with me. I’m trying.)

You see, you were one of the first people who taught me about what it REALLY means to respect my autistic daughter’s privacy online. (And in so doing, of course, how to respect my neurotypical kid’s privacy too, ’cause, shock of shocks, human respect is a universal concept.) But it wasn’t a concept upon which I really had a grasp early on, no matter what I might have thought.

But you called out when lines were crossed. You stood in the center of the Internet intersection of advocacy and false ally-ship (is that a word?) and pointed to that which just wasn’t okay to share: that which is my daughter’s story to tell someday if she so chooses, not mine. That which might harm her as she steps into the bigger world someday.

You showed me how hurtful it can be to lay the details of a child’s life bare in the virtual town square for all to see .. forever.

Over the past couple of years, you have become my private litmus test.

We have a joke at home. When Katie says her room is clean, Luau asks, “Look at it through Mama’s eyes. Is it still clean?”

My perspective is different from Katie’s. My life experience leads me to a different, and often more stringent, set of criteria for what is acceptable and what’s not.

You do that for me here on Diary. For every post I write, I ask myself EVERY SINGLE TIME, “If I were twelve, would I want my mom telling this story to everyone I know?” When the answer is no, I delete it. But when the answer is yes, I ask a second question:

Will Jennifer think this is okay to share?

Because just like me vis-à-vis Katie, you have a perspective that is different from mine. Your life experience as an autistic woman, just like my twelve year-old daughter will soon enough be, leads you to a different, and often more stringent, set of criteria for what is acceptable to share and what’s not.

I am so grateful for that. For your voice, for your judgement, for your fierce advocacy for my kid and an entire generation of others like her who are growing up at a time when so many of us, their parents, connect with each other online. And, in so doing, walk through a minefield that we may not even see beneath our feet, constantly in danger of compromising that which matters more than anything else – our kids’ dignity, privacy, and safety.

Thanks to people like you and so many others (many of whom are listed in my blog roll over there to the right), we so-often-clueless parents have a fighting chance of staying on the right side of the fight.

So that’s what I wanted to say: THANK YOU. Thank you for throwing everything you have into protecting our kids. Especially for the times when you have to tell me that I’m screwing up in order to do it.

And something else too …

Please know that even when you’re being slammed to the Internet pavement by seemingly indignant folks who are too drenched in their own fears and insecurities to hear you, there are hundreds of others who are reading your words in silence. And taking them in. And processing, learning, changing, evolving, and growing. And, above all, fiercely protecting their own kids because you are showing them how.

Thank you, Jennifer. And all of my autistic friends who teach me every day how to do this right. I am so incredibly grateful.



Note: Read Jennifer’s blog here and find her on Facebook here.

Other note: This letter was shared publicly with her generous permission, for which I am grateful. 

6 thoughts on “dear jennifer

  1. Pingback: Giraffe Party – Mutual Appreciation Society

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