“The last couple of weeks, Facebook has really sucked.”
We both spend a lot of time scrolling our newsfeed. Probably too much. And the last few weeks it’s been a steady stream of prom couples, graduation tassles, backpacks prepped for the last day of school, and shopping for college photos. It’s clumps of handsome adolescents dressed for dances, kids holding certificates, squeezed between parents, smiling awkwardly, “I wish they weren’t growing up so fast” snaps.
What are especially hard are the photos of kids the same age as our son. He would be finishing 7th grade now, getting ready to move on to his last year of middle school, the official entrance into his teen years. He would be getting lanky, pimply, brace-faced, and even more goofy. And like all my Facebook friends, I would be lamenting how fast he was growing up.
It’s easier to just scroll past those pics to look for DIY projects, book reviews, or meaty articles from Salon or the Atlantic. It’s not that I’m spiteful, or angry. I don’t want to steal anyone’s joy. I’m not wishing guilt on anyone for celebrating.
But I also know that sometimes, the reminders are too heavy. Every photo is another prick at my already sensitive skin. And every mention of “bittersweet” or “growing so fast” just reinforces that my son will forever be 12 ½.
In the months since October, I’ve met other “loss moms.” We keep in touch online, or through texts, and we say the things we can’t say publicly. A few of them just delete their Facebook app this time of the year, or make a conscious effort to stay away from social media. If I had more self control, and a weaker dependence on Facebook, I would do the same. Truthfully, though, it’s how I can interact with people without having to actually, you know, interact.
I’ve also had to make a few conscious choices.
I don’t have to applaud. All the young people I see online have loving people to celebrate them and their accomplishments. If I’m not in the virtual front row to cheer, that’s OK. In time, I will. My close friends are acutely aware that it’s a struggle for me. They understand if I’m not liking and commenting on every photo.
I don’t have to feel resentful. While my son was alive, I was proud of him. I will forever be proud of him. How could I possibly resent other parents wanting to show off their own kid’s amazingness? They should own that moment and embrace it, just like we did with our boy. I only start to feel bitter when I allow myself too much head room for the future.
I don’t have to measure my happiness against the online lives of others. The moments I’m seeing captured in all the smiling photos are just that – moments. While it’s true very few people are walking the exact same journey as my family, that doesn’t mean everyone else is living in Hunky-Doryville. Our online personas are only part of who we really are, the part we want people to see and admire. We keep the rest a little closer, and a lot quieter.
I need to celebrate the kids here, in my arms, as much as the one I’m parenting long distance. It’s a constant struggle to focus my attention on the present moment. Right now, the five year old is begging me to come play Legos, which is probably my least favorite parenting activity. But I will pause, and I will play, and I’ll be reminded of the importance of creating memories that don’t have a digital stamp. Last night, our teen received a leadership award at her swim team banquet. I was elated, for her and for me. I needed something to celebrate.
I need to choose gratitude, over and over. That sounds incredibly cliché. Truly, though, a steady stream of thank you prayers is what moves me through a day. It keeps me moving forward when I just want time to pause, to stop putting distance between my son and me. If I can be grateful for what was, and what is, then I won’t spend so much time grieving what will never be.
I need to spend less time online, period. Summer is nearly here and there are a hundred other things I could be doing. It’s laziness and security that draw me back to my laptop. I can lose hours on Facebook, reading news articles, looking up recipes I’ll never cook, putting things in my Amazon cart I’ll never buy, and going down rabbit holes of “research” into maudlin topics. It’s a distraction from the noise in my mind and usually an utter waste of time (unless I find a really good book recommendation.)
It’s not Facebook’s fault that it sucks sometimes. It’s just a different experience, looking at it through grief glasses. Everything is filtered through a grayer lens. I still have reminders of my son’s accomplishments I can savor: framed certificates, medals, photos, videos, memories of moments. I’m still a proud mom of our other two, one in high school and one starting kinder, bookending our parenting years. There’s still a lot of moments to come that I’ll preserve on my phone and in my heart.
For the next couple of weeks, though, I think I’ll go back to my one-day-at-a-time strategy that got me through those first few months. Get up, get dressed, do today, go to bed. Eat something healthy, go for a walk, pray, pray again. Keep moving and avoid lingering online for too long. The internet will be there when I get back, and in a few weeks, Facebook will be full of amusement parks and barbeques and beaches. The scenery will change and my digital dilemma will be resolved. Until this time next year. And by then, hopefully, I’ll be wearing a newer pair of glasses, and will have other things to celebrate, and maybe the fortitude to take a Facebook break altogether. Chances are I’ll still be working my way through all the books now sitting in my Amazon cart, too.