My finger hovers over the track pad as I prepare to click “Post.” I pause, a little too long, thinking about a few friends, on the edges of my circle but about whose opinions I inexplicably care an inordinate amount, who might judge this particular Facebook post harshly. Who might roll their eyes. Who might think I am unhip. Or not intellectual enough. Or overly emotional. Or silly.
I am thirty-nine years old. I am a writer, a lawyer, a former professor, and a silly-happily married mother of three. I have survived the death of my mother, the death of my child, and a bout with cancer. And yet, somehow, I still care about this crap.
It’s no surprise, really. Is this fear of posting the wrong thing on Facebook not simply the logical extension of that time back in sixth grade when a popular girl caught me rattling off the brand name of the clothing I was wearing in my desperate hope that someone cared? When I heard that popular girl parrot me to her friends in that nasal, high-pitched voice young girls reserve for ridiculing others, saying, “Forenza, Forenza, Forenza!” (it was the eighties, y’all—Forenza was cool), I immediately realized my mistake. It was cool to wear Forenza, but it was not cool to talk about wearing Forenza. My plan had backfired, and now I was doubly uncool.
About ten days after my oldest daughter, Hudson, died at the age of 17 months from a sudden and aggressive bacterial infection, I posted on Facebook that I felt more like my authentic self than I recalled ever feeling in my life. I was only what I was, and in that state, I was able to perceive myself, and others, in the truest of lights. At a horrific time in my life, it was an amazing gift.
But then the unrelenting grief overtook that initial shock. And then life hurtled me forward whether I liked it or not. That glimpse into near-perfect authenticity was veiled again, like it has been all of my life.
And so today, at thirty-nine, after my mother’s death, after my daughter’s death, after a bout with cancer, that popular girl’s pinched-nose voice still reverberates in my head. When I get ready to click “Post.” When I am forced to make small talk with people I don’t know, and sometimes even with people I do know. When I want to tell an esteemed friend that I loved a book she thought was trite. When I hear myself say, “I love the law,” even though it doesn’t ring true anymore. When I strain to respond after someone I respect uses the word “retarded” pejoratively in my presence. When I fear I don’t understand enough about what’s happening in the Middle East, or read enough poetry, or do enough to help the world. When I feel other parents’ eyes on me as I refrain from intervening in my three-year-old’s conflicts with their children, because I want him to learn how to deal with them himself.
Except now, there is so much more at stake than there was when I was standing next to my sixth-grade locker, spouting off stupidly about my brand-name clothes.
Now, my children are watching.
And I’ve witnessed first-hand how devastating it can be for a child whose parent cannot live an authentic life. My first marriage ended, sadly and inevitably, in large part because my ex-husband had real difficulty connecting with others on a deep level. His father, after 35 years of marriage, revealed that he’d been living all that time as a closeted gay man. Six months later, my ex revealed to me that he’d had feelings for another woman for several years, years during which we’d hobbled our way through couples therapy, during which I tried every way I could to figure out how to be a better wife and partner only to learn it wasn’t even about me.
And not only is it critical that I model for my children what it means to be wholly myself, it’s even more critical that I accept them for being wholly themselves, because the world is going to do its best to do the opposite. My three-year-old son is sweet, friendly, and outgoing, and even at this young age, I’ve watched other children rebuff his vivacious greetings as odd. He’s too young to have his feelings hurt by this, but he won’t be for much longer, and I want him to hold on to that sweetness until the day he dies. I don’t want the world to beat it out of him. My 1-year-old daughter has a very short fuse, and she is quick to scream or cry, and difficult to soothe, when upset or injured. And while it might be easy for me to brush her emotions off and label her a “drama queen,” I understand not only that doing so will not change her—she’s going to be who she is no matter what I do, because THAT’S WHO SHE IS—it could also be downright harmful. I want my children to understand in the deepest pockets of their souls that they are loved and accepted, no matter who they are or what they do.
Although I’d do anything to have my daughter back, and I’d trade back in an instant the unwanted wisdom I’ve gained since she died, I’m still grateful for that glimpse I got into what it would feel like to be wholly myself, to be bare and completely open-hearted. And I want to live that way always. For myself. For my husband. For my kids. For my friends. To be sure, struggling to be authentic on Facebook is trivial and unimportant in the grand scheme of what it means to live an authentic life. But it’s also the easiest place to be inauthentic—social media makes it so simple to create a very carefully curated picture of oneself. If I can’t even manage to be authentic on social media, what chance do I have to be authentic in my real life?
Learning to live an authentic life, to love and accept myself fully, to live truly wholeheartedly, is a lifelong and difficult struggle, one which I’m extremely privileged to even have the emotional space to undertake. I’ll start with the easy part and click “Post.”