A while ago I learned about a mom whose little boy passed away after accidentally falling in their backyard pool. It was the sort of senseless tragedy that makes every parent shiver and clutch their own kids a little tighter, but then the story took an even worse turn: people started criticizing the mother for using Twitter in the awful moments following the paramedics’ arrival. There was some ugly fallout from the whole thing, with all kinds of judgments and wild speculation and a truly unfortunate amount of media interest.

I don’t know that mother and I don’t know much about her story, but it was impossible not to feel devastated on her behalf for not only the unthinkable loss of a child, but the finger-pointing that swirled in the wake of the accident.

The entire scene—the accident, the discovery, the frantic call for help—was unimaginable, and yet I found myself doing so, in some helplessly dark sort of way, and while I held no judgment I did find her use of Twitter at that time difficult to understand. I let my mind wander into that nightmare territory we all visit now and then, where we see something a parent is never meant to see, and I couldn’t picture lifting my phone and typing out words.

On first glance Twitter seems frivolous, after all. A place where we post jokes and lighthearted comments and complaints about television shows. Not a place to broadcast a horrific situation in progress.

But the thing is, there are no rules about how Twitter should be used, despite what some people may claim. Each of us use it in a way that best suits us, and for me that changes throughout the day—sometimes I treat it like open mic night at the discount comedy club, sometimes I vent frustrations, sometimes I post links to things that make me smile.

Last week when JB had bundled up our droopy, white-faced boy and headed off to the ER and I was at home with Riley waiting for the babysitter so I could join them at the hospital, I paced the floor and peered out the windows and chewed my fingernails and finally tapped something out on my phone. It took about five seconds.

Screen shot 2010-03-30 at 1.51.52 PM

Moments later, I had a flood of responses. I read them until the babysitter arrived, I read them while I was stopped at red lights on the way to the emergency room. (I know: bad idea. Also, illegal.) I read them in the waiting room while Dylan slept and JB and I stayed quiet so as to not disturb him.

I cannot tell you how much those replies helped me. It was so soothing to hear from people, to feel less alone in those moments. Don‘t worry, he’ll feel so much better when he gets rehydrated, someone said to me, and I clung to that sentence like a raft in the ocean.

I don’t know what I would do if faced with an actual life-threatening emergency involving my kids, and I pray I never, ever find out. I guess that’s the thing: we can’t know what we might do, what we’d need, what seemingly odd decisions we might make.

It’s human nature to reach out when we’re scared and we feel helpless. I’m glad Twitter was there for me on a night when I put the dick jokes aside and spoke nakedly into the void, and the void spoke back and said, hang in there.


47 Responses to “140 characters”

  1. Eric's Mommy on March 30th, 2010 2:50 pm

    I remember that whole fiasco about the Mom using Twitter when her son drowned. At first I thought it was awful, and how could she be doing that with what was going on? Then after I thought about it I realized that there are people out there who care and help you through things like that even if it is via the internet. Sometimes you just need something.

  2. Patty Grimm on March 30th, 2010 2:55 pm

    Great post. We are so quick to judge when we don’t know the situation. No idea what I would do if something like that happened. Glad that your trip to the ER turned out ok.

  3. Erin (Snarke) on March 30th, 2010 2:59 pm

    I remember when that happened and the people lashing out at the Mom for not only tweeting while it happened and afterwards but for being on twitter for most of the day beforehand as well. I can’t judge her–from what I remember, she had kind of a lonely life (military wife with a deployed husband) and used twitter to socialize (who doesn’t these days)and have some adult human contact during the day.

    I think, though, that people just jump to criticize the things they do not immediately understand. Look at all of the hatred tossed at bloggers for revealing things about themselves and their families online.

    I like that we have these mediums to use for reaching out and for finding support and for making ourselves (and others) laugh. And I’m glad that you were able to find comfort when you were stressed and scared. That is the very best use of social media that I can think of.

  4. C @ Kid Things on March 30th, 2010 3:08 pm

    I have more friends online than I do in real life, always have and maybe that says something about me but that’s another comment for another day, so I think if something tragic were to ever happen, please to god I hope nothing tragic ever happens, I can see myself turning online for a hopeful kind word or two.

  5. Ariel on March 30th, 2010 3:09 pm

    Delurking to say: I am closer to people who are far away and online than I am to a lot of people who live close to me. If I needed prayers, online is where I’d go.

  6. Erika on March 30th, 2010 3:18 pm

    I remember when a blogger lost her son to SIDS. She posted on her blog during and immediately after the most horrible event in her life. Just one sentence. I didn’t think it strange at all. She reached out for comfort. She had familial comfort at home, but she needed all the comfort she could get then (can you blame her?).

    I was with my cousin when her 26 year old son died after being sick for five hours. Someone silly asked her if she were okay, she laughed and said, “I would run down the street screaming if I could find the door”. THEN WE ALL LAUGHED. You have to know our family.

  7. Beth on March 30th, 2010 3:30 pm

    I think Twitter is a good resource because as the world gets bigger, it also gets more impersonal, so Twitter can help people feel more connected.

  8. Marie Green on March 30th, 2010 3:41 pm

    Oh god, I remember that story too. I remember a blogger asking to verify the story before people starting sending money etc. And that planted a seed of doubt for me, which I was ashamed of later.

    (I had never heard of that woman before her tragedy… if she had been a blogger I read, I would have believed her 100%)

    That’s the thing with The Internets. Such a great place for community and support and “I hear ya’s” and “hang in there’s” and laughter and… also scams and meanness and criticizing…

    I’m feel luck, at least, that the parts of the internet I usually experience are pleasant and positive.

    And I’m so glad your little punk has recovered!

  9. Amanda on March 30th, 2010 3:48 pm

    It’s hard to know…so we should try not to judge. Great post!

  10. Heather on March 30th, 2010 3:49 pm

    It’s an interestingly weird space: this story and issue. I.e. how we use social media, and then I suppose the difficulty here being when… I blog to write about my daughter who has Costello Syndrome and most recently cancer. It is an intensely personal and devastating situation as I am sure any parent can imagine.

    For me I have found an incredible support online for myself, for my girl, for my family. I will say that when the worst happens, those moments that take your heart and mail it away, far away, I write nothing because I actually cannot.

    But that is me and one thing I have learned in the entire process of having a child who was not “typical” is that I am never, ever, in any position whatsoever to judge another mother for what she needs to do to survive, and to have a little mercy for the accidents that do, indeed, just happen.

    There has been so much backlash against “moms who post” but sometimes it behooves us to take a minute and really read these stories, listen to these voices, ruminate for five seconds on what it is we are all talking about. The moms who have special kids, the moms who have typical ones, we are all of us just doing the best we can with what we have and looking for ways to share it and support each other.

    Don’t you think?

  11. Junni on March 30th, 2010 4:02 pm

    You are probably my favorite stranger I will never know.

  12. tawnya on March 30th, 2010 4:16 pm

    I love this. I didn’t hear about the other mom, but saw when your tweet came across. I felt nothing but panic for you – as one mom to another. I too, love the support.

  13. Andrea on March 30th, 2010 4:20 pm

    You, my dear, are so full of awesome that I think my heart just exploded.

  14. willikat on March 30th, 2010 5:33 pm

    Sometimes when I read your posts I just want to jump up and punch my fist in the air. Because this post had NOTHING to really do with anything in my life, but yet, I felt every word of it. Great stuff about social media, too, from one web nerd to another. ;)

  15. Jen on March 30th, 2010 5:34 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me that I agree with every single thing that you write. Yes, as the above commenter said, “full of awesome”. True dat

  16. M.A. on March 30th, 2010 5:41 pm

    I’m not a tweeter and I don’t have a blog. I have a reluctant Facebook page that my husband set up for me. My cell phone calls out, accepts calls, and I can text on it. Otherwise I have no idea what it does.

    37 years ago when I was 13 my Mom got really sick and my Dad had to call 911 (at the time, just “0”). Mrs. Jones from across the street came to get me so my Dad could go to the hospital with my Mom.

    I played with Timmy Jones all day. I ate lemon yoghurt. I had a cold. Mrs. Jones called Aung Marg and Uncle Bil and they called the rest of our neighbors and Aunt Pat and Uncle John came in from Battle Creek and by the end of the day my house was full of people — all of whom knew what was going on. When I went home that night, the house was full of people. Who knew. I didn’t have to talk about it and neither did my Dad when he got home. We were all just… there.

    So whether you call or twitter or email or text, it’s all the same thing — people reaching out when they need to. I’m happy you had your friends, neighbors, and loved ones with you — cyber or otherwise — with messages of love and encouragement.

    I’m glad you have your wonderful babysitter, and I wish we were all your neighbors. So we could be waiting with lemon yoghurt — and real hugs — when you got home.

    Maybe not ALL of us. That might be kind of creepy.

  17. js on March 30th, 2010 5:46 pm

    I found out about that whole ordeal after it happened. At first, I thought, “Who the hell would do that?” But then I thought, who knows what I would do if it were me? You reach out to whoever you can. When my dad had a heart attack last year, I got the call at work, was packing up my shit to leave but logged in to Facebook to post about it. I just needed it out there. I needed my friends (both real and internet only) to know, and I needed to know they were thinking about me and pulling for my dad. The older I get, the less judgemental I seem to become. There’s no telling for sure what any of us would do in certain situations. Also, SO glad Dylan is better. That pic of JB and him in the ER was heartbreaking.

  18. Lo on March 30th, 2010 5:47 pm

    Sometimes you need a friend, and Twitter is the perfect place to turn when you need someone, anyone IMMEDIATELY. Any one friend might not be free, but someone is always on the internet. This is one of the internet’s 10 greatest functions.

    On a tangent, about the kid – I’m assuming the mom already did what she could for the child, so turning for support is fine. As a teenager I interned in the emergency response sector, and on many occasions the paramedics would arrive to find the child still in the pool, and the parents standing by helpless. It was hard to judge them, but such a downer.

    This one time, a 2-year-old fell in the pool, and the dad dove in and pulled him out. They didn’t know CPR, but tried to imitate what they saw on TV. It worked. When the paramedics arrived, the kid was breathing again. By the time he got to the ER, he was fine & cranky about the medical attention. The parents were shaken, and signed up for CPR classes on the spot. It was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen. The paramedics and many of the veteran ER staff were crying.

    I bet you’re a “dive in the pool” kind of mom. Worry about that, and not judgmental assholes – no matter how good you are, there will always be those people. For crying out loud, I’ve heard people bash Mother Theresa.

    I realize you weren’t fishing for compliments with this post, but I’m giving them anyway because I’m a rebel like that :P

  19. mindy on March 30th, 2010 6:05 pm

    There is nothing to be ashamed of for seeking comfort in any time of need. EVER. Technology just makes it more convenient (and quicker!) to get the love and comfort we need.

  20. nonsoccermom on March 30th, 2010 6:07 pm

    Very thoughtful. I remember that night on Twitter and reacted much like you. Thank you for the gentle reminder that we cannot know how we would react in a crisis until we are actually confronted by one.

  21. Christine on March 30th, 2010 6:51 pm

    “…and spoke nakedly into the void, and the void spoke back and said, hang in there.”

    This. This brought tears to my eyes, for the many, many times people just reach out in times of crisis, reach literally or figuratively, into the void and hope to find somebody — *anybody* — out there.

    So glad you could find comfort and strength. So very glad your little guy is better.

  22. kath on March 30th, 2010 6:59 pm

    I kind of liked being called “the void” right there. It feels a bit like a superhero name.


    And of course, we all strive to be non-judgmental and we all reach out. We really are all one.

  23. Anonymous on March 30th, 2010 8:10 pm

    Just wondering…do you think that had it been a Dad Twittering there would have been as much fuss?

  24. Angella on March 30th, 2010 8:49 pm

    Sometimes I hate Twitter because of all of the people who (clog up my feed, and) keep telling me how I *should* be using Twitter.


    Any time I have thrown something out and asked fr feedback/advice? My friends have come through.

  25. Accidental Olympian on March 30th, 2010 9:40 pm

    No seriously, hang in there.

  26. Donna on March 31st, 2010 12:30 am

    One of your comments hit the nail on the head, it used to be that family could be there within minutes to support you, and you knew your neighbors, and people in the community. Twitter IS our community, neighbors and family in alot of cases, and there is nothing wrong with reaching out.
    Your statement is proof, “you clung to that statement like a raft in the ocean”, and it helped you like having your family show up to drive you to the hospital and hold your hand.
    So glad Dylan is better, a friend of mine has a nephew, 2 years old, who fell on their porch, broke his nose, both arms and fractured his skull. He got meningitis, was leaking spinal fluid, has had 2 surgeries to repair the tears that his brain was starting to protrude though, one thru his skull, the second thru his nose, and still continues to leak fluid, and may have to have another surgery, has lost his sense of taste and smell for the rest of his life, and is still in the hospital. All from a fall that every single one of our kids has taken at one time or another. You just never know. Please throw some good thoughts and prayers out there for him if you would, his name is Grason. Today was his 3rd birthday. Thanks.

  27. Ink Spiller on March 31st, 2010 2:54 am

    When we’re faced with extreme tragedy we want to reach out. Using Twitter may just be a sign of the times. She needed support. She reached out. Why judge? It doesn’t change anything.

  28. Ness at Drovers Run on March 31st, 2010 2:58 am

    I will never think of twitter as frivolous. Never before has anything so seemingly inconsequential been of so much help to so many. I have heard of at least 3 suicides being prevented because the person has asked for help, or been helped by those who were concerned for them. If a technology can be utilized to help save someone, it should never be lightly dismissed.

  29. kootnygirl on March 31st, 2010 6:06 am

    Although I don’t ‘get’ Twitter, I understand that a whole lotta people love it, and that they use it for a vast array of reasons, including reaching out for and receiving support during difficult times.

    I see nothing wrong with that mother tweeting during her horror and later, grief. Nor do I see anything wrong with you tweeting about your sick boy.

    The risk, I think – the fear – is that we might get so caught up in our virtual lives that we lose track of our real lives. The real tragedy occurs if (a huge, unsubstantiated IF) that poor mother had been tweeting instead of supervising her child near an open pool, or IF you had been in an accident while checking Twitter responses on your way to the hospital.

    Like anything, I think we need to make technology work for us rather than the other way around.

    I sure hope your son is feeling better.

  30. Shelly on March 31st, 2010 6:38 am

    You make such a good point here. We all reach out in times of crisis. The difference is in whether we reach out to family, brick-and-mortar friends, or Internet friends. It’s the same gesture, just different media.

  31. Andrea (@shutterbitch) on March 31st, 2010 6:42 am

    I remember that happening to MilitaryMom on Twitter awhile back, and I remember thinking that it was so harsh, what people (particularly one person) was saying about her. We all cope differently.

    I personally don’t have a mobile phone that works well w/ twitter, or I’d be on all the time. And if I did have such a setup, then if something were to happen where I needed support, I’d turn to Twitter as well as reaching out to those I know IRL. I’d need all the help I could get.

    I’m glad you found what you needed. Friends are friends regardless of where you meet them.

  32. Alice on March 31st, 2010 7:26 am

    i rememeber being furious at everyone piling on that poor mother during that incident. she didn’t live-tweet his drowning, for fuck’s sake. she tweeted what happened, in a moment of despair and panic. that’s exactly what i use twitter and my blog for: reaching out blindly into the dark, and there is ABSOLUTELY ALWAYS a hand there to grab mine back when i do.

  33. MC on March 31st, 2010 7:31 am

    Everyone is different.

    I admit to being baffled at times with Twitter. People using it while on a date with their husband, exercising, or yes, in times of tragedy.

    When I’m out with my husband or taking time to exercise for myself, the last thing I’m thinking of is the internet. Those moments are personal and my ‘escape’ from this social media that can consume my day.

    Obviously it’s the opposite for some, wanting to include their virtual friends in so many of their personal moments.

    Like I said, everyone is different, which is what makes the world so interesting…

  34. HalynB on March 31st, 2010 7:39 am

    Oh lord, I remember that twitter feed. All lighthearted and talking about chickens if I recall correctly, then suddenly-dead child. It was like being kicked, and I didn’t even know this mother or her child. And then the backlash…that blogger that told people not to send money, the many twitter assholes that tweeted her, saying she was a rotten mother and deserved to lose her child. WTF, people?

    Both my twitter feed and my blog tend to be light and somewhat impersonal. One, my husband values our privacy, and doesn’t want our lives all over the internet, and I’ve got an insane (no really, literally) ex out there. I use pseudonyms when I do discuss my family, sometimes I modify stories to make sure identifying details are obscured-especially about the children.

    But if something bad happened, and I was near a computer? DAMN STRAIGHT it would go out over twitter. I don’t have a lot of followers, but every prayer and every good wish counts. If my phone weren’t a POS that barely texts and takes calls, I’d be tweeting the whole way to the hospital as well.

    I wasn’t on that night, Sundry. I didn’t see the tweet about Dylan til the next day, and I felt terrible that I hadn’t been there to give you some support during what must have been an awful night. But not for one second did I think that you shouldn’t have sent that message.

    Great post…as always. (sorry this is so long, jeez)

  35. Becky Mochaface on March 31st, 2010 8:17 am

    We all have different support systems. Twitter sometimes leaves me with my mouth gaping open at how critical of others and how mean we can get. Glad Dylan is doing better.

  36. kristylynne on March 31st, 2010 9:55 am

    Glad that Dylan is OK.

    And by the way, love the hot dog pic. Except, dude, seriously, are your books categorized by color? My god, where do you find the time???

  37. MRW on March 31st, 2010 9:56 am

    I didn’t hear about this story and my only reaction to it is to hope to god or nature or whatever the hell gets people through the night that I NEVER have to feel as that mom must be feeling. Whether she tweeted or not, I’m pretty damned certain she is feeling pain of the kind I never want to experience.

  38. Christina on March 31st, 2010 10:18 am

    I just do not get Twitter… I have no idea how people find the time to do it!!!

  39. Amy on March 31st, 2010 12:50 pm

    Well said! We never know unless we’re there. It’s one thing I’m trying to remember and pass along to my children. We don’t know what really happened unless we were standing there, in her shoes….and thank goodnes we weren’t!

  40. Amy on March 31st, 2010 12:51 pm

    By the way….have you read Kelly Corrigan yet? I think you would love her book Lift.

  41. Helen on March 31st, 2010 1:12 pm

    We never know what we might do in any given situation, until we are in that situation, I always said I would kick my husband out if he cheated, turns out I tried for 2 years to get him to come home. I said I would hunt down anyone who ever hurt my children, when 2 of them were abducted and horribly abused I actually stopped their dad from trying to find the monster….the internet has saved my sanity, I wish I had had my imaginary friends when I was living my nightmare.
    That mother won’t need anyone else to make her feel guilt, she will carry that to the day she dies while she misses her baby. I say we ought to support and show love whenever we can.

  42. Laura on April 1st, 2010 6:12 am

    I didn’t have time to read through all the previous comments, but I want to. I was online that day, an already follower of that Mother. I also saw the complete nasty aftermath of how judgemental and hateful people can be.

    The truth is that Twiiter/Blogging/Texting is a way for so many of us to connect. Often it is the only adult interaction I get. I have developed some very close friendships via the web whom have become real life friends as well. Even though we are miles apart.

    In this digital age it is no different than picking up the phone to call my best friend and saying “OMG xxx just happened” upon which she would call another friend, etc.

    As humans we look and need support during times like that. This woman’s digital friends were her support. Daily. Everyday.

    I can not imagine the horrible pain and guilt that you know she will face the rest of her life. For her there will always be “should I have been with the chickens”, “should I have made him come there with me”, we have ALL as Mothers turned our back for a few moments thinking our child would be fine. Or turned our backs thinking our child was right behind us.

  43. Michelle on April 1st, 2010 6:47 pm

    I remember the story of the mom who lost her son. And I also remember a very few media outlets reporting AFTER they unabashedly bashed her that her tweet asked for prayers for her son. Quickest, easiest prayer chain out there. Would we have been so harsh if she had picked up her phone and called her prayer line at church? Probably not. And yet her tweet was faster and reached far more people.

    You’re right that we shouldn’t judge. I’m glad the ER turned out okay. Kids should never have to go to the ER; it just sucks for them and us when they’re sick.

  44. Turner on April 2nd, 2010 8:24 am

    I wish Twitter had been around in 2000 when we took my 3-day old son to the ER. I could have used the support and advise from parents much more experienced than I was.

    Would I have tweeted about it? Most certainly. Would it have also helped my sanity while my infant son wailed as he was poked, prodded and scanned? Definitely.

  45. Jen on April 2nd, 2010 11:10 am

    You are so right. Two weeks ago when my OB wasn’t able to hear my baby’s heartbeat at 12 weeks, and I had to drive the 25 minutes ALONE IN THE CAR SOBBING to the ultrasound place, I have never been so thankful for the ability to post 140 characters and get virtual hugs and prayers back (after I called The Husband, of course.) For the hour wait in the waiting room, I clung to those emails and @replies and it kept me sane.

    And it was even MORE awesome to be able to post the picture of our little turd, bouncing around there on the ultrasound screen for those same friends to see after all the drama was over. Twitter LOVE.

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