Little and Hidden in Cyberspace

There has been some recent conversation about comment boxes. Comments open? Comments closed? Comments moderated? And I have received some dismayed emails from readers asking why I've closed comments here at Real Learning and never opened them at Serendipity

On the morning of September 30th, someone left a comment on a post demanding that I explain how I was using Waldorf in my home. She questioned my commitment to raising my children as Catholics and she questioned my faith. She also left me a link to a post elsewhere with a very lengthy, growing, heated discussion. I read the comment, felt my face grow hot, my pulse quicken, and my stomach turn. There it was, in black and white, someone daring to say that I was not a good enough parent, that I wasn't giving my children an adequate education in the faith and that I was leading other people away from God. And she was doing it here, in my space.That's pretty much as low as it gets, in my opinion.

I had some options at this point: I could close comments on that post, only to have the determined heckler post on the next available post (she did). I could delete the comment and get on with my day, checking back frequently to make sure it wasn't posted again or that no one else posted one like it.  I could answer her, invite a dialogue and defend myself (going over to that post on the other blog to do the same there, as well). Or I could password protect my blog and walk away for a while to collect my thoughts.

Oh, and where was this comment? It was beneath my five-year-old's birthday post. Ever since I 've started blogging, my children look forward to seeing their birthday post and to reading what I say about them on their special day. Fortunately, I deleted the comment before my children read it. And then I password protected my blog. Then, I prayed hard about what to do next.

There was a deluge of mail from people who like this blog. For them, I am very grateful. It was a very, very kind thing for people to write and express their support for this little corner of cyberspace. My immediate problem was that I was in the middle of a very busy week, important in the life of my children and integral to the life of my family. I could not sit and watch comments and comment on comments and delete comments if necessary. I could not be available to all those people out there and still be a good mom to the people God entrusted to my care. Kind of ironic, huh? I couldn't write about and defend the life I love and live it at the same time.

As I went about my day, my week, really, I thought a lot about why I was blogging at all. What was the point? I began to blog with the encouragement of two women, in particular. One of them emphasized to me that my blog could be a lovely example of what it is to live a full life of faith at home with a large family. The other woman reminded me that I am a writer. I've been writing a regular column for Catholic publications since 1993. The blog would give me freedom to expand and to link and to have photos and to write about home education far more than I could in my columns.

Whenever I wrote a column that bothered someone or about which they disagreed, I'd get a letter in the mail, usually several weeks after I wrote. I write two weeks in advance of publication and then the writer would send her concerns to the paper and the paper would forward it me. I'd read it and throw it away. It was food for thought, but rarely did it ask for or need a response. It didn't really intrude upon my day or take time from my family at all. The pleasant letters encouraged me and made me smile, the negative mail bothered me, but only for a short while. And then it was over.

With blogging, the negative comment goes up in my space. It begs my attention. And in my absence, it can multiply until there is a lynch mob. Conversely, the positive comment often begs an answer, too. Someone likes an idea, but has a question. And for some reason, often the answer is expected immediately. I can't function like that. My children need me 24/7 and they are the only ones to whom I can be accountable all the time.

So, on the  the feast of my favorite saint, Therese of the Child Jesus, between Katie's birthday and Patrick's birthday, I took another hard look at why I was blogging and if blogging was beneficial to my soul or to the life my family. Today I am sharing with you a little of what has been on my heart in the month since that time. God has blessed me with the ability to write. I think in narrative and I write easily and fairly well. Because I write easily, it is easy for me to share my family and my life with you all. Easy, but perhaps not appropriate. Because there is another side to me. For better or worse, I am painfully shy. So, while writing is easy, dialogue is incredibly difficult.

When I first ventured into the world of internet community, it was pretty nice to be able to converse in writing, trading ideas and gaining inspiration, all the while ducking the shyness. But, those conversations have changed over time and somehow, so has the expectation of me. This --incessant internet discussion-- is not  my medium. It is way, way too hard for me. This can't be Christ's burden for me. This yoke is neither easy nor light.

While I might write well, I cannot give to people on the internet the effort that is required of me for dialogue. In the past year, my life has changed dramatically. I have added a baby, launched a child into the world (and lost my best helper) and stood here at home while my husband accepted a job which requires tremendous amounts of travel. The toll these things have taken on my family are enormous. The tasks I face at home while I try to educate the children (there are eight in my care every day and a ninth at college who still needs me) God has entrusted to me are overwhelming. I cannot do them well and be available online in the way that has come to be expected. "I have enough dialogue here at home; I can't do dialogue online as well." (That's not my line but the author of that line knows how grateful I am to her for both the line and her wise counsel throughout this process.)

I wrote a book. It's a bubbling over of a life I love. I thought that was God's call, the way He wanted me to use my talent. I did not know then what an enormous strain that book would be on my family. And now, I blog. I love my blog. I love to share the things we do, the thoughts I think. But I do not blog because I think I'm teaching or preaching. I blog because I wonder aloud. Sometimes I wonder at the darkness. Sometimes I wonder at the silliness. Often, I wonder at the joy. That's all it is: one woman's wondering at a life filled with God's abundance.

So here I was on the  feast of the saint of the little way, in the middle of the week during which my family celebrates how much God has blessed us with children. And I could see that my presence in cyberspace was not little at all. I could also see that it is not God's will for me to be anything but little.Therese has been so good to me. It is not a coincidence that this was all happening on her feast. Anything I do or write online can only come from the bubbling over of a full life here at home; it cannot rob my home. It cannot deplete me the way conversation invariably does. Because I know that it will leave me with nothing left of me to give. That's where I was the day I decided to close the comment box.

As I mentioned, my children look forward to their birthday posts. And, as I mentioned, this all occurred during birthday week. Patrick's birthday was next up and Patrick was hurt to think that with password protection, no one would see his birthday post.  My children told me how much they loved my blog. My mother told me again how much she appreciated it and I reflected on what a great medium of communication it has been for our relationship. And I had the precious emails of people who reminded me that I had somehow blessed them, too.So, I went through and manually closed comments on every single post so that I could post Patrick's  birthday post.

I am not unfriendly. And I don't want to be perceived as being unfriendly. When I closed comments, there were 2,811 comments on this blog. I appreciate those expressions of online friendship. And I do miss comments. Sometimes, I wonder if anyone is reading at all (I stopped checking stats almost a year ago, but I guess that's another post;-). Unquestionably, though, it is so, so much better for me and for my family that now I have the ability to blog in the morning and then to turn off the computer and walk away for the rest of the day. I have to be able to do that. I have to be able to blog for Him. And not for me. Not for the nice things people say. Not for the attention. Not for the people who would insist I give to them before I give to my family.

Serendipity was launched on birthday week, though we'd really planned to wait until later. Katherine worked incredibly long hours to pull together what was formerly only snippets of ideas and stories sitting in a draft folder of a blog that only had a banner and a name. It was our attempt to bring something beautiful out of a week that was dark and ugly on the 'net. To show and not to tell how very much the beauty of our Lord is at the center of our children's education. Every week, we can share our plans and show our work and hopefully, in some small way, inspire families to enjoy being at home and educating their children. Our children have the opportunity to show their work, too, something not often possible for children who can't hang their work on the walls outside a classroom. It's a safe and happy place.  It's a joy to write and that's as it should be.

It's been very quiet here in front of my computer screen. And I do miss the chatter and conversation of  women I met in cyberspace. But I have also been afforded the gift of time to cherish true friendships. The people whom I've met online and  grown to love via email and phone calls and a shared history of genuine friendship still write and call and for that I'm very grateful. Some of those people were feeling rather neglected as I tried to keep up with the dialogue of strangers.

I'd like to believe that in the quiet, I'm more likely to hear God. Because that's what I really want for my home, for my children, for my life, for my blog--incessant dialogue with God. So I'm trying here to do what seems impossible, stay little and hidden enough to serve Him in a place that is very big and very public.I'm trying to live what I believe and blog what I live.