Love, I Mean Like(s), Conquers All

Love, I Mean Like(s), Conquers All

By Francie Arenson Dickman         


We had a crisis in our house this morning. It hit during the thirty seconds my daughters allot for breakfast. Instead of sitting stone still and staring at the counter, I noticed some last minute scrambling—not the physical kind, but the virtual—a frenzy with the phones, which I assumed had to do with school. They had math and science tests. A forgotten formula, maybe? Worse, it turned out. An almost forgotten birthday.The birthday of a good friend, no less, brought to their attention by another friend’s Instagram post…or maybe it was Facebook. I can’t keep track anymore.     

I’m sure if you are a parent of a girl who has finished breast feeding and is therefore old enough to have an online presence, you know where I’m going with this. You’re already aware of the online protocol required to appropriately acknowledge the birthday of a friend (defined broadly to encompass anyone they’ve ever met) via social media.     

The formula for online well-wishing for middle schoolers is complex and as incomprehensible to me as the formulas in my kids’ geometry books. It centers around “the post.” I’m not talking about a run-of-the-mill Facebook birthday wish. A simple, “Have a great day,” apparently won’t do. An acceptable birthday post is a multi-step venture. Step one involves digging. Deep and focused digging, one by one, through the eight trillion selfies and other shots in your child’s camera roll in search of pictures that show any sign of the birthday girl. (“Oh look, there’s her elbow.”)    

Not all photos, I’m afraid, are created equal. I’m fairly certain (though if I’m wrong, perhaps one of my children’s friends who are now on Facebook will correct me) but the further back in time the picture goes, the better. As the adage (updated for social media) goes, new friends are silver, old friends are gold and old photos of old friends are even golder. In other words, a picture speaks a thousand words and if you’ve got a photo with the birthday girl from preschool, you have said, “I’ve been friends with the birthday girl longer than you,” without uttering a sound.   

When we were kids, moms used to send their birthday kids to school with cupcakes that the birthday kid got to pass out with the help of a few chosen friends. Today, allergies have done away with the homemade cupcake tradition, but nothing will ever do away with the middle school girls’ ability to jockey for position. Human nature is alive and kicking: A one picture post (unless, as stated above, it’s a picture from way, way back), means you probably aren’t the girl who would have been called up to help with the cupcakes. But if you can amass 25 pictures or more, and then take the time to lay them all out in a collage, you are in the running.      

I’m not talking about the kind of collages we used to make. The ones that required hours of combing through magazines, cutting out photos and words that related to your friend or your friendship, laying it all out on cardboard and then carefully gluing it down. The modern day collage is similar, except it is, naturally, done in an app. If a kid has the technical know-how and the eyesight, she can kick out a hundred picture collage during the two minute ride to school, which is really all the time she has because, according to what I’ve gathered, a post must be live by the time the well-wisher arrives at school.  

To pass muster, the posts also incorporate words, or at least parts of them. Letters. Like H14BD ILYSM. While grammar lessons do not seem to be hitting home these days, kids really understand the value of the hyperbole. Sweeping statements like, “You are my best friend in the entire universe,” “I don’t know how I’d ever live without you,” or “I’d do anything for you,” are thrown about with abandon. On the one hand, I’ve got to hand it to these girls. They’re sure not stingy with the love, which is refreshing in a political climate plagued by constant hate and heckling. Furthermore, the unending love is not wasted on one birthday girl. Rest assured, the exact outpourings given to the birthday girl of today will be bestowed on the birthday girl of tomorrow. When it comes to effusiveness, today’s teens are equal opportunity employers.       

Yes, one may contend that it’s impossible to actually harbor so much love for so many people. Those who know better (i.e. parents) might say that there’s an element of disingenuousness to this free love business, and that perhaps all of this online PDA is indeed for the benefit of public consumption. One might be inclined to invoke the adage, empty tins cans rattle the loudest and those truly close to the BDG shouldn’t have to take such grandiose measures to prove it. After all, the reality is that behind all the birthday love, there is a quiet sting felt by the other girls (yours, of course) who look at their screens and see that the person they thought was their BFF is now labeling herself BFF with the birthday girl. Love hurts, even if it is spread too thin to have any meaning.

The good news is, the hurt doesn’t last—well the hurt may but the post itself doesn’t. Unlike the collages we used to make and receive (some of mine still occupy space in my attic), the modern day collage is ephemeral. Blink and you’ll miss the outpouring of affection. The unstated rule is that birthday posts are only meant to last the length of the birthday itself. My kids, when asked, didn’t give a reason for this but my guess is (and again, my kids and their friends can correct me if I’m wrong) that birthday posts don’t garner that many likes since they are only of interest to the birthday girl and the BFF who posted. As much as all the BFFs would do anything for the birthday girl, anything does not include leaving up a post that isn’t popular.                   

It’s truly a strange new world, this world of social media. The only place I know where love seems to know no bounds except when measured by likes.

Francie Arenson Dickman is a contributing blogger to Brain, Child. Her essays have appeared in publications including, The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Literary Mama. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and twin daughters and has just completing her first novel. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.


An Open Letter to My Teen Daughter Who Is In The Next Room

An Open Letter to My Teen Daughter Who Is In The Next Room

By Margarita Gokun Silver


My dear girl,

Before I delve into serious topics and lose your attention to Instagram, several things:

  1. You left the lights on in the bathroom
  2. Your shoes are in the middle of the hallway and I tripped over them twice already
  3. You left the lights on in the kitchen
  4. There is a collection of candy wrappers, dirty tissues, and remnants of popcorn in the living room
  5. You left the lights on in the den

Please attend to the above before I am forced to walk into your room and attempt to confiscate your electronic devices. We both know this doesn’t usually end well.

Now on to more important issues.

When it comes to household chores, asking you to unload a dishwasher or walk the dog isn’t the same as making a Cinderella out of you. Plenty of people get out of bed before noon to take out their dogs so your claim that a noon wake up call qualifies as a violation of basic human rights is completely unsubstantiated. And while we are on the subject of rights, let me assure you that allowance is not a human right. Neither is it your indisputable right.

Moving on. There is a reason they call it “private property.” You cannot appropriate your father’s telephone charger because you’ve lost yours. Similarly, you cannot grab our cell phones whenever you want to take a selfie. Perhaps next time when you fix your phone again you can keep it intact for longer than just two weeks.

This may come as a surprise but the rule of respecting other people’s property also extends to my wardrobe. Borrowing my bras, shoes, and clothes without prior permission is not okay. Your argument that you have nothing to wear doesn’t stand up to the realities of your closet, which is so cram-full of clothes that it can easily conceal a bazooka, a taxidermied bear, and a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica.

I know we’ve spoken about this next issue in the past but it needs repeating. WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Instagram don’t constitute research venues for a science project. Or for a language paper. Or for a math exam. Similarly, your claim that both Saturday and Sunday should be reserved for maintaining a focused gaze on your electronic devices doesn’t have any basis. People have been known to go outside during weekends.

This brings me to the subject of holidays. Despite what you may think we aren’t out to ruin your vacation when we book a family trip to see Prague, Vienna, and South Bavarian castles. And we are definitely not trying to take all fun out of your life when we take you to explore Catalunia or Cantabria or Asturias during a long weekend. Just think of all the Snapchats you can take and share.

Finally, your father and I really don’t appreciate being called stupid idiots when we happen to disagree with you. Neither slamming of the doors nor screaming loud enough for the neighbors’ dog to bark seem appropriate. You may want to save your voice for all those renditions of Adele we hear regularly from your shower.

To conclude, I’d like to ask if I could apply for a position of your friend. I’ve noticed you treat your friends much better than your parents. So will you be my friend?



Margarita Gokun Silver is a writer and an artist. You can see more of her writing on her website at She tweets at

Reasons I Hate “Reasons My Kid is Crying”

Reasons I Hate “Reasons My Kid is Crying”


When sharing our frustrating parenting moments goes too far.


Recently, on Facebook, a friend shared one those listicles, “23 BEST Pics from ‘Reasons my Kid is Crying.'” You’ve seen these before: a series of high-res images of sobbing babies and toddlers, their red eyes staring up into the camera lens. The photos are captioned with the reason the child is crying. Things like, “a fly landed near him,” and “it was his sister’s turn to use the hose,” and “the neighbor’s dog isn’t outside.” The idea is that we’re all supposed to laugh at these crying children for being upset about such small things.

Only, I don’t think it’s very funny.

I’m a parent, too, and, trust me, I understand that parents need to blow off steam. At least three times a day, my partner and I look at each other and roll our eyes because our toddler is whining for a cup of milk that is already IN HIS HAND. Parenting a small child can be frustrating and thankless. You love them so much and you try so hard and all you want to do is make them happy. And when your daughter’s whole world falls apart because “her hoodie wouldn’t zip any farther than this,” your only options seem to be: laugh, or lose your damn mind.

So I don’t have a problem with the impulse to laugh. I also don’t have a problem with the need to share the experience. Camaraderie is important—necessary even. We all need to reach out every once and a while and tell someone the things about our kids that are driving us crazy. Sharing the burden helps to ease it.

What I have a problem with is the broadness of this sharing. It’s no longer a phone call to your mom or best friend, or a text message to your wife at work. Now we upload our frustration to a tumblr with 500,000 followers. The photo is no longer just “ours.” Anyone can share it, and LOTS of people do.

The goal of this kind of sharing seems different, too. It doesn’t feel like it’s just about venting, or connecting. It feels almost competitive. Who can write the funniest caption? Who can get the most likes? The most shares? Who can get us to laugh the hardest at their screaming baby?

There’s also a permanency to this sharing that I find difficult to ignore. When you call your sister or best friend to share a frustrating moment you had with your preschooler, the words come out of you, hot and fast, and then…they’re sort of gone. There’s a beauty in the ephemeralness of that kind of old-fashioned sharing. When you put the photo of your crying child on the Internet, it’s there forever. It’s there to be bookmarked and screenshot and re-shared. It can be re-captioned and re-uploaded and searched for. It may be found at a much later time by your kid’s teacher, or your kid’s third-grade bully, or your kid.

We need to remember that these children, even though they feel like “ours,” do not belong to us. They are people. When I snap a selfie with my sisters on the rare occasion all three of us are together, I ask their permission before posting the photo to Facebook. That’s pretty much common courtesy in the social media era. Our kids are too young to meaningfully consent to having their photos shared. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever do it, but it does mean that we have to take some extra responsibility to keep their interests in mind when we do. If someone took a picture of you at your worst, your most frustrated, your most vulnerable and exposed, how would you feel seeing it trend on a viral listicle?

Part of the beauty of the parent-child relationship is that our kids feel secure when they’re alone with us, in their home, their space. They don’t need to hide their feelings or be on their best behavior. They can be who they are, even if that person is someone who completely loses it because “he has a sticker on his face.” When your child looks at you for help, or comfort, they think they’re just looking at you. They don’t know that the phone you’re holding in front of them is a window, and that you’re inviting thousands of people into their private experience of pain. They think they’re safe.

So I can tell you one reason your kid might be crying. He might be crying because instead of helping him, or hugging him, or stepping away for a few deep breaths while you let him figure it out on his own, you’re unlocking your phone and taking a picture and putting it on the Internet, where you’ve invited strangers to come and look and laugh at him forever.

The Photograph

The Photograph

By Irina Reyn


The significance of showing colleagues and friends a picture of the baby.


I don’t want to admit I have a baby. As far as most people know, I’ve had no baby. I’m afraid once I admit the existence of the baby, my life will be helplessly slotted in a certain very closed category. Peruvian Zumba instructors will accommodate their routines for me, my hairdresser will advise me to cut my hair as appropriate to my new role, rolls of flesh will no longer be contained by waistbands, I will be included in the kinds of conversations I fear and excluded from the ones I’ve always wanted to enter. I already prefer dinner at five o’clock and buying paper products in bulk. I’m one step away from what I imagine as a gray version of life, the long purgatory of errands before death.

To have a baby is to become one thing: Mother. The Mother may have a variety of symbols ascribed to her in our culture (Freudian punching bag, cheerleader on the soccer sidelines, vaccine denier, etc.), but in society’s eyes it is a classification with specific boundaries.

“Didn’t you just have a baby?” a colleague stops me in the hall. “You look great. I couldn’t tell at all.” She is looking me up and down the way you’re allowed to do for some reason when faced with a post-birth body.

“Thanks.” Because I know it’s a compliment, and this is the appropriate response.

“Where are the pictures of the baby? Have I missed them?” she asks. She waits politely for the phone to come out, for scrolling and cuteness, dimples and funny hats. “I bet she looks a spitting image of you.”

“I’ll post them soon.” But I keep my phone tightly wedged inside my pocket.

After a while, she starts moving away with her tote bag filled with student papers. “I’ll look for them on Facebook.”

For many months now, I’ve posted no photos on Facebook because all my fears of becoming Mother are encapsulated in the Photograph.

Like many new fathers, my husband has become an amateur photographer, adjusting light and angle, restlessly seeking the elusive smile. He doesn’t have a Facebook account, and has been fielding inquiries from his side of the friendship spectrum.

“They’re bugging me for pictures of S.,” he says. “How about the one in the cat pajamas? In the frog costume? Doing that thing she does with the fists? How can you resist?”

“Ok, I’ll do it later,” I promise. But I don’t.

Sure I take pictures, but I hoard them, enjoy them in privacy. How can I tell my husband that if I post a photo of S. certain men might not find me attractive, the eyes of my child-free friends will film over, my mentors will file away my former ambitions. I will be scanned past. I will slowly go underwater and emerge in a land I never wanted to inhabit. The baby in my photograph will inevitably be paired with me as my creation.

“Photographs furnish evidence. A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened,” Susan Sontag once wrote. That’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid, the evidence of my annihilation.

When I see others’ baby pictures, I see past the actual baby being represented. What I look for is everything around the baby. How is the relationship of the parents? Do they look sleepy? Conflicted? Invigorated-joyous or exhausted-joyous? Are they handling it fine or are they as shell-shocked as me? A picture of a baby is never about the baby, it’s all the breathless hope surrounding its subject. What compels people to post so many baby pictures—is it a brimming over sensation, where the emotion is too large for someone to keep to herself? Is it a selfless act for the viewing pleasure of grandparents and other relatives? Is it a more engaging equivalent of diplomas on the wall, life’s accomplishments marked, noted? Is it, as Sontag writes “a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power”?

An old friend who is a very good non-professional photographer offers to take black-and-whites of S. and us. Perhaps, I reason, I require the excuse of high art in order to disseminate a picture into the world. A black-and-white picture might distract from the subject matter, focus viewers’ attention on the photographer’s craft.

She comes over with her Canon and tells us to pretend she’s not there. She will alternate between unstaged and staged shots.

“I’ll just be in the background snapping away,” she says, because she knows me too well and is trying to set me at ease.

I focus on engaging in the kind of activities that will make S. smile. She likes a Russian game in the vein of “This Little Piggy” called “Tochka, Tochka,” where a body of a baby is deconstructed into dots, circles, cucumbers (better not ask) and other shapes in order to finally create “an entire little person.”

I’m aware of being stiff, unnatural. The game is being played artificially, with too much enthusiasm. When I scoop up S., she twists away, almost too big and unwieldy in my arms already. I imagine the entire scene through the eyes of anyone looking at the final product. It’s like a science fiction movie, this transformation into Mother. Almost immediately, I want the session deleted.

The next day, I have lunch with Lynne, a friend in her sixties, a wonderful writer and poet and critic with two children. She published her first book at forty, when her children were already teenagers. Although she had been writing for many years, she became a mother first, then a mother-writer. I ask her some conventional questions about balancing career and motherhood, leaving out all the things that will make me sound even crazier than I am.

“We didn’t think about all this stuff until it was too late,” she says, shrugging. “We just had the kids. No one expected it to be easy.” Then she took out her phone and showed me a picture of her adorable granddaughter. “Now show me S.”

And I scroll through a few from the photo shoot of the day before. The pictures are not as hard for me to look at as I’d assumed. In fact, they are so special I can’t believe I ever wanted them gone. One or two capture S. as an “entire little person,” an expression I can imagine will be gone soon, that would, if not for photography’s ability to freeze time, be lost forever.

“She’s just beautiful,” Lynne marvels.

I find myself wading into that soft place of pride and achievement. The burst that radiates back to me, that fills me with a seeping, saturated warmth. I was numb before the act of showing pictures, but now I’m unable to stop. I keep going, scrolling further back into the archives, more pictures than my friend ever wanted to see: S. on changing tables, positioned in the center of fluffy rugs, under mobiles, in snowsuits, at the breast, asleep, awake, in tears.

Before this shifting array of babies, I understand that I can’t stay in the closet forever. I’ll be posting one of these pictures on Facebook and waiting for every single crumb of response, even the one from my colleague at work. It overpowers the fears about becoming an archetype of Mother. The evidence we need, the proof we so badly desire. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

Irina Reyn is the author of What Happened to Anna K: A Novel. Her website is

Note: The author has not yet made peace with her predicament. Thus, Photo Credit: Veer

Book Review: Are You Worried About Bullying?

Book Review: Are You Worried About Bullying?

By Hilary Levey Friedman

The first of our new monthly Brain, Mother book review column. Subscribe to our blog and become a randomly chosen winner to receive a free copy of Sticks and Stones.

0-2The 1999 Columbine massacre changed the way we see bullying in schools. Since then 49 states have passed laws addressing bullying. In her recent book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, Emily Bazelon, a lawyer and journalist, shows how in post-Columbine America bullying has become one of the biggest stories about 21st century childhood.

And, yet, according to Bazelon’s research, things aren’t as dire as you might think. The stats show that somewhere between 15-20% of kids are regularly involved in bullying (either as victims or bullies) and while cases of bullycide are tragic, often there are underlying issues such as mental illness. To make her case Bazelon draws on Scandinavian research, analysis of legal cases, and in-depth investigation of three high profile cases involving children in the Northeast.

Sticks and Stones is divided into four parts; the first two focus on the stories of Monique, Jacob, and Flannery, while the third focuses on a synthesis of research, and the fourth on conclusions and tips to combat bullying. I found Part III to be the most compelling, particularly Chapter 9, “Delete Day,” which concentrates on Bazelon’s visit to Facebook and what the social media giant is doing about cyberbullying.

Bazelon writes: “The electronic incarnation of bullying also changed the equation for adults by leaving a trail.” Kids today care more about having a Facebook account suspended than getting suspended by their schools, so she argues that the company should do more protect teens (Bazelon suggests a simple solution that Facebook make the default settings private for any teenage account holder, which Facebook hasn’t yet done).

This links to one of the major takeaways from Sticks and Stones—that adults and social institutions play a crucial role in bullying.  Whether it be parents not intervening, or even intervening too much especially when it comes to the press, or teachers and school administrators not taking threats seriously and missing signs of serious abuse, our educational system and social media sites play a major role in the “drama” between kids. While Bazelon acknowledges that it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between typical drama among teens and bullying, she iterates that the best working definition of bulling is verbal or physical aggression repeated over time that involves a power differential between children. Her portrayal of Flannery’s story, related to the national headline-making “bullycide” of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, illustrates just how complicated this can be: Even after talking with many people over a period of months and pouring over legal documents, Bazelon confesses she still isn’t 100% sure what happened.

As a mom I learned from Sticks and Stones that as involved as I am while my son is a toddler, I need to stay that involved as he ages and engages with peers online and in school. Our work doesn’t stop when the kids head into the schoolyard; whether they are bullies or bullied, they are still our children.

Hilary Levey Friedman is a Harvard sociologist who studies childhood, competition, and beauty. Her book, Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture, was recently released—and she now contemplates what activities her sons will participate in someday. Visit her website, for more.

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