The big Reddit mistake from an organizational and management perspective

When Ellen Pao came in to Reddit I didn't have a lot of hope for her in the position, but I thought maybe the hail Mary could work. I mean, Ford had a hundred years of dysfunction and toxicity, but Alan Mulally was still able to turn that ship and allow the employees to create something new and healthier, and Ford's in great shape now. So maybe it could happen for Reddit, too. But then it turned out that Reddit didn't know how to do anything but eat its young, and now Pao's gone and it's evident that the site itself is rotting from the inside out and if I were one of the investors I'd be calling my tax accountant now about taking a write-off.

Whoever gets to write this case study for business schools to use is getting a peach of a story. This is basically the worst-case scenario in a lot of ways, and that starts with the mistaken idea people had that Reddit was in any way a disruptor.

There was nothing new about Reddit. We wrote slam books in junior high back when it was still called junior high and not middle school. My high school friends used to run dial-up bulletin boards from modems in their bedrooms in 1989. I was all over Urban Baby when my first child was a baby and I felt alone and isolated and unhappy and needed the adrenaline hit of arguing with strangers on the internet about arcane details of baby care and NYC playground politics.

Reddit was just Urban Baby for 23-year-old white men. Instead of organic pacifiers, BPPs, and what-your-i-banker-husband-is-really-doing-when-he's-working-late, it was details about FPSes, sports, and why-don't-girls-want-to-fuck-me. And because people were anonymous, they said some horrible things (along with a lot of really, really funny things).

It gave you a place to say things you knew you were an asshole for saying.

But being an asshole and getting away with it only works when something's underground. As soon as it starts to become legit, and starts getting money and infrastructure and non-developer paid staff, a decision has to be made. If you make the decision you have to create and enforce community standards, and if you don't (or aren't willing to) make the decision you're legitimizing violence.

So. Reddit made a decision, which we now know about because of the comments Yishan Wong made after Pao was ousted, to go toward legitimacy. But they were going to do it in a stealth way from behind the scenes, deciding on and enforcing standards and basically using quantitative game theory to decide what to allow as a sacrifice in order to be able to save the good stuff. Interesting, right? And, like, an actual strategy. So far so good.

The problem is that they made another decision that may not have seemed as important, but that actually created the current problem that's killed them: They let their unpaid, volunteer mods stay unpaid, volunteer mods. 

Anyone who's ever worked with volunteers know that they're the gift that eats. You can get so much done with them, they save your resources for other things, and they can get so good at doing their jobs that they need little supervision, but they can also get so embedded that if they decide to go off mission--or decide to enforce what they perceive the mission to be--your entire organization can implode. And they're very hard to control, because you can't ever discipline them, because they're doing you a favor. And you either can't or have decided not to pay people to do that work. So you're stuck.

(The management at Reddit knew that awhile ago--at least Wong did--but the general public didn't really figure that out until Victoria Taylor was fired and all the mods shut down the AMAs and everyone was clutching their pearls about it.)

From a management perspective, volunteer mods are bad, bad news. When they're embedded in your product so deeply (and in some subreddits they basically ARE the product), this is the management equivalent of the big Cascadia tectonic plate earthquake we all wish we didn't know was coming. 

This management problem is why I'm writing about Reddit, btw. I'm not on Reddit. (I have a couple of friends who are Redditors, and they're normal, educated, intelligent, kind people  who aren't particularly traumatized by what's going on.) I did my time on Urban Baby and Baby Center and I ran a FB group for Ask Moxie that self-destructed (I left right around the time Wong left Reddit), and I don't have any desire to go into the bowels of another venue for arguing with strangers.

But I am passionate about helping managers figure out what's going on with their people and how they can help everyone do really great things. And I think that could have happened (inasmuch as arguing with strangers on the internet ever does really great things) with Reddit. Except for the volunteers.

The mods didn't seem to know that there was any kind of strategy to allow certain things but not others. They were attracted to the site because it was basically a place where it was cool to be a neckbeard. And because they assumed the founders of the site were neckbeards, too, who wanted them to have a place that was safe to say the kinds of things that showed they weren't fit to interact with people except on the internet.

ETA: One of my aforementioned Redditor friends pointed out to me after reading this piece that many of the mods--and all of the mods of the happy subreddits--are normal people, not angry neckbeard MRAs, and I'm lumping them in with those bros here. I don't mean to, and I want to mention that there are a lot of great people on Reddit, including mods. There's still a huge problem with those good mods being unpaid, though--they work so hard that it can't help but become very personal for them and they take so much pride in their contributions (modding is REALLY hard) that it's never going to be easy to make decisions that are product or user or business decisions without big hurt feelings. It's utterly reasonable, which is exactly why volunteer labor is incredibly tricky and dangerous.

And those volunteers and commenters were embedded in the site, the way the paid staff weren't. The paid staff could leave or be cut loose--Wong, Pao, Victoria Taylor are all gone. But those mods were still there, suspending the AMAs and flexing their power every day. So now the "community" really is in charge, and they're upholding values that aren't what the founders--or most adults--have any interest in. This is like that LL Cool J movie in which they're studying the sharks in that underwater lab, and then the sharks take over and trap them. The mods and Redditors are the sharks.

So, what is there to do? Well, back when I was on an amazing team a few years ago we used to joke around that if the product failed we'd just go home, sleep for the weekend, and then come back and create a new product. I don't think that's the worst idea in the world: Shut off the Reddit servers and sell the URL to a porn site, then all the paid Reddit employees take a week off and then come back the next Monday to start up the next thing. But if they're going to do that they have to figure out how to manage their company and manage their employees to maintain boundaries and not confuse the users and product, and not let the control get away from them.

Hint: Hire more parents. We're practiced in this healthy boundary stuff.

And that's my takeaway. Not the not-shocking not-news that a bunch of undateable whiteboys on the internet are threatened by a woman who can read, and not the demise of another bulletin board site that was misunderstood by the huge corporation that bought it before it was ready to be bought, and not the fact that moving all the employees on-site is antithetical to good management practice for the way humans work now. None of that. Instead, the takeaway is that boundaries and understanding where the risk and control rests are always the most important things for any company, and your front line on that is allowing your managers to actually manage well and with authority. Even if it means paying people.

Imposter Syndrome, beginner's luck, or lack of process

A few weeks ago, my dear friend Shannon Reed and I were joking around about writing a book to help people deal with being suddenly famous. (I think it was a joke, although now that I think of it, we did come up with a pretty solid outline of chapters.) At the time, Shannon had been in the New Yorker twice in a month, as well as McSweeney's and Buzzfeed and a bunch of other places, and suddenly she was being noticed, even though she's been writing and publishing for years.

When her first New Yorker piece came out, I checked in with her, and she said she thought maybe she had a little Imposter Syndrome, but then discarded that idea. I discarded it as well, because if anyone can write funny things, it's Shannon. (She texted me through my entire two-year divorce process and my overwhelming memories of what I'm sure were a horrible and gruesome period are of her making me laugh.) But she was still all weirded out by the sudden fame, which was also confusing because she doesn't care about being famous herself, but she does want her work to be famous, and it felt like people were conflating those two things. And we compared stories of weird things people had said to us because they thought we were famous. And we made up our fake book, about how to keep your head on straight during what could be utterly temporary fame and how to process all the mismatched feelings and the expectations that didn't match reality.

Then a couple of days ago I read this post by The Blogess about why she doesn't promote good causes people ask her to promote, and I nodded my head through the whole thing. People email me all the time to ask me to promote things, everything from blogging for depression awareness (every blog post I do has depression at the heart of it because I'm a person with depression, so) to clean water to raising money for a sick child to Kickstarting some new gadget that will improve parents' lives to promoting some app that does something amazing. And the obvious answer is that you (The Blogess, me, anyone else who has even a little bit of fame or influence or whatever the current preferred term for internet recognizability is)  can't promote any of it because you can't promote all of it. And you don't have a process to prioritize and sort through and then express to the people whose things don't make the cut why they didn't without being hurtful. If we were actual huge outlets with a bunch of staff to develop those processes, we could, but we're just us, so we can't.

Then, today my friend Carolyn Raship, who I admire immensely because of the way she rushes headlong into her own talent and into creative life, posted this post from Alicia Liu, "You don't have imposter syndrome." It is absolutely worth the read, and you should click over there now and read it and then come back here. There are diagrams. (I love diagrams.)

Liu has two key insights in her post:

1. It's not Imposter Syndrome if you're feeling uncomfortable because you actually don't know how to do something. That's just being a beginner, or not knowing something you still have to learn. Of course you feel weird when you don't know something you're supposed to know.

2. Calling that feeling of discomfort with not knowing something you need to know "Imposter Syndrome" pathologizes the process of learning.

YES. YES. YES. I'll have what she's having.

And as I was reading Liu's post, it hit me that what many of us (especially women) feel as Imposter Syndrome ISN'T ABOUT OUR CONTENT KNOWLEDGE. It's about PROCESS, or, rather, lack of process or unfamiliarity with process. 

Shannon knows she's a good enough writer to be in the New Yorker and to have one of the most-read humor pieces on Buzzfeed--she doesn't doubt her talent (or effort). Her discomfort was with the effects of being a stellar writer. She doesn't have a process yet for dealing with increased demands, weird communications, requests, etc. I didn't have a process for people recognizing me on the street and telling me I helped them survive their kids' first few years and I felt like a fake, but now I do have a process for dealing with that, so I don't feel like a fake anymore. The Blogess wrote that post to explain to everyone that she didn't promote things, and writing that post was creating a process, so I'm hoping she doesn't feel discomfort around those requests anymore. Even the example Liu gave about the ubertroll responding to her question about man pages wasn't actually about her not knowing the content yet, it was about her not knowing the process that includes codebros mocking people and either getting around or ignoring them.

My takeaway from all of this is that even when you know your shit inside and outside, up and down, because of the natural progression of more and more people finding out that you are really good at what you do, you will be put into more situations involving new or missing processes. And that will be uncomfortable for you. So when you feel that discomfort, you don't have to wonder if you think you''re really good at what you do. Instead, acknowledge that you're doing something new and of course you don't know how to do it yet and of course you'll learn it and come up with a process to deal with it, just like you'd learn something new having to do with your actual content area.


Vent here safely for Mother's Day

If you need to vent, vent here. Any topic: being a mother, not being a mother, having a complicated relationship with your mother, missing your mother, never knowing your mother, hating the commercialism and competition of the day, being alone on Mother's Day, etc.

No Misery Poker: all pain is valid. If you have a kind word for someone else, share it, but don't feel bad if you don't have extra for anyone else.


A few weeks ago I wrote in my email* that it was the time of the school year here in North America in which the seams were starting to show. Kids were really fatigued with schoolwork, they were starting to get sick of each other, expectations were running high, and if there were any kinds of problems or tensions they were going to come to the surface.

After that I got a lot of "I thought it was just my kids!" responses from people. It feels like everyone else is blithely pushing through while your kids are just barely holding it together. Pants that are suddenly too small, missing homework, scuffles with friends, more tears than usual.

Here's a little reminder for you: There's nothing that weird or unusual or scattered about you. Other people may look more together than you do in some areas, but no one's on top of everything all the time. And no one is riding calm emotional seas all the time, either. 

I don't think any of us are trying to deliberately deceive other people into thinking we're doing really well when we're presenting a calm, happy face in the middle of disarray. I think we make an effort to look calm as a way of trying to stay calm. The unintended effect is that other people are comparing their realities to our aspirations without our even trying to put that on them.

Remember in Lost when Jack said he'd give himself ten seconds to freak out and then he'd get it together? Maybe we should let other people see that ten seconds, and then rally again to stay calm. I'll go first:

Every year I freak out that no one will come to my son's birthday party, which is always on Mother's Day weekend, and I just got some positive responses to the invitation and burst into tears. I think I'm carrying around more "odd kid out" baggage than I like to recognize.

Now you. (Here or on FB with your friends, or on Twitter with the hashtag #moxie10seconds or wherever.)

We can do it.

* I send an email out every few weeks, to people who subscribe over there on the right side of the page. It's basically whatever topics I'm thinking about, and is usually a mix of finding your way as a person with children, some business nerdery (I had some deep thoughts about negotiations and value last week), and integrating work and life into something that feels like fun. I usually link to posts from my worklife blog on LinkedIn, too.

If you have a baby or toddler, there may be some question I can answer for you in the Moxietopics.

And if you have a bigger problem, this might be your sign that it's time for a Flash Consult.


MoxieTopics: 19-month Olds, 3.5-year-olds, and Toddler Essentials Bundle

Check out the MoxieTopics on dealing with 18-month-olds (it outlines the big themes your kid is going through and what's going to cascade over onto you) and helping your 3.5-year-old (and using this chaos to figure out how to help your kid deal with their emotions for the rest of their life).

And check out the Toddler Essentials Bundle, which gives you the five toddler-crucial topics for a discount by getting them all together.

42 is The Answer


I'm 42 today!

And I'm really excited about it. Remember how scared I was of turning 40? I agonized about it for weeks. I'm radically more excited about turning 42, and am looking forward to this whole year.

I woke up yesterday with an idea of how I want to commemorate it, and this is either going to be awesome or really stupid*:

Ask me any question and for $42 I'll answer it.

I know a lot of you have one nagging question that's preventing you from moving forward somehow, and you're stuck on answering it yourself. It's not a big process question that's worth a $250 Flash Consult, but I could answer it for you in ten minutes and you'd be able to move ahead. Anything from "how do I do this?" to confirmation that you're on the right track with something about your kid or career or a friendship, to helping clarify some value, to figuring out why you're upset about something you can't put your finger on and how to move past that. (I can also answer factual questions, or tell you where to start if I don't know the answer.) 

All my usual Flash Consult disclaimers appl: I'm not a doctor, lawyer, or therapist, and nothing I say is professional or licensed advice. Any action you take based on anything I tell you is your own responsibility. I won't tell anyone you worked with me (but there's no legal protection if anything legal happens). I only need as many details as are important to the question, so you don't have to tell me your name, location, etc. if it doesn't matter.

I don't know anything about cars, technology, or potty training, so don't ask me about those things. I reserve the right to reject a question I can't answer or that's too big for this format (and I'll return your money, obvs, if I can't answer it).

I'm accepting $42 questions now through Sunday night (March 1) at midnight. How quickly I answer depends on how many I have in the queue. I'll send you the answer by email, unless you'd rather have a video answer. If you have more than one $42 question, send me $42 more than once and I'll answer them in the order I receive them.

To ask a $42 question:

PayPal $42 to magdamedia @ and in the Message to Sender tell me the question and the email address I should send the answer to. (If it's a gift, tell me that and the email address of the person who has the question and I'll email them to get the question.)


Send me a Square Cash transfer of $42 to magda @ and in the message area tell me the question and the email address I should send the answer to. (If it's a gift, tell me that and the email address of the person who has the question and I'll email them to get the question.)


So far this $42 question project has been fun and a little bit surprising. We'll see what happens as the day rolls on and more people decide to hand me their question to deal with!


* I'm leaning toward awesome. I told the people on my email list about this yesterday, and the first few questions I got in were asking "How do I do this?" on a variety of topics, and I LOVE that kind of question. So I think this is going to continue being fun.

Guest post: A stepdad's motto

Today I'm really excited to have a point of view we usually don't hear about.

A stepdad’s motto: Guide, but never replace


By Ian Shea-Cahir


I don’t have a father.

That’s an overstatement, of course, but it’s true in a sense. There is a man from whose DNA I was spawned. I know the general region where he lives. His wife shows up in my “People You May Know” list on Facebook. My brother has a relationship with him.

In my world, I don’t have a father. What I have is Frank, and I’m glad I do.

Frank is my stepfather. I’ve never called him dad, nor has he ever demanded such a title. Since we met 28 years ago, he has provided (often silent) support, money, advice, punishment, chiding, reality checks and – in his own way – love.

I have been a stepfather for two years, and I never realized how much I learned from Frank until this wonderful boy came into my life. In the end, I base my step-parenting on this simple truism from Frank, spoken to me when I was 13.

“I’m not your father,” he said. “I’m not going to be your father, but I will be there whenever you need me, and I will be there to tell you when you fuck up.”

I live by this statement. It is my motto. I am not my stepson’s father, but it is my job to help guide him through life. What makes this idea even better is that, through the setting of clear and simple parameters, I am free to be what my stepson needs in a complimentary and team-oriented way.

My stepson does have a father. He loves his father, who lives 1,500 miles away, very much. His father and my wife have an excellent relationship in which they both work to put his best interests first and foremost in their co-parenting.

For me to try to be “Dad” would be disrespectful to him, my stepson and my wife. Instead, I perform the role that Frank performed for me as much as I can.

Now, this doesn’t mean I tread lightly. The ongoing discussion of my stepson’s slob-like behavior is mine. I had input when he brought home a disallowed video game. I call him on it when he stays up until 4 a.m. but tries to say he went to bed at 11 p.m.

My motto also doesn’t mean that I am forbidden from providing fatherly advice. I have offered to answer questions about sex. I speak openly and honestly about drugs, alcohol and social media. I discuss school work with him.

What has made this parenting strategy even easier to follow is that I am able to find connections with my stepson that have allowed us to have a close relationship without overlap with his father – or with my other children.

The boy loves computer video games. His father does, as well, and they have been known to play together across the country. What my stepson doesn’t really know is that I also like some of the games he plays. However, that’s his thing with his father. I respect that.

On the other hand, I love soccer. I’ve played my whole life. The boy also plays. I provide him with advice and coaching. I push him when he’s not giving his all. He watches me play (and play pretty well), so I have credibility with him. Through that credibility, we have formed a connection. In a pleasant coincidence, my teen son and pre-teen daughter are not soccer players (they love the local MLS team and sometimes watch games on TV to placate me), so everyone wins.

Most of all, as much as I choose not to try to replace his father, I choose to accept that there have been many years of growth over which I had no effect. This child – my stepchild – is formed. He is different from me. He is different from my other children. He is an introvert while I am an extrovert. He doesn’t know the music I listen to. He doesn’t like James Bond movies.

That’s OK. The differences are as big as the connections in making our relationship unique.

My stepson and I have what I consider a good understanding. I love him, and I think he loves me (in his own way). In 2012 he would have said, “Um, what time does my mom get home? I need help with my homework.”

Last week he said, “Ian, can you help me with my homework? And what time does mom get home?”

The changes are subtle. My name is OK now. He asks me for help. And it’s now just “mom” instead of “my mom.” In Wild Kingdom terms, I’m part of the herd.

Being a step-parent is a lot more art than science, but there are simple ways to go wrong: Stepmoms who demand hugs and kisses and who seek to be called “Mom;” step-parents who grouse about not being the primary focus of Father’s or Mother’s Day; parents of all kinds waging propaganda campaigns to curry favor with the children. None of these puts the child first. Our job is to provide the best support we can so our children grow up to be better people than us.

I love my stepson as much as my son, my daughter or the newborn girl my wife and I have. He is a wonderful boy. I will never replace his father. And I would never try.

I don’t have a father. I am thankful that my stepson has a father – I’m a bonus, and I’m very happy with that.

Ian Shea-Cahir is a dad, a stepdad, a husband, a soccer player, and a social media strategy consultant at Shea-Cahir Consulting.


It's a trap!

I wrote about this in my email to you a couple of weeks ago, but I feel like I need reminding, so that makes me think you could use reminding, too: This time of year is a trap for kids. And adults. All of us. 

It's a big set-up. Adults are supposed to provide the perfect shiny happy holiday (whether it's religious Christmas or Hanukkah or cultural Christmas or some mix) OR hold the line against someone else's holiday encroaching on your family. But at the same time the larger world is smashing us from all angles: other people's values, magical thinking in public schools that you then have to figure out how to explain without confusing your kid, church obligations, school obligations, giving gifts to teachers, not ante-ing up into other parents' expectations/obligations, all your family stuff, all your kids' other parent's family stuff, doing all the normal stuff you're supposed to be doing, spending lots of money, trying to deal with the darkness in the morning and evening, and hyped up kids.

And it's a huge trap for kids. They're told constantly that they're supposed to be excited. SUPER EXCITED. That this all means something. And that they get presents. A lot of presents. Brought by a stranger who comes into their house. (But maybe this stranger doesn't bring them presents, and does that mean they're "bad"?) And sometimes they have to go see this stranger and are supposed to sit on his lap, which is the opposite of everything they've always been told about talking to (let alone touching) strangers or tricky people, and they're supposed to tell him a secret. And smile for a picture of it. And go to daycare or school every day and do all their normal work, but have everyone be excited about candy and cookies and the mysterious stranger who's coming into some kids' houses but not others', and it's all very confusing. And then they're told that all the presents are coming and they're supposed to be grateful but they're not supposed to want all those presents at all. And then they have to go to other people's houses and be well-behaved while a bunch of adults who know them but who they don't know touch them and ask them all sorts of weird questions. Or, worse, a bunch of people come to their house and kids they don't know play with their toys and they're supposed to be happy about it. And they don't get enough sleep and there's too much sugar and their parents are stressed and snapping at them and they don't know why.


For everyone.

Kids can't get themselves out of the trap. Only the adults can. 

Step back. Think about what it feels like for your kids today. Think about what you're expecting of them, given what's happening, and how reasonable and kind that is. Think about what it feels like for you today. Think about what you're expecting of yourself, given what's happening, and how reasonable and kind to yourself that is.

Drink a glass of water.

Make a list of everything you Have To Do and all the things your kids Have To Do. Then go down that list and cross off everything you can.

Be kind. Be soft. Be sweet. Let your children be soft and sweet to you. If you have a partner, be soft and sweet and kind to him or her, and allow them to be soft and sweet and kind to you.

Hide out at home doing normal things. When you do the holiday things, be realistic about how they're affecting everyone in your family. 

If it isn't helping your heart or your mind or your spirit, don't do it.

You are worth being treated kindly. So are your kids.


(If you missed it in the email, here's the Advent Calendar for Depressed People. You know who you are.)

My book is available!

I'm so excited to announce that my book You're the Best Parent for Your Child: 31 Truths from, based on the Parenting Truths series I wrote here in August, is available in paperback (for $5.99) and for Kindle (for $2.99)! Just in time to give to someone for one of the December gift-giving holidays, or for a new baby or shower or empty-nest present. 

I hope you love it.

(Isn't the cover cool? That's my actual handwriting on the Post Its.)

Guest post: My name is Angie

This is a guest post from a friend of mine from high school. Please read it and pass it on. You don't know who's living with the same pain of addiction and needs to hear her story. And if you're living with addiction, you can get help.

My name is Angie.  I'm a mom. I'm a daughter and a sister. I'm a 1993 graduate of high school in Toledo, OH. I'm also an alcoholic /narcotics addict who has been clean and sober for over 27 months now. I want to share my story, in hopes of helping someone, anyone, overcome the clenches of addiction.

I had a great childhood. My parents are still married. I wasn't a kid from the streets with a tragic upbringing. I still ended up with monstrous demons that almost took me out. Yes, 28 months ago, I was homeless and strung out on Percocet.  I was also suicidal; I was done being an addict.  I was done hurting.  Thankfully, I never lost custody of my son, but my mother had already filed the papers. I knew it was get clean, or lose the only reason I existed. Even though in my diseased brain, I had convinced myself he would be better off without me.  I was convinced the world would be better off without me.  Boy was I wrong. 

December 14, 2000, my father was crushed in a front end loader that left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.  He was the family rock and backbone.  With his accident came the end of my family unit as I would ever know it.  Now, backing up a bit, my father was very hard on us growing up.  See, his family was like a poor version of the Kennedy’s; everyone had a tragic story.  He wanted more for us, wanted us to know respect and self discipline.  My father is an alcoholic, 30+ years sober now.  When I was a little girl, I wished my father dead over and over.  I didn’t realize in my small mind he was doing what he did because he didn’t want us to fail in life.  I didn’t realize how much my father truly loved us.  When his accident happened, even though I was 25 years old, the little girl inside of me crumbled.  She screamed “We did this to him!”  That started the ball rolling for my downward spiral.

For the next 2 years, I drank uncontrollably.  I held a job; I didn’t need alcohol in the morning or the middle of the night, so in my mind I wasn’t an alcoholic.  It’s not the amount I was drinking, or the frequency, but what that drink did to me.  I would black out.  I literally do not remember an equivalent of years of my life.  That’s an alcoholic. 

Let’s now fast forward to 2007.  I was the single mother of a 2 yr old son; I was a Worker’s Compensation Paralegal for a very successful and well known law firm in NW Ohio.  My career was Worker’s Comp in honor of my father.  I had gotten shingles on the side of my neck and boy was I in pain.  I went to the emergency room at Flower Hospital.  I was given 2 vicodin.  That was the fist time I had taken a narcotic pain pill as an adult.  I will never forget the feeling of euphoria that came over me 30 mins later.  Wow, I loved these things!  With drinking, I was out of control.  I couldn’t’ remember things.  It would smell on my breath and clothes.  These tiny little pills fit right into my purse.  And I was in pain, dammit.  If I wasn’t, the doctor wouldn’t give them to me, right?  Boy was I wrong.

Over the next few years, I went from being in pain to creating pain.  I lost my paralegal job I loved so much, due to layoff mind you, but it was gone.  My kid brother had gotten locked up for selling cocaine and heroin.  He was gone for 5 years.  My parents are aging and my father is obviously sickly.  My addiction went into full swing.  The doctor writing for the Percocet realized I was in trouble and stopped writing for them.  I then started buying them off the streets.  Now, walking away from the booze left me with no physical symptoms.  It was obtainable and reasonably priced.  Not the pills.  I was sicker than I had ever been in my life when I just stopped taking them.  Not to mention, they were expensive.  I blew through my 401K plan and any and all jewelry I owned of value, and my parents.  My poor, sweet parents lost their valuable jewelry.  Then I started shop lifting.  The problem was, I was good at it.  I stole from everywhere.  In January, 2011, I was busted leaving Kohl’s with a whole cart full of merchandise.  Over $1,000 worth of merchandise.  Anything over $500 was a trip downtown.  I was mortified.  I spent the night and jail and was released the next day.  I was pretty much slapped on the wrist and given fines to pay.  The most embarrassing part was being in Crime Times. 

I then detoxed myself off of the pills.  I didn’t need that kind of headache and I was out of all resources, so I was convinced I would stop taking them, no matter the cost.  In a few days’s time I was feeling much better and convinced that was all behind me and I didn’t need professional treatment.  Boy was I wrong.

About 6 months later, my brother had gotten back from jail and was turning into a tool.  He was rude, vicious and plain mean.  My diseased brain, still not properly cared for by a physician, told me it was time to relapse.  I wanted to die after my relapse.  I let everyone down.  I let myself down.  I decided to take my grandfather’s checkbook that also had my father’s name on it, and wrote myself some checks.  I bought a bunch of #30 Percocets and I was going to eat them until I couldn’t eat them anymore.  I thought death was the only answer.  I never considered treatment, mind you.  I. Just.  Wanted. To. Die.  I wanted the whole mess to be over.  I NEEDED for the demons to be set free.  That day I had to get my car from the dealership after having repairs done.  My plan was so send my son home with my mother; I would get into my car, get a hotel room and execute my master plan to leave this world.  Well, my son would NOT get out of my car.  He was on full meltdown mode, screaming and crying.  Did he KNOW??  Was that even possible?  So, I took him with me.  We drove to my second favorite place on the earth, Columbus, OH.  I got us a hotel room.  I played the doting mother.  I took him to the Lego Store.  I made a lunch date with my mother’s only brother.  I played like we were on vacation, the whole time having no idea what I would do next.  See, before I picked up my car, my father got a call from the bank.  I knew I was caught, but I hadn’t planned on being around to face the music.  So, I didn’t answer my cell phone for about 4 days.  My son and I had vanished, but my parents knew what was going on.  Or so I thought.  They were a mess, but I didn’t know that, or even consider that, until later on in my story.   Then one night, as I was sitting on the balcony at our hotel room, watching my son sleep, I heard a voice.  “This is not the plan, this isn’t how this ends.  You were infertile for years and I gave you a son.  It’s YOUR JOB to see him through his life.  Pull up your big girl panties and do this life thing.”  Sunday, July 23, 2012 we returned to Toledo.  Monday, July 24, 2012, I entered treatment for my addictions and demons.  Tuesday, July 25, 2012 I turned 37 years old.

I was put on a medication called Suboxone.  It was an opiate blocker/agonist.  I went to meetings, I saw counselors.  I worked the program.  I got clean.  I forgave myself and the longer I was clean and sober, the more others forgave me.  They even started to trust me again!  I am now totally off the Suboxone and clean and sober over 27 months.  My son was never taken from me and is a straight A, Honor Roll student.  I am not where I want to be, but I am a lot farther than I was.  That’s the long and the short of my story, but I tell it for one reason.  To help someone reading this.  Maybe it’s you?  Maybe it’s a loved one?  There is help out there; you do not have to succumb to your demons, to your illness.  It’s never too late.  If you were diagnosed with cancer, would you not fight for your life? Addiction is a disease, like cancer, left untreated will kill you as swiftly as can be. I never asked for addiction, I acquired it.  I still ended up and addict all the same.  I am deserving and so are you. If I can do this, you can. 

Thank you for reading my story.  God Bless.


My MPCA2014 conference paper on the opt-out revolution myth

Last weekend I presented at the Midwest Popular Culture Association annual meeting. My paper is entitled "The Opt-Out Movement and the Myth of Choice: How Creating a Movement From Anecdotes Used Upper-Class Mothers to Disenfranchise Mothers in the 99%" and you can read it and comment here if you'd like. I'm trying to figure out which direction to expand it in. If you're interested in the topic, be sure to check the references section and read the pieces I used.


Having a second child, or not

Luanda writes:

"I'm having the hardest time deciding if I want a second child. I'm an only child (a happy one), but always wanted to have a big family. It's been taking us (specially me) a while to decide because I had a scary pregnancy the first time with Alice involving pre-eclampsia and two months of bed rest. Not fun. 

I'm coming close to deadline and after seeing different doctors and finally deciding to go through another possible high risk pregnancy, I find myself with another issue.

I'm feeling lazy. Alice is already 3.5 and life is pretty peaceful. The thought of starting all over again haunts me.  As much as I always wanted a second, I'm also concerned of how that would impact Alice. I would be so sad if she didn't accept the fact that she is not the center of our world anymore. We have such a close relationship, I'm afraid that a second child at this stage would create a distance between us. She's already at an age where she is used to being an only child and she would be 4+ if we decide to try for another one soon. On the other hand I see the age difference as an advantage for all of us. I could never imagine myself having two kids close in age. I would go nuts.

We're definitely not financially prepared and probably never will be, but I see the addition of another child as a desire and not a calculation. And what if having a sibling be the greatest gift to her? And I know this crazy period of baby's life goes by fast and eventually I would get my life back again. I just don't know if I want to go through it. But I'm afraid of regretting if I choose not to. I'm so on the fence. Every time I see a pregnant women or siblings getting along well my heart melts. But I love having only one child. Alice is my little sidekick.

I wished I didn't have so many concerns. I hate to over think this. I just want to come up with a decision and free myself from this subject. "

Thoughts? I know what decision I made, but the calculation isn't the same for everyone. How did you make the decision?

Parenting Truths 31: It's a wonderful life

You knew I couldn't end on a painful note, and I'm not: With all its trials and exhaustion, parenting is still a transformative gig, your best chance to love someone without an agenda and to be loved for exactly who you are.

The minutes can be excruciatingly long, especially at 3 am. But when you look up and see your child's sweet cheek--baby-soft or teen-roughened--and you love your child the person, that's when it all comes together. You have done this, and you are doing this, and it is complicated and nuanced and chaotic and delicious. 

Keep going.

Parenting Truths 30: You can (and should) be true to yourself

I think a lot of us come into parenting thinking we have to be perfect. Or at least different from who we are. We're supposed to be super-patient, strongly-bonded, overflowing with milk and kisses, morally unassailable, fascinated by truly dreadful children's music, uninterested in anything that isn't purely enriching, without tattoos or scars or baggage, and simply delighted to do anything that causes joy in little hearts, no matter how boring, odious, anxiety-inducing, or sanitized it is.

Well, hell. That's just not true. 

If kids needed a beatific, generic parent we'd hold auditions for a Ma Ingalls doppleganger and then send all of our children off to her to raise. Your kids need you. Not just in your role as parent, but for yourself. Little (and big) weirdnesses and all. I could launch into some big stories about how weird my parents are and how funny that is and how endearing. Or I could tell you about how my older son was telling me genetics have nothing to do with personality and I looked at him and said, "YOU'RE EXACTLY LIKE ME" and he laughed because he knows it's true, even down to our stress behaviors. But you have those same stories about your parents and your kids are going to have those same stories about you.

You are great. And part of what makes you a good parent is that you're still yourself. You stand for something. You're interested in things. You're working through it. And all those thoughts and all that process helps you be a person your kids can depend on, to love them and to help guide them through the process of growing up and being a human. Not a cardboard perfect parent (who won't have any sympathy when they screw up). Your learning to be human helps them learn to be human.

Parenting Truths 29: You are going to have to make some hard choices

Kids force you into making decisions you never thought you'd have to make, and give you a different set of priorities. The ideas you have about yourself and about what your life is going to look like change after you have kids, and as your kids get older. In things as simple as getting rid of your expensive super-awesome coffee table, to things as complicated as deciding to end relationships that don't nourish you or allow you to be the best parent you can be. From making decisions about the kind of music you listen to while your kids are around, to deciding to push harder into your career or pull back from your career.

It's a double-consciousness. The joy and connection of parenting, but being forced into decisions you didn't know you'd have to make. Even when you're absolutely sure of and satisfied with the decisions, you still wouldn't have been forced to make them in such a deliberate manner if not for your child.

Even if it's for the best, it's still the end of your own innocence.

Parenting Truths 28: Parenting can cause trauma

Parenting involves a lot of low-level but constant trauma. Everything from the chronic sleep deprivation to the physical stress to the worry to the isolation. Unless you have a ton of support around you constantly, it's impossible to escape feeling isolated and stressed (either a little stressed or a lot stressed), pretty much constantly for the first few years of your kid's life. Add another few years for each kid. And some parents continue to feel a lot of stress for years and years, depending on their family set-up, finances, school situation, childcare situation, etc.

I believe that a lot of parents are carrying around some trauma from our children's younger years, and may still be immersed in that trauma.

No wonder we're tired, and carrying around some extra weight, not sleeping well, and feeling like there are days we just can't get it together. I don't know how we heal ourselves, but I believe that rest and physical movement and good food and tons of water are key. Along with as much laughter and loving contact as we can find. And a healthy does of cutting ourselves an enormous break. 

This is hard. We're not broken, but we're scarred. We can do it.

Parenting Truths 27: Your method of valuation changes

Before you have kids, figuring out the value of something is very straightforward. It's worth time, or money, or enjoyment, or some combination of the three. You can simplify a lot of things by figuring out if doing something/having something/making something/being something has value to you. If it does, do/have/make/be it. If not, don't.

But once you become a parent, the whole concept of value changes. You find yourself doing all kinds of things that wouldn't have been worth anything to you but are worth something for your child. Driving long distances, paying for private schools, spending time on projects you can't stand, endless rounds of "The Wheels On The Bus," chaperoning One Direction concerts. Listening to long, elaborate, narratively dubious dreams. Picking the spoon up off the floor again. Showing up at the rink for practice at 7 am on a Saturday. It's a seemingly endless list of things you would never in a million years have done, but now you do with joy. (A cranky joy, sure, but joy.)

Investors can calculate the Net Present Value of any potential business venture to decide if they should do it or not. The Net Present Value of activities for parents is simple: Does it have value to or for your child? If so, then the NPV is higher than the opportunity cost and you do it. Gladly. 



(If you find the topic of value as interesting as I do, join me on my new Twitter feed that only talks about value, in all sorts of contexts:

Parenting Truths 26: No one gets a vote unless they're there at 3 am

I've been saying this one for years, but no one else gets a vote on what you do with your kid unless they're going to be there to enforce it and deal with the consequences.

All those people who tell you how to get your kid to sleep? If they're not going to be there with you at 3 am, they don't have a say. All those people who tell you where you should send your kid to school? If they're not there to deal with the feelings and homework at 4 pm, they don't have a say. All those people who want you to do this, that, or the other thing? If they're not standing next to your child when it all has to happen, just say #nope.

You know what's best for your kid. You. Not some stranger in the supermarket, or some book author, or your MIL, or me. You. And if you don't know what works now, you'll think analytically about what you already know about your kid, and you'll come up with some things to try until one of them works.

You are doing it.