Category Archives: Parenthood

Don’t Google Anything!

Baby Flapping Arms

I’m a bit of a factoid geek, and nary a day goes by when I don’t look something up. Is Suriname in Africa? Why is my face so flaky? What are the actual lyrics to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”?

I know I’m not alone in reaching for the phone when a question comes to mind. After all, we live in an era where we all have access to all information all of the time. So why not access it, thereby proving that we are smarter, more informed, and have a broader range of knowledge than ever before.

Case in point:

When my daughter was 5-months-old, her right arm started flapping up and down, banging against herself, or me, or anything in its way. As with all things new I was instantly intrigued. What did this new ability signify? What connection in her brain had been made? What milestone had she reached?

So I reached for the phone and Googled it.

As I typed, Google’s suggestions flicked across the screen like an airport flight information board.

  • Ba – Back to the Future
  • Bab – Babybjorn potty chair
  • Baby f – Baby food
  • Baby fl – Baby flat head
  • Baby fla – Baby flapping arms

That’s it, “Baby flapping arms”. Seeing this suggestion pop up I immediately thought, great, it’s very common. Happens to everyone. So I clicked “enter” and my heart sank.

Autism: 9 Red Flags Every Parent Should Know

And that was just the first result. Further down the page I had the CDC Signs & Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder Warning Signs Checklist, and a YouTube video called “Flapping Possible Autism”.

I spent a couple of dark days desperately coming to terms with my daughter’s inevitable condition, even apologizing to my wife (who remained unaware of my Google search) for all the ways in which I couldn’t protect our daughter from life’s hardship. It was rough, and I scoured the web for solutions to my problem, combing through parenting blogs and baby forums for answers to questions I didn’t know I had.

The answer I was looking for, though, came when I changed my Google search terms.

“Baby Banging Arms”

That one, apparently, is perfectly normal, and a good sign that your child is developing on track. What a relief.

Now 7 months old, my daughter has started doing this unbelievably cute thing with her right hand. She holds it out, and turns it so that her palm faces her as if she is admiring some piece of art, or contemplating the divine.

So I reached for the phone and Googled it:

I know. I shouldn’t have. Big mistake. What was I thinking? Had I learned nothing? But I Googled it. I did. So sue me.

First up:

Autism: autism concerns in a 7-month old son, autism, autistic

Hmm.

I can’t help but marvel at how Google mirrors my inner paranoia and anxiety. Google spits back results that perfectly reflect my emotional landscape, and I am awe-struck before this powerful, all-knowing, god-like being.

Early humans looked up at the stars and pondered the meaning of the life. They drew up maps of the heavens, interpreting the movement of the stars and planets as a means of making sense of the chaos of life. In contemplating the ether they found a truth that justified their existence.

We know as little about Google’s search algorithms as the star-gazers of yesteryear did about the celestial bodies. Yet we too look to an unknown to seek answers and justification for our behavior. We ask the Google-God to show us the way, and the Google-God obliges.

But perhaps we should be more careful in our requests. Perhaps we should consider more carefully the words we input into the white void of the Google search bar.

Words define how we experience life. Consider the difference between the word “loneliness” and “solitude”. One conjures up a blue void, a sense of disconnect, and a heavy heart. The other, however, imbues us with an emboldening force.

Without knowledge of both words (and no doubt many others) how can we fully appreciate all the many facets of being alone? Language provides a richness of experience that Google cannot. And yet we have entrusted Google to interpret our words as it sees fit.

My absent-minded use of the word “flapping” over “banging” took me down an emotional rabbit-hole. I set out to find a certain truth (that my daughter was developing normally) and was forsaken by the Google-God. I trusted the Google-God to guide me but found that I had to lead the Google-God where I wanted to go. I had to adjust my own search terms to find the answer I was looking for, the validation I needed.

So next time you are looking for answers, pause before you type, and consider the words you are about to use.

Because truth is just how you phrase your Google search.

Persona non Facebook

Pixelated Baby 2

I’m not posting anything to Facebook these days.  No witty remarks.  No selfies.  No listicles, quizzes, or videos of animals doing dumb things (or police officers doing dumb things for that matter).  The reason for this is that my wife and I recently had a baby and we therefore have absolutely nothing to say on Facebook.

But, but, but…  I’ve achieved the Facebook equivalent of the Holy Grail, right?  A baby!  A BABY!!!!  And not just any baby.  My baby is objectively the most beautiful, talented, alert, advanced, brilliant, funny, cute, intelligent, adorable, sweet baby that has ever, EVER, existed.  Yes, other babies are cute too, but my baby… well, all I have to do is post her every waking moment (and sleeping too) and the “Like” floodgates will open in recognition of her beauty, talent, alertness, brilliance…

So why abstain?

Like any proud parent in the age of the black mirror, my wife and I gorge on imagery of our daughter, sharing photos of wide-eyed smiles, unbearably cute feet, and the occasional poopy diaper.  We send each other text messages across the bed, simply to share every angle and point of view of our beautiful daughter.  We simply cannot get enough of her.  Yes, we have become that special brand of parent who stares at their child while simultaneously looking at photos of their child.  Judge us all you want.

The thought of posting images of my child to Facebook, however, fills me with dread.  I’ve seen the torrent of baby pictures out there and can’t shake the feeling that danger is lurking somewhere around the edges of my phone’s screen.  Photography may not be stealing my child’s soul, but is posting my child’s image to Facebook doing something similar?  Ok, maybe that’s a bit extreme but I can’t help it.

From the moment I found out my wife was pregnant a very particular brand of protectiveness has taken root in me, no doubt an evolutionary trait that makes every parent (of any species) care for its young.  When our daughter was born, that animalistic instinct ballooned to unreasonable proportions, transforming me into a prowling, overly-protective hyena with hackles raised.  The prying eyes and fingers of strangers are an abhorrent thing to me. I cringe every time a stranger peers into her stroller, and want to strike anyone who dares to touch my daughter’s foot or head or hand.  I might as well tattoo “Stay the F#@K away!” across my forehead.

You might argue that Facebook is precisely the right place for me, keeping me at a safe distance from the looky-loos while still being able to boast, celebrate, and beam my sense of pride to the masses.  After all, having a baby is a public event.

This is where our sense of public gets messy.  Some time in the distant hunting-and-gathering past, “public” would be no more than the handful of members of a small group, working together to feed, protect, and raise the young.  One certainly wouldn’t hold up ones offspring to the rival band of berry-pickers standing across the valley and say “Look what I made?!”

Maybe the broader Facebook-inhabiting public isn’t exactly rushing across the ether to do harm to my child.  If anything, we are slumped, drooling, and exhibiting nary more than a mono-syllabic, or perhaps more accurately “mono-emotic”, response.  Perusing the wash of “meaningful events” posted by others, my own reactions of “ “ooh”, or “cute”, or “yikes” are mere bursts of energy in an overall sense of “huh”.

I say this even though my wife and I do thoroughly enjoy seeing the many (sometimes too many) photos that friends post of their offspring.  Trapped as we are in our new routine, the computer screen is the only view we get of lives beyond our own: a Rear Window effect for the digital age.  A part of us longs to contribute, but then I go into a private/public tailspin.

Having a child is the most private and intimate thing I have ever done.  Posting on Facebook is anything but.  Where’s the line and who are we to decide that for our daughter?

I think forward to a time ten years in the future (or even less) when my daughter realizes that her entire life has been paraded in public for all to comment on and “Like”, without her permission.  If my sense of privacy is thoroughly in place, how will my daughter learn to have a private life herself, if every burp and coo has been made public?  Perish the thought of my daughter growing up to be constantly vigilant in how she is being perceived and whether she is being “liked”.

Our daughter is not our property to be shown off as a mark of pride for ourselves. Neither is she a pet or fashion accessory, dangled in front of public eyes as proof that we are fulfilling our social (and social-media) contract.  But we do wish to share, even if we can’t resolve the private/public tug-of-war.  So for now, let us share privately.  And yes, that includes texting, emailing, and even messaging, photos and snippets of video of all my daughters early moments. We are not living in the 20th century, after all.

Pixelated Baby 1