Sylvia asked an interesting question a few days ago, and one that I’ve been pondering: Where is your happy place online? (okay – I’m totally paraphrasing – she asked where you go to find respect and caring within the genre, but run with the happy thing, okay?)

I quit a lot of the writer loops a while ago for various reasons. I learned a lot on them, but I don’t think I categorize them as happy places. I belonged to some critique groups for a while, and they were happy places for me – I made some good friends, and the reason I bowed out was due to time constraints of real life, so I think I was very lucky to find such good crit partners early on.

My originals, as I like to think of those first blogs I visited and tentatively began posting comments (because I am, by nature, very shy) make me happy, like Larissa’s blog, and Sylvia’s and Cece’s and Sasha’s and Alison’s. I definitely found caring and respect there, and in a lot of other blogs I discovered along the way. IM’ing and emailing with my crit partner makes me happy too. So I’m lucky that the online writing world has brought me a lot.

But what kept me musing Sylvia’s question were the terms caring and respect. For me, I think, the online places I enjoy going to are the ones that give me perspective, because I believe that until you have perspective, you can’t be happy. And yes, they’re outside the genre, but I think they’re what reminds me to be caring and respectful within in the genre.

So, for me, the places that give me perspective are two online groups for kids with different medical problems. I rarely post to either, but they’re usually my first and last stops of the day.

And then I began thinking about them, comparing what happens there to what happens sometimes in the online writing/reading world and why things were so different. Why things didn’t explode on those boards, why the controversy and the fights didn’t happen there?

Well, I said to myself, that’s obvious. You’re talking apples and oranges. And for a little while I was satisfied with that answer. But only for a little while, because something continued to nag at me.

One of the boards is for kids with trachs, the other for kids who are in a study for a new device to help expand lung functions. Both deal kids who have serious, life threatening conditions. My daughter doesn’t have a trach anymore (she will have the other device in for a long time), but the place was a lifeline for me when she did. And I still go there and take a roll call – Jimmy’s been decanulated or Trisha got a second opinion but things still don’t look any better. I feel like I know these kids and their moms. I watch as new moms and dads come tentatively to the boards and introduce themselves, I see the fear in their words and the trepidation of, I can’t handle this and there’s no way I’m going to survive. Fast forward a few months down the road and they’re the ones welcoming the new kids on the block in and patting them on the shoulder and saying, it’s okay, things will be rough but you’ll make it.

Okay, I said to myself, well, there’s no place for jealousy or resentment on the special needs boards. One might even say it’s got more than a degree of sap to it. It’s not a career, where there are different kinds of issues, so cut the sappy shit, Steph and just take a blogthings quiz.

But again, I couldn’t accept that (but I probably will take another quiz again soon), because motherhood is definitely a career, one that I would choose over writing if I ever had to make the choice.

And again, I go back to the, there can’t be room for jealousy and resentment, thing – the kids are sick, the moms are tired and caring and sympathetic. Of course it’s a different world. How can you be jealous of someone who’s going through the exact same things as you? The doctor visits, the operations, the disappointments?

But how about the mom on the boards who watches kids get their trachs out and get healthier, when they have a child who has a condition that will never allow those two things to happen? I know there’s resentment, a feeling of, why her child and not mine, a feeling of what did I do to deserve this and why is every else’s kid but mine getting better? I know there are tears shed even while they’re cheering for the success.

So what’s the difference? I think I finally figured it out. (thank God, you’re probably saying – blame Sylvia for asking the question in the first place.) When a mom feels that way on the boards, she says it, straight out, no bullshit, no couching it. I can’t tell you the amount of times there’s been good news on the boards and everyone rushes in to congratulate and give hugs, and I know it’s sincere. And then, a day later, a random post will start. The, I’m feeling down, I’m not seeing any progress with my child, why won’t things get better, type of post. Also sincere. And it’s not couched in, I apologize for feeling this way – it’s more like – everyone’s success is depressing me and I don’t think I can handle it.

And you know what happens? They get hugs and sympathy too, and reminders of just how far their kids have come. No one says – what a jealous bitch, resenting other’s successes. Because if it’s one thing the mom of a special needs child needs to learn early to survive is that you have to admit to these feelings. And once you do, they disappear for a while. They come back at odd times but just speaking about it is cathartic. So I guess that, for me, is the difference. On these boards, no one lets their feelings build to the point where it’s eating them alive or interfering with their work or the care of their kids.

I’m not suggesting turning the writing loops into therapy sessions – I suggest having a few best friends to share your woes with and leave it at that – get it out and move on and don’t let it sour your everyday life.

So yes, the places I go for perspective are those boards. There are kids far sicker than my daughter and far better too, and that’s okay. There are always going to be those ahead of you and those behind you. What counts most, I think, is the way you treat them both – what you do for those behind you while keeping an eye on those ahead of you for guidance, whether they’re your friends or just acquaintances you run across on the boards from time to time. And, most importantly, admitting every once in a while – damn, I wish I was the one ahead, and then reminding yourself that there’s someone behind you thinking the same thing about you.

Steph T.