Like most writers, I constantly mine my own life for writing material. I admit I am flirting with addiction, because sometimes, in the midst of an everyday crisis or a funny moment or even a poignant one, I think, This is going to make a really good blog post.
But I don’t think I really have a problem.
I think Lenore Skenazy has a problem.
Lenore Skenazy is the writer for the New York Sun who was all over the media after she wrote this piece about her decision to let her nine-year-old son navigate his way home on the New York City subway by himself.
She thinks parents are way too overprotective and that they need to let their children be more independent and I don’t disagree, though I do think leaving a nine-year-old child alone to fend for himself anywhere is nuts.
But that’s not what really grabbed me about her story and the resultant controversy.
What bothered me all week is the worry that Ms. Skenazy slid all the way to the bottom of a slippery slope that could one day trip me up as well.
I have never put Graham in an unsafe situation because I think it would make for interesting reading and I never will. But I think all writers who document their experiences for public consumption run the risk of falling prey to the desire to give people something truly gripping to read.
I think Ms Skenazy feels passionately that children today are over-parented and she knows that this is a hot-button issue for many people. I think she is a savvy journalist who carefully considered how she could make a compelling statement that would focus a lot of media attention on the subject, spark controversy and ensure that her views would reach a large audience.
I think she gambled with her son’s safety because she knew it would make a hell of a story.
Last weekend Rob and I talked about taking Graham to the zoo this summer. I’m looking forward to it and during the discussion I heard myself say, “It’ll be great. I’ll take so many pictures—it’ll make such a cute blog post.”
Not until Rob gave me a look did I realize that without even thinking I had considered whether an activity we all enjoy would also translate into something my readers could consume. In just a split second, I considered whether a normal family activity was worthy of documentation and thought about how I would do it.
Many times, I admit, I have thought about how much great material is sure to be generated as Graham grows and struggles to grapple with the world around him. And then I feel just a little guilty that I so obviously mine his life for writing material just as I have always mined my own.
I will not be letting Graham ride the subway in New York City or anywhere else when he is nine years old, no matter how many people would show up to read about it.
But I have pulled out a camera to capture a temper tantrum rather than deal with it straight away. I did get in a few shots of his discomfort in designer overalls I loved but knew didn’t fit him. And I am the one who took pains to point out what may one day make him a target for bullies.
And these things I fear, my friends, may well put me on the edge of the slippery slope that Ms Skenazy slithered down earlier this month.