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Home » Culture and Criticism

“Did I act wrong? Am I a bad son?”

Submitted by on December 22, 2009 – 12:26 PM45 Comments

brynmawr77I hesitate to wade into the Shellie Ross/Madison McGraw fray — in case you don’t know the story, you can get the background here — but my boy MB at OMG! Ponies! posted an exquisite, sad piece over the weekend that addressed it.   And “it” includes everything from the distribution of the weight of grief, to the judgment of strangers, to what “normal” is, to the role the internet plays in all of our lives.

I was posting dumb shit on the internet because I was sitting in an empty house with a man who wasn’t my father but still is something to me with the ghost of my mother hanging heavy in the air and I had to do shit like pack up a wall full of pictures that had been hanging on the same wall for two decades.   Pictures that were of me and my dead brother and me and my dead mother.

OMG!P! is a rad regular read anyway, funny and acidic, but that bit above put me on my ass. Rich, direct, rings like a bell.

My grandmother died in 1992.   She was my best place.   You might know what I mean by that and you might not; if the internet had existed back then, I would have written — that.   I might even have Tweeted it. After a loss, you do and say the things you can, “dumb shit on the internet” or not, because of all the things that can no longer be done and that words can’t make adequately known.   It seems to me that if we’re going to judge that kind of thing — and we’re going to; it’s human nature — we have to remember also that there is a wall of pictures somewhere near that thing that we don’t see and have no right to expect a description of.

Minor chord for holiday-time; I apologize, but welcome your thoughts.




  • Omar G. says:

    I’m writing this from a hospital room the day after I Tweeted my wife’s birth (not during, of course, but leading up to and soon after). In the past, I might have hesitated, but, like Ms. Ross, I feel very close to the people I connect with online (many of whom I have strong connections with offline) and Twitter/Facebook/whatever is merely the conduit to get the word out and to communicate. If I had time, I’d love to send handwritten letters or make dozens of phone calls, but that’s not really where I’m living. I don’t think that’s where we’re headed, though I’m not negating the loveliness of a hand-written note. (Sarah, among others of my “online friends,” taught me the value of that kind of personal touch).

    I was one of the people who Tweeted angrily about Madison McGraw several times last week. First, she was trying to prove the whole thing was a hoax. She inserted herself into the situation by telling people not to donate before it was confirmed. A fair point, you might say, but she did it in a way that was rude and intrusive. She made calls to reporters and police in the area to try to prove her point.

    Then, when the facts didn’t support her hoax theory, she switched tracks and began unloading on the mother, accusing her of being responsible for the drowning out of neglect. She posted a timeline to her blog (using an ABC News story — hey, nothing wrong with ABC News, but I wouldn’t base an involuntary manslaughter case on one of their Web stories).

    To call McGraw classless would be to imply there was ever a classy-class in which she took part. Unless she knows something the rest of the world didn’t (including the investigators), she had no right to lob accusations, compound a mother’s grief and insert herself into a place where she had no facts to support her crusade. She is not a reporter, a police officer or a private investigator. She’s a former paramedic with a Web connection, some pen names and a juicy steak she’s chosen to gnaw on until all the juices run out.

    My regret was that I called attention to this Web parasite in the first place. Her Twitter follower count has gone up and I’m sure her blog has exploded with traffic. And I’m sure that’s the best possible outcome for Ms. McGraw, Internet Lowlife.

  • Kim says:

    I totally agree with you Sars; when I think about some of the things I did and said when my mom died, I feel like I shouldn’t be held responsible. I was in shock. It’s great if some people feel like they can handle a sudden and shocking death like mature adults; I know that I couldn’t, and were Twitter or Facebook around back then, I’m sure I would cringe at what I wrote. The only thing that saved me was that I’d been writing online long enough at that point to know not to post anything in the moment. I wrote up a post in Word and saved it; I published a version of that later on my blog, but it was heavily edited. People need to lay the fuck off and mind their beeswax. There are authorities who are qualified to determine if there was any neglect or negligence. The rest of us should either butt out or offer support, period.

  • ConchExPat says:

    Thanks for this link. I was thinking the same things, but would never have written about them as well as MB. Less that a month ago one of my closest friends died, and I tweeted from her hospice room while she slept. I just needed a small part of the outside Internet universe to validate my grief. It all makes perfect sense to me.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Omar: Congrats, again! For the big events, Twitter and FB are super-handy; no, it’s not as personal, but Mr. S kept his peeps posted on Master S’s arrival that way, and it was a godsend (my mom and I calling each other to discuss the updates by phone = missing the point, kind of, but whatever, we were excited). And…this is the way a lot of us live and communicate now. That includes sad news, too.

    McGraw is way out there, but the larger stories that lead into this one are worth looking at more closely and trying to talk about with some nuance, including 1) our culture’s discomfort with grief or even unhappiness and the knee-jerk reactions to responses that differ from ours that that can cause; 2) the can’t-win atmosphere surrounding parents, and especially mothers; 3) that private and public lives intersect in a different place from 20 years ago.

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    My husband and I used Facebook status updates sent from our cell phones to keep family and friends updated when his father was dying last month. I reached out to my Internet friends on my favorite bulletin board site when my sister died a few years ago. Twitter strikes me as being a little different (since I know the people that I was posting to in both of the examples above, and one might very well not know the people who are following one’s Twitter feed). But the underlying motivation is the same. Death makes us feel very alone. Knowing that you can reach out to people who care about you, who can and will pray for you or send loving thoughts your way was, for us, a very powerful thing. Each time we got to stop at home for a shower and a change of clothes, we logged on briefly to see floods of comments and e-mails that sustained us and (as ConchExPat says) validated our grief.

    As for eventually returning to posting “dumb shit on the Internet,” whether it’s two days or two weeks or two months, life has to go on. Returning to a sense of mundane normalcy is a really important stage in the grieving process for me. Getting up at my regular time, going to work, meeting my obligations, hanging out with my friends, and, yes, posting lolcats or reactions to the latest Glee episode are part of what reminds me that something exists outside or beyond the grief.

  • MattPatt says:

    Many thanks for this, Sars. My mother died a little over five years ago, when I was a sophomore in college. Her birthday was yesterday. When I think about some of the things I did and said as a result of that… well, I can’t feel *bad* about them, particularly (and her asshole ex-husband totally deserved it anyway), but at the same time, I can see that if they’d been public knowledge via Twitter/Facebook/etc, then from the perspective of an anonymous third party, it would have been pretty easy to pass judgment on me as a shitty human being right then. And I *was* in some respects being shitty; who wouldn’t have been? I was almost literally not myself at the time.

    So that’s what I try to remember when “stories” like this break. To have genuine empathy for another person is hard enough when they’re right in front of you, face-to-face. It’s harder still when your entire interaction is online through text. And it’s damn near impossible when you’re interacting, not with the person in question, but from third-hand reports of what said person might have done, said, or thought. But I would argue that it’s still our responsibility as fellow human beings to try, and to take that moment before excoriating someone else in the blogosphere to at least attempt to put ourselves in their shoes. It seems to me that the only thing Madison McGraw’s anger is accomplishing is to make Madison McGraw feel superior, and I find that pretty contemptible.

  • attica says:

    I sorta see this whole Ross/McGraw thing as the intersection of two important truths about humanity: 1) people are eager for nothing like they’re eager to judge other people’s parenting; 2) there is a compulsion among netsters to respond when somebody is wrong on the internet (or perceived to be, anyhow).

  • Hannah says:

    I suppose I might be missing something (this is the first I’d heard of this, so all my info comes from the first summary post up there), but did all this stem from her simply tweeting something a half an hour after the accident? Or was it more about her tweeting while she was looking after her son (and therefore somehow twitter-obsessed or something)? Because the “please pray like never before” seems so totally understandable to me. In that kind of a situation, don’t we expect people to full-on reach out to everyone, everywhere in a panic, trying to push all the buttons to make something positive happen?

    Maybe I’m just a product of the times, but that particular posting seemed so natural as to not even warrant defense, and that people got judgmental about it seems both typical (of the scope of worldwide interwebs) and totally unjustified.

  • Gretchen says:

    When something big happens, you need to reach out to your people. If your people are on Twitter, that’s what you do. I have very little patience for people who judge others faced with impossible circumstances.

  • Carol Elaine says:

    My co-worker/cubicle-mate (with whom I am also a Facebook friend) lost her mother a few weeks ago after a long illness. It happened over the weekend and she posted to her Facebook account the following day that her mother had gone home. I saw nothing wrong with this, nor did her family and real life friends – it’s an ideal way to quickly relay news when things are otherwise too hectic for a more personal touch. I simply cannot understand why the simplest and quickest form of communication is so looked down upon.

    It looks to me that Ross did everything she should have and that McGraw is the douchiest douche in all of Douchedom for making the grief of a mother All About Her Opinion.

    Fuck you, Madison McGraw. Fuck you, fuck your high horse and fuck the unsympathetic assholes who agree with you.

  • Faith says:

    My father died on December 10th after battling pulmonary fibrosis for the past 7 years. He was in California, and I was in Kansas. I blogged about everything that was happening over the last two weeks that he was dying, keeping people I care about (and who care about me) in the loop on what was going on, and trying to keep my sanity at the same time. When my mom died 10 years ago, I was in the same house with her. When she finally passed (liver cancer), I was watching Oprah with my older sister on the couch in the living room below mom’s room. I couldn’t watch mom die anymore. I just couldn’t. I didn’t have my blog back then, and I wish I had. The outpouring of support I received from my readers and friends through my leetle corner of the interwebs made the process of going through the death of my father…well, it’s hard to say what it did. It felt lighter, if that makes any sense.

    It’s all about the feeling of not being alone, when it comes to me. THAT is what my blog is for me at times like this.

    I see nothing wrong with the Tweeting thing that Shellie Ross did. I find it hard to understand anyone starting a campaign to make her life even more hellish after what she went through when she lost her child. It’s unimaginable to me!

  • Andrea says:

    My brother in law died just shy of 4 years ago. He was someone I was very close to; he someone I had helped raise, actually. Shortly thereafter and to be honest, a few times during the year he was dying, I was “wrong on the internet.”

    Maybe it doesn’t happen to everyone, but I know that while he was dying, and especially after he died, I went more than a little out of my head crazy with grief and sadness. I know I said and did some things I shouldn’t have, things which for reasons I don’t fully understand effectively destroyed the life I had including pretty much every friendship I had. I evaluate the choices I made all the time, and I know they weren’t the best, but I also know they weren’t *that bad* and I wish people had maybe been a little kinder, maybe a little more understanding of what all I was going through at the time. I know I am still paying for those choices, and I likely will for the rest of my days (well, unless the witness protection program starts taking volunteers and lets me start over with a new identity). So, circumstances being what they are, I have spent the last 4 years trying to either pick up the shattered remains of my life, or build a some semblance of a new one. Sadly, those who were unforgiving of me being “wrong on the internet” aren’t terribly open to my pursuing either of those options – seems they want me to stay in friendless, miserable, isolated hell (hence the appeal of the witness protection program) until the end of my days to the point that for a long time there were a few who actively sabotaged my efforts, and I’m not too altogether sure why.

    Now that you know why I am chiming in on this, what I think about it is this: I guess what it boils down to is I kind of understand the compulsion to gossip about poor choices. It’s that “there but for the grace of god” thing, that reassuring of one’s self that “yeah, I screwed up, but at least it wasn’t as bad as him/her.” What I don’t understand is taking it to the point of vilifying a person, and I really don’t understand the choice to turn it into ongoing persecution. People screw up. They also learn from mistakes. There are precious few other reason people make legitimate personal growth other than making mistakes and learning from them. Me? When I screwed up, I was just seeking community, venting a little, and frankly freaking out. I suspect Shellie Ross was doing about the same thing. I can also tell you in all honesty that nothing anyone has said or done to me at all compares with the pain of the loss of my brother in law; I suspect as crappy as what all is getting said on the ‘net, it doesn’t and won’t and can’t come anywhere close to touching the pain of loss of her child, and never will. I also think maybe people ought to have a little compassion and empathy, and consider that maybe she did have the best of intentions, even if they don’t understand her choice of actions or her motivations.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    It makes me so sad that he asked “Am I grieving correctly?” Wish I could hug the guy…

    There’s no right or wrong. We grieve in whatever way gets us through. If one reaches out to one’s invisible friends in cyberspace, that’s okay too. Get your comfort where you can!
    I agree with Carol Elaine’s second paragraph. Nicely put.

  • Beth says:

    Nearly a month ago, I found out via a scan I’d had a miscarriage at 17 weeks. And once I’d ensured that all the people had been told that I didn’t want to find out from the internet, you bet that I posted on facebook that we’d lost the baby. And then I posted on a daily photo blog I’m the main contributor to, and my blogs.

    How else am I going to tell the people I’m friends with online that I’m no longer pregnant? We’d got past 12 weeks and there wasn’t any sign that anything was wrong, so of course I’d told people online. What am I supposed to do, just not say anything? Hope they don’t ask in a few months time ‘hey, weren’t you having a baby?’?

    And I feel really bad for being online. For being on facebook and blogging and posting my daily photos while still being signed off work. But when it comes down to it, I’m not fit to be in work right now. But I can’t just sit in a corner and cry, either.

    If I was in Shellie Ross’s situation, I’d want to get people to pray. As many as possible. And I’m not even religious. I’d want to save my son. I’d want to hope that somehow it could help.

    I don’t get why people are so cruel. Like so many commenters have said, people react in strange ways when they are grieving. The hubby and I laughed when I was in the hospital, waiting to miscarry my dead baby. I would never have thought I could, but you cope as best you can. You laugh when you can, because otherwise you would never cope. You would kill yourself.

    Thanks, Sars, for posting this. The only coverage I’d seen was taking Madison McGraw’s side. I’m glad to see some balance.

  • Lis says:

    I tweeted that one of my best friends had passed away after Thanksgiving. It was a shock to all of us, and honestly the fastest way to spread the word to people who’s numbers I didn’t have, was to get it up on Facebook (in my case via the twitter/fb update) as my status. I needed people to know, but at the same time couldn’t actually talk yet… I fully understand the desire to reach out in that way.

  • Beth says:

    @Beth – I meant to add that the messages we got online, and the text messages and emails we got, meant just as much as the cards. More in some cases, especially the guy from work who told me about his wife’s miscarriage. They’re all ways of making contact, of making you feel less alone when all you feel is alone with your grief.

  • Stuff like this is the exact reason I stopped posting on my blog (well that, and time constaints, and the sleep deprivation). My son has a butt load of health issued that take up a lot of my head space and would be the primary fodder for my blog, but I’ve neglected including him because I don’t want his situation mocked or put under a microscope in any way.

    I know the peoples on the internet can on par be gracious and I remember a recent outpouring for a family who lost their daughter, and am grateful people can be supportive, but I’m scared as hell of subjecting my son’s story to people who ain’t.

  • BTW, congrats Omar G on the new arrival. I saw on the pictures on your blog and she looks like a right peach.

  • AngieFM says:

    The 22-year-old son of a friend of mine drowned last fall, and she posted her experience on Facebook as it was unfolding. She wasn’t there (she was hundreds of miles away), but she posted not too long after she found out, and kept us all informed as she travelled home and planned his funeral, etc. I thanked her for being so open with her process–I don’t know that I would do that, but I felt like I learned from her.

    I think, too, that these can also be cases when the internet really functions like, y’know, the internet–people out there have more information about more things, and can maybe help in a given situation (beyond prayer) with suggestions about grief counselors or support groups or even with actual expertise for helping someone immediately. That’s what’s amazing about this technology, right?

  • MattB says:

    A long time ago, I started blogging as an outlet. It is a diary, but one left open like a guest register at a hotel. I do consider holding things back but I also use it to get things off my chest. As you can see, I post a lot of goofy junk (I’m an inveterate nerd). But sometimes, something strikes home.

    I originally read this story on Giz, where the author had taken to using his bully pulpit to berate Ms. Ross. I’m not a fan of bullying and I did a little digging – which the Giz author did not. It turned out that Ms. Ross hadn’t done anything that any other parent hasn’t done – told her older child to take the younger inside. She wasn’t neglecting the children; to the contrary, they were helping her out back. What got headlines though was that Ms. Ross was on Twitter – the bogeyman du jour.

    The Giz author also took umbrage at Ms. Ross tweeting for prayers. That is what drove it home. Because I did the same thing. I am an irreligious person but asking for prayers for my mom – who hated god – seemed natural. I typed from the heart because it was all I could do.

    I spent a lot of time downstairs watching TV. In the back of my mind, I kept feeling guilty – shouldn’t I be doing more.

    Obviously, there is no right way to grieve. I went years without visiting my brother’s grave. And when I did visit during Mom’s final days, it felt right.

    It’s for no one to judge. I write what I write not to be judged but to get my thoughts out of me. If someone is going to judge me, I know they will. And I am taking an emotional risk. But it is a calculated one. Ms. Ross’ tweet was not a calculated risk. And people with products to sell tried to use her tragedy for their own ill intent.

    All I can say is that my heartfelt sympathy goes to Ms. Ross for her loss. I thank her for the ability to put into words something that I could not previously express. Ms. Ross – you, your family, and your million-dollar baby have my prayers.

  • Jane says:

    Beth says, “I don’t get why people are so cruel. ” To me that’s the crux of the matter. The Internet as megaphone magnifies not only the generosity and communitarian impulses of people, but also their viciousness. I suspect at the heart of much of it lies the desire to assure oneself that bad things happen only to those who fail to defend or comport themselves properly and who therefore deserve it–to them, not to us. I’m not completely unfamiliar with the impulse (I think my main goal in reading the local crime report is to confirm to myself that I wouldn’t have been any of those places at those times), but a silent self-reassuring thought (which I know is specious anyway) is a far cry from a direct attack based on it. I think sometimes there’s an irrational belief that compassion that proves misplaced makes you less of a person, as if you’ve wasted it and there’s some kind of shortage, so people are determined to avoid such a terrible mistake. I also suspect there’s some odd underlying jealousy of anybody receiving support and attention in the face of a tragedy, a sort of sibling “You’re just asking for attention” reaction, as if attention isn’t exactly what humans need and deserve in the face of grief. But honestly, I still don’t get what moves people from feeling such impulses and then thinking it’s an acceptable, even useful thing to say them.

  • Cyntada says:

    @Hannah: I think you nailed it with this: “Maybe I’m just a product of the times, but that particular posting seemed so natural as to not even warrant defense…”

    I’m “old enough” (heh) that Twitter to me is just something that other people do, mostly… I get it, see the usefulness of it, can’t be bothered with it. What makes perfect sense in context is, this lady had a disaster. It was the MOST IMMEDIATE way to get as many people as possible standing by her, and her dying son, literally or in spirit. I don’t see how we can possibly judge her for that.

    Makes me think of the early days of telephones – there had to be at least one person who got treated badly for placing a call to inform of someone’s passing, instead of bearing that news in person. Times do change. My Mom would freak if I posted bad news on Facebook instead of discussing it with her personally…. my younger friends wouldn’t think twice about the delivery method, they’d just contact me with condolences.

  • Esi says:

    Thank god for the internet. As I figured out when my mother died two years ago, email is pretty much a lifeline when even the idea of speaking those words out loud is soul-crushing.

    I didn’t interact with McGraw at all over this, but if I had this is what I would have asked her: would you have said this to her face? Half an hour after her son died, with her husband thousands of miles away, as she grieved for her baby? Would you have told a total stranger that she was a bad mother responsible for her son’s death if you were looking in her eyes?

    I’m just still so amazed by the things people will say online that wouldn’t occur to them to say out loud. But it does seem that Twitter has removed that wall between people online. You might criticize a total stranger on your blog and no one ever hears about it. Do it on Twitter and not only does that person know, basically right away, but so do all their friends and friends of friends, etc. You can’t just exist in your bubble of righteous indignation and judgment anymore.

  • Beth says:

    Jane – “I suspect at the heart of much of it lies the desire to assure oneself that bad things happen only to those who fail to defend or comport themselves properly and who therefore deserve it–to them, not to us.”

    I suspect you’re spot on there. Unfortunately, life isn’t that fair. It’s one of the things that really hurts about losing the baby – I did everything right. There’s nothing I can blame this on. And I’d hate it if I’d done something wrong and had to live with that – but it seems so unfair.

    Cyntada also makes excellent points.

  • Shannon in CA says:

    In October, I had plans to fly up to Oakland. The day before I left, I got a call from my sister asking me “What happened to Chris?”. I had no idea what she was talking about. She told me that she got a text message from an old friend telling her that Chris had died. My sister was out shopping at the time so I told her I would call her right back and turned on my computer. Within 5 minutes I had her back on the phone because I had gone on Facebook and found out just which Chris it was & what little information there was about what happened. It was the older brother of a boy we grew up with. We hadn’t seen him in years and weren’t exactly in the immediate contact circle. I managed to get info about the viewing via Facebook, cancel my flight & hotel, and book a flight out here for my sister the next day. Had it not been for the updates on Facebook, we would have missed it.

    I see nothing wrong with what Shellie Ross did. Twitter is for more than telling everyone what you had for lunch or how tired you are. I have managed to build a “family” from the people I follow & who follow me back. If something bad happened, you can be damn sure I would reach out to them in that moment, just as many of them have reached out to me. I have consoled these “strangers” over family members passing away, parents being arrested, and the loss of beloved pets. To vilify someone for asking for help is disgusting.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    The vitriol isn’t entirely about her using Twitter to notify friends or ask for prayers after the child had died; I think a lot of it is coming from the implication — true or not — that Ross was so focused on Twitter that that’s why the child fell in the pool in the first place.

    That doesn’t justify a pile-on, but there is a difference between “Twitter isn’t an appropriate way to grieve this event” and “Twitter CAUSED this event,” and in fact I think we’re seeing a little of both of those reactions. The former is presumptuous at best, telling a stranger how to mourn, but the latter is more insidious somehow, to me. “She wasn’t paying attention to the boy AND NOW SHE’S PAYING FOR HER SELFISHNESS.” I mean…yeah, she’s paying, all right, and I don’t see why that’s a source of satisfaction to anyone, but my real question is whether the people getting so stroppy about Ross’s so-called “Twitter addiction” have ever lived with a toddler. They get into shit; it happens; you can’t stare at them unblinking every second of the day. Sometimes you have to poo. That’s usually the time a bookcase gets climbed. That’s also usually a funny story when all is said and done, but I guess that doesn’t provide the same rush as a good old-fashioned chorus of “I Would Never (And How Dare She).”

    So, like I said, you have a meeting of two crappy cultural trends here: 1) let’s use the internet to judge other people’s, um, internet use; and 2) let’s set impossible expectations for parents and then show no compassion when they fail to meet these standards.

  • Jessica says:

    1. If you are berating a woman the day after her child died, yeah, you’re pretty much going to hell.

    2. I will be honest. Yesterday I was online, and looked over at my 6-month-old in her swing, and she had scooted down far enough that her weight tipped her over and she was essentially hanging upside down. Without the straps she would have been on the floor at that point. (I put her on the floor, with toys, in my line of sight, before finishing up this comment.)

    3. I’ve never been diagnosed with AD(H)D but definitely see some tendencies of it in my bad habits. So I — and I am not saying this is what Shellie Ross did — I could totally see myself trying to keep up with all the Tweets and saying a few minutes later, “Hey, where’s the daughter?” And that’s the main reason why I don’t get on Twitter.

    4. Kids do drown that fast, unfortunately.

    5. When I talked about my father-in-law’s and brother-in-law’s deaths (in 2008 and 2007, respectively), I did it on LiveJournal, in locked posts. My Facebook page can’t be accessed if you’re not already my friend. Twitter, as best I know, doesn’t work that way — you Tweet to the entire world. So I did post on FB that my daughter was born but I’m not sure how I’d feel about using Twitter to talk about her, since I can’t control that flow of information.

    6. Congrats to Omar and Family G!

    7. Beth, I am so sorry. A friend of mine lost her baby at 19 weeks earlier this year — same situation, no reason to believe anything was wrong. On a board I’m on that has a community for miscarriage/stillbirth/babyloss, the website Glow in the Woods gets recommended a lot.

  • kategm says:

    @Jessica: I think you can set up your Twitter feed to be private which means that your tweets wouldn’t show up on the public timeline.So if I turned that feature on and you went to my twitter page, you’d see a message like this: “This person has protected their tweets. You need to send a request before you can start following this person.”
    That applies even if you’re already on Twitter yourself.

    One of the first articles I saw about the Ross tragedy had that same “she Tweeted for prayers after her son went to the hospital. Turns out lots of other people appeal for support from their Internet friends too!” astonished tone– like the article writer couldn’t get over this new thing called the Internet and that people use it, and that sometimes, people put up general “please think of me” messages on it. And I’m reading the article and thinking, “well YES, Sherlock. Where have you been?”

    Well, this comment has been sufficiently long and likely confusing so I’ll shut up now. Parents have to deal with enough crap as it is– the last thing they need is everyone second-guessing their everyday decisions, let alone horrific moments like this.

  • Beth says:

    Thanks so much for that rec Jessica.

  • JennyB says:

    @ Sarah – That was my understanding – what little I do know about it all – is that the criticism was directed at her using Twitter while events were actually unfolding, waiting for the ambulance, etc.

    While I can understand that people all grieve in their own way, and I have no problem with updates on Twitter and Facebook, I can also understand how people would be uncomfortable with the notion of a mother twittering while her son lies unconscious. Again, I wasn’t there, I have no idea what really happened, and it’s certainly not for me to judge her actions or assume that there was any negligence on her part. But it is an unfortunate side-effect of internet communications like Twitter that it leaves us open to being judged by people who have no problem making assumptions based on incomplete information.

  • Faith says:

    Years ago, before Twitter was even a glimmer in the creator’s eye, I was out by the pool with my then 3 year old and 11 year old nieces. The 3 year old had taken off her arm floaties for some reason or another, and then climbed back in the pool, forgetting to put them back on. All of this happened behind my back, as I read a magazine facing away from the direction of the pool.

    Suddenly, I noticed it was quiet. No splashing. No yelling. No fun times happening. So I turned around, and saw my older niece at one end of the pool staring silently at my younger niece as she stood barely on tip toe, grasping for the edge of the pool with half of her face (her nose and mouth half) under water.

    I raced over, and slammed down on my knees so hard to grab her out of the water, I had the indent of the cement design on my knees for 2 days after. She had only been under water for less than a minute. But she couldn’t yell for help, and my other niece was scared speachless, so she failed to yell for help, too.

    It was one of the scariest moments of my life. My niece was scared, but she was ok. She even felt ok enough to come back out and swim again about a half hour after she went inside the house with her dad, crying her fool head off.

    It only took a moment. And if I hadn’t recognized that weird silence…well, I don’t want to think about what might’ve happened if I hadn’t suddenly wondered where the noise went. But it devistated me enough just to have lost the committment to my Watcher Duties for even that small minute. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if something worse had occurred.

    And all I was doing was reading a damned magazine. I wonder if Madison McGraw reads magazines, ever…

  • Hannah says:

    Yeah, I was especially annoyed by the comment (not here; in the summary article) that argued that “everybody knows” when you get on Twitter it consumes you for AT LEAST 10 minutes, therefore Twitter is OBVIOUSLY and even innately contrary to good parenting. Like, that’s a hell of a leap, from “she used this thing once” to “she used this thing irresponsibly, for long periods of time, while wearing a blindfold, with her fingers in her ears.” It’s sort of the equivalent of going from “she went pee” to “well, once you’re in the bathroom, of course you have to check your makeup, pluck your eyebrows, blow your knows and trim your toenails. EVERYBODY knows that, and no one in the history of civilization has ever resisted those distractions.”

    I always hate that kind of long-jump logic.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    the criticism was directed at her using Twitter while events were actually unfolding, waiting for the ambulance, etc.

    Right. And I see where people could be taken aback by that. It wouldn’t be my response — but only because I use Twitter in a pretty Web 1.0 way. So, I can’t see myself doing that, but if she defaulted to a “what can I control about this event/my environment right now” place, and Twitter is that default for her, well, there it is.

    I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but while my mom was in surgery last summer, my dad and I were obsessively calculating and planning every aspect of lunch. We were in a worrisome/fucked-up situation, and we chose to focus on something that was neither — pizza — because that’s what a lot of people do, go back to something tiny or everyday that they know and can control.

  • Marv in DC says:

    I think the anonymity of the internet is also to blame in this. Anyone can make any comment online without having to say it directly to someone’s face. I seriously doubt that McGraw would have said these things to Shellie Ross’s face at the time. Instead McGraw can throw out any accusation she wants without dealing with the consequences of saying it directly to the Shellie. I think it speaks more about McGraw that she is trying to capitalize on a child’s death for her blog than it does about the mother.

  • Esi says:

    @Sarah: I agree that people were taken aback by what she was doing immediately after it happened (although we don’t actually know what she was doing other than sending a single tweet asking for prayers, which takes all of fifteen seconds).

    I think the point that Cyntada makes is perhaps the best analogy. If she had been on the phone calling everyone she knew to tell them what happened and find anyone to pray with her, the reaction wouldn’t be the same–in part because we likely wouldn’t know about it. But is the fact that we know what this woman was doing during a tragedy enough of a reason to decide that it’s bad? My answer is a resounding no.

  • tulip says:

    “2) let’s set impossible expectations for parents and then show no compassion when they fail to meet these standards.”

    Yeah that’s called parenting in the world unfortunately. That’s what struck me about the whole sad story was that, regardless of the monster du jour (twitter, facebook, having a drink at a playdate…ad infinitum), this is at it’s core an indictment of Shellie Ross as a mother. As Sarah points out she could have been peeing, or reading a book, or opening the door with her hands full and the same exact thing could have happened. Horrible tragic accidents happen and they happened hundreds of years ago and will continue to happen in the future.
    It really makes me sick to my stomach that actual real people can be so cruel to other actual real people especially in their hours of need. I think that people tend to forget that the name on the screen is attached to a human being. I’m with Jessica on that circle of hell being full of people like Madison McGraw.

  • Jessica says:

    Along the lines of second-guessing parents in the wake of horrific tragedies is the Gene Weingarten Washington Post Magazine piece that ran in March, about parents who accidentally leave their kids to die in locked cars. That’s not a two-minute lapse; that’s hours of not realizing the kid was still in the car. And yet the article goes on to explain how this could happen to people who are otherwise conscious, loving parents.

    I’m not going to link to it, because it is seriously hard reading — I could read it before I gave birth but I don’t think I could now. But it should be easily found. And iit’s an excellent, excellent piece.

  • Jaybird says:

    We currently live in a town I hate, in which we are fairly isolated despite 3 years of attempts not to be so. In lieu of an actual social life, I spend a certain amount of time every day online. I’m a stay-at-home mom, so it’s really my only contact with other adults, until my husband gets home from the Marine base where he works. Ms. Ross’s husband, being on active duty and IIRC ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FRICKIN’ WORLD, can’t be there for her, so I can only imagine how much she needed Twitter/FB/lots of other contact. It gets lonely.

    Add to that the fact that (as several people have pointed out) kids, particularly toddlers, are speedy little devils, and you never know what they’re going to do or how or when. The idea of a toddler splashing around and screaming and being ignored by his self-indulgent, uninvolved mother is likely NOWHERE NEAR what actually happened. When a small child goes under, they go under quickly and quietly–hence the “We couldn’t find him, and then someone spotted him on the bottom of the pool” scenarios that play out all too often.

    I’d say that I hope McGraw experiences something similar someday, just because it’s likely that would be the only thing that would knock SOME modicum of sense or humility into her, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, no matter how much of a Massengill Value-Pack she is.

  • Suzanne M says:

    Here’s what gets me: We know what she was doing when the accident happened, and sitting around in her living room glued to Twitter and neglecting her kids isn’t it. She tweeted from the chicken coop she was working on (a full 16 minutes before the 911 call came in, too). She was doing work that needed to get done and her older son was apparently keeping an eye on the toddler. But, horror of horrors, she had the gall to also use Twitter, so she must be some frivolous narcissist who shouldn’t be allowed to have kids.

    I don’t have words for the disgust I feel towards people like Madison McGraw. Ross was going about her day as if it were any other day. That it turned out to be the day when this horrible thing happened is no reason to judge her. But even if McGraw wants to be all Judgey McJudgerson… To publicly blast Ross while she’s grieving her newly dead son? That just takes it to a whole new level of disgusting.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    From the WaPo article cited earlier (which, while I don’t regret reading it, is as tough as advertised):

    Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.

    Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

  • Vanessa H says:

    I tend to think that judging other people’s actions in general is a sign of insecurity. Why would it occur to anyone that simply tweeting would have to mean that the tweeter was being a neglectful mother? It wouldn’t to me unless I had been pretty neglectful of something while distracted by twitter/facebook/the phone, whatever.

    The judging of others when they are experiencing a trauma seems especially tempting and troubling. Not just in this type of situation, but the police do it all the time. IIRC, Amanda Knox initially became a suspect in her roommate’s murder due to her behavior at the scene. If you read about wrongful convictions enough, it becomes a harrowing theme.

  • DMC says:

    I do think there’s something to be said WRT the Twittering just prior to the child’s death. The timing of her posts is downright creepy and definitely heartbreaking when you realize that, as she is telling the world about the chicken coops, her child is losing life in the backyard pool. You’re so right, Sars, that toddlers get into mischief and that’s precisely why they do need to be watched and kept safe at all times – especially if you have a backyard pool.

    But make no mistake – I find no “satisfaction” in what has happened to this family and I have no anger for this poor mother. My heart goes out to her entirely – she is living every parent’s worst possible nightmare. I wouldn’t wish what she’s going through on anyone.

    But if we’re going to talk about being judgmental I will confess that I do judge the distraction that the Internet and technology in general provide. Texting while driving or twittering instead of supervising a small child have obvious potentially negative consequences, but there is a more subtle done damage as well. For example, I watch mothers pushing their youngsters in strollers and shopping carts, all the while absorbed in their cell phone or text messaging and realize these golden opportunities to engage and connect with their child are slipping right through their fingers. It is all too easy to let ourselves lose sight of those right in front of us in favor of those that exist in our computers and telephones – and one way or another, our children leave us all too soon.

    As for the bit about Hicking that you posted, I completely agree. I absolutely believe that the nastier judgmental comments we see in situations like this are nothing more that self-preservation. After all, if I can find fault with something you did which resulted in That Terrible Thing What Happened To You, then I can protect myself from that same fate. The fact that bad things can and do – randomly, even – happen to US and not “other people” is a very uncomfortable thing. No less true, however.

    That said, some things are obviously preventable. Whether the tragedy we’re discussing was preventable or random or not is where the heart of the debate lies.

  • @DMC- certainly, people can take the internet to extremes, but to play Devil’s advocate, those moms you see on their cell phones while pushing their kids in strollers/shopping carts? Yes, kids are only kids once, but you don’t know how the parents are spending the rest of their day. That might be their five minutes of adult conversation all day long, at a time when they feel their kids are safe (strapped in) and otherwise stimulated (watching other people, trees, cars, you name it). Although it seems off-topic to this debate, it’s not. No matter how amazing it is (and it is truly amazing), mothering a toddler is incredibly demanding and isolating. Things need to be done, whether it’s folding laundry or tending to your chicken coop, or even something as selfish as needing a few minutes of adult interaction to break up the day and not go completely batshit insane from forty rounds of throwing all the books on the floor, picking them up, and repeating the task, for example.

    I guess in the end, what it boils down to is, can we learn anything from this? Or are we just judging her so we can smugly tell ourselves we’re better and it would never happen to us (as mentioned above), once again setting impossible-to-attain standards for mothers everywhere? I definitely don’t think attacking people on the internet helps anyone, ever, and I think Madison McGraw deserves a serious kick in the shins.

  • Cyntada says:

    “Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.”

    That seems to explain a lot of trashy behavior. “If it’s her FAULT, and I never do what SHE did, then… that means the tragedy can’t ever happen to ME! Let’s figure out how it must be her fault, because Random=Scary.”

    A fake-fur rabbit foot on your keys probably works just as well, and it’s a lot kinder than defensively trashing those who do suffer from random, tragic things.

  • Jen says:

    @Crabby Apple Seed – THANK YOU for your comment. I know what DMC was getting at, but again with the judging! I am a mom of two under age 3, with a sister three time zones away – so my chance to talk to her is often at the store, or on a walk pushing the stroller (instead of while driving), when the kids are strapped in safely, and happily occupied watching people OTHER THAN ME for the first time all day.

    Anyway. Totally off topic, I know. But had to chime in esp. given the subject at hand.

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