“I am Adam Lanza’s mother.” The story is (still) unfolding.

First Advent and first candle is lit

Yesterday, along with hundreds of thousands of others, I clicked “like” on Liza Long’s eloquent, compelling, and now notorious “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” blog post, with its searing depiction of life with a violent mentally ill teen. “I love my son. But he terrifies me,” was her memorable summation.

Today, if not predictably then unsurprisingly, I (along with hundreds of thousands of others) awoke to a vitriolic explosion over this same post. The opening salvos came from blogger Sarah Kendzior, who blasted Long’s piece as both dishonest and exploitative.

“Liza Long, the woman who wrote the viral post ‘I am Adam Lanza’s Mother’ is being held up as a heroic woman warranting sympathy for bring [sic] the plight of her mentally ill son to the public. Her blog tells a different story,” is how Kendzior began her own soon-to-be-viral post.

But does it? Does it really?

To make her case, Kendzior points to what she described as “a series of vindictive and cruel posts about her children” in which Long “fantasizes about beating them, locking them up and giving them away.” She also questioned Long’s grasp on reality: “In most posts, her allegedly insane and violent son is portrayed as a normal boy who incites her wrath by being messy, buy too many Apple products and supporting Obama.”

First of all, let me stipulate that I’m of the view that Long’s public airing of her parental frustrations went well over whatever line is relevant to such things. What starts on the Internet stays on the Internet and Michael (or whatever his real name is) is likely to live with the fallout here for a good long time.

But there’s a second line of attack here that strikes me as far more problematic: The notion that Long’s seeming inconsistencies are tantamount to deception. (Slate’s Hanna Rosin—one of many piling onto the Liza Long backlash—went so far as to call her “an imposter,” pointing to the blog as evidence that she is “not to be trusted.”)

Maybe. Maybe not.  In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we tell our stories – in part because I just taught a college seminar where (as I talk about here) this was a central theme. And this is what I think. Or rather, this is what I know: Finding the storyline in trauma tends to take a lot of time.

I have no trouble – no trouble at all – imagining a mother in Long’s position crafting a story where her troubled son is a normal boy. A difficult boy. A challenging boy. But normal, all the same. And I have no trouble imagining how this story could evolve – how a violent tragedy of epic proportions could abruptly catapult her into a place where everything has changed.

Our stories—like our lives—are works in progress. For those of us who choose to share them publicly, there are gifts and there are dangers. It isn’t always clear which path is the right one. But making an unwise choice here doesn’t mean we’re lying.

At the top of Liza Long’s personal blog there’s now a joint statement from her and Kendzior asking the blogosphere to cease and desist from the cyber free-for-all. It carries this preface from Long: “Many of you have seen Sarah’s excellent blog in the past few days. I think she makes some important points about children’s privacy. We have been in contact, and I am truly impressed with her professionalism and her concern for children.” That strikes me as a response of uncommon grace – and a good reminder that we’re all far more than the stories that define us.

© 2012, amy gutman. All rights reserved.

18 thoughts on ““I am Adam Lanza’s mother.” The story is (still) unfolding.

  1. All fiction is lying. None of it is true, although it may state truths.

  2. But what are your feelings about her son’s privacy? I continue to be astounded by people offering up every bit of their children’s lives to complete strangers. Whether she is telling rational, objective truth or not, her son must bear more of the burden than her, both in what others think, and in knowing that he has a mother who talks about him and kvetches about him in the public arena. How does that affect him? Think about what effect it would have on your child if you walked up to a random stranger at the checkout line and compared your child to a mass killer.

    • As I say in the post, I think she crossed a line on the privacy issue. I’m not condoning or defending that, except to say that we’re all fallible. She was dealing with tremendous stress, and most of us don’t make our best decisions in that situation, or necessarily think everything through as well as we might. Thanks for reading!

      • Yes, but the discussion after the sixth paragraph seems to make the (explicitly stated in the sixth) amorphous line even more amorphous. The ninth and tenth are the ones that seemed to me to muddy your earlier statement. You think deeply on this subject – so, again, what about the child’s right to privacy? This seems to me a fundamental problem with the contemporary nature of social media and how and whether parental confessional reflection is proper in this medium. Although you focus on the issue of “lying” in the attacks on Long, you come back to the issue of the publicly shared considered life and tacitly accept it as valid for parents. Where exactly, then, do you advise bloggers about parenthood to draw the line with regard to their children’s privacy? As parents, our children are essential to our identities and examination of self. However, a Facebook or blog post is not the same thing as flipping out photos at the water cooler and talking with friends or neighbors in days of yore. Not only is it durable (as you mention), but it is exercised de facto in front of at least some proportion of strangers. I remain both curious and dubious about this dissipation of familiarity and its longterm effects on actual, physical relationships. I’m only querying at length, because I was aghast when I saw the original post on a colleague’s Facebook stream and when I came across your post, it seemed to me that your writing on it is well measured.

  3. I have largely stayed away from the media blitz over this event, so I missed this fracas. Thanks Amy for a reasoned summation.

    Thinking of this post in light of your previous post on failure, two things come to mind. First, something published cannot be un-published, generally speaking (unless you live in Stanlinist Russia or somewhere like that). So a misstep in published writing can be a huge failure that will take time to move past (don’t the college papers of Supreme Court nominees come back to haunt them?).

    Second, and more deeply, speaking as a parent, there is no greater fear than the fear of failing as a parent. To feel that you have brought some monster into the world must be a horrible thing to live with. Clearly, Adam Lanza’s mother paid the ultimate price for her failure. It is only reasonable that a parent would want to fight the demons and save their child.

  4. I was rather shocked when I read the “rebuttal” to the original post, because I saw none of what Kendzior saw. I saw in Long’s blog someone who writes a lot like, well, me – with hyperbole, over-the-top stuff for emphasis, things that one isn’t meant to take as gospel truth (e.g. Long writing about wanting to strangle her kids or some such stuff). I worry about what someone who looks at MY blog might think if they don’t read it with the right tone in mind.

    As for Long’s article? Yeah, that resonated, deeply. I have a friend who has a son who’s just 6, and he has already shown much scary behavior, including violence. She’s trying to find meds that’ll work for him without so many crappy SEs…..but I know we all worry about what could happen when he gets older, and bigger, and stronger.
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  5. Thanks for this post, Amy. You make excellent points. Thanks too for bringing my attention to the controversy over Long’s post. I read Long’s post yesterday, but have stayed away from the internets today and did not know that there was any controversy about it. I haven’t read the backlash yet — I am not sure that I will — but I can’t help but wonder: what if Long does live in fear of her son and is unable to get him the help that he needs, what if her story is more “truth” than not? Despite the issues with child privacy, families and society need to be better at recognizing — and treating — mental illnesses. I have concerns about how we silence those with mental illness and their families by shame, by ignoring the situation, by lack of adequate health care resources, in our schools, in our churches, in our neighborhoods and homes. Mental illness is not being “different”. Perhaps by stating that she is Adam Lanza’s mother, Long has move one step further away from being so.

  6. Amy, so important. Thank you. Whether or not Liza Long’s story is true, there are so many parents out there in these situations. I was a public school teacher for 10 years, and I had several elementary students who may have grown up to be like Adam Lanza. These are very real people.

    I am so glad you pointed out that people’s stories – like our lives – are works in progress.

  7. Dear Amy,
    This is a good meditation on story and truth, but also an illustration of the endless Escher-like maze of the blogosphere. If I recommended your piece on my blog, it would be a blog, about a blog, about a blog responding to a blog that responded to her blog.

    Obviously we all would like this many eyeballs and responses, and certainly her original post got picked up on CNN and other news outlets. But at what point does the general public get past the headlines of it all — the “honesty” and then the “outrage” and make the kind of reasoned thinking that you espouse here? I feel like your place in the news cycle is sadly after the circus has left town, and more reasonable people have to pick up after the elephants.

    Nice post, I mean.

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