“So you’re really blowing up on Instagram. How are you doing with that?” my sister asked cautiously.
I was sweating underneath a towering metal power line in the Virginia mountains when she called, just 2.8 miles separating me from a much needed shower, Pizza Hut and overdue Zero day in Daleville. Something in my sister’s voice made her question sound more like my dog had just died, rather than my Instagram account exploding to 11.2k followers.
“Uh, fine? Why do you sound like that? How am I doing with what, exactly?”
“Oh nothing,” she said quickly, trying to brush it off, change the subject. I had zero clue what she was referring to, but now I had to know, so I pressed her until she mumbled, “Just some comments on Facebook, there were only two! And poor Mom…”
Let’s go back to last week, when Instagram contacted me with a few questions about my thru-hiking adventure and asked if I would like to be featured on their blog, noting that, “features can drive significant traffic which has the result of quickly increasing someone’s follower base by quite a lot.” When I was Freshly Pressed by WordPress last year, I experienced the same thing, a couple hundred new followers, and it was great; I sort of figured this would be similar. Why not, really?
So I very carefully answered nine thoughtful questions and sort of forgot about it until I turned my phone on a few days ago and it immediately started having seizures. SO. MANY. NOTIFICATIONS. At first it was fun, watching the number of followers grow from 430 to over 2100. I posted a Facebook status update about my new “fame” because, I mean, it was sort of cool, watched the number grow a little more, and then blinked, shook my head, quickly realized I was just staring at my phone, alone in my tent, and I was hungry, so I went out to join Emily (who had long ago become bored with the number tally) for a nice hot bowl of spicy ramen dinner.
When I turned my phone on the next morning, I had over 10k new followers.
I still hadn’t read the feature, I didn’t even know where it was posted or how to find it, which is why I was so confused when Tessa called, mentioning “the comments,” because everyone on my Facebook page had been extremely positive and kind and awesome, just like FB friends are supposed to be. Because they know me (debatable, I know) and for the most part, they know my story.
Enter: Internet Strangers
See, I grew up with the Internet. I had an AOL account in 6th grade. I know how easy it is to shoot off your mouth, post immediate, reactionary comments to things you see or read; how easy it is to hide behind your computer screen while you type these things, how mean people are, how ignorant and ridiculous the cyber world is, how vicious the cycle can get, and how silly it is to try to stop it…or worse, to reason with it.
But my wonderful mother didn’t grow up in this world. She uses the Internet for truly pure things, weather forecasts, keeping in touch with her family, sharing pretty pictures. She’s never had a reason to be a part of the cruel side. So, being the proud mother she is, she reposted Instagram’s blog featuring me, reading every new comment with pride…until she started seeing some not-so-nice things, things she knew, as my mother, to be very false. And she was truly shocked. And hurt. So she started replying to every not-so-nice-comment, defending her dear daughter from the cruel reality of the Internet, like an angry cat, backed into a corner, back arched, claws out, hisses for all.
Hey Internet World, you don’t have to like me, and I don’t really care what you say about me, BUT YOU LEAVE MY MOTHER ALONE.
Immediately after I learned she was furiously defending my honor against the Evil People on FB, taking no prisoners, while I was happily bounding up and down the beautiful Virginia ridge line, thinking deeply about how many pieces of pizza I could eat and still have room for an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s (four pieces of pizza, five pieces of cheesy bread), I called my mom and told her she could stop, thanking her for being the best Mom.
While I am 100% aware of how pointless it would be for me to respond directly to these interesting comments, some of them are simply too good not to share. And since it’s very hard for me not to have thoughts on some of these well-posed, well-informed, extremely entertaining comments and questions, I’ll share those too.
Besides, I can’t leave my Mom all alone in that corner.
Tonya, Sean, Tessa!! Did you hear that?! Great news! We’re trust fund kids! If my Dad were a Facebook kind of guy, this would have definitely made him LOL. I had an amazing childhood, but it wasn’t fancy. We basically grew up in a three bedroom trailer home without the wheels and without the park. I shared a bed with my sister until I was in 6th grade and a room until I was 18 (which yes, explains the severe separation anxiety we experience when we leave each other.) My brother was able to move up from the concrete basement with no windows and join the rest of the family only after my oldest sister went off to college, a college which she paid for, like all of us kids did, the first generation of Kowalski’s to get a college education.
We did not receive an allowance; my dad owned a ServiceMaster at the time, in which we were on the payroll as soon as we were legally able. We earned money cleaning hospital toilets, and elementary school toilets, and car dealership toilets (which I especially enjoyed because I could swipe the chromies from the cars and put them on my sweet bike…sorry Dad. I think that’s technically stealing.) One time my parents visited me when I was student-teaching in Milwaukee (read: working 70 hours a week for no money) and my Dad did open my fridge to look for something to eat, and upon finding only a cucumber, offered to not only take me out to dinner, but to take me to Sam’s Club for a resupply. It was super generous, but I don’t think that quite reaches Trust Fund Kid status.
So if I have a trust fund that you are holding out on, “Mommy and Daddy,” I could really use it to pay off my remaining $26,585 of student loans from six years of undergrad and graduate school.
In other words, I pay the bills, I buy my food, I sleep in a tent. Yes I quit my job, and it actually wasn’t that long ago that I might have been just as confused as you as to how any of this is possible. But I had a goal, a dream, and I had to change my life to get to where I wanted to be. I started making smarter financial decisions, smarter life choices. It wasn’t magic. It didn’t happen to me. I made it happen. Well, Eric, that seriously sucks. I am truly sorry about your unfortunate childhood; if you knew me, you would know I definitely don’t think everyone is cut out to be a parent. I’m 34, and many of those years were spent in a constant struggle with the giant Menu of Life. I made the decision to not have children years ago, because I know myself, and I fear I would be more like your mother; I still have so much growing up to do. I am not ready to be a parent. That’s sort of the beautiful thing about life though…much of it is a result of the choices we as individuals make. You often get to choose your own adventure. And this is mine. So here we are, living out our life choices (unless you were forced into marriage, or wrongfully impregnated), but only one of us seems unhappy with those choices. And there’s not a whole lot I can do about that.
Because I like analogies and such, I liken your comment to me commenting on a parenting blog, one maybe about how a mother’s life was changed by experiencing the unconditional love she feels for her child. And after reading it, I comment, “But what about those people who don’t have children to love!?!? What about us, huh?”
Or more simply, as my mom kindly mentions, I have no children. I have no husband. I left no one behind, because I have no one to leave. I am so. Utterly. Alone. *sigh*
I hear ya, Mashall. I hear ya. Cute dog in your profile pic though. Uh…Welllll…technically I am not homeless because I carry a tent on my back, but I will be honest, I’ve had those, but WHERE WILL I SHOWER panic moments after too many days out in the mountains.
Even my mom is clearly getting bored at this point. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a jerk, but I sort of feel that being able to take a mini-life retirement at 33 means that I’ve already “made it” in the real world…am I not actually sort of crushing it? In any case, Jackie’s attitude is kind of everything I hate about the American mentality. Work, work, work, instead of Live, Live, Live. Kudos to Tara and Michelle for seeing things from a different perspective.
Simply put, I have a great life. I know this. I realize how fortunate I am. I understand that so many people have so many more hurdles to jump over to get to where they want to be in life. I get that not everyone wants the same thing. But I also know that some people create their own obstacles, construct their own hurdles.
The Instagram feature skimmed the surface of a very tiny portion of my life, and that tiny portion apparently rubbed some folks the wrong way. I’m okay with that. I believe in my choices. I love where I am, and I know that I’m here because I bushwhacked my way through that other fork in the road to get here.
That’s good enough for me.