Update: Sarah Kendzior and Liza Long release a joint statement, via Kendzior's website.
Yesterday, a personal essay entitled "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" lit the internet on fire. It was published on the website Gawker, but it originally appeared Friday as an entry on a so-called "mommyblog" called The Anarchist Soccer Mom.
The author is Liza Long, a divorced mother of four living in Boise, Idaho. The subject of the piece is her psychologically disturbed son "Michael" in whom Long sees flickers of Adam Lanza, the gunman in the tragic Newtown massacre.
"I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me," Long writes.
The response to Long was overwhelmingly positive. That is, until a local author and recent Washington University Ph.D. named Sarah Kendzior entered a very different opinion via her own blog: That Long is exploiting her son and has "violent and paranoid fantasies."
Naturally, all hell broke loose.
If you missed it, read Long's piece as it appeared on Gawker here. The basic thesis is that every time she hears about another mass shooting, she fears she is glimpsing her own uncontrollably violent 13-year-old son's future. Here's a passage about committing "Michael" to a psych ward against his will:
For days, my son insisted that I was lying--that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, "I hate you. And I'm going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here."
By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I've heard those promises for years. I don't believe them anymore.
On the intake form, under the question, "What are your expectations for treatment?" I wrote, "I need help."
Kendzior sought out Long's original post on her personal blog, under the considerably less salacious title, "Thinking the Unthinkable," and continued past it, clicking through several year's worth of entries (Kendzior has a long list of credentials, she's contributed to The Atlantic and Al-Jazeera, and has several academic papers under her belt). Then she wrote a post on her own blog, called "Want the Truth Behind 'I Am Adam Lanza's Mother'? Read her blog." Kendzior:
Long has written a series of vindictive and cruel posts about her children in which she fantasizes about beating them, locking them up and giving them away. In most posts, her allegedly insane and violent son is portrayed as a normal boy who incites her wrath by being messy, buying too many Apple products and supporting Obama.
I feel uncomfortable speculating about someone's private life based on a blog. But since these children are likely to be the object of enormous media attention, someone should be paying close attention to the words of their mother.
Read Kendzior's argument for yourself, as paraphrasing takes too much out of context, but she uses as evidence entries in which Long wrote she wanted to "throttle" her kids, stab one in an Abraham-Isaac fantasy, and that as a result of a messy divorce went "stark raving mad."
"These children could be in real danger if her goal was to capitalize on the Newtown tragedy by creating a media campaign designed to give her sympathy," writes Kendzior. "There is a 13-year-old boy who has already had his reputation destroyed and who may be facing serious harm."
It could be that the son obsessed with Apple and Obama is Long's oldest boy, not 13-year-old "Michael." In previous posts about her kids, Long usually uses no name at all so it's hard to say for certain, but the ages roughly match up. And the blog is not free from other mentions of a troubled son, at one point mentioning a parole officer. But do her other writings rise to the level of disturbing or just hyperbolic real-talk from a tired mom?
Many people thought the latter and told Kendzior so, prompting her to write a follow-up to her initial post called "A brief response to Liza Long":
It is hard to dismiss Long's blog as satire or hyperbole, as some commenters have written, when she has threatened to jail her own child. Read in context with her viral post, her previous posts are disturbing and should be taken seriously. Parenting is the hardest thing a person can do, and every parent feels frustration and anger towards their children at some point. But most of us do not blog about it using our child's picture, under our real names. Her child's privacy and reputation have been irrevocably damaged. If he gets the help he needs, he will still have his mother's cruel words following him online for the rest of his life.
What do you think -- is Long an attention-starved mom who used a national tragedy and her child's struggles for internet fame, or is Kendzior overreacting?
Since her second post on the matter, the onslaught on Kendzior has apparently not abated. She subsequently Tweeted that she's receiving death threats. From other mommybloggers:
A mommy blogger sent an email threatening my five-year-old. She knew her name, which I have not made public. Is this mommy blogger culture?— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) December 17, 2012
So basically no matter who you think is right, everyone has officially lost their minds and everything is terrible.
While Kendzior is refusing to do any media about this issue, Long is being trotted out on the network TV circuit next. If there's something amiss with her story, it will come out at some point (hopefully).
Here's her first appearance. Not that it means anything but it is kind of an awkward clip:
Update: Apparently, Liza Long and Sarah Kendzior have spoken and buried the hatchet. Here's a statement that was just posted to Kendzior's site moments ago calling for an end to the "mommy war."
We would like to release a public statement on the need for a respectful national conversation on mental health. Whatever disagreements we have had, we both believe that the stigma attached to mental illness needs to end. We need to provide affordable, quality mental health care for families. We need to provide support for families who have a relative who is struggling.
We both agree that privacy for family members, especially children, is important. Neither of us anticipated the viral response to our posts. We love our children and hope you will respect their privacy.
Our nation has suffered enough in the aftermath of Newtown. We are not interested in being part of a 'mommy war'. We are interested in opening a serious conversation on what can be done for families in need. Let's work together and make our country better.
-Sarah Kendzior and Liza Long