I made a giant mistake today. Actually, it was a tiny mistake, but it felt like a giant one to me. It felt bad.
But let me back up a minute, first.
I mostly talk, in this space, about deliberate business decisions related to my career as a freelance writer. I don’t talk about my personal blog all that much because, honestly, while the personal blog certainly opened the doors that allowed me to make a career out of writing, my personal blog isn’t “work.” I make very little money from it, and other than a handy sort of living portfolio, it doesn’t figure into my professional life nearly the way almost everything else does. When I’m talking about “making my living as a writer,” that’s not what I’m talking about.
On the other hand, the personal blog is how it all started, and it’s where I’ve been writing the longest, and it’s (arguably) what I’m most “known” for, so it’s not unimportant. And I’ve been writing there coming up on nine years, so it’s all old hat for a pro like me, right?
I use pseudonyms for my children on my personal blog. As I recently explained to someone who asked me about that, I would never presume to say what boundaries make sense for other people, but for me, my decision—from the beginning of my online life—was to not share my children’s names or pictures. Those are the boundaries that make sense to me.
Today I shared a text exchange I’d recently had with my teenage daughter, and before writing about it on the blog, I did screen captures of the whole discussion, went into Photoshop and stitched them together into a single graphic, and very carefully changed the title bar (which displayed her real name) graphic to “Chickadee” (her blog name) before posting it to my blog. This sort of thing is second nature to me; I am always careful to remove any trace of real names before I post.
And then, somehow, someone asked me a question in the comments and I commented back and was careful to use pseudonyms when discussing something my son said, and then I got up from my computer for 20 minutes or so and came back to multiple emails asking me if I’d meant to use my kid’s real name in my comment. My stomach roiled as I clicked over to the comments and realized that somehow, after all this time, I had somehow messed up. I changed the transgression back to a pseudonym and realized that in three name mentions in that comment, I had somehow only gotten two of the three right, initially.
I sat at my desk feeling positively sick. That’s ridiculous, in and of itself, because… it’s not that big of a deal, right? I don’t know why it upset me so much, except that I’ve consciously shielded my children in this way for years, and to think that I possibly undid some of that with a careless error was upsetting. But it’s not like I accidentally posted our home address or a giant photo of my children in front of their school (maybe complete with a “come stalk me here” sign?) or anything. Plus, all in all, the error was posted for maybe twenty minutes. (Though I did go into my oft-neglected stats tracker to reassure myself that surely not a lot of people caught it, and… that was not reassuring. Sometimes having pretty good traffic is not comforting.)
So I beat myself up internally and freaked out a little bit and then, once sanity began to return, I realized something kind of neat.
First, let’s go back to boundaries—I would never presume that someone else’s choice to share their children’s names is bad or wrong or dangerous or anything like that. It’s simply that my boundary has always been not to do that.
Next, let’s remember how I found out I messed up—my readers told me. Several of them alerted me, and all of them did so with some concerned variation of, “I don’t think you meant to put that there….” My readers, knowing (and respecting) my boundaries, were kind and helpful. The one whom I mailed back with an, “OH CRAP! Fixed. I can’t believe I was so stupid,” even responded to assure me that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself and probably not many people noticed.
So I did a stupid thing, but I learned that my assumption of community and relative goodwill amongst my readers is well-founded. Silver lining! But I’m still going to be more careful in the future.