Parenting

Be Careful What you Google

After fifteen years of up-all-night gay disco dance parties, Sean O’Donnell and his longtime partner Todd decided to trade in their leather chaps for mom jeans and start a family. In August 2012 the not-so ambiguously gay duo walked into a Pittsburgh-based adoption agency and said, “We’d like a child, please.” Which One of You is the Mother? is the story of how two gay guys finally met the two kids who were always meant to be their sons. This is a book that celebrates a different kind of family who just happens to be like every other family on the block. Only gayer. And funnier.

The following is an excerpt from Sean Michael O’Donnell’s book Which One of You is the Mother?  It is available on Amazon.


The day we brought Chris home from Oregon I had one thought and one thought only: I need to delete the browser history on the computer. I briefly considered throwing away our old desktop and starting fresh with a new updated porn-free model, but that sounded expensive so instead I hit the delete button and introduced myself to the incognito window.

The internet changed the world. It connected us in ways we never imagined. It introduced us to a virtual world of infinite knowledge. It gave us YouTube celebrities and cat videos. It killed the encyclopedia. I love the internet. I spend hours each day watching cat videos looking at porn taking Buzzfeed quizzes enriching my mind.

The internet also made adoption easier. With a few clicks of the mouse I was able to view adoption databases all over the country. I could look at photos of waiting Inuit children in Alaska and then read about a sibling group in Texas. I could connect with caseworkers who otherwise would have no idea I existed. Without the internet I doubt our information ever would have made it to Chris’s caseworker in Oregon and then where would we be.

So I’m not going to talk smack about the internet, except I am.

Before you have children the internet is a limitless utopia, an adult playground where anything and everything is possible. But after you have kids the internet is basically an unexploded grenade in the shape of big chocolate candy bar with a sign on it that says Don’t Eat Me.

Every time Chris asks if he can go on the internet I experience what I imagine a stroke must feel like. My right arm goes numb, a sharp pain shoots through my brain, I forget how to breathe, everything goes dark and then twenty minutes later I wake up in a puddle of urine wearing my mother-in-law’s wedding dress. Chris once asked me if we could Google pictures of bears. Five seconds later the screen was flooded with images of hairy middle-aged men. A few months later when he asked if he could see a photo of a baby inside the womb I thought it would be educational. But here’s the thing: if you Google baby in the womb you still get the beaver shot.

I learned my lesson by the time we got to Elijah. He loves to say the word wiener. It makes him laugh. He calls me a wiener, he calls Chris a wiener, he calls his wiener a wiener. Elijah said Todd lived in Wienertown (he wishes!) and when Chris wondered if there was an actual place called Wienertown, Elijah suggested we look online. I don’t think so, I thought. (For the record, I could not find a town named Wienertown. I did however discover that Wienertown is urban slang meaning “sausage fest; a place with a lot of men, particularly homosexual men.)

We finally gave in and allowed Chris to have email. We set up the account, including the password, and told Chris we would be monitoring it and periodically reading the correspondence. For the first few days he would just email Todd and me. How are you? I’m fine. Can I play Minecraft? No. What are you doing? Sitting next to you.

Eventually he started communicating with his classmates. We checked in with him and the messages were benign. Everything seemed to be going well. I was proud of the way Chris was handling this new responsibility. And then the school called. Unbeknownst to us, he and a boy in his class had been on video chat the night before. During the chat, they had dared one another to take off their shirts. The back-and-forth dares escalated from there. Chris told a teacher about the incident the next day at school and now the teacher was calling to tell me.

We should have been more vigilant. We had been naïve and we hadn’t provided enough supervision. We deleted the account and the school had Chris and the other boy watch a video on internet safety. Of course it’s impossible for us to continue the internet ban forever. Eventually he will need it for school or he will seek it out on his own accord or he’ll turn 16 and realize we can’t control his every move. One way or another he will find the internet.

We worry about internet predators. We worry about our children being exposed to inappropriate materials or sexually explicit websites. We worry that our best just won’t be enough. We can set parental controls. We can restrict their access to devices. We can encourage them to make the best choices. Still, we can’t watch them 24/7. We can’t know what happens when they leave our four walls. As much as we might want, we can’t force them to live inside a hermetically sealed bubble.

One day the internet will introduce them to the past. It took me all of three minutes to find the boys’ birth parents on social media. It was strange to see my children’s eyes staring back at me from the faces of these strangers who had made them. Within the hour I had located siblings, grandparents, the whole family tree. All of these people I had never met who were connected to my children. I could read their tweets, see their Facebook posts, scroll through their photos on Instagram. And for $4.99 more I could access their criminal records.

It used to be that children were adopted and that was the end of it. The past was the past. Records were sealed. Old connections were severed. But now nothing is final. The past lives in a search engine. A record of every word and image catalogued in a virtual world of things best left in yesterday. It’s not that I want to keep the past from my children, I just want them to be old enough to face it.

But what happens when the past finds them? Because it will. There are no more six degrees of separation. Social media has changed the rules of the game. We are both separated and connected by a single profile. One day the past will come knocking on our door in the form of an instant message or a friend request. It may be from a curious long-lost aunt or a well-meaning sibling. It may be from the ghost of a birth parent they never knew. There are rules, but the past may not respect the rules.

I cannot control the past. I cannot rewrite the past. I cannot edit out the parts I don’t like. The past is unchangeable. The past is part of my children.

For now we use the internet to discover the good parts of their stories. Chris is Native American, a descendant of a small tribe in Northern California with less than 4000 living members. When he had questions about his heritage we turned to the internet to explore his ancestry. The answers gave him roots. And just as we had a story before him, he had a story before us.

For now there is no email, no Facebook, no unsupervised Google searches. For now my children are five and nine years old. For now we use the internet to check the weather in West Virginia and Oregon. For now we live in the present. The past will still be there tomorrow.

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2 Comments

  1. I never want my 4 year old to learn to google things… and yet she can turn on the IPad and skype the grandparents without my help. Yikes!

  2. Pingback: The coolest tech links for parents from around the web!

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