First of all, I should probably congratulate Mark Zuckerberg on becoming a father. And for legit killing it as a new dad on Facebook. Because while we all sit around debating the pros and cons of posting pictures of our kids online, he basically just waltzed right in and started doing it like a boss.
So mad props.
Then again, the dude did develop the code for the site in his Harvard dorm room back when he was just 20, so he pretty much is the boss.
This year, Facebook turned 12. I know this because I read Mr. Zuckerberg's post about it. On Facebook.
"The acts of friendship, love and kindness we all share on Facebook are changing the world every day in ways we can't fully measure," he wrote. True story. Although he probably didn't need me to tell him that.
He also encouraged his followers to share their own life-changing anecdotes with him in the comments, which I thought was pretty dope. So you can probably guess where this is going.
I don't have an epic saga about how I met my husband on Facebook, or about how I was finally reunited with my long-lost twin. My story is much more subtle.
But the impact it's had on my life is not. And it all starts with this picture:
So here goes.
There's this thing that's been making the rounds on Facebook lately that lets you share the first-ever profile pic you posted to the site. Maybe you've seen it?
Anyway, that one up there is mine. And according to Facebook, I posted it on January 8, 2008. A lifetime ago in mom years. And while I don't remember exactly where I first heard about Facebook, what I do remember is the distinct feeling of uncertainty tinged with excitement and perhaps a little fear I felt as I stared at my laptop screen trying to decide if I should hit the "sign up" button or not.
I was 38 at the time with two young kids, one of whom had just turned two. Having long since 86ed my writing career, I spent my days schlepping my then-6-year-old around to preschool, pottery painting and three-hour playdates. Then I'd return home to sort sippy cups, fold socks and pop a squat in my Juicy sweats and start tricking out baby wipe containers with stickers while my little one watched episodes of Caillou and Hi-5 on repeat.
Was there a place for me on Facebook?
Now that parents have basically taken over our timelines, it's hard to recall a day when there weren't many of us on there. But I had been stalking the site for quite a few weeks already, and the only friends I was able to find were the ones who were still single, the ones who still had cool jobs, and the ones who lived in either New York or LA.
What could a suburban mom from Philadelphia possibly have to contribute?
As I sat on the floor of my family room holding a popsicle stick covered in Mod Podge, I felt like my story was basically done. Everything I'd seen and been and accomplished, all the years I spent living as a writer in New York... it all felt like a dream. Something that may have once been real, but had now been erased by the simple act of giving birth and then deciding to settle in as a full-time mom.
Part of me was ok with this. Unlike some of my other mom friends who were ready to blow their brains out, I actually loved being home with my little ones. But then there was the other part of me that so totally wasn't. And in order for you to understand the dichotomy here, I'm gonna need to stop for a sec and rewind.
I moved to New York in January 1992 after dropping out of law school to follow my dream to be a writer. And yes, my parents almost freaking killed me. But I held my ground and spent the next few years climbing the editorial ladder in -- 90s fashion alert! -- velvet chokers, babydoll dresses and Doc Martens, working as an intern or edit assistant everywhere from Elle to Sassy to Men's Health to Us Weekly.
I stuffed envelopes. Picked up dry cleaning. Made about a billion coffee runs. And along the way I picked up a Master's in Journalism at NYU, scored a byline or two, took a job at a small men's fashion magazine, all the while spending countless hours crafting freelance pitch letters that I had to actually print out and send in by snail mail-only to amass what I'm sure is the hugest collection of rejection letters known to man.
But by 1998ish something had finally started to click, and my writing was beginning to get accepted by publications like Self and Cosmo and The New York Post. Editors started calling me for assignments. Or as Ryan Reynolds so perfectly put it in the movie Definitely, Maybe: For the first time since I had moved to New York, the city was beginning to come to me instead of the other way around.
Just in time for me to move to the suburbs and start procreating.
I'll be honest. I was never one of those little girls who played with dolls or dreamt of being a mom. I never ogled other people's babies. Or died over the smell of babies. Or even wanted to hold someone else's baby. In fact, when the first of my friends starting popping them out, I used to dread that inevitable moment when they'd extend out their arms and hand me their crumpled little newborn. Because -- brace yourself -- I didn't want to hold the freaking baby.
But once I had my own babies, everything changed. And while the trend right now may be to denounce the notion that the minute you give birth you will just somehow become magically awash in maternal instinct and an outpouring of love will seep out of your every pore, for me that's kind of the way it happened.
Still, young motherhood in the suburbs -- and probably anywhere, for that matter -- can be alienating. Particularly when you've relocated to another city, quit your job and lost access to all of the people, places and experiences that punctuated your past and made you you. So I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes lie in bed at night and wish I could wake up in my own version of one of those proverbial road-not-taken movies. You know, the ones where the protagonist gets to see what their life would have been like had they chosen a different path?
And that's where Facebook comes in.
For me -- and, I suspect, for many of the other new moms I knew -- what Facebook represented was access. Access to something bigger. Access to something better. Access to something that would take us out of our lives and our homes and our towns and connect us with a greater picture, a different story, a veritable promised land filled with old friends, new jobs and maybe even entirely new lives.
Facebook was the door to that other path.
So I entered my info into the "about" section and clicked "sign up" before I could change my mind.
I spent a long time selecting the picture for my profile page, eventually choosing the one of me in the pink dress from my 35th birthday party because it was the only one I could find where I wasn't with my kids. Because while I loved being a parent, I instinctively knew I didn't want to represent as one on Facebook.
What's clear to me now, eight years later, is how much I was subconsciously struggling to find an identity for myself outside motherhood. There may be no place like home, but let's be honest -- Oz is a pretty cool place to visit from time to time. And signing up for Facebook was like getting a VIP pass to the technicolor party. Instant access to a bright and shiny place filled with strange yet familiar faces who all seemed to be connected in a weird and wonderful way.
Turns out, I liked to share. And Facebook was the virtual watercooler around which I could spew my thoughts on everything from Lauren Conrad's hair braid and the latest episode of Lost, to the fact that my son liked to eat Campbell's chicken noodle soup with his fingers.
Suddenly, I had a community to turn to for real-time conversation. A network of names to reach out to from my past. A place to post the bizarre random thoughts I had when I was stuck home alone all day doing laundry and trying to potty train my kid.
I had never felt less alone.
Then one day, about a year into it, a friend of mine in the magazine industry direct messaged me and told me I should start a blog.
Um. A what?
I had no clue what I was doing. But I signed up for tumblr and just started posting. And my posts managed to find an audience because I shared links to them on Facebook. Some of them even went viral. Which led to writing gigs for sites like this one and Romper and Scary Mommy, which eventually landed me a full-time news writer position at Parents.com.
So now here I am, eight years later, doing what I've always wanted to do: Writing full time for a living again. Only now I get to do it in my pajamas from home.
All because I decided to hit that button back in 2008 and sign up for Facebook.
People can hate on Zuck's creation all they want, but at the end of the day, it's the site he dreamed up in his dorm 12 years ago, just as I was exiting my writing career, that's now responsible for reigniting it.
So at the risk of sounding sappy, I just want to say thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for giving me the gift of access. For opening up a door. For kicking off this wild and amazing ride and letting me accompany you on the journey. Because if it wasn't for you, Mr. Man Behind The Curtain, I'd still be sitting home surrounded by stickers, wondering what my life would have been like on the other path.
Instead I get to strut down that sucker every damn day.
Now what can you do about scoring me a kickass pair of ruby red slippers?