It’s strange, given their intensity, how fleeting human emotions can be. Feelings that are gut-wrenchingly powerful when they first hit, almost always disappear without trace as time passes. My mind now can’t conjure up even a dim imprint of the bone-crushing despair I felt when my post-college boyfriend broke up with me on New Year’s Eve, 1994. The intense devotion for a brewery salesman from Northampton that overcame me a few years later barely even registers as a memory any more, and even the husband-leaving anger that gripped me at 9 o’clock last night over ‘The Matter of The Tax Return’ seems, this morning, like an extract from the therapy session of an unhinged stranger.
But, for some unfathomable evolutionary reason, there is one emotion that doesn’t dwindle even the slightest bit with time, often maintaining total integrity no matter how many decades have gone by. Seemingly the only human feeling that is experienced as keenly after twenty years have passed isn’t anger or love or elation. It’s embarrassment.
There are petty humiliations I suffered in high school that still, when recalled in my late thirties, give me the overpowering impulse to shout “NONONONO!” and hide my burning cheeks under the duvet. I’m confident that when I’m in the old people’s home, drooling in front of the Antiques Roadshow, my brain crumbling with dementia, the memory of the time I bared my 9 year old adoration in a note to Saul Berenstein in a Social Studies lesson and he laughed in my face, will still hold the power to make me crumple and blister with shame.
It wasn’t just the Berenstein moment. I was pretty-much an all round awkward kid. Nowadays, with thirty odd years of accumulated minor embarrassments of torturous haircuts and unrequited crushes lapping at my ankles, the only thing that makes it possible for me to forget, move on, and live a meaningful and productive life is the merciful fact that my mother never wrote a blog.
When I was growing up, WordPress did not yet exist, and so thankfully there is no public record of my years of painful gawkiness. Things will be different for my son’s generation. It’s becoming more and more common for mothers to publish minutely detailed accounts of their children’s daily lives, part of a wider social trend which means that my son and his peers will be the most documented generation in human history. There are an estimated 3.9 million mommy blogs in the US alone and their readership is greater than that of the print editions of the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune combined. It’s a strong possibility that the mother of the next-but-three President of the United States is currently compiling a handy online resource for future voters to check out her potty training record and tantrums policy.
Don’t get me wrong. I love mommy blogs. I follow several, and at their best they can be moving, insightful, hilarious and uniquely honest. It’s a meritocratic writing marketplace that allows the cream to rise to the top far faster than in the mainstream media. I have often been tempted to start one up myself, combining one of my favourite pastimes (writing) with my all time favourite subject (my son.) But so far I’ve resisted that temptation, because, at some level, I feel that to blog about my son would be to write a lengthy unauthorised biography of another person.
At 18 months old, he is unable to consent to such a project, and he has no right of reply or ability to present an alternative view if I get it all wrong. In the future, any attempt to reinvent himself, to appear mysterious to a girlfriend, or hold back embarrassing information from an employer will be thwarted by my bulging archive of his early exploits.
I also know from my career making documentaries, that it’s not just the telling of the stories in the first place, it’s also the way you tell them. A subtle shift in emphasis can alter the whole narrative, and different people’s perspectives on a single event can vary wildly. What may seem like a cute or funny story to me as a mother, could be cripplingly embarrassing to him in the future, his own personal Saul Berenstein moment. Many mommy bloggers manage to pull off the teetering high-wire act of balancing humour, insight and privacy with grace and finesse. They are both better writers and better mothers than I am. I’m just not sure I trust my own judgement enough to get the balance right.
For all of us, our stories define who we are as people. I worry that if I tell my son’s stories for him, I get to decide the official version of not only what happened, but to some extent who he is. And somehow, I don’t feel able to do that.
I want my son to be able to tell his own stories, in his own time, in his own way. And having the privilege of watching the star of his emerging personality burn ever brighter, I know he’s going to have a lot of stories to tell.
What about you? Do you write about your kids? How do you do it? Is there anything you hold back and how do you decide? Would love to hear other peoples’ views.