Beyond Folklore — When a 13 Year Old Googles Family History

It never occurred to me that any of my kids would reach beyond family folklore to learn about their history, but I guess in this age of technology and immediacy it was inevitable.

This past weekend, Mitzi Googled her great-grandfather, Tony Mottola, and printed out about 2 dozen pages of condolences and comments from a Frank Sinatra forum after news of his death in 2004, written by folks who were huge fans of my grandpa.

I mean, I know how much he meant — to us, to music — but for the first time, I think my daughter understood that Papa Tony was actually and for real a legendary guitarist. Not just the person who made hand-lettered signs on posterboard for her arrival at the house on Lenape Island in New Jersey, and always had a balloon for her, and the living room always had a spinny chair to ride until it made you nauseated, and always, always there was some candy in a thick plastic container on the living room table.

She might have learned that he was not just the person who was married to Grandma Mitzi (yes! who my daughter was named for!) who had far fewer pages of condolences when she died in 2009, but impacted everyone she met. My daughter might have learned that he was not just the great-grandpa who had a set of chimes on the living room table and some thick-fabric mallets to play them with — though maybe now she knows that those oh-so-old chimes (now at her great aunt’s house) played the NBC (oh, let’s call it a ring) tone, and maybe now she knows that the house on Lenape Island had those chimes because her great-grandpa for years played in the Tonight Show Band on NBC with Johnny Carson, and was more than once a featured performer on that show. She might have also learned that weird fun fact that Lenape Island, where my grandparents lived, was shaped like a guitar. (FOR REAL.)

I don’t know what happened to those printouts, but I suspect they are tucked away in that special space in her room that 13 year olds are likely to have, to be looked at from time to time. Next week, next year, years from now? I like to think that some day, her son or daughter will find them and ask, what? And Mitzi will tell a story. Then another. Then they will be stories of his love for grandma, for the first Mitzi, and all she was, without the fame and the albums and the fan sites, the stories of family and home and love, with Tony and Mitzi and their kids, one of whom became my mother, Mitzi’s grandma, and the other three children, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, their children, and all of our stories, and then there will be more learning, more stories, more memories to be tapped, written into heartbeats, hugged into matter. And, yes, there will be that thing about Papa Tony being a famous guitarist and all of that, but by them my Mitzi will have learned what my siblings and cousin knew but didn’t realize until we were grown up — that for all the fame and recognition, what Tony and Mitzi cared about the most was family.

And eventually, what my daughter (what all my kids will tell), what my first-born will tells her children will be all the stories that she can think of, balloons, candy, love, family, and all the small details she is finally starting to hear and remember, the stories that are the foundation of our family, which no one but us cares to document on any site able to be Googled.

Are there more stories? You betcha. On beyond Google, this family’s history awaits my children, and those that follow.

Those tucked-away printouts? Just the beginning.

Turning into your mother? Why the inevitable is not so bad, after all.

Far more than wrinkles, sagging boobs and loss of flexibility, it seems women everywhere have one giant fear: turning into their mother. 

You know you’ve heard the words from your friends, or uttered them yourself: Oh my god, I canNOT believe it, I sound just like my mother! Or, Please just kill me if you ever see me doing THAT! Or, Help, I’m becoming just like HER!

There are books devoted to the subject, every May women’s magazines and newspapers alike rehash the topic, and if you Google the phrase “turning into Mom”, you’ll get thousands of hits.

Everywhere the very idea of being Mom is mocked, reviled. You may not wear Mom jeans, have Mom hair, observe a practical Mom bedtime. Shame on you if you do.

Ours is a youth-obssessed society; that’s certainly no newslfash. Because “Mom” is somehow synonymous with “old”, women seem desperate to avoid the title, unless it comes attached to a perfectly posed black-and-white image of peaceful Mom cuddling sleeping infant. You can be a Mom, but you can’t look or behave like one.

I don’t get it.

I understand that there are plenty of women out there who grew up with deeply flawed mothers, and that the very idea of turning into that parent — that women — is more than distasteful. It’s downright horrifying. I’m not talking about them.

I’m talking about the rest of us. And, believe me, there was a time when I was much younger, that I would cringe whenever someone teased me, saying my words or actions were just like my mother’s. After all, like everyone, I wanted to be me, to be an individual, to be my own person.

But that’s youth. That’s when we’re supposed to flail and search and find a path to becoming ourselves.

Then we grow up a little and realize that particular journey of self is never-ending. At the same time, we figure out that parts of us are immutable — and reflecting our parents is one of those parts.  This article in Psychology Today explores how neuroscience and genetics can help explain this, and offers some insight regarding ways we can alter our Mom “genes” to shape our own relationships.

On the other hand, maybe we don’t want to, not entirely. These days, when someone compares me to my mother, I’m flattered. She is, of course, a flawed human being, as we all are (no, I will not count the ways either of us makes mistakes), but overall, I could do much, much worse than to emulate her — with my own flair, of course.

I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and see a bit of her face etched on mine. When someone doesn’t arrive home when I expect them to, I pace in front of the windows, lips pursed, pretending not to be worried and failing miserably. And while I don’t yet say, “Oh, good Lord,” I have been known to utter a few “Jesus, Mary and Joseph”s from time to time.

I hope I have inherited the good stuff too, her endless generosity and unconditional love. Her daily attitude: “When you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, step out from under it and do something kind for someone else. Lo and behold, just that extension of kindness will lighten your burden, free up your shoulders, and make your world feel a little brighter.” The way she calls me, almost every day at the same time, and doesn’t get upset when I can’t get to the phone. The way she is plunging forward in retirement to immerse herself in her new passions of art and music.

Every day, as I settle a little bit further into who I am, I can’t help but notice the phantom reach of the women who helped me get here — not just my own mother, but my grandmother too, and my aunts, and friends’ mothers — I can’t help but feel the arms that held me and guided me, even when I was fighting against them. They are not me, but they are a part of who I am.

As I’m writing this, I’m wearing a pair of old jeans. You might call them Mom jeans. I’m also wearing my long house sweater — my Mom sweater?

Turning into Mom?

Things could be worse.