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.

On experiencing moments instead of just recording them…

Yesterday’s birthday celebration went swimmingly — Mitzi enjoyed the presents we gave her, was thrilled to get so many cards and phone calls from loved ones, and seemed to really love the cake I made for her. I took this picture just after I finished, in case someone spilled it on the floor or something:

Purse Cake

I carried it into the kitchen as we sang the birthday song, and as soon as I put it in front of her I reached for my camera. FAIL. The battery was dead. So I snapped a few ones with my phone, but none came out well, because I’m rather a doofus when it comes to taking pictures with my phone. I lamented on Facebook (where else?) and a friend reminded me that we survived our childhoods without every moment being captured in pictures. And, of course, she is absolutely right.

Not long ago there was a piece on the Huffington Post by a mom about how she started getting herself into the pictures with her children. The blog post garnered a lot of readers, unsurprisingly, since, I think, most moms find themselves mostly taking pictures of their kids and are usually not in any pictures themselves.

This is also true of me — while searching for a baby picture of Mitzi to share yesterday, I started slogging through a lot of old photos. Many are filed in a huge document, where they’d been transferred to from a now-defunct web site where I’d shared them with family. I do not have any other copies — I’ve been through two hard drive crashes and had not backed up either time. (I finally got an external hard drive, yes, slow learner that I am.) Because the individual photos are not labeled, it took me forever to find the one I wanted, so last night I sat down to start transferring everything into iPhoto so I wouldn’t have to repeat my suffering in a few weeks when Cooper has his birthday.

And I realized that I am in virtually none of the pictures. So maybe that’s something I’ll start trying in the future, so my kids don’t look back on their childhood and say, “Um, Mom? Where were you all this time?”

But the other thing I’d like to do is remember that not every moment needs a picture. I mean, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Don’t just step in front of the camera, put it down entirely. Participate in the moment, which will never happen again. If you look at your life, at your beloved, at your children, at the world around you entirely through the lens or via the flat screen of your smart phone, you lose the chance to actually experience what’s happening. You might get a picture of the unexpected hug between two formerly bickering siblings, and it will be cute and everyone in your social media world will say so, but from behind a camera you are not engaged in that moment, not truly.

So put the camera down. Watch the small miracles unfurl in front of you, let them fill you up so much that it spills over to those around you. Live the experience instead of cataloguing it.

And the memory that remains will be more permanent than a digital rendering. I guarantee.