The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Friday, January 27, 2006

Note to Julia: if your milk doesn't come in, maybe you should try yeast

We used to make audio tapes for far-away family members all the time when I was growing up. Long distance calls were still expensive and video cameras were not yet a household item, but tape recorded messages were a great way to stay connected in between visits. We never realized at the time that we might be making a kind of time capsule.

"Your father brought a tape back from his visit with your grandmother last week," my mom told me on the phone the other night. "You and Dan are just Julia and Evan's ages on it, and it's amazing how much you sound like Julia. We'll play it for you the next time we see you."

That conversation triggered a memory for me, and a few hours after my mother and I hung up, I found myself rooting around my attic trying to track it down. I had suddenly remembered that my Aunt Margie had sent me one of these old audio tapes on my birthday a few years ago. I was a single young adult at the time she sent it to me, and I still recalled how much of a kick it was to hear myself as a young kid. Did I still have that tape? I finally located my old tape collection in a stack of boxes in the corner of the attic. And there, in the piles of music long since abandoned for CDs, I found what I was looking for.

We turned the cassette on in Evan's room, since he has the only stereo in the house that still plays tapes, and the wail of a baby immediately filled the room. "That's your Uncle Dan," I told Julia as her eyes widened with surprise. Minutes later, my 2 1/2 year old voice appeared, chattering away about playdates and friends and the things that I liked to do on the swingset outside. With a little coaxing from my mother, I sang Happy Birthday to my uncle, named the children in my playgroup ("I'm having twouble thinking," I told my mother at one point when she had prompted me too much) and described my favorite dinner (pork chops... now how on earth did my mother get a toddler to eat pork chops?).

The look on Julia's face was a priceless combination of amusement and bewilderment. She knew in theory that I'd once been a kid, but she couldn't quite wrap her mind around the fact that the little girl with the high pitched voice and the lisp was her mother. She was clearly every bit as entranced by what she was hearing as I'd been a few years earlier when I first received the tape. But this time, it was the message from my mother to her sister on the flip side of the tape that captivated me the most.

There was nothing remarkable about my mother's words, recorded in a rare quiet moment while both Dan and I were napping. She was having some luck increasing her milk supply with yeast, and she appreciated the extra nursing bras her sister had sent. Dan seemed to be teething and she thought he might cut his first tooth at 4 months, though my dad said it would be 5. He had seemed to be nearing a schedule, but after 3 cat naps that day, she was less sure he was headed in the right direction. He liked prunes. The hand-me-down snow suit and clothes that had come in the same box as the nursing bras looked brand new and would be well loved at our house. I was getting increasingly independent and seemed notably more mature than other kids in my playgroup, but I still tended to be whiney and clingy when we were at home.

The things that she talked about were the same kinds of things she might have said in a phone conversation, had the aforementioned clingy kids and tight budgets not made chatty long distance calls a rarity. But as I listened to that tape, I found myself so incredibly grateful that the era and circumstances had led her to record her thoughts and day-to-day experiences in that way. Because in that younger, yet still familiar voice, I heard myself in my mother and my mother in myself. Young kids. Long days at home. Clingy little girls and hand-me-down snowsuits. A mirror image spanning 30 years.

I've always said that one of the reasons I'm keeping this blog is so that my kids can read it some day, but I've also wondered on more than one occasion whether they'll ever really be interested in all of this. Listening to my mother's recorded thoughts from so many years ago, I thought about the digital recording that I've got here and I suddenly knew for sure. They're going to want it. I was captivated by that cassette because for the brief time that it was rolling, my mother and I were peers. I wanted to commiserate with her about sleepless nights and compare notes about parenting mature little girls. I wanted to learn more about this yeast trick and I wanted to pick her brain about ways to convince toddlers to eat pork chops. And I couldn't wait to sit down and blog about the way I was feeling so that some day my kids could be captivated by it, too. My mother. Me. Someday, Julia and Evan. A peer group that spans three generations and three times as many decades, brought together by universal experience and the power of recorded words.


At 11:24 PM, Blogger Rosemary said...

I think that must be so wonderful to have your loved one's voices on tape. I woke up this morning dreaming of my Grandmom (probably the dog snuggling me in bed like I used to snuggle Grandmom -- and wouldn't she just love that comparison!). It was such a delicious memory / dream of my Grandmother. I grasped at that dream as it billowed away with the clamor of morning.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Laurie said...

This is the subject of an amazing This American Life episode that you might like--it's from 1996, and you can listen to it in RealAudio here. I used to laugh at parents who videotaped every second, but now it's amazing to me to look at photo albums and try to assemble the first ten years of my life.

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Oh good - justification for all of the time I spend with the video camera! ;) Really, this *is* interesting to me though. I've heard others say they blog for their children (in the future) as well, and to be honest, I have doubts as to whether future generations will really be all that interested. I know I'd appreciate an old letter or two from my own mother but I'm not sure I'd sit down to read years worth of blog posts. Then again...after reading this, I think I just might.

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Kristy said...

My father used to "tape" his letters to my mother when he was at war. In turn, we used to "tape" to my extended family members when we were overseas. Letters are pleasant, audio and video tape are wonderful. Only time will tell where this medium will fall in the range.

At 9:20 PM, Blogger Dana said...

Every now and then we dig out the video of Danielle and Iain as a baby. They, along with us, are captivated by what transpires on the television.

Great post.


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