The 140 Character Childhood

My childhood is lost in the fuzzy shadows of family memory. There’s the tale of the time I put my baby sister in a laundry basket to play hide and seek and then forgot her there. The day I got my hair caught in the tire swing at preschool. There are a few artifacts: the photo album of my first birthday where I dove straight into the cake, the handmade dress with musical notations on the skirt my mother made for my first piano recital.

But ask my mother anything specific: when I first walked, what I liked to eat, how she weaned me, and the vagueness sets in. The early years of my life are shrouded in stories, low on facts.

My kids won’t have that problem, or that blessing. They’ll have the digital legacy of my blog, my Facebook account and, of course, Twitter. As Peggy Orenstein writes in the New York Times, this ability to capture  every sweet moment of childhood is changing the way we live them.

As far as I can tell, Twitter exists for the sole purpose of sharing my little girls’ bon mots with the world. It’s hard to express anything really complex in 140 characters, but it’s great for punchlines. Where else but Twitter could I tell 400 strangers things like:

“there’s no booby kissing in the airport” #thingsineverthoughtidsay

Me: Serena, do you have to pee?Serena: NO! Me: You’re just holding your legs in an “I have to pee” way. Serena: Then go pee-pee, Mama.

Told the girls they can’t wear my makeup, so they colored on their faces w markers. #shouldhaveseenthatcoming

As Orenstein notes, thinking of these turns of phrase takes us out of the moment, even as we live it. My kids childhood foibles and funny phrases are trapped in amber, in part because I’ve developed an internal observer who catches them as they float past. Twitter makes it so easy to grab the little gems and put them down in the permanent record.

I’m not sure this is a bad thing. Orenstein regrets the loss of maternal innocence she experiences as she tweets about her idyllic summer afternoon. That’s there. But for me as a writer, words are how I understand my life and my experience. I remember something more keenly when I’ve written it down, when I’ve told a story about it. This is true for many people.

Additionally, the story I choose to tell about an event shapes my memory of it. That horrible moment where the kids tried to kill each other over who stole whose boogers in the backseat of the car becomes a funny blog post. The memory softens for me, too.

The transformation can happen fast. In a moment of painful frustration I can snap out a tweet about how grateful I am for two healthy kids who sometimes drive me nuts, and actually feel that gratitude for a moment.

Yes, there’s a loss of innocence when we become the authors of our life stories as we’re living them. But there’s power in authorship. Done right, all these time-wasting toys social media offers can help us remake our lives in the image we wish they’d reflect.

Photo: screenshot of Twitter

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