Baby Book 2.0: I parent, therefore, I blog
The rise in mom and dad blogs over the last decade is staggering. Billions of parents of all kinds have taken to the Internet to share tales of their kids and their adventures, live-blogging childhood in ways more immediate than any hardbound baby book.
Feed the phrase "mom blogs" into Google and the search engine returns 842 million results. Try "dad blogs" and you'll get only slightly fewer: 618 million results, to be exact. And while each result doesn't actually reflect a fully operational blog, the numbers do reflect a massive, ongoing, international project: the documentation, through words, photos, and video, of an entire generation of kids by their Internet-enabled parents.
Dive into the sea of parent blogs and you dive into facets of parenting in all their horror and glory. Posts about how to get your kids involved in the Super Bowl (candy is the key, apparently) bob up against product placement, meditations on short sales in real estate, DIY Egyptian Halloween masks, how to talk to kids about alcohol, healthier-than-thou recipes and dietary tips, and all manner of bric-a-brac, a digital cornucopia of anxiety, documentation, rank commercialism, and idealized plans for perfect childhoods that will never be anything more than partially realized, at best.
What all of the blogs share, to some extent or another, is a desire to document the infinitely complex and subtle transformation of a howling infant into an independent, grown human being. Read enough of them, and you'll realize both what you're up against as a parent, and how many subtle gifts the whole process includes.
Whitney Honea is a dad blogger, and professional one at that – for the last seven or eight years, he has been supporting himself and his family by writing for a host of different sites including heavy hitters like Babble and BabyCenter. Writing at Honea Express, Mr. Honea files autobiographical blog posts that have the crisp and vivid pace of contemporary fiction. Amid the churning flotsam and jetsam of mom and dad blogs, his clearly-written record of his boys' childhoods stands out like a beacon. And while the text is pitched for his readers, his real audience, he says, is closer to home.
"I write more for my boys than I do for my readers," says Honea. "I like having an audience, but I'm writing for my boys because I want them to have an honest memory of what occurred."
"I'm kind of a romantic, as far as nostalgia goes," he adds. "We still have baby books and things like that, so I wouldn't say the blog has replaced them. But I definitely have a lot more online. There's definitely a keepsake mentality to it. I'm kind of making this - I want this whole blog to be something of a time capsule for my sons."
Honea has been putting his thoughts to virtual paper since 2005, meaning that his blogging has become rich and deep and layered, with dialogues nesting inside of histories that have played out, at least in part, online. The result is a remarkable series of stories that Honea is proud of – and worries about.
"My fear is the story of Christopher Robin, and how he became an adult," says Honea, "and how he resented being known for the [Winnie-the-Pooh] books. And he resented his father. I can't imagine how he grew up hating that stuff – it's some of the most beautiful – what a love song to a child."
"That scares me that that there'd be some sort of point that what I'd put out in public was something I wish I hadn't," he adds. "But at the same time, they're growing up at a time when everybody's famous – everybody’s online. Everybody has this persona that's bigger than themselves, and they're growing up with that, and it won't have the same weight that Christopher Robin felt. I'm hoping that they love it. I'm hoping it's the sort of thing that might keep me out of a home some day."
While what Honea does at Honea Express and with his other parenting missives resembles the milestones and malaprop-laden quotes of an old-fashioned baby book – the same way that Wikipedia resembles a baseball card – at the core, many of the same forces are at work: a desire to share, a desire to remember past the capability of the frail human mind, and a desire to shape and polish the stuff of everyday living into something worth celebrating and looking back at. It's that element of polishing and editing that is perhaps most interesting about our newly tech-enabled documentation of our kids – it’s not merely a matter of capturing, it's also a question of editing, producing, and styling.
"I'm definitely guilty of omission in places where I feel like it might be too personal for people involved in the story," says Honea. "As far as polishing it... probably too much. I really love language, and I kind of dance around with flowery language that didn't necessarily exist at the time. That's not to say I change what people are saying, but I set the stage with props and things that are prettier than probably were in real life. But not to the point where it detracts from what actually happened."
Honea's dilemma and his choices are our dilemmas and choices, too. What do we remember, and how? And why? And thanks to blogging, Facebook, and any number of other channels, we have something entirely new to wrestle with: With whom are these manicured memories shared? Blogging about your kids for a living might seem to tear the lid off any semblance of family privacy, but it's double-edged – when you know everything may be revealed, you're also always on guard. The rest of us can be more selective, but, of course, the question as to whether anything is ever really selectively shared, or private, is a very open one indeed.