Thursday, June 5, 2014

Books We Love: “When We Became Three: A Memory Book for the Modern Family” by Jill Caryl Weiner

Author Interview by Jack Silbert
The old-fashioned memory book is having a hard time keeping up with the 64GB memory on your smartphone. So what is the modern parent to do, when it comes to recording baby’s big moments? Author Jill Caryl Weiner has the answer in her delightful When We Became Three: A Memory Book for the Modern Family. It’s funny, smart, sweet, and truly helpful (not to mention the perfect Father’s Day gift for the new or soon-to-be dad). We spoke to Jill about our 21st-century parenting landscape, oversharing on Facebook, and all those bunnies on standard baby books.

Media Darlings: The modern world has made it easier than ever to track baby’s progress, but there are some new challenges too....
Jill Caryl Weiner: It’s really fantastic how you can track baby’s progress on so many levels. Plus that you can share info—with your spouse, your nanny, whatever, about feedings and naps so everybody knows just what’s going on—is great. My favorite new app now is So Quotable which is great to track clever things your friends say or that you hear on the subway, but it’s also fun to type in those cute things that your baby or toddler is saying.

Author Jill Caryl Weiner
That said, there’s no denying that all this technology can produce some headaches. It’s so easy to snap shots of baby—people have thousands of pix of baby’s first year alone; now what do they do? How do you store them or look through them in a meaningful way? It can be overwhelming. I also think it’s challenging because it can pull parents out of these intimate moments with baby. Instead of cuddling up, you’re snapping shots. You don’t want to be a slave to technology; you’ve got to make it work for you.

MD: You have two kids. Did you make memory books for them?
JCW: When my daughter Willa was born, I received three memory books as presents, but I didn’t like them; and I checked the stores and didn’t like those either. They were too precious, or sweet, or had too many bunnies. Or they were just too demanding. If they were funny, they were more like joke books and not memory books. They didn’t represent what me and my husband wanted our family to be like, and I couldn’t see looking back on them. One of my challenges in becoming a parent was keeping my identity. I wanted a book that was fun and smart; where both parents mattered and that told their story. So, no I didn’t do memory books for them. I wrote in journals and we have photo albums and took videos. But I’m excited about filling this one out for both of my children.

MD: What are some types of memories that your book prompts parents to record that aren’t in those standard baby books?
JCW: First, you get the quick story of how the parents met, kind of in Mad Libs format, and a few fun details about that first meeting: It was fireworks, or castanets (we really clicked), or an earthquake (a real disaster), or a soft drizzling rain (really comfortable). Then, which of the seven pregnant dwarves mom was: sleepy, happy, moody, hungry, queasy, etc. Arguments about baby we’ve had, like baby names or which team’s miniature jersey baby would wear. There’s the feelings both mom and dad had when they first held baby, and also the Baby Olympics: Does baby win the gold for marathon sleeping—never wants to wake up—or speed sleeping—as soon as she puts her head down, she pops up again. Plus Marathon Nursing; Olympic Crying; Long Distance Spit-up.

It records parents’ big moments and feelings as well as baby’s: baby’s first real word and parents’ first baby words. And my book includes the dad in everything, so it fosters communication between parents—and they can talk and laugh about this stuff together. It asks both parents what they love about being parents. There are easy checklists so parents don’t really have to think that much, but they still create this meaningful book. It captures beautiful transformative moments like the first time they realized their partner would make a great mom or dad, and the qualities of their partner they want baby to have. Even if parents don’t remember the dates, they’ll remember their thoughts and feelings from those moments.

MD: How did you decide what you include? Your own experiences, talking with other parents, etc.?
JCW: I wanted to include all the big milestone moments and more, so I used a lot of resources: baby books, other parents, doctors, videos, my knowledge from writing about parenting and lots of my own experience. I also used my imagination to pull away from the drama of the moment to make it something fun: Like, if you were a baby animal, you would be: a piranha—always eating and sniping at Mom; a koala—cuddly and always snoozing, a puppy—joyous and mischievous; or a howler monkey—constantly wailing. I even included a few firsts you’d want to forget!

MD: Your writing background is mostly in journalism. What prompted you to begin this different sort of project?
JCW: Well, when my kids were born I started writing about parenting—so I could do telephone interviews and not worry about baby waking up from a nap and people being bent out of shape. So I had a body of knowledge—like, I’ve written three pieces about breastfeeding—and I know lots of subtleties about this time period.

When I decided to break into books, I wanted to fill a gap, and I knew what it was right away. I thought a funny, romantic memory book—that included dads and that dads would also appreciate—would help ease the transition to parenting, make people happy, and give them a really great keepsake. There was nothing like this out there. Something that would give them perspective and let them realize that sure, there are bumps in the road and challenges, but all that will pass and you’ve got this wonderful little new person. Plus, I’m an optimist and my personality is to see the humor in things. I was really excited to write a thoughtful, romantic, funny, yet meaningful book.

MD: Aside from technology, what other differences in family dynamics have you been noticing?
JCW: I think it used to be that men had to get their pride from their jobs and their families were secondary. Now dads are so much more involved, dads are blogging, dads get so much pride and no longer just have to hide behind their jobs for their identity. It’s great. Plus family can be more fluid: Some moms or dads work from home, sometimes both have office jobs but want to spend time with kids. Some grandparents are around and others are spread out. It all changes the way a family runs.

MD: On the social-media front: I’ve noticed that some parents… overshare. Is there a way to know when your friends don’t want to see any more pictures of your kids?
JCW: So, before a friend pulls you aside and says, “Can I speak to you about…” something you might not want to hear, consider an iCloud photostream. You can just send those photos to grandparents or aunts or cousins privately and not post them on your newsfeed. Or possibly reach out and create another online community of likeminded over-sharers who want to send photos to each other every other second. You don’t want to be the last person to know you’re over-sharing or get hidden from your friends’ newsfeeds so that you’re entirely hidden from their lives.

MD: Do you look back at a lot of photos of your own childhood? Are you a #ThrowbackThursday sort of person?
JCW: I do love those old photos of my childhood—and not just of me but of my parents, or my brothers, or people who have passed. That’s another reason why When We Became Three has the parents’ story too, because kids cherish that stuff. But I’m not really the #TBT kind. I find it fun when people post pix of themselves, but generally I’m more private, and don’t think that anyone other than my kids would really be interested!

You can connect with When We Became Three on Facebook, or visit Jill’s website. Those in New York City can meet Jill at two book events: Monday, June 9, at 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble, 82nd and Broadway, or Saturday, June 14, at 11 a.m. at the Apple Store, 67th and Broadway.

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