I can’t remember where I read it (probably Slate, it seems like a real Slate type of thing) but there was an article, years ago, by these parents who had proudly created a whole digital identity suite for their new baby. They registered a Gmail address, created a Facebook account, maybe even registered a domain for the baby, for said baby to inherit at such a time as it required these things.
It seemed goofy to me. Even if society hasn’t collapsed in ten years’ time, I hope to god that Facebook will have, or at least that no teenager will have any interest in joining that early-21st-century disaster. I hope setting up a Facebook account for a baby will turn out be the equivalent of my parents having invested in a personal fax machine for me at the time of my birth.
But I did set up an email for you when I was setting up this newsletter. You were my first subscriber. But these aren’t my first or only letters to you. There are books of handwritten ones, too, dating from my pregnancy. Those handwritten ones are more personal. They contain things I would never say online.
As they taught us in library school, LOCKSS – Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. I figure if the paper ones are lost in a house fire, or just go missing somewhere down the line, you might still be able to access these.
The “you” is imaginary, of course. The adult you might become. If you revert to your old name, Future Hugo becomes doubly imaginary.
The “me” who is writing them is not exactly imaginary, but it’s a public version of me. These letters are open letters, I guess you could say. Part of why I’m writing them is because maybe one day you’ll wonder exactly what I was doing all the time on the computer. Maybe you’ll wonder who I was as a person during the years you only saw me as your mom. I wonder this about my own parents.
What I have been doing on the computer lately? Too much, basically. Trying to maintain a baseline level of dayjob competence. Trying to write - my musings on those old mill village photos have become an essay draft. Trying to organize for better housing conditions (does youTube still exist in the future?). Trying to tear myself away from the screen to be a baseline competent parent.
I strongly believe that being a good parent doesn’t mean devoting every second of my attention and every fibre of my being to you. It means being a full person and modeling how to be a full person. It means giving you space, physical and emotional space, to turn into the full person you want to turn into, instead of molding and shaping and enriching you every moment of the day. I am suspicious of overly-intensive parenting. Maybe that comes from my own upbringing. I remember calling my mom when you were younger, asking her what bedtime we had when we were kids, hoping for guidance. “I didn’t give you bedtimes,” she said. “I didn’t want you to turn into conformists.” She definitely gave us our space.
I don’t know what I’m modeling for you these days, though, besides exhaustion and a dirty kitchen. At this exact moment, I’m writing partially as a form of procrastination from remedying either of those conditions. Also in order to argue with myself and think things through, which I do best through writing them out. Also so that you’ll have evidence, one day, that I was trying.
Dear Future Hugo, go call your mom, if she’s still around. Dear non-Hugo readers, maybe call yours too.