Here, in further detail, are the first four tips on how to write about your personal family history for your kids:
1. Decide To Do It. If you really mean to do it, chances are you will. So you might treat the idea the same as you would getting married or quitting cigarettes. Here’s a little trick I used long ago when wondering whether I should marry my then girlfriend, Elvira. I asked myself every day, “Should I marry her?” I asked the same question for at least 25 days in a row. And day after day my answer came back as a “yes.” That self-survey helped me decide. We’re now married 33 years.
2. Plan It Out. Before I jotted a single word, I daydreamed for weeks about what I might write. I opened the gates to my memory until images and fragments of dialogue poured through. Then I took notes – “gleaned my teeming brain,” as John Keats famously wrote. “Caroline singing for Nanna,” one note said. My notes amounted pretty much to the kitchen sink. But ultimately they served as cues and clues to the stories that came. So please, muse away. Disclaimer:You may prefer simply to cut loose with whatever comes to mind. Hey, it’s still a free country.
3. Vote For Reality. I’m big on facts. Facts are presumably verifiable and certainly more believable. My son Michael and I sometimes butt heads. That’s a fact. My daughter Caroline sometimes resists my advice. That’s a fact, too. All of us occasionally feel tempted to rewrite history, to paint the past only with bright, sunny colors. But kids have an inherently keen sense of truth. So you might as well keep it real.
4. Single Out Highlights. I could have written about anything. But I knew I would be better off writing about something particular — something, if possible, singular. A story that is mine and mine alone to tell. So I sifted through all my notes and set priorities. I decided to zero in on memories that resonated as special, that mattered, that meant something. And to seize, above all, on moments, the truly momentous. It might be a single action or comment or incident. It had to be specific, tangible, revealing – a moment of understanding and discovery, perhaps a revelation. Disclaimer:You retain the right to be arbitrary, even freewheeling. This is supposed to be a pastime rather than a job.
P.S. – Part 4 will appear tomorrow.