A few days ago, I received an email reminding me that Tracy Hogg’s birthday is August 8th. That email was a manifestation of what trend-watcher Reinier Evans calls foreverism: “…countless individuals are building online profiles and relationships that are potentially ‘forever’…”
I can’t remember the name of the free site that I signed up with several years ago, but thanks to their reliable emails I never have to forget anyone’s birthday, not even my consequential strangers’. (Ironically, in parsing the difference between CS and good friends, I often remark that a CS doesn’t get insulted when you forget her birthday! So much for birthdays as a yardstick. )
The trouble is, the birthday reminders keep coming, even after the person is no longer here to celebrate. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Tracy–the Baby Whisperer–whose work and wisdom filled three books, succumbed to esophageal cancer at the untimely and unfair age of 44 (just as we were about to write a fourth book together). The email was like some sort of digital yahrzeit candle, making me feel the loss and reflect on our five-year collaboration. (I suspect as more of us rely on social media to keep in touch, online memorials will take numerous forms and become more common. For example, read Adam Cohen’s touching New York Times editorial, “A New Kind of Memorial for the Internet Age.”)
Tracy and I had a close–and complex– relationship, and yet, we never went beyond consequential stranger territory. We were twenty years apart and from different worlds. Our paths would never have crossed–she the Yorkshire lass with the hardscrabble life, me the privileged New Yorker. And yet, I was able to capture her on paper, so accurately that she cried when she read the first page I wrote in her voice. Tracy and I would never have spent the holidays together, but we shared a great deal of time and conversation. She was the star nanny; I was her voice. We needed each other. I was her “shrink”–I asked many personal questions that she loved to answer–and she my family baby whisperer. I remember fondly how Tracy talked my daughter through the occasional rough spots with her new baby–my first grandson.
I wish Tracy could have gotten to know my other two grandsons. I wish she could have watched her own two daughters grow up. I wish I could talk with her about consequential strangers–she would have loved the concept. And I wish that Tracy– who was firm with parents but never mean, wise but never a know-it-all–had lived to eclipse those stern television nannies who rushed in to fill the void. (At least, viewers in the U.K. got to see her on the Discovery Health network.) But most of all, I wish she could see that her dream, of building a community of “mums” who would give each other support, has come true in ways she couldn’t have imagined in 2002. Her website lives on and, more recently, her fans created a group on Facebook, as one of the founders explained, “so we’d have a place to go to when the Baby Whisperer site is down.” This, too, is an example of foreverism: Tracy will be eternally alive in those mothers hearts as they trade her tips and use her techniques.
Tracy, we all miss you. Happy birthday forever.