Tuesday, March 24, 2020

“A Message to my Daughters” by Susan Mattine

Long before Netflix and Cable TV, people used to look forward to programs like Battle of the Network Stars and Movie of the Week. The first show was an exciting way to view the athleticism of our favourite TV stars. I distinctly remember a matchup between a teenaged Melissa Gilbert (star of Little House on the Prairie) and Britt Ekland (a beautiful 20’s something Swedish actress). It was a simple obstacle race that Melissa won without breaking a sweat.

“We run a lot on set,” she explained to the host. “Over the mountains, around the mountains – a lot of mountains!”  Britt was not so gracious. “You put me against a little girl like that…” she said, huffing and puffing. “I don’t have a chance!”

It’s hard to find that kind of gripping drama in today’s reality TV world. The same goes with movies.  Every weekday night, there was a movie especially made for television. With low budgets, unknown actors and sappy plot lines. 

These movies stuck with me well into adulthood.  One of my favourites’ was called A Message to My Daughter – about a young girl who’s given audio tapes recorded earlier by her dying mother. The movie shows scenes from her mother’s life as the young girl travels on a train, far from her father and headed on a new adventure.

I was nine or ten years old when I saw this movie and very much into planning my future.  Daydreaming about what I would be, where I would travel and how fantastic it would be to be a grown-up took up a lot of head space during my formative years. 

When the movie came out, my imagination catapulted into exciting places that made me very impatient to leave my childhood behind. Wouldn’t it be great to do that with my own children one day, I thought, already planning on what I would say to these adorable children I hadn’t even met yet. 

Reality differed greatly from the movie. Instead of recording the events of my own life, I taped my daughters through various stages of their life. When I was pregnant with my second child, I recorded a conversation I had with my four-year-old daughter, Sofia, about choosing a baby name for her sister.

“Peter Pan!” she said loudly into the mic.

“You want to call your sister Peter Pan?” I asked, hoping for something more feminine. “What about Claudia? Or Sabrina?”

“Peter Pan!” she insisted, then continued to twirl in front of the mirror like the fairy princess she knew in her heart to be.

When I brought baby Peter Pan home from the hospital (aka Sabrina), she was very colicky and drove me crazy.  I knew I would want to remember this special time in my life, so I immediately took out the tape recorder. “This is baby Sabrina at six weeks old,” I said, holding the mic like a news reporter.

The baby started to cry, softly at first.

“Hold on…I think Sabrina wants to say something.”

I put the mic closer to the baby basket. On cue, the baby started to wail at the top of her lungs.
“This is my life. Until next time,” I said, then pressed stop and rocked Sabrina until she fell asleep.
Peter Pan {Sabrina} and Sofia

Sometimes, we had guest speakers, like the little boy next door who loved to hear his voice on tape. “Press play,” he instructed, as soon as he saw the tape recorder in my hands.

“First you have to say something into the mic,” I explained.

“Hello? Hello?” he yelled, jabbing his finger on all the buttons.

“Like this!” Sofia grabbed the mic and immediately started singing “Take Me Out to the Ball 

Game” followed by “I’m a Little Tea Pot” and finally, “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

By that time, the boy had wondered off into the kitchen, looking for something to eat.  
These are the special moments in my life I’m grateful for. Thanks to that hokey movie, A Message to My Daughter, I captured some special moments from my children’s’ early years. Eventually, we outgrew the tape recorder and moved on to the camcorder, and I carefully put the audio tapes in a box and stored them in the basement, where they still are today.

Maybe we’ll pull them out in the future and listen to them again. When that happens, I hope the message to my daughters is very clear. Enjoy your life and document what you can. That way, you can have something equally precious you can give to your own children one day.
Susan Mattine is a communications and public relations professional with over 20 years’ experience in the public and private sectors. When she’s not busy writing riveting pieces about manufacturing automation, she enjoys spending quality time with her two grown daughters, dog, and chinchilla, not necessarily in that order.

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