In December of 2010, I started a journal for my daughter who was two-and-a-half at the time. I’m not sure what prompted me to do it—probably the fact that I fell in love with so many things that she said and did, and I never trusted my memory to stand the test of time. I hardly remember a quarter of my comrades from high school or the teachers I had. Forced to rely on my best friend’s steel trap and dusty yearbooks—even then, I still can’t always recall.
It’s frightening. Sometimes I think that at 38, I suffer from early onset dementia. I’ll start a movie on Netflix only to discover a third of the way through that I have watched it before. Countless times I’ll begin to speak to my husband only to realize that the rest of the thought has already escaped me. Thankfully I’ve never forgotten my children in the back seat of my car, but I suspect that the warning stickers on the front doors to Walmart asking if I checked are intended for me.
When my daughter asks what her first word was, I can easily respond with “da-da” but when she asks about her second word, my mind goes blank. And when I needed to fill out some paperwork for her school asking about when she reached her developmental milestones, I truly felt that I deserved to be stripped of my mom-badge. How old was she when she first rolled over? Spoke her first word? Got her first tooth? I should know this…I thought, but I didn’t remember. I know that there is only so much room on the shelf, but the last thing I ever wanted were the precious moments of my children’s lives to be the items that went crashing to the floor.
The journal got off to a strong start, but by the time our daughter turned four, we had a second child; there was one more entry after the baby was born and then the journal sat, untouched, for four years.
Last month, I took it out and started reading some of it to the girls. They thought it was hysterical and kept begging me to read more. I was torn between whether or not I should oblige them. There aren’t nearly enough, I panicked. I don’t want to waste them all tonight. Because the truth is, that while I am happy to have begun the journal, I didn’t do a good enough job. Then I thought about my second child–who is now four–the age at which I stopped the journal for my eldest; I had nothing recorded for her.
Mommy Guilt set in. I thought about the stacks of Shutterfly albums I created for my first-born and the measly two or three that my youngest had. They were sympathy albums; all of them hastily made when my guilt got the better of me. It wasn’t until we recently repainted that our baby’s photos even made the walls in our home—but she’s long-since been a baby. I know it’s normal: Second Child Syndrome was coined for a reason, but as a second child, shame on me.
I know all too well what it is like to spend a childhood in hand-me downs. The big joke of my family is how I cried that I got fewer french fries in my Happy Meal than my sister. Growing up, I insisted on fairness and equity, even if it meant counting…every…single…fry. I probably should have been thankful that my older sibling was a girl so that at least I wasn’t forced into wearing boy’s Wrangler jeans, but I was anything but grateful. I showed my ingratitude by pouting each time she got a new coat and I did not, even though her old one fit me just fine, was my favorite color, and was in near-new condition. To my mother’s delight, I never missed an opportunity to protest the injustice of my birth order.
Yet here I am, a mother to two daughters the same age difference as me and my sister, and each season I pull down bin after bin from the attic and I sort through each item down to the socks and underwear. Yes, underwear.
Sometimes I come home from the store with something for my eldest, and sometimes I come home with something for my youngest, and that’s just the way it is. I make a point to remind them that life isn’t always even and life isn’t always fair. Yet in all honesty, my oldest daughter does get more, simply because she doesn’t have the luxury of a closet full of hand-me-downs. (That’s right, Mom, the luxury.)
However, after rediscovering the journal, nothing could erase my guilt over my youngest daughter’s lack of memorabilia. So that night, I sat down at the kitchen table and I wrote in the journal for her.
It may be too little, too late, but at least it is better late than never.
I recorded everything I could think of that she’d recently done, her most common kid-isms, what she currently loves, and what she wants to be when she grows up. I recorded stories that had made us laugh and I reflected on how much we love her, how she colors our lives. By the time my hand had cramped up, I felt some of the guilt subside.
I have good intentions to continue in the journal for both of my children, but I also know that many of my parenting intentions fail to thrive. In a world of have-to’s, the want-to’s don’t always survive. I have to do eight loads of laundry each week, but the zucchini I bought when I wanted to make muffins have long since grown slimy in the crisper drawer. Unfortunately we don’t always take the time for the want-to’s when the want-to’s are what replenish us.
I want to continue the journal for my children. I want to fill the pages as they grow and document the stages of their life through my interpretation and voice. I have to remember its importance.
Not too long ago, I found a bag of letters my sister had written to me from college. I’ve another bag of letters from a high school romance. Birthday cards from my cousin inscribed with memories we hadn’t thought about in decades leave us both laughing and bringing us back together.
Like so many things today, letter writing is a lost art. My daughters will likely only use text messages to communicate with their boyfriends or one another. But when they are middle-aged, they won’t be able to go back and re-read texts that remind them of the intense, foolish, young love they once felt. They won’t have documentation of how close they were, the support they offered one another, or the secrets they kept from me; they’ll be forced to rely on their memories.
As parents, we may think we’re doing a good job documenting our children’s lives by taking all these pictures and sharing them on our Facebook or Instagram feed. We probably think the same of posting cute tidbits of what our children said as our status update. But none of these things have the permanence of the written word on paper.
Our memories are what remind us who we are, where we’ve come from, and what’s most important. This is why I write, and it’s why you should write too. I hope that I’ll never end up like Allie in The Notebook, but should that day ever come, I want that notebook to be filled. Not for me, not for my husband, but for my children so that they know they were remembered and they know that they were loved.