One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a memorable childhood. As parents, we try our darnedest to create positive impressions that will last long after the birthday candles are blown out or the Disney cruise has returned to port. What do you think all the madness surrounding Christmas is about? Our hope is that with enough good times stored on our children’s memory chips, they will naturally evolve into happy, healthy adults.
It’s an awesome responsibility, to be sure. But here’s the catch: Much of the stuff childhoods are made of gets erased, somehow, along the way. Can you remember your first wobbly steps or the fear you felt letting go of your mother’s protective hand the first day of Kindergarten? Don’t sweat it. Most people have very limited recall of their first five years.
For my eldest daughter, it was a devastating realization. One day, when she was 14, she came to me quite distraught: “Mom… I can’t remember what it was like to be a child.” It was one of those helpless-parent moments. Hey, I can sculpt hair-dos in a jiffy, save stray dogs and whip up dinner in a pinch, but how could I possibly re-create a missing chunk of my daughter’s life?
Then I remembered the diary. When my daughter was born, I appointed myself family historian and started a computerized journal for her. I began earnestly with daily entries. But as a busy new mom, it became a weekly project that eventually turned sporadic. Of course the big moments were chronicled: first tooth, first words, first steps. But I mostly mused about the tiny, joyful moments that become forgotten over time, such as:
“You have amazing hand-eye coordination. You took the pacifier out of your mouth and tried to put it back in. You got pretty close—poking it into your dimple—but you had the right idea.”
“Someone asked me today what it was like to be a Mom. I told him it was a privilege to be raising you. You are such a gift from God.”
“You’re smart, cute as a bug, funny like Daddy, adorable, playful, devilish, ornery, stubborn like Mommy and LOTS of fun to be around. We’re looking forward to sharing the rest of your life with you.”
On and on it went, spanning five years. I never knew exactly when I would present this treasure to her. Perhaps as a graduation present. Or maybe that dreaded day she moved out. But that day she came to me in tears, I knew the time had come.
It took her two hours to read all 87 pages as she hungrily pieced together her forgotten childhood. It was a defining moment in our relationship. She learned that I wasn’t always so frazzled and stretched thin. “Mom, you really did put a lot of time into me,” she said sweetly.
After reading some excerpts, I was equally amazed to learn that even though my marriage eventually fell apart, it wasn’t all bad. Her father and I shared some beautiful moments in our daughter’s life. She was created from love. And she and I both needed to remember that.
Freelance writer Lynn Armitage extends a hearty thank you to digital cameras for all the back-up. She is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.