I found a priceless notebook recently, one I’d forgotten I had.
It wasn’t anything fancy, just a plain red spiral with anecdotes from my children from 2005 to 2009 — funny things they said or did that I thought I’d never forget. But of course, I had.
There was the time my 3-year-old was playing with her “magic marble” and, after I corrected her for something, she said quietly, “Make Mommy disappear-o!” Or when my son announced, at age 6, “I’ve had a good life: no bee stings, only one broken arm and no broken legs.”
Thank God, I kept thinking as I read it, thank God I wrote these down. And then: why didn’t I keep this up?
The answer is the same one most harried moms give: I didn’t have time. I was too tired. I started to, but the phone rang/someone threw up/the cat died.
I do remember some of their best lines (and have used some in this column). The way my son would turn to me and say, “Picky up, Moppy,” or call ladybugs “ablebugs,” or use “versing” as a verb (as in “Who are the Cardinals versing?”). How my daughter said “lemalade,” “scratch-backer” and “right, Mama?” after every statement.
But sometimes they ask me questions about their babyhood, and I don’t remember. I used to ask my Mom the same questions about me, and she’d just shake her head apologetically. I was No. 4, after all; it was understandable.
Most moms will admit those early years are a blur. But that’s exactly why we should write things down. I knew that then, and I did, sometimes. I have a silver-framed journal that my aunt gave me when my son was 2 for that very purpose.
But being the perfectionist that I am — worse, an indecisive perfectionist — I never started it. I thought I should go back and start at the beginning, rather than when he was 2, but I had never finished his baby book, so I wanted to do that first — yada, yada, yada, blank book.
I recorded things in notebooks and baby calendars, on slips of paper and a file on my computer. I’ve taken lots of pictures and video and made a few Smileboxes. But it’s a bit ... unorganized.
I have friends who are much better at this. One mom I know wrote each of her boys a letter for every birthday. Another kept a notebook in her baby’s room so she could jot down milestones every morning or every night. Others are diligent scrapbookers, chronicling their children’s lives in gorgeous detail.
I started scrapbooking once and managed to finish four pages. I dithered so long over my son’s first Halloween spread that my niece, who was helping me, fell alseep. So did my legs.
(That same niece, bless her heart, put together a photo/memory book for me with all of my son’s funny sayings through age 5. Best gift EVER.)
Last week, after finding my lost treasure, I went looking for advice from other moms. Like Jodi Hamilton of Champaign, who has kept an online journal for her 7-month-old daughter ever since she became pregnant.
She’s written about her prenatal appointments, foods she ate that Jordan didn’t like, the day she was born, the gifts people gave, all her baby milestones. (Is it wrong to hate her?) She scrapbooks but says a journal “conveys more feeling.”
“I’ve always been interested in recording family history, or just little stories that we want to keep passing down through generations. I was asking my mom about when I was a baby, and she doesn’t remember much because she was always so busy,” Hamilton says.
This way, she says, Jordan will be able to find the answers.
Artist Shauna Carey, a retired teacher and mom, has more ideas. She volunteers at the IDEA Store in Champaign, where a mom came in recently and bought four photo albums for 75 cents apiece to take on vacation with her children. She was also taking a digital printer, so they could download photos every day, make prints, put them in a scrapbook and write about them. Instant memories.
Carey has always made keepsake frames or shadow boxes to go with photos from their family vacations — one from the Smoky Mountains festooned with twigs and rocks they found on their hikes, for example. Her kids, now in their 20s, love those tangible memories.
She never wrote down all the things they said because “I wasn’t organized enough.”
“We feel guilty about not keeping track — that second baby book I never even started and the first one I didn’t finish. I wish I had done it along the way. You’re too busy with life.”
She read about a mom who would write down a quip from her kids on a slip of paper, date it and put it in a keepsake tin with the child’s picture on top. “It’s all in one spot. You can put it all together when your kids are grown,” Carey says.
Then again, “My children don’t want these things now. It’s for me I’m doing it, even though I say it’s for them.”
That’s probably true, but now is when my kids are interested. The answers are there somewhere; we’ll just have to dig.
Tools to help you record those memories:
Here are four ideas using both digital and traditional approaches to memory-keeping, from Champaign’s Jennifer Wilson, founder of the Simple Scrapper website :
— Create a special email account to send memories you’d like to save. Then simply shoot off an email from your laptop or phone while the moment is fresh in your mind. You can also use tools like Evernote.
— Use your calendar or day planner to jot down memorable stories, then compile the list at the end of each year.
— For those who have trouble keeping up with a bound book (often due to perfectionism), use 4x6 notecards and keep them on two binder rings or in a photo album. If you mess up, you can start over.
— Document the stories that accompany your photos when you download them from your camera. Keep track in a Word document or in the notes field of your photo organization software.
Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues, social services and the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Her family column appears in the paper every other Tuesday. Leave a comment below, contact Julie at 351-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org  or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jawurth.
Photos from this website