How Could I Forget?

It’s Spring! And I’ve been doing some cleaning. You know the drill: out with the old, in with the new.

So I’ve been sorting through drawers stuffed with papers and junk that I had forgotten about, trying to figure out what to keep and what to toss. It’s amazing how the clutter collects.

But in the process I discovered a pearl! A wonderful book of memories from the past that I had lost track of completely. And what a find it was.

Back when my first two kids were 5 and 2 and the little one wasn’t even on the planet yet, I started a “Mother’s Journal.” I bought a big, 5×7 inch bound, unlined journal — the kind you can get at Border’s for about ten bucks.

I just started to write down things about my kids and our lives whenever I thought about it or felt moved to include a funny story, tender moment, or update on the latest activities and accomplishments. I carried the journal with me through all our moves and kept it in a drawer in the chest near my bed.

Besides the family stories, other less critical but still important details of our lives are all there, too. Descriptions of where we were living, what I served at a special birthday party and the names of the coaches, teachers, babysitters and others who flitted in and out of our lives are documented and preserved there.

This morning, my husband and I sat down together and read aloud from this treasure chest of memories. After about an hour, we were both teary-eyed and nostalgic, remembering so many sweet and forgotten experiences in the life and times of our family. Thank God I took the time, although the entries are sporadic at best. Sometimes months, or even years, went by with nothing reported.

But the stories and observations that I did record are priceless to me now so many years later. We always think we will remember, but our brains get so packed with millions of other experiences and bits of information that there is really no way we can.

I would never in a million years remember, for example, how my youngest at age two used to say things like, “Mommy, I have  a headache in my tummy.” Or how he used to stand on a chair at the sink and “wash dishes” while I prepared dinner. Or how this now 18-year-old who lives and breathes sports loved them even as a one-year-old and how he used to line up his stuffed animals to watch the San Francisco 49’s along with him, his dad, and his big brother.

I had forgotten about the night at the dinner table when my oldest, then 6, announced, “The first rule of art is that there are no rules in art. You can’t be perfect in art because perfection is the opposite of creativity and art is about creating!” Where did THAT come from? Oh yeah, from that little boy of mine who was always a deep thinker and always coming out with profound statements like that one. But if I hadn’t written it down that night  after he went to bed, I wouldn’t have remembered it.

My husband and I cracked up when I read an entry about our daughter, then three-and-a-half. We were having lunch together after nursery school and here’s what happened:

(she) “Mommy, what do you think of the word butthead?” (looks at me keenly to check my reaction)

(me) “I don’t like it. Who says that?”

(she) “Cody” (a classmate)

(me) “Well, in our family we don’t use that word.”

(she) “What would you do if I called YOU a butthead?” (looks at me with a twinkle in her eye)

(me) “I would tell you that I don’t want you to say that and if you did it again you would have to sit on your bed.” (our time-out location)

(she) “But Mommy, I didn’t actually CALL you a butthead, I just wondered you what you would do IF I called you a butthead.”

This was so funny because she clearly wanted to say that forbidden word but knew she would be in big trouble if she did. So she figured out a way to get it in there several times without getting in trouble. An early sign of her quick thinking mind and her willingness to challenge authority in creative ways.

There are so many things that come up in this journal that point out their characteristics and abilities at very early ages. It’s fascinating to see how those qualities have developed and played out throughout their lives.

And seeing myself again as a young, inexperienced mother and remembering the worries and concerns I had about my children shows me how much I’ve learned and how far I’ve come, too.

This month that adorable little girl is graduating from college. The baby is graduating from high school and the oldest is finishing his first year of law school. I can’t wrap my head around how all that happened.

But it’s such a delight and a real gift to be able to sift through that journal and take a peek back at some of the special and ordinary moments that defined the road that got us here.

I am so grateful to have that book and want you to start one, too. So that’s the pearl I want to pass along today — go get yourself a journal and keep it close. Jot down a sentence or two at night after they have gone to bed. Or scribble a quick note on a slip of paper when something happens and put it in the journal to be transcribed someday. I found a lot of those notes in mine that never did get transcribed.

Don’t think you have to write a lot or on a regular basis, but just have it around and don’t lose it.  Store letters they write or include a photo or two if you want. Whatever suits you. Believe me, the years really do fly by and having something to hold and look back at later is a gift you will be giving yourself.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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