I have a little closet in my home office which holds a big cardboard box. In that box is a pile of old notebooks that contain years and years of scribbling about my life.
Here’s an excerpt from May 29, 1989…
(It turns out she was an alien and this was the start of a star-crossed intergalactic romance. )
Although I lost the habit as I grew older, and hadn’t kept a journal for a number of years, soon after I became a father I knew it was time to start again.
A priceless peek into their childhood
Keeping a journal on my kids doesn’t take much time, really. I have a file on my computer desktop and I add to it whenever the mood strikes, maybe every few weeks. It’s a small investment for me, but for Lulu and Roy, I think these notes will one day be a priceless peek into the childhood that they will have largely forgotten. (I even email the latest file to Keiko from time to time, just in case I should suffer an untimely demise; that’s how valuable I think the document is as a family artifact.)
What do I write about? Basically, whatever happens to be bubbling in my mind at the time, but my short entries seem to be mostly about these three things:
1. observations of their language development
2. observations of their personal traits and interests
3. noteworthy incidents and experiences
I’ll give you an example of each, straight from the source…
observations of their language development
November 29, 2008 [Roy was 1 year and 6 months]
Roy and I have made a habit of reading together, often sitting on the couch with a blanket wrapped around us. Apparently, he’s developed a sixth sense for the time I arrive home from work because he’s waiting patiently with a book in his hands when I open the door. Running up to me, and thrusting the book my way, he yelps, “Read this!” Well, the other day it seems he had pulled down a heavy encyclopedia about animals from the bookshelf. Upon my return, he hurriedly tried to pick it up, but was having trouble lifting it. Becoming flustered, he instead grabbed a sock lying nearby on the floor and scampered over to me with it. A look of confusion clouded his small face, but he held out his little sock to me just the same.
observations of their personal traits and interests
December 26, 2011 [Lulu was 7 years and 6 months]
Lulu finally wrote her letter to Santa a week before Christmas. (Roy wrote his in October!) On Christmas Eve, before lunch, she received Santa’s response, saying that he was sorry, but he wouldn’t be able to deliver the Wii video game console that she had asked for. (Santa explained that her letter had arrived at the North Pole too late and a Wii is the sort of toy that takes the elves a while to make.) Santa went on to try easing her disappointment by saying that he had prepared other gifts that would make her happy, but Lulu would have none of it. She exploded in another ranting tantrum that went on for a good 20 minutes. [Note: Lulu is slowly maturing, but she’s been prone to these crying, screaming fits of frustration.] And when I tried to assure her that we could probably get a Wii in the future, when she and her brother were older, she shrieked: “But in the future you’ll be dead and then I’ll never be able to get one!” (I had to laugh.)
(On the subject of Santa, in a more recent tirade when she didn’t get her way, Lulu warned: “I’m gonna write to Santa and tell him what a bad Daddy you are!”)
noteworthy incidents and experiences
May 14, 2012 [Lulu was 7 years and 11 months; Roy was 5 years and 2 months]
We went to Osaka at the end of April. We needed to renew Roy’s U.S. passport at the consulate there, and we took the opportunity to spend time at Universal Studios Japan and the aquarium. It was our second visit to Universal Studios and, now that the kids are a little older, we were able to “enjoy” a few more rides. I say “enjoy” because they were terrified by the rides like Spider-Man and Jaws—they were crying and screaming the whole time (especially Lulu). Still, they had a lot of fun, though their favorite part of the trip (and I quote) was “jumping on the beds in the hotel.” Maybe next time we’ll just stay in the hotel and let them jump on the beds all day.
Before I close my journal, let me offer one more entry today, something that isn’t always easy for me to remember, but I try…
March 19, 2009 [Lulu was 4 years and 9 months; Roy had just turned 2]
Natasha Richardson, the well-known British actress, died today as the result of a skiing accident. She was 45 and she had two sons, 12 and 13. Now that I have children of my own, such stories hit me hard. I do try to keep in mind how short life can be, how unexpectedly it might end, in order to appreciate the time I spend with Lulu and Roy. Still, I can do better. I can do better to appreciate each day, each moment. It’s so easy to forget, to get lost in feeling tired or irritated, and yet: What memories will they have of me when I’m gone? What memories do I want them to have? Those are the memories I must be mindful of trying to nurture each day.
From time to time, I’ll continue dipping into this journal and sharing some of the things I’ve written about Lulu and Roy. In the meantime, if you’re not already keeping a journal about your own kids, why not open a new file on your computer or buy a new notebook? Your children will never really miss it if you don’t, but I bet they’ll be awfully thankful, one day, if you do.
This is a wonderful idea, too.
I am going to be busy!
Thank you, Alison! Best of luck with your journal! (And thanks, actually, for the “reminder” that it’s time for me to write another entry in my own journal! )
Thanks for reminding me how important this is. I grew up in Africa and my mum kept a journal for all 4 of her kids, mine is still precious to me. Even adding little things in about when your child learned to ride a bike etc. The funny stories of things that happen. I keep a journal for my daughter, every now and then I read in it and I discover how quickly I forget things. The journal helps to trigger more memories and it is quite different to just looking at photographs. There’s real power in the story of life!
Janneke, I appreciate your comment. It’s great that your mother kept journals for her children. It’s something that doesn’t take much time, really, but the payoff years later, as you know personally, is tremendous. In fact, I’ve been meaning to write in mine for the past few days—but I keep procrastinating—so your comment came at a helpful time! Thanks!
I’ve kept a journal since I was young and it’s an invaluable thing to have! Whether it’s to write about our kids, travel or to track our day-to-day lives, we often forget about these little things. A journal is the kind of thing that a photo or video can’t capture, because it doesn’t always capture how we’re feeling at that moment, and how much we grow on the inside.
Alana, yes, this is a wise insight: photos and video are wonderful, of course, but they can’t really capture emotion, and especially, reflection, in the way that the written word can. I know it’s easier to press a button on a camera than it is to write a paragraph or two, but it’s well worth pushing ourselves to do it. Again, I urge all parents out there to establish and sustain a regular habit of keeping a journal on your kids!
What happened with the girl in the excerpt?
I wish I knew! (If she really was an alien, maybe she can track me down in her spacecraft.)
I’m doing an art exam using diary excerpts and this would be a perfect fit! I’m wondering if you have the rest of this excerpt and any more along the same lines (possibly featuring more of your travels and star crossed intergalactic romance) that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
Thank you for your interest, Carla, but it would be hard to retrieve more excepts from my old journals right now. (They’re all packed away in storage.) I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful to your project. Good luck with it!
Oh that’s okay. Thanks anyway!
I’ve been keeping a journal for my daughter since she was about 6 months old. So for 6 years now. I’ll give it (or them) to her when she gets older. I’ve kept journals all my life, but sadly don’t have any of them. I’m hoping she appreciates being able to look back at her life through my eyes one day.
I’m sure one day your daughter will treasure these journals! Keep writing!