Ellen was kind enough to share her experience with preserving those moments of our children's lives we want to keep forever, whether for sweet and sentimental reasons, or, like me, for what I lovingly refer to as the Juban Princeling's "Future Bar Mitzvah Slide Show." ("So you hate me and you think I'm a rotten mother? Why don't I just show all your little school friends and GIRL friends these photos of your toushie from when you were a year old. That's right. Now go do the dishes.")
Without further ado, the lovely Ellen Bari.
Catching Your Children's Precious Moments
My ex-husband recently gave me an old answering machine with 19 saved mystery voicemail messages. I turned the machine on, and was not only surprised, but also thrilled, to hear snippets of my own daughter's voice-almost ten years' worth. It was like listening to her grow up in the space of five minutes. The moments and days fly by and while we think we won't forget, inevitably we do. I started thinking about preserving family artifacts and stories and about how mothers are often uniquely positioned to record three levels of family history: our parents', our own, and our children's.
At the moment, personal memoirs, family histories and genealogy are all the rage. Perhaps this new obsession reflects our increased longevity or the precarious nature of our 21st century lives. Or maybe it's because the tools for recording family histories have become so ubiquitous. Just this month two programs on national TV hit the airwaves. NBC's, Who Do You Think You Are? and the PBS series Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. both explore the family histories of famous or renowned Americans, albeit with science and research tools not readily available to most of us. On the PBS website, ordinary folks are invited to share and upload their own not-so-ordinary stories.
Classes that teach memoir writing, photo scanning and interviewing techniques are everywhere. Whether you aim to create a scrapbook, video presentation or family website, local libraries, historical museums and community centers offer a plethora of expertise and instruction that focus on preserving family histories, usually highlighting the trials and tribulations of past generations. For family histories, one need only consult the internet for endless resources, including popular sites like Ancestry.com , Genealogy.com and MyHeritage.com. These days, mothers are encouraged to embrace journaling and the appropriately dubbed "Momoirs," acknowledging that a woman's experience of motherhood is itself worth documenting. Resources include sites such as momoirs.com, TheMomoirProject.com and, for those just starting out on the motherhood trail, rookiemoms.com.
But what about preserving our kids' stories, and not just the ones they write for school? My daughter, the same little person whose squeaky voice on the machine gave way to a maturing young adult, cited the following quote from Tennesee Williams for her eighth grade graduation speech: "Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by you so quick, you hardly catch it going."
So I've put together a few tips for catching those precious moments, but please view these as merely suggestions and not a mandatory list of archival exercises to burden you further. Pick and choose the ones that work for you and don't agonize over any of the choices- there are no wrong answers!
1. Write a yearly profile. Each year, perhaps at New Year's or on your child's birthday, set aside some time to write about her. Yes, a simple one page account that reflects who she is, what she is into, and perhaps some accomplishments- from first steps to first soccer goal- will prove invaluable in the face of muddled memory. If you don't like to write, make a simple bulleted list, fashioned after the Dewar's or Amex celebrity profiles highlighting her likes and dislikes: favorite drink (as in apple juice), toy, song, dance, friend, fashion statement, band, etc. As your kids grow, you will have a record of their changes from year to year and especially over time.
2. Choose one to five physical artifacts. Like everyone else, the population of Moms is pretty well divided into two groups: the hoarders and the tossers. I am suggesting that both personality types fight their natural tendencies and be selective about the few articles of clothing, stuffed animals or other physical artifacts that you hold onto. Keep a separate box, however simple or elaborately conceived, for each child. Don't stress about what goes in the box!
3. Record their voices. There is nothing like hearing the sound of your child's voice. Ideally, you can get her to say something delicious, but frankly, from my own experience, a simple "Hello, how are you mommy? How are you daddy?" is priceless. With digital technology, this can be as easy as saving a file on your computer, which you date and label and add to each year. I know you think you have this all on video, but when was the last time you actually sat down to watch those home videos you've been dutifully taping?
4. Make a physical or digital photo album. Don't sweat this. Once a year is a perfect opportunity to sort through images, before the piles or numbers become overwhelming and unmanageable. You can limit your selection to 10-20 images per year, and include all of your children in one album, which can reside on your computer, provided you have a good back-up system. You will be so glad you did this when it comes time for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, graduation, engagement or other life cycle event for which you are called upon to put together a presentation!
5. Sort and document art work, school work, etc. limited to 10 items. You do not need every scribble your child has ever done or every math test they've taken. But you will want to keep some drawings, writing assignments, social studies reports or other unique projects. Take this opportunity to photograph some art pieces that are too bulky to keep or those that just don't make the cut. Try to date everything as that kind of information definitely disappears over time.
Please don't spend so much time documenting that you don't enjoy life while it's happening. As your children get older, the process can become an enjoyable collaborative effort where they actively participate in selecting a few of their favorite things. And don't stop after your first child or at age three. While it seems like the big developmental hurdles are behind you at that point, there's a wealth of material ahead that's not to be missed. You may end up starting a family tradition that will serve generations to come. Who knows, your archive might even wind up on a PBS special hundred's of years from now!
Ellen Bari is the co-founder of Momasphere Consulting and Events, which creates innovative programs for moms in and out of the workplace. Ms. Bari is a freelance writer and creative consultant with years of experience developing programs for edutainment and corporate clients and curating thematic and historical museum exhibits on a wide variety of topics. Ms. Bari's upcoming children's book, Jumping Jenny, (Lerner Publishing, Spring 2011) is about a little girl whose buoyant bounce truly knows no bounds. Ellen@momasphere.com