Years ago, when I was a focused, organized mom who read parenting books and magazines and documented her baby boy’s every move, I came up with the idea that I would write my son a letter that I would give to him on his 18th birthday. The letter would be a running editorial of his milestones, but also highlights of his budding personality and active, young life. At the time, I only had one child but had planned to write a letter for each of my children, should we have more.
I started writing the initial letter when my first son was two. I described his birth, still vividly etched in my mind thanks to a 20-hour labor and a c-section delivery. I wrote about our “mommy and me” classes, his love of trains, his nicknames, his babysitter, and anything else that I thought he should know about. I’d write for an hour or two, double save it on my computer and a CD-ROM. I’d tell myself that I’d continue writing the letter in a few months.
Well, a few months passed and Dude #2 was born. He was not a sleeper like my first-born so for the first six months of his life, I was in a constant haze. I forgot about the letter-writing objective altogether until one day, when I was finally lucid again, I remembered what I had started. By this time, Big Dude was three and a half and Dude #2 was now one.
One day during nap time (ahh, those precious naps!), I was determined to keep going with the letter as well as start a second one for Dude #2. I churned out some more paragraphs, but I noticed that my recollections of their milestones were becoming fuzzier. I referred back to their baby books, which were somewhat helpful, but I wanted to write about more than just their first steps and first words. I wanted them to really be able to picture their younger selves, both physically as well as emotionally. I’m not sure why this task was important to me, other than to be able to give them a gift that they would hopefully cherish forever and that no one else could give them. I simply thought it would be a really cool thing to do.
When I finished that round of writing, I promised myself I wouldn’t wait so long between updating the letters. However, usually six months to a year would pass before I went back to them. And then Dude #3 was born. By this time, Big Dude was six and Middle Dude was nearly four. Don’t worry, I didn’t throw in the towel just because I popped out another kid. And believe it or not, we still took plenty of photographs of Little Dude, too. Despite his 3rd child status, he is documented in photos and yes, I started a letter to him too.
But, without giving you exactly how much time has passed, let’s just say it’s now been YEARS since I’ve updated those letters. I’m not giving up, though. I’ve been thinking about the letters a lot lately, probably because I’ve started this blog and I’m writing about the boys (albeit with their code names) all the time. Which made me realize I’ve got to get back to writing TO them, and not just ABOUT them.
I think the letters have also been weighing on me because Little Dude’s 9th birthday is approaching. That means that my deadlines are looming closer; I have nine years left to work on Little Dude’s letter and a mere five and three years left for my other two dudes. Time to open those carefully saved files and start tapping away on that keyboard again. And it’s also time to dig deep into my brain to try to remember the important stuff from the past, umm, couple of years. I think the hardest part of this exercise, besides the remembering part, is deciding what to include.
Do I remind them of their challenges and heartache or do I only write about the happy stuff? I remember reading somewhere that most people don’t remember anything before the age of three. And, many of our other childhood memories are of scary or traumatic events. For instance, these are some of my childhood flashbacks: a bloody nose, vomiting on the playground, an ice storm, a giant snowstorm, seeing a man bleeding from his head on the street, a terrible sunburn on the back of my legs, etc. See what I mean? I only vaguely remember one of my earlier birthday parties, which was fun and all, but I have a major blank space for all the happy stuff before age 10 or so. And, I know I had a really happy childhood. I just can’t remember any of the details. So, I’m trying to fill in all the gleeful times in for my own kids. I guess I can assume they’ll remember all the sad and gloomy stuff on their own.
The letters are mostly upbeat, as I quickly glaze over those horrendous middle school years and that summer at camp when it rained non-stop. But, I do also want them to know about the time they may have struggled in 4th grade with writing assignments but were able to overcome the challenge with hard work (and a few tears). Or the time one of them so desperately wanted to swing from the trapeze at Club Med and finally climbed up that skinny, tall ladder to do so. I want them to know that they are resilient, strong, and courageous. They already know how much I love them. The letters will just remind them how much they should love themselves, too.