Tell me a story, Grandma.
It was a warm, lazy afternoon in the summer of 1978. I was eight. Grandma laid her soft hands lightly on the sides of my face. She gently guided my head into her lap and I closed my eyes and listened to her soothing voice tell the story of her years as an artist in New York. No matter how old I got, I never grew tired of hearing her stories.
I would love to hear those stories again, but Grandma has been silent for many years now – a victim of Alzheimer’s. How I wish I’d recorded her beautiful voice during those years when she had so many stories to tell.
The importance of preserving precious memories became very important to me after watching my grandmother struggle with Alzheimer’s. She loved telling us stories of her youth, but when it got to the point in the progression of her disease where she couldn’t even recognize her own children and grandchildren, I swore I’d record my important memories so they’d be remembered even if I’d forgotten them or wasn’t here to share them myself.
The importance of preserving memories becomes more apparent once we have children. Pregnancy was something I never thought I’d experience. I tried for over two years to get pregnant. So, when I was finally blessed with a baby, I really wanted to make sure every thought, emotion and feeling I experienced as the pregnancy progressed was recorded – both for myself as well as for my new daughter, Jaimie.
Using a video camera to keep memories alive is a great idea, but, to me, it seems impersonal. Plus, the camera isn’t always there with you when something exciting happens and, as Murphy’s Law would have it, by the time the camera is ready, the moment has passed. I really wanted to create something Jaimie could hold in her hands and feel I was right there with her while she was looking at it.
I’ve always kept a personal journal in which I use my own words, as though I’m actually talking to someone. I felt a journal would be the perfect way to share with Jaimie my perspective of her growing up, through my eyes and words.
Where To Start
Because this is your journal for your child, it should be special. The book should represent an aspect of yourself so when she sees it, she’ll know right away it’s from you. You can put together a book yourself from scratch if you’re crafty, or purchase a journal with a picture on it of something you love. For example, I love dolphins, so, my journal has dolphins jumping out of the water on the front and back covers.
I’ve found the best type of book for journal writing has a spiral spine with lined paper, so they can be bent completely open for easier writing and the words stay straight.
When to start
Once you choose just the right book, you’ll have to decide the best time to start journaling. Some women don’t feel comfortable talking about the baby until the first trimester has gone by. Others want to shout the news out as soon as the test is positive. I waited until after my first OB/GYN appointment and the second ultrasound before I started writing.
They key is to make sure you are comfortable enough talking about the pregnancy in order to sound natural when you’re writing.
What to say
At first, don’t concentrate on how much you say but more what you want to say. An entry of only three or four lines telling your baby how you feel on a given day is all that needs to be said. The purpose of the journal is to give your child insight into what you see, how you feel, and what was going on while you were pregnant with her.
Ideas for writing can be: how you felt when you found out you were pregnant; how you told Daddy; where you were living when you were pregnant; your occupation; items you got for the nursery; information from the doctor’s visits; what you saw in the ultrasound; when you started showing; when you started noticing movements and what they were. The possibilities are endless.
Also, it is always a good idea not to focus on negative things or pregnancy problems, unless you want to talk to her about how you overcame challenges you experienced during the pregnancy. I talked about the difficulties I had but I focused more on how things turned out rather than on the difficulty itself. For example, I experienced unexplained bleeding but I didn’t give any details. I simply stated that: “Mommy had hurdles to face but she got over them and things should be ok from now on.”
If you feel you’d like to share such details, by all means share them. It’s a personal preference and the choice is yours of which details you’d like her to hear.
Once baby comes
Once the baby arrives, write as often as you want or can. I try to write at least once a month to tell Jaimie about milestones, what she can do at that point in time, what problems she faced and overcame, fears, what makes her laugh, what she eats, her favourite toys and games, or little friends she makes. Anything and everything you want her to know about and remember. It isn’t always easy to find the time to write, especially if you have more than one child in the house and are planning to journal for each of them. But, as mentioned, once a month even just a couple of lines will be enough.
How to talk to her
This is a very interesting subject because it is really a matter of preference. At first, during the pregnancy, I spoke in the third person (“Mommy went to the doctor’s today…”). But now, I use the same wording I’d use if I’d be actually talking to Jaimie (“You have learned a whole bunch of new words this month”). You can use baby-talk, write as an invisible observer or as if you are writing her a very long letter. Again, in the future, she’ll be more interested in what you’re talking about than how you are saying it.
A tradition to pass on
Journaling for your little ones is a wonderful way to preserve memories with the special touch of being in your own handwriting. It’s a way to tell them about events or situations they would have been too young to remember or keeping memories alive that could be forgotten over time. You can pass on your journal to them when they have children of their own as a springboard for them to carry on journaling for their own young ones.
Grandma’s stories can now only be heard when I close my eyes and replay them in my mind. It’s heartbreaking. With these journals, my daughters will be able to hear my voice long after I’m gone. That’s my gift to them.
BRIGHT IDEA: Try to think of a unique way to start off your journals and use a different one for each child. These days, they have pregnancy tests that you can clip out the result window and save for the baby book. That’s what I used to start Jaimie’s journal and I wrote: “This is YOU!” For our second child, Jordhan, I put the first ultrasound picture on the first page. I also got my husband to take monthly pictures of my growing tummy during each pregnancy. It’s also fun for me to look back on how big my tummy got and it can give you ideas of what to talk about (eg: how much they moved, what you craved, etc.)