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Family documentation

Recently my son was reminiscing about his imaginary friend. This friend had appeared around when my son was two. I noticed that my son was walking around with his hand raised and his thumb and forefinger together, as if he were carrying something very small. When I asked him what it was, he said it was his friend, Seiterent. This friend—and legions of cohorts—populated our household for years. They lived on an island. They ate sushi.

At that time, I took copious notes. I wrote in my kids’ baby books lots of the funny things they did and said, their interests, their skills. I kept a small notebook in our breakfast room that was called our “family lexicon.” It had all the weird and unusual words and phrases we came up with, years of imagination and mispronunciation.

My son was asking me if I had notes I could share with him, because he wanted to write about his imaginary friends. I do have many notes (if I can find them). Unfortunately, I only have a memory of the family lexicon. Somewhere in the time we had our kitchen remodeled, it went missing and never came back. That’s sad, though some of the words survive into our present family. “Insresting broccoli”—romanesco broccoli pronounced in my son’s own “interesting” way. “Dit,” my daughter’s name for her favorite craft item, tape.

But much of what happened in our lives then lives on only in what I managed to document. Things got very busy. When they were small, I took videos a lot. Sometimes I’d make a compilation of highlights of a whole day to send to their grandma. These days, I hardly make videos except at special occasions. In the past, I would write down every detail like I was sure I’d lose it all if I didn’t. These days, I’m resigned to losing a lot of it.

To a certain extent, I guess I expect them to be doing their own documentation. By the time I was their age I was well into writing in journals (all lost) and writing stories (some surviving). I took photos with my very high-tech Kodak disk camera. I started scrapbooking as a young adult and I have enormous books filled with stubs from concerts, photos of me and friends in exotic locales, and flyers for the band I was in.

But neither of my kids seems terribly interested in documentation. My son does like to write stories, but they are largely fictional, so they only document his imaginative world (which is still going strong). My daughter once fell in love with a cherry red notebook with big, deep pockets and asked me to buy it for her as a journal. She dutifully made one entry that day, two lines about something we did. The next entry is dated about a year later. Since then, I occasionally haul it out, but there has been no further interest on her part.

Besides this blog, which—of course—is edited for public consumption (and thus doesn’t contain any of the most personal or most embarrassing parts of our family life), where my documentation lies these days is in e-mail. I think about writing in my journal, but then I realize that I wrote a detailed account of something to a friend. I keep and archive all my e-mail, as well as all the photos I take, with the zeal which I once applied to scrapbooking. It’s not nearly as interesting to share with a friend on the couch, but much more searchable by date, sender, subject, or keyword.

Suki on her birth day

My mom swears that this is a photo of me, though all of us looked pretty much the same: bald, red-faced, wondering how we got into that cold hospital bassinet...

Sometimes I feel bad about how much I’ve let slide, but then I think back to my own baby book (which had only my name entered by my busy mom, who was pregnant again with twins before I was walking). At some point, I filled in some of the details, trailing behind her as she went about her household duties. “Mom, what time was I born?” “Um, well, it would probably be evening. Or morning. Yes, I think about 2 p.m.” “And how much did I weigh?” “Well, you all weighed just about average, I’d say six pounds or so.” “And why isn’t there a picture of me as a baby?” “Oh, I know I’ve got a beautiful one of you, somewhere…”

My mom and I did finally find that photo… long after I’d had kids of my own (and I am not completely sure it’s really me!). I guess this is one of those cases where I just have to figure my kids will survive my own inadequacies as I survived my mother’s. Perhaps my own instinct for documentation came from being the middle kid of five. My kids lack this instinct because I was doing it for them. But I can imagine them later planning to get together with me to go through all our digital archives, trying to find what we know is there… somewhere.

I just have to hope that the important stuff, whatever it turns out to be, will get through.

Posted in Parenting.


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