The lead character in the musical, Oliver sings:Who will buy this beautiful morning and put it in a box for me? So I can see it at my leisure, whenever things go wrong. And I can keep it as a treasure to last my whole life long?"
I failed my children in baby-booking. I did. I just stunk at it. Their entire lives, the guilt of the knowledge that I had not filled out the dates on the teeth-cutting-arrival charts gnawed at me relentlessly. Pages with the words paste photo here nakedly jeered at me, taunting my inability to create a wondrously meaningful book for posterity.
It wasn't that I didn't have photos to paste. It wasn't that I didn't delight at the clink of the spoon on a newly-emerged tooth or want to remember every single, tiny moment of their first days. I saved everything for each of my children from the second I knew they were coming. It was almost a sickness, induced, I fear, by having a parent who saved nothing. We took untold thousands of photos of these 5 incredible children. They were also often undeveloped for a really long time.
But somehow, I just didn't do well at putting things in their books. I think my perfectionistic tendancies (aka my all-or-nothing sickness) interferred. "Today I must focus entirely on the babybook and fill in each line and glue the proper photos as directed," was my heart's desire, but didn't happen, couldn't happen, because life was happening. When you are deeply involved in your husband's ministry, right at his side AND almost annually producing a new human being, leisure time to cut and paste and record gets put on the back burner – or in my case, books safely tucked into their original boxes, high on a closet shelf.
The other day my daughter Stephanie kind of snickered that when I'd presented her baby book to her there was nothing in it. I guess I thought maybe "the thought" would count. "Yeah-there is nothing there, but look at this beautiful book I was thinking about fixing up for you!?" Stephanie has Gemma's babybook close by, on top of the television armoire and is a really good baby-booker. She obviously did not inherit this from me.
But momentos and keepsakes? Oh, I kept them. I kept the baby advertising magazines from 1979, 82, 83, 84, and 1986 so they could know what having a baby "looked like" when they were born. I retained ticket stubs and mimeographed school programs. There were hastily ripped-out Family Circus cartoons that reminded me of my own crew ALONG with newspaper clippings of letters to the editor I had encouraged my kids to write. I kept Mother's Day's cards (I have a lot of unredeemed homemade coupons I'd like to cash in on now!) and "I'm sorry" notes both from and to me. Our annual family Valentine's Day love letters to each other filled decorated cereal boxes. I kept report cards and test scores and Sunday School papers and snippets of hair.
But I didn't keep baby books well. Not at all.
Recently, Tredessa and Stormie helped me go through totes and totes of keepsakes. Our whole family's lives were contained in them. We read their stories and laughed until we cried. I put aside love letters between Dave and I for another day and started a collection of favorite letters from my parents because someday those will be all I have to hold close. We threw away report cards with grades we chose not to recall and saved only the cards which told the truth of how delightful and perfect my children are. We threw away sad junk and chose the treasures of our lives which will become memories we hold close.
I saved a bunch of things for a project I am working on. I am creating something of a "Chronicles of the Dave & Jeanie Rhoades Family," so I need material. And I am not lacking. It is probably 20 volumes with photos and special momentos and written memories, by now.
But there was a lot left over. So I decided to give my kids each a big, big bag of their stuff, their history, their past. Because really, it is in adulthood that we start to appreciate and relish each "scrap" of our lives. Maturity brings a reverence for the past in a strong way, causing us to realize how all the little tidbits carefully glued into a scrapbook or baby book or stored in a dusty box are really the materials that mirror the essence of us.
Some one else may look at our things and wonder why we are keeping them, but we can look at them, just as I have often looked at my mother's crumbling and deteriorating childhood scrapbook, and see ourselves in the reflection of it. And we will hold on to those things as long as we are able, because they are our history, our beginnings – the story we will tell and pass on, the legacy we will leave.
So – my kids each got this giant, colorful bag of stuff with a big bow on it and a letter from me – an "apology" of sorts. They didn't get a well-put-together baby book. I failed at baby-booking. But they got the treasures I safeguarded while we were creating the histories they have. They got some scraps of this and that that prove that I love them with my whole heart – baby book completed or not.
Now you know for sure – I wasn't a perfect mom…Jeanie
NOTE TO SELF: Keep only the chosen treasure. Throw everything else away.
NOTE TO MY KIDS: I got lots of glue sticks at a back-to-school clearance sale. Wanna glue your own stuff in your baby books???
Pictured: Dave and "the tribe" June 1987. L – R are Stormie (1), Rocky (2 1/2), Tara (8), Stephanie (5), and Tredessa (4)