A Documented Childhood

I’ve been reflecting on childhood memories a lot since I had a baby.

I thought about them before then too, but my focus shifted from thinking about how I experienced my childhood to the way that I hope my daughter will experience hers. It is often still a comparison in my mind, but my primary concern now is to avoid inflicting emotional damage, or making my life baggage and scars become her inner monologue and insecurities.

It’s in our nature to repeat the good things we experience growing up, and to try to do things differently in light of the things that we believe negatively impacted us, but no matter what we do, we won’t parent perfectly, and we can’t and probably shouldn’t protect them from everything.

I hope her childhood is filled with happy memories, but it is foolish to think that she will only have happy memories.

The memories I have of my childhood are pretty inconsistent. I remember some things in startling detail, and other things are blank pages that I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to recover–sometimes entire years are blank. Maybe those are just life plateaus where nothing particularly joyful or traumatic happened. Years that were probably wonderful in their simplicity, security, and lack of drama.

Blanking on these years isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I do wish my memory held tighter to them.

As I’ve started writing more, I often turn to the remnants that I have of my childhood–photos, albums, letters, cards, toys, blankets, jewelry that has been passed on to me. Basically anything I can get my hands on that will bring the details of my life back to me.

For example, my mom ordered an 8×10 each year of all our school pictures. She kept each year’s picture framed on the mantle, stacking each new photo on top of the previous year and keeping them all together in the same frames in chronological order. She gave these to us when we were older, and looking at them now is like watching myself grow up. The awkward stages jump off the studio portraits in glaring detail and I remember.

The rest of our family memories are scattered in albums, in boxes, in storage, and divided between siblings. Some exist now only on discarded Beta Max tapes, VHS tapes, and other videos that were never converted. There are many more that were never recorded at all and remain only in our nostalgia tainted memories.

How different will my daughter’s collection of memories be?

We live in the age of the documented childhood.

I have so many scraps, moments, and milestones recorded and saved from her life so far. I have pictures from her birth (no video), I have her first t-shirt from the hospital she was born in, the first blanket they burrito wrapped her in, the hat she wore, the outfit she came home in. I have a video of her first ride in the stroller. I did one photo shoot a month during her first year; thousands of pictures. My iPhone has at least 600 pictures of the in between moments; a chronicle of her life in photo and video. I have not had time to organize them, but in various media forms and locations, her childhood memories to date are here.

Thanks to Facebook and this blog, some are documented in potentially privacy invading detail that I doubt she will appreciate when she’s older.

Maybe it is a first child phenomenon, but I am diligently hoarding her memories for her. I have a vision of presenting her with a sophisticated, high-tech (haha, assuming I can keep up with the changes) highlight reel of her life; maybe at her high school or college graduation. I hope to accompany it with an organized collection of tangible things that were important to her during the course of her life.

I’m only two years behind, so there’s still time to catch up.

If she remains an only child, and we never move or spring clean again, I might actually achieve this goal.

I saw a picture on Facebook recently of three grown children in a family. Their father passed away recently and his birthday fell during the days between his passing and his memorial. They were releasing balloons in his honor on his birthday, and they were all smiling in the picture.

Not because it was a happy day, obviously.

Probably because we are conditioned to smile anytime a camera is turned on us, and because even during tragedy, there is comfort and joy to be found with your family. Religion also encourages us not to grieve as those who have no hope in eternal life.

So we smile, and their smiles struck a chord with me.

It made me think about what moments I’m saving for my daughter.

I want the happy ones, of course. The pictures and videos where I’ve captured the perfect smile, the joy and laughter of her first steps, her achievements, her highs.

But should I discard the others? The lows? The honest photos where she’s screaming because she didn’t want to be put in ridiculous poses that day? What about the picture where her forehead is bruised because she dove out of the stroller in a toy store one day when I forgot to strap her in? Should I edit the videos to omit strained background conversations and bickering during the holidays? The milestones that happened in our living room with the sounds of reality television blaring in the background?

Maybe I should set those moments to classical music instead of Hell’s Kitchen?

But, I don’t want to whitewash her memories either (and I probably couldn’t even if that was my goal).

Behind the frame worthy, highlight reel moments, there is the reality of our lives.

And life is good and bad, happy and sad.

It is the moments that happen before and after my camera clicks that will shape her memories.

Those are the moments that matter the most.

So I’ve decided to include a little of both.

I want her to know that a truly rich and full life will absolutely contain peaceful, serene moments like this:

Visions of the 2005 season in her head.

And it will contain just as many moments like this:

Football? AGAIN?

Sometimes within the same ten photo frames, and especially during a Longhorn football season with her dad.

Reality scrapbooking.

It’s the next big thing.

I’m kidding, that will never catch on.

There will be no albums full of sad pictures, but I think funny, real pictures should definitely be included.

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29 thoughts on “A Documented Childhood

  1. What cute photos! She’s sweet. Real pictures should be included, definitely. My parents did the same for me and I love watching videos and seeing what I was like. Almost every picture is of me screaming about something or not smiling and when I asked about it, my parents were like…well…you were a miserable, sensitive kid. That’s the reality, and in terms of growth, it certainly shaped the woman I am becoming/am. I guess what I am saying is that we just have to embrace it.

    So now I appreciate the photos where I am actually smiling and I certainly appreciate them more for raising me! Thanks for sharing :-)

    • Thank you!
      There are a lot of pictures of me not smiling, and hanging around in the background kicking at dirt too. I’ve asked if I was a happy kid, and mostly they just said I was sensitive and withdrawn a lot. I think it’s great that your parents did this for you though, and actually completed the project.
      Cheers to miserable, sensitive kids!
      We usually turn out pretty awesome anyway.

  2. I think as long as the pictures represent what really happened and not what we wish would have happened – you’re going the right way. I see all these pictures on FB of these creative perfect kids – and I have to wonder – are these really them most of the time or just a small drop in the ocean – are there times where they’re hanging around watching TV, complaining about being bored and yelling “YOU’VE RUINED MY LIFE” amongst the good stuff? Are these portrayals reality or staged? I’m sometimes not sure.

    • That’s the key for me too. I’d like to capture what is really happening and not the starched shirt, Sunday best all the time. I don’t think FB projects a lot behind the scenes action though.

      • Just enough projection to make me feel like a creativity-parent failure :) – I have come to accept that fact that I nor my child will ever do anything exciting with a toilet paper roll besides either recyle it or use it for an improteau (sp) bookmark. Erma Bombeck understands me…

      • Right? I feel that way a lot too…so I avoid Pinterest at all costs. I look at a tp roll and I see a tp roll, even with inspiration help. There are so many other things besides crafts that can inspire creativity in your children though!

  3. Lovely post. It’s funny, but memories from my childhood are so faded, I only remember bits and pieces. Very little of my things were saved, so I don’t have much to jog my memory. Like you, I’ve tried to save a few things for my sons, but being boys, they might not care much. But I have a scrapbook for each of them where I put a few school papers and such each year, just so they have something to look back on for each year of their life.

    • It’s usually the years where I don’t have anything saved that I forget the most about as well. I bet the boys will appreciate it when they are older. I know my brothers both enjoy the things that my mom kept for them. The key is probably to give it them later in life when they are done moving around and slumming it in the bachelor pads during college :)

  4. This was a really good post. I don’t remember a whole lot of my childhood either and as my husband and I are discussing trying to start having kids next year – I always think about what particular items and pictures I should keep too. I definitely take a lot of pictures so I’m sure I’ll catch screaming and crying moments too, but I think those are just as important/cherish-able as the happy moments. Good luck with your little one! =]

    • Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. Good luck with the memory keeping too when you guys get there. It is one of my favorite parts of being a parent, and I wish I remembered more about my childhood–its probably why I’m trying to preserve everything for her now.

  5. Beautiful idea about remembering family memories. But she is cheering for the wrong team. She should be saying geaux Tigers! LSU!
    p.s. i did not forget the recipe. just misplaced it. will get it to you.

    • It was a good day over here when she learned how to say Hook Em! I’m so glad these are all digital now–I would be broke on film costs and storage containers otherwise. Thanks for commenting!

  6. This is an interesting topic that raises lots of questions for me…
    How important are photographs and mementos in shaping our memories, personality and our future self? Can the parent who only dicuments the creative moments shape a creative adult out of their child? Should parents be documenting the lives of their children for all the world to see online at all? Do people without the technology to record their lives in childhood think of themselves differently than those that do?

    I think it would be good for your child to know, along with all the documents of themselves, something of their parents at that time; maybe what TV programs they were watching, what music they listened to, what fears/hopes they had at the time, what they thought of the big news stories. After all we aren’t going to be around for ever and perhaps they might like that in the future. I think that is particularly important to children if there is a death of a parent when they are still young.

    • These are great questions, and I’ve often wondered about some of the same things. That is a great idea on recording some of the culture right now. Documentation of any kind that gives insight into who your parents are as people are so important. Especially when they are gone.

  7. That definitely makes sense (that since you don’t remember, you’re almost working harder to make sure she remembers). I just know that when my baby is all grown up – they are going to have A LOT of pictures to look through! And when it comes to the pictures where they are sad/mad, I think once they’re grown they can look at those and laugh. I know my mom has some pictures of me terrified of the Easter bunny or pouting because I got in trouble, but I can look at my mom and jokingly be like, “Mom! Why did you do that to me?! Why am I wearing that hideous outfit!” Silly things like that you know?…. and let me tell you – my mom put me in some WEIRD outfits!

    • Hahaha! I have some weird outfits too, but that was mostly after I was allowed to start picking out my own clothes. I think we’ll have a lot of moments like this though.

      • That makes it fun to have those pictures. Of course, life isn’t always the happy and smileys! I’m pretty serious about some outfits my mom put me in though – she must have made them and doesn’t want to tell me – because there’s no buying that crazy stuff! HAHA! I also really like looking at those pictures, including the “terrified of the Easter bunny” picture because they’re just plain hilarious now. I think the ones in my teen years were “embarrassing” but it was still a part of life. That crazy hair and the school picture where I’m missing my two front teeth are the past now. Embarrassing at the time, but, over it now. =]

  8. Aw, the baby pictures!!! With my first daughter, I took her picture every few seconds. She had a professional photo every month (from Wal Mart and part of them were free through this deal, but still, professional.) Even when she was one month old, sleeping, drooling, and falling into a corner. She slept through most of that month, so I would put her in her bouncy seat and change her into all her cute little outfits and take photos of each one. I took photos of flipping everything.

    And then I had her sister. But with her I also had a four-year-old. And I was tired. And she was – let’s just say unique. So there aren’t anything like as many pictures of her as there are of her sister. Sometimes I pretend photos of her sister are her, but it’s hard to do since older sister hardly had any hair and little sister looked like a mini Don King. We also still haven’t finished her scrapbook of her first year, and she’s eight. But, hey, my album wasn’t as full as my big brother’s either. So it goes.

    Anyway, I cannot do anything short, even comments, it seems. Good post.

  9. Pingback: Pondering privacy and kids « My mom adventures in Fort Collins

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