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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Keeping Journals for My Children

                I have kept a journal ever since I was ten-years-old. I don’t why I started doing it, but I know why I continue to do it now. Our lives are stories. If our stories don’t remain after our lives have ended then it is almost as if we never lived at all. When I think of the millions and millions of people who have lived and died—and I have to use my imagination here—of whom there is no record I feel a great injustice has been done. I keep a journal not really thinking about someone in the future reading about me, but because I don’t want to forget my own life. I have noticed that my eighty-year-old father tells me the same stories over and over again. I know that there is so much more to his life than what he is telling me, but he can only tell the parts he remembers. I know this will happen to me (it already has happened) if I don’t keep a record.

                A major part of my life are the lives of my children. Three of my eight children are already grown and out of the home. I have five others between the ages of fourteen and six still at home. When I look at my eight-year-old and then look at one of my grown sons I realize that I cannot remember him at that age. It takes a lot of energy to bring up an image of my oldest son was a child. I can turn to a photograph, but even then I can’t remember the details of his childhood. What a tragedy to lose his childhood, and all it meant to me, except for some pictures and a few faded memories. Fortunately, I didn’t lose my sons’ childhood.
                When my oldest son was two-years-old I realized that I was going to forget all the little, seemingly mundane things that made up my life with him. I didn’t want to forget these little things that brought me so much joy, so I started keeping a journal for my son. This wasn’t a stretch for me since I always wrote in my journal every week anyway. After I got done with my journal I would write an entry in my son’s journal. These entries are pretty much just short letters to him describing something—anything—that was happening in our lives. I’m not pretending that you will be interesting in my son’s life, but here is an example of what I would write:

October 7, 1990

You talk a lot more now.  You repeat everything we say with some accuracy.  I love to listen to you talk.  It isn't always easy to understand you.  Sometimes I have to ask Mom what it is that you said.  Between the two of us we can usually figure out what it is you are saying.  The other morning you woke up and came in to me with a little plastic bag.  You said, "Look daddy. Stuff in it.  See, crayons."  Right now you are saying, "Need shower.  Need shower.  Need shower Daddy."  You like to take showers with me.  I will get in first, and then you will crawl in and sit on my feet with your back against my shins.  When I get out of the shower I will usually turn the shower off, but continue to fill the tub.  You like this because then you can play. 

You have finally learned how to ride your tricycle properly.  You used to push it around with your feet because you couldn't reach the peddles.  Now you can reach the peddles and you peddle all around the apartment complex.  It is fun to watch you. 

You like to sing.  We play tapes for you each night when you get in bed.  Some of the tapes are of primary songs and you are learning how to sing them.  The one you sing right now is Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam.  You get a lot of the words right, but they are not in the right order.  You are great to have around.     

                You see, these are just mundane things I have recorded, but things that are meaningful to me. I do not have an active memory of these things now, but since I wrote them when they happened I trust them and it makes me feel so good to read them. This boy is married now and moving on with his life.

                Of course when my second son came along I started a journal for him also. Then my third son. Finally I have eight children and keeping a journal for each of them keeps me busy. Actually it isn’t that hard. I don’t write in their journal’s every week, and when I do the entries are often just a paragraph or two. But in those paragraphs I make sure I write something that I know I will forget in the future.

                For my oldest son’s wedding gift I presented him with a printed and bound copy of “his” journal. It consisted of nearly two-hundred single spaced pages of letters from me describing his life as he grew up. But not only does it describe him, it describes his father and their relationship as they grew together. It definitely takes time and energy to keep a journal for each of my children, but I can’t imagine what else I could have done with the time I spent making those journal entries that would be of greater worth to me today.