A Memory Is Worth a Thousand Words (Writing To Our Children)

Okay, maybe it doesn’t have to be a thousand, but remembering our past through words can sometimes be just as rewarding as the pictures we take (think Bridges of Madison County, perhaps not the best example). It seems that since the advent of smartphones that include built-in cameras, along with Facebook and Instagram, chronicling our lives through pictures has become increasingly in vogue. And though the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” sometimes those words can mean so much more than the picture can.

Being a writer by heart and profession, when my wife and I decided to have our first child, I began journaling our experiences as we entered this new phase of our lives. To keep it manageable, I wrote my entries on a regular basis each month, recounting what we were doing, and identifying such things as what our jobs were, the issues we were tackling, and the thoughts that were going through our heads as we prepared to take this next step in our relationship and our lives together. This family journal has morphed into what amounts to an annual opportunity to reflect on the events of the past year within our family. I make small entries throughout the year, which makes it easier to remember things as they happen. I’ll note personal items such as our vacations; our children’s various activities; interesting things we did that year; notes about our extended family, when applicable; and, finally, newsworthy events that add a historical perspective and point of reference in time.

You’d be amazed at the many interesting, sometimes comical, and oftentimes sentimental and nostalgic things we forget in just a short period of time. Reading the entries from years past takes us back to that time and reminds us of what it was like in that moment as our kids took their first step, spoke their first word, finished their first dance recital, or scored their first goal. And it doesn’t just have to be the highlighted moments. For instance, I like to remember funny things my kids have done along the way, books and movies they really liked, or cute habits they had. To each his own; you choose what you feel you’ll enjoy the most, looking back.

For some of you the thought of taking on such an ongoing project might be too intimidating to consider. To those readers, might I suggest other options that better suit your interests, abilities and schedules? You might consider the art of simple letter writing. For instance, you could choose to write a personal letter to your child at the end of every year, not necessarily to the extent of the journal idea. Instead, you can be as specific or general as you wish. After all, it’s your letter and should reflect your own style, whatever that happens to be. You may also choose to write additional letters at specific milestones or events in their lives (for example starting kindergarten, high school, their first prom and so on). Or it could simply be a letter written out of the blue at a time when you felt most compelled to convey your thoughts and feelings to them. You needn’t worry so much about sounding perfect. If the thoughts and feelings are genuine, that will come through in your writing, and the message will be received in a way that’s unique to you and your personality. Nor should the length be a concern. You should write as much or as little as you feel is appropriate to convey the message you want to send. Once you’ve completed the letters or journal it’s important to keep them in a safe place—one where someone else besides you knows where they are.

Depending on what you’ve written, you may choose to keep it and give it to them at a later date, such as when they get married or are expecting their first child. Or, it may be something you think would benefit them right away to hear. Perhaps it’s just the medicine they need to get them through a trying time. Writing can also be a wonderful way to say the things that are difficult for us to express well in person.

Regardless of what method you select, of this I’m certain—moments pass by quickly in time and memories gently fade like the wind. Therefore, anything we have that helps us rekindle those memories and moments in our lives that were both special and ordinary will forever be cherished. That goes for us, our children and our children’s children. Leaving behind a part of ourselves and a glimpse into the lives and nature of our children will help them remember and pass these on to the generations that follow us.