Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Baby Journal Fail

"Write it down!," the journal screams urgently. "Memories are all that's left." Really? That's a bit melodramatic, don't you think?  Regardless, the "Mother's Journal" in the photo below is one of literally dozens of similar journals I've come to possess in the past decade, and none of them--not ONE--documents a single moment past either of my children's infancy.

Sometimes when I'm feeling particularly masochistic (i.e. frequently), I like to imagine conversations between my kids and their future therapists in young adulthood. And because I'm a narcissist, these imagined conversations are always about me.

"I don't understand it," they'll say hopelessly, tears welling in their eyes. "She was writing ALL the time. She wrote a million embarrassing things about us on her stupid blog and all over Facebook and Twitter. And when she wasn't doing that, she was coloring like a six year-old in "adult" coloring books. [Here they will make air quotes with their fingers]. And when she wasn't doing THAT, she was dicking around on her iPhone. She couldn't have kept ONE journal? I mean . . . it'd be one thing if she was actually spending TIME with us, but she WASN'T! I'm NEVER doing this to my kids."

The therapist will sit there with her blinky, therapist poker-face. She'll cross her legs and fold her hands in her lap, leaning forward just a little. A fish tank will burble quietly behind her, a few brightly-colored fish swimming in lazy circles among the plastic rocks and coral. She'll offer a box of tissues and ask earnestly, "Why do YOU think she didn't keep a journal?"

And of course they won't have an answer, which is why I'm providing one now.

My kids are now five and eight, and to say I'm behind on journaling their childhood milestones is a profound understatement. I was doing great at first. When Paige was born, I wrote down every little detail from the moment she came home until about ten months, when I somehow lost the will to journal, along with other, arguably more essential activities of daily living such as regular showers and shaving my legs.

You can see this from the paper record. The first few months of her life are chronicled in excruciating detail: "Nursed for 20 minutes on the right side today," or "Six weeks: first smile!," or, "Rice cereal! First solid food!" And a photo, carefully selected from an online library, printed on photo stock, cut to size, and lovingly affixed with double-sided tape to a pre-drawn box positioned on the page at an angle and meant to look whimsical.

By the time Isaac came along three years later, I was over it. I maybe wrote down his first word, but I couldn't tell you where if my life depended on it. I suppose I could doctor, fabricate, and back-date a couple of journals like those crooked cops on Making a Murderer, but somehow that seems even worse?

"Why aren't there more pictures of ME, Mommy?" he asked pathetically one day while studying photos of baby Paige crammed along the frame of a mirror on my bedroom wall. 

"Because Mommy kind of lost track of space and time once Paige started walking, honey. I'm sorry about that. Let's print some photos of you this weekend."  

Of course we never do, and again my mind wanders to the therapist's office. I'm not even sure I have all of their school photos, as I seem to have lost some of those as well.

I guess in the grand scheme of things, failure to keep a journal isn't the worst parental crime. Certainly it's not inconsistent with the adequate parent theory, which holds that kids will basically turn out OK if you don't actively traumatize them by beating them with belt buckles and leaving them alone for weeks at a time in a crack house to fend for themselves. Yes, I know. It's just a "theory."

But although I view my failure to journal as a fail, I don't consider it to be a big one. We're all of us fuck-ups from the start, aren't we?  In that vein, I'll leave you with my favorite poem about parenting, called This Be the Verse, written in 1971 by the British poet and novelist Philip Larkin:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

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