“When people say that time goes by too quickly, I generally respond that time goes by at just the right pace. But today, when I think back on the day you were born, that five-year chunk of time seems to have passed very quickly….you’re growing up in an interesting time, as there are lots of social changes afoot (legalization of gay marriage was a huge social issue in the past year) and technology continues to evolve at rocket speed….I was just looking for the email address I reserved for you when you were born and wondered to myself whether email will even exist when you’re old enough to use it….This year has been filled with tragedies in Newtown and Boston and around the world, and every time one occurs, I have to shift my mind away from the fear that it will happen closer to home and find strength in my confidence that you are going to contribute to making this a more peaceful and happy world….I love you with every bit of my soul.”
These are a few excerpts from the birthday letter I wrote to my son last night. Every year on my children’s birthdays, I pour myself a glass of wine and take some time to pen a letter re-capping the past year in their lives, my life, our family, our corner of the world, and the broader world and society we’re part of. My plan is to hold all of these letters and turn them over to the kids when they’re ready to fly the coop…giving them a glimpse into what happened in our lives and in the world as they grew up.
I generally don’t make cakes (I’m a crummy baker) or cool Pinterest-ready gifts on kids’ birthdays, but I do try to “make memories.” Knowing I lacked the discipline to keep up with a traditional baby book, when I had children, I decided these letters would be the way I’d try to connect the dots for myself and our kids. I do this because as time goes on, the events of our days and lives start to bleed together. And an annual milestone like a birthday offers time and space and reason to extract the events and ideas and emotions that stand out over days and months and years and lifetimes and keep them in the forefront of our minds. In the case of the letter I wrote last night, it’s also a great way to help my children (someday) understand who I am…not just as their mom, but as a person. I freely write about my own hopes and fears, my own passions and projects, and my own frustrations and celebrations — to remind myself and teach them about the constant juggling and tradeoffs involved in life….and to remind them that each of us is our own unique person on this planet.
Not everyone likes typing letters like I do, and that’s fine. There are tons of amazing forms of self-expression — songs, videos, drawings, handmade cards, etc. For example, every year on our anniversary, Sean and I pull out a nondescript book that sits on our bookshelf and together jot down a few notes of trips we took, job highlights and challenges, friends we made, things that happened in the world, etc. This weekend’s New York Times featured drawings authors made of their children at specific ages, accompanied by a brief 1-sentence summary of the parent’s greatest fear.
The practice of making memories will look and feel different for anyone who does it, but the point is that taking time to make memories — both for yourself and for your loved ones — can be a powerful way to anchor our past, direct our futures, and knit our common experiences together in really special ways.
What do you think? Do you do anything special to mark the time between birthdays, anniversaries, or even just calendar years? What do you do, why do you do it, and who do you share it with?