There is something about the local culture – or maybe I just think it’s local – that places the expectation on mothers that they will record every tiny detail about their children’s infancy. Utah is the scrapbooking capital of the universe, and preserving every minute memory has been raised to an art form around here. My neighbor has seven (yes, that’s 7) children, and she has kept a scrap book for each one of them. She did complain one day a few summers ago that she had fallen a little behind. I felt a great rush of relief to know that she was, after all, merely human. I started a baby book for my oldest daughter, but I didn’t get much past the first month. I had to go back to work full-time (my ex went to school and worked part-time), so I didn’t really have much opportunity for recording things like when her first tooth came in, or when her gurgling actually sounded like “mama” instead of just gurgles.
My mother kept a baby book about me. Okay, she kept a baby book for a little while about me. I found it in hidden beneath my overflowing book shelf a few days ago. It was funny to look through, not because I was such a clever baby, but because it told me so much about my mother and father, and about what Mom was experiencing at the time.
There is a crumpled, wax-paper bag that holds a lock of my hair tucked into the front. The first few pages are written with a fountain pen in my mother’s neat script. She talks sweetly of “Mama and Daddy” waiting in a hospital room while the nurse brought me from the nursery. I was adopted, so there was no delivery story, no rushing to the ER in the early morning hours. But Mom describes hearing me screaming all the way down the hall. Hmm, not much has changed there, I guess.
On one page is a hand-written letter from my grandfather – a man whom I admire to this day, and whom I loved most dearly. He addresses the letter to me, though at the time I was only a few weeks old. He had a wonderful sense of humor, but he was also a kind and wise man. In his letter, he says to me:
“During your lifetime, you will have a lot of pleasures. But with all of the pleasures you have, there will be just a few outstanding things that give you the greatest amount of happiness.
1. The day you marry the person you will love for the remainder of your life.
2. The day you are blest with children of your own.
3. The day your grandchildren start arriving.
To me, these are the greatest and most important events of anyone’s life. Sure, having money, a big house, shiny new car will give you pleasure, but they are not nearly as important as the love of your partner and your children.”
He was so correct – except for the grandchildren part. I hope not to find that one out any time soon. In fact, I’ve threatened my children with dismemberment if they make me a grandmother before I’m 55. I miss him terribly.
My mom recorded my height and weight every few months until I was six months old. Then it stops. I weighed 14 pounds at six months, but she didn’t write down my height. I learned to crawl backwards when I was 8 months old. There is a note that says I smiled at six weeks old, and an additional note that I smiled at my daddy more than at my mommy. Boy, that changed later on.
At eight months old, my favorite toy was a rubber baseball bat with a squeaker in it. I was also fond of a stuffed duck that my grandmother made. No doubt she sewed or crocheted it. I inherited my yarn obsession from her.
There is a large entry about all the gifts I got on my first birthday, but there are no other birthdays recorded.
Glued to one of the pages is an announcement my father wrote. He was heavily involved with the Jaycees, and at the time I was born, he was the newsletter editor. For his January column, he began with this:
“She was six years overdue, but she finally arrived at our house on December 18, just four days old, weighing 6 pounds 1/2 ounce. She’s a doll and shall be known as Kimberly Ann. We hope your Christmas was as happy as ours.”
In the back of the book, the pages bulge with all the congratulatory cards. Mom saved them all, including the little cards that came with flowers.
It’s an incomplete history, to be sure, but it is filled with so very much. It’s funny to talk about with family, too. As the first-born kid, and one that had been anticipated for quite some time, I am blessed with a significant number of photo albums from my infancy and toddler days. My sister, however, bemoans the fact that there is very little evidence that she existed before elementary school. By then our parents had their hands full. Dad was promoted at work (he ran a radio station), I was an active three-year-old, and Mom was working for the telephone company.
With three kids of my own, and understanding what it’s like to shuffle work, kids, and a job, I know that there were not many photos of my younger two kids taken by my husband and I. It’s a good thing my dad was around then, and that he was quite a photographer, or my younger two kids might feel the same as my sister.
I’m moving the baby book to a safe place – my fire proof safe where I keep important documents (like passports and car titles). I’m hoping to locate my husband’s baby book, too. It is somewhere in our house, though it has been missing since we moved here ten years ago. I only looked through it once, but I remember it being about as complete as mine. He was also adopted, and his family was in similar circumstances to mine, so I guess it doesn’t surprise me that his baby book would be similar as well.
Maybe one day I’ll go back and try to fill in some of the details of my children’s early lives. Then they can stumble across their own history hidden beneath their book shelves.