When I was a kid, I was always a bit sore about the absence of a baby book for me. I’m the second child. My sister had her first steps and first haircut recorded. There’s even a swath of baby hair under some scotch tape. My mother seemed so careful about archiving my sister’s history that she even kept the greeting cards sent by friends and family for my sister’s first birthday.
Then I came along. There are some pictures, yes. But that’s it. (Cue the violins.)
It took until I had my own children to realize that two babies truly are “ten times the work.” When my son arrived, there was just no time to get pictures of him printed and organized into a photo album like I had done for my daughter after she turned one. In fact, I still haven’t done it and he’s three and a half.
But, I am proud of one thing that qualifies me as an archivist for my kids. When my daughter was born, I cracked the spine of a book with blank pages—about the size of a small dictionary—and began the process of recording my thoughts alongside her many milestones for her future self to read. This journaling became a habit. Writing in my native language to my child (who would one day read it fluently) felt like I was making a stronger connection to her that would transcend time. One day, I know, she will read about my perceptions of her little self, and some details about our lives at the time of the entries, and I picture the older version of my child relating to the younger version of me.
So, when my son was born, I bought him a book too. Now, with the two of them still small, I struggle to find enough time. Sometimes months go by between entries. Sometimes I write in one book and not the other because the story I wish to record focuses on one child and only features the other as a supporting character.
This makes me wonder, too, if it won’t be weird for them not to read their books in tandem with each other, considering I often tell the story of a family issue in one book and then resist repeating it in the other. I just simply write, ‘I wrote about this in your brother’s book in detail, but here are some additional thoughts about you lately.’
I picture them as adults sitting together and pouring over these entries, patching together our family history, sharing each other’s content. But, I can’t decide how old they should be when I present them with these chronicles. Maybe eighteen? Maybe when they have their own children, if they decide to become parents? Maybe at around age thirty when their identities and worldviews are more established? I’m not sure yet, but there’s lots of time to decide.
Ironically, I keep a digital notes on my iPhone to remind me of “what not to forget to write about” in their analog journals, when I take pen to paper. Going backwards in time technologically when I’m creating something for their future selves seems counter-intuitive, I know, but I continue. A physical keepsake feels safer than a digital cloud will ever be. These will be books they can actually hold.
In the end, may the existence of these journals distract them from the absence of a true baby book for either child. And, for my second child, may he one day forgive me for not putting photos of him into an album like I did for his sister!
About the Writer
Ember Swift is a Canadian who has been living in Beijing since 2008. She has a daughter, Echo (5), and a son Paz (3). She spends a lot of time on stages making original music, writing blogs and columns, doing voice over work, and advocating for vegetarianism, LBGTQ rights, and multilingualism.