Before I had kids, I got into the scrapbook craze. Then I had kids. I don’t scrapbook anymore. But I do still collect memories.
I just watched an episode of Madam Secretary where three siblings look through old memorabilia, and the two elder kids go through their albums, while the youngest discovers that his parents never made one for him. This upsets him, and the parents have to make amends.
I’ve got supplies. I even started a scrapbook for my eldest and got as far as him being less than two weeks old in his album. He’s much older now. I’ve since had two more kids, and they don’t have albums at all.
Because the thing they don’t mention when you’re learning to scrapbook is that no matter how many tools you buy, or how many pre-cut borders you have, the sleeplessness and, well, sheer aaargh of new parenthood translates to a complete inability to think linearly. Or in any organized way whatsoever. When remembering to brush my teeth is a challenge, how am I supposed to figure out what color or cutesy pattern should be the background of any particular page? Worse yet, as a new parent, every little detail was utterly important, yet I was completely incapable of remembering it all. Which meant my baby’s album would always be incomplete.
I kept setting goals for this baby album—first I planned to get one done by the first birthday. Nope. Before I had a second kid. Nope. Pre-third kid? Nope. Even now, as we start to discuss college visits, there’s not one completed baby album in the house.
However, my kids’ lives have not gone completely undocumented, and I’m done feeling guilty.
1. Keep Birthday Invitations
Every year, we have a party for their birthdays. For many of those parties, I designed their invitations in Photoshop. I could probably gather these into an album. In fact, I should probably find copies of all of them. Here are a few examples:
2. Digital Albums
Of course, at these parties, we took pictures that we then uploaded. We can certainly look back on those albums online, and do something with them if we so desire. But they are documented.
3. Father’s Day Collage
Once a year, I take a bit of time to look through pictures from the past year and assemble them into a large photo collage in Photoshop. Using a 10×14 canvas, I obsess over which pictures to include (an equal number of each child, of course), the layout, and adjusting the margins perfectly so everything looks just right. I just put the new one on top of the old one in the frame, so they’re stored together. That counts, right? Here’s a sample:
4. Holiday Cards
Yes, photo cards count. Whether we manage a family pic or we hobble together individual pics, we do document our past year. And while I’d love to say that I’ve stored them all in one album or some other organized manner, yeah, that ain’t the truth. They’re somewhere, no doubt about it. Perhaps one of our more organized friends has taken it upon herself to assemble a lovely gift for us one day, one which we would surely greatly appreciate.
5. Holiday Letter
I create the Engineer Gazette to accompany our holiday cards, using a newspaper-like layout. I include highlights of the past year and include quotes by the kids (which I email to myself throughout the year with the kid’s name and subject “quote” so I can easily search for it at year’s end). While not to the depth of a scrapbook, this too could be compiled into an album someday, assuming that is still the gold standard of documentation.
There was a paint-your-own-pottery studio near us when the kids were little, and for several years we’d take the kids there in December and have them each paint an ornament. After they closed, we started going to a different place. Now the kids balk at the idea, so one year I ordered an ornament with a picture of them from when we all went to a Cleveland Indians game. Then, when we put up the tree, I call on them to put up their ornaments as we briskly journey down memory lane.
7. Fun Jar
There’s a popular post on social media suggesting you keep a jar, and throughout the year put scraps of paper in with fond memories of shared events. And then, on December 31, the family sits together and goes through the jar, fondly reminiscing about the past year. We do something like that: we have a jar in the kitchen, and we use it to gather tickets to concerts, plays, shows, and sporting events. I’ll usually jot down who went on the back of the ticket to jog our memories. Near the jar, we stack up programs from these events. And at the end of the year, I get out a large manila envelope and shove everything inside. Because we’re usually hosting for New Year’s and don’t have time to sit around and look through this stuff. But I’ve got it all, so one day, yes on that mystical “one day” when there is time enough to do everything, I can do something with all these gathered memories.
Outside the Scrapbook
This is certainly a bit of a hodgepodge of memory keepers. I also order their school pictures every year, and have a nice stack of them somewhere in the house, again waiting to be assembled into a single photo album. Someday. But until that mythical day arrives (and perhaps it should happen this summer, and be a task completed by the kids themselves), I will stop feeling guilty about not fulfilling my responsibility as a parent/official documentarian, and realize that while I have never managed to collect their photos in albums, I have indeed been documenting their childhood just fine.
So no, I’ve not managed to scrapbook our lives. Somehow that particular construct is just too intimidating to me. Recently at my parent’s house, I found two albums I had created when I was younger, and perhaps my issue is that this scrapbook craze suggests that I’m responsible for documenting my children’s lives. If instead, I let them write the narrative, sit down one day (or numerous days) to assemble their own childhood scrapbooks, these albums would actually get done. Perhaps this summer I’ll post about how I successfully did that. But until that mystical day, I’m going to shed my guilt and reassure myself that my kids’ lives are being sufficiently commemorated.