This was originally written for my column, Quietly Making Noise. Which appears monthly in The Charlotte News.
“Pick up my poop garbage man!” Noah yelled as the garbage truck pulled up to the curb.
This gem of a tweet is from March 2012. Twitter is one of the ways that I journal for the boys and for myself. My mother journaled by writing important events on large, year at a glance wall calendars— I found one from 1977 recently rolled up in the back of a closet. She told me there were more packed away somewhere. “I did it more with Tycen [my older brother] than with you.” she said.
Michelle, a mom of three, summed up her journaling habits this way— “Thoughts on journaling: pre-children-every day. First child-every other day. Second child-every few months. Third child-every year’s end.”
I’ve been journaling off and on since high school but after I began reading letters my grandmother had written from the 1940s to the 1970s I began writing every night. Not only about the daily events but also the internal struggles and joys that help to understand a person. In the letters, I am able to watch my dad grow up and to understand my grandmother a little more. It has been fascinating to see not only myself in his actions but our boys as well. These letters were never met to be a journal, but given the detail that is in them they might as well have been. A modern twist to the letter is the idea of setting up an email account for your children and sending them letters throughout their childhood, giving them an easy-to-read journal. Along with Twitter and my nightly journals I also have a private Facebook page. This is an easy way to share pictures and videos, in an organized fashion, with friends and relatives around the world.
Steve, a stay-at-home-dad of twin girls said he had recently gone through the journals he had kept between college and marriage.
“[It] Was a great way to remember some of the things that pictures didn’t catch and usually veered from being documentation of what happened, which was great, into what I was thinking and feeling about things at home and who I was with on the trip.
The only journal I have had since marriage is one I started about a year ago. I only write in to keep track of bigger things that happen. Trips, deaths, births, visitors, extreme storms and snowfall and temps etc., big news events. The kicker is that I reuse the same calendar every year so I can see exactly what happened a year ago today. One calendar should last me about 7 years before it is filled up.”
When my father passed away nearly four years ago I realized that I only knew the parenting part of him. Neither my brother nor I had any idea what a force he was in the Vermont planning community. My dad journaled sporadically for the first eight years or so of my life, in doing research for this column I opened those journals. In his words, I discovered another side of him, the one that was worried about providing for his family, worried that there was not enough time to do all the things he wanted to do, the one who was regretful after he yelled at us, his continued effort to not internalize so much.
This is me. These are also my worries.
Even the words he used to describe how he was feeling could be my words. His writing about feeling depressed describes how I feel, and this fills in a piece of my puzzle for me. To find out that my dad felt, at times, the same way I feel is a way for me to understand my depression a little better. I don’t think his was as bad as mine can be, but regardless, knowing this now makes me understand how he seemed to completely understand what I was going through when I was diagnosed with depression in 2009 after I lost my job.
My friend Lisa journals on a daily basis in a photo blog for her son, Teo. She says, “Every day I add a picture, or two or three or 20 (for very busy or highly fun and photogenic days!) Sometimes I add a short video, sometimes a paragraph or a quote that Teo said. I don’t really know why I do it… maybe it’s my way of dealing with my obsession of time flying by. I lost my father at 47, so I feel pressed by time to leave something for Teo. If I die early he will have the blog to keep some history.”
Michelle keeps a holiday journal where she describes the ornament that she picked out for each child for that year. She also reflects on the year and what the kids’ passions and interests were. As a family, they also keep a gratitude journal by the dining room table which they try to write in every week. “as a way for us to focus our energy on gratitude… Even our two-year-old understands when we say ‘what are you thankful for?”
In a world that seems to be increasing with intolerance, violence and an emphasis on material growth, this is perhaps something we should all be doing regardless of if we journal personally or not.
Whereas I journal to have a memory for myself and others to read later in life, my friend Julie, who has three kids ranging in age from kindergarten to 8th grade, sees journaling more as a tool rather than something to share.
“It helps me think and to wade through the junk to what really matters,” she says. “I started keeping a journal when I was a teenager. We had to for English class and it just stuck.”
She now has boxes of journals that she can’t decide if she should burn or read through. Julie not only journals for herself but also with her children; her older son writes a letter to her on Friday and she responds over the weekend. She and her teenage daughter have a journal together that they write in once a week or so. “We ask each other questions and tell about what is happening.” These activities allow her to see her son’s more thoughtful side and what her daughter is thinking about.
Journaling is an amazing gift to give your children and yourself. It is a way to be candid and to wade through the junk. But it also allows you to hold onto memories; it puts a time line to the hazy ones and brings back ones you’ve forgotten. It allows your children to fill in the gaps when they are trying to figure where exactly they come from. It is a time capsule that I look forward to opening one evening twenty years from now with my wife, Erin, when the house is once again quiet and we long to vividly recount those days when the boys were young.