I used to love looking at my baby book as a kid, but after I dug it out of a storage box to write this story, I wondered what was so exciting about it. Perhaps it was that, as the first-born child, I was the only one who had one. Clearly, my mother was not too excited about my development other than my weight, which she dutifully recorded for the first year. My book also contained a tiny baby ring that Mom procured from the Ernst Kern Company as a freebie to “treasure.” Luckily, she never gave it to me to swallow and it remains taped to the page entitled “Important Firsts.”
When I thumb through my mother’s attempt to memorialize my early childhood, it doesn’t really matter what she wrote or what she saved. The love with which she did it is what endures.
According to my mother, I smiled at one month, turned over at eight weeks, got my first tooth at four months, stood alone and sat without help at six months, said Da-Da and Mama at eight months, and walked at 12 months. My toys were a brown doggie, measuring spoons, a black and white panda, a strainer (really?), and a ball. The one page she completely filled in recorded all of the gifts I received at birth. I suspect this was important so she could reciprocate in kind.
When my first child was born, I also made a gift list in his book because I thought that was what was required. But I was determined to be more thorough than my mother and added many baby photos, including this one of the reunion of my Lamaze class featuring a lock of his hair, which obviously came from a later date as he’s the bald guy in denim in the center of the photo:
While I didn’t fill in every question, I dutifully recorded all of his milestones and who attended his first three birthday parties. After that, all I had time to did was shove in his elementary school group class photos because he had a baby sister and her book called out to me. One thing I did of which I’m still pretty proud was to glue the headlines of the day onto a random page in each of my kids’ books. Here are the things that happened on November 26, 1973, when my first daughter was born:
By the time I got to a baby book for my third child, I had a much shorter list of gifts (maybe folks were not as into my having kids by then). But that list is proof that my friend’s mother gave her Henry, her much-loved pink teddy bear that she passed on to one of her kids. Other than that, and a few entries on the height/weight page, her book is a mess. This is largely due to the fact that she, like me, was obsessed with it as a child. Unlike my mother, I let her play with it all of the time. As a result, an envelope with a lock of her hair which she examined constantly disappeared. Here’s what her book looks like today:
In recent years, I have come to wonder about how these books feel to parents whose children’s milestones fall outside of common developmental expectations. Questions about when a child first rolled over, sat up, crawled, stood alone, walked, talked, or hit other first-year expectations are painful for parents whose children did not do these things at the typical time, or may not do them at all. How do parents whose children join their family though adoption fill in sections asking to describe their mother’s pregnancy or birth experiences? Family tree pages can also present challenges to adoptees or children from non-traditional family structures. The kind of baby books I bought and completed for my children assumed there was a mommy and a daddy, not always the case these days. For many of these reasons, my children and their friends would not feel comfortable completing the traditional commercial baby book for their children.
I didn’t think about these issues when my children first became parents and I copied the pages from their baby books for them. I have no idea if they kept those copies, so I’m glad I held on to the originals. Like the other mementos of their childhood – drawings, skating ribbons, sports trophies, award certificates – that reside in my basement, I now realize that these things mean more to me than to them.
Nevertheless, I suspect that someday my kids will take the baby books I made for them out of an obscure storage place like I did mine. I hope they will feel the way I do when I thumb through my mother’s attempt to memorialize my early childhood. It doesn’t really matter what she wrote or what she saved. The love with which she did it is what endures.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.