i have a picture of you on my heart

August 5, 2014

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I’ve been rereading my mother’s journals for an essay that I’m working on, and rediscovering nuggets like these:

H at three, when I asked him to put away one set of toys before taking out another: “I’m not into that.”

Lulu at five, working out the nuances of words: “Is plump a nicer way to say fat?” And, “Is gone a nicer way to say dead?”

Mr. T at six, questioning his sixteen-year-old brother: “Would you rather have a little brother, or a doughnut on a rainy day?”

Ha! Their words let me see how much each kid has always been who they are now. In flickers. H has been a no-nonsense, straight-shooter from the start. His sister has always been the sort of person who slings words for effect, and knows their social power. And Mr. T has always had a grand imagination, slightly offbeat.

I’ve kept personal journals from the time I was in college; I started keeping these separate ones about the kids just before Lulu was born. They’re a place for me to write down funny things the kids have said and done, and to reflect on them as they’ve grown up. I’ve written in them sporadically–sometimes every few weeks, sometimes every few months. I always wished I’d written more, but it’s surprising how much even occasional entries add up. My current mother’s journal is a Moleskine with grid pages–thin pages and small lines means you can cram a lot in. I started this one in 2003! My 10-year-old has turned into a 22-year-old in this journal! There is a page mid-way, with pencil scrawls from Mr. T that he must have done when he was two. I didn’t write my way to that page for another ten years; I finally got there this March. I wrote around his two-year-old scribblings about the twelve-year-old he’d become, with a his fascination with the Medici and the Illuminati, and his tendencies to be less of a maker and more of a talker.

Seeing all that on the same page makes a mother’s heart feel like it’s being stepped on. In a good way, I suppose. I’m being imprinted.

It makes me think of a night when T was six and he called to me in the hallway, after I kissed him goodnight, “Mama, I have a picture of you on my heart!” That’s just how he said it. I know–it’s in my journal.

My journals are full of pictures. Not actual photos or drawings, but snapshots of the kids at different ages. I start reading and suddenly there are different versions of the kids, right before me.

There is H at eight at the piano in the family room, wearing his A’s cap and playing “Hall of the Mountain King” as fast as he can crank it out. He looks at us, no smile because he’s concentrating, crosses his left hand over his right and keeps playing with opposite hands. He looks at us again, thinking how to up the ante, and sinks to his knees below the piano, his hands still above his head, crossed and playing.

There is Lulu in her bedroom with the lavender walls at three, negotiating something with her dad. She lets him talk for a bit, then puts one hand on her hip, raises the other one towards him and says, “I’ll tell you what.”

There is Mr. T at two, sitting in his high chair with his butter-colored hair, and a baby carrot in each chubby hand. He holds the carrots upright like rockets and says, “One, two, free, go!” and then guides them up, slow motion, making blasting noises—pf-f-f-f—and following their ascent with his head and his eyes.

Fourteen years ago I wrote in my mother’s journal, “I go back and reread what I’ve written here and am struck because I have forgotten it all.” How much more have I forgotten fourteen years later? Still, I pass the piano today and H is there, playing on his knees; I look through Lulu’s doorway and she’s still making deals, hand on hip; I dust the high chair I painted twenty-two years ago, now an artifact in our dining room, and there is Mr. T, blasting carrot rockets. Still. Because I wrote it down.

When I go out to write at a cafe, I shove my mother’s journals into my book bag beside my computer, so I can reference them as I work on my essay. The other day it hit me: what if I lost them? My computer is backed up; I could deal with losing it. If I lost one of my personal journals I’d be okay; it’s mostly the same rambling and whining as twenty years ago, with different details. But my mother’s journals! If I lost them I’d lose a part of my kids. I’d lose the part of my memory that I’ve already lost.

Maybe I could pay a certain kid to scan them (since he isn’t busy shooting carrot rockets these days.)

Honestly, this isn’t the best time to be working on an essay about my kids when they were younger, and to be rereading my old journals. Lulu leaves for college on the east coast in a few weeks. Talk about feeling like your heart is being trampled on! There’s no sense in soaking that heart in extra melancholy. I’ve been through this before; I know better. Yet there’s something comforting in rereading the journals now. They assure me that even when she’s gone, L will always be here, dancing through the kitchen, decorating her sentences with precocious words, making deals with her hand on her hip.

She’ll always be here. She’ll always be here. She’ll always be here. If I say it enough, I might believe it.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

kortney August 5, 2014 at 10:54 am

ah! tears running down my nose plunking down on the cafe table.

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patricia August 5, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Kortney, I always have mixed feelings about making readers cry. I don’t want to make you cry! But then again, I suppose I do. :-)

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Heather August 5, 2014 at 1:50 pm

What wonderful and true words you have written. I have bits of each kiddo and they remind me as well. Without those notes jotted down, I would have forgotten that my oldest called root beer barrel candies, “trash cans.” I am glad now I won’t forget.

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patricia August 5, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Aren’t all those little memories treasures, Heather? I’m so glad that you’re writing them down!

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Sonya August 5, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Beautiful. Our Lulu (not her real name either, but the one my husband and I call her) is only 14 months and while I have captured so much of her in pictures, I have yet to capture her in words! You have inspired me yet again….and given me ‘permission’ to buy another Moleskin journal (my favorite!) xx

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patricia August 5, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Oh yes, Sonya, write it down! Don’t beat yourself up over it; you don’t have to do it constantly. Just get down a little snapshot in words every once in a while. You’ll be so glad you did! When you’re in the thick of it, you think you’ll remember, and you do remember lots. But writing it down helps you remember so much more. Especially write down how she talks, which is probably just beginning to unfold for you right now. Love that baby girl up!

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Lori August 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Ahh….this made me reflect on my own jottings when my girls were younger. Aidan pointing at herself when she was under two and adamantly saying, “Ainan do it!” Then, at 3, calling the color periwinkle “pinklewary.” Darby, at 2, running around naked every chance she got laughing and calling, “Darby nake nake!” Ah, memories! Thanks!

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patricia August 5, 2014 at 4:48 pm

I think I prefer pinklewary! So good to have all those memories, isn’t it, Lori?

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janet August 5, 2014 at 7:57 pm

i knew from your headline that it was going to be a tear-jerker. wow. my son is turning eight in ten days, and i still can’t believe how quickly the years pass ( but how slowly the days!). as i type, my husband is singing our son to sleep as he has for nearly eight years. thank you for the reminder that these days are treasures for the years of remembering.

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patricia August 5, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Singing him to sleep…it doesn’t get any sweeter than that, Janet. Treasure it all!

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Sisters From Another Mister August 6, 2014 at 5:48 am

I just want a do over.
Right from Day ONE ;)

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patricia August 6, 2014 at 8:47 am

You know that it’s never too late, Nicole. Today is Day One. ;-)

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tereza crump aka mytreasuredcreations August 7, 2014 at 8:39 am

I starts journals all the time, but I have a bad habit of not finishing or continuing them. :( I do have home videos though. The other night I was spending time with DD11 and we watched all these home videos of her from the time she was a baby. How interesting how you can see their true self from the time they were a baby. She has always been our social butterfly: ready to smile at the camera, chatter with anybody and everybody, even laugh at a rag doll like it was telling the funniest joke. DD11 was beaming when we were done. I think it made her heart glad that we treasured her that much to have recorded all these little mementos of her life. :) You keep writing, dear friend. :)

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patricia August 8, 2014 at 8:39 am

You bring up such a good point, Tereza. I started my mother’s journals so I would remember, and I figured that I would share them with the kids one day. But lately as I’ve been reading them, I’ve been sharing stories with the kids–funny things they said or did. And you’re right: think how much that must make them feel loved, that I cared enough to write it down. It’s a wonderful way to say I have always treasured you. xo.

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Jacqueline Sears August 12, 2014 at 9:02 am

Ahhh, this is one of the reasons I write too. To keep it all close and in my heart and head and to never forget these little moments in our lives that I certainly would otherwise. It is the mindfulness and the joy of writing in the moment, and then the gratitude of reflection later.

If my mother had written throughout my childhood I imagine I would love to have that kind of insight into her mothering and her take on me as a young girl. Will you share your personal journals with your kids?

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patricia August 12, 2014 at 11:01 am

Hi Jacqueline! Thanks so much for saying hello!

Yes, I do plan to share my mother’s journals with my kids. Sharing with them is why I decided to keep them separate from my regular journals, although that’s a somewhat arbitrary separation since so much of my life revolves around the kids anyway. There’s a lot of motherhood in my other journals, but I’ve always kept reflections on the kids these journals, so the kids can read them one day. Not that they’ll be able to read my loopy writing, but it’s there if they want to. I hope they do.

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Carrie Pomeroy August 18, 2014 at 5:07 am

I was really good about journaling about the kids when they were little–their first few years of life, I wrote journals addressed to them, but those trailed off after a while. Now the kids are 11 and 8, and I’m realizing lately how fast everything is going. This is a really good nudge to start journaling again, so I don’t forget what living with them during these years was like.

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patricia August 18, 2014 at 10:17 am

Yes, Carrie, and as a fellow writer, you may be very happy one day to have a few notes of your current days. Just quick notes! I wish I had more, but I am so grateful for what there is. It’s not as if our kids ever get less fascinating!

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cindy baldwin August 31, 2014 at 7:25 pm

I stumbled across your blog recently and have so been enjoying the chance to read through some of your archives. I’m a homeschool graduate and plan to eventually homeschool my own daughter (and any other kids we may have), and I’m also a mama-freelance-writer. So much of what you write both reminds me of my own homeschooling memories and gets me excited about the future with my little one! If I may say so, you feel like quite the kindred spirit. ;) This post about mother’s journals inspired me to be a little better about this myself – I have always been a big journaler (I’d filled 20-something journals by the time I got married), but I’ve got enough of a deep-seeded perfectionist in me that I tend to give up when I don’t have time rather than embracing it and journaling intermittently. These days with my little miracle girl are passing so fast, though, and I’d rather have any snippets of record rather than none.

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patricia September 1, 2014 at 4:41 pm

I am always happy to meet a kindred spirit, Cindy! And it feels like a special honor to meet someone who was homeschooled herself, and finds something in my words. How exciting to see second generation homeschoolers coming into the world!

Yes, embrace the intermittent snippets, Cindy. I guarantee that you will be happy that you did.

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Laura September 6, 2014 at 4:15 am

My children are 17, 14, 12 and 10. I have a personal journal and I did write down funny things my youngest said (and I treasure that), but that’s all. Sigh. It seems late to start something like that. Have you written a lot in there about them as teenagers? At least I can file that lovely idea away to share with others.

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patricia September 8, 2014 at 9:32 am

I have written about them as teenagers, although I’ll admit that part of my motivation is that I’m a writer, and I want to make sure I remember. Still, the teenage years are a pretty wonderful time to capture: our kids are figuring out who they are, and that’s a beautiful, sometimes painful thing to witness. I think that when writing about teenagers in journals, we may decide that we don’t want to share the writing with our kids. Sometimes a journal is a good place to process the parenting experience for ourselves–especially during the teen years. It’s not too late, Laura! Try choosing one of your kids at a time, and write a little snapshot of him or her right now. See how that goes, and if you like it, keep going! Capturing our loved ones in words is such a great way to understand them better.

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Laura September 12, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Thanks for the encouragement! I purchased a pretty spiral notebook this week and have begun my own mothering journal. Better late than never!

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patricia September 14, 2014 at 6:45 pm

That makes me so happy! Better late than never for sure!

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