Raising Richmond: Building the archives

When it comes to preserving memories, what’s a good idea, and what is too much information?

I’m the type of person who saves everything. I have boxes in my attic filled with school papers from elementary school and beyond; every zine I made; my favorite issues of music magazines; a diary that I started when I was eight years old; and every diary I’ve kept since then.

I used to write in my diary every week or more just to give updates. Now it’s every couple of months. Writing in it is a chore and not something I do on Sunday nights to unwind anymore. I’ve whittled down the content in the boxes, and my regret for having burdened my adult self with so many mementos has cured me from hyper-keepsaking. The diaries are the last flash of that, but I will hang on to that habit. It will probably be fun to read what I was doing in my twenties when I’m in my sixties. Currently it’s very embarrassing.1

My need to document and my documenting fatigue have carried on into my daughter’s life. During her first year I took a photo of her every week to compile into a photo album. I took photos of her all the time, but I wanted to get one with her in roughly the same space or positions to chart her growth. I’m glad I did it, but at the time it was a bother, especially in the last few months of that first year when she was mobile. I also used to update her baby book once a month. It’s a notebook that I filled with letters to her about what she was doing, what our days were like, and funny things she did or said. I think I’ve updated it maybe twice in 2014.

In order to not be stuck with boxes of impractical treasures I have tried to not be sentimental about her things (which works out since 50 percent of anything she owns doesn’t last). However, it still seems important to keep a backup reference of her life.

My mom made a baby box for each of her three kids that includes baby books (with vital stats and information), letters, cards, and locks of hair (gross, Mom). She wrote a few letters to her kids. I used to love looking through the boxes for all of us. I like having that memory made for me and having that record that I did something other than pose for school photos and bring home report cards. Obviously my baby box is in my attic right now with a stack of Simpsons action figures on top of it.

I have my daughter’s life in digital storage: quotes on Twitter, photos on my computer, special activities shared on Instagram, infrequent updates on my blog. It’s fun to be able to scroll through those things and remember, because as funny as the things she says are and as special as those moments are, I don’t have the best memory for them. I can remember the day of her birth in detail up until her birth weight and length.2 When I’ve gone back and read entries in her baby book I’m glad I captured what I did because I forget so much.

The big events are easy to recall. What I want to capture the most for my daughter is what a day looks like every now and then because that’s what I wish I had better recollection of as a kid. I want to tell her “here’s when you wake up, here are the things we do, here’s how we spend the day together or apart, and here’s what you’re talking about.” I can’t do it every month. I don’t know that she’ll want to read it. I can’t promise she’ll be able to read my handwriting.

I’ll try to update her baby book every few months, and keep at it until she becomes her own memory keeper. Then after that I’ll get around to separating her medical records from the dog’s. Listen, I’m not Superwoman. I can’t keep everything straight.

I will end this with some highlights from the archives that I certainly wouldn’t have remembered if I didn’t write it down:

  • 18 months: You do things that I guess you learn from other people, like wiping your hands and mouth with a napkin and covering your ears when I sing.
  • 2.5: Later you put a bucket on your head and said “I’m a woman.” You talked to a dead earthworm by saying “Hi little buddy. What’s your name? Don’t be shy.”
  • 3 years old: You spun around and said “I’m freaking out. I’m totally freaking out!”
  • Three months ago: “That’s a bad song. And you’re making my dog sick.” And, while using her hamburger as a steering wheel: “I’m driving to China. Just kidding.”3

Photo by: thebittenword.com

  1. I have this fear that my years of diaries will outlast all other records of note, and archaeologists, 300 years from now, will piece together those lost decades from me. I once wrote about a high score I made in Tetris, and I was maybe 25 when I did that. Sometimes I wrote down who the president was just to give historical context, but otherwise my diaries will disappoint historians. 
  2. After telling my grandmother that I don’t remember my daughter’s birth weight (it was 8-something), she rattled off the birth weights of all her thirteen children. When I told her how impressed I was, my grandpa said, “We don’t know if she’s right.” 
  3. This reminds me of one of my favorite Raising Richmond columns from Val about setting up a Twitter account for her son. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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