During my first pregnancy, a friend gave me a baby book along with the advice, "You won't finish this, but every new mom needs a book like this." Her comment struck me as curious and pessimistic, especially during a time of huge optimism and expectation in my life. Flipping through the baby book, I saw that it progressed until age six, with annual birthday milestone pages. Of course I would finish this book for my child...right? Wrong.
As I type, the book is somewhere in his room, still waiting for his second birthday pictures and mementos. Don’t even get me started about the status of my younger son's book...it's embarrassing.
Having accepted my inability to complete a scrapbook or any other kind of birthday memory book, I've moved toward seeking out easy-to-complete birthday milestone markers. My guess is that I am not alone. We're all busy, so here are some simple ways to annually record and remember your child's development at each birthday.
The Birthday Interview: Brainstorm a list of a couple dozen questions, such as "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and "What makes you happy?" I began this tradition when my boys were turning two and five, to track their personalities as they grow. I ask the same questions each year so we can see if my younger son, who believes he would make a fine coast guard meteorologist (he was very specific this year!) will still feel the same way when he is eight or twelve or older.
Birthday Books: Commemorate where your child is developmentally through the gift of an age-appropriate book with a personal note inside the cover. Julie Brasington of HappyHomeFairy.com gives her two young sons a birthday book each year. She explains, "Every year I give [them] a new book for [their] library. I make sure to include a little note and picture so that it will be a memorable collection to remind [them] of birthdays past." Brasington continues, "I like to think that this tradition subliminally communicates that reading is something to celebrate." The note in the front of the book describes why she chose the book, whether to impart a lesson or celebrate a milestone that year.
You Ought to Be in (Birthday) Pictures: One of the simplest ways to commemorate a child’s birthday is through the taking of some thoughtful pictures. Meg Hogan, a photographer, has a preschooler and a young daughter whom she photographs each birthday. She encourages parents to "get one full body shot in proportion to their surroundings, just to mark their progress in the world...in a location that reflects their personality." Having now done this each year of her children's lives, Hogan reflects that "the worst picture is the one not taken! In the age of digital photography and external hard drives, why not take all the pictures that you want?"
The Birthday List: Create a list of unique and special things you love about your child each year on their birthday. Jill Fisher of Elon, North Carolina, has three young girls. She explains, "[Every birthday] each family member makes a list of things we love about the birthday person, with the number of items on the list being the same as the person's age." For the Fisher family, this tradition has also transformed into special art for the girls' rooms. Fisher adds that "the girls have the lists for that year hanging in their rooms for them to see all year long." After the year has passed, the list can be filed away as a memory of what special traits everyone in the family appreciates.
My, How You’ve Grown!: Another simple way to mark each birthday is annually measuring your child's growth. However, instead of doing it on a door or other part of your house, why not create a large "measuring stick" out of board? You can use a 1' x 6' or other board and mark the inches and feet on it, just like a large ruler. The benefit to this approach is that if you move, you can take the board with you! It also serves as a fun piece of wall art if you nail it to your child's room or play area wall.
Although each parent's approach to commemorating birthdays may be different, any attempt to track your child's growth and development can be saved for years to come. Whether you do so with an elaborate scrapbook or a simple photo, having a record of their passing years is something you'll cherish when they're older.