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Telling Your Kids the Story of Their Lives

Posted by Jen on June 2, 2010 at 7:25 AM in Summer Fun
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yellow sunlight

Just twenty-four hours into the long weekend, the kids were starting to come unglued looking for something to do. This is not a good sign for us, since summer is long and camp is pretty expensive. After a painful hour of going back and forth trying to find something--anything!--both kids liked to do, we decided to go back to one of the old neighborhoods where we first lived when we moved to the metro DC area.

We made this momentous cross-country move from Florida to Maryland when Madeleine was three and Carter was still a baby, and this first neighborhood in a little wooded glen was our stomping ground for almost four years. Four years is a good little chunk of your children's lives. Carter learned to walk in that house. Madeleine learned to read. They were the years of the most intense parenting--the years of sleepless nights, too much crying and the most mess. Let me just say so much of it is burned into my memory forever.

My kids, however, can barely pull it into focus. As we walked down the old path to the park with the little creek where they played daily, I reminisced about this old memory (remember how much you loved that queen's cape?) or that one (remember that game we used to play on the swings?) Both kids looked back blank. These rituals of love I had lovingly carried out over their toddler and preschool years (in the midst of the crying and the mess) weren't registering one bit.

Total blank.

It wasn't that they didn't remember living in the house--they did! They just remembered other things. Like the time the mat on the front porch was infested with ants (really?) or the time I let one kid pee behind a tree in the park because said child didn't think it was possible to make it back in time. And about a hundred other inconsequential (to me) or horrifying things like that.

No one had any recall of the elaborate unbirthdays or the adorable twig broom we made with a thousand twigs we collected by hand after reading The Boxcar Children out loud. No one remembered the Andy Goldsworthy inspired sculptures we made in the creek or the hundreds of buttercup bouquets.


The old me would have been devastated, but one full year of wandering around the world later, I think I get it. All those little things I did as the mother of little children really mattered and profoundly shaped my kids, whether they remember them or not. My error (if you can even call it that) was not in pouring my heart out for them, but in not telling them the story of how much they delighted me one princess drama or stick sword fight at a time--long after the capes and sticks were gone.

Standing in the riverbed as we took turns heaving giant rocks into the deep parts hoping to make the loudest "kerplunk", I regaled them with stories--true, real life stories about their growing up years and how hilarious they were and how smart and how loving. They listened like it was brand new news and were as delighted to hear the story of living in that house as I was delighted to tell them.

So here's my challenge, supersisters (and brothers!) What memories from your kids earliest years stand out the most in your mind? Which impressions are most important and dear to you? What do you want them to remember? Check in with your mini-historians and cross-check. And if your story is missing from the archive, start telling it over and over again.

I'm thinking our stories, perhaps more than even their memories, will shape our kids for years and years to come. Do you agree?


Kelly writes...

i love the idea of telling our children true stories of their lives - my daughter often asks me to tell her stories of when I was a little girl or stories about herself... I never seem to find time to write things down - I should start now. this post inspired me : )

k.wray writes...

my 4 yr.old son & i are creating a routine of story telling, to each other, while in the car on long rides we must make weekly. As we get settled back & comfy, the music is turned down and i hear his sweet little voice from the backseat, " mommy, tell me a story..." I love this time with him! i feel it is a golden moment for us, and a special time for me to nurture and shape his memories. The ride is just under 2 hrs.,nonstop thru majestic scenery,(Redwood forest!) Perfect setting & scenery!
SO...any suggestions or sites i should look to, to help ME formulate/create and share my memory stories with him. I often find myself stumbling on what & how to tell. I REALLY want to make the most of this time before it too, is just a memory!

Tabita writes...

My 9 year old loves to hear stories from her toddler years. I just turned 30 and I asked my mom the other day while she was visiting to tell me a story of when I was a toddler. I enjoyed this article...thx for posting PBS:)

anne writes...

what a great post! Both of my children (grown now) still love the stories of their early years. We too go back to our first house occasionally for a nostalgic look back. thanks for the wonderful article!

Horte writes...

thank you very much for this posting! It has reminded me how much my now teenagers loved to hear about their toddler years. My 10-year-old still likes them and we spend time together almost every night before bed, he asks me to tell him stories from when he was a baby. The other two don't really care about talking to me :-) but maybe if I start talking about our past, they just might be interested...I will try it; once again thank you very much...

Monique G. writes...

When my children were growing up, I encouraged them to write or tell someone who would write for them a little summary of what they had done at the end of each month, and I would supplement it with pictures. All of it was compiled into Yearbooks. I now prepare for each of my grandchildren stories of their lives with pictures when they turn eight years of age. We look at them together and talk about the events, large and small.

Louise writes...

When my grandchildren were young, I used to tape our visits. I stated the date and name of child at beginning of each tape. They are in college now and really enjoy listening to themselves repeating childhood songs and poems

Mary Ellen writes...

Great post, Jen!

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