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Four Memory Investments for the Future

My daughters are now eleven and sixteen. Sixteen years is a long time looking back at my years as a parent. And I know I’m not getting any younger. I forget stuff all the time; I mean all the time, at least I think I do…I don’t really remember.

Last week I met a guy on the basketball court. I told him I was a teacher. “Oh, at what school?” he asked.

I looked at this man, with my mouth wide open but no words coming out. I could see the school in my mind’s eye, as well as the kids, the parents and the principal. I could recall the address, but I couldn’t remember the name of the school where I trade my time to educate the youth of my community.

If I can’t even remember where I work, how am I supposed to remember all those funny, cute, annoying and remarkable anecdotes that have happened over the years with my daughters? I can’t, and if you are a new parent, you may think you will be able to recall it all, but that’s because you are thinking with a fresh brain, and, sure, that brain probably could remember it all.

The problem occurs when that fresh brain we start with as parents begins to reach its expiration date and is called upon to recall the events of yesteryear. So, I am going to share with you a few ways to preserve your children’s memories for them (and for you) so you can share their experiences with them when they are old enough to appreciate them.

1. Write them Letters
Since my daughters were in utero, I started writing letters to them. I wrote to them about my excitement to meet them and my fears at becoming a father. I relayed stories about their first steps and their first words and there first poops in the potty. There are letters about going to preschool and their first days of kindergarten, about playing sports and odd phrases they’ve said that made have their mom and me. I’ve written about days I have been so proud of them, days I have been ashamed of myself, and days that I wondered how they could actually be my offspring.

I seal these letters over the years and set them aside in my Time Capsule Box (really just an old Macintosh box from the late 90’s), to be opened on their eighteenth birthdays (and I can’t wait to relive them with my daughters).

Yes, these letters are surprises for them. So please don’t tell them about the letters. I know what you are thinking. They might read this post and discover this surprise on their own…but, they won’t. See, although I am a very cool individual, my daughters have no idea how very cool I am (I have worked very hard to keep it a secret from them). Therefore, they never read anything I ever write. So, there’s no fear that they will learn of the letters before it’s time.

2. Open an Email Account
Although I love the letter idea, if I was a new parent today, I might not be writing letters and storing them in a computer box in my garage. Isn’t that what “the cloud” is for? Open an email account for your newest family member, and whenever you have a thought you want to share with them in the future, whenever you see a quote that you find important for them, when you’ve taken a picture you want to save for the grown-up version of them, if there is a clip you find on YouTube that you know would be so much fun to discuss with them in the future, grab these and email them to their secret email address.

As your little one gets older and wants an email account of their own, feel free to get them one when they are ready, but you just keep adding to the one you have created. Will email be the same in eighteen years? Probably not, but there’s a good chance that what you’ve been sending your little one will still be preserved in one form or another. And, on their eighteenth birthday or college graduation or when they are of drinking age you give them the email address and their password and let them relive their childhood through your eyes.

3. Buy Toys the Day They Are Born
So, this is not so much about memories, but I think it’s a really fun idea that I know I would have been so pleased had my parents thought of doing. I did this for both of our children the day they were born with input from my wife from the hospital.

What you do is go out to the toy store the day your child is born and you buy a few items that are incredibly popular, the trendy stuff, the stuff you know won’t be popular down the road. The toys I bought for my daughters are sitting in the Time Capsule Box right next to their letters, and I think I may be more excited to see the Spice Girls dolls and the fish singing The Macarena than they will be.

4. Edit Those Videos
We take so many videos of our children. It’s incredibly easy what with cameras built in to our smart phones, but the reality is that most of us don’t do anything with these visual snippets of their lives. We show a couple of friends. Maybe we’ll post a few on Facebook, but they end up getting lost in the deluge of videos we take over the years, and next thing we know they’ve been deleted to make space for the next round of recordings.

Consider once a year compiling these clips together into a montage of your child. A lot of the videos we take are fun for the moment, but looking back we realize they’re not worth saving. At year’s end, go through your videos, and using your computer’s editing program, select the clips you want to preserve. You don’t need fancy dissolves or creative titles (feel free to use them if you wish). What really matters is saving those memories.

I do this every summer, and once complete they can be posted on YouTube and saved as “Private” or “Unlisted” so only family can access them. I would also suggest burning a copy on a DVD. I am an old man when it comes to trusting technology, and I would be crushed if YouTube got hacked or announced an internal bug that destroyed the memory clips of my children.

These videos can be saved and shared with the unveiling of Time Capsule, or you could share them as they are created as we do our family.

These memory-keepers take time to create, but they are definitely worth it. Our children are young only once (unlike us, who never age). They don’t get to have the same perspective of their childhoods as we do. Although it won’t pay off for about two decades, preserving these times to share with them later will be an investment you will be so glad you made.

America’s Relationship Guru

Leon Scott Baxter, “America’s Relationship Guru,” is the author of Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting and the founder of SafetyNetters.com. He’s the father of two girls, 12 and 16, and has taught elementary school for eighteen years.