All day yesterday, I found myself thinking about this post I read on Cathy Zielske’s blog that morning. (I admire Cathy quite a bit, partly because I think if we met in real life she would understand my need to avoid titchy fonts, widows, and bad rags, and I wouldn’t even have to explain what those words meant. So this isn’t me criticizing her ideas; more, it is me exploring my response.) In her post, she writes about how, as the middle-aged mother of two older kids, she is finding that she makes more cards and fewer layouts.
It took me all day to figure out why this made me bristle a little bit.
It’s not that I disagree with anything she said, especially about scrapbooking your adult children. As my kids have gotten older and started leaving home, I do scrap less about their current experiences. This is because I am less involved with their daily lives, which means I have fewer stories to tell and fewer pictures
of them. And, the fact is, I’ve made very few scrapbook layouts about experiences my kids have had without me. This isn’t because I make their layouts about me (I try not to), but because I only feel…well, I first wanted to write “capable,” but really, the right word is “responsible”: I feel responsible to tell the stories I know. So even when I have photos of trips they’ve gone on without me, it’s rare that I make a layout with them, because what would I write? So as they go out into the world, I make fewer layouts about them, and what I do make is mostly about holidays, because they are (sometimes) here for them.
But more important is this fact: I’m finding this part of parenting to be far more difficult than I ever imagined it would be. Much of what I am now capable of is telling my reactions to their experiences, which I “witness” mostly through social media and texting. These feel more appropriate in a journal than a scrapbook. Their stories are becoming their stories. Their choices are not really influenced much by me anymore, nor their consequences. I feel less of a responsibility to record their stories for them. Plus, it would just feel sort of…weird, somehow. To try to record things I didn’t experience. Like I was invading their space or controlling their experiences.
All of which Cathy says in her blog post.
I think what made me bristle is the suggestion that once our kids are of a certain age, the need to create scrapbook layouts diminishes and can be replaced by other crafts.
Don’t get me wrong; I do make things besides scrapbook layouts. I made quilts! And sometimes I make cards.
But there is a certain type of satisfaction that scrapbooking gives me. It is something I’ve written about before, the way that it gives me a space to pair a photograph with words; it gives me a chance to write. That matters most to me, more than pretty paper or alphabet stamps or even my current obsession, which is puffy stickers. (Even though those matter, too.)
But there is also something else I get from scrapbooking, and it has something to do with that word: responsibility.
And it also has to do with me and my own quirks, even when I am making layouts for and about my kids, so I know this is my response and not necessarily universal.
One of my clearest memories from my childhood is the day I found an old check register. It was one kept by my dad, so it was in his squared-off handwriting. And it happened to be the register from the months before and after my birth. I don’t remember what checks they actually wrote during that time, but I will never forget the feeling I had, sitting in the basement by the record player looking at that check register. It felt both mysterious and enlightening—that so much had happened not just in the world at large but in my family members’ lives that I didn’t know about or remember. Or that I didn’t exist yet to witness. Maybe it was the first time I realized how small my place in the universe is. (Maybe I was just a weird kid.) But it ignited something within me, a need to know about the things that happened to people I knew before I knew them.
Flash forward roughly twenty years later, to a day not long after my grandma Elsie died. She was a reader, and my dad took on the responsibility of going through her massive collection of books, looking for valuable editions or rare titles. As I am also a reader, I helped him with this task. But I didn’t really care about the books themselves (which were mostly paperback mysteries anyway). What I was looking for was a diary, or a journal, or a date book. Or even a check register. Something written in my grandma’s hand about her life. I assumed that since she was a reader, like me, she’d also be a writer (like me). But if she ever wrote any journals, or any stories about her life, we didn't find them that day.
Now flash forward another almost-twenty years, to the morning my dad died. His brother Roe brought some photo albums to us, photo albums my grandma Elsie had put together. And then, on that morning which was already swimming in tears, I wept other, sweeter ones. Because there they were: her words in her handwriting, telling her story. And telling my dad’s story. Not all of it—barely even anything. But she wrote “beautiful Bryce Canyon” next to some photos of Bryce Canyon, and so I learned that my grandma, like me, loved Bryce Canyon. On the back of a photo of my dad standing next to a tree in her yard when he was middle-aged—perhaps even my age right now—she wrote “Don planted this tree when he was a little boy.” And so I learned that my grandma, like me, looked for patterns and relationships between objects and time and people.
(It’s really a shame she died before she learned about scrapbooking. She would’ve scrapbooked the hell out of stuff, I think.)
That is also why I scrapbook: because it raises a sort of desolation in me that none of the people who came before me left a record of their lives. Maybe this is a thing my children will never care about—maybe that desolation is just my quirk. But by making scrapbook layouts I can lessen the possibility of any of them ever feeling that same desolation. So in that sense it is for them—but it’s also for me. Time is circular, remember, or it is somehow, and it feels like I am assuaging that ache in my own heart by making layouts about other people. Which makes no logical sense—but it still makes sense. Heart sense.
Or maybe it’s just that when we are parents, what we try to give our children isn’t necessarily always what they need, but what we needed that no one gave us.
So yes: I can see as my kids get older, I will make fewer layouts. About them. At least, about their current lives. But I still have so many stories to tell. And not just about them, but about me, too.
Sometimes I worry that, when I’m the one who’s passed away, and someone is cleaning out my house, the scrapbooks will feel like a burden. Like my kids will see them as stuff they have to figure out what to do with. I hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s a possibility.
There are a lot of layouts.
But the other side of that fear is hope. Hope that they’ll be glad that some part of their story is recorded. Hope that they’ll be glad that a little part of their mother is put down on paper. Hope, even, in a day sometime past my own death, when a grandchild or a great grandchild discovers their parent’s scrapbook, and then they discover something about me, too. Some similarity, some likeness.
And that is one of the reasons that even as a middle-aged mother, and even when I am actually and literally old, I will still be scrapbooking. Yes, it’s about fulfilling that creative need. But it’s also, for me, about feeling responsible, for whatever reason, for the stories, and for making sure that if someone in the future needs their parent’s story, or their grandma Amy’s, they will have it.