The Birthday Tradition That Costs Nothing, But Means Everything

by Chloe Yelena Miller
Originally Published: 
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Glitter, shiny paper, ribbons and glue guns? Nope. I do not have the patience nor the skills for crafty projects. I can toss invitations and postcards into a drawer, but that’s about it.

Once our son was born, I wanted to save memories for the three of us. I wanted to record his milestones, daily habits, and funny moments. I was already good at keeping a list of his doctor’s visits, but none of us would want to read that later.

I wanted to remember the kinds of things that my husband I talked about. The big, little, and in-between things. I wanted to include our child’s voice – what he said and a description, maybe, of how he said it and what he was doing. I wanted a few paragraphs here and there about the places we went, what he played with, and what we did.

How could I hold onto these moments?

Of course, we take endless digital photos and videos that are timestamped and geomarked. I don’t know when I’ll ever organize them. (Don’t ask me about the ten-year-old to-do list line to create a wedding album.) This quickly got out of hand. After my computer drive was full, I decided to buy a new backup and quickly gave up on organizing the digital images as I continued to take more.

My mother kept a handwritten calendar when she was pregnant and the first six months of my life. She listed her appointments, some things she thought about and then things that I did. She gave that black leather journal to me after I gave birth. I wanted to create something like that for our child.

When our son was turning one, we asked friends to contribute a letter to our son on his first birthday. We put the letters and some physical keepsakes, like a tiny diaper, in a plastic storage container labeled, “Time Capsule.” It was so much fun to write that first letter that we decided to keep writing one every year.

Since I open my laptop every day to answer emails and work remotely, it hasn’t been terribly hard to keep up with a “Birthday Letter Keepsake.” Every year on his birthday, I start a word processing document that opens, “Dear son,” and then I add a paragraph here and there about things we’ve done. I might cut and paste from Facebook. I might summarize a vacation. I might describe something he did one morning. I might praise him in a description of a new accomplishment.

My husband and I both contribute to this document which is in a shared electronic folder. We add things to it when we can. I keep a reminder on my weekly to-do list to add things to it. If I’m feeling writer’s block, I might look back at our shared, digital calendar to see what we did together as a family. I’ll start there and then ask myself, “What did we do? What did we like best? Who else was there? What did our son notice?”

Our son is almost five and I’ve started to talk with him about the letter. I’ll ask him what he wants to remember about a playground visit with a friend. Or if he tells me a funny story, I ask him if we should write it down. After school, I ask him who he sat next to at lunch. I encourage him to describe his days, friends, interests, fears and questions.

I look forward to the day that he is old enough to write his own letter with memories of his days.

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