Approximately 15 years ago, I painted a wooden box in pretty, pastel colors. It contains a newspaper and a number of other objects. Even under the strain of torture, or with an offer of millions of dollars, I could not now recall what these objects are, but my best guess is that some of them are pictures.
On top of the box, there is a letter in an envelope. The envelope has my daughter’s name and “To be opened on your 18th birthday” written on it. The envelope is secured to the box with a pretty ribbon. Her sister has the same type of time capsule, created two years later. Both are currently in their baby souvenir boxes, in the crawlspace.
I remember being excited when I made these time capsules. What fun it would be to watch the girls open them and wonder at what was happening when they had been created. Perhaps we will all be puzzled as to why I chose some of the contents. My guess is that there will most likely be something weird or quirky in there.
It’s the letter that worries me.
A little over a year before my eldest daughter was born, I had a miscarriage. As anyone who has had one can understand, I was devastated. For closure, I wrote a letter to my lost baby, sealed it and put it away. I read that letter not long ago. It was an outpouring of the joy I felt during our short time together, sadness, grief and a good-bye.
If that letter is any indication of what the time capsule letters contain, they will be filled with emotion as well. I’m sure I wrote about the anticipation and joy of the first 9 months with the girls, the exhilaration of seeing their faces for the first time and the powerful, unconditional love I was feeling.
I may also have included references to “your father and me” or included pictures of a happy family. These last are the things that I now regret including. I hate the thought of my daughters having too many of life’s truths flung in their faces at once. If they read those letters, they will be hit by the contrast between now and then. They will be forced to relive, in an instant, all the events that they have gone through during the intervening years—their parents’ divorce being one of the least traumatizing among them.
They seem, however, to be coming out pretty well on the other side. Both are healthy and have remained sweet and happy, despite the fact that some of their peers are rebellious, pouty teens. Both are outstanding, self-motivated students.
The girls knew about their time capsules at one point but may have forgotten about them. From what I can see, I have a few options.
One is to open the time capsules and letters when I am alone, so that I can check on the contents and figure out if I want to leave them as they are or make changes, taking out certain references.
Another is to wait past their 18th birthdays, until they are mature enough to handle, and to understand, anything that is stirred up by the letters.
A third option is to open the first one when my eldest turns 18 and see how things go. If she has a hard time, I can open the other one and make changes. This choice seems unfair to my eldest, however, so I think that I can safely eliminate taking this route.
Alternatively, I could let the girls open them at 18, as planned, and let the chips fall where they may.
Finally, I could choose to not let them open the time capsules, ever.
I can’t say that I would look forward to any of the discussions that waiting past 18 years, or just letting them open the time capsules as planned, would provoke, but these options do feel more honest to me than pre-screening them before handing them over. When I sealed the envelopes and tied them to the boxes with ribbon, it felt like these were gifts already belonging to the future them.
The difficulty lies in knowing, as a mother, when I should stop protecting them. It feels like the answer to that should be “never.” Are there not enough people out there who will hurt them without any of that pain coming from me?
Perhaps what I need to do is revisit my reason for creating these time capsules in the first place. Every child seems to enjoy hearing “The Story of You,” as I like to call it. My children ask many questions about themselves when they were little. They get a great deal of enjoyment out of reading what they have so appropriately called their “funny books,” which are stories of all the cute and hilarious things they said from the time they were babies right up to their teens.
By changing or denying them the time capsules, am I robbing them of part of The Story of You, or have I already done enough by keeping baby journals, photos, videos and the funny books? Each time capsule represents the truth, as it was at that moment in time.
Then again, maybe these souvenirs and letters are more representative of The Story of Me at that point in time. They are about my feelings toward the girls then. Will knowing how I felt then change anything for them when they are 18? Somehow, though, it still feels like it’s really about them.
I feel myself leaning toward holding off on the whole thing for a few more years. Conceivably, the appropriate time may be in a situation that is parallel to my own—when the time capsules were created. When my daughters experience their own miracles, I think that they will be able to relate to what is probably best regarded as The Story of Us.