Friday, May 29, 2009

Whose Memory Book Is It, Anyway?

To commemorate Andrea's high school graduation in a few weeks, I'm creating a Memory Book of her class photos, report cards, momentos, a handful of essays and papers, special projects, awards and so on.

The Memory Book will fill four brightly-colored binders with more than 400 sheet protectors bulging with all facets of her school years, from first grade through high school.

Andrea will be teary-eyed, touched and delightfully surprised... until a few days after graduation. Then she'll set it aside until someday long into the future: a high school reunion perhaps, or her own children starting school. She has new, exciting dreams and goals. A shining future awaits her. A future that will build on her solid foundation, but will rarely involve looking backward.

Which made me wonder: Why, then, am I now putting such extraordinary effort and love into a Memory Book for her? Why did I hold onto every possible shred of her childhood? For that matter, why did I meticulously document (and film!) so many dozens of precious moments when she was a baby?

Sure, getting 12 years of Andrea's school junk out of my desk is welcome relief. And sure, it's a way of me letting go. That phase of her life is done. She'll soon be a legal adult and a college student. We've finished the task of raising and controlling her. Our roles are irrevocably changing.

But that hardly explains my driving passion. My deep love. My holding on. My intense desire to document and care about and affirm and remember and praise...

And then I realized: no one ever made a Memory Book for me. My young, hardworking, unsentimental parents never kept report cards, special papers or school pictures. They took few photos of me, my brother or sister. They attended only the minimum school events: back to school night, open house. No one ever kept a baby book/journal about me, like I did for all my kids. Like Ron's mother did for him.

My parents hugged us, or each other, very little. I have no memory of them telling Jeff, Teri or me that they loved us. We were never made to feel special or smart or unique or even all that worthwhile. We just were.

My parents, the children of generations of poor farmers, were too busy making a living, making a home, and trying to grasp city life. They both came from gruff stock and hard-scrabble backgrounds. Pretentious Pasadena was a strange, hard land to them.

Let's face the Truth: here I am, crazily lavishing on my last child all the attention and care that I never got. I suppose some people might find that unhealthy.

But upon soul-deep reflection, I've decided this: SO WHAT? So darn what?

Andrea's a great kid, and hasn't been unduly spoiled by my foibles. Frankly, there's a heck of a lot to celebrate about her achievements. If someone thinks I've gone overboard... well, too damn bad.

My child, my love, and I couldn't be prouder. And I refuse to leave my child with the same hole in her heart that I've worked for decades to fill with all manner of things good and not-so-good.

Today, I bought four pricey binders for Andrea's Memory Book, and some pretty stationary for notes and memories. Think she'll like them?

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