She was doing her homework in her favorite spot: the cushy throw rug in the middle of her bedroom. When I walked past her door to return some folded laundry to the linen closet nearby, I spotted her baby book tucked half-way under the same rug.
Gram: Whatcha doin?
GN: Stupid writing assignment.
Gram: The autobiography? (GN is completing her final grade at the Elementary/Middle School she’s been attending and writing a student autobiography has been a well-established writing assignment there for many years. It is also paired up with a Technology assignment to present a photographic essay as well.)
Gram: How’s it going?
GN: Not good.
Gram: Why, Honey?
GN: BECAUSE THERE’S NOTHING IN THERE TO WRITE ABOUT!!
Gram: Nothing in where, Honey? (I already knew, but she needed to say it.)
GN: My baby book.
Gram: You’re working on ages three and four, then?
GN: Uh-huh. Howdjuknow?
Gram: Mommy was too sick to write much.
GN: THEN WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO WRITE?
Gram: Oh, Honey, just because you think there’s not much information in that book you think I didn’t notice under your rug, doesn’t mean you have nothing to write.
GN: BUT HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO . .
GRAM: You can’t judge your life by what’s written, or not written in your baby book.
The first thing I did was show my granddaughter my baby book. It was as well-kept as hers was, and my mother is still alive. She just got busy. I was the second child of four and with every additional child, there was less time to write. That doesn’t mean I was ignored, not taken care of, or had no highlights. They were written in my mother’s heart and passed on to me that way.
After my baby book, I showed GN one of the journals her mother had kept. It was a journal of the funny things GN said to make Angel laugh. We looked for the dates that matched GN’s writing assignment.
Goodnight perched herself next to me, but didn’t look in the book. She waited for me to read to her. “Dear Goodnight, you were sad because I didn’t let you have a cookie. When I said ‘no’ to your request, you said, “But Mommy, you’ve been good to me so far.”
Goodnight laughed at the younger version of herself, and found her heart settling around her mother’s words. She let me read some more.
When we had reached the end of the selections with dates pertinent to GN’s writing assignment, I took my granddaughter to the garage. There, I gently took her Easy-Bake Oven from its resting place on a shelf there.
Gram: Remember this?
GN: Oh Gram, I do! I wanted to be like Mommy because she was such a good baker, so she got me this oven.
We talked about the oven and her memories of baking things to share with her mother. In return, her mother encouraged her and they had tea parties together with wonderful treats.
Next, I pulled a box from a different shelf in the garage. Inside were files, by year, going back to when she was born. Angel had kept first attempts at drawing, first attempts at writing, written versions of GN’s spoken attempts at poetry, etc. GN found somethings she thought would help with the assignment of the week.
Next, I took GN to my kitchen where we pulled up stools in front of the drawers. I pulled open the first drawer and took out something that had worked its way to the back. It was a cooking accessory for making teddy-bear-shaped pancakes (or eggs). Another spark glowed in my granddaughter’s eyes.
And so it went, from drawer to drawer, looking for Goodnight there and telling stories related to what we found.
Gram: You can’t look for yourself in your baby book. It’s not a good judge of your life. The space is too limited. You have to look for yourself in the hearts of others who love you because the space isn’t limited there. The best stories are still those told by families. Perhaps they are best not written, because the warmth is in the retelling with a different vocal rhythm, the exaggeration when warranted, the pauses where necessary . . . Now, go get your train from the closet and let’s see if the batteries still work.
GN: Oh Grammy! I remember that train! It was noisy, wasn’t it?
When GN had heard enough of the train noises to satisfy her, I took her to the bathroom and had her stand in front of the mirror. I made her look at herself.
Gram: Whose eyes did you get?
Gram: That’s right. Whose face did you get?
Gram: That’s right. Whose hands did you get?
GN: Mama’s, but she got them from you, so I have your hands.
Gram: That’s right. And whose hair do you pull back in a pony-tail?
GN: Mama’s and yours . . . and yeah, I get it.
Goodnight’s autobiographical assignment is going to present a challenge to her for the remainder of the school year. It’s tough for her to look back. I can’t say I blame her. It’s filled with ‘dead’, ‘dead’, and ‘dead’, which has been proportionally overwhelming. I’m just thankful for the photos I have of her picking blueberries, swimming, sledding, playing basketball, dressed for Halloween, etc. Much of my work with her has been to tip the scales in favor of proportionally happy memories. We’ve made lots of progress.
I have maintained the files in that box in the garage so GN can find her science tests with A’s on them, her report cards, her student of the month award, her science fair projects and posters: none of which would fit in her baby book. She also has portions of this blog as a resource – including her most recent Apology Poem.
Taking GN on a tour of our house as she looked for her past was intentional on my part. I wanted her to find herself there: welcomed with open arms under tragic circumstances and loved into maturity with patience and understanding, and . . . quickly ‘knit’ into the fabric of life there.