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First Birthday Keepsakes and Traditions

Childhood Memories
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Few experiences are as magical for parents as watching their newborn develop. And judging by the many innovative ways our readers commemorated their baby's first birthday, preserving a child's early years is a top priority -- as it should be, says Nick Stinnett, Ph.D., a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. "Traditions and keepsakes are symbols of how important your child is to the family, and they're what help you to create a family identity," he explains. He should know: Dr. Stinnett has spent the past 25 years studying families to uncover the key components strong, close families

In addition, traditions convey to children that some of the most precious possessions a family has don't come with a high price tag. Says Dr. Stinnett: "In my research, I often ask, 'What are your happiest childhood memories?' People mention being read stories, going fishing with a parent, and so on. I've never heard anyone say an expensive toy or exotic vacation." Likewise, the true value of the celebrations that follow lies in the time and love that was necessary to create them.

Creative Crafts
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Save special outfits...
James P. Laurie III of Raleigh, NC, treasures the christening gown his mother-in-law made for his daughter, Virginia, now 2. "My mother-in-law spent hundreds of hours working on it," he recalls. She used a dozen different lace patterns (including one from his wife's wedding gown) and embroidered Virginia's name, birth date, christening date, and her own name on it, leaving room for future generations.

...or find a new use for them.
As Tonya Monnot of Columbus, OH, found, squares of your child's tiny outfits can be turned into a beautiful quilt. "I'm going to hang it in my son David's bedroom as a special reminder of his first year and the gifts of clothing he received," says Monnot. She plans to donate the clean outfits she doesn't use to charity.

Let photos (literally) tell a story.
When a picture doesn't paint a thousand words, a child's loved ones can fill in the details. At Mom and Dad's request, guests at Alex Morris's first birthday party brought photographs they had taken of him. They wrote a summary of the picture, including his age in it, and pasted the story and photograph in a large book decorated with gingham fabric that matched the quilting in his nursery. "It was a wonderful sentiment," recalls Alex's mom, Elizabeth Morris of Eureka, MO.

Marlo Mittler, a mother of three, used photos of her children's first year to create books to read to them at bedtime. "I color-copy pictures and write a simple rhyming story that tells about the kinds of things they learned to do as babies," explains Mittler, who lives in Lake Harmony, PA. "My sons Chase, 5, and Landon, 4, love to see their photos, and it helps them learn to read." Mittler is now planning 1-year-old Kylie's book, and the boys already have one about getting a baby sister.

Cut and paste.
Victoria Cantor used baby photos in a collage for her girls, Gabrielle and Jessica, who are now 4 and 2. She put each one's newborn photo in the center of a sheet of paper and glued a birth announcement beside it. She surrounded these with photos from each month of the year. "I had taken shots of each girl in the same chair on her birth date every month," says Cantor, who lives in East Lansing, MI.

Literary Keepsakes

Capture your emotions.
Each year, Laura Bradford of Katy, TX, writes a letter to her four children, Dylan, Madyson, Allison, and Austin, about how she feels as a mother and everything that they've achieved. She plans to give them the letters when they have children. "That's when they'll truly comprehend how much love I feel for them," she says. "I never understood how much my parents loved me until I had children of my own."

Book the party.
Nikki Worstell, who lives in Belton, MO, invited as many family members as she could to her son Thomas's first birthday party. A self-described "scrapbook nut," she had everyone write a wish on a page in an empty book. "I added stickers and photos -- we made it a point to take our son's picture with everyone at the party for the scrapbook, and then we sent a copy of the photo to each person," she says.

Detail each day.
While pregnant with her son, Haedyn, Amberley Aiken of Pine Mountain, GA, planned the way she would commemorate his first year. "I wrote special things about his life on index cards and put them in a 'treasure box,'" she says. "I told him what he did on each day, like what milestones he reached, and so on. It's just a recipe box, but it contains 365 days' worth of memories he can look at when he's older."

Memories and Wishes

Save the signs of the times.
"When my baby, Addison, was born, we bought a newspaper, cut out the headlines, and took her picture with a doll that was almost as big as she was," says Jodi Rives Schall of Chico, CA. She did this each month on Addison's birth date and glued all the items in a scrapbook to create a month-by-month growth chart. "It was too big a task to do every month, so now I do it once a year," she says.

Record your surroundings and shared experiences.
When Peggy Maisel's mother purchased time-capsule kits for her two granddaughters, Maisel and her husband filled them with unusual items. "We put in pictures of our house, car, and nursery in addition to photos of ourselves," says Maisel, who lives in Chicago and is mom to Carly and Julia, now 4 and 2. "We also videotaped where we had our first date, our first apartment, and our house, so they'll know where and how we lived," she adds. "I hope it'll be fun for us to look at in 20 years -- provided VCRs are still around then!"

Make a wish.
Amy Connor of Smithtown, NY, invited all the people who are important in her daughter Sarah's life to contribute to a "wish box" at her first birthday party. "We asked guests to put in something that they'd want her to open on her 18th birthday -- a poem, a prayer, a book -- whatever they felt would most symbolize them and the contribution they wanted to make in her life," she explains. Someone gave the sheet music to "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes." One friend added a book that was important to her in her early adulthood; another gave a complete set of Beatle CDs. "My husband and I put in pictures of us that were taken while I was pregnant, along with a notebook full of letters I'd written to Sarah during the long years of fertility treatments and the pregnancy that followed," she says. "We considered her first year all the more precious because of what we had gone through to conceive her."

Cherished Traditions

Embark on a vacation celebration.
Martina Porter's daughter, Rachel Lynn, is the ultimate patriotic child -- she was born on the fourth of July in Washington, DC. "On every birthday, we plan to take her to a fireworks display or some important point of interest in American history, such as Colonial Williamsburg," says Porter, who lives in Alexandria, VA. "That way, we can combine her celebrations with a family trip."

Make a mark.
Every year, Cindy Wilkins of Streamwood, IL, makes a hand- or footprint of her daughter, Lauren, now 2. "I used a casting kit when she was a few months old, but now I trace her hand and foot on construction paper because she's become a clean freak and doesn't like the clay," she says. "It'll be cute to look at them every year to see how much she's grown."

Grow a memory.
Jeff Sexton, a landscape architect, and his wife, Dina, were looking for a way to commemorate their daughter's first year. "We planted a ginkgo tree in our front yard, and we take Ellie's picture by it each year," says Dina, who lives in Birmingham, AL.

Celebrate -- and donate.
For her twin baby boys' birthday parties, beginning with their first, Tina Borek of southeastern Tennessee plans to ask guests to bring two of their favorite books instead of the usual gifts. She'll request one for the boys, Cade and Luke, and one for a local children's shelter. "As a child, I spent a short time in a safe house, and the one thing that we didn't have access to was books," Borek says. "I think it's fitting that my family now give something back."