Just a few small details jotted down over time bring back a flood of memories.
Her hair looked like cotton candy in the morning. When she first learned to make her way across a room, her walk was drunken, Chaplin-esque. She sucked on the tips of our noses. She laughed her very first laugh while dancing with me in the kitchen to "Johnny B. Goode."
I would have forgotten all of these things if I hadn't written them down in one safe place. I would have forgotten all about the nose sucking and the laughter. I would have forgotten "bwee."
Until now, I'd never read the entire diary of my daughter's first years of life from beginning to end. I should wrap it up and give it to myself for Mother's Day this year and go on a self-guided tour of my own first years as a mother. What better present could I receive than a reminder of all the dear, funny things my girl has said and done?
There were many moments that might have easily slipped away. For example, I forgot about "pahfah," her word for coffee, which my husband and I liked so much we wrote it on the bag of coffee we kept in the fridge. And I forgot about watching her awkwardly negotiate her big red plastic bathtub around the house, asking "Baff?" with a hopeful lilt in her voice. And then there is "bwee," which is still so eloquent and pithy, signifying anything from disappointment to anger.
It's not as if I've forgotten these things because my daughter is grown; she's only 5. And it's not as if the world would have ended if I didn't have a written reminder that she once stuck pennies to the balls of her feet so she could tap as she walked. But I won't remember everything, so I write down what I can, knowing I will always have the pleasure of revisiting my daughter's infancy and childhood, and that one day, when she's grown, I can give her this book and any others I might fill.
Month 1: Holds hands while nursing. I can stop the clock rereading a line like that, and it's just the two of us again, home from the hospital in our own bed, me giving her my index finger to grab. Or I can read through the years and months of exhausting, cherished toddlerhood: Month 18: Cuddles and crawls all over me until I think we must look like orangutans in a nature film. And Month 24: Puts her hand between my breasts and says, "We need one more nursing here."
A Constant Gift
It's selfish, really. I'm doing this for myself -- call it an ongoing Mother's Day present. It's about me as much as it is her, because of what I have chosen to record. Month 22: She eats red currants out of my hand, even though they're sour. This may be the tiniest of details to anyone else who reads it, but for me it evokes late summer -- the deep grass and berry bushes in our yard; the raspberries she gobbled as fast as I could pick them; the plum trees at the bottom of the hill whose yellow-purple fruits I bit in half before giving them to her; her butter-colored curls under the brim of her hat; her fingers pinching up the fat, glassy currants from my palm even after the first sour taste made her nostrils flare.
The things I write down recall tastes and textures and smells in a way that photographs cannot. I read a list of the raw ingredients she liked to try -- whole coffee beans, lemon slices, flour, coarse salt, cinnamon -- and we are in the kitchen yelling to be heard over the coffee grinder, or spooning muffin batter into the tin, or kneading pizza dough on the counter. I read two words, Mamma blow, and we are lying together in the dark, our heads on the cool pillows. The air is sharp with sweat, and I am lifting the damp hair off her neck and blowing across her forehead.
When my daughter is grown and reads the diary, she'll see me in it -- my handwriting, my voice -- as she reads about herself. She'll hear the two of us talking:
Her: The moon is made of...?
Her (giving me a disappointed look): It's probably made of moon.
She'll see the ways she taught me things I thought I already knew: She plucked at my shirt during a diaper change and said, "That's full of Mamma." Then patted her thigh and said, "That's full of me." She'll see the ways she made us laugh. When her uncle asked, "Are you patient?" she scowled and replied, "No, I'm two-and-a-half!"
When I revisit sections of the diary, I see how much she has already grown and the ways in which our still-young relationship is evolving. When she was smaller, her need for me was naked, undisguised, and she happily blurred the lines between us when she spoke. Cuddling in bed one morning in the half-light she said, "Do you know what you smell like, Mamma? You smell like my bones."
Now she's already trying to find her individual self: During an argument she yelled, "You're not me and I'm not you!" But then she lets me know she's been watching me, too, that she knows me in ways I couldn't have guessed: Hugged me after dinner and said, "You're a better mamma than you think."
I could have begun this diary when I was pregnant. I could have written it as a series of letters. I could refer to her in the second person instead of the third. I could write every day, but I persist in jotting down incomplete sentences, sometimes single words, on scrap paper, waiting weeks and even months to sit and copy everything into the book itself. None of that matters. It's all there.
Five years: Struggles to eat rice with chopsticks until she gives up and uses just one stick, looking like a chimp fishing for termites with a twig.
Two years: Asks a clementine she's peeling, "Do you wanna be naked?"
Month 16: Hollers after trying to eat a garlic clove.
Month 4: Discovers she has feet.
Month 1: Holds hands while nursing.
Kathryn Southwood, a mother of two girls, lives in Oslo, Norway.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, May 2005.