Thursday, December 07, 2006

Just me

Upon my mother's death I became the owner of many things, among the most important items is my baby book. How meaningful and necessary it has become to me now that I am a mother. How crucial since I don't have my mother to tell me these things herself and how the book frustrates me for the same reason.

It's your standard baby book in many ways - words and dates written in my mother's hand, pictures lovingly placed in the correct spots, now set free to slip around the yellowing pages because the adhesive has long since dried and lost its hold. Cards from my first birthday and plastic, throwaway bibs from family dinners at local restaurants that have long since closed up shop. Memories on every page. My mother's memories of my first years of life that she saved for me.

I am now the owner of those words and pages, but I am not the owner of the memories. Those were my mother's and they went with her when she died. Reading the book is like looking over the mementos and notes that will become the biography of someone I've never met: The card that was used on my rolling crib to identify me from the other babies in the nursery of the hospital where I was born (Baby Girl A__. Room 103. Time of Birth: 9:45am). My height and weight progression until age 5 (At 18 months: H - 32.5 inches, W - 22lbs, 10oz. Exactly the same size as Chicky at her 18 month appointment). Important milestones - First steps at 15 months (Chicky took her's at 14 and a half) and first words (Dada, Baby). It's all fascinating to me, but the dates and times and charts could be different and I wouldn't know any better. I don't know this newborn baby referred to on these pages or the toddler in the pictures. I have no memory of her. She looks like me and there's my full name written out many times throughout but she is better known to others who knew her then.

I have a love/hate relationship with this book.

I love it because it has been such a comfort to me during these first years as a mother. When I worry if Chicky is becoming too skinny, since she refuses to eat anything but Cheerios some days and her pants keep falling down her butt, I look at my baby book and see that I was the same way at this age and I turned out (relatively) okay. I look at the pictures of the smiling baby I was and see Chicky's face. I recognize the nose and the smile. Yes, we do look a lot alike. She is my daughter.

But I hate this book because it taunts me with what is not written. They are just notes, a few words to record dates and information for posterity. It doesn't explain what happened on these days. Who was I walking to? Why was I drinking from a cup so early? It says in my baby book that I was potty trained at 18 months. How is this possible?!

(Apparently my mother was a bit of an overachiever, but I'll never know for sure.)

I long for the answers to these questions but I'm also looking for guidance in my current life and I can't forcibly pull either one from the pages of this book. Even if I shake it hard and watch the tokens fall to the floor, I will not find what I'm looking for. I can closely look at pictures with a magnifying glass looking for clues and try to read between the lines but that will only get me so far. The memories are gone, save for the pieces recorded between the pink flowered covers. Gone with the person who should be here to tell me that my daughter is progressing just fine, the one who should hold my hand when I'm stressed out over tantrums and milestones, or take my frantic phone calls when my daughter won't sleep. Gone with the person who should be the one to tell me that I'm doing a good job, that I am a good mother regardless of how I feel on any given day. Gone with my mother before I knew how badly I was going to need them.

It's all gone, except for the book. There's Just Me.

---------------------------

*The title of this entry is also the title on the cover of my baby book.

53 comments:

Mr. Chicky said...

Damn you for making me cry at work

Julie Pippert said...

Oh. Oh wow. Very moving...and heartbreaking.

mamatulip said...

Oh, Mrs. Chicky. I understand. I really, truly do.

Thank you for writing this. It's a beautiful post.

Janet a.k.a. "Wonder Mom" said...

God. You are in my head.
I have the same issues with my baby book and my mom (who passed when I was 17). I'll never know how she truly felt as she input the info into it. I'll never know how she felt at my 1 year well baby visit. Was she just as scared as I am?

I hug you hard for this post.

Thank you.

penelopeto said...

This was so beautifully written, but it hurt my heart.
Hugs your way.

kittenpie said...

oh, that was a nice post! Hugs from Toronto, honey.

I think ahead to what Pumpkinpie will read when I write in her book, actually, so I like to add little moments and quotes and stuff too.

IAI said...

You made Mr. Chicky cry at work!
In all sincerity, beautiful post.

Mrs. Chicken said...

Mrs. Chicky. I am so sorry. This is haunting and dreafully familiar in its sincere grief.

jen said...

18 months? Your mom isn't the only over-achiever.

What a lovely post, Madame Chick. Bittersweet and lovely.

Thank god we are all writing more about them.

Lawyer Mama said...

What a wonderful post, Ms. Chicky. And I'll remember your thoughts the next time I'm tempted to hang up on my mother for something or other. Hopefully, you'll be there for Chicky Chicky Baby when she becomes a parent and maybe that will help.

K said...

I'll tell you what Mrs. Chicky, but you are turning it on. You are a writing power to be reckoned with -- and I'm enjoying every single post.

Thanks for sharing this.

metro mama said...

Very moving post. Wish they had blogs back then.

Lara said...

powerful stuff, mrs. c. you are a beautiful writer and a wonderful mom. i bet your mom is damn proud of the woman you've become. i know we all are.

sending you huge hugs.

scribbit said...

My Mom religiously kept a baby book for me but I had a hard time doing it for my kids. Such a lot of little details to keep track of. I can feel really guilty about it if I think about it.

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh, Mrs. Chicky...I can't imagine how hard it must be for you to have lost your mother. I used to run a website that had a board called "Mothers without Mothers" and it was heartbreaking to read sometimes. But it was also a great resource for those who are in your position.

I almost lost my mother not long ago, it scared me to death. That was a lovely post and like the others have said, I'm sure she would be proud of the woman and the mother that you are today.

mo-wo said...

My Mom just left in a post babysitting tiff with me. Your post likely helped me most.

BethGo said...

Very bittersweet. Thank you so much for sharing.

creative-type dad said...

My wife and I are in the same boat. Thankfully she has an older sister that's kind of taken her mother's role.

krista said...

That is a good reminder to me, the value of memory keeping. Of pinning memories down, documenting my kids little lives. So that they can know.

Thanks. Now I will banish my guilt for not having a scrapbook for George by starting the process of making one.

Kate said...

Very beautiful post. Even though your post is about your mother, I can't help but be reminded about my dad when I read it as he died when I was 16 and my memories of him seem so far and distant, that I have to be reminded about our time together from the pictures that we share.
So sorry for the loss of your mom.

And on a less serious note, my mom toilet trained my brother when he ws 18 mths old, too. WTF was up with our mothers back then??

Oh, The Joys said...

Even though I am sure that your mom is everywhere, all around you, watching over you, I understand how much you must miss her and need her now.

Jenny said...

I'm sitting here in my office with tears streaming down my face.

I wish I could hug you.

Waya said...

I think memories can conjure up lots of different emotions but at least you Do have that memories of your Mom, her care in putting this book together for you and you do have her hand writing for posterity.

LiveLee said...

what you have is very special and important, you can hold something your mom thought was important and know that she was dedicated to creating a record of your first years of life...and imagine that she was doing that while she was probably dealing with some of the same frustrations you are dealing with now as you raise your child. she created your Just Me when it wasn't okay to tell the stories of her frustrations and 'bad mommy moments' that we see shared so freely today in blogs and on oprah! and knowing how your Just Me makes you feel as though you need to know what was really happening, (who were you walking to?) is a gift in itself, because now you know what will be important to your litte chicky someday when she is grown and starts her own family...you have the chance to tell her story for her (even if you will be around to answer her questions and give her hugs.)

reluctant housewife said...

This is just beautiful.

I'm getting off the computer right now and starting on my son's baby book. The guilt has been killing me.

soleclaw said...

I'm so sad now...in a very conflicting way. I don't have a baby book, in fact I only have less than 5 pictures of myself as an infant. It kills me to think of my birth mother and what she must've been going through during her life to not care enough about me...

and this lack of a baby book makes me want to make one for E. I've been filling hers out since before she was born, and I'm going to get it to write down her most recent achievements now.

Wonderful post. Just beautiful.

halloweenlover said...

I'm just barely holding it together here. You should do this to a pregnant woman.

Beautiful post.

Mamacita Tina said...

I will never look at baby books the same way again. Woman, you are powerful with the words! Great writing and meaning!

lildb said...

yeah. remember what you said about wishing you could write like me? um, please don't ever wish to write like anyone but yourself. ever. because it's music on a white background, your writing.

also, like mr. chicky said. damn you for making me cry. *shakes fist*

also, here's a hug, you cry-maker, you.

*hug*

carrie said...

What a beautifully written and thoughtful post. Please take a little comfort in knowing that as you are writing so much about Chicky, even if she doesn't have you, she will have your words. I know that it isn't a replacement, but it's the very reason I write so much in my scrapbooks and especially during the first years of my children's lives. They will have those memories (my memories) forever.

I wish I could make it better for you, I really do.

Carrie

cry it out! said...

My wife and I have delayed and delayed and delayed making our baby book for emme - not anymore. What a wonderfully sweet and touching essay -- poetic and poignant. And motivating like hell.

Dana said...

My mother gave me my babybook when I told her I was pregnant. I read that thing and laughed and cried. It was so strange to read things she wrote about me. I can't read some of the things she wrote because they are embarrassing, but the good parts...they really make me smile.

sunshine scribe said...

So I haven't read blogs in days and I came over here first and you made me cry.

Sending big hugs to you and you phenomenal writer and mother ... big hugs.

Joker The Lurcher said...

i so relate to what you say about trying to draw out information from fragments of things. i left my mum when i was 8 to live with my dad and my stepmum. i never knew why my mum didn't fight to keep me. by the time i had plucked up the courage to speak to her about it she was starting to become demented. she died of alzheimers in 2000.

most of her stuff ended up in a skip when the council took her flat back. what was the most painful was the letters i had written to her as a child being destroyed. most people don't need to write letter to their mum. they would have given a picture of me and also of her.

i have a file of letters she wrote to a friend in russia, letters she wrote to me, letters she wrote to her twin. i read them hoping to find answers about why she gave me up but none are there.

for my own son, in case i am not around when he is grown up, i write a letter each year on the night before his birthday. i tell him what he acheived that year and how much i love him and how clever he is. i tell him who his friends were and which pets we have. so if anything happens to me he will have at least that.

i so missed knowing what age i walked, talked, all the other stuff. but now i know my son is autistic he would probably not be doing any of it the same time i did. he is his own unique self and in a way not knowing whether i was breast fed or bottle fed, and all the other stuff like that, has freed me up as well as leaving me adrift.

keep writing about this stuff - it is hugely important. and sorry for such a long post!

kim said...

my heart hurts for you *hugs*
i struggle with the death of my father... he was such a powerful storyteller and a fountain of memories but remembering all of them or recording events on paper or in letters wasnt something he did
so consequently its all up to me to try and pass any of our history on. and my memory is crap.

lets try and do better for our kids ... i loved the post by 'joker the lurcher' ... just writing a simple letter each year could make all the difference

Pattie said...

;'(

Mrs. Chicky,
There are no words.... (((HUG)))

T. said...

Powerful words, Mrs. Chicky.

Now I'm going to find some kleenex and call my crazy mother.

(I'll likely regret said move and curse at you later, but for now, I am inspired.)

Mom101 said...

This is probably the most beautiful perspective on keeping a baby book that I've ever seen. We always think of it as giving our kids a record of themselves. But as you so eloquently point out, what they really have is a record of how we saw them.

You just solidified my commitment to keep one for baby #2. Thank you so much for that.

Mommy off the Record said...

I am so sorry for your loss. There are really no words that would provide comfort, but I just wanted you to know that what you wrote, though sad, was beautifully written. And also, that Chicky Baby is one lucky little girl.

Her Bad Mother said...

So beautiful. This is why our story-telling (in blogs or in baby books or - best - in person) is so important: it keeps memory alive. Sometimes we don't realize how valuable that is until it's too late.

Poopydigs said...

I hate that you've made me mess up my makeup. Mascara running... goop...tears.

At least you have a baby book. I still have my mother with me, and I can't squeeze any information out of her. She doesn't remember. She didn't jot anything down. Very frustrating.

I, however, have started writing emails and letters to my daughter. So that she can know how I feel about things. Makes me wonder whether I should start printing out pages of my blog as well. Thanks for the great post, and I'm SO SO sorry for your loss.

Jess Riley said...

Geez, you really know how to soften my cold, dark heart. I'm so sorry your mother isn't here with you today; but you've memorialized her in such beautiful, heartfelt writing.

Hugs to one of my favorite writers...

Damselfly said...

Aw. What powerful memories that baby book must invoke for you. It ties you, your mother and daughter all together. Beautiful.

Nancy said...

Wow. I think I need to make sure the girls' baby books are up to date now.

Such a beautiful, heart-wrenching post. Absolutely impossible to not tear up while reading it.

something blue said...

I just wanted to let you know that I this moved me so very much. I just have no words to offer. How I wish that you had those answers, understanding and praise.

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Sarcasta-mom said...

So sweet. I'm a memory pack-rat, and try to keep everything I can for my kids to look through when I'm older. Thank you for sharing

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swampwitch said...

What a beautiful post and wonderful tribute. I have two daughters. My oldest's baby book is much more complete than my youngest's. I think today I will go work on hers. And, too, I will call her and have her read this as she has an 18 month-old who has a baby book with some pages that need to have something documented on them. Plus, I will go open my baby book, not necessarily to READ what's there, but to just go look at my mom's handwriting, to feel her closeness. I lost her over 20 years ago and I there are so many things that happen everyday I really want to share with her and ask her about. Thank You.

Mad Hatter said...

Hey Chicky, I'm just seeing this now but tonight you are going into my (new-to-me) bloglines list so that I don't miss something like this again.

I lost my Mom a while back and wrote about my grief for her just a couple of weeks ago. It is very hard to raise a child without that mothering voice to reassure and to guide you. It is very hard living day-to-day without a mom. I know.

Best,
Mad

Stephanie said...

This is a beautiful tribute to three generations of women: your mom, you, and your little angel.

Thanks for telling me what I should be doing for my own little angel. Her baby book is sadly neglected. I need to keep your questions in mind as I compile notes and photos and tributes to her so as she looks at it later she will never question that she is my everything.

Red Rollerskate said...

What a wonderful post. Sad and thoughtful. Thanks for sharing.

Janet A.K.A. Wondermom sent me over here.