When my husband was a month old, he was hospitalized with croup. They weren’t sure if he was going to make it. My mother-in-law documented his entire stay in a yellow, three subject spiral notebook. She wrote down every time he coughed, what it sounded like, and any other information pertaining to his illness. She also wrote about her other two kids that were left at home while she was caring for her baby in the hospital. She wrote about the emotional and physical strain it was taking on her. I haven’t read through all of her words yet, but I am planning to.
This was 31 years ago. She was roughly the same age my husband and I are now. I couldn’t imagine going through what she was going through, though I did come close when my daughter was three months old and had RSV. She was on oxygen for a week, but she was home and safe under my care. I was a nervous wreck the entire week, barely sleeping to ensure her oxygen didn’t come out of her nose and she was breathing.
I was organizing our closet when I came across this yellow notebook, my husband’s name written in blue cursive on the cover. I had seen it a few times before while packing and unpacking boxes. I didn’t think much of it until last week when I decided to read a few pages. I knew about my husband’s hospitalization when he was a newborn, but I didn’t know his mom documented his entire stay.
I am so glad she did.
I am grateful for my mother-in-law and the example she has set forth for her four sons and their wives. I still identify myself as a new mom, even though I am four years in. I look for examples of strong mothers everywhere I go. She is one of the strongest I have found (I think you have to be with four boys!). I don’t see much weakness from her, so to read her words and know how deeply her heart was breaking for her baby is a unique gift to my mama heart. So often we try to make motherhood look easy and carefree. Raising and caring for little humans is anything but. When we hide our weakness, pretend that it isn’t there, that it doesn’t exist, we are doing each other such a great disservice. We find our strength in our weakness. We build ourselves up from the ashes we think bury us. I know that this was a difficult part of her motherhood journey and I am thankful to have this piece of my husband’s past.
I have been writing to my children since the moment I found out they existed, from the moment I knew they were part of me, growing in my womb and overtaking my heart. For my entire pregnancy, I wrote to them weekly. For the first year of their life, I wrote down every milestone and every detail of their babyhood I wanted to remember every week. Now, I write to them monthly. Each of them has a notebook filled up with anecdotes and love notes and empty notebooks waiting for my words to bring new life to their empty pages.
Part of me keeps these journals for me, to remember every detail of their lives. I thought I would have no trouble remembering, but every day I forget a little more what they were like as babies. Memories show up on social media and I have trouble remembering them at this time last year, three years ago. Time is such a thief and, with it, is going my memory. Now that they are getting older, I am writing to them more honest about my feelings towards motherhood; I am not sugar coating the hard days or making them believe that every day is a dream come true. This gig is hard and I want them to know that. I am trying to be honest, while also showing them how deeply they are loved.
I want them to look back on these pages, on these memories I have kept safely tucked away and know that I did my best. We were met with struggles that I wasn’t prepared for, but we made it through together. More than anything, I want them to know that even on the days they were driving me nuts or I was so consumed with postpartum depression that I couldn’t think straight, are equally important to me as the days we laughed and played and loved each other well. None of us are perfect, but we continue to learn and grow together and I want to document this deep, unwavering love that I have for them, every step of the way.
Now that I have this notebook from such a difficult time in my mother-in-law’s motherhood journey, I am even more grateful for the keepsakes I have to give to my children. I plan on gifting them their stack of notebooks, either on their 18th birthday or high school graduation. They will have nearly 19 years of love notes from their mother. They will have their entire childhood and adolescence in written form, their life and my heart splayed upon pages and pages of books. My hope is that they cherish these words I have given to them and they share them with their significant others and their children. I pray that they continue this and make it a tradition. I pray that these words, these memories mean as much to them as they do to me.
What a sweet gift and reminder of my steadfast love for them when I am gone.