Not Meant for the Scrapbook

The memories we never expected our kids to cling to


8/26/20233 min read

two women lying on hammock
two women lying on hammock

At first, this started as an open letter to the parents and grandparents who wish they had the money to take their loved little ones to Disney World more often. Or at all. To the ones who sometimes (or all the time) count pennies and dollars and who worry their kids won’t have the rich childhood memories we’re certain everyone else is making, even now. You know - the memories we meant to make and scrapbook about.

But I think, now, it’s for all of us, and I have good news for all of us. Just let me drop back and explain where I found that news …

For years, I taught College Composition, a freshman-level writing course commonly also offered as “early” college credit for advanced and/or ambitious high school students. Those were my learners. Classrooms of sometimes eager, sometimes reluctant seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds. Some loved to write. Some hated it. All wanted that lovely, transferable college credit.

Anyway, the first genre of writing in Comp was always narrative, and my students practiced these composition moves in the form of vignettes: short “snapshot” stories from their lives, assembled together as a larger collage about something or someone they felt was important to their identity. Topics were entirely their own and all over the place, as you might expect. They sprung from a bunch of brainstorming activities. Usually my teen writers enhanced their collages with pictures or graphics or fun fonts. I loved reading them, especially early in the semester because you learn a lot about a person when you ask them to make sense of where they’ve been by telling you tiny stories.

You might expect the memories they shared to be grand and impressive in some status-based way, but you’ve probably guessed by now that’s not how it usually went. Not by a long shot. Instead, here’s what they wrote about:

  • Hours spent in an old garage, fixing up a car with you

  • The chair they stood on to help roll out dough for homemade cinnamon rolls

  • Eating tomato soup on snow days while watching The Price is Right next to you

  • Their favorite hiding places for flashlight tag

  • The time the sitter canceled and you got them French toast sticks at a drive-thru on the way to your office, where they watched you work

  • How your house smelled on Christmas

  • The steps you taught them for building a campfire

  • The stray animal you let them bring inside

  • The questions you asked in the car after school and the songs you sang together on the radio

  • The blanket forts you built

  • The goat you bottle fed in the kitchen

  • The times you played charades because the power was out

  • The Easter eggs you dyed in Kool-Aid because the store ran out of Paas

These vignettes - rich with sensory details - led to a brief reflection at the end of the collage, a “so what.” Why do they hold onto the memories they wrote about? So what? Usually they didn’t know until they’d worked and reworked, brainstormed and mapped. “This is just a random thing,” they’d tell me at first. “I don’t know why it’s making it into the collage.”

When they finally arrived there - and they always did - the “so what” would often make me cry as I read it. Because they realized and expressed in a hundred different ways that these “random things” were the backbone of who they were becoming. They love you in these memories, before and after they’ve written them so carefully, and it’s hardly ever about money you spent. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a single vignette about getting the new I-phone or new four-wheeler or flying first class somewhere. I’m sure they loved these things, too, but they’re not the memories they share when they think “important” or they try to put into words what someone or something meant to them.

In the months ahead, maybe we could all give ourselves permission to save some money if we need to and definitely to let go of expectations and guilt. Maybe we can just make time to do the most ordinary thing beside the young people in our lives. The things we need to do anyway, but we could let them in on it and chat during it about other ordinary things while that ordinary thing happens!

Those moments will end up pointing them to their “so what.”


Scrapbook challenge: make a page of “ordinary” ??

Because I like to hear stories: if you could go back and do that ordinary thing you always did with your parent or other relative, what would it be?