The gift of words

This Christmas I will tuck a small present away in the closet for my daughter instead of putting it under the tree.

It will be placed in a plain white envelope, one of a collection that keeps growing because these gifts will not be opened for decades.

One Christmas when my daughter is a young woman, I will give her the envelopes and she will read about her birth, about each year that passed as she grew up, and all of the things she may have forgotten about herself.

In each letter I try to capture the special moments in her life and distill them into words. I want her to know that she cried at sad songs even before she could speak; that when, at age one, she turned and growled at the boy who tried to push her off the jungle gym, my heart soared because I felt she had a fierce spirit that would see her safely through life.

I write because when she encounters obstacles as an adult, she needs to know that the first time she fell off a wall, she wept for five minutes and then climbed back up without any prompting, saying, "Try again."

And as hard as I try, there are some stories I will forget. Already my memory wavers when I try to recall the name of the first nursery rhyme she ever sang for me.

As I watch my child climbing boulders and fences, I find myself wondering if I was as fearless at the same age. I have asked my own mother questions about the child I used to be but it is hard for her to remember.

I understand - 30 years is a long time. That is why I write these letters.

I give words to all of the people in my life that I love.

From the time I fell in love with him at 16, I have given my husband poems as presents. In return, he writes for me.

To celebrate her first Christmas with her granddaughter, I gave my mother a memory box. Using fine stationary cut into pieces, I wrote special memories I have of her on the slips of paper, curled them with scissors, and put them in a stained-glass box. She keeps the box in a special place in her living room and picks a memory to read whenever she is missing me.

It was my dearest friend, Ada, who gave me the idea of writing down my daughter's life. She records her family's history and puts the pages away to give to family members on holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. She also knows what a gift written words can be. A parcel came in the mail recently from her nephew. It had a card attached that read, "Auntie, I think you should have this."

Twenty years ago, Ada had given her older brother a travel journal to record his adventures during a trip abroad. He passed away last year and his son found it months later among his belongings.

Reading his journal caught at her heart, Ada told me. She could hear the lilt of his voice again in the anecdotes and observations he had written on the pages. As she read along, it occurred to her what a gentle presence he had been in her life, that even in death his words comfort her. That journal has become one of her most cherished presents.

In my mind's eye I can see myself much older, sitting by the Christmas tree with my grown daughter and watching her face as she opens each letter and scans the written lines.

I can hear myself saying, "You have been the greatest treasure of my life and I could not bear to forget any of those moments with you. I wrote each one down so that you would know yourself more completely and understand even a little of the indescribable joy you have given me."

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to home@csps.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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