Saving the past for the future
When Kelly DuMar talks about the pleasures of keeping a diary, she often speaks in the plural diaries. For her, the singular won't do. In addition to the floral-covered journal in which she writes about her own life, she keeps separate diaries for each of her three children, recording experiences and feelings she hopes they will enjoy recalling later.Skip to next paragraph
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As she captures both small moments and significant events in their lives, the result is an engaging portrait of childhood and family life that can be passed down to the next generation.
"This is a process that is lovely because it doesn't have rules," says Ms. DuMar, whose children are 14, 10, and 5. "These are like letters you are writing to your child. It's an opportunity to write to your present children and your future children."
Turning parents into diarists for their families involves an unusual literary form that combines elements of letter writing, biography, and autobiography. So convinced is DuMar of its value that she shares the process in a book, "Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children" (Red Pail Press, $14.95).
She also conducts workshops on the subject. At 10 o'clock on a bright and balmy morning, a dozen women, two with babies in tow, gather at the Sherborn Public Library, west of Boston, to hear DuMar describe her passion for diary-keeping. One by one, the women explain why they are here.
"As a younger person, I wrote creatively," says Colleen Neutra, holding her first child, 7-month-old Eliot. "But I got increasingly more self-conscious, and I thought, 'I have nothing to say.' "
Then, just before her son was born, she wrote him a letter. She found the process so satisfying that she followed with a second letter two months ago.
Mary Ann Barrett hopes to preserve the funny sayings of her 5-year-old son. "I want to write them down, but I've never done this before," she says.
Ashley Stinson agrees: "You think, when they're 2, you'll remember what they say, but you don't. You really have to record it as it happens, or it's not going to be there."
Another participant, Jane McDonald, the mother of three small children, says, "I'm like a lot of mothers I always want to write but don't have the time."
Marjie Freeman, whose son and daughter are in their early 30s, has come for another purpose. "I want to find out about retrieving memories to write down if they ever get married and have children," she says.
Another woman, married for 57 years, has two sons in their 50s. "Finally, in my old age I'm a grandmother," she says happily. She wants to write a diary for her granddaughter, combining reminiscences with current activities. "History across the generations is very important," she says.
As babies babble and morning sun streams through library skylights, DuMar outlines her approach. She dismisses baby books that record relatively insignificant details such as weight and height, saying, "who cares?"
To record experiences that may someday hold a cherished place in family lore, she suggests writing directly to a child. She offers an example: "You got up this morning and saw the woods out the window...."
This second-person voice creates an important "intimacy shift," which makes it easier for children to connect with the diaries when they eventually read them.
Parents can start writing a diary for a child at any time. "Don't try to make up for lost time," DuMar says, noting that the book does not need to be linear. But the story of a child's birth, which can be written anytime, makes a good opener.
DuMar has kept a diary for herself since she was 13. She began her diaries for her children when she was pregnant with her son, Landon, now 14.
Writing to an unborn child, she says, enables parents to talk about the hopes they have for the baby. As she awaited the birth of her third child, Frances, DuMar found that writing to her helped to make room for her in their busy family.