It landed on our doorstep, yesterday. That brown paper package. My favorite wide tape across the top. I knew what was inside of it—I just didn’t anticipate how it would unravel me.
Sometimes you sense, right out of the gate, that you’ve been invited into something deep, something bigger than the sum of its parts. "Will you write this book?" my friends at Artifact Uprising asked some months ago. "It’s a way we can give others simple prompts and beautifully interactive pages to document the life of their child."
My "yes!" sailed from our noisy van in Cincinnati to their kind houses in Denver. Because this is what I knew: I could trust them with the making of something exquisite. But the second, rather breathless part was this: As a mother, I knew this project was going to push me over the top of a wall I’d built. A flimsy wall—but a wall nonetheless—that had been growing since the births of my three children. A wall of procrastination, a few stones of shame, a few bricks of declared failure. I wish I was the only one who has this wall, but I gather I’m not alone.
You’d think, as a writer, I would have stacks of journals filled with those penciled-in birth weights, the first step caught on camera, the quotes of darling things they’ve spoken and mischief they’ve created. I don’t. I barely have much of anything—other than their gorgeous little lives that live before me, around me, and keep bouncing off the walls behind me as I write this to you. And I suppose I decided, at some point over these past twelve years, that it’s a "too late" kind of thing. Or worse, that I’m just not the kind of mother who remembers or cares to do such things. Baby books. Scrapbooks. Journals. I’m sorry, sweet children, I missed the boat.
But then came Artifact, gentle souls. Inviting me to walk through the wall.
"Things I find in your pockets." This was the first prompt I wrote. The one that showed me I was going to make it, fall head over heals, have something to offer others. Because what children carry and bury in their pockets, whether they’re two years or five years or thirteen, might be one of the most holy revealing things I can fathom. When and if you answer this prompt, you’ll know (rather, feel) what I mean. Because it actually sort of pierces your heart.
A book full of little interactives and thought-starters so you’re never alone with a sea of blank pages... offering space, too, for the rabbit trails you choose to take.
Next came the circling ("How you wake up to the world...like a lion, a jackrabbit, a turtle, a lark!") and the fill-in-the-blanks ("Hopes for you: That you would believe ______, try ______, offer help when____ and always look for _____"). Building a book full of little interactives and thought-starters so you’re never alone with a sea of blank pages. But offering space, too, for the rabbit trails you choose to take. The hilarious moments that nearly write themselves. Space for their wobbly attempts at writing their own name or drawing a tree, a bird, a dream.
I curled up for days writing the Early Years prompts, then penning the opening letter and the bits and pieces that I hope will carry you through its pages. Page by page, I was led by the desire to give you easy-in ways to capture the delight and nuance of the little life you’re tending: nicknames you’re collecting, adventures you’ve been taking, the spot I keep finding you in, the things I believe for you. The more I wrote, the more I burrowed in, tinier and tinier, closer and closer to the ground. Because it’s the things right under your feet, you know? The tender dots you connect. The way one thought leads to another to another and suddenly you have this abundant palette of your child’s life that you didn’t even know you could capture—but you did. Simple answer by simple answer. Photograph by photograph. Whether you’re doing five days at a time or five whole years, as I did.
Flimsy walls fall. Love breaks.
Suddenly you have this abundant palette of your child’s life that you didn’t even know you could capture—but you did. Simple answer by simple answer. Photograph by photograph.
Now, here’s the romantic in me. I also knew that if this documenting was going to happen on lovely paper, be bound inside a perfect linen cover and held tight by bronze clasps...well, I’m yours. I’m absolutely done for. Because the entire, tangible experience of a book is nearly as meaningful as what you layer inside. So yes, Mohawk and French paper makers, your magic works on me. Yes, inventors of press printing, my hat’s entirely off.
I chose my photos yesterday—the ones that will fill the pages about her life. Our life wrapped together. At first it was the "best" photographs. Portraits I somehow managed to capture, the ones I paid for. But then I started pulling those images out of my cart and replacing them with something much more suited. The ones that reveal her full, living-it-everyday life. The ones that show who she held onto in the mornings, who she ate ice cream with at the lake, who she adored on the grassy lawn of Washington D.C. These photos aren’t spectacular in the world’s eye—they are spectacular to us. Because this book isn’t for the masses; it’s for you and yours. A book to pull to your chest when you feel the urge to sink back into beginnings. A book to set on your teenager’s bed after she’s had a hard day and needs to remember the ground she’s grown up from. A book to hand to a father who’s new to all this, the parents who just said "yes" to adoption, the woman who’s doing it solo and the grandmother who was chosen to take over. Not for the masses, no. For the one by one, the two by two.
Your world is a good world. The child you’re raising is a good child. Whether or not you end up using the Early Years book or just gathering your own notes and paper-clipping some keepsakes to the pages, may you know that no matter how old your child, how big the wall, you have not missed your chance. Start anywhere. Start.
Mark their little lives.
Look back often.
About the Author
Liz Bell Young is a writer and experience designer who wandered a half-globe before finding home. Now in Cincinnati, she's the author of "In the Wide Country of Love," publisher of Haven Magazine, and a contributor to Magnolia. Follow her life at @lizbellyoung.