Everyone has major milestones in their lives, like graduating from high school or college, getting married, winning an award or contest, buying a first car, meeting a celebrity, and so forth. I passed a major milestone today: I became the grandmother of a teenager! That’s almost, but not quite, as startling as becoming the mother of a forty-year-old, or turning forty myself.
When these major milestones occur, it’s natural to think back to corresponding events. Today I tried to remember my own thirteenth birthday. I remember the excitement of looking forward to becoming a teenager, but try as I might, I do not remember the actual event. And, though I blush to admit, I do not remember the specific birthdays when my children became teenagers. These were big days at the time, but the memory does not linger on.
You probably have similar lapses of your own.
What does this have to do with writing lifestories? This incident of mine merely underscores the fact that we don’t remember the details of every event in our lives, especially as they fade into the distance. Becoming a teenager was important to me, and I remember generalities, though I don’t remember the specific day.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. I just searched for “perpetual calendar” and looked up the date of my thirteenth birthday. It fell on a Tuesday, which means it was a school day. That means I found a present or two by my place on the breakfast table, and we had birthday cake after supper. That was predictable, and would blend into my composite Birthday Memory. If I’d had a party, I would remember that. I did have a sixteenth birthday party. My friends and I didn't have birthday parties, and they continued to be rare when my own children were growing up.
When I write about it, I’ll write about my general feelings, not an occasion. When I write about becoming the mother of teenagers, I’ll write about the challenges of adolescence in general, making note of the fact that I had three very different experiences with three very different children. Vital, compelling stories are about experiences and interpretations as much or more than actual events.
Happy birthday Keith. I’m going to remember this day, for sure, and I’ll remember the thirteenth birthday of each successive grandchild. Somehow major milestones in grandchildren’s lives stand out with special vividness. I think that’s part of being a grandparent.
For now I’m encouraging my readers who are grandparents to write stories about the major moments as they occur, as keepsakes for the youngsters, who may not otherwise remember themselves. Likewise, younger parents will do well to keep journals, no matter how sporadic or sketchy. Anything you write is going to be welcome later.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal