Lots of Mormon women make nifty scrapbooks of their kids’, their family’s lives. I don’t. Sometimes I feel bad about that, worry that my kids will feel deprived if all the events of their young lives are not recorded in carefully cropped snapshots, with cute die-cut figures and fancy paper borders. For a long time I thought my resistance to scrapbooking was just mild anti-Mollyism combined with a lack of time (oh, yeah, and resentment of turning nouns like “scrapbook” into verbs). But now I have a few minutes in my days, and I could, if I really wanted to, get around to making those scrapbooks. But I still haven’t.
Here’s why–I don’t think they work. I think people make scrapbooks because they are trying to keep time from slipping through their fingers. Having a child makes you conscious of time in an acute and often painful way. When I was 26, it was easy for me to think that I was pretty much the same as I had been at 21. But even if I can sometimes think, at 34, that I am pretty much the same as I was when I was 27 (just a *little* fatter and more wrinkled, really!), there is this hulking 60 lb. 7-year-old next to me, who was just a 7 lb. lump of funny sounds and smells when I was 27. (OK, yeah, he still sounds and smells funny a lot of the time, but…)
I remember when we were leaving the hospital, being sad that he was 2 whole days old and it didn’t make sense to give his age in hours anymore. And I shocked myself with a bout of strenuous weeping when he was a month old and I had to pack away the tiniest t-shirts. At every stage, along with the joy of new discovery, there is the nagging grief of never again–look! he’s eating cereal (someday soon he’ll be weaned), look! he’s crawling (someday he will walk away from me), look! he’s going to school (he’ll learn things I don’t teach him), look! he can read (the world is his; he is escaping the home I have so carefully made). And always the aching knowledge that he and I will not be here, in this minute, together again. A scrapbook is not enough to assuage that grief–it will not bring me back the sweet 20-lb. six-month-old who made my arms hurt with his delicious chubbiness, it will not smell like the back of his baby neck, or his grassy 3-year-old sweat, it will not really hold the awkward 1-gigantic-permanent-tooth cyclops grin that makes it so hard for me to yell at him today. A scrapbook will only be a cruel tease.
The other reason I think scrapbooks have such appeal to Mormons, of course, is our focus on our posterity, and our hope that our lives will be rich with lessons for our descendants. I’m not convinced that this is so, either. I have as storied a family as anyone, I think; my paternal grandparents, especially, have conscientiously recorded and retold as much of the family history as we can discover. And I love those stories, and I am glad to know them, and I learn from them, but it’s still hard to be convinced of their significance, their weightiness, their *heft.* Despite my post-modernish academic training, I’m still attracted by the old Great Man historiography, and deep down I think that truly important lives will manage to make their mark despite being unchronicled by the people who live them. I intend to creep quietly into a plainly marked grave, and leave the digging through boxes of photographs to journalists and historians eager for baby pictures of my accomplished and celebrated offspring. Newspaper pictures and biography covers do not have pretty borders.