Tempus Fugit, or Why I Don’t Do Scrapbooks

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.


  1. D., my father started doing the same thing when my oldest brother went to college, and we still get letters weekly, with a paragraph about each member of the family (except the one about us is removed from the letter we get), and he sends extended family a monthly letter. A great work.

    Kristine, I’m with you on the scrapbooking, I think it’s cheesy and foolish to try to capture every moment of life visually and then trim it up perfectly. I’d rather just remember.

    I’m married to a man trying to make a living as a documentary filmmaker, so on special occasions and trips we do a lot of arguing about how (I think) he is trying to film/photograph too much, and he thinks I am letting moments slip by. Perhaps it is a matter of personal taste (he’s not doing the scrapbooking thing, though he did make a beautiful short film with all our nieces and nephews last summer, so maybe I’m wrong).

    I do disagree about the need to record our history. Kristine, I think most great people’s lives are lost to history, although remembered and cherished by those around them for a time.

    A few years ago I was feeling particularly frustrated about the dearth of information in our canon about women. I was praying and thinking about it and I received a powerful impression of “well, if you have such a problem with it, you need to record your own history. It’s your responsibility and this is how stories are kept.” (trust me, God doesn’t talk to me much, or I don’t listen much … I guess that’s another post).

    I wish I could say that ever since I have kept a journal. daily. I haven’t. But the impression is still with me, and it was a lesson in how our own actions may have far reaching, unanticipated consequences. Perhaps in a thousand years when the next scripture is revealed by God, it will contain women’s voices too.

  2. Kristine says:

    I almost made the first comment on my own post to add a disclaimer that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with scrapbooking, and to point out that my kids really, really like looking at old photos of themselves, and that I intend to at least make some sort of primitive photo album for them, and that I’m not making fun of anyone’s wife, and…

    I do think that sometimes really bright competent Mormon women use energies that could be better spent on crafty things like scrapbooks. But I use energies that could be better spent on blogging, and on refinishing furniture, and on knitting, and (it’s a long list). It’s really hard for me to say how much frivolous use of time is a good thing–I’m a pretty somber and melancholic kind of person, seriously handicapped in the having fun department. So I would not fault anybody’s creative outlet or presume to make judgments about why they spend their time that way, or whether they should. The point of my post was only that I don’t think scrapbooking can satisfy some of the deeper longings that motivate the activity.

    I’m less certain about journals–it may be just my fondness for words, but I do think there’s something about trying to articulate an experience that can somehow deepen the experience more than just preserving a reminder of it. But only some journals are like that. And, in the hands of someone as talented as Laurel Ulrich, look what a boring list of daily activities can become!!

    So, for once, I’m completely willing to suspend judgment on everybody else’s way of doing things–please read my post as a personal confession with no prescriptive intent.

  3. I think you can consider yourself a “Utah Mormon” once you keep a Book of Remembrance, as opposed to a typical scrapbook.

  4. I use a blog as a substitute for a journal. It’s not a complete substitute for a written record but it is more immediately gratifying.

    Kristine, thank you for a terrific post. I’d be curious to hear what your feelings were towards journals/records before children.

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m so with you on the aversion to journal writing, Karen! If it’s worth remembering, it will stay with you, and you can blog about it someday. That’s what I do.

    Aaron B

  6. In Christina’s opinion, those who scrapbook are “cheesy and foolish.”

    I wouldn’t necessarily characterize my wife that way- she is actually pretty nice. And wise too! She finds an important outlet in scrapbooking, and I can’t see anything cheesy or foolish about that!

    When someone does something that does not happen to align well with your personal tastes, do you always call it “cheesy and foolish” or worse? Why not just say something like: “For me personally, scrapbooking does not work.”

  7. Jordan, for heaven’s sake, I said I *thought* it was cheesy and foolish and that it was a matter of taste. I think my husband is sentimental for taking lots of photos, but that doesn’t mean I look down at him, nor do I have a problem with people who scrapbook, it really just isn’t my style.

  8. Jordan, you seem to have a bit of a chip on your shoulder, between the “utah mormons” quip and the reworking of Christina’s comment. Is there something wrong?

  9. Karen: I had always assumed that there was no truth at all to the strip poker rumors at HLS! ‘->

  10. Krisitine, that was possibly the most beautifully written blog I’ve read. Thank you!

    As you suspect, I’m sure that you’re leaving your history with your son in the form of emotional imprints and moral lessons rather than stencils and stickers.

    (And really from a practical lawyer’s perspective: Why leave a chain of evidence? The only time I kept a journal was when I was in Young Women’s and wrote about a (fairly innocent) game of strip poker at youth conference when I was 14. Let’s just say I got caught big time because of that journal. Better not to leave a chain of evidence and simply leave all strip poker between you and your conscience.) :o)

    But seriously, I don’t write in journals now…and choose not to feel guilty about it. I’ll remember the important stuff, and the rest is probably best left forgotten.

  11. D. Fletcher says:

    My mother, for years, has written a weekly letter to all her children and many friends. The letter is a simple retelling of the events of her week, with an occasional personal note at the bottom.

    In the last 5 years, or so, the original typed letter became an email.

    It is her journal.

  12. Oh- and I do suppose that this project I am escaping by blogging this morning has got my goat, coloring my posts.

  13. D. Fletcher says:

    One little experience that relates: when my nephew Tim was 6, and his sister Lacy was 3, I was visiting their home. I was playing with Lacy and cleaning up the play area at the same time, and I came upon a shirt buried in the couch. Lacy (remember, she was 3 years old) smelled the shirt and said, “I think it smells like Tim.” I was… stunned to realize her sensual awareness.

  14. Schon gut…

  15. Sorry Steve. That sounded grumpier than I meant it. I surely didn’t think I had reworked anyone’s comments.

    Scrapbooking may be cheesy, but I don’t think it is as bad or foolish as people think it is.

    And I was wondering if maybe another manifestation of being a “Utah Mormon” in the eyes of those who believe that such exist was a liking of scrapbooking. I was wondering that such a hobby could earn me the title of “Utah Mormon”. As you know, there is much discussion over at that other blog about the characteristics of these “Utah Mormons”.

    But no grumpiness or chips here- just some defense of the art of scrapbooking and some wondering if scrapbooking was something that people consider a trait of “Utah Mormons”. :-)

    I did think Kristine wrote a beautiful post.

  16. Still, you can’t fault people who do actually enjoy “scrapbooking” and “journaling”. Not that you are, but some of us actually like to do things like that.

    Besides, the scrapbook makes for a great activity for our kids- they love to go through the old scrapbooks and photo albums. It keeps them nice and quiet and gives them a sense of family unity.

    Also, my kids love making their own “scrapbook pages”. We give them pictures that we don’t think we’ll use, and they often spend an entire morning cutting pictures and gluing them on paper.

    Is that so wrong? Or am I just one of those “Utah Mormons” I keep hearing so much about?