When my son turned one year old, I sat down to write him a letter. I wanted to talk to him, to tell him how monumentally he had grown over the past year. I wanted to remember how his newborn legs were so skinny, I could wrap my thumb and pinky finger around them with room to spare. I wanted to bottle up the way he always smiled and sometimes chuckled but rarely laughed. He was simply content.
When he turned two, I wanted to remember how we called him the Mayor of Daycare because he had to wave and say goodbye to everyone in the whole darn place before we could leave. And how, when he was three, he used to jump up in the middle of eating lunch and dance in circles around the kitchen, just because.
Over the years, themes have emerged in these letters, glimpses as a little kid of the big kid — and eventually, the man — he’d become. His cautious nature, the measured way with which he makes decisions, his sensitivity, his compassion. I’ve captured it all in these letters he doesn’t even know I’m writing.
He’ll be nine soon and I’ll write another letter. I’ll write about his love of Pokémon, how he opens my car door for me, how he wants to own a hot dog restaurant when he grows up. I’ll be halfway (SOB) to my goal of writing him a letter every year until he turns 18.
And on his 18th birthday, I’ll have them printed into a book for him, so he can see himself through my eyes. So he can see how, even through the more challenging phases (I’m looking at you, Age Three), the good in him completely overshadowed the hard.
Do this for your kids — and for yourself. You can start at any age, even if you’ve already missed a few birthdays. And you can add in half-birthday letters or extra little anecdotes throughout the year, especially when they’re really little and they’re changing so much, so fast. You can write it all in a journal or type them up and print them out; how you compile it is less important than the words themselves.
I have found that writing these letters helps me reflect on how my son has grown over the past year, the qualities he has that I admire, the accomplishments I’m proud of and my hopes for him in the future. And it helps you to hang onto all those little things, the cute pronunciations and quirks you think you’ll always remember but will somehow manage to blur over the years.
Plus, it’s a great excuse to have a solid ugly cry once a year as you read back through the old letters to prepare to write the new one.