Not once in their lives have any of my children given me a “present.” What I mean is that I’ve never been handed a store-bought scented candle by a confused toddler or an abashed teenager.
I always get the same gift. It isn’t wrapped. It costs nothing and yet is more precious than every trinket in every boutique in the galaxy. My nine children, who range in age from 5 to 27, take pride in it and lavish considerable effort on it, with much laughter, secrecy, and scurrying around before it’s presented to me.
Everyone in my family calls it “the Mom Book,” though technically there are now three of them—each a thick 8½-by-11-inch book of handmade paper, 100 or so pages bound with a plain cover. In every volume, my kids have drawn pictures, written poems, pasted photos, and penned letters. Sometimes their lives and hearts are so full they consume two or three pages. Each entry is dated and signed, even if just with the mark of a thumb in tempera paint.
On Mother’s Day, the book usually makes an appearance after the scalding coffee and cold bagels brought to me in bed about, oh, two hours after I’ve awakened. On Christmas, it’s always the last gift under the tree. As I read and admire the new entries for the first time, the tears well up. Years later, when I look back, I’m undone.
It’s more than the memory of the times evoked by the words—the hilarity, the havoc, the brief periods of sweet harmony. It’s the emotional power evoked by seeing my kids at virtually every stage of their development.
I wouldn’t trade this episodic record for anything: In my Mom Book, a thousand words are worth so much more than a photo. Everyone smiles in pictures. But my tributes trace a topographical path, charting as many downs as ups. It’s not merely a journal or a scrapbook; it’s a multi-volume history of my children and me.