Mama’s Diary Dilemma

Journaling through motherhood can be daunting. It can also preserve moments that would otherwise slip away.

This piece is part of a month-long Wanderlust and YOGANONYMOUS series about the power of journaling.

I’m a writer. I take notes, with 10 boxes of filled journals in my mother’s basement to prove it. So I can’t believe how little I have written down about the growings, happenings, and overall everythings of my 2-year-old. It’s not surprising, really—juggling a babe and work and relationship and friends hasn’t left a ton of time for writing about the amazing moments. Like the other night when the boy pointed to his daddy’s head and said: “Hair?” Then his chest, “Hair?” Then, “Mama chest hair?” My husband replied, “No, mama doesn’t have chest hair.” “Why?” asked the curious boy. “Because boys and girls are different in some ways. But you’ll probably have chest hair when you’re older.”

At which point boy started beating his chest with both fists like a gorilla, laughing.

I know those glorious moments are going to flash by and some near day I will only recall a fuzzy, nostalgic blur of cheeks, eyes, and mischief. This is terrifying. It’s could also be, somewhat counter-intuitively, the deeper reason I have not committed more about motherhood to paper. Perhaps I am trying to defy what everyone says—It goes by so quickly—by just being in the present with my kiddo as much as possible. I want to feel like, There’s more where that came from. The whole “It just flies by” thinking seems to be about scarcity and fear and longing for the past. I instead want to revel in this second, where he is feeding his teddy “geeps” (grapes) and then diving into his sofa fort.

There could be another reason for not writing about motherhood—one that’s seems somewhat more sinister. Maybe, just maybe, I don’t want to remember in such sharp relief how equal my overflowing love is to the intense rage that sometimes surfaces. The kind of rage that surfaces in moments when the boy turns on the not-ready dishwasher, throws orange peels on the floor while looking at me defiantly, pulls my hair, and then refuses to eat anything because his cracker broke. And as I feel anger surge through me like an electricity borrowed from seven generations deep, I have the thought, Ohhh, this is why people spank. (Instead, I breathe. TGFY—Thank God For Yoga.)

But I know that journaling has actual health and emotional benefits. And how cool will it be when this precious time has indeed flapped on by and this toddler is a boy, teen, man (!) and we can read specific memories together? He will have them as touchstones—sure, interpreted by me, but at least not eroded by time. I’ve watched my own childhood stories fade, twist, and dwindle in each retelling as my parents’ memories dissolve, taking parts of my identity with them. I want something to be placed fresh in amber for him, my husband, and me, even if it’s like all histories, biased by its narrator.

As such, despite the risks of remembering the truth as well as rosy recollection, I’m going into this year with the intention to journal more. Ironically for someone who doesn’t currently keep a regular journal, I teach journaling to writing students. Here’s some of the advice I give them.

  • Keep a one-sentence daily-ish journal. I bought one! It’s called “Mom’s One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book.” I’m planning to crack it open each night before bed. I can handle that, right? Small, but consistent doses will capture at least some of the magic/trauma/joy/fear/hilarity. But if a daily journaling practice is too much, make a date with yourself for Sunday night (or whenever) to catch up on the week’s happenings.
  • Keep a memory jar. One of my sheroes, author Elizabeth Gilbert, is a big proponent of the memory jar. On a scrap of paper, you write down the best thing that happened that day and place it in your jar. At the end of the year, you read, and rejoice in your blessings. You can also do it with not-so-great stuff too, because sometimes that’s what needs to be remembered.
  • Micro-journal on social media. Of course you’ll need some editing and you may want to keep your posts on mamahood to a select group of folks, but this can be a terrific way to capture the memory butterflies. I don’t post a ton about my son, but in a closed Instagram account I have posted about a dozen photos this year with captions. I just printed them all in a book (lots of apps do this but I really love Artifact Uprising—they use recycled paper and the printing quality is high). Other apps do this with Facebook. It’s the closest I have to a baby journal from the last year and it’s pretty great. 
  • Use prompts. If the blank page makes you freeze, writing prompts are your friend. Plenty of blogs provide journaling prompts, many of them specifically for moms. These are cool and so are these. Or you can make up a bunch of your own to use as fodder on the days when you can’t think of a thing to say. 
  • When you fall off, get back on. It’s easy to say, “Well I haven’t written in forever so it’s too late.” No! Now starts now. Pick up the pen or the Notes app on your phone or Word and get to writing, now.

valerie reissValerie Reiss is a writer, editor, content strategist, speaker, and mama. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, The Huffington Post, CNBC, Women’s Health, and Newsweek, among others. She’s also a certified Kripalu yoga instructor.