My first son was nineteen years old when I first shared the story of the day he was born with him. I don’t know what took me so long, but I do know who inspired me to do it: my cousin Brenda.
Suddenly somehow I woke up enough from the frenzy of my life to remember that she had once mentioned to me how her children enjoyed hearing their birth stories, that it had been a favorite annual tradition in her family, to tell the story each year. “Why have I never done this?” I asked myself, and I knew there was no good reason.
By that time my son was no longer home, but was spending the summer away as a camp counselor. I decided long enough was long enough, and I wrote the story down and sent it to him. I’m hoping to get his brother’s story written up a little bit sooner, by his eighteenth birthday.
But you don’t have to wait as long as I did. You can be more like my cousin Brenda, who I interviewed for this post, to see how and why she did it.
JH: When did you you first start telling your kids the story of the day they were born? And what made you think of the idea in the first place?
Brenda: I don’t really remember when I first started, but probably when Jesse [her oldest] was about six or seven. And it was my Mom who made me think of doing it. When we were growing up, even though there were a lot of us, my Mom always made each one of us feel like we were the most important person in the world, especially on our birthdays. I wanted to pass on that same feeling on to my kids, that each of them was the most special person in the world, and that that is why the day they were born was so special.
JH: Did the story grow through the years?
Brenda: Sometimes it got longer and sometimes it got shorter. In the teen years, they didn’t always want to hear the whole thing. They’d cut you off before some of the details. You know, like, “Yeah, Mom, that’s okay, we know that part.”
JH: When did you start writing the stories down?
Brenda: When they left home is when I decided I’d better write the stories down. I wasn’t telling them every year anymore, and then I was afraid one day I wouldn’t remember all the details. And then after I had written them down, sometimes I would add little things I remembered that I hadn’t remembered before, in their birthday cards.
JH: What details did you include in the story?
Brenda: I would always start telling the story by what was going on that day. Who was around, what everyone in the family was doing, where the other kids were, and so on.
JH: Any advice for people who want to start this tradition in their homes?
Brenda: Just be sure to include the other children in the family in the story. When I would tell the story of each of my children’s births, the birthday boy or girl was the center of attention, but everyone else was listening too, real hard. They wanted to hear their part too. Where did they go to stay when I went to the hospital? Who took care of them? They wanted to know all the details: they wanted to be characters in the story too!
You can think of all kinds of ways to spin out the drama of your child’s entry into this world. My older son was born on a blessedly cool day following a blistering heat wave in New York City, and part of the preamble to his story is the day I was standing in the subway and knew I shouldn’t be there. (I vowed to myself that that was my last ride until after he was born.) My second child came into the world in a year that had historic amounts of snowfall, so that was part of the setup to his story. For one of my deliveries we were driven to the hospital by a very reluctant taxi driver who was clearly worried about having a baby born in his cab. For the other one we were driven there by a lifelong friend who lived upstairs from us, and part of that story is the view of the Brooklyn Bridge we had as she drove us up the FDR Drive late at night.
It doesn’t matter where you live, what the details surrounding your child’s birth are, or even if you yourself were there at the moment of their birth. (One of my cousins traveled to China, twice, to bring her sons home, and though she was not present at the moment of their births, she has quite a story to tell!)
The important thing is that your children know that the day you first held them in your arms was a very special day–a day that you’ll always treasure and never forget. A day worth celebrating and remembering.
A story worth telling over and over.
Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home