Last week as we were eating dinner, Miss Chu suddenly asked “What bowls did we used to eat from in Edinburgh?”
“What?” I looked at her in disbelief. “Those white Ikea ones, remember?” And just like that, I saw one of Miss Chu’s memory globes dim… and fall into the abyss. (Well, that’s how Pixar animates the forgetting of memories in their latest animation, Inside Out.)
I loved watching Inside Out. It was particularly poignant for us as we, too, have just uprooted and moved our own family. Our kids are just now facing some of those same struggles, and are having to make some similar adjustments. (Thankfully not to broccoli pizza). Miss Chu still talks about her old friends and classmates almost everyday. But we’re into our twelfth week in Singapore now and already, the girls are forgetting bits of our everyday life in Edinburgh.
So our dinnertime conversation made me wonder… what will become of their memories of early childhood in Edinburgh; how much will be forgotten? Which memories will linger – and form part of their “core identity”?
Capturing childhood memories is one of my favourite ongoing projects. Childhood is a brief and magical season, and although it’s so easy these days to whip out your phone to get some cute snaps in the playground, you know what tends to happen after that. A rapidly growing, vast repository of unsorted, unedited digital files accumulates in your hard drive. Some make it to Facebook. Others never see the light of day again.
And then there are the trains of thought and leaps of imagination that your device cannot capture. The spontaneous outburst of song that might be cut short if she noticed me pointing my phone at her. The favourite bit of that bedtime story she always joins in with.
So I’ve experimented with different ways over the years to try and capture and curate these snippets of childhood for the girls. They love looking back at these and I guess having access to these memories plays a significant part in building up their sense of self…their “personality islands”, to borrow another Pixar analogy.
As they get older, I imagine they’ll become adept at recording their own lives. They are already taking photos and making their own hilarious little videos. But for now, here are some of our favourite simple ways to capture childhood memories:
Miss Chu used to love this app, and now Little Miss can often be found making silly recordings of herself. Doodlecast offers you a blank canvas with a prompt, and you draw and narrate simultaneously to make a short video clip. It has its limitations, but it’s a great way of capturing a child’s train of thought and I love how it inspires the randomness only children can come up with.
This is a Doodlecast I made with Miss Chu when she was 3 to send to my mother on her birthday.
My kids love drawing. Drawings can reveal a lot about a child’s aspirations, imagination and point of view. Sure, there’s a lot of random scribbling as well but quite often I find myself wanting to date and keep those scraps of paper. And I hate clutter.
So, ArtKive is a great way of collating all that artwork you don’t physically have space for, and the girls love seeing how their drawings evolve from year to year. You can even print a book of artwork straight from the app, although I haven’t tried this yet.
(As an aside, I recently came across a new app called Offspring which looks like a good all-rounder for capturing artwork as well as milestones and other memories).
…as opposed to a random pile of photos. I’ve found that it really does make a huge difference if you organize and add a narrative to your photos. At the end of every year I force myself to face the mountain of digital photos on our computer, pull out the best snaps from each month and make a family photobook. It’s a task I love and loathe, usually because I’m up late for a couple of nights trying to submit the photobook online before my pre-bought credits run out. But it is so worth it, and we get a lot more mileage out of the photobooks than the heap of unedited photos on our hard drive.
There are numerous companies offering a simple upload, drag-and drop into templates service. It’s not the most design-driven offering out there, but I’ve tended to use Photobox for consistency and you can often get good discounts if you buy credits in advance.
Obviously this one is for when they are old enough to be interested in writing! Unbeknownst to me, Miss Chu started one herself at some point last year and she only came to show me after she had filled in a couple of pages. She doesn’t use it often (about once a month), but it’s her own project and an adorable treasure of illustrated scribbles about random events. So I guess it’s worth handing your child a blank diary and see if anything comes of it!
It’s so easy to video now that I forget how fun it is to sometimes just record their voices. You can also be a lot more sneaky with audio recordings…you record kids singing away without them noticing and becoming self-conscious. Sometimes I’ll ask them to record messages for other family members, interview them about their day, get them to read their favourite story. Little Miss has this one story that she’s pretty much memorized from cover to cover and I’m so glad I’ve managed to record her “reading” it! It’ll be a brilliant heirloom for her grandchildren. The girls love hearing what their voices sounded like when they were younger, and they seem to enjoy listening to the recordings without the distraction of video alongside.
Here’s a recording of one of Miss Chu’s random made-up stories from 2012.
It’s true how fast time flies and even the sweetest memories fade; we’re lucky that it’s so simple these days to capture some of those fleeting moments. The other day, we were watching Eurosport on TV and there was a short feature on a cycle race in Edinburgh. Miss Chu started jumping up and down yelling “It’s Arthur’s Seat!!” and pointing to the familiar landmark (an extinct volcano) on screen, but I noticed Little Miss was staring at it rather vaguely and not showing the same signs of recognition. My heart sank a little. I think I’m going to have to dig out that video of her flying by Arthur’s Seat on her balance bike from a few months ago.