I’ve been a parent for nearly 14 years now and never has one of my children tapped into my thoughts so completely it bordered on eerie … until this weekend.
I was in our living room dismantling the gigantic Scotch-Brite scouring pad that poses as our Christmas tree, and – to avoid thinking about the depressing task of boxing up our seasonal joy – I was fixating on the notion of diaries.
It’s a new year, a fresh slate, and nothing symbolizes that better than a blank journal. We really seem to like diaries and journals. Maybe because they offer us a whole set of blank pages to fill up and be the heroes. Or maybe because they are a way for us to tell the truth. I think that’s why we like them as a storytelling device. They make us feel like we’re in on it.
I loved getting a new diary. Like a lot of girls (especially girls who liked to read or write), I got a diary almost every year, either for Christmas or my birthday. And, for me, they served two main functions.
The first is pretty basic – just a place to write down what went on in my life. This wasn’t so obvious to me at first, though. I think I got my first one when I was in second or third grade, and I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. I would write a sentence or two and then get bored.
Then, one night, a soap like Knots Landing was on in the background and this woman was writing her secret fantasies down in her diary. That’s when it hit me … You’re supposed to write dirty stuff in them! That’s why they come with a lock!
Michael Jackson was pretty big at the time, so drawing on him for source material, I wrote up a story about how he was in town on tour. It was hot, so he stopped by our swimming pool for a swim. I was there, too, and when he got in the pool, I was so excited my swimsuit just came off. The end.
I kind of forgot about the whole thing until a couple months later when my very Catholic mother found it and was understandably upset. In her mind, I went from adorable nine-year-old to sex-crazed pervert in the span of a minute.
I was too humiliated to be upset by the obvious breach of privacy. And it taught me two things … don’t ever write about something you wouldn’t want your mother to read and, don’t ever look at someone else’s diary. You might not like what you see.
By middle school, I learned to tone it down a little and just write about the every day stuff. Ironically, I didn’t have much of a life to write about. I would come home from school, watch the latest episode of Days of Our Lives, and then recap what happened between Jack and Jennifer in my diary because they were the only two characters I cared about. I’m sure it was a thrilling read. But I had nothing but time to write pages and pages of all the nothing that was going on. And I loved it.
Which leads me to the second function … As I was writing down all this nothing, I truly believed that I was doing it so one day my legions of future fans would have something to look back on and analyze my early genius. I call it the Anne Frank effect. It didn’t occur to me that my fans might not want to read all about Jack Deveraux and Jennifer Horton. I was the subject of my story and I was interested in Jack and Jennifer. Therefore, my fans would love to hear about them as well.
But, is this a universal experience? Do all diary writers think of themselves as future somebodies? Do we write in them because we think someday someone will want to read them?
So, there I was, wrestling with my gigantic toilet brush of a Christmas tree, pondering these questions, when my my nine-year-old daughter came out to the living room and … I kid you not … sat down on the couch with her diary in hand.
That alone might have been enough to suspect her of some sort of witchcraft, but my daughter is an avid diary-keeper. She has had a total of seven diaries in her nine years on earth. She got this particular one for her birthday and has written in it almost every day since. Probably because it’s part stuffed animal. It’s covered in nubby brown fur and has big blue eyes, ears that stick out and an adorable pink bow. She was so excited when she opened it, my sister leaned over to me and said, “I think she’s going to cry.”
So, it wasn’t an unusual sight to see her with her diary. But, I was a little surprised at her timing. And a little curious. What was she writing in there?
I am a huge snoop. Whenever I see her diary sitting on her desk, I’m tempted to pick the lock with a paperclip. Then I remember my Michael Jackson erotica and leave it alone. But it kills me not to know. And here she was flaunting it in my face! While I was thinking about diaries no less! I had to know what she was writing!
Then, after about 10 minutes of her sitting there writing and me peeking at her from behind the wad of jagged pipe cleaners we decorate every December, she looked over at me and said, “Hey, Mom. Wanna hear something?”
I think my eyes might have bugged out of my head. Uh…Duh! But I tried to play it cool.
“Sure,” I shrugged.
She cleared her throat then stuck her finger at the top of a page.
“When I write in this diary, I am writing to you my future self about childhood and I hope you’ll never forget this young me. Well, see ya. Bye!”
“Isn’t that funny?” She laughed at herself. “I wrote something really serious and then ended it with ‘Well, see ya. Bye!'”
She shook her head and went back to writing whatever it was she was thinking about.
How did she do that? She answered two of my burning questions – yes, she is a better writer at nine than I was; and yes, we all write in diaries with the belief that someday someone is going to pick it up and care about what we had to say – without me even having to ask. Amazing!
Now I’m curious about something else. Do any of you out there still keep a diary?
I haven’t kept one since before I had kids. I guess this blog sort of serves that purpose, but my blog is very different from a diary in one big way…I will never reveal my secret crush here (Shhh … it’s still Michael Jackson).
Or, do you maybe keep a journal for posterity’s sake? Maybe something for your kids to look back on? Or have you ever read someone else’s diary and really regretted it?
Like I said … I’m a snoop. So, drop me a comment below and let me know! You can make up code names or use Pig Latin if you want to reveal any crushes. And, I swear, I won’t tell a soul!