Painting Your Own Masterpiece

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Lauren & her dad

Lauren Seago, Gregory Seago.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad

Contributing Writer: Lauren Seago

Introduced to the crowd as the daughter of the late Gregory Seago, my hands grasped both sides of the podium and I started to cry in front of hundreds of people. In that moment, I looked up to not only see a gym full of people, but to embrace the feeling of grief that had overcome me. I wiped my cheeks and apologized to the crowd because this ‘life’s first moment’ for me was hard — really hard.

I have always heard the first anything is the scariest.

The first moment you step in a classroom full of new faces.

The first time you ride a bike without training wheels.

The first time you jump into a pool without someone to catch you.

Your first date.

Your first kiss.

Your first heartbreak.

I could tell you those ‘life’s first moments’ without your parent get easier over time, but that would be a lie.

My high school graduation was one of my ‘life’s first moments’ that my dad would not be attending. I stood with my graduating class and watched as families flooded through the doors. Moms, dads, grandparents, siblings all filed in to celebrate their soon-to-be graduate and indulge in a huge life moment.

I went on to finish my speech and left the podium to return to my seat. But before I did, I realized that, my life would continuously be filled with many more ‘life’s first moments’ that my dad would not be at. And not just in my life, but my siblings’ as well.

This thought of my dad missing my whole life was extremely overwhelming and discomforting. It was a painful confirmation that my dad was really gone.

There have been so many different ‘life’s first moments’ my dad has missed. From graduations to first days of college, move in days, first days of middle school — the first of everything and anything my dad had missed.

Moving throughout the years, Father’s Day has become like any other day for me. But I don’t avoid it or pretend like it is not there.

One of the biggest things I struggled with was the idea that people paint this canvas of grieving as this terrible ugly picture. Filled with blacks and greys, grieving is portrayed as an emotion that when expressed is a weakness.

See here’s the thing, there’s power in the process of grieving and painting your own grieving masterpiece. You have the opportunity to fill a canvas with mistakes, doubts, and fears, all crafted by your own hand.

Those feelings and emotions come to life when you reach one of ‘life’s first moments,’ or when you finally let lose the words you’ve buried, and it hurts. But it also starts to paint your road to recovery and your very own masterpiece. The colors may bleed together, it may be dark, it might be sad, and anger could radiate throughout, but the thing is, it is not like anyone else’s.

It is your own.

For the longest time, I believed the lie that crying is a weakness, that grieving is a weakness, expressing how I feel is a weakness. Now I know it is apart of my masterpiece.

 Painted and crafted in my own time.

As you celebrate Father’s Day or any of ‘life’s first moments,’ just remember crying, talking about past memories are all different pieces of your own masterpiece, and it will be okay.

Lauren Fathers Day Profile


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On is tremendously grateful to Lauren Seago for contributing to this blog. More than a million people viewed Lauren’s post An Open Letter to Every Kid Who Has Lost a Parent. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @llaureneunice

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations. If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

Repeat.

Don’t-Get-on-the-Anniversary-Train-654x436

Honoring the past. Celebrating the present. Building the future. Repeat. Because Family Lives On, love lives on, the relationship never ends.

Read Christina Rasmussen’s beautiful post “Don’t Get on the Anniversary Train

That anniversary train was not fun.

It was all about the death day.

And not about the man I was in love with away from the hospital beds, the morphine and the pain.

It had nothing to do with honoring him.

Nothing at all.


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations. If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

All of Us

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I Have a Mother...

Photo credit: Bahareh Bisheh – My Chalky World

Through the engagement on social media, and the post on this blog that’s been read by more than 1 million of you, we’ve learned that not all the motherless and fatherless children who benefit from our program and awareness are younger than 18 years old.

Some who have lost a parent are in college, navigating the transition into true adulthood. We’ve heard from many in the early phases of careers, marriages, parenthood. Those of you are navigating what Kelly Corrigan calls The Middle Place of raising children and caregiving parents. Others are facing an empty nest, trying to figure out what’s next. Sadly, some have had additional losses compound their grief.

Despite our age, we remain motherless and fatherless children and we wonder if they are proud of us, let’s give them reason to be. Let’s heal ourselves, together, by helping others. 

  • If you are nearby, join us at the 12th “Race for Traditions“on April 3oth  – or create a team in honor of a mom or dad.
  • Run with us from a distance One Tough Mother Runner – a virtual race!
  • Simply make a donation of $10 for every child in YOUR household to support the collective children in our program.
  • Participate in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) #56164
  • Donate through United Way – #12502 

No child should grieve alone. 

Blink of an eye

 

Helping is healing. Family Lives On needs your help to continue. April is a month of renewal and a focus on raising the funds we need to support the children, teens and families in our program.

 

Shopping at 7-Eleven Got Me Through Losing My Father

Sarah Bridgins' Author Photo

Written by Sarah Bridgin. Originally appeared in BuzzFeed, reposted with the kind permission of BuzzFeed.

After my dad died, the junk food we’d shared when I was a kid comforted me in a way that nothing else could.

The last time I went to the 7-Eleven store near my apartment in Brooklyn, the cashier asked if I wanted to sign up for a rewards card. Needless to say, I did. He searched around for a few minutes without finding one, and eventually I said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m here, like, every day.”

He looked up from the drawer he was poking around in and said, “I know.”

I have lived in New York for more than a decade and don’t generally feel much nostalgia for my childhood in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The one exception has always been 7-Eleven. When branches of the chain started popping up in the city several years ago, I was thrilled. The first one I went to was near my office in Union Square, to attend the grand opening “party” on my lunch break. If you have ever wondered what a 7-Eleven party involves, the answer is lots of balloons, a van parked in front of the store blaring dance music, and free turkey sandwich samples.

A few months later, I was elated when a sign appeared announcing that the shuttered car repair shop a couple of blocks from my apartment would be turning into a 7-Eleven, even though I knew that this potentially spelled doom for the locally owned “Eleven Seven” bodega across the street. (They have managed to co-exist so far, no thanks to me.)

Going to 7-Eleven was comforting, even though I rarely bought more than a Diet Coke. Sure, these particular stores were a little grimier than the ones I went to as a child, and the one near my office smelled overwhelmingly of pizza grease and freezer burn. But walking under the fluorescent lights, through aisles stocked with gummy slugs and waffle-flavored potato chips, was oddly soothing.

I’ve long had a habit of buying food as a way to deal with stress. When my mother and grandmother both died four years ago, I spent hundreds of dollars I didn’t have at Union Market, stocking my kitchen with pickled figs and cave-aged gouda that cost $25 a pound. I didn’t have the appetite to eat most of it, but knowing the food was there gave me some illusion of control over a life that was starting to feel terrifyingly unpredictable. I might have been burdened with the realization that I could drop dead at any time, but at least I knew it wouldn’t be the result of starving to death in my apartment.

I was already going to 7-Eleven with enough frequency that my dad gave me a gift card for it as a Christmas present two years ago. Then, three weeks later, he died of a heart attack.

My dad had been my best friend. He was the person I called when anything happened, good or bad, and his reaction, his sympathy or his pride, were what gave those events meaning. When he died, I wanted to die. Not in a way that I would have ever acted on, but in a way that made me want to dissolve into the atmosphere like a spray of dandelion fluff. I wanted to float away, separate, become nothing.

My father’s death also ushered in a new kind of food-related neurosis. I didn’t want to go to the grocery store, and I certainly didn’t want to cook. I didn’t want to consume anything that would require my body to expend more than the absolute minimum amount of energy breaking it down.

Every day was a struggle. I started taking pills to help me sleep. I had no appetite and ate whatever people gave me: a tin of mini brownies sent by my aunt, a giant roast chicken delivered by friends. After those things ran out, I didn’t know what to do. Enter 7-Eleven.

My diet has never been great. I cooked occasionally, mostly simple things like soups and chilis. After college, I briefly experimented with being a vegan. But I was never great at self-deprivation, and attempts at healthy eating were pretty half-hearted. Still, there were certain foods I generally considered off-limits: no full-calorie soda, no bags of gummy candy that I would inevitably finish in five minutes, no Bagel Bites and pizza rolls, and absolutely nothing corn-based, crunchy, and covered in cheese dust.

In many ways, what I was eating was the opposite of comfort food.

This all went out the window after my dad died. For the first time in 15 years, I bought chocolate frosted doughnuts (2 for $1) and bags of Cheetos. I bought cappuccinos from a machine and garnished them with the dehydrated mini marshmallows that you could shake out of a plastic jar, like a spice. I made sundaes with Häagen-Daz vanilla ice cream, Reddi-Whip, and Hershey’s syrup. For lunch I ate white cheddar Cheez-Its and for dinner I ate Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese, which I baked in the oven for too long until the perfect crust developed along the edges of the black plastic tray.

In many ways, what I was eating was the opposite of comfort food. Most of it was created in a lab, produced in a factory, and composed of chemicals; mass-marketed and impersonal. But the same qualities that made it seem bland and generic to some people were what made it so reassuring to me.

Now that both of my parents were gone, so was any concept I might have had of “home cooking.” I was an only child with no home to return to. And even if I tried to re-create recipes that my parents made, they would never taste exactly the same. I discovered that one of the only ways I had left of revisiting my past that wasn’t entirely, unbearably, painful was through the processed food that hadn’t changed since I was a kid.

Growing up, I ate a lot of junk. My parents split when I was a baby, and because of my mother’s struggles with mental illness and alcoholism, I spent most of my time with my father. He was a salesman for companies that manufactured restaurant equipment, and spent his days driving around the tri-state area selling pizza ovens and plastic patio furniture to local businesses. He was a wonderful cook when he had the energy, mostly making “man food” — anything that he could throw on our charcoal grill. More often, though, my father would be too exhausted from driving around all day to make anything that took more than a few minutes to assemble.

I had a palate as refined as any child’s, and was just as happy on those nights as I was when he made something more elaborate. Once a week we would have Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese with a side of Stouffer’s “escalloped apples” (which, if you’ve never had them, are essentially a plastic tray of pie filling). To mix things up, he would make Kraft macaroni and cheese and garnish it with slices of deli ham or Lit’l Smokies cocktail wieners. I was a big fan of the entire “Helper” line, including the much-maligned Tuna Helper. The fridge was always stocked with soda, the freezer was full of ice cream and frozen pizza, and the kitchen counter was covered with discount holiday candy or whatever pastries he’d picked up at the Entenmann’s factory outlet that week.

When my dad didn’t feel like making anything at all, which happened a few times a week, we would bring home fast food from one of the many restaurants near our house. Over the years I became something of a connoisseur. Wendy’s had great chocolate chip cookies and baked potatoes. For a while I got the hot ham and cheese at Arby’s, until I wised up and learned to skip the meat entirely in favor of a large order of curly fries and a Jamocha milkshake. All of the food at Popeye’s was amazing, but my favorite thing was the fried crawfish basket, which was only available a few times a year. For dessert there we would get a large banana pudding, which few people knew was on the menu and boasted a perfect Nilla wafer-to-pudding ratio. Red Lobster had the best Shirley Temples. Checkers had the best banana milkshakes.

7-Eleven was where we got banana Slurpees in the summer, and where he bought me last-minute stocking stuffers at Christmas.

Then there was 7-Eleven. That was where we stopped every Christmas morning, before driving to visit my grandparents in Philadelphia. It was where my dad went to get his coffee and newspaper on weekends. It was where he custom-mixed my favorite machine cappuccino (half French vanilla, half hot chocolate, snatching the cup out from under the stream of liquid right before it became nothing but hot water and diluted the whole thing) and got me a pack of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets to go with it. 7-Eleven was where we got banana Slurpees in the summer, and where he bought me last-minute stocking stuffers at Christmas.

Junk food was something we bonded over, and my father’s attitude toward feeding me reflected his parenting philosophy as a whole. As an essentially single parent working a full-time job, he didn’t have the energy to stress out about what I was eating, or most of the choices I made. He just wanted me to be happy, and trusted me to make my own decisions.

This did mean occasionally going a couple of days without eating anything green, or showing up to school in a princess costume he’d bought me for Halloween. But it also meant that when I told my father I wanted to move to New York at 17 and go to NYU, he helped me find a way to make it happen. When I graduated and used my expensive degree to pursue a low-paying career in publishing, he was supportive. A few years later, when I started publishing poems and essays in journals that had few readers and no money to pay me with, he couldn’t have been prouder. I never went through a rebellious phase when I was a teenager, because there was never anything to rebel against. We were a team.

So, in the months that followed my father’s death, I went to therapy, took trips to visit friends, and lived almost exclusively on corn syrup and salt. If eating a bunch of crap was going to make it a fraction of a percent easier to get through the day, that’s what I was going to do. It didn’t matter that this food was technically bad for me; it made me feel good in a way that went beyond a sugar-induced serotonin rush. It brought me back to a time in my life when I felt loved, safe, and taken care of.

It’s been almost two years since my father died. My appetite eventually came back, along with the 10 pounds I lost. My diet is more balanced now, probably because my body recognized on some molecular level that I would have died from malnutrition otherwise.

I still eat junk food whenever I’m craving it, which is often, but no longer all the time. There’s a perpetually full candy bowl on my coffee table that currently contains gummy worms, Reese’s cups, and some Cadbury Scream eggs I got for 70% off after Halloween. There are four flavors of ice cream in my freezer and Jiffy Pop and Cheetos in the cupboard.

Sometimes I end up eating this stuff, and sometimes it goes stale and gets replaced. But just having this food around reminds me of my dad and the house I grew up in. It does more than fill me up with empty calories. In its own way, it nourishes me.

Written by Sarah Bridgin. Originally appeared in BuzzFeed on January 5, 2016


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On is tremendously grateful to BuzzFeed for the kind permission to repost this blog in it’s entirety. Read more writing by Sarah on Tumbler.

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

Less is more, much more.

bright side

We found this fabulous post written by Tim Lawrence on BrightSide.

Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. To literally say the words:

I acknowledge your pain. I’m here with you.

Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That’s not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to do everything but something is incredibly powerful.

To read the full article

Written by Tim Lawrence

Image by: Nino Chakvetadze Art


Support the Tradition Program

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here.

To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

 

Tradition Tuesday – Jada

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After her father died, Jada and her mom had to leave their family home to move to a small apartment. They were no longer able to host the barbecues Jada remembers celebrating with “grillmaster” dad. Every year, Family Lives On provides Jada’s family the space and supplies they need to host an afternoon of grilling and fun with family and friends.

Thank you, Jada, for giving grief words. #givegriefwords


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

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An Open Letter to Every Kid Who Has Lost a Parent

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Originally posted by The Odyssey Online. Written by Lauren Seago

Written by Lauren Seago, reposted with her kind permission. Originally appeared on The Odyssey

A letter to tackle different aspects of losing a parent.

Dear Sweet Child,

First off, I just wanted to start by saying you are strong, even when it feels like the world is crumbling beneath your feet.

Secondly, I wanted to say how sorry I am for the loss of your parent in your most crucial years of needing love and words of encouragement. A piece of your world was stripped away from you, and that will never be replaced. Which I know personally, stings so deep.

As you continue to grow throughout your life, I wanted to address some aspects that I have learned on my own are not the easiest to conquer; that in most cases people do not understand.

1. It’s okay to cry, on the real: Forget those people who tell you crying is for the weak. You go ahead and cry; you probably need it.

2.Every holiday is like ripping a Band-Aid off over and over: Your family will laugh about memories from the past when everyone was all together. Reminiscing what your parent was like, their favorite desserts, or how they would laugh a certain way. With a smile plastered across your face, you’ll nod as family members tell you stories and you’ll think about what you would give to have them there with you.

3. Graduating, moving away to college, first date, first real job, any big event will cause a sting of pain: In the moment, you are so happy and excited as these new chapters open up. But later on, once alone, you think about how awesome it would be to have them carrying boxes into your dorm room, questioning your first date, looking out into the crowd at graduation, and seeing them with a camera recording you with a thumbs up. You’ll get chills as you think about how different life would be with them around.

4. You question everything and ask over and over why?: Whether it was a natural cause of death or some accident, you question everything you know and what you believe in (if you believe in anything). You will replay moments in your head questioning your actions asking what if? But if anything, the re-occuring question is why? An answer that is one to be continued.

5. You will be jealous of kids who have both their parents: You will see kids who have both parents and something inside you will stir; a sense of resentment. Because at one time; that was you and the world wasn’t perfect but it was lovely and everything you knew was great.

6. Watching your other parent heal is one of the hardest things you will ever watch: Though extremely challenging and frustrating at times, watching your parent cry to the point of exhaustion will be really hard, but the grieving process does get easier. So hang onto that small nugget of gold.

7. Family traditions will never be the same: Summers of camping and spending endless days on the water, baking rum cakes together, Saturday mornings spent watching cartoons just become a memory that you hold so close to your heart.

8. You become extremely protective of your siblings and whoever makes fun of them for losing a parent: No one messes with your squad but especially when someone brings up how you lost your parent; you go into protective mode. Just remember to breathe and walk in love. Kill ’em with kindness.

9. Heartbreaks hurt just as much, if not more: You will want that one parent to embrace you in their arms with snot running down your nose and tears streaming. You will just want to hear them say, You’ll be all right, kid. I love you and that’s all you need.”

10. The word “sorry” becomes numb to you: People don’t know your story and openly they don’t know what to do besides say sorry. After awhile, you smirk and softly whisper, “Thanks.” The word sorry no longer has meaning after you have heard it over a million times.

11. Pictures and old family videos are possibly one of God’s greatest gift to you: One day you will come across a tub filled with pictures, and as you sit on the basement floor looking through them, you’ll start to cry. Your mind will take you back to that exact moment and right there alone on the cold floor, you encounter a special moment of what life was like then.

12. Death will change you and your outlook on life: Seemingly the small stuff isn’t so bad anymore. You stop complaining and you really take a check of what is important in your life.

13. You wonder if they’re proud of you: When no one was looking and you did the right thing, or when you ace that test you studied so hard for. You stop to think I wonder

14. Hearing old stories from relatives and friends is a great thing: Shocked and trying not to laugh, you can’t believe what your uncle just told you about the one night they all snuck out and crashed a car. These stories will warm your heart, take the time to listen to them.

15. Lastly, you grow in ways you never thought possible: There will be moments where your whole family will be together and you’ll think to yourself how in a weird way everyone has a quirk of that parent. Then looking at your own heart, you realize how much you’ve grown.

As you continue to grow, just remember wherever you are in life, that parent is right there with you, cheering you on and flashing you thumbs up as you graduate throughout the stages of life.

All my love and tears,

A girl who lost her dad

Lauren E. Seago in 500 Words On on Aug 19, 2015

Authored by Lauren Seago

Author’s photo (Lauren Seago)


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On is tremendously grateful to Lauren Seago for her kind permission to repost this blog in it’s entirety. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @llaureneunice

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

 

Being a Widower

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“One of the toughest parts of being a widower is doing the things that my wife did. After she passed I had to learn a lot of stuff.

My daughter is going away and I had to pack all her stuff. It was very stressful but last night my daughter said how proud of me she was. “You are bald and remembered head bands and elastics.” I think that was one of the best things she could have said. Not because I am bald but because she knows that my world is all about her and all the hard work I do she can see and loves me for it.

I am not saying this to be full of myself I am just trying to say if a bald widower can remember hair products than I am sure you can do anything.”

Family Lives On Foundation, supports the kids whose mother, or father, has died. Available anywhere in the United States, Family Lives On serves all children & teens ages 3-18, regardless of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status or cause of parent’s death.

The Tradition Program is grounded in research and a number of clinically identified needs in bereaved children. Traditions provide a more natural context for communication and connection, and help children to maintain a healthy emotional bond.  Here’s how it works.

To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

Donate to Support the Tradition Program

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations. If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here.

8 Important Things that Children Never Forget.

smiling cute kid_thumb[3]Re-Posted from Parent and Child Magazine

My twin daughters, Anna and Emma, are 16 years old, but they still love to relive and retell stories from their early childhood. Emma often asks to hear about how she greeted everyone with her first word, “cookie,” rather than with “hello.” Anna recounts the time she was struck with a shovel full of ice and had to go to the emergency room. “I remember being there!”; she says. “I remember lying on the bed and hearing you go, ‘Ohhh!’ The doctor was a woman, and everyone came to visit me.” She was only 2 at the time! What will your child remember from her earliest years? And what meaning do these specific memories have for your child?

For one thing, memories connect our pasts, our present, and our futures — and they connect us to one another. Our children’s memories can also lend insight into their rich inner lives, and can help them develop what Eric Neisser, founder of the Rutgers Special Education Clinic, calls “the extended knowledge of oneself across time.” Knowledge of oneself is power, and you acquire it by looking inside and at your external experiences. It is one of the ways we find meaning in our lives.

What Children Remember

Jerome Bruner, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, suggests that retelling events is a means for children to use narrative to reconstruct their life experiences. Bruner considers storytelling the most powerful way that people organize experience. The youngest “reminiscers” rely on others to help them create a description of the past. The language that accompanies visual imagery and experiences makes them that much stronger in our minds.

Several years ago, I embarked on a study with a colleague at the Early Childhood Education Center at the University of Vermont to capture children’s salient memories. We wanted to find out what the 5 year olds remembered at their school. We hoped to gain insight from them in order to make school a better place for our students. We wanted their memories to be part of the history of our school and to convey what had challenged them and what had brought them joy. We hoped the memories would include some of what the childrenÂ’s parents and teachers held dear. What we discovered about childrenÂ’s memories was even more profound.

We explained to the children that we wanted to help them make stories (visual memoirs) of their years at school before they left for kindergarten. We asked them how they thought they could tell a story in pictures that related what they remembered about life at school. Initially, the children met outside under a shady tree, and their teacher read stories about adults recalling moments from their own childhoods. Then everyone shared memories from school with one another.

Over the course of the project, the children spent time talking about the past and drawing the things they would “never forget.” We went on walks and took cameras with no film in them so children could practice looking at objects, places, and people through a viewfinder. Soon, the children were ready to do some photography. Throughout the process, we were constantly reflecting on the stories they spoke about.

Two hundred and eighty-eight drawings and photographs later, we noticed certain themes running through the memories the children had represented in images. We searched for common threads and patterns, and what we found became the title of the project: Children Remember Important Things.

8 Important Things

In the end we culled eight areas of memories that make an impression on young children. Here’s what children will never forget:

Being dropped off at school. The most frequent memory that children reported was the experience of being dropped off at school each morning. Many children had rituals they shared with their mothers and fathers. For example, Collin remembered this: “Mommy and I would say goodbye with a hug and say, ‘I love you more than anything.’ Then, Mommy would kiss the birds on the door to the center.” In many cases the children wanted their portrait taken saying goodbye to Mom or Dad in their particular way.
Their natural environment. Children generated stories, memories, and rich conversations with one another about classroom pets, gardens, the nearby woods, and the fountain on the University green, where they enjoyed playing freely. They also mentioned places where they sought refuge from storms. The children dramatically retold stories about changes in the weather, the excitement of big winds and rainbows, and the nervous, surprised, even frenzied emotions those changes produced.

Jumping, swinging, climbing. Children often focused on the experiences of active play, such as running, jumping, swinging, climbing, and playing hockey (which is a major pastime in Vermont and a source of real-life superheroes). A typical morning greeting among these children was, “Hey! Want to be on my team today?” Some of these memories included working and playing together and the necessity of having order, rules, and leaders.

Being good at something. The children conveyed a desire to capture images of things they had created. These memories highlight a sense of competence with processes and representation. They wanted to be viewed and known by others as being “good at something”: sewing, papermaking, block-building, painting, sculpting with clay, writing, or playing favorite games.

People I like, and who like me. Friendships are important developmentally, but it was deeply moving to listen as children described having connected with others who shared their interests, who they looked forward to spending time with, who they trusted, and who they imagined would always be part of their lives. They wanted to photograph not only the people they loved, but also the people they knew liked them in return and the people who had been kind to them.

The babies and toddlers. The children wanted to leave a legacy for the younger children they had grown fond of, or, in some cases, for the younger siblings that they would be leaving behind. They remembered eating with them, watching them grow, and understanding what they like to do. Five-year-old Finley put it most eloquently: “I want to take of picture of Rowan so he’ll remember me when I’m gone.”

Being part of the community. There were a lot of feelings the kids wanted to express about the connections they formed with people in the community. This included teachers, people on the campus who had shared food with them, people who allowed them to visit special places, and the bus drivers they were friendly with.

Places and structures. Places were often unforgettable to the children. They documented buildings and destinations that represented areas of meaning for them: the first potty they used, the cribs they slept in, and the slides in the toddler room they ventured down.
Strengthen Your Child’s Memories

Talking with your child — especially thinking out loud about what is happening, what you are doing, and why — goes a long way toward building language skills, which play an important role in remembering. We can also help by narrating as we play with children, thereby offering them a context in which to remember the lessons that play can offer.

It’s also beneficial to revisit favorite books repeatedly and to tell stories from your own life. One of the important things we offer children when we talk reflectively with them is the process of making connections between the moment they are in and previous experiences.

Looking at photographs, home movies, and past schoolwork provides opportunities for talking about what these moments represent. You can ask your child, “What feelings did you have then? How do you feel about it now? Why was this moment important?” We save so many things that our children make at school — drawings, writings, collages, photographs, and more. This adds tremendous value to the children’s experiences. It’s also helpful to write a brief anecdote that your child shares with you on the back of drawings and photographs to aid in keeping the events in our minds and reminding us of the context.

We can learn so much from understanding what moments, events, places, and people are important to young children. We should be mindful of how we say goodbye to our children and give time to creating rituals and traditions. We should find ways to ensure that our children have opportunities to spend time in nature and connect with a variety of important places that they can revisit throughout their lives. Supporting our children’s early friendships — and the enjoyment they feel from being social with other people — is an important way we help them to know and remember that they are loved.

Share your feelings and your point of view as well. Telling stories about yourself is more than just interesting to your children — through your stories, they learn that you believe it is important to give voice to memories, impressions, feelings, and events that may otherwise be held inside and eventually forgotten. They learn how to recount their memories and, more importantly, that you care and expect them to talk about their lives and what matters to them the most.

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