The following story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.
In a brown leather-bound journal, I write two words: “Ooo Ooo.” Then, in parenthesis, I add, “the noise Jakey makes whenever he hears the word happy.” The entry follows a list of other seemingly nonsensical words and phrases grouped together without rhyme or reason ⏤ e.g., “food grunting,” “Aflac,” and “fish kisses.” If a stranger were to read through this book, they’d no doubt believe it to be the rantings and ravings of a lunatic. But the little brown journal isn’t the disjointed ramblings of a madman, it’s the careful work of a father who’s determined to preserve all the teeny, tiny unique behaviors and quirks of his children in perpetuity.
It’s my son Jake’s Idiosyncrasy Journal. As the name suggests, it’s simply a listing of all the weird shit my 1-year-old boy does (I have one for my 2-year-old daughter, Emma, too), and I think it’s as important as keeping track of when my children hit all the major milestones, if not more.
The idea actually started with my old dog, an amazing Boston Terrier named whose nametag read “Luna Jane Sobeck Bilski.” We just called her Luna. See, toddlers and Boston Terriers have a lot in common. Both are adorable, and both do a whole lot of the same things. But blinded by cuteness and a profound love, the handlers of both toddlers and Bostons fail to see the many similarities between their little Joey (a name that’s prevalent among both Boston Terriers and little boys) and all the other similar creatures. As handlers, we insist our creatures must be special, extraordinary even.
Fact is, most of them aren’t ⏤ at least not in the ways we think. I first noticed this with Luna. When I discovered her obsession with tennis balls ⏤ the hours she’d spend chasing them, the noises she’d make when I tried to pry them from her locked jaws, the way she’d sleep with them under her paws ⏤ I was sure I had that special, one-in-a-million dog who did the type of stuff that would land her on Ellen and make us both rich.
Turns out, a borderline psychotic obsession with tennis balls is a breed-specific behavior virtually all Bostons share. I learned this the hard way ⏤ at a Boston Terrier Meet-Up, an event with the sole purpose of the bringing the maximum number of Boston Terriers possible (and their handlers) to a single location and increasing the cuteness quotient at that location exponentially. At this unfortunate event, I fished one of Luna’s beloved tennis balls out of my jacket pocket and attempted to play fetch with her. What happened next was a full-scale riot among the dozens of identical dogs who went to war for the coveted bright yellow object. While annoyed Boston Terrier owners attempted to restore order, many mumbled their disapproval of my actions. “Who the hell doesn’t know enough not to bring a tennis ball to one of these things?” one owner asked while physically separating his dog from Luna.
That’s not to say Luna didn’t have her quirks. She loved to climb trees like a goddamn squirrel, and after Luna died, I wrote down all of her eccentric behaviors so I’d never forgot exactly what made her so special. With babies and toddlers and children, the stakes are much higher. You can’t wait until they’re grown to record all of those odd little peccadillos that marked each and every stage of their development. You need to get the eccentricities down in real time. Otherwise, you’ll forget. The changes occur so rapidly in the early years, it’s impossible to keep track. The moments all bleed together. I look at pictures of my son from a few months ago, and I can barely remember what he was like at that point, let alone his quirks.
But by spending a few minutes here and there to jot down things like “the crazy dance (i.e., rapid, spastic head shakes),” I create some type of permanent pathway in my brain to a clear memory of my son’s actions. I’m sure there are apps you can use for this sort of thing, but I prefer an old-school journal. Somehow it makes the whole project seem more romantic. Pretentious, I know.
Look, it doesn’t matter what you use or how you use it, the important thing is simply to record the odd behaviors in some way that makes sense to you. Because if you do that right, then five, 10 or 20 years down the road you’ll be able to look at what you put down and cut through the fog of time so clearly it’ll feel like you’re right back there again, witnessing all those funny little things that do make your kid different. Or, you’ll scratch your 70-year-old head in frustration as you try to figure out what the hell all of those nonsensical phrases mean.
Either way, it worked so well with my dog, I have no doubt it’ll work even better with my kids.