8 wonderful ways to create family memories, beginning in your baby's first year
During a trip to the zoo when my son, Nakoa, was 2 months old, my dad sat him down in the coils of a bronze king-cobra statue. I snapped a shot, and the next time we went to the zoo, I snapped another. Now that he's 5, we have a nice little collection of Nakoa-cobra shots: He has a few inches over the snake now, and the pictures show off his personality more every year. You can bet I'll be posing him with it as long as he'll let me.
Great family traditions can start anytime, even when your baby's too little to know what's going on. Some ideas:
Watch them grow
"Each spring we plant a tree for our little boy," says Margie Anderson of Fairview Heights, Illinois. "The tradition started when he was just a few months old. As he's gotten older, we've been able to match the tree type to his personality (like a weeping willow when he was a crybaby!) and let him help choose. It's neat to look around the yard and see how much he's grown by looking at the trees." Not enough room for trees? Pick a color for your baby and plant a different perennial each year.
I wanted something special to sing to my son, so I took old standards and fit his name into the lyrics. Because I began singing them from birth, this became so second nature that I'm almost incapable of singing the songs correctly. My son loves it now because when he hears the melody of "My Darling Clementine" or even some contemporary favorites—"Na-koa, No Cry" for Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry"—he thinks it's his personal song being played. Another way to make music a tradition: Make a quick five-second video of your baby bopping to a tune—add to it each year, and by the time she's a preteen, you'll have a minute-long video that shows off her dancing skills.
Start a collection for your child: Just buy one new item each year; it doesn't have to be expensive. You could go for a train car, a popular baseball card or a couple of add-a-bead pearls for a necklace. Diana Lawton, a mom in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, carries on a tradition from her husband's family. "I give our son a Christmas ornament every year," she says. "We try to find something that sums up what was special for him that year, like a trip we took or his favorite kind of toy."
If you feel a little more ambitious (and you have some room to spare!), buy a bottle of wine each year, starting with the year your baby's born. Tuck it away safely in a cool, dry place (like the back of a closet) and eventually, you'll wind up with an incredible wedding or housewarming present for your child. Just talk with the wine seller about which vintage will hold up best long term.
For Nakoa's first Easter, I desperately searched for something to stuff in his plastic eggs that wasn't a choking hazard. I ended up with socks emblazoned with wild prints and Sesame Street characters. Imagine my shock the next year when I asked him what he hoped the Easter Bunny would leave and he said, "Socks!" Nakoa might be the only kid in the world who runs through the yard in anticipation of argyles.
When Nathan Lavoie of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, was a baby, he wore "My First Christmas" pajamas on the big day. Now his mom, Angela, gets him a special pair every year. They make present-opening pictures extra cute.
I'm not the only one who marks my child's growth with a special photo op. "I make sure to get a picture with each of my kids on their birthday," says Marian Collins of Kirkland, Illinois. "I figure it's like a birthday for me, too, and I'm so seldom in front of the camera otherwise." Another idea: Take a photo of your kid waking up on his birthday. It's an unexpected way to see him greet his new year.
Use a clay mold to make a path stone, and over the years you'll create a growing "footpath." (Try the Kids' Step Stone Kit, at right; $15, milestonesproducts.com.) Or make handprints in play dough, as Abiana Conliffe of Phoenix does with her three kids. "We do it as a birthday-party activity, then all the kids get to take their handprints home." Poke a hole in them as they dry so they're easy to hang.
"I write my daughter, Maia, a letter outlining her past year for her birthday," says Diane Selkirk of Vancouver, British Columbia. Or do it more often: "I try to write in a journal for my daughter at least once a month," says Amy Moss of Gastonia, North Carolina. "I record what she's doing, how she's growing and my thoughts. When I unexpectedly lost my aunt, I realized [by watching her 16-year-old daughter] that if something ever happens to me, I want my daughter to have stories to tell her kids and to know how much I love her!"
"We make birthday place mats, using the cards the kids get for their birthday," says Debbie Kaplan of Foster City, California. "We include a few photos and decorations depending on their interests—the Wiggles, Thomas, princesses—then laminate them into a place mat we can use all year long." Kim Miller of Long Beach, New York, has a scrapbook just for saving her family's photo Christmas card each year. At 4, her daughter already loves looking back to see how much she's grown. And that's the whole point of whatever kind of family tradition you start: sharing good times with your kids.
Sascha Zuger is the author of the young adult novel Girl Overboard (Penguin), written under the name Aimee Ferris.