The best present I’ve ever received.


Parents, take note: This is something you might consider doing for your children.

People in general, take note: If your parents are alive, and you’re able to ask them for things like this, it might be a good thing to ask for.

Today’s my birthday, and my parents sent me the best present I’ve ever gotten. (I’m saying this here in case, as is likely, I’m not able to on the telephone call because of my current setup.)

They sent two binders. One for each of them. Inside is the beginning of the story of each of their lives, as well as descriptions of where they lived and what it was like growing up, including how it differed from where and when I grew up, as well as historical events that happened at the time. They put in childhood photos, and also photos and maps of the places, people, and things they interacted with. They wrote them separately from each other, then showed each other when they were done. And they said they’d send more pages later for me to put into the binders.

Most people don’t know a lot about what their parents were like as children, and how it differed from their own lives. For me it’s a bit more extreme than usual, because my parents were older than usual when they had me. (People often thought, when I was growing up, that my father was my grandfather — he’s old enough to be, and he had a grey beard. They thought my brother was my father, too, since he’s fourteen years older than me and (like the rest of the family) a good deal taller.)

One of the first events my father describes is the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which occurred when he was a baby. My mom talks about how when she was a kid, her left-handedness was considered pathological, and considered not only related to which hand was dominant, but also to her habit of incessant question-asking and any other unusual traits she had. (She said when her father injured his right hand, she very seriously warned him that he would begin to ask questions about everything.)

I’m not going to go into public detail about everything they said unless they give permission, because I’m sure some of it is personal. But I have to say both of them had very interesting, and sometimes hilarious, lives. And it was interesting to see how they thought of things when they were three years old, too.

Anyway, I think this is one of the best things you can give your children when you’re a parent. It gives a sense of perspective that I never had because I never knew much about their childhoods. And I think everyone ought to be able to find out what it was like when their parents were kids. I’m looking forward to their later installments. (And I’d suggest to my parents, if you haven’t already, you might want to send these to my brothers too, they’d probably be interested as well.)

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

30 responses »

  1. Hi. I’d just like to talk to you… I’m 31, autistic, and have 5 children, 3 diagnosed autistic as well.
    Right now, I’m trying to network and make friends to help me out.
    My son, Beau, went to 3 and 4K in the autism program locally, and was supposed to start kindergarten this year. They want to hold him back and send him back thru 4k again because his birthday is 3 weeks past the ‘cut off’ date.
    I want to get it across to the school district how damaging this will be for him. He’s been with his group (class) for 2 years!! He’s done great, and he already (tested proven) has most of the skills to graduate from regular Kindergarten as is!

  2. Sadly, all I have are memories of what my parents told me. I do remember a few things, like my Dad being sent by his Mom to chase down his Grandfather, who (she thought) had “wandered off somewhere.” Dad knew what to do, and looked for the nearest congregation of old guys with long white beards, peg legs, and hooks. Great-Granpa had gone off to commune with his Veteran friends. This would have been in 1926 or so. Great-Grandpa got out of The War with just an eyepatch, having lost an eye when going around the left at Chancellorsville with Jackson.

    27th Georgia, baby

  3. Wonderful! (And Happy Birthday!) That’s one of the reasons I blog. I need to start printing out the posts for safe keeping. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sit down and approach it like “a project” as your parents did, so hopefully the blog will capture bits and pieces. My mom died when I was 10, and when my dad found a few letters (one was to me when I was at camp) I read them over and over. When my boys are older, I’d like them to see me as I learn, adapt, grow, struggle, etc. (not just who I am at that point in the future, but how I got there). My dad is at the age where he verbally tells me things now that give me so much insight, but I really miss having that from my mom.

  4. We are so glad you are enjoying this…Conjuring up memories from so long ago has had us alternately laughing so hard we nearly fell off our chairs and crying at some heartfelt memories….Once you get started it is hard to keep up with the words pouring out…Thank you for asking us over a year ago to tell us about our “growing up years”..I think you probably expected a few stories not a book but in the end but that will most likely be what you have..;) We figured we would send you the first copies as we write each section and later on we will put them all together and send them to your brothers as well…Looking for pictures will be an ongoing task and I am sure we will add more as we go along..Hopefully we can send you another installment in another month or so…Birthday hugs,

  5. Happy belated birthday! What a wonderful present that was. I’ll bet your parents also enjoyed reading each other’s binder.

  6. Oh, Happy Belated Birthday and many returns of the Day! Reading your Mom’s comment just makes me go awwww! I envy you for having your family history preserved and presented to you; all I have is my memories of what my parents told me.

  7. I do actually have my dads handwritten autobiography, the one he wrote about growing up between the wars, which goes on to cover the blitz in Coventry and what happened when he was called up. Photographs though are few and far between, both my mum and dad had a childhood fragmented by the war and the photographs got lost somewhere since.

    I have my dads army photograph album though.

    I have nothing like as intimate an autobiography for my mum as I have for dad, he could write descriptively and well, all I have for my mum are my recollections of her recollections over time

  8. There’s a mom named Elyse Bruce who has a 13 year old son with Asperger Syndrome. She’s a singer and songwriter and created the “Countdown to Midnight” CD to raise money for autism organizations. One song “The Mad Hatter” talks about the journey she went through to get proper services for her little boy. THAT was a present he will forever remember.

  9. My parents did this some years ago, and now give my sister and I occasional additions for the binders. I totally agree—it’s fantastic. Happy birthday!

  10. Dear Guest,

    I doubt there is a parent of an Autistic without battle scars from trying to get services from a system that is inadequate…or from fighting with insurances daily…or having to rescue their children from dangerous conditions that were supposed to be helpful..These pale in comparison to the scars of the Autistics themselves who have been force fit with a hammer into round holes that didn’t fit…misunderstood and bullied…and had questionable therapies…or just forgotten altogether…Hopefully with more input from Autistics themselves about what works and what doesn’t and with increases in services and tools needed for navigating life’s pathways Autistics will find encouragement, understanding and acceptance. Being able to be who you are in a supportive environment is crucial as is having the tools you need. Hopefully one day this is easier to navigate for Autistics and their families…I think the awareness that comes from this type of blogging on the autism web by Autistics themselves is critical.

  11. Thanks for your suggestion, Amanda. I really think it is a good and meaningful idea for a birthday present! Especially from the persons that gave you birth.
    I think it’s not about Autistic or not. It’s for EVERYONE.
    I shared this in my blog too, but it’s written in Chinese.

  12. That sounds like a great birthday gift. Better than any new clothes, computers, books, or anything that I already have in excess. Maybe I should consider asking my parents to take some time, write about their lives, and give their finished projects to my 3 siblings and I. I only wish they had the time off for preparing. I think even my selfish, yuppie, big brother would appreciate it.

  13. Happy *very* belated birthday, Amanda! I hope that your “new year” is filling up with wonderful blessings so far.

    What a wonderful present your parents gave you! I love that idea, and I will be stealing it. ;-) Personal history is always a huge hit here at our house, so I know that something like this would go over huge with the boys (I have twin boys, one of which has autism/ Asperger’s- we just had neuropsychological testing done… the doc thinks my one twin is more on the spectrum for Asperger’s…).

    I love your blog, by the way. I’ve been reading it for some time, and I am very grateful for all the information you post, and the experiences you share.

  14. My son, at age ten said he wanted to invent a time machine and the main reason was to go back in time and see my (his mother) and his father’s childhood and to experience it all with us. I thought that was so interesting.

    My maternal grandmother is like a mother to me. I have been trying to write her history since I was about 20 years old. I have taped recordings of her storytellings and others of me asking questions.

    I also hope to do this for my children someday.

    There are some books on the market in journal style where there is a question prompt about the parent and then the question is filled in. One I bought is for the mother and the other is for the father. Another book I had borrowed from the library was a huge list of questions for a person to use to write such a book.

    I would really love such a thing from my own parents too. They won’t do it though.

    I have read that asking these questions over the phone sometimes helps people open up more than face to face interviewing.

    Lastly I want to share that once on Oprah there was a mother of a young child who was dying of Cancer and she wrote such a book to her children but it also included her wisdom, advice for living and stuff she had hoped to teach her children when they got older. Oh, I’m sorry I think she might have done it on video recording instead.

    Anyhow I am happy that you received such a gift from your parents. Enjoy it!

  15. Instead of just thinking about this post of yours, I finally decided to submit my thoughts.

    I’m so thankful you have such loving and thoughtful parents! Thanks for sharing this story about your birthday present. Not very many things in life are so sweet.

    It also explains where you get your sweetness from. :)

  16. Weird, I don’t normally hear myself described as sweet. But yeah I think it was great of my parents to do this. They sent another installment recently, and it makes for fascinating reading.

    And sometimes horrifying reading. I don’t think this is too personal to just quote directly, and I don’t trust myself to adequately paraphrase it:

    One afternoon, I came home from school and there was a strange man in the living room talking to Dad and Mom. He was one of Dad’s cousins and was home on leave from the Army. I sat and listened with wide eyes as he described his participation in the atomic bomb tests in Nevada. He along with many other soldiers had sat in a trench one mile from ground zero. They had dark goggles and ear protection that was their only special equipment. The bomb sat on a tall tower. They were told not to look at the tower or to raise their heads above the edge of the trench. When the bomb went off, Dad’s cousin saw a blinding flash, and was thrown backwards against the trench wall. He said that the blast was deafening and that a sheet of hot sand whistled over his head. We talked for a while and then he left. I never saw him again. Six years later, in 1958, I heard that he had died of leukemia.

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