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Posted by on December 22, 2013

Most of us parents have been told at some point that we need to “appreciate the kids now because they grow up before you know it.” This usually comes from parents whose children are already grown, so their advice may be a little suspect. Parenting can be tough, and sometimes it feels like we’re barely keeping our heads above water. Being told to “enjoy the swim” by people who are already on board the life raft can be a little hard to take.

Still, it is true. The days we have with our kids whiz by in a blur of ball practices, cub scouts, piano lessons, sleepovers, trips to the doctor, school programs, homework, science fairs, birthday parties, church activities, and camps. And then there’s the weekend! :-) By the time we slump into a chair to catch our breath our babies are already shaving and we’re wondering why there’s never any food in the house anymore.

We can’t do anything about time’s relentless advance, but we can capture moments to tuck away for later, when we’re not as busy and can savor them. Photographs are a traditional way to do this. They can be especially valuable when someone takes the time to sort, arrange, and label them in some kind of scrapbook. This takes a great deal of time and talent, but it’s worth it, and I’m thankful that Karen has contributed both to our collection of scrapbooks. The results of her efforts are nothing short of a treasure. Those photo albums are right at the top of the list of things we’ll grab if we ever have to escape from a burning house.

We have made it a point to take a family photograph every year since we got married. This was one of many things that Karen insisted upon from the beginning, and though there were years when our lives would have been much easier if we had just let this go, we’re glad now that she stood her ground. It’s so much fun to see how each of us changed as time passed. I wish I’d had the forethought to take standardized individual shots of each of us like this family: The Arrow of Time. What a hoot.

Pictures are great for capturing snippets of our story, but they aren’t very good at telling us what else was going on at the time they were taken. We may be able to piece together where we were visiting when a shot was taken, or how old the boys were then, but there’s a lot of other context that photos just don’t catch.

So I came up with something. This is our family timeline.

Our timeline runs from 1959 until sometime out in the 2050s. (The fact that it ends there is not a prediction; it’s just when I ran out of space on the page). The timeline has a separate line for each of us that shows, for any moment in time: how old we were, where we lived, what school grade we were in, where we worked, what was going on in the world, who was president, what cars we were driving, where the Olympics were held, and other important events in each of our lives. It records the births and deaths of family members and pets. It shows when and where we went on mission trips.

I didn’t use any special software to build our timeline. It’s just three PowerPoint slides with lines, boxes, and text. I started putting it together because I needed to remember all the places we lived during certain years. I added the boys’ ages because that seemed like it would be interesting (“how old was Gerrit when we lived in that house?”). One thing led to another and I added some historical context, like who was president. We got details about our early lives from our parents. Eventually it just took on a life of its own. (If you’re interested in starting one, the template for ours is here)

My inspiration for the timeline came primarily from an amazing piece of work called the The World History Chart. This timeline depicts the lifelines of over 450 important people from science, culture, religion, and politics, and it displays the chronologies of the all the major civilizations in history. At a glance you can see what was going on in China when Jeremiah was prophesying in Israel. Or see what the Mayans were doing when the Visigoths were taking over Spain. Those little tidbits might not be super high on your list of things you want to know, but it’s still fascinating to see the histories that we normally learn about in isolation laid out in parallel.

Of course, our family history doesn’t include a lot of invasions or dynasties, but the concept works just the same. What’s more, it gives our lives a sense of scale. With the timeline I can readily see that my opportunity to impact my boys before they all leave to go out into the world will probably span less than one third of my life. It also shows that I’ll probably spend two thirds of my life living with their mom.

To me, that indicates that I should be spending about twice as much time working on my relationship with her as I do with them.

My boys appreciate this. They’ve seen the timeline.

originally published 10/17/11| next post Plausible Deniability

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