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My new year's resolution is to email my 15 months old son daily
71 points by mad44 on Dec 29, 2008 | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments
Last night, I got this idea to create a Gmail account for my 15 month old son, and start emailing him daily about "things". Let me explain.

Especially the last four months, my son has been a lot of fun for us. Everyday he has been learning new things and making us smile with a new peculiarity he develops. My wife and I point these things to each other and talk about these. But, I always wanted to find a way to document them.

I thought of documenting these into a text file in my laptop. Although I use Emacs extensively and I do a lot of writing, I never got myself to write about my son. I guess that failed because it felt too impersonal and mechanistic. It felt like a scientist writing about a subject.

I thought of having a blog for the baby, but that felt too pretentious. I wouldn't want the blog to be open to public. I am not doing this to show off to other people. Then, who is the audience?

The audience is my son. By addressing my writing to him, now I suddenly have more incentive to write about him. The email is also the perfect medium for this. I will be sending him emails daily, which he can read when he grows up. Email is informal, so it is much easier to write emails than more formal letters, articles, or blogs. Finally, Gmail will be doing all the safe-storing, timestamping, and indexing for us automatically.

My wife loved the idea. She will also be doing this everyday. Since we will both be doing it, chances are we will support each other to keep sustain the practice. I hope to continue this until at least my son is 5 years old. I think this will also serve as an excuse of a diary. I hope when my son reads these he will have a window into our souls.

I wish I had thought of this or heard of this earlier. (I am sure somebody must have thought of this earlier, but my google searches do not return anything.) Anyways, the reason I am posting this to HN is twofolds. If you are a parent, you might also want to start trying this for your toddler. Or, maybe you may think about a creative service to cultivate this practice. For example, you may provide an application that downloads the accumulated emails and puts them together as a pdf, and even orders them to be printed as a book that the parents can give as a gift to the child. Another service might be to deliver these emails to the child daily: this is what your parents wrote about you this day in 2009--2014. Another idea would be to data-mine the child's developmental and health history from these accounts for medical and statistical purposes.

The best moments for me as a parent usually happen when no camera or PC is present. I have learned to just smile, relax and enjoy the moment as opposed to trying to document it.

I do think however that your idea is a good one. I've also thought about starting a website for my girls, filled with photos and videos from their childhood.

Exactly. What I suggest is not to rigorously document. I will be writing letters to my son daily about things. And this will incidentally form a record of what he has been doing/learning, and how do we predict his personality is shaping up.

I predict that this will benefit you more, through reflection and conscious living, than your son (through a historical record later in life), but it will consequently greatly benefit him, because you are more tuned in to his development and can pick up on patterns and developments better. Good luck!

> The best moments for me as a parent usually happen when no camera or PC is present.

Sure. It won't be long before a continuously videocammed household becomes practical, though. (And probably commonplace not long after.)

I'm a little sad that we missed that with our kids. On the other hand, I don't spend much time watching the videos we have made, so maybe it wouldn't be that different practically.

It's true. Unless you carry a camera around constantly you're going to miss almost all those unpredictable moments. I completely agree about not needing to document everything - plus documenting things misses the spontaneity of it all - and unless you're some kind of world class photographer/videographer you're going to lose most of the emotion and humanity of those moments.

So why do I still obsessively document events? Simply an aide-mémoire - because my mémoire is awful.

My first thought about this was wow, 5 years of e-mail backlog is a lot to get caught up on ;^). Actually, I think it will be a wonderful gift your son will cherish for his entire life. It used to be rare for anyone to get any insight into what their life was like when they were very young, save for possibly a few photos/videos and memories of family members, but now the technology is such that everyone should be able to have access to these kinds of views into their early days.

It's a great thought. I'd love to see more from my childhood (sadly a house fire about 15 years ago has reduced pictures from my childhood to a couple of dozen). My own son has about 30K pictures of him already and he's just 2.5. Right now I have everything stored on my network at home, but soon that will run out of space and the odds of it surviving 30 years is low (particularly given my own experience!).

A while ago I bought the domain iCapsule.com with the idea of creating a digital time capsule that you could periodically put digital content into (or stream it for that matter) and the subscriber would then buy an insurance policy that would fund the repository for a generation. I originally was thinking it'd be sold to people who by the cryogenic storage so that they can have a backup of their life just in case. But then I experienced what you've seen that, particularly first time parents, are really into capturing lots of pictures, video, etc. of their kids.

There are a lot of services like this already that do backup (i.e. you pay a monthly fee and they store a copy in the cloud). Even Amazon AWS does that. But no one has created the "generational delivery" thing and marketed that. I think there's a business there. If anyone is interested in noodling about it, contact me on my blog (http://www.altgate.com/)...I think that would be fun.

My first reaction was also: "He's never going to read all those e-mails." But after reading some of the comments and giving it some thought, I'm realizing this may be a pretty good idea. I'm not sure I'd have the discipline to write an e-mail every day, and he's already 1.5 years old, but at least once a week might go a long way.

Not only that, but say you make it a habit and it lasts for more than the 5 years. Yes, it might sound stupid to send e-mails to your own son when he's in the same house every day where you can just talk. But if you keep the habit and it's time for him to leave the house (goes to college, gets married, etc.), you will have that ongoing communication---and that will be priceless.

My dad is a pretty smart guy, but I feel I've made a lot of mistakes that I could have learned from him if we had just talked about stuff. I don't want that to happen with my son. It would be awesome to teach him everything I've learned from/about life.

Anyway, now I'm deciding if I should send him e-mails to a Gmail account or keeping this in Emacs Org-Mode. I've never used Org-Mode, but it looks like it has some good features that would help keeping entries well-organized and easy to retrieve, e.g.:

Tags: http://orgmode.org/manual/Tags.html#Tags Publishing: http://orgmode.org/manual/Publishing.html#Publishing

Thanks for sharing your idea!

<devil's advocate>Your second kid's going to resent kid #1 for his entire life</devil's advocate>.

We will of course do this for the second kid :-). I think this will turn out to be not too much of a burden. I am sending a dozen medium-sized emails everyday already, what is a couple more for my children.

I say that as an eldest son with two siblings who still give me crap years later because my parents invested more time in "parenting stuff" with me than they did with either of them.

So true from my experience as a parent. My first child has about a 5:1 advantage in baby photographs.

The upside is that the younger sibling gets the invaluable experience of a sibling from day one.

But regardless of what happens or doesn't happen between child 1 and child 2 in the case of the original poster, this is a great idea.

I can't tell you how awesome this is. My mother passed away 18 months ago, and I've inherited much of her online life. She had a rare disease which she got treatment for but which ultimately led to her death, and through it all we kept a blog about her life. I'm an emotional SOB so I can't stand to read much of it, but at times I do like to go back through her blog and remember her.

Also, I discovered in her possessions a small booklet she kept for part of my childhood along the lines of what you describe. I wish I still had it, I think it's in my dad's house, but your post has made me remember it and I think I'll be looking to find it again.

One alternative, turning to the technology, is that you might consider a blog engine rather than an email post. You can make it private and not share it with the world, but when it comes to archiving the messages, email does not make it easy to print. So maybe a Tumblr account or something like that which would be more conducive to future desires to print it.

Wow, great story!

The problem with using a blogging platform is the likelihood (or rather the unlikelihood) that it will exist in 25 years. There's a huge hassle factor in porting data from a proprietary system like Tumblr. At least with email, the format is likely to be supported in 25 years and exporting is easy.

That said, email doesn't really cut it in terms of viewing. I imagine my son would want to share the data with his family and friends long after I'm gone.

Wow, talk about a catchy title. I don't think you can come up with a better gift to give your son, as it will always be with him, and certainly his own kids.

Not sure if it's of any use for this, but we launched a family sharing app on HN the other day- Ramamia.com. If it is/you have any questions, drop an email to j@ramamia.com.

I hope this post sparks a lot of other parents to do the same with their kids. I'm glad to see more posts like this, supporting the positive things technology is enabling, rather than more "Madoff Posts".


Good intention, but bad idea. Instead, keep a scrapbook for him. To include text, write it in Emacs then print it out and paste in the paper. Put pictures in the scrapbook too. Involve your wife and decorate the pages too, if you like.

Forget about using gmail for this. Keep his childhood private -- he'll thank you for it. The scrapbook is something you can look at together on the couch as a family.

I don't know about using a scrapbook... part of the point is to make it personal and frequent. I know that my wife has tried to keep up with a baby book, and it's hard to know where to draw the line between 'scrapbook-able' events and just plain events. The line for email is so much lower that you're going to capture more.

Then instead of sending an email, just append a bit of text in a text file. Separate those bits with a few blank lines and a "----" or something.

Keep a text file for each month, or week. Keep a directory for each year.

If your wife has something to add, have her either add to the text file herself, or else have her just type it up in gedit and you'll take care of moving the text.

Putting every little thing about your kid's life into emails is a recipe for disaster. Google will know more about him than anyone should know about anyone. That's obscene. Really. If you don't believe me, email Bruce Schneier or somebody and ask what they think.

And, besides, if you did email every single little thing to him, could you imagine the headache of looking through all those emails? I know from experience how difficult it is to clean out my inbox. Could you imagine a whole childhood of them?

It's a great idea. I might just try it myself. My dad is turning 63 and I wish I still had with him the kind of bond I have now with my 4 year old son. I'd try anything to keep the relationship strong.

The skeptic in me wonder though how sustainable it is. Credentials can be lost, accounts can be wiped out, or you may just stop contributing after a while.

A service such as one you described would be essential to support this idea. Perhaps a non-profit foundation.

Yes, a dedicated service would be great. For now, I hope Gmail would be reliable enough for our purposes. We stored the passwords to the account, and we plan to visit the account every couple of days (If not for keeping a tab on the account, I would do this just to learn what my wife has been writing to my son ;-) It would be nice to have a script that occasionally downloads the emails and make them into a big pdf file.

This would be a great premium service for Ancestry.com.

That is a great idea. I think they should be interested in providing something like this.

This seems like an add-on that Kidmondo.com would be all over. Kidmondo is a great little service, but I found that I updated it maybe 5 times and my son is already 11 months old.

It would be great if you could use a simple email interface, but then extract all the information that you'd normally put in a baby-book (height, weight, teeth, etc...).

I dunno if its worth the effort. It'll probably end up like all of photo albums people keep. Opened once when they are presented to the kid, and then thrown in the closet, never to be opened again.

If you overwhelm him with too much information he is less likely to read them. I doubt he'll care that much about the minute details of your life.

Its a good idea to track the stuff, but I would stick only to big occasions. Think of it as your typical baby book....you might go back to find out what your first word was, or what height you were at age 6, but noone goes back to find out what their 278th word was?

I don't think it's typical that photo albums are thrown in the closet...my father did a lot of photography and I always like to look through them, recently I even scanned the best pieces.

Don't forget that Gmail deletes accounts which aren't logged into every so often, or at least they used to.

> to data-mine the child's developmental and health history from these accounts for medical and statistical purposes.

Your post went from adorable to scary very quickly!

Some years ago I made a New Years resolution to email my extended family weekly with updates on my nuclear family's doings. Life was so busy I couldn't keep up. I hope you're more successful. I found success since then by implementing http://ourdoings.com/ and encourage anyone who wants to chronicle their doings to try it, regardless of who the audience is.

That's a very sweet idea. I think along with the musings of his growing up connect it with your life and your stories.

Have you read 'Black Beauty'? I would want my son/daughter to read something similar while he/she is growing up. To make it a personal thing, it could be stories from my life itself.

Great idea! Ive been toying w something like this and came to similar conclusions over a website or a blog, so I found your email idea great. Also, do you or other HN people have any recommendations on sites or forums to talk about this kind of things?

I found this forum for suggesting features to Gmail people. http://groups.google.com/group/gmail-labs-suggest-a-labs-fea...

Maybe if Gmail people hear about this application, they might provide more support for the "generational delivery" as fnazeeri puts it.

This seems like an interesting idea, but I think daily entries would be a bit excessive. Perhaps a weekly or monthly e-mail? It might make sense to keep minor notes so you don't forget stuff, but I really couldn't see myself writing an e-mail to somebody every day, even my own kid. There's just not enough interesting stuff to log on a daily basis.

Heather Armstrong does this monthly for her daughter publicly on Dooce.com

bad idea, what if somehow they all get deleted? why not spend the time you would spend pecking away at the keyboard, actually playing with your son, building a relationship with him, communicating with him in real time, giving him the confidence and strength to be all he can be? what is email going to do for him other than amuse him? or rather than email, why not write a daily diary about your life, and then give it to him when he's an adult. far more valuable because it's a thing, not some words on a screen. of course, this comment will be modded down ad infinitum.

He can write it late in the evening when the son sleeps...anyway, I probably see your point. If I would get such a gift from my father...I don't know....I would be curious of course, but on the other side, maybe I wouldn't really want to read about his very personal feelings (even if they were related to my childhood).


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