Too much information

Should I hide my old journals – filled with details of love’s ups and downs – from the kids?

By Sandra A. Miller
May 23, 2010

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When the recent spring storms caused our basement to flood, I was forced to excavate three cardboard boxes that had been stashed away since my husband, Mark, and I – pregnant with our first child – bought the house 12 years ago. The soggy boxes held journals dating back to the year my father died. I was only 19 then and had feebly tried to anesthetize the pain with a binge of wild, mostly wrong men. One of those men was Mark. We dated with abandon back then before reconnecting 10 years later under more mature circumstances.

My 8-year-old daughter appeared in the basement and asked what I was looking at. “My old diaries,” I told her as I flipped through one of the cloth-covered books rife with romantic secrets I had mostly forgotten. And while time, distance, and honest love had healed any hurts, the pages still revealed some heartbreaking pieces of my past.

“Can I see?” my daughter asked, reaching for the book.

“Not now,” I said and drew the journal to my chest.

“When?” she wanted to know.

Good question. I had never considered that my children would someday have access to these stories that, in the course of a decade, had poured uncensored from heart to paper. Purges of words written long before I’d given half a thought to motherhood. When indeed, if ever, should such private experiences be shared?

The thing is, my husband and I typically model openness in our family. We adore ribbing each other with references to exes – anecdotes that tend to amuse and engage our children. When I talk about the five years I lived in Europe, my daughter will ask, “You mean with your Finnish fiance?” “His name was Kim,” my son might add. “Right, Mom?”

Right. All harmless details that show our children the whole of our lives. Well, a selective piece of the whole. What the diaries reveal is the full story of how I cheated on that fiance with a mutual friend in an effort to end the faltering relationship. It worked. I broke Kim’s heart, severed our engagement, and returned to the United States.

That is when I re-met Mark and began to write in my journal about our grown-up relationship. But if the children read about my first “hookup” with their dad, my stable love of 15 years, they’d see a chapter of my life that could aptly be titled “Sex and Booze and Rock ’n’ Roll.” Mark and I were crazy in lust 25 years ago, and I’ve got the journal entries, from our first overnight date in New Haven to a midnight romp on Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, to prove it.

While I continued to peruse the journal, turning back years as if they were just tissue-thin pages, my daughter dug into one of the other boxes. She pulled out another journal, one of the many that I’d kept when living in Japan after college. She pressed me to show her something, so I thumbed through until I found a page in which I was musing sweetly about Mark. It ended with these words: “Am I really supposed to miss you like this, so much?” My daughter pleaded for more. “I have to think about that,” I told her. “I wrote these things for myself.”

Objectively that made sense to her, but it didn’t make my secrets any less enticing.

Years after my own father’s death, I found his World War II diary, in which he wrote with proper reserve about a woman named Della, whom I took to be his girlfriend at the time. I saw a gentle side to my dad that he almost never revealed. But would I want to know more, like the intimacies of his private relationships? Maybe. Over the years,

I’ve held tight to every memory that would keep me connected to the man I lost when I was a teenager. Sometimes I have to wonder if, before he met my mother, he ever loved without bounds.

That said, there is a line that I am far from ready to cross with my own children. As long as I’m alive, I don’t want my past to be, literally, an open book for them. It might be an intriguing read, but I can imagine their response: Too much information, Mom!

So I packed my journals in some dry boxes, duct taped them shut, and hid them away from prying eyes, at least for the next couple of decades.

Sandra A. Miller is a freelance writer living in Arlington. Send comments to