When you think of time capsules, you probably think of sealed metal containers buried underground or in the cornerstone of public buildings, to be opened in 100 years. But a time capsule doesn’t have to be literally a metal container impervious to the elements, nor buried, nor does it have to be wait 100 years to be opened. Why not make a “time capsule” for each of your children, to be opened at an appropriate time in the future?

            The capsule should reflect the world as it was the day they were born, and of course the best time to do it is right around the time of each child’s birth, or early in his or her first year.  If you already have a child, it’s not too late to make a capsule for him or her, too. 

            What you’ll include in the capsule is up to you.  A list of suggestions appears below, but you are by no means bound to follow it exactly. If some of the items suggested below don’t appeal to you, or aren’t available to you, just skip them. You aren’t ruining the capsule by virtue of a few omissions. And if there’s something particularly meaningful that occurs to you, and it isn’t on the list below, by all means include it.

            After collecting the items, find a sturdy, substantial-sized container, pack it with the items you’ve collected for it, and tape it shut very securely to deter curious family members from breaking it open before it’s appropriate. Then stow it away on an upper shelf in a closet, or in the attic or basement, clearly marked “___’s Time Capsule,” and resist temptation to open it ahead of schedule and peek.

            When is it a good time to open the capsule? Any one of the following is suggested; you pick the occasion that suits you best:

   • The child’s eighteenth birthday.

   • The child’s twenty-first birthday.

   • The child’s wedding.

   • The child’s high school or college graduation.

   • The birth of the child’s own first child.

            Now, what are some of the items you might want to put in a time capsule? Here are our suggestions, but again, feel free to add or delete items from the list:  

            • Copies of the birth announcement you sent out, of the local newspaper’s birth announcement, and of any other birth announcements (such as in Mom’s or Dad’s company’s newspaper or newsletter, if any).

            • A newspaper from the day your child was born, preferably a home-town newspaper, showing news not only of the world but of the town where your child was born. Naturally this is easiest to do on the day the child is born. Yet even if you’re putting a capsule together for an eight-year-old, your local paper may have back issues. Inquire. Failing that, there are newspapers from most dates in history available through various mail-order catalogues. Though they’re big-city papers and won’t reflect what was going on in your home town on that date—unless your home town happens to be Boston, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, or the like—they will show the news of the world.

            • Magazines from the year the child was born. The ads will show fashions in clothing, hairstyles, cars, and furnishings. They will also reflect prices of the day, which may amaze your child when s/he’s grown and looking back at life “way back when.”  The articles in the magazine will show the general concerns of the day, especially if it’s a news magazine, but you’ll want to include a personalities magazine to show who was famous at the time, and perhaps a fashion magazine (men’s or women’s) and even special-interest magazines as well. The ads may be as much a revelation, 18 or 21 years from now, as the articles are. The prices of products advertised, the products themselves, and even the styles of advertising will be of interest.

            • Photos of your home—whether house or apartment—exterior and interior. Take a picture of every room in the house if possible. Take detailed pictures of the child’s room.

            • Significant articles such as a pair of the child’s infant-sized socks. (“Did my feet really fit in those?”)

            • Photos of yourselves as you looked that year, your child at birth, family pets, siblings, and possibly other significant people in your life.

            • A “wish list” of your aspirations for your child. (Not just, “I want him/her to grow up to be a ___,” but what you want out of life for him or her.)

            • A list of the people who attended the christening, bris, dedication, or other religious ceremony, if any, that you may have had for the child, along with a description, in your own words, of the ceremony, and any party that may have followed.

            • A written or tape recorded statement of the feelings of every family member old enough to express himself/herself regarding the arrival of this newest member of the family. It can be brief or long. If you’re using a tape recorder, each speaker should identify himself or herself before his/her statement.

            • A list of all the baby gifts received, including a brief description of the item and the name of the person who gave it.

            • A favorite toy of the child, provided he or she gives it up early enough that it can be included in the time capsule without it being missed—and without your holding the capsule aside for a year, waiting for it. (It will be tempting to keep opening the capsule and adding to it, but really it should be put together and sealed shortly after the child’s birth, if possible, and then left alone till the date it’s due to be opened.)

            • The hospital’s wristband or anklet worn by the baby.

            • The deflated “It’s a Boy/Girl” balloon, or a band from the “It’s a Boy/Girl” cigars Dad gave out, if he did.

            • A copy of the hospital bill for the birth. It may seem like a lot of money now, but by the time your baby is grown, you and he or she will laugh at how little it cost to get born in “those days.”

            • A packet of football cards or baseball cards from that year, showing the major players in the sport at the time. (One of these may even prove highly valuable in years to come.)

            • A recording of the infant gurgling, crying, and cooing.

            • A footprint and/or handprint of the newborn child.

            • A picture of the baby as drawn by an older sibling.

            • Any other items that you feel will give the child a feel for what the world was like at the time of his/her birth. This includes both his/her immediate world and the world at large. Any items representative of life in the year the child was born, his or her immediate world, customs, mores, fashions, pastimes, the slang of the day, concerns of the day...all this and more is fair game for inclusion in the capsule.

            We can’t preserve the past, but we can recapture the memories. And we can give our children a feel for what the world—both the world at large and their world—was like at the time of their birth.  A time capsule is a gift that costs next-to-nothing to give a child, yet one he or she will treasure as an adult. Why not start planning your baby’s time capsule now?!

Cynthia MacGregor is the author of Thank You Notes and Think for Yourself, both available January 2013 from Familius.