I loved the idea of time capsules when I was kid. I used to grab action figures and pogs that I didn’t want anymore and bury them in a box marked “do not open for 20 years,” and imagine a future earthling in a silver spacesuit puzzling over what the strange artifacts mean. I forgot where I buried them all, of course.
Now that I’m ancient I’ve lost all enthusiasm for time capsules. The idea is solid, but the things we put in them are not. Whether it’s “official” time capsules like the one buried by Paul Revere and Sam Adams, or “family time capsules” that are having a cultural moment in the parenting-verse, the anticipation we feel for the secrets they contain is always followed by the disappointment of their contents. We fill time capsules with carefully curated, flattering mementos—baby shoes, old coins, vacation photos—in an effort to present our best selves to the future. Time capsules aren’t histories, they’re hagiographies—self-serving, boring, and pointless. But they don’t have to be.
Make better time capsules with radical honesty
If you’re a decent parent, you present a carefully-edited version of yourself to your kids. You weep in the shower, not when you’re driving them to school. If you were honest with your offspring about how lost you feel, and how every day you’re just winging it, it would be terrifying.
When children grow up though, they don’t want a whitewashed version of mom and dad. They want the dirt. They want to consider their parents as actual human beings, faults and all, as a way of understanding why things worked out as they did. This is where my honest time capsule comes in.
What to put in your honest time capsule
An honest time capsule should contain only mementos of the secrets you keep from your children, spouse, and other loved ones. The specifics, of course, will depend on your own personal failures, but here are a few ideas to get your started:
- A roach to commemorate the marijuana you smoked as often as possible to get through the toddler years
- Your actual high school grades, complete with Ds and Fs, and any and all disciplinary notices
- List of everyone you have ever truly hated and why
- A copy of the prescription medication you take for depression, anxiety, and whatever else you suffer from
- Various unpaid bills and eviction notices
- Notes from your marriage counseling sessions
- An explanation of what really happened to the puppy who bit the kid next door (no, he wasn’t taken to a farm upstate)
- A note that explains which of your child’s friends you secretly hated
- A copy of the “novel” you wrote in 10th grade
- Love letters to any partners you had before your spouse
- Rather than your great grandma’s ham recipe that you tried once on Christmas, keep a list of the frozen chicken nuggets and yogurt you actually fed your child every day because they wouldn’t freakin’ eat anything else
- Incriminating photos from parties of your youth
- Bankruptcy paperwork/arrest records
- Handwritten notes from friends and relatives who are asked to give an honest assessment of your character (under no circumstances should you read these notes yourself)
- If you have more than one child, the final revelation of your favorite
Where to bury your honest time capsule
You can shove a “normal” family time capsule in the back of the closet because no one is ever going to open it until mom forces them to, but extra care must be taken with your honest time capsule. If you’ve done it correctly, early revelation could lead to psychological trauma, blackmail, or arrest, so make sure you hide it somewhere no one will look until after you die. Maybe a box marked “tax return receipts” or with the notes for the novel you wrote in 10th grade.
When to open your honest time capsule
This is vital: Do not allow your honest time capsule to be opened until after you are dead. You don’t want to have to explain. But you should make sure there’s a note inside that explains that this material should be passed down to future generations. Imagine if you knew all of your great-grandma’s closely guarded secrets. Wouldn’t that be more interesting than a ham recipe and a bronzed baby shoe?
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