Growing up as a Navy Brat when my Dad would be out to sea the cruises would be anywhere from 6 months-1 year and for a young child without a good understanding of time, it was hard to conceptualize that amount of time. When we were 3 months away from my Dad returning home my Mom always made a paper chain so that we had a visual of how long we had left. Every day we would get to remove a link from the chain and as we watched it dwindle down the excitement would grow. The count was always however many full days were left and “a wake up”, which meant the day he was returning because we just had to wake up that day, i.e. 12 days and a wake-up. Once you got to 9 days and a wake up we were “single-digit midgets” because the number of days was no longer two numbers.
Now that I am a mom of a soon to be 4-year old I have started using the paper chain for him. We are not using it to count down anyone coming home, but we are using them to count down our trips to visit my parents in Alabama. At the 3 month mark from when we are making the drive down, I put together the chain and we start taking one off each morning. When he asks if we are going now, I can direct him to look at how big the chain is and remind him that we will be going once we throw away the final link in the chain. I have also discovered that not only does it help him to have a visual of this abstract concept of time but it helps me also. It is exciting for me to watch as the chain gets smaller, and to know that removing a link each day means seeing my parents is getting closer and closer.
When I made the most recent chain I got the construction paper, scissors, the marker, tape, and my wine and started cutting. As I was putting the dates and the countdown numbers on the chains somehow my countdown ended before they should have and I had extra chains for my dates. So I just stopped worrying about the countdown and simply put the dates on each chain. The scissors I was using were from when my 17 and 15-year-old niece and nephew were little and the plastic coating was slowly coming off in my hands but they were still sharp enough to cut the paper. About halfway through our 3-month countdown, the humidity made the tape come off of my links and the chain came apart. So I got the glue out this time and was organizing it to put it all back together and I discovered that I had a few duplicative dates in my chain, which explained why my countdown didn’t work the first time around. I removed the extra days and our countdown continued, and it was then that I realized that wine and chain making is clearly not things I should combine.
It is amazing to me that something as simple as making a chain out of construction paper can be so memorable and a tradition that is continued into a second generation. I hope that my son remembers this as fondly as I do from childhood and continues it if he ever has children of his own.