the journal and the paper chain

We interrupt our usual programming this morning to share a couple of utterly fabulous ideas from Diary readers. I can take no credit for either of these – at least not yet. Perhaps when the statute of limitations is up, then I can start claiming them as my own.

In the meantime, I give you two totally unrelated yet equally wonderful ideas — the journal and the paper chain*.

Do with them as you will.

*Ed note: Doesn’t that sound like the title of an Encyclopedia Brown caper? The Case of the Journal and the Paper Chain. No? Just me? Moving on.

The Journal

The actual one I bought!

Image from Jenni Bick Bookbinding

The other day, Kelly from Raising Rebels left a comment on my post, Dear Katie. In that comment she offered the following truly life-changing idea.

Just an idea…something I do with my daughter. We have a notebook that is just for us. We write notes back and forth to each other. Sometimes silly jokes, sometimes just a note that says “I love you” and sometimes we pour our heart out. There are days when we write often and then times when we go days without even opening it…it ebbs and flows, nothing forced or scheduled. She treasures it and I treasure the bond it creates between us.

The very next day, I stopped off on the way home from work and bought a journal. I borrowed a pen and then and there – right in the middle of the store – began what I am now sure will be a lifelong correspondence with my daughter. The only thing I will be sharing from that notebook is its very first entry.

July, 2011

My Sweet Katie,

This journal is just for us, my love. For notes, drawings, random thoughts between you and me. Any time we want, for no one’s eyes but ours.

I love you, Katie. I’m so, so proud of you and nothing in this world makes me happier than being your mama.

[Our super secret version of I love you]


I wrapped it in ribbon and brought it home. I handed it to Katie in a quiet moment when no one else was around. We decided where it would live and established the only rule – there can be no rules.

I envision us reading the entries together over the years. Revisiting stacks of filled journals as Katie goes off to college; moves into her first apartment; when she has children of her own.

In two days, there are already three more entries. They mean more to me, and I dare say to my girl, than I can possibly express. A space all our own – a place that belongs to no one but us. A place for my Katie to say what she wants – and needs – to say.

There is no greater gift.

Thank you, Kelly. From the bottom of my mushy mama’s heart. Thank you.

The Paper Chain

Click to enlarge.

No idea if that’s what ours will actually look like, but you get the point.

We have a trip coming up. A kinda big one. The kind with a lot of moving parts and the need for a fair amount of prep in order to make it successful for little Miss. I’ve been talking to friends and accumulating advice to help smooth our way.

Of all the tips that I gathered (like ‘When there are two queues and you have to choose between the right and the left, always choose left’. You’re welcome.) my favorite is the paper chain.

Brooke does very well – OK, she does well – traveling, but after more than one night away from home she begins to get anxious. No matter how much she may be enjoying the trip, she has trouble understanding how long we will be there and when we will be coming home.

Years ago, I started drawing out calendars. As soon as we reach our destination, we sit down together and map out our days. I draw in the plane or the car or the boat that got us to our destination and another on the day that we will be heading home. Each day, we write in our plans and each evening we mark off another day’s passing. Each and every day we count the days left and talk together about when we’ll be going home.

It has helped immensely, but it still isn’t perfect. Enter the paper chain.

In a conversation earlier this week, my friend Carrie shared what she did for her little guy on their last vacation. Instead of a calendar, she made him a good old-fashioned construction paper chain. Each day of their trip was represented by a link. After each day was over, its link was removed. The chain got smaller and smaller as the week went by.

I can’t tell you how much I love the simple brilliance of this idea. My girl NEEDS a way to see the days passing. She needs a tangible representation of how much longer the trip will last and when we will be headed home. She can see the chain. She can touch it and feel it and hold it. She can even decorate the links or draw the day’s activities on them. She can control it. The possibilities are endless.

And even better, it can be used in any situation where time or patience are an issue. Waiting room? The links can represent five-minute increments. Days before school starts at the end of the summer? Got it covered.

Thank you, Carrie. This one’s going straight into the toolbox.


Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make our children’s lives easier and the smallest gifts that can make them immeasurably richer. Thank you so much again to both Carrie and Kelli for taking the time to share the things that worked in their lives with us.

If YOU have any ideas that you’d like to share, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I’d absolutely love to hear them.


Ed note: is asking you to vote for your favorite autism blogs. To vote, all you have to do is hit ‘like’ next to the ones you’d like to see in their top ten. No registration, no request for any info – zip. Just a button to hit and you’re on your way.

You may just see someone you recognize on the list. And well, I wouldn’t get mad atcha if say, you wanted to vote for Diary. :)

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Thank you!

P.S. It’s been brought to my attention that Diary is on there twice – listed once with the ‘A’ and once without. No idea what to do about that, so what say you just like em both? Thank you again.

20 thoughts on “the journal and the paper chain

  1. Wow, first comment…guess i”m up early! I LOVE both ideas! The journal is a beautiful thing. When my baby girl, who is coming in just about 11 weeks, is older, we have to do this.
    I used to make those little paper chains when I was a kid to count down days to things that were a big deal. (Like the first time I saw The Phantom of the Opera)…yes, I was a theatre freak at 11 years old.
    This could be very helpful for Cymbie. I think we will make one for days til school starts. She’s done next week. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m 29 weeks pregnant, it’s HOT, and I can’t chase her in the park, or much else for that matter….bring on the moon sand, coloring books, and shaving cream.
    These are brilliant ideas. Thanks to the ladies who shared them. = )

  2. This is so awesome, Jess!

    The SGM and I have been journaling to each other since before we were married. It ebbs and flows. But at times it’s been extremely helpful connecting us not only to each other but to our own feelings.

    I look forward to beginning one with my son. I think it’s an amazing way to share the road with someone. The view is sometimes the same, sometimes vastly different on different sides of the train. Two souls barreling down the same tracks still need to communicate the thrills and the chills to be close to one another.

    Your babes are so blessed to have you.

    Love this. Love you.

  3. Both are great ideas. I use the internet before we travel or go to a new activity so my daughter can see the hotel, restaurant or anywhere else we are planning to go. We look at photos from the hotel website or google streetview so the new place is more familiar.

  4. I’m so glad the journal seems like it’s going to be a great thing for you and Katie! I’m thinking I need to make a trip out to get a fancy journal…so far we’ve just used a no frills composition book ’cause it’s what I had on hand when we started. I’m betting Mag would love it even more if it were a girlie journal.
    Thanks for sharing the paper chain idea too. We’ve made them for holidays, but I never even thought about the possibilities of using them at other times/for other things. I think this might be a great thing for one of my sons inparticular. I’m already thinking of how I might make this work for church…every 30-45 seconds brings “is church almost over yet?”…hmmm, maybe a link comes off at the end of each segment of the service…

  5. Jess, you should compile all ideas and write a book. Sometimes on our journey, no matter how many hours we spend in front of the computer researching autism to death, or how many doctors we see for help, or how many IEP meetings we are in, the simplest (and best) ideas elude us. Maybe because we are too focused, maybe because we are so darn tired or maybe we are just in survival mode, but these ideas would be great under one cover….

  6. I LOVE these ideas. I have an extra journal at home that has never been used (thank you procrastination) and tonight I plan to give it to my son. Seems like the only times we connect and discuss meaningful things are when he should be going to sleep at night or walking out the door in the mornings. This would give him & I a chance to have a special communication that is just for us. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Both ideas are awesome!! I tried to get my husband to start a journal with me when I was pregnant with Roc, a gratitude journal (saw it on Oprah!), and it didn’t last very long (all he could come up with was “thanks for ironing, thanks for cooking dinner, you’re pretty” lol) I would have LOVED to have done this with my Mom when I was Katie’s age–something you both will cherish forever! I love reading about your relationship with your girls.

    The paper chain is brilliant in it’s simplicity. The perfect visual for our kids. Totally going to be using this. (and totally, how could I not have thought of this before?)


  8. I adore both ideas, so simple and practical! You two will treasure that journal forever. What a source of comfort and a wonderful reference point down the road for you both. Kudos to Kelli and Carrie!

  9. Now there is a big “ahaa” moment! Been doing the journal with my older kids for a few years – we call it pillow talk because we pass it back and forth to each other by placing it under our pillows. It is an ebb and flow and I need to grab my pen and set some words down again! The paper chain is a FANTASTIC idea that is new to me….the wonders of how well this could work for my youngest is very exciting. Thanks for sharing these great ideas!

  10. I love the journal idea. My daughter is 9 years old and I feel like we miss communicating just us. I plan to pick one up today at lunch and start it tonight. Thank you for sharing these!!

  11. those are both really great ideas!

    and i have to say i’m going to steal that paper chain idea for my classroom as well. working with children who have language delays due to various diagnoses (mostly ASD and SPD) i have quite a few children (as i’m sure you can imagine) who have difficulty making it through the school day or even through certain activities. i definitely think this could be used or modified for some of my kids. thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

  12. My husband and I have been doing the diary thing for years. It’s a way for us to share our thoughts, feelings, silly stories, or whatever comes to mind – perfect for the times that we only seem to bump into one another instead of enjoying (real) time together. I love the idea of a mother/daughter journal, too!

  13. Absolutely priceless ideas Jess,thank you for sharing.
    I have heard of the chain idea before but never thought to use it for 5 minute segments!Now that may be a winner for me!
    Thanks everybody 🙂

  14. I love the journal; I can’t wait to start one with my little girl when she is older. The paper chains are also good for military families – we always use one when dad is away 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  15. Both ideas are fantastic! Being a writer, I absolutely love the shared journal idea – it’s really beautiful. I might have to come up with a long distance version of that for Aidan!

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