A Reverse Bucket List Birthday Tradition

A Reverse Bucket List Birthday Tradition | Twin Cities Mom Collective

With our 6th birthday here at Twin Cities Mom Collective on the horizon, we are talking all things celebration this week! Join us right here as we commemorate this incredible, inspiring and thriving community of moms in the Twin Cities.
Let’s celebrate!


If I tried hard enough I could tell you many things I do right with parenting.

But instead, I will tell you one big failure.

I have zero baby books for my children.

(I can hear the gasp of my mother from across two states.)

I do own one. I purchased it in one of those third trimester insomnia driven nights during my first pregnancy, after serious research (read: Amazon review scouring). It arrived just in time for me to throw it in the nursery with the other things someone on the internet told me I would need. Days later in one ambitious afternoon while my newborn took an unusually long nap I finally cracked it open. I only got through the introductory pages before her alarm cries tore me away from the task. “Finish baby book” sat on my to-do lists more times than I can count. The book is currently living in the attic inside a box labeled “must keep but will never look at until the child has a home of their own and we can leave it in their attic.”

I am a baby book failure.

But that doesn’t mean the memories are lost. I can tell you when she took her first steps. I can tell you when she first slept through the night. I can tell you about the first time she smiled, and the first word she learned to sign.

I can tell you all of this not because I have an incredible memory (the amount of times I have forgotten to start the dishwasher after filling it will tell you otherwise) but because I have a milestone book my mother never owned. And this book isn’t found on Amazon Prime.

It’s on my phone.

With a simple dial up to my google photos app I can show you each milestone we celebrated with a click of a button. Logging into my social media accounts I can show you those proud moments shared through image and word with a time stamp right next to it. While we could argue forever about the digital footprint we are leaving for our children (I’ll save that argument for another day) I can tell you the internet has saved me from this baby book failure.

My mother has a baby book, for all three children in fact. Looking through mine, I can see all the remarkable milestones I accomplished in my first eighteen years. But shortly after the graduation party, the brag book ended. I know my mom is still wildly proud of all of my accomplishments, but I can’t say that she continues to keep track of them the way she did when I was young.

Is this one of those tasks we must relegate to the adulting list? Does the milestone keeping fall into our own hands once our mother stops recording in a book?

In today’s day and age, we excel at goal creating and bucket list achieving. If you have been on the internet for 5 minutes in the past month you surely saw plenty of announcements of big plans for this new big decade ahead of us. The idea of 20 in 2020 certainly tempts me.

The challenge with goal lists, though, is once you write them, you have to do them. (I know. Revolutionary.) Some years though, there just isn’t enough margin for big goals and great plans. Some seasons require so much of us that the checklists optimistically penned on January 1 inevitably take their place alongside the baby books we never got to come mid winter. Which is why I have decided, it is in these years that an unplanned approach to the new year is the better option. Let the year go by quietly, ordinarily, on its own terms.

But don’t let it go by unnoticed. There is still time for celebration.

And that’s what birthdays are for.

This past April when I celebrated my 37th birthday, I escaped for a day just to myself. In between coffee shop lingering and book store browsing and day time champagne drinking (it was my birthday after all), I took some time to reflect on my last year of life. All I needed was a notebook, pen, and the photo roll or social media grid on my phone.

Like my very own baby book, I scrolled through it all, from the images and words shared on the internet to the photos left on the cutting room floor (why it requires 43 photos to get one good one of my children I’ll never know). From this I gathered 36 things worth noting at 36. Some were thought driven, others fun, but all offered a time capsule of my life in this very moment.

These moments gathered became my Reverse Bucket List—a list of all the things I accomplished, learned, and discovered, each one representing growth over my last year of life.

This birthday tradition was such a success, and one I plan on continuing year after year. It not only becomes a goal list with 100 percent success rate, it also teaches me a valuable lesson on finding the positive narrative to my life. It’s an opportunity to reframe the narrative, just like I have done with the lack of baby books.

Would you like to join along? If so, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you sit down to scroll through your past year:

  • What was hard?
  • What did you hide from others?

Even if the moment arouses negative feelings, such as something hard or something you kept to yourself, the goal is the simple act of noticing. For example, let’s say you have 13 pictures in your phone of your toddler throwing a tantrum over too funny not to document circumstances, not that I know ANYTHING about this. The bucket list item then could be “Allow toddler to feel all the feelings.” Or “Learn NOT to go grocery shopping at 5:00 PM.” Seem trivial? It’s not. Every lesson learned or hard thing done deserves celebration.

  • What made you smile seeing the image again?
  • What are you proud of?
  • What do you want more of?

Noticing what brings you joy, peace, or pride shines light on what we want to add more to your life.

  • What did you forget about? And why, do you think?

Sometimes moments go forgotten throughout the year, lost behind the memories that shine brighter or bigger. This becomes a gentle reminder to pay better attention next time.

  • What do you see now that you didn’t notice before?

I also think it is important to note that sometimes you have to look behind the picture to the parts unseen. Maybe you tried with 27 images to grab a quality, post-able Mother’s Day picture, but the images left you with nothing but shenanigans. I imagine this frustrated you at the time. But now, with distance, you see laughter, you see silly sibling relationships, you see personalities alive and happy. There is your bucket list item–more happiness.

From this list, flag the pictures that answer or trigger any of these questions. Pick a number to focus on. Maybe 5? 10? If you are feeling especially ambitious you could choose the birthday age. Whatever feels right; the number doesn’t matter. Take each picture and journal what you learned based on these questions. Then, take this lesson and turn it into an action item.

Pictures of that family vacation. You remember it being exhausting, but in the photos you see nothing but smiles.

  • Go on a family vacation.

The gym selfie you took at the beginning of a long exercise hiatus.

  • Exercise!

A photo of the pretty plate of food you spent three days preparing and the family spent seven minutes eating, if even at all, so you vowed to stick to macaroni and cheese after that.

  • Try a new recipe.

Write it down. You did that thing. Good for you. It belongs on your list.

So this year on your birthday, instead of worrying about the signs of aging or the too quickly passing of time, reframe the narrative. Take a moment to reflect on your last year. Celebrate your birthday in the way you do your children. Make a list of every win and lesson and joy that came your way in the last year. Then make a toast to yourself for all that awaits you in the year to come.

Happy Birthday to YOU!

Rachel Nevergall
Rachel, the creative free-spirited one, met her husband, the organized practical one, discovered he was WAY better at cleaning the kitchen and realized he was one she should hang on to. Together they have three children born in three different states but since landing in their south Minneapolis neighborhood two years ago decided with the access to good ski trails, running paths and beach side picnics, this might just be their forever home. Rachel is the curator of family adventures, builder of epic train tracks, lover of all of the library books, and writer in the in-between. She shares about the confluence of her child development background and the realities of parenting on her blog.

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