The other day a student stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of the school library where I was reshelving books. He stared long and hard at me. I stared back, a bemused smile on my face, until finally he spoke his mind.

“Hey! You have new shoes,” he observed.

I looked down at my feet and, sure enough, I was wearing new shoes. I marveled about how this little fellow could possibly notice such a mundane detail. With everything going on in his own world, how could he keep track of my footwear?

Last month, a kindergartner said, “You have two dog pins. Or maybe more, but you’ve worn two dog pins this year.” And guess what? She also was right. These kids don’t miss a trick, I’m telling you. But how do they do it?

That’s when I thought about my childhood diary. Nightly, when I was in the fourth grade, I would ponder the hairstyle choices of my classroom teacher. I would jot down all of my observations in a pink, perfumed diary. Some evenings before bedtime I noted her hair had been worn straight that day, while other days it was curly. Sometimes it was long, and other days it was short. On the weekends, I speculated that she might wear a wig. I never did crack the case on Miss Weston’s hair, and it is a mystery that still haunts me to this day.

But why did I care? Maybe it was only that I had nothing better to write about, and that diary entry wasn’t going to write itself each night. Either way, I studied that lady like it was my job.

Every year when New Year’s Day rolls around, I feel compelled to start a new diary, and this year will be no different. But many things about this ritual have changed.

Gone are the diaries of my childhood, which were adorned with kittens, horses and pink roses. They all had silver locks with tiny keys that kept my secrets safe from prying eyes. Well, safe, that is, until a sibling decided to pry, and pry they did until the lock popped open and my innermost thoughts and feelings were spilled into the harsh light of day.

The impulse to write has not changed, but I no longer start entries with a heartfelt "Dear Diary," or end with "Love, Kristine." And unlike the angst-filled passages of my youth, these days I am no longer pining away for true love. I lucked out and found it, so there’s not much left to say in that department.

Back in the day, the main purpose of writing in the diary was to make notes about my teachers and to spill secrets about my childhood crushes. The main object of my affection for many years was a boy who reminded me of Alfalfa from "The Little Rascals," minus the cowlick. Freckled and funny, he made my heart skip a beat. Though I often wrote love notes to him, he was smitten with another girl. A typical diary entry went something like this: "Dear Diary, Today my class had to pick reading partners. He chose Carol. I really hate Carol. Why didn't he pick me?" I would scribble and pour my heart out until the sweet-smelling pages gave me a headache.

Writing in my diary was part of my bedtime routine, just like washing my face and brushing my teeth. Once my PJs were on, I’d climb into bed and pull the book out of its secret hiding place. Usually this was in my nightstand, my desk or under my pillow. Not very super-secret, but it kept my four siblings away for a few years. And I did have the lock and key for added security.

Before I could sleep, I had to document the events of the day. Some days I reported I had a cold or a fever, and didn’t feel well. Other days clearly had not been very exciting, but I would write about running an errand for my mother or doing a household chore. One page reads, "Tonight Dad and I played cards and he beat me bad!" What a guy.

A source of contention when I was a child was that my father had agreed to pay me 25 cents weekly if I fed the dog each night. This became an ongoing saga in my diary as I recorded whether I had been paid my allowance for the week.

As I grew older and started dating in high school, my four younger siblings searched for my diary like it was the Holy Grail, desperate for gossip. After my desk and bedroom had been ransacked a few times, I got permission from my parents to lock my bedroom door. This worked well until my brother realized he could unlock the old-fashioned door by poking a screwdriver into the square keyhole and just twisting it.

Determined to keep my secrets to myself, I doubled up on security by using abbreviations in my entries to hide what was really going on. The only trouble is, when I look back on the pages now, I sometimes have no idea what I was writing about.

My sisters grew bolder over time, eventually going so far as to write funny comments alongside my script in the margins of my diary. The nerve. Based on their responses, it was obvious the little code-breakers knew exactly who my suitors were and what we were doing.

At some point I gave up on the diaries altogether.

I think it happened in college, when I no longer had anyone to hide the diary from, and the thrill was gone. Years later, after we all were married, my sister presented me with a pretty bound journal one year at Christmas. I thanked her, and felt delighted at the thought of picking up the habit again. Then I realized one simple truth: there was no lock on the cover. Nice try, Sis.

And the beat goes on.