This is Clara. My only daughter. My youngest child. My baby.
Parents are so often told to slow down, to pay attention, to savor the little moments. And I’ve tried, perhaps with the mistaken idea that that would somehow slow down the process of our kids getting bigger – if not in actuality, then at least in my perception.
But I was wrong. You can notice every little moment with all your might, and they will still pass incredibly, unreasonably quickly. And the real kicker is that no matter how hard you try to lock it all into your memory, later you will find that so much has been forgotten.
Clara is only four, and I still have a lot of very specific memories of her babyhood and beyond. Still, when I see photos of her from that time I’m always momentarily surprised. Oh, that’s what she looked like? And the further I get from those days the more I need the photographic evidence to remind myself of the way it was, the way she was, the way we were.
When I try to look back at the babyhood and early childhood of Jacob and Isaac, my oldest sons, it’s foggy now. Certain things stand out, of course: Jacob’s first haircut, carrying Isaac in the sling at the zoo. And I can remember a lot of our surroundings vividly, too: the apartments we lived in, the car I drove, the taste of the burgers at the restaurant where I waited tables in the evening.
But for the most part, the details of our lives together all those years ago are hazy and nondescript – less like many days put together and more like one very long, very repetitive day. Is it because I didn’t pay attention, or simply because it was a long time ago and because, well, raising children tends to be monotonous and not particularly memorable?
One memory in particular stands out, something that’s actually not one memory but a collection of many similar memories: me lying next to whichever child was an infant at the time, and marking the distance they stretched from a head tucked under my arm to their little toes (first those toes would reach me somewhere mid-waist, then hip, then thigh.)
It was in those times, the quiet moments after they’d fallen asleep nursing and I’d lie there trying to decide whether to move them or just stay there and read while they finished out a nap, that I would remind myself “This is fleeting. This won’t last. Soon those bent-up legs and tiny toes will reach to your knees. Notice it, savor it, appreciate it.”
Even so, with all the noticing and savoring and appreciating I did, the time still marched on and still I can’t go back. Not only that, but I can’t exactly conjure up lazy naptime memories specific to each child. It’s more of a general memory: there’s a bed, and a fuzzy head tucked under my arm, and perhaps a little dribble of milk running down a soft cheek. It’s all my babies at once and no baby in particular.
Maybe the savoring, then, isn’t about slowing down the time, because that is impossible. It’s not about remembering more clearly down the road, because no matter how hard you try to lock in the memory, it’s never guaranteed. Maybe the noticing and appreciating is simply about making this moment better, and the next, and the next…whether or not the moments stay with us in the future or slip away quietly, without taking leave.
I have a hard time reading stories about Alzheimer’s patients. How awful, to just forget everything that’s happened to you, all the people you’ve loved, the memories of your children and grandchildren. It feels unbearably tragic to me, like a life snuffed out before it’s actually ended.
And yet, all life is about forgetting what happened yesterday, and last year, and last decade. All memories are eventually lost, whether through the simple human act of forgetting, or the more dramatic dementia or death.
I like to believe that somewhere, locked away in my subconscious memory, are the specific memories I can’t seem to conjure up no matter how I try. The second steps, along with the first. The vacations and holidays alongside the days we did nothing in particular. And that those memories will live on as I get older and, more and more, my brain shoves them aside to make room for new data. That even after dementia or death, those memories still exist somewhere, like files in a cabinet stored in the attic.
But whether or not that’s true, this is: life is happening right now. My girl will be five soon, but today she is four. My boys will be men soon, but today they are boys. I don’t have the promise of memories tomorrow, but I have today.
And even if I can’t remember this specific day in thirty years, I like to believe that it will be part of the hazy tapestry of memories that I’ll think of when I try to recall this period of our lives.
Not a collection of fuzzy-headed babies this time, but a house full of children. All my children at once, and no child in particular.
Life. Lived, and noticed. And occasionally – if we’re lucky – remembered.
Did you like this post? Meagan discusses it in more detail in Episode 27 of The Mom Hour podcast. Listen free now!