Just twenty-four hours into the long weekend, the kids were starting to come unglued looking for something to do. This is not a good sign for us, since summer is long and camp is pretty expensive. After a painful hour of going back and forth trying to find something--anything!--both kids liked to do, we decided to go back to one of the old neighborhoods where we first lived when we moved to the metro DC area.
We made this momentous cross-country move from Florida to Maryland when Madeleine was three and Carter was still a baby, and this first neighborhood in a little wooded glen was our stomping ground for almost four years. Four years is a good little chunk of your children's lives. Carter learned to walk in that house. Madeleine learned to read. They were the years of the most intense parenting--the years of sleepless nights, too much crying and the most mess. Let me just say so much of it is burned into my memory forever.
My kids, however, can barely pull it into focus. As we walked down the old path to the park with the little creek where they played daily, I reminisced about this old memory (remember how much you loved that queen's cape?) or that one (remember that game we used to play on the swings?) Both kids looked back blank. These rituals of love I had lovingly carried out over their toddler and preschool years (in the midst of the crying and the mess) weren't registering one bit.
It wasn't that they didn't remember living in the house--they did! They just remembered other things. Like the time the mat on the front porch was infested with ants (really?) or the time I let one kid pee behind a tree in the park because said child didn't think it was possible to make it back in time. And about a hundred other inconsequential (to me) or horrifying things like that.
No one had any recall of the elaborate unbirthdays or the adorable twig broom we made with a thousand twigs we collected by hand after reading The Boxcar Children out loud. No one remembered the Andy Goldsworthy inspired sculptures we made in the creek or the hundreds of buttercup bouquets.
The old me would have been devastated, but one full year of wandering around the world later, I think I get it. All those little things I did as the mother of little children really mattered and profoundly shaped my kids, whether they remember them or not. My error (if you can even call it that) was not in pouring my heart out for them, but in not telling them the story of how much they delighted me one princess drama or stick sword fight at a time--long after the capes and sticks were gone.
Standing in the riverbed as we took turns heaving giant rocks into the deep parts hoping to make the loudest "kerplunk", I regaled them with stories--true, real life stories about their growing up years and how hilarious they were and how smart and how loving. They listened like it was brand new news and were as delighted to hear the story of living in that house as I was delighted to tell them.
So here's my challenge, supersisters (and brothers!) What memories from your kids earliest years stand out the most in your mind? Which impressions are most important and dear to you? What do you want them to remember? Check in with your mini-historians and cross-check. And if your story is missing from the archive, start telling it over and over again.
I'm thinking our stories, perhaps more than even their memories, will shape our kids for years and years to come. Do you agree?