As I watch my four-year-old daughter skip down the walkway, away from her brother’s elementary school, my breath catches in my throat. The sun sparkling on her messy bun, her purple striped dress contrasting with her leopard print pants, she still looks like a little girl despite her recent growth spurt. I ignore the fact that she is undoubtedly taller than some of her brother’s classmates and that she is now solidly in the girls’ department when shopping for clothes, the toddler section far behind us.
In less than a year she’ll be inside this same building six hours a day, five days a week, and my days will no longer be colored with the joys and demands of a child. I take a snapshot of the moment in my head. My girl, both big and little, bouncing down the sidewalk. I want to remember her like this.
My life is a patchwork of memories – feelings and sounds, smells and textures.
Snapshots of my past.
A good friend once offered this advice: If you want to remember a moment clearly, take a mental picture of it, and give it a caption. Sometimes our head does this for us, but occasionally I make a point of locking an image away. I have very clear memories of situations long before I heard this suggestion, but we never know what our brain will keep handy and what it will bury, lost forever. Thanks to my friend’s advice, I have a catalog of memories available to me whenever I need them.
My first dance with my new husband is a favorite memory, as is my son riding his bike without training wheels for the first time. Snorkeling in Akumal and Vegas for Genna’s birthday are fun ones, and my girl’s face in the morning makes my heart melt.
Some snapshots were taken accidentally, my thumb on the button because I’m a masochist, apparently. Our second apartment with its dark, freezing atmosphere and shingles on the living room wall goes in that file, along with the time I accidentally threw my infant daughter into the parked car door when I was nursing her in the driver’s seat. For the record, I was avoiding her projectile spit-up, but really that’s no reason to throw your baby like a shot put. Let’s not tell her about that memory, okay?
Every dead body I’ve ever seen, as well as my mother’s face and tears the first and only time I told her I hated her can be filed in that unfortunate folder, as well.
When my mind goes to those dark moments, I grab a better one. My son’s pride the first time he climbed off the couch without landing on his head, or one from a few years later, of my boy reading a book to his little sister. Memory is an incredible thing, and I’m thankful for the magic of it. To recall a loved one who is no longer with us, to see my children as babies again, to wear the feeling of hope and promise of a brand new bride, or the freedom and weightlessness that comes from a vacation, are all priceless gifts.
They are personal, and in my memory, they are mine alone.
Sometimes I worry that in the bustle of our current life, busy and loud with little feet, and schedules that are fuller every year, I will forget the moments that matter the most. Or even worse, that I may not notice them at all.
I didn’t see my kids build their first snowman without assistance, they just came running in asking for a carrot and a hat.
I do the best I can, storing memories like a squirrel preparing for winter – with my observations, with my words, and with my phone – always ready to capture a moment. Sometimes I’m too busy living the moment to get it on camera, and that’s alright. I’ve got my snapshots anyway.