Friday, June 5, 2009
What We Keep.
I was in the kitchen cooking spaghetti one night when I had an abrupt flashback to my childhood: Dad in the kitchen, cooking spaghetti, singing "O Sole Mio" in an over-the-top, Disney cartoon way as he cooked and I did homework at the kitchen table. He probably didn't think to himself at the time that I would remember this fondly, if at all, since I can vividly recall rolling my eyes and saying "Daaaad. Stop it." when he did this. As I realized that I had somehow shoved this to the back corners of my memory, I wondered what else I could remember of my childhood if I sat down and thought about it. And, oh, lots of things came flooding back, big and small memories alike. Some of them were of big events that I'm sure my parents planned and planned for: the trip to Disney and meeting Cinderella. Visiting Pa and Nana and their freakishly large dogs and seeing my very first movie in a theater (The Little Mermaid) on that trip. Driving to Kansas City to stay with family friends, and The Great Chicken Pox outbreak that started during that trip. But I was surprised that the overwhelming majority of my memories were of small, seemingly inconsequential things that my parents probably don't even remember doing or saying: The warbly Italian opera my dad sang every time he cooked spaghetti. The way my mom always smelled of her perfume (Anais Anais. I will never ever ever forget that smell for the rest of my life.) and other peoples' cigarette smoke after she and Dad went out to dinner and she came in to kiss me goodnight when they got home. Long car rides home with my dad after dance class during which we listened to Simply Red and Crowded House and always always listened to Paul Harvey's The Rest Of The Story on the radio. Curly fries and lemonade for lunch at the swimming pool with Mom. Digging up all the wild onions in our backyard with my brother because we were going to sell them and get filthy rich except all we got were about a hundred holes in the yard and pissed off parents that had to fill in said holes. I could go on and on about all of the tiny snippets of good memories from my childhood that were probably completely unplanned. I mean, I doubt my mom said to herself while dabbing on her perfume, "I am going to wear this particular scent and my daughter will remember it forever and ever amen." I doubt my parents schemed to fill our childhoods with curly fries and bad opera. But I remember. And this got me to thinking about what Ella and Charlie will keep of their childhoods. Not the big, grandiose things that we as parents plan for them like vacations and new bikes and expensive things that we think will bring them happiness. But the small idiosyncrasies of our everyday life. Will Ella remember that every afternoon Mom turned on her ipod and held Charlie in one arm and her hand in the other and danced around the living room like an idiot? Or will her memory choose for her the long walks to the playground on a summer morning? The smell of coffee first thing in the morning, waking her up? There's no way to tell yet what will stay with her, good or bad. And that's a little bit scary as a parent. Chances are they will not remember how lovingly Mom prepared picnic lunches and made sure to cut off the crusts on the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or maybe they will, I don't know. So I'm trying to remind myself to give myself a break, because the big stuff that I think is so important to do to make memories with them while they are small will probably not stand out so much as the little stuff that was busy making a memory for them when I wasn't even looking. So I will keep on making pancakes, and dancing with my kids, and taking long walks with them, in hopes that what they keep will be good and bring a smile to their faces in twenty years, the way my memories of childhood do for me.