Sitting in Jimmy Johns eating a delicious unwich the other day, it hit me: Elliott is reaching the age where she’ll remember this stuff for the rest of her life. In that moment, her daddy was acting silly and she was cackling loudly, her laugh echoing through the whole restaurant and the thought of this moment being burned in her memory forever just hit me. Hard.
I have vivid memories of kindergarten. I have a few from before that too. So my daughter, who will start kindergarten this year, will remember what she’s doing, saying, and feeling. We’re making memories right now that will last forever in her mind.
This thought is overwhelming to me.
Up until this point, we’ve been teaching and showing her things that we hope she’ll remember (be kind to others, wash your hands after you go to the bathroom, forgive your sister when she hits you, talk in your indoor voice, don’t pick your nose), but now she’s going to have actual childhood memories that will stay with her.
She’ll have memories she will tell her kids one day. She’ll be able to recall that funny thing her Daddy said or the way her Mommy made her feel. These days will come up later, in her stories, in her dreams, in her soul.
Maybe with her therapist.
This is the first time I remember feeling so overwhelmed with the task of parenting. I had moments when Elliott was first born and they just let me take her home from the hospital like I knew what I was doing. But we figured it out, Chris, Elliott, and I. We made mistakes (like the time I wanted so badly to save a poop-covered onesie that I pulled it over her head and got poop all over her face and in her hair…and then the onesie ended up being stained and I had smeared poop all over my baby for no reason) and we learned. But she doesn’t remember all those times, they were like free passes: I got to learn a lesson and recover while she sat there too little to remember my mistakes.
Now she’ll remember. And I’m praying that she looks back at those memories with love and grace. It might be a while, it might take years, but I hope one day, when she’s thinking back to her childhood and how once, in a fit of childish rage, her mom yelled at her to shut up!, she’ll know it had nothing to do with her. That she’ll understand that Mommy is flawed and broken.
Once when I was in high school, my mom slapped me across the face. We were standing outside the laundry room, right down the hall from my bedroom, and I don’t remember all the details, but I know I should have been in school, so it must have been a snow day or something because my sister and I were both home. My mom and I were in the middle of a fight and I said something rude or hurtful, knowing, in all my high school wisdom, just the right, nasty thing to say and my mom reacted by slapping me across the face. After that, no words were spoken. I turned around and left and my mom went the other way. I remember this vividly, like it happened yesterday. Just typing it brings back this feeling of absolute emptiness I had in that moment.
But here’s what else I know as a thirty-two year old adult: that I probably deserved to be slapped, that what my mom probably should have done is pummel me into the ground, that slapping me was probably the lesser of all the evils she could think of in that moment, that my mom is flawed and broken, that she always did what she thought was best. And that she loves me fiercely.
Parenting is overwhelming.
That is not a complaint, it’s just a fact. I signed up for this gig (sort of blindly…), but it seems like each time my kid grows, I have to re-learn parenting. I have to start over, forget everything I thought was right, and do it differently. Sure, some things stay the same, but more of it doesn’t.
And now, Ellie will remember. She’ll remember the fun, the giggling, the yelling, the trouble, the mistakes, the trips, the experiences, the words. That realization is bringing a whole new layer to what my actions mean and what is truly important. And it’s hitting me hard.