March 12, 2012

The Way We Were.


"I heard once that the average person barely knows 10 stories from childhood and those are based more on photographs and retellings than memory. So even with all the videos we take, the two boxes of snapshots under my desk, and the 1,276 photos in folders on the computer, you'll be lucky to end up with a dozen stories. You won't remember how it started with us, the things that I know about you that you don't even know about yourselves. We won't come back here. 

"You'll remember middle school and high school, but you'll have changed by then. You changing will make me change. That means you won't ever know me as I am right nowthe mother I am tonight and tomorrow, the mother I've been for the last eight years, every bath and book and birthday party, gone. It won't hit you that you're missing this chapter of our story until you see me push your child on a swing or untangle his jump rope or wave a bee away from his head and think, Is this what she was like with me?"

from Lift by Kelly Corrigan

I have a terrible memory, which has its advantages. I can forget pretty easily fights and ugly words once the crush of emotions and blinding anger has finally moseyed off to live somewhere else. But I also remember very little about my childhood. I know my Dad gave me baths and read me books and my mom rode around our neighborhood with me strapped onto the back of her bicycle. I know there were Easter egg hunts and pink velour jumpsuits and back porch birthday parties where I sat in the center of a wreath of boxes and wrapping paper and small children, but I only know this from the photos. My earliest memories are of my parents fighting and the times the dysfunction scared me enough to sear it into my memory. There are no pictures of this; there's just the way I feel. I also know, and feel, that I was deeply loved by both of my parents.

Chelsey at Gray Area recently blogged about how she wants her infant son to remember her when he's older, and that's something I think about a lot, too. Assuming Tessa has her father's memory (which is far better than mine) and assuming that our children carry all these bath times and bed time stories and bike rides inside them, even without retaining any tangible memory of them, there are four main things, all unflinchingly sentimental, that I hope Tessa might remember about my place in her childhood:

I want her to remember me always opening windows, throwing open curtains, and pulling up blinds. Literally and figuratively, I want to let the light in for Tessa. I want her childhood memories to be shot through with sunshine. 

I want her to remember me and Nekos for our adventure and spontaneity. To recall the family car stuffed with suitcases and beach balls and freshly tanned siblings, to remember surreal transatlantic plane rides and the feeling of a heavy heart not yet ready to return from a vacation so magical.

I want her to remember me feverishly making things, losing track of time while I slice into fabric or write a short story. I hope we can follow our creative impulses side by side. (Just as I hope she'll remember her dad for the music that follows him into every room.)

Most importantly, I want her to remember my encouragement, as I so well remember my mom encouraging me. This is the one I'll have to work on the hardest, not because I won't want to encourage her, but because I'm so critical by nature. I don't know if it's my Virgoness or my Ellen-ness or what it is that makes me so ugly inside sometimes, but I'm ashamed of some of the things I've said to the people I love the most, and I don't want that to extend to my Tess. I don't want her to remember my sharp tongue, but that I was her biggest fan. Even if I'm not at every soccer game or playgroup because I'm off following a pursuit or on an adventure of my own, I want her to feel how crazy I am about every piece and part of her. 




3 comments:

  1. this is so true. Will and i talk about how sad it is that Lily will never remember these times. these beginning times that are so important and life changing for us. but hopefully it will make the person she will become and she will carry it with her.
    great post!

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  2. Ellen...this is so beautifully written.I wish that I was as talented& articulate.You are very wise.A mother can only do her very best always with the best of intentions for their children.I think your family& friends are very lucky to have such an insightful person in their lives.

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