You know how well-meaning strangers tell you to enjoy every minute with your small children? I’d like to give you permission to throw this unsolicited advice out the window. You don’t need to reminisce about every “Daniel Tiger” song you sang with your son or every Target run with a toddler in tow, any more than you need to recall every meal you’ve ever eaten.
And then there are the times we’d rather forget: I’m talking about you, Epic Swim Diaper Blowout of 2014.
But what about the stuff we do want to remember?
For me, this often looks less like a milestone and more like a slice of life — a nugget of this age and stage that I want to box up. I’ll likely recall the birthday parties and first steps taken without much effort, but what about the rest of it? I’m talking about those extraordinary, ordinary moments of everyday life.
Like the time my daughter and I spent a half-hour chasing a friendly dragonfly in the backyard when she was 2. Or that day when she stayed home sick from kindergarten, and we did a half-dozen art projects together as Taylor Swift’s Netflix special kept us company. Or the other night when we were both laughing so hard during her bedtime story that I couldn’t finish reading it.
The instant I try to imprint the memory into my brain, I think of Ethan Hawke. Or rather his character in the ’90s rom-com “Before Sunrise.” And while all things ’90s are coming back in style, I’ve never stopped thinking about that opening scene on the train when his character tries to persuade the woman he’s just met to disembark with him and explore after-hours Vienna.
“Think of it like this: jump ahead, 10, 20 years,” he says as he builds his case that she’ll always wonder how her life might have been different if she took a chance on him. “Think of this as time travel, from then, to now.”
I couldn’t get over the idea of time travel in the present. Not in a missed opportunities sort of way, but rather the idea that we can look to the future to frame the present. When we hop into the time machine of now, we make a conscious effort to take it all in. A welcome side effect of all this time travel? A healthy dose of perspective.
Many parents long to freeze time, to stop our kids from growing up — or at least slow down the process. The antidote is to revel in the now. So I think of myself ten, twenty years in the future, looking back on this moment. I won’t be able to get it back exactly — I’d do anything to snuggle my baby one more time — but I try my best to savor it while it’s happening. I take a mental snapshot, and sometimes a digital one, too.
Just because I try to remember, doesn’t mean I will. So many happy memories already have been lost to time. But if I pause long enough to soak in bits and pieces of my daughter’s childhood, I’ll relish it even if I don’t remember everything. I’ll be present. In the moment.
And when people remind me to enjoy it, I’ll smile and say, “I am.”
And later, as the sun sets on her childhood, “I did.”
But that’s a different Ethan Hawke movie.