The memory bank

By Lisa Cucinotta

Last night we hung out with two families from our block, and between us there were six kids ranging in age from six (Julia) to eight months (our neighbor’s son Henry, who is so cute he almost makes me want to have another one…. for five minutes…. because this shop is CLOSED for business).  The house was chaos, but the happy kind, with shrieks due to fun vs. fights and tantrums.

At one point the three oldest kids (ages 4-6) were playing hide and seek.  Charlie, the ringer, (since he lived there and knew all the best spots) hid behind the drapes in the dining room where the adults were hanging out finishing our dinner.  He was pretty well concealed, but at one point the kids were practically on top of him and yet couldn’t find him.  We were trying to give them clues, directing them with “warmer” and “colder” but they just weren’t getting it even though at one point I swear they were looking straight at him behind the gauzy curtain.  When he finally popped out, peals of laughter exploded not just from the kids but from all the adults in the room.

After we stopped laughing, I looked at everyone I said “Let’s put this one in the memory bank”.  Whether you realize it or not, I believe every parent keeps a memory bank.  Having small children is hard, like, next level hard.  Like, “how does anyone do this?” hard.  There are so many moments where you just want to scream, or rip your hair out, or hide in a bathroom or take five minutes to breathe or shower or take a catnap.  So you open up a memory bank account and deposit every damn thing in it you can that is not the shitty stuff.  This whole night for me goes in the memory bank.  Hanging out with people we enjoy who have great kids, sharing kid book recommendations, eating pizza and homemade cookies and apple crumble and feeling relaxed (or at least I did, and I am not always relaxed at these things).

I’ve got lots of memories that I keep in my bank. The first time Julia said her name, and told us it was “Julcat”. Taking naps with sweaty baby Luca’s face pressed against my face. Watching Julia greet the princesses at Disney World with the expectation they’d know her to. Luca saying “You got this for me?” in his deep little baby voice, with a mixture of wonder and excitement, every time we give him something.  A mom telling me that Julia waited for her son by the door at kindergarten every day for the first few weeks because she knew he was scared to go in.

I also have a category for posthumously added memories.  Those are ones that felt really struggle bus while they were happening but have a sweetness to the memory that creates nostalgia. One is Julia insisting we “dance up” – she loved dancing so much at two that we would try to dance with her while sitting on the floor because we would get tired and she just wouldn’t have it so she’d insist we stand.  We’d be exhausted, wearing pink cowboy hats and tutus and drag ourselves off the floor to try to jam out to our tenth Katy Perry song in a row to keep our tiny tyrant happy.  Another one, as insane as it is for me to believe now, is that I am able to feel nostalgia for moments I spent nursing.  I nursed Julia for six months, Luca for four, and I was very relieved to stop.  I felt like a cow, it was weird to feel like my body didn’t belong to me, and I leaked all the time.  It kind of sucked (no pun intended).  But now I remember their teeny tiny selves curled up around me, their crying pacified, my satisfaction of knowing that I was doing something good to care for them. Then there were those sleepy little milk coma faces after they were done, and the knowledge that I’d probably get at least a few moments of rest before the next round of crying or needing to feed them.  Just remembering that now makes me feel warm and fuzzy, although at the time I just wanted my body back.

I think even the shitty stuff is worth remembering – the sleepless nights, career compromises, exhaustion and endless pooping are good reminders that I don’t want a third child even after cuddling baby Henry tonight; nibbling his delicious baby face and having him grab my finger with his tiny hands was lovely but it doesn’t cancel out why I chose to stop after two kids.

Grandparents and parents of older children will see you with your little kids and also recommended that you pay attention as your children’s lives are unfolding because they go by too fast.  Sometimes I want them to go by faster, to get through the tough parts.  But tucked between the monotony and the frustration are the incredible moments of joy and love.  It’s what keeps us going as parents.  You can’t make a memory if you don’t remember it. That’s why I paused at the table tonight as we all laughed at our kids playing.  Let’s remember this one, I was saying, and save it for a rainy day when we’ll need it.

 

 

The present of the past

In college I was obsessed with Sarah McLachlan.  Discovering we looked a lot alike happened after I had already developed the obsession with her music, but certainly didn’t hurt it. When I decided to cut my hair short, I even brought in a picture of her style as inspiration.  But I digress. One of my favorite songs of hers then and now is “Ice Cream”.  It’s both sweet and sad at the same time.  Back then I spent a lot of time feeling angsty, or wistful, or mildly depressed (boy, wish I could go back to college knowing what I know now… I would have had a lot more fun!).  I remember one night laying in the dark feeling particularly low, listening to my six disc CD changer rotate between her, Enya, the Indigo Girls and Sting.

When Julia was a newborn and cried all the time, it turned out “Ice Cream” was one of the few songs I knew all the words of that seemed appropriate to sing.  In the dark, in the middle of the night, feeling scared and sad and unsure of my future but for entirely different reasons than I did as a teenager, singing that song to my baby felt like closing a loop.

Parenting seems to surface more loops than any other experience of my life.  There is something about experiencing things with my children that brings me back to some former place in my life.  Much of the time it’s my own childhood – like when the kids play with a toy I remember playing with or I read them a book I was read as a child.  Reading “Goodnight Moon” to Julia always gives me that little shiver, although as an adult I have a lot of questions about the book, which is incredibly odd (and I’m not the only one, there are many hilarious dissections of the book, like this one.  We actually have many books from both of our childhoods that we read to the kids: Ferdinand which we both used to love, Harold & The Purple Crayon, which I don’t remember at all but was apparently a favorite of Brian’s,  and a particularly obscure one that I adored and my mom somehow managed to find: Bendemolena, later renamed “The Cat Who Wore a Pot on Her Head”.

Barbies are one that I’m a bit bummed out by.  I realize that they present a bizarre idea of femininity but I adored them as a child.  I had a huge collection and played with them for far longer than some of my friends likely did.  Perhaps Julia will get into them at some point, but for now she has absolutely no desire to play with the ones we gave her.  I have such fond memories of styling my barbies, swapping out their clothes, setting up dates for them and all the Kens.  Seeing them lay dejected in her toy box makes me feel a bit sad.  That one feels like a loop I can’t quite connect into a circle.

My most recent loop is a particularly sweet one.  At Barnes and Noble last week we found an illustrated copy of “What a Wonderful World”, the Louis Armstrong song.  While that song well pre-dates my childhood, for some reason it was one of my absolute favorite songs as a girl.  It was so significant to me that I chose it as the song for the faughter/daughter dance at my bat-mitzvah and again for the same at my wedding.  I had thought that loop already closed when I danced to it with my dad almost 18 years after the first time, but here it is again.  I have been reading it to Luca at night before bed, and I can’t help but sing it instead of reading the lines.  Every single time it has made me cry.

My co-blogger Cristina wrote a post about time feeling elastic and I wrote one about how the days are long but the years are short, both which are offshoots of the loop concept, I suppose.   But they are more about struggling with living in the moment of parenting.  The loop, to me, is about simultaneously getting to live in the past and the present.  The nicest part of the loop is that they are (usually) pleasant.  Recollection can often drum up painful moments from our past, but the loop is the reverse – an often benign moment from the past that forms into a new and sentimental experience in the present with your kids.  So take the time to live in your loops and form new memories from them.  Maybe one days your kids will create another link in the loop and make it into a chain.