As a mom, I feel pressure to capture and preserve every waking moment of my four children’s lives. To photograph, video-tape, blog, anecdote; to keep a baby calendar, baby-record book, family scrapbook, and personal diary; to Facebook, Pinterest, Tweet and Instagram for the love of my children; and to do things the old-fashioned way: write them down on whatever piece of paper I might find stashed away in my purse. In years past, I had been known to date, detail and file photographs of my little ones the same day as they were printed. I have also lost sleep so as to record baby milestones in four separate Winnie-the-Pooh record books. I have written blog posts into the wee hours of the night, trying to encapsulate every detail of an event involving my precious children. And I have written weight, height and head circumference numbers on the back of receipts found inside my purse, only to discover these jottings months later, realizing I forgot to write down which child the stats belonged to. In my best efforts not to forget the here and now, I might just have missed at times, the most important part of the present: the beauty of reveling in and appreciating the simplicity of big and small moments.
Tuning out the noisy demands of technology, and instead allowing time spent with my children to be the focal point of my heart.
A few short years ago, a mother I was acquainted with at the time experienced a house fire. When I went to visit her later in the afternoon, she was understandably in a blurry daze. Her house was still smoldering in the distance, and she was left to pick up the pieces and forge ahead for the sake of her family and her children. What she was most bothered by that infamous afternoon, secondary to the obvious loss of her beloved home and belongings, was the destruction of her three sons’ baby record books. Although her boys were safe and sound and there was no loss of life, it was reasonable for her to grieve the cost of losing this most precious treasure: the chronicle of her children’s lives up to that fateful experience she was living that very moment. It was heart-wrenching to watch her sadness.
And I understood on many levels what she was feeling. I knew from my own record-keeping the memories those pages held and the time invested in chronicling those recollections. Precious memories: that first of all photographs- the ultra-sound picture. The miniscule hospital bracelet with baby’s vital stats. The stories lovingly crafted while reminiscing and detailing the events of a baby shower or first birthday party. The health record, complete with immunizations and reactions. That first curl, snipped and carefully sealed inside an envelope. A tiny hand-print and foot print sealed in black ink.
Priceless reminders, these icons of the baby years. They are irreplaceable. But they are merely symbols of life, and thankfully for this friend, the lives they stood for were still with her.
Another friend and I were speaking a few years later, this time meeting up in a grocery isle at Walmart. The conversation again centered around loss and symbols, only this time the loss was the child. As precious as the remaining symbols were to this mother- the little sleepers, the photographs, the receiving blankets, they could not replace the child they represented. They were but painful reminders of what could have been. A life abrupted.
As much as the chronicling of my own children’s lives means to me, the records I’ve kept are disposable. The pictures fade, the plaster cracks, the baby clothes I carefully washed and folded away are all now musty, in spite of my best efforts. Even the memories of time well spent fade and dissolve a bit in the passage of time. But what remains, in spite of my best efforts to preserve all that matters to me, are the relationships forged. The things that stay intact in my mind are the feelings. For I know at the end of the day, I may not remember everything about today, but I have carved out time to be part of my children’s lives. And they know my love through my use of time. Watching them play soccer after school, sitting side-by-side practicing piano, lovingly sudsing up fine baby hair with fragrant shampoo. Holding hands, kissing cheeks, family hug fests. Building ‘I love you’ into the actions, not just the words. And for every parent who has suffered a loss, from one extreme to the next: know this. You built love into your child and that is the greatest document to a life well-lived that there ever will be.
Time invested is a testament to the very essence of love.
So when I start to feel guilt that I haven’t updated my children’s baby books, I gently remind myself that it is not the updates that count: it’s the beauty of the moment. Although I still feel there is far too much pressure on parents to record every detail of our lives for infinity, I’m not advocating that we stop altogether. We live in a digital age in which pictures are posted to a global community within seconds of being taken, where posts and statuses and blogs are updated at times on a minute by minute basis and where video is live streamed. And the advances of technology have made it so much easier for parents to keep a chronicle of their children’s lives. So I’m not going to stop record-keeping: I’m just going to pull my head out from behind the camera and watch my kids with the naked eye rather than always observing them from through the lens of a camera.
Over the years, I have been inundated with ways in which to preserve today’s memories for future generations. But there is no time like the present in which to really live. And I say these are the moments that count.