Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Filling In the Blanks

I am not much of a picture taker which, sadly, will mean that there will be no play-by-play sequence of photos or videos of my sons' young lives when they are grown. To compound things, I am like most parents in my inability to mentally retain details long after they have become irrelevant to my life (how many ounces of formula per bottle? What should the bath temperature be? At what weight and age do we adjust the car seats?).

Somehow, though, this acceptance of letting little details slip away has expanded to the rest of my brain. So when people ask me how old my children were when they got their first teeth or took their first steps, and what their first words were, I have to excuse myself and head for the ladies' room. To say I don't remember would be the same as admitting these things are too unimportant for their mother--their mother!--to remember. What kind of mother does that make me?

I am currently reading a book that involves an older teen who is shot while volunteering for a homeless shelter where his aunt is employed. The teen is an all-around star: soft spoken but bright, compassionate and sincere, helpful and kind. Essentially, he embodies all those things we dream our children will one day be. This enhances the tragedy of the story when he is lying comatose in a hospital bed, family and friends drifting in and out endlessly to sit with him amidst the beeps and whirrs of machines keeping him alive.

As his mother, and later his aunt, sit with him, they whisper stories in his ear. "Remember when we went skiing and you beat me in a race down the bunny hill, even though it was only your second time on skis ever?" "Remember that time when your dog was a puppy and we fed him so many Oreos that he puked all over the new rug your mom had just bought, and we cleaned it up so fast and well that she never found out?" That kind of stuff. It's a great method for providing some otherwise unrelated backstory of the lives of the characters, and I couldn't help smiling at the level of details in each reminiscence, and the pictures that the words created.

How many of those stories do have in my head from my sons' lives? I began to ask myself. Granted, it was 11:30 at night and my sons have had merely a fraction of the years and experiences of the boy in the story. But still. As I lay there trying to remember funny, silly, strange, sad stories in my boys' lives, I was all but brought to tears when I realized how few I could come up with. What is a Teflon brained mother to do?

I write. My saving grace has been that since the children were born, I have been writing about them on some sort of blog. It is where I make sense of and revel in their experiences and growth, and record what each of these experiences has done to me. More than just helping me remember as I read through the hundreds of posts and pages, the words help me relive all of the moments--both magical and mundane--that have made up my children's short lives. Moved to laughter, cringes and tears, I see them growing up again and again on these pages.

I tell myself this is better than snapshots: those albums with scattered pictures of this celebration or that holiday show us who was there, but not what they were feeling. What happened to make Jacob look so solemn at his first birthday party? Why does Benjamin have that big bump on his head in this Halloween picture? These are things neither my memory nor a moment-in-time photograph can answer.

Recording history is important. We are all shaped by our experiences, and being able to refer back to them is both necessary (lest we repeat our mistakes) and enlightening. Someday, maybe even my sons will be interested in reading their mother's version of their life stories.

So no, I may not be able to tell you Benjamin's first word or where we were when he said it. I might not recall exactly how old Jacob was when he began using sign language, or the first book he read by himself. But when the party is over and everyone has gone home, I can go look these things up if I really want to. And chances are, even after I find the answer I'm looking for, I will "live" out the rest of the year that it happened, enjoying the ride of early parenthood again and again through words. And though the details of their little faces and limbs may be fuzzy in my mind, the shapes of their growing spirits and personalities are illuminated.

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