“They Grow Up So Fast.” On memory, and remembering, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

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My boys, when they were four (the Hubble Space Telescope phase) and one.

“They grow up way too fast.” It’s so cliché, you’re probably rolling your eyes as you read it. We all know it, and yet when we’re in it, in the day-to-day of parenting, we forget. So even if we have a knee-jerk “yeah, yeah, I know” reaction to the cliché, how do we actually remember this thing we all know? As our children grow up at dizzying speed, faster with each passing year, is there any way to counterbalance the feeling that it’s getting away from us, without holding on to them—or the past—too tightly?

Most mothers of small children have had some version of the following experience: you’re in a public place and your toddler is melting down while the baby is screaming (or substitute some other flavor of wildness and chaos that comes with parenting small children).  An older mother, or a mother of children older than yours, gives you that knowing smile and says, “They grow so fast—hang in there, savor every moment!”

Some people (like this mom) hate this. They find it patronizing and invalidating and I get that, which why I resist the urge to say it myself—especially to people who are clearly struggling—now that my kids are getting older. It never bothered me, though, and in fact, I always appreciated the reminder. Because it’s so easy to forget, isn’t it, when things are hard? Or even when things are fine and routine but we’re on autopilot, caught up in the busy-ness and tasky-ness of life.

So, whether or not we want to hear it from others, how do we remind ourselves how soon these days, months, years, will be gone?

How do we slow it down and preserve memories? Does it matter whether we’re meticulous scrapbookers or slackers who rarely manage to upload our photos? Is it more about documentation, or moment-to-moment presence? What tricks can we use to remind ourselves to at least be here for as much of it as we can—not only because our kids need as much of our full presence as we can give, but also because even the Pinterest queens can’t possibly capture and preserve it all? If we pay more attention now, will we not only be better parents, but also remember more of their childhoods later?

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Maybe it’s the convergence of midlife with my firstborn’s approaching the cusp of his teen years that’s made me acutely, and sometimes painfully, aware of the time passing. Nearly thirteen years ago, this child went everywhere with me in the baby carriers I collected like some women collect bags or shoes, or I was strapping him into the car seat. And then I blinked. Now he’s an inch taller than me, riding shotgun and vying for control of the radio while talking to me in this new deep voice that has me doing double-takes every day.

My little one just turned nine, and I’m hanging on to the last delicious hints of little boy-ness as he moves undeniably into the Big Kid category.

So we’re past the middle. My firstborn will be old enough to move out in way fewer years than he’s been with us (OMG), and my younger one is halfway there.

Other than my loudest monster mama moments, some of my biggest parenting regrets are failures of documentation. I have a gazillion still photos but not enough video because I always forget to empty out my phone, and too often there’s not enough space. And all those still photos? They live in the computer, except for a couple of albums and one grouping of framed ones in the front hallway. My plan was to pick favorites from each year since we had kids until I got caught up, and then update with new ones from each year going forward, eventually having a whole wall of family photos. I started in the middle, with 2013, and that’s as far as I got.

As for photo books, I have one each from when the boys were newborns and one from a family vacation to Arizona. Photo books are hardly urgent, so it’s been easy to bump it to the bottom of the list—increasingly so as each year passes and it becomes a bigger undertaking. (This is THE year I finish both of those projects, though, I swear!)

The other project on my forever to-do list? Gathering the scraps of paper tucked here and there, going through my Facebook feed, and making a book of all the hilarious and poignant things my kids have said that I managed to get on paper or in a status update.

Part of it is, I want my kids to grow up having family photos to look at—in physical, tangible form (gotta hurry up!), and I want them to be able to look back and read their awesome kid quotes when they’re older. But it’s for me, too, so I can solidify the memories of their childhoods, at least as much as possible given my questionable organization habits and tendency toward procrastination.

I wish I were like my friend, who has a shelf full of Shutterfly books, created chronologically in a timely fashion, and walls full of beautifully framed prints (from more than one year!). Or my other friend, who started a giant blank book when her oldest started talking and kept it open on the sideboard in her dining room, readily available so she could write down those kid quotes and other funny moments before she forgot—in order and in their permanent place. Or the one who wrote letters to her children monthly when they were very little, less frequently but still regularly as they got older. The letters were full of the exquisite, minute details of what they were doing and saying during each snapshot in time.

I try to refrain from too much advice-giving with new parents (because, how annoying), but I do tell friends who are having babies now, whether it’s photo albums or written memories or both—do yourself a favor and keep up with this stuff in real-time. You don’t want to have a decade-plus of stuff to catch up on (or the regret if you never get to it at all). Try to do it monthly when you do your bills or something, I tell them.

And. Even if I had managed to be like my more organized friends—even all three of them in one!—it’s still an illusion to think I could come close to capturing it all. If I wanted to try and hold on to who they are now, I couldn’t. I could be as present and mindful as I’m capable of being, take a hundred pictures and even a video, and still, the memory of who they are in this moment will take on an ephemeral, ghost-like quality when I try in a few years to conjure them up at their now-ages.

This becomes clear whenever I come across something one of them said that I managed to write down, and it jolts me back to that time, and the memory is vivid, and it speaks to who they were in that moment. And yet, I’m struck—even a little freaked out—by how I would never have remembered it if I hadn’t just seen it written.

It becomes clear when I watch a video from more than a couple years ago and I’m struck by the higher, littler kid voice that is oddly unfamiliar.

So to some degree, their childhoods do simply slip away. Much will be lost, at least in terms of conscious memory, and nothing can be done about it. As I come to accept this, the kid quote book and photo projects keep their spots on my to-do list, but they don’t feel quite so heavy.

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When my older son was four, his favorite show was a NOVA episode about the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope by an astronaut named Mike Massamino. He must have watched it a hundred times on Netflix, usually while wearing his little white NASA jumpsuit. He wanted to be Mike Massamino. This was a big enough thing and it went on for long enough that I probably never would have forgotten it entirely. But you still can sort of forget about even the bigger phases when it gets farther back in time and they become older kids with different interests and habits. The Hubble Space Telescope phase came up somehow when my husband and I were talking and I realized I hadn’t thought about it in a few years. I did forget about it, temporarily anyway.

Not long after that, I found this little plastic toy when I was going through the kids’ stuff during a decluttering spree. It’s a figurine of the Hubble Space Telescope we picked up from one of those plastic toy bins at the children’s museum gift shop years ago. It sits on my altar now, where I sit (almost) every morning and do some combination of journaling, prayers, meditation.

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Now, even if I don’t finish the photo sorting until they are grown and out of the house, I have my daily visual reminder that these days are fleeting. A daily reminder that what I want is to stay awake and out of autopilot—not just to be a better parent for my kids, but for me, too. So I’m more likely to notice and feel fully. And remember.

 

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2019

Notes from a Radical Self-Care Weekend

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This past weekend, I was blessed to spend three nights at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the beautiful Berkshire mountains with one of my closest friends. There is so much to love about this place. The view of the mountains and lake. Dancing to live drums on Saturday (my very favorite thing). Yoga and more yoga. Time for hiking in the woods, sitting at the lake, journaling, and reading. The fourth floor sunroom, the labyrinth. The little things, like filling my water bottle with the herbal iced teas that are available 24/7 and the blankets in the bin on the big front patio, in case you forgot to grab your sweater or want to spread out on the lawn. Oh, and the beautiful, amazing food.

It’s a big place that draws 40,000 people per year. At this point, after half a dozen trips, I feel very much at home there, and at the same time, completely anonymous. It’s a strange yet comforting combination. Continue reading

Do Unfinished Projects Keep Us Comfortably Stuck?

This, my 46th year on the planet, is the year of finishing what I’ve started.

During a trip to Kripalu this past winter, I was introduced to oracle card decks, which are like Tarot cards, only they’re used in a more free-form way. I fell in love with this practice and brought it home with me. “Pulling a card” has become part of my morning prayer/meditation/journaling practice. (I even got my husband on board—we often will each pull a card together in the morning.) Usually, I use it as a general message for the day, and sometimes in response to a specific question I’m asking.

Yes, it’s kinda woo-woo, even for me.

I love my card decks because they give me a little nudge toward the intuitive, creative right brain every morning. By default, I tend toward the left side, so I can always use a little less logic and a little more magic in my life.

Speaking of magic, though, I don’t believe the cards supernaturally arrange themselves to hand me the perfect message. (Although I have a friend who believes this, and some spooky shit has happened, like my husband and I both pulling the same card for days in a row, which has made me wonder for a second.)

What I do believe is that there are beautiful gifts of insight when you find meaning in whatever card(s) you happen to pull. You can also use them as journaling prompts if you want to reap the benefits of journaling but are often at a loss for what to write about or where to begin.

So what does all this have to do with finishing projects? On my 45th birthday last week, I pulled three cards from my Earth Magic deck. The question was simply, “What do I need to know now?” Here’s what I got:

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It was pretty easy to find meaning in the the Childhood (innocence) and Mountain (strength) cards. Full Moon (completion), not so much. Continue reading

Self Care is Lifeblood, Not Luxury

 

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Self care is not a luxury. It took a while, but I finally get it. It’s a necessity, like food and water and breathing.

I’m a midwife and a homeschooling mom of two boys. It’s a life I love, and it takes a lot of juice to keep it up and running. More still to keep it flowing and vibrant.

I no longer expect to be able to pull the energy and peaceful frame of mind I need—for myself and my family—out of thin air. It has to be consciously generated. I’m learning how often, in what ways, and for how long I need to make time for self care and renewal. Continue reading

Monster Mom Meltdowns: Forgiving Ourselves and Making Amends

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Photo credit: Luc Latulippe

I’m a believer in peaceful, gentle parenting. And I’m a yeller. Not from the beginning, though.   As challenged as some parents are by toddler behavior, I rarely felt angry with my children until age around age 4. Apparently, I view toddlers as cute and impulsive little wild animals, and thus have few behavioral expectations at that age.  For my first 3+ years of motherhood, I was so proud of myself for my infinite patience and obvious knack for this parenting thing.

That was short-lived, because boy, can they trigger me now! Continue reading

More on Ritual: 6 Favorites that Make Our Lives Better

In my last post, I wrote about a prayer ritual from my husband’s religious tradition that I do every day. Since then, I’ve been thinking more about the role of rituals in my and my family’s lives. It’s kind of funny that I’m writing about this, because I used to hate the word “ritual.” It conjured up vague but frightening images of biblical animal sacrifice. Or something. Either that, or it was synonymous with routine, which I used to equate with boredom and rigidity.  Either way, I had no use for it.

I love the word “ritual” now. This was a gradual change, and I never noticed or thought about it as it was happening.   Without ever planning it that way, I keep adding rituals to my life one by one, and now they are my spiritual container, my guideposts. Initially foreign and even a little bit forced in some cases, with time and repetition, most of them have become part of me now—as comfortable and familiar as a favorite pair of broken-in shoes.   They are reliable reminders to focus on what really matters. On the harder days, they help me hang in there. On the best days, they create more joy in our lives.   Continue reading

Killing the Clutter Beast. Because in my house, it cannot be tamed.

The kitchen crap pile.

The kitchen crap pile.

“If you take care of the small things, the big things will take care of themselves. You can gain more control over your life by paying closer attention to the little things.” –Emily Dickinson

We went on a family vacation a couple months ago and I was thinking about why it’s so freeing to be on vacation. I only work part-time and I love my job, so it’s not about not being at work. And it’s not like you’re relieved of all your normal responsibilities when you’re traveling with kids. A lot of the moment-to-moment stuff we do is the same no matter where we are—keeping everyone clothed, fed and out of the ER. There are the obvious reasons why vacation is awesome–the excitement and fun of exploring new places, spending time with old friends, and all four of us being together for a whole week. But there seemed to be even more to it than all that, and then it dawned on me. Continue reading