Do you ever wonder what moments from childhood your children will hang on to? Nathan is five, and although I remember a snippet or two of my life before that age, I feel like five is the beginning of my real memories. I can still recall the first day of kindergarten – what I wore (a red and white shirt with a blue jean skirt), and how stiff my new backpack (Roger Rabbit) felt on my shoulders. I don’t remember telling my mom goodbye at the door to Mrs. Watson’s classroom, but I remember my desk and being envious of the incredibly neat coloring skills of my seatmate, Jennie.
It panics me a little bit, this memory-keeping phase of childhood that we’re entering. You see, my guiding principle of parenting up until now has been to brush off any mistakes — and there have been many — with a reassuring, “he won’t remember this, anyway.” Except now, he will.
Sometimes I worry that his memories will be full of me prodding him to do my bidding. Will he remember how many times I scolded him to stop talking and eat his breakfast, so he wouldn’t be late for school? Fussing at him to stay in his chair, quit teasing his sister and please stop making that god-awful racket. Barking instructions to put on his shoes and jacket, three or four or five times – my voice raising in volume and sharpness with each turn. Perhaps the version of me that will be the most real to him will be the one who ran short on patience, the one who made him feel small sometimes because I couldn’t hide my frustrations like I should. If it is, I can only hope that it’s tempered by the memory of me kneeling before him, early and often, to look him in his eyes and ask forgiveness when I fell short, once again, of being the mom he deserved.
Of course, if I could choose for him, I’d pick the moments that make me look good. Waking up to his favorite chocolate chip pumpkin bread for breakfast, that I stayed up late the night before to bake just for him. Sneaking him away from school for a day of fun, just the two of us. Snuggling in his bed and whispering about his favorite parts of the day. Singing “his song” for him as he closes his eyes and smiles, slipping closer to sleep than wakefulness. Reminding him every night, with the last words he hears before sleep claims him, that I love everything about him, and that I will always be proud he’s my son.
The more I weigh the measure of it, the more I find myself praying that he remembers the full balance of his mom. I want him to know how very much I have loved him, from the very start. I want him to remember the things I’ve done to earn his smiles and his hugs. To know that watching his eyes light up with excitement at a favorite food or special surprise was the very best part of so many of my days.
But to know also that my love, however full and complete, has never been flawless. No love is, this side of heaven. I’ve always loved him perfectly, from the moment I knew he existed, but too many times my words and actions have failed to measure up. It’s the thing that has kept me up the most at night and flavored most of my mom guilt over the years … but he’ll have never seen any of that. He might only have a vague recollection of being roused from sleep to find me in his doorway or brushing a kiss against his cheek. He won’t know it’s because I couldn’t allow myself to go to bed until we’d had one right and peaceful moment to end the day with.
I pray for these things because, someday, his own frustrations will get the best of him and he’ll say a word he doesn’t mean. He’ll watch a face fall and feel it – the pang of regret for hurting someone he loves. With any luck though, it’ll spark one of many memories tucked away inside his mind. Moments when his mama, after losing her temper yet again, knelt down, held him close and offered a sincere “I’m sorry.” He’ll remember that we can’t take it back, but we can make it right.
If repetition is the key to recall, then finding the grace to fail may be the enduring memory I’m able to sow. As I flounder and falter my way through raising him, I’m trusting that the underpinning of all the magic, fun and heartache he’ll carry with him from these growing up years is that people aren’t perfect, but we love them anyway.
A resilient love … now that’s a memory worth keeping.