What if we allowed ourselves to be in the moment and surrender to the reality that memories will fade because that’s what memories do? What if that loss just adds to the sweetness of the now?
Whenever I see an ad enticing me to buy a new photo album, or I see another mom posting about what her child did on this same day last year, my heart sinks a bit.
As I witness other moms doing an incredible job of documenting the sweet journey of their families, I can’t help but notice that I seem to lack the mom journalist skillset.
And it feels awful.
I was given plenty of warning that these days with young kids would fly by. “Make sure to write things down,” other moms told me. “Take pictures because you’ll forget,” they said.
I remember looking at my four-month-old baby thinking, “how could anyone possibly forget these details?” How could I ever forget the way her cute little face crinkled into a smile or her drowsy expression as she slipped into a milk-drunk coma?
But those wise moms were right. It turns out that a sleep-deprived brain doesn’t exactly consolidate memories very well. It doesn’t matter how special those moments are—our brains aren’t exactly a vault to stow away the important memories for decades to come.
And to be honest, I feel a little sad that I can feel myself losing hold of the details. These individual memories are like little grains of sand and they slip through my fingers and vanish in the wind. Sometimes I can’t bring up even a glimpse of certain seasons of motherhood no matter how hard I rack my brain. I realize now that though irritating, those “write that down!” warnings were warranted, because I feel those memories floating away.
And that’s when the wave of guilt hits me. In these moments I feel low because it’s as if I’m completely failing to do my job as memory keeper and keepsake creator.
I’m bad at it.
Logging the milestones, documenting the memories, snapping the shot and freezing the little moments in time… these aren’t my strong suits. Really, it’s true.
This blog is my space to dole out truths about the experience of motherhood—unvarnished.
So here’s my confession:
I can’t tell you when my oldest daughter started crawling, said her first words, or lost her first tooth. I can hardly remember what life was like when I had two babies under 17 months.
I don’t have that cute ruler on the wall that tracks their growth.
I never made a baby book.
I don’t write down the funny things they say, even though everyone tells me to.
Here’s how my documenting goes: On a good day, I might write their name and date on some of their “masterpieces” that they bring home from school, but for the most part, I shove the piles of paper crafts in an oversized Ikea bag in the basement closet.
And there it sits.
The other day, my daughter had a meltdown when she discovered some of those masterpieces in the recycling bin. She looked at me with that unmistakably confused expression, “how could you?” I didn’t realize it was so special to her!
“I’ll get to the art bag later,” I tell myself.
Just like I’ll get to the photos that need to be organized and the hundreds of blurry selfies my kids take that end up on my harddrive because I can’t be bothered to delete them. I say that one day, I’ll get to the old computers and external storage devices that hold all the memories with absolutely zero structure. Then there’s the handmade birthday cards and beaded necklaces and little four-year-old treasures that are so sweet but where do I actually put them? There is no place. There’s no system.
Quite frankly, this whole keepsake situation is a fucking disaster.
But here are a few questions I’m sitting with right now: why does being a mom automatically have to mean being the family journalist, too? Does my husband fret about the lack of memory-keeping structure? Does he get ads for Picaboo and Shutterfly photo books? Do his friends post memories of what their babies did last year? Will our kids ask him in 20 years for their childhood keepsakes?
No. That’s not part of his job description.
Somehow, it has become mine.
And as I move through these early years of my job as a mom, I’m learning that I just don’t have the mom-journalist skillset. Nor will I invest in obtaining it.
That can be a difficult thing to come to terms with. I tell myself it’s because I’m busy and don’t have the time, but I have to accept that this is clearly not something that I value.
Why the guilt, then?
Well, let’s look at the word “guilt.” We feel guilty when we think that we have done something wrong. It’s about our actions (or lack thereof). So essentially, as I’m faced with the reality that I’m a shitty memory keeper, I have this feeling that I’ve done something wrong.
But have I, like actually done something wrong?
Is it wrong if my kids grow up to be adults and I can’t tell them how tall they were when they were three years old?
Is it wrong that I didn’t save their gross decayed teeth for them?
Is it wrong that I don’t have a baggie of hair from their first haircut?
Is it wrong that I haven’t printed annual photo books to celebrate each and every milestone no matter how small?
Is it wrong that most of their art will be recycled?
The answer is: it depends. It’s all about what you value.
For me, I’m decisively admitting that I don’t actually value all of those keepsakes in the way that society tells me I should. Being a mother doesn’t require me to scrapbook in my spare time or keep a reporter-style notebook of cute, verbatim quotes from their early years. And I’m admitting that being the family journalist isn’t my strength. I don’t really enjoy doing it. I’m not that good at it.
And maybe I don’t want to spend my time that way! What if that’s OK?
What if I just opt-out of the memory keeping and opt-in to being in the moment, knowing full well that some of these memories will stay and others will disappear? And that there won’t be any real reason for either.
Is it possible that this perspective will actually help me—help us—live more in the present moment, anyway? To be IN the experience, rather than obsessing about creating a memory OF it?
My mom recently gave me one shoebox of printed photos with a writing sample by five-year-old me tucked inside. Just one. And you know what? This is enough to give me a glimpse of what my life was like when I was little. It’s enough to remind me that I was cared for, that my parents treasured the masterpieces I created. That something I did mattered enough to toss in a box.
It was enough.
I don’t need to know how tall I was when I was three. Or the first word that came out of my mouth. Or to see how my artistic skills progressed throughout kindergarten. I don’t feel like I’m missing out because my mom didn’t curate these keepsakes.
And as I consider this, I feel a little less guilty. My kids probably won’t care either. Chances are, they won’t even ask.
My perspective is this: what if we take a big breath and let go of the expectation to be mom journalist of the century? What if we allowed ourselves to be in the moment and surrender to the reality that memories will fade because that’s what memories do. What if that loss just adds to the sweetness of the now?
My heart sinks when I feel the nag of the photo album advertisements. It sinks when I see other moms doing what I feel like I should be doing. It sinks when I realize that these memories of my precious girls will vanish but we can’t stop time. We can’t control which moments we’ll remember forever and which ones will be forgotten by next week.
And quite possibly, that’s just one of the many bittersweet realities of motherhood and I’m working on embracing it.