I have two sons. They are 8 and 11. They do what we tell them to do for the most part because they are children and when you have children you kind of get to tell them what to do.
Take Mother’s Day for instance: a fairly benign, but ultimately kind of meaningless, holiday if you are 8 or 11 years old. At that age, you barely understand holidays, let alone holidays designed by card companies to drive business.
So when it comes to Mother’s Day, they do what we tell them to do. Their dad – my ex-husband – has them make me a card which invariably makes me cry even if it’s really simple: because, as a parent, you can’t believe that your child who came out of your body with screams and shouts can now take a pencil and make strokes that make letters which we recognize as words when formed together in a certain permutation.
And they write things like “happy mothers day mama have a nice day I love you” and you cry because it is truly amazing.
I like to spend Mother’s Day doing nothing because that’s my idea of a good day. I like to be at home and hang out and straighten up and nap and such. My mom likes to go out and do things so we do a bit of both on your average Mother’s Day.
This past Mother’s Day, during the part of the day that was deemed “mine,” my boys and I hung around the house and we opened up my iPhotos program on my laptop. With pictures dating back 12 years, many of which we had not looked at in close to 10 years.
And we sat for a good hour: me and my two boys, scrolling through our life. But mostly a life that they have no conscious memory of.
“What am I wearing, mama?”
“That’s a cloth diaper.”
“What am I holding, mama?”
“That was your beloved baby doll.”
“Why am I crying, mama?”
“Because you had fallen over and you felt really ashamed about it. Your brother is trying to make you feel better.”
“Don’t you remember?” I want to say. “Don’t you remember how every minute felt like an eternity when you were tiny, because your needs were so specific and your desires so profound?
“Your father and I lived for your needs,” I want to tell them. “We formed our words around them at daytime and nighttime.”
“Why do you look so young, mama?”
“Because I was young.”
And it is an unbelievable journey we go on in that hour on Mother’s Day; one child on each side of me, clinging to me, clinging to the things I tell them about the images scrolling before us, one after another.
We didn’t cut our boys’ hair for the first 3 years of their lives, which is a Jewish custom. Their hair is distractingly long; my older son didn’t want his cut until he was 4 and the blond ringlets curled down his back and hovered about his waistband.
The conglomeration of costumes our boys put together were both hysterical and touching: fireman boots and goggles and gloves and belts worn as holsters for dolls, and faces that understood nothing about battle but bore the weight of the persona of a face that knows everything of battle.
And nursing; so much nursing and holding and cuddling. They would nurse until they fell asleep and then we would carry them around, drunk on milk; we carried them through airports and malls and family events and subway stations.
And there are videos, too. Not many. Smartphones did not exist when my first son was born and they were not even commonplace when my second son was born. We never owned a camcorder, so the videos we have are select and precious.
Both of my sons spoke very late so the videos are mostly the broken language only their dad and I could understand for years. And I still understand it.
My boys are astounded by what we see. They are watching a version of themselves that they don’t remember. It’s them, but their sense of self is that life is what happens now. The notion that they existed in such a different form than they exist in now is pretty unbelievable, especially for my little one.
What strikes me most profoundly is how little of these years is in their conscious memory. They may recognize an item of clothing here, a doll there, a toy they held onto for years which still rings familiar. But they don’t remember like I do. They don’t remember how deeply I cared for them and how much my life was about their every need for years and years and years. How I lost time as I learned to nurse them and learned to live without more than a few hours of sleep at a time for years. How I stopped watching TV and going to the movies and gave them my attention and love the way I believed nature intended with all that I had, for their very survival.
They don’t remember it.
I’m told it’s in there somewhere, and we tapped into it on Mother’s Day. All of that love, all of those years, all of the tears we shed together, sleepless or sick or sad just because the world was too big; those experiences formed the brain and the heart that I recognize as my sons. Half of my DNA in two small bodies.
Pictures and videos are now a place my boys want to return to again since Mother’s Day. What are they searching for?
Memories? Maybe. Proof of something? I think so. Proof that there is a reality beyond what we can see, and it forms us and it molds us and it carries us.
And some day, they will remember us sitting on the couch cuddled together and laughing together and marveling at time; remembering the days before they could remember.