This morning I was standing in the middle of our living room, getting dressed for work.
It’s not the usual place I prep for the day, but everyone else in the house was still asleep, and with a nine month old with a temperamental wake-up, I didn’t feel like tempting fate and having anyone wake up that might start a domino effect of human alarms that ended with a crying baby to start off the day.
So, I was there, just Winston (one of our cats) and myself, in the silence of the early morning. I was buttoning up my shirt when my eye caught some of the baby toys on a cubed shelf we have in the living room. We bought it with the sole purpose of having a place to house toys when not in use so they weren’t constantly scattered across the living room rug.
Three fabric bins neatly placed underneath, housing everything from Fisher Price Little People to toy instruments. A shelf filled with some board books, another bin filled to the brim with Duplo Legos, the raw material that leads throughout the day to spaceships, houses, superhero headquarters, zoos, and any other creations that spring to our kids’ minds.
In the past several months, a small basket has sat on top, filled with soft blocks, indestructible books, a rattle, and a handful of toys suitable for keeping a baby’s interest, at times a wishful prospect.
The shelf itself has been there, probably a year, by my estimate, but for some reason, this particular morning, one thought hit me while I got dressed – “these things are not going to be sitting here long.”
Contents within will change, perhaps from the Fisher Price Little People and Duplo of today to action figures and building kits of tomorrow. Puzzles might give way to board games, board books to magazines. And those baby toys in the wicker basket on top will fade away from our view like a mirage that in time will make us wonder, with how quickly it changed, it was all real, and all not so long ago.
It seems like only yesterday I cradled you in my arms, swaddled in a blanket covered in baby footprints, wondering how I was so lucky to get to welcome you into this world.
When we brought you home, I never thought I could feel so exhausted again in my life. I wondered how how your mom was even standing. And yet, as I write this, we’ll be going through it all over again in just a few short months.
I sat in awe the first time you smiled. I laughed when you pooped on my hand during a diaper change. I watched you roll over, then crawl, then stand up and walk and with each step you took, you walked deeper and deeper into my heart.
The awe in which you saw everything for the first time left me inspired.
You gave me new eyes in which to see the world.
I sat awake in a chair in the hospital while you and your mom slept, unaware that febrile seizures even existed, let alone it was what put you there in the first place. We hoped and prayed we would see you return to the exuberant force of nature you are. Lucky for us, you did.
And that was just the first year and a half.
You turned two and I thought how fast the time had passed. You impressed us with your counting and letter knowledge, and the way you’d chat up a storm. Now I look back at video of that time and realize how crude those words may have been in the beginning, but they were there, and we knew every word you meant.
Some days you were unhappy. It happens to us all. And when you’re a kid it can be magnified. Sure, it’s been 32 years since I’ve been in your shoes, but I get it. You’re having the time of your life, tons of fun, playing up a storm and suddenly being told you’ve got to go, that it’s time to go to sleep. You were just getting warmed up. Or it was a cool toy, a great book or the open space of green grass. I may tell you it’s time to nap or go home, buddy, but deep inside, I get it. I really do. Who wants to be dragged away from all of that with no choice in the matter?
Our car rides are legendary…well they are to me. The fact that you’ve made it your own game to guess which composer is on when I play the classical station makes me simultaneously chuckle and beam. Other days you want to listen to music from cartoons ranging from Thomas the Tank Engine to Winnie the Pooh, to DuckTales, and it makes me rediscover childhood all over again. Only I get to experience it with you.
To see you play with my old toys or watch cartoons that I watched as a kid and have just as much fun with them strikes a chord deep inside.
You help me stay eternally a child, little buddy. It’s something I’ve longed for and long-lost in this crazy world of adulthood. Some people never lose it, some never had it. Me, I’ve lost my way here and there, looking back wistfully at those bygone days. But thanks to you, I’ve been in touch with them all over again. And It’s something I’ve needed for quite a while.
I admit there have been times when I’ve wished we could speed through a troublesome phase or moment. But honestly, more often than not, I’ve wanted nothing more than to stop the sands of time, and live these moments forever with you.
I can’t believe I get to be your dad. Whether it’s the intelligence and thought you show in the decisions you make, the stories you tell, or the compassion and kindness you show to others, be they a baby, a fellow kid, an animal, or an adult, you inspire me.
You make me a better person each and every day and I thank the stars above every moment of my day (yes, even when you’re kicking and screaming) that you’re here.
Happy Birthday, little man.
And all I can think is ‘how the heck did it get here so quickly?!’
I’m not talking in that ‘I’m unprepared!” way when events sneak up on your despite their regularity every year. No, I mean, what the heck happened to the lead-up?
This revelation hit me when, of all things, I was putting some bottles of beer in the fridge.
Every winter, I get a pack of the Samuel Adams Winter/Holiday Pack. It comes with such staples as the Boston Lager, but some special winter-y mixes like White Christmas, Winter Lager and my favorite, Old Fezziwig Ale. It seems that even in years of recent memory, I would savor the dark days of winter (or quasi-winter, meaning when it’s not officially winter and just cold), leading up and thinking about the season – past, present and future – while savoring these favorite beers of mine.
And as I was loading them into the fridge last night I thought – ‘it’s almost Christmas Eve. In mere days, that’s it, the holiday is over.’
Then it struck me just how fast it’s been breezing by. While I was prepared for the holiday and any festivities that come with it, my shopping done early, our prep for family gatherings done, it dawned on me how I’ve yet to find that relaxed ‘ahhh. the holidays’ state of mind I’ve known in years past. And I can’t put my finger on why this may be.
Could it be the warmer, dreary and rainy weather this Christmas, making for a green, muddy holiday than the idealistic White Christmases of the past? Last year, it was expected to be green and on Christmas Eve, snowed by surprise – “A Christmas Miracle!”
Is it that the little guy is already 2 1/2, making the ticks of the clock and the tears of the calendar pages seem to move ever faster in general?
Or has all of life led to a hurry-up, checklist, get this done lifestyle that hasn’t lent itself to such relaxing and reflecting as before? Is that just the natural course of life and parenthood?
I have no concrete answer. But I do know that it’s yet another wake-up call to me to take heed of this fast-paced breeze through life and start living it before it passes us all by.
As the year comes to a close and another begins to start, I think it’s maybe appropriate that I’ve had this wake-up call when I have.
Every now and then I need that kind of kick in the pants to stop running around in that checklist-driven life and start just enjoying life for what it is. Otherwise it’s going to pass you by before you know it.
Every time our little guy learns something new, makes a new expression, says a new word, or just enjoys something in a way he never did before (splashing in puddles, apple picking, or just being pushed around the room in a cardboard box) it has filled our hearts with memories we will always cherish. When I watch him playing with mommy or running around our house, or laughing it up with Gramma and Grampa, I smile thinking of just how much joy he is experiencing and how these are the moments to hold in our memories.
It’s recently saddened me to come to the realization that these times we will remember so fondly, he won’t.
As we start looking to the future and think about what other needs we may have someday as our family grows, new locations, new housing, is at the top of that list. While it’s not immediate, it’s certainly a someday, as our current place was great for Meg and I, but as our family grows, our tiny space seems to shrink more and more.
That got me thinking about the various places that I had lived growing up, equating our current situation/house/neighborhood to what I remembered of the early residence my family had when my brother was born and I was three years old.
Then it began to dawn on me. That was at three years old and that’s the earliest I can remember…well, anything, really. Unfortunately, even that memory is spotty, remembering more just vague images of the surroundings and area through the eyes of a child. I don’t remember my brother being born. I don’t remember the apartment we lived in before that period of three-years old.
Of course, that led me to the inevitable conclusion that all of these wonderful memories we’re making, all these moments of enjoyment our little man is having each day, reacting to, communicating with us…it’s very unlikely he’ll remember any of it. And it just saddened me.
While I didn’t know it at the time, it’s an actual form of development known as Childhood Amnesia.
According to scientists, childhood amnesia (or infantile amnesia) is the term for our inability as adults to recall memories before the stage of 2-4 years old. During our first one to two years of life, scientists say that parts of our brain known as the limbic system holds what is called the hippocampus and amygdala (used in the storing of our memory) and are not fully developed at that point in our growth.
Researchers have found that sometimes children can recall memories from before the ages of 3 or 4, but that’s something they can accomplish while they are still children, and an ability that declines as the children age. It can vary from child to child, reportedly, as to when they start remembering. Sometimes it’s 2 year old, sometimes 3 1/2, other times 5 years old.
Days spent with no reference of time, of limitations – purely of emotion and the drive to do, to play, to enjoy and to love.
It seems a bit unfair to me that these wonderful, carefree times should go unremembered by a child. At these early ages, we as adults get to enjoy in the purest form of their joy and yet, they will not be able to do so themselves.
The researchers used 81 3-year-olds and their mothers who had volunteered in an earlier study on the development of memories in infants by the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development.
As mother talked with their child about six events (ranging from neutral events to positive events) that the child had recently experienced and were recorded doing so, asked to talk to their child as they normally would in any other situation.
In the years that followed, the researchers then made contact with the families again and asked the kids (at different ages, ranging from 5 to 9) to recall the events they talked about with their mothers when they were three. The age differences were so that the researchers could take note of what varied in each child along with how much they either remembered or had forgotten.
According to the MinnPost article, they found that “children 5, 6 and 7 years of age remembered a substantial percentage of events from the age of 3 years. In contrast, children 8 to 9 years of age had lost access to many of their memories of events from the same early age.”
That finding suggested that age 7 was the “inflection point” for childhood amnesia.
While that in itself is not groundbreaking or new information, the recent study is reportedly the first to demonstrate the finding using the recollections of the children.
The study also found that those children who remembered more details of the events discussed at three years old had mothers who had encouraged the child to elaborate on the memories as well as let the child steer the course of the conversation. The researchers say that encourages the child to participate in the give-and-take of the conversation as well as fill their recollection of the memory with their own content.
The MinnPost article goes on to point out that the study revealed the paradox that children between 5 and 7 recalled 65-72 percent of the events they talked about with their mothers at the age of three, but those children who ere 8-9 years old could recall only 35 percent of the events.
And while the older children remembered less of the events, what they did remember was in more detail. The researchers also say those older children were able to take perspective on the events by giving more evaluative information about them.
What the researchers believe this all suggests is that narrative abilities play a role in what is remembered. After seven years old, the language skills of a child have become stronger, which allows them to create a more elaborate narrative for each memory. That then helps the memory become more firmly established in their minds. Whereas at the younger ages, they don’t have much knowledge of the why, what, where and when that goes along with those memories, leaving many of them to be forgotten.
My wife has decided to jump back into theatre. She’s missed it for quite some time, as it was a very large part of her life for so long (and how we met), but we both felt when she was pregnant that it was best to step away from the stage and take some time to just be a family.
Sooner or later, that itch is hard to resist and now that the little guy is in that stage between 1 1/2 and 2 years old, I think she was really starting to feel the pull of the performing arts once again.
A side note: I think it was also spurred on by an incident in the Fall when we got a call from a theatre director who lost a cast member two weeks before open and asked me if I would jump in to help out. I did, but it wasn’t out of a great love to go back; it was merely to help someone out who helped me in the past. That was only a few weeks, and usually when I’d get home, he would be fast asleep and Meg would be enjoying a nice cup of tea.
We sort of thought that’s how it would go this time around for her.
In many ways, it’s been a wonderful experience, and an educational one at that. She’s been off to rehearsals by the time he and I get home, so on an average night, I’m feeding him his dinner (which she’s been nice enough and helpful enough to leave behind, making life easier), we have some playtime, he gets a bath, we do some story time, etc., but solo.
It has allowed for some incredible bonding between me and our little monkey, I will say. Just thinking of how anxious I would be of giving baths prior to the past few months, I realize how much this time has helped. Previously, Meg tended to give him baths. I would occasionally, but she did it on a regular basis. So, now that it’s been in my hands, it has somehow gone from the ‘ugh, how are we gonna do this?’ or ‘what am i doing?’ to ‘you do this, buddy, while I get the bath ready’ and it has turned into a very seamless (and fun) process.
We have fun, we splash, we talk and sing, and the whole thing just goes like any other motion I go through like putting him in the car or reading him a story. It’s helped me evolve as a dad, honestly. And I like it.
The only hitch we have run into with this ‘guys night’ scenario is that the little guy can spend an entire day or evening with me and we’re just fine, up until storytime is over and it’s time for bed. He refuses to go to bed without mommy home. We read book after book after book, and I think ‘is this the one that’ll get him tired?’ and he does get pretty tired, but he fights it. He fights it with a longing and hope that mommy is going to walk through that door and put him to bed, proper, because daddy is just not what he wants at that moment.
I’ve tried a lot of different things – rocking him, singing to him, giving him a few minutes to calm down once he’s in the crib and yelling for mommy, but unlike when Meg does it, he doesn’t calm down. He only makes himself worse. Sometimes I’ll get lucky and if I lay him on our bed after that, he’ll be tired enough to fall asleep next to me or on my arm or something like that, where we tend to remain until Meg comes home and somehow, through mystical or magic powers, because there’s no other way I can comprehend, picks him up and places him in the crib without him blinking. It’s amazing.
I know it won’t be like this forever, and while I would LOVE for him to be able to fall asleep comfortably with me like he does with her, I wouldn’t change this past month or so. After almost three years (counting pregnancy), she finally has the chance to get out and have a life outside of being ‘mommy’ for a change. It’s something she not only deserves, but needs to have in her life, especially when it’s something she’s so passionate about, like theatre. I admit, I haven’t been the most communicative about her show by the time she gets home, not out of disinterest, but mostly just due to the combination of fatigue and irritability after a long fight to get him down. But I’m happy she’s getting back to something she loves and something she identifies with.
I also wouldn’t change a thing because, despite all that difficulty, all the fighting he may give me when it’s time to go to bed, those hours of the night beforehand, when it’s just the two of us, laughing, playing, putting blankets on our backs like capes, giving him a bath and singing songs along with the radio, or just reading story upon story with him curled up in my arms, makes any difficult part so trivial. This is my son, this is my little guy, and these are times that will only last for so long.
I want to enjoy them and learn from them as much as I can.